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B.C.’s 2019-20 budget battered by COVID-19, deficit expected to climb further

British Columbia's finance minister says the province welcomes a federal government decision to extend help to businesses struggling with rent payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. B.C. Finance Minister Carole James speaks at a press conference at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito.
British Columbia's finance minister says the province welcomes a federal government decision to extend help to businesses struggling with rent payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. B.C. Finance Minister Carole James speaks at a press conference at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito.

British Columbia’s audited financial numbers have revealed the province’s worst kept secret: the COVID-19 pandemic has led to massive financial losses.

Finance Minister Carole James said the government’s final budget numbers show a deficit of $321 million from a projected surplus of $227 million for the 2019-20 budget.

Plummeting retail sales, dropping corporate profits and massive drops in tax revenues led to the province to forecast a provincial deficit of $12.5 billion for 2020-21. The deficit forecast is now up to $13.5 billion after the province announced an additional $1 billion for transit and municipalities.

Click to play video 'B.C. forecasting $12.5B deficit due to pandemic' B.C. forecasting $12.5B deficit due to pandemic
B.C. forecasting $12.5B deficit due to pandemic

“There is no question our province has experienced critical changes in the last six months but that doesn’t change the province’s strong foundation,” James said.

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“Despite the impacts of COVID-19, I am encouraged that B.C. continues to show positive signs, including improving employment numbers, robust capital spending and the best debt affordability in Canada.”

The losses in the early part of the pandemic, up until March 31, are linked to costs related to B.C.’s initial COVID-19 response, including a $298-million ICBC investment loss due to market conditions impacted by COVID-19.

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The provincial gross domestic product for 2019 grew by 2.8 per cent, above the national average of 1.7 per cent.

The government has put aside $1.5 billion for economic stimulus, along with the money set aside for municipalities and transit. The province is expected to outline where the money will be allocated as early as next week.

“The final quarter of the fiscal year brought many challenges,” James said.

“B.C. isn’t alone in facing these challenges, but we are in a strong position to weather them.”

B.C. continues to be the only province in Canada to hold a “AAA” credit rating.

Read more: B.C. unemployment rate improves to 11.1% in July with boosts in hospitality, tourism

B.C. had the lowest unemployment rate in Canada, an average of 4.7 per cent, during the last fiscal year, but that number skyrocketed due to the pandemic.

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British Columbia’s unemployment rate was 13 per cent in June and dropped to 11.1 per cent in July.

COVID-19 led to an estimated loss of $397 million in personal income tax revenue and $171 million in property tax revenue last year. Almost all of the drops driven by the last few weeks of March.

The total net loss of ICBC in 2019-20 was $376 million, $777 million less than the previous year͛’s net loss of over $1.1 billion.

Speculation and vacancy tax revenues were lower than anticipated in 2019-20, leading to a 19 per cent increase in available long-term rental units.

Click to play video 'Finance minister says B.C. needs to address $12.5B deficit ‘together’' Finance minister says B.C. needs to address $12.5B deficit ‘together’
Finance minister says B.C. needs to address $12.5B deficit ‘together’

Public accounts also provides a list public sector compensation.

Here are the top 10 in total compensation paid to senior management employees working in the province:

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  1. Thomas Bechard, president and CEO, Powerex. Total compensation 2019-20: $937,845.
  2. Santa J. Ono, president and vice-chancellor, University of British Columbia. Total compensation 2019-20: $605,225.
  3. Chris O’Riley, president and CEO, BC Hydro. Total compensation 2018-19: $554,900.
  4. Shelley Legin, CFO and vice-president administration, Vancouver Island University. Total compensation 2019-20: $521,556.
  5. Brenda Leong, chair, BC Securities Commission. Total compensation 2019-20: $515,203.
  6. Nicolas Jimenez, president and CEO, ICBC. Total compensation 2019-20: $474,680.
  7. Andrew Szeri, vice-president academic and provost, University of British Columbia. Total compensation 2019-20: $452,374.
  8. Andrew Petter, president, Simon Fraser University. Total compensation 2019-20: $443,850.
  9. James Cassels, president and vice chancellor, University of Victoria. Total compensation 2019-20: $443,207.
  10. David Wong, executive vice-president and CFO, finance, tech, supply chain, BC Hydro. Total compensation 2019-20: $437,755.

— With files from The Canadian Press