Viewpoint: British Columbians should have a voice as we as recover from COVID-19

It's hard to believe it's been only four months since the world as we knew it changed drastically.

We are amidst one of the largest challenges in BC's history, with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as bad as we have ever seen. We have had to close many parts of our economy to prevent the spread of the virus and protect British Columbians, as well as protect our province from even more economic damage.

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The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have not been the same for everyone. Some demographics and sectors were harder hit than others. Notably, the youth unemployment rate remains a staggering 29 per cent and women make up most of the job losses in the hardest hit sectors.

We are seeing encouraging signs as we move through our gradual economic restart. We have regained 40 per cent of jobs lost since the pandemic began, with more than 118,000 British Columbians returning to work in the month of June alone.

But there is still more work to do as we build a strong recovery and a more secure future for everybody in BC. A one-size-fits-all approach to recovery will not work, nor should we expect that it could.

Behind the statistics are people, families and businesses worried about their futures and their children's futures. Their ideas and priorities are important as BC continues to build a strong economic recovery.

That's why we have asked British Columbians to share their feedback on the province's economic recovery. In just over four weeks, more than 10,000 British Columbians have now shared their views and ideas through a comprehensive online survey. This is in addition to numerous virtual public town halls and the direct work we've been doing with the business, First Nations, labour and non-profit sectors. I encourage everyone to participate in the survey, which is open until July 21, because your views are important.

Although it has been a uniquely challenging period for many these past months, the people of the province have pulled together in extraordinary ways and have shown we are stronger when we come together with a common goal. In responding to this crisis, we have shown we can take care of each other through cooperation and partnership. We have flattened the curve as a result, which allowed us to enter Phase 3 of our restart plan in June.

Rebuilding our economy after the outbreak will be an immense job, and I don't think this comes as a surprise. But we are restarting from a place of strength with a great many advantages.

We entered this crisis with zero operating debt, a desirable position that allowed us to invest immediately in a response plan focusing on three main priorities: protecting people's health; providing income, rental and other supports for individuals and businesses; and ensuring essential services like public transit remained available. We will continue to adapt and respond as needed to support people through this crisis.

Our recovery plan is an opportunity to build a strong, resilient, innovative economy that leaves no one behind, while focusing on our province's core values, like making life more affordable, honouring the rights of Indigenous peoples and acting on climate change.

By building on our strengths and drawing on our people, I am confident we will restore economic growth and achieve a vibrant, inclusive, competitive economy for all British Columbians. Together, we can rebuild a strong, resilient, innovative economy that leaves no one behind.

Carole James is BC's minister of finance.

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