Provincial Labour Minister Harry Bains says it has been “impressive” to witness the resilience of Surrey businesses during the pandemic.
“Here is Surrey, when I look around, I see a lot of good things happening,” Bains said, with the city’s SkyTrain expansion project in the works, the planning process for a new hospital in Cloverdale “well under way,” and the Pattullo Bridge replacement project “also moving ahead.”
The long-term NDP MLA for Surrey Newton was the guest speaker Friday during a digital meeting hosted by the Surrey Board of Trade.
“When I spoke to you last April, we were in the first wave of COVID-19 and we were hopeful that things would quickly return to normal,” he said. “I never imagined that I would be here again, almost one year later, and still in a pandemic. But these are the times we live in.”
Bains said it’s encouraging to see Surrey recover almost 30,000 jobs since the pandemic began – roughly 80 per cent of the jobs that were lost to the pandemic – and despite challenges posed by COVID-19, Surrey issued nearly $1.5 billion in c0nstruction permits last year, more than the 10-year-average.
“Surrey’s effort in bending the curve has been among the best,” Bains said. “The local business community deserves much of the credit for being cooperative, proactive and providing feedback to us on needed changes.”
He said the provincial government has made it easier for small and medium-sized businesses to access help through its business recovery program, this week extending the application deadline to get one-time grants of between $10,000 and $30,000 “to help them regain their footing.”
There’s an extra $5,000 to $15,000 available to businesses in the tourism industry, one of the hardest hit in the pandemic, and Stronger BC is offering tax credits to make it easier to hire workers. Also, he noted, there’s a 100 per cent provincial sales tax rebate for things like farm equipment, and reduced commercial property taxes by an average of 45 per cent and delayed payments and interest for struggling businesses.
WorkSafeBC, Bains said, has to date conducted more than 23,000 COVID-related workplace inspections “on top of the usual workload.”
“They have done and continue to do an amazing job, I might say.”
Bains said 73,000 more job openings are forecast in the trades within the decade
Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman asked Bains about forestry, noting this city has many businesses in that sector.
The MLA said the forestry market is “red hot” despite having struggled in recent years, with over 35,000 jobs lost.
“I’ve never seen forestry as hot market as I see today,” he said. “It is I think an industry with a future.”
Huberman also asked Bains how his ministry is “interfacing” with work safety issues related to Surrey’s policing transition.
He replied that “a number of initiatives have been taken – it is a complex situation when it comes to crime, gang violence and public safety, drug and gun violence.”
Bains noted Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth recently introduced a bill to take stronger measures to control guns and their transportation.
“Again, I think it is a complex area to deal with and I think it requires a very comprehensive plan to deal with the crime going forward.”