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Fiscal & Tax Policy

As a small, open trading region, BC depends on investment and trade to support ongoing economic development and public services. A competitive tax regime and balanced government finances are key advantages in attracting investments to BC. The Council plays an important role in analyzing BC’s fiscal policies relative to other jurisdictions and advocating for reforms that boost our competitiveness.

A Snapshot of Health Care Spending -- In Canada and Around the World

Health care in Canada consumed more than 40% of aggregate provincial government revenues in 2015, with the public and private spending necessary to provide the full suite of health services amounting to 10.7% of national GDP.

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Finlayson Op-Ed: Liberals step up state involvement, downplay role of enterprise in economy (Business in Vancouver)

Bill Morneau’s spending-heavy budget underscores two important shifts in the country’s economic and political landscape.

The first is Canada’s diminished economic prospects in an era of weak global growth and sluggish commodity markets. In the past two years, Canada has been buffeted by a substantial “terms of trade” shock, as the prices of our exports have fallen relative to what we pay for imports. Commodity prices, in particular, have plunged, a real blow for an economy that relies on natural resource industries for half of its exports and two-fifths of business investment.

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BCBC Column: Budget 2016: What's in it for British Columbia? (Vancity Buzz)

Tuesday’s budget dips the country deeper into deficit to bring long promised support to lift up the middle class, First Nations, veterans and students. Although short on a clear path towards economic growth, the budget does offer some goodies that will compliment other efforts by the Liberal Government to advance innovation, infrastructure development and investment.

So – what’s in it for BC?  Here’s a closer look at what yesterday’s budget means for you and the BC economy.

How far into the red are we going?

While no one likes to accumulate debt, with today’s record-low interest rates and when spent strategically to support economic growth, deficit spending can help boost an otherwise lagging national economy. It is also important to keep some perspective.  The $30 billion in red ink that the Finance Minister is planning for each of the next two years should be seen against the backdrop of Canada’s $2 trillion economy.    The federal government’s  debt-to-GDP ratio is the lowest of the G7 countries. With that being said, the Business Council would like to see a strong focus over the medium term to bring the budget back into balance.   

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Finlayson & Peacock Op-Ed: British Columbia is out-performing most other provinces (Vancouver Sun)

Against the backdrop of slumping commodity markets and tepid global growth, British Columbia near-term economic prospects are surprisingly positive, creating a largely favourable backdrop for this week’s provincial budget. A recent Business Council report highlights some of the reasons why B.C. is doing better than Canada on several widely-cited performance metrics — including economic growth, job creation, retail sales, and housing-related investment.

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Finlayson Op-Ed: B.C.’ s industrial economy is fading (Vancouver Sun)

Statistics Canada recently reported that B.C.’s economy grew by 3.2 per cent after inflation in 2014, putting B.C. second among the provinces. Gains in residential and commercial construction and a solid advance in consumer spending were the key contributing factors. The job market, however, was surprisingly subdued, with employment rising by less than 1 per cent on a year-over-year basis.

As the clock winds down on 2015, it appears that B.C.’s macro-economy continues to perform fairly well, at least by Canadian standards. Economic growth should end up exceeding 2.5 per cent this year, with strength in retail sales, housing-related activity, tourism, film production, and parts of the advanced technology sector. At a time when Canada’s economy is being pummeled by a deep slump in global oil and metals prices, B.C. is holding its own.

Yet if we look below the surface, the economic picture in the province is less favourable. In particular, what might be described as the “industrial economy” is clearly struggling, with negative implications for business investment and exports.

The “industrial economy” consists of primary resource extraction and related downstream processing in the forestry, mining, and agricultural sectors; the production, transmission and exporting of energy; oil and gas refining, chemical production, and cement/concrete manufacturing; food processing; plastics; non-metallic minerals; metal fabrication; primary metal manufacturing; and beverage manufacturing industries.

Taken together, the industries carry significant weight in our economy. Collectively, they employ almost 200,000 British Columbians, most of whom enjoy wages and benefits that surpass the average. These industries also represent an important source of demand for the outputs of many B.C. service sectors, including transportation, engineering, scientific and technical services, other professional services, environmental consulting, and financial services. Perhaps most strikingly, the enterprises that comprise the industrial economy dominate B.C.’s export base, accounting for around four-fifths of the province’s international exports, year after year.

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British Columbia Since 1995: A Brief Retrospective

As we ponder what British Columbia will look like in 2035 as part of our 50th anniversary programme, it is useful to review how the province’s economy and society have been reshaped over the past two decades, a period of time that has seen the rise of Asia, an expansion of BC’s gateway economy, the development of new and emerging industries, various commodity cycles, changes in the currency, steady inflows of migrants, population aging, and continued urbanization. 

What follows is a brief snapshot of a number of significant, high-level economic and demographic trends that have influenced the province since the mid-1990s.  But first, to provide a bit of context, we highlight a few features of the political setting and the wider external environment from two decades ago. 

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Peacock Op-Ed: Canada’s Participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership is Good for BC (Business in Surrey)

Canada was at the table when negotiations recently concluded for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, the largest, most ambitious free trade initiative in history. This is good news for ourprovince. The TPP is a comprehensive trade deal that will help expand and secure access to much of the markets of key Asia-Pacific nations. Although growth in emerging markets has slowed of late, Asia is still projected to comprise two-thirds of the world’s middle class by 2030-35, and will grow to account for upwards of one-half of world GDP within three decades. There will be early benefits from participating in the TPP, but most of the upside will emerge over the medium term.

The TPP currently has 12 participating countries:  Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. Over time the expectation is that other countries, perhaps including China and South Korea, will also join. Last year, BC exported nearly $23 billion to the other 11 TPP member countries, which accounted for more than 60% of our total merchandise exports.

One reason the TPP is good for BC is it will enhance and deepen these existing trading relationships. Once in force, the agreement will eliminate tariffs on almost all of BC’s key exports and provide secure access to growing economies in the Asia-Pacific. BC will have an advantage over non-TPP countries (notably Europe and Russia) by having duty free access for most of our major merchandise exports, including: wood and other forest products; aluminum, iron and steel products; seafood; agricultural products, and chemicals and plastics. Although global trade has been liberalized and barriers have been steadily lowered over the past few decades, BC’s exports still face sizable tariffs in some TPP markets, ranging from 5% to as much as 40% in a few countries. Japan, BC’s third largest export market, levies tariffs of 6% on some lumber products, 5% on many seafood items and 15% on ice wine. Malaysia has stiff tariffs of 40% on some plywood and panel products. Vietnam also has many punitive tariffs in place.

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Finlayson Op-Ed: Memo to Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Troy Media)

Congratulations on your election to the House of Commons as the MP for Toronto Centre and your appointment as Minister of Finance.  Business leaders across Canada wish you well as you come to grips with the economic challenges that lie ahead.

One challenge is that Canada appears to have entered a period of sub-par growth.  Our economy lost ground over the first half of 2015, largely due to the impact of sharply lower oil prices together with weakness in the markets for many other commodities that form a large part of Canada’s export basket.  More recent data signal a pick-up in activity over the summer and into the fall.  However, for 2015 as a whole, inflation-adjusted gross domestic product (real GDP) is likely to increase by perhaps 1 per cent, down from an average of 2.2 per cent over 2013-14.

The economy should gain a bit of momentum through 2016, in response to the ongoing expansion in the United States, the low Canadian dollar, and continued accommodative monetary policy.  Real GDP is expected to climb by 1.5-2.0 per cent next year.  But looking further ahead, Canada also faces stiff economic headwinds from lower-for-longer commodity prices, record high levels of household indebtedness, and weak overall business investment. A slow growth macro-economic environment lends support to your government’s plan to expand infrastructure spending over the next few years.   But while spending more on infrastructure is a sound idea, the most convincing reason for doing so is not to boost short-term aggregate demand, but instead to make Canada’s economy more productive and competitive.  This includes ensuring that critical infrastructure is in place to enable our resource, manufacturing and tourism industries to connect with and efficiently sell into global markets.

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Finlayson, Ragan Op-Ed: We need a serious discussion about congestion pricing (Vancouver Sun)

In the past year, public debate in Metro Vancouver has focused heavily on how to pay for new transportation capacity. But there is a critical missing piece in this mobility puzzle. Improved transit services and more investment in roads are needed but they aren’t enough. Experience shows that we can’t just build our way out of gridlock. We won’t solve the problem of traffic congestion without also changing the underlying incentives. That’s why we need a serious discussion about congestion pricing.

This summer’s transit referendum was about how to pay for new transit investments. Its failure doesn’t signal that people are happy being stuck in traffic; nor does it signal that we are using our current infrastructure efficiently. There are several things that pretty much everyone agrees with regarding transportation in Metro Vancouver. First, traffic congestion is extremely costly: time lost in traffic costs people and businesses in the region at least $1.4 billion per year. Second, more and expanded public-transit options are necessary, as are maintenance, repairs and upgrading of existing roads and bridges. Third, those transportation investments somehow will have to be made, for neither businesses nor residents can afford to live without them indefinitely.

Another point of agreement is that traffic congestion is getting worse. Given that Metro Vancouver’s population is projected to grow by about million people over the next 25 years, one can easily imagine how bad things could get. As population and port activities increase, container truck traffic will also grow. Who pays for the time that trucks spend idling on backed-up highways and arterial roads? These time delays raise costs for businesses and increase prices for consumers. We all pay for traffic congestion.

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Finlayson Op-Ed: 3 Reasons we don't need to worry about inflation (Troy Media & Business in Vancouver)

Across most of the advanced economies, inflation is running well below the rates targeted by central banks.  In the United States, the principal inflation measure tracked by the Federal Reserve sits at barely 1 per cent, despite an expanding economy and a tightening labour market.  In Japan and Eurozone, central banks have set policy interest rates at zero and are aggressively pumping money into the economy to avoid deflation – defined as a generalized fall in prices.  In both the UK and Canada, the short-term policy interest rates directly controlled by central banks remain near all-time lows.  Almost everywhere, financial markets seem to be discounting the prospect of higher inflation.  As Bank of England Governor Mark Carney recently observed, even today, some six years after the bottom of the 2008-09 slump, “there are profound secular and cyclical disinflationary forces at work in the global economy.”

Looking ahead, an argument can be made that we should worry less about the prospect of escalating costs and prices across multiple markets for goods, services, labour, and raw materials – i.e., about inflation. There are several reasons why.

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Finlayson Op-Ed: Tax policies discourage small business from getting bigger (Troy Media)

The latest federal budget confirms and reinforces what seems to be an enduring belief among many Canadian policy-makers that it is better for enterprises to stay small than to build up their top lines, bottom lines and employee head counts.  According to Budget 2015, the Conservative government plans to lower the federal small business income tax rate from 11 per cent to 9 per cent by 2019.  The rate reductions will come in four half-point steps, starting in January 2016.  There is to be no change in the general federal corporate tax rate on income above the small business threshold level ($500,000) – that rate remains at 15 per cent.

All of the provinces follow the same general approach as Ottawa, by setting their small business tax rates below the rates charged to medium-sized and larger firms.  British Columbia, to take one example, presently levies a 2.5 per cent small business tax, while imposing an 11.0 per cent tax on earned income above the threshold amount.  The net result is summarized in the accompanying table: the combined federal/B.C. tax rate on small business income is currently about half of the rate on other income, with the gap set to widen over the next few years. 

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Amid an Oil Price Collapse…The Harper Government Delivers on its Balanced Budget Promise

The steep drop in the price of oil and related impact on federal finances prompted the Conservative government to delay bringing down the Budget. But despite a $6 billion hit to Ottawa’s revenues, Finance Minister Joe Oliver was determined to meet the government’s commitment to balance the operating budget by fiscal 2015-16, after seven years of red ink. Doing so required adding some modest amounts from asset sales and shrinking the contingency reserve, but in the end the government managed to erase last year’s small deficit ($2 billion) and is forecasting a razor-thin $1.4 billion surplus for 2015-16.

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Canada’s Environment for Entrepreneurship Compares Favourably

Entrepreneurship is an important source of innovation, economic growth and job creation. As such, greater attention is being paid to the role of public policy in fostering entrepreneurial activity.  Governments and international organizations are working to better understand and measure the factors that influence and support entrepreneurial activity.  The Organization for Economic Coordination and Development (OECD), for example, has developed a framework – Indicators of Entrepreneurial Determinants – that outlines some of the different factors it has identified as influencing entrepreneurship.  The framework provides international benchmarks for factors linked to business entrepreneurship.  Recognizing the need to better understand and quantify entrepreneurship, Industry Canada has prepared a research series that applies the OECD framework to the Canadian context.  The first in the Industry Canada series examines how Canada performs on two of the OECD’s six categories: Regulatory Framework and Market Conditions. 

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Finlayson Op-Ed: The Sobering Reality Behind Business Incentives (Troy Media)

Recent news stories from both sides of the Canada-U.S. border highlight the growing role of business incentives and “subsidies” in shaping the climate for corporate location and expansion decisions. 

The big three U.S. automobile producers are in the midst of downgrading their presence in Ontario as they build new plants in various American states as well as Mexico. Asian and European automobile producers are also stepping up capital spending in the U.S. and Mexico.    

One of the factors behind this trend is the rich incentive packages provided by U.S. state and local governments keen to secure auto-related manufacturing plants and jobs.  While Ontario and the Canadian government have also been prepared to spend taxpayers’ money to lure automobile investment, so far they have been unwilling to match the stupendous sums on offer in states such as Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Michigan.

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A Note on Business Tax Competitiveness in British Columbia

It’s slightly more than one year since BC scrapped the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) and returned to the former Provincial Sales Tax (PST) as the main tax on “consumption” in British Columbia. Now is therefore an opportune time to step back and assess the broader business tax structure and its impact on BC’s attractiveness as a place to invest and do business. This issue of Policy Perspectives considers several features of the tax system that impinge on business investment, expansion, and job creation. We do not examine the taxes paid by households – the focus here is on taxes that apply to enterprises and business activity.

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A Snapshot of Government Debt Across the Land

The start of the 2014 government budget season is an opportune moment to update the figures on accumulated public sector debt for Canada’s ten provinces as well as the national government.

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Federal Budget 2014 -
Following Through: No Surprises Federal Budget Moves to Surplus

Getting back to surplus remains the cornerstone of federal budgeting. With the deficit having swelled to more than $55 billion in the aftermath of the 2008-09 Great Recession and Financial Crisis, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty delivered a budget that has the government on the cusp of returning to the black. This is an admirable accomplishment, one achieved without any significant tax increases and involving a hefty dollop of restraint after spending had been ramped up during and after the recession.

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The Location of Corporate Headquarters in a Shifting Global Business Landscape

Emerging economies now account for roughly half of world economic output (measured using purchasing-power-parity exchange rates), and their share is projected to continue growing over the next several years and beyond. As they loom larger in global markets, emerging economies are also becoming more important as centers for all kinds of businesses, including the major multinational enterprises (MNEs) that traditionally have been concentrated in a handful of mature Western economies.

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Policy Perspectives:
The Economic Benefits of Encouraging Small Businesses to Grow

The role of small businesses necessarily features prominently in any discussion of the British Columbia economy. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that an orientation toward small businesses is a defining characteristic of the province’s private sector.

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Finlayson: Tax the rich! Oh, wait, we already do (Vancouver Sun)

The federal budget presented last March offered a timely reminder of something that many Canadians may not realize: a surprisingly big slice of the federal government's overall revenues comes from a single source, the personal income tax (PIT).

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