British Columbia

B.C. braces for economic impact as coronavirus cancellations pile up

Local tourism industries are expected to take 'significant' hit as Canada bans cruise ships, big events are shut down, and major league sports are suspended.

Tourism industry expected to take 'significant' hit as Canada bans cruise ships and big events are suspended

Princess Cruises' Emerald Princess arrives at Canada Place in Vancouver in the early hours of March 29, 2019, marking the start of last year's local cruise ship season. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

The economic implications of an extended COVID-19 crisis are beginning to materialize with mass event cancellations, major league sports suspended and, critical to British Columbia, a temporary ban on cruise ships. 

The federal government tightened measures Friday, urging against all non-essential travel outside Canada, restricting the number of airports accepting international flights and delaying the start of the 2020 cruise ship season. 

Ottawa announced all Canadian ports will be closed to cruise ships with more than 500 people on board, including passengers and crew, until at least July 1. 

"With Victoria being Canada's busiest cruise ship port of call, this will have some impact," said Ian Robertson, CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. "At this point, we think we are going to see 117 calls that will be missed."

A major part of the province's tourism sector, Victoria's cruise ship industry alone employs 1,000 people and brings in $130 million a year. The suspension is expected to trigger a $70-million hit to the local economy. 

The cruise ship industry is worth $100M annually to Victoria and employs 1,000 people, according to the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. (Greater Victoria Harbour Authority)

"We do know the tourism sector is very resilient," B.C. Tourism Minister Lisa Beare told CBC News on Thursday. "We've seen that over the past couple years with wildfires and floods. 

"We know that if we can focus on the summer season and hopefully get a number of visitors here during the summer season, we'll be able to protect our tourism industry."

'Unprecedented period in our history'

Premier John Horgan acknowledged that temporarily cancelling this year's cruise ship season will be a big blow to B.C., but called it an appropriate step. 

"I think this is an unprecedented period in our history," Horgan told reporters in Victoria following a conference call with his counterparts and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Horgan said the en masse event cancellations will compound the financial fallout, pointing specifically to the tourism dollars and job certainty that will be lost with the Canucks and Whitecaps seasons now suspended.

All major sports leagues in North America announced the suspension of their seasons Thursday, including the Vancouver Whitecaps, who play at B.C. Place. (Vancouver Whitecaps)

"The consequences to those people who work in concessions, to those people who derive their income from events, from hospitality ... to concerns in the film sector — we've seen the suspension of some productions here — sector by sector by sector, you're seeing disruption."

He said his primary concern is making sure people don't feel the pressure of fiscal consequences if they don't go to work.

"We're ready to work with the federal government and sector by sector to protect those businesses, and equally important, to make sure that their employees do not feel that they have to go to work when they shouldn't," said Horgan.

The activity on the stock market alone has had a profound impact on a whole host of sectors, and that will have an impact on revenues going forward.- B.C. Premier John Horgan

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James, who has said growth projections are already starting to shift, is working on a stimulus package designed to ease economic anxieties.

"[We're looking] at where we can find relief for people, whether it be on property taxes for small businesses or a host of other initiatives, that could stimulate or at least take the pressure off," Horgan said. "If that means the budget will be changed, then we'll do that."

As for the implications to B.C.'s current budget surplus and the $900-million forecast allowance over the next three years, he insisted adjustments will be made as needed.

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks to reporters at the legislature in Victoria following the first ministers conference call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

"We have a balanced budget this year, next year, and the year after; but that's definitely at risk," he warned. "The activity on the stock market alone has had a profound impact on a whole host of sectors, and that will have an impact on revenues going forward."

However, Horgan emphasized that will not stop his government from spending where necessary.

"I did not seek election and did not want to form a government just to balance a budget," he said. "It was to deliver services to people — and that remains unchanged."

About the Author

Provincial Affairs Reporter covering the B.C. Legislature. Anything political: tanya.fletcher@cbc.ca

now