British Columbia province forecasts C$12.5 bln operating deficit in 2020/21

Credit: REUTERS/Kevin Light

By Moira Warburton

July 14 (Reuters) - The Canadian province of British Columbia is forecasting a C$12.5 billion ($9.2 billion) operating deficit in 2020/21 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the province's finance minister, Carole James, said on Tuesday.

In February, the Pacific Coast province's left-leaning New Democratic Party minority government forecast a surplus of C$227 million ($167 million) for fiscal 2020/21 beginning April 1.

James attributed the estimated deficit to the government's emergency spending to support businesses and individuals suffering from COVID-19 lockdowns and a significant drop in revenues because of the pandemic.

"The projected numbers are staggering, but they're not without hope. ... Today's fiscal update, though certainly far from Budget 2020 and the surplus we tabled before the pandemic, provides us the opportunity to build a stronger B.C.," James said.

The government has spent C$6.26 billion on support measures during the pandemic, including tax breaks for businesses, income support and rent supplements, according to a government release.

British Columbia lost 235,100 jobs between February and June, bringing unemployment in the province to 13% from 5% in the same period, according to government figures.

The province, which has a population of about 5 million, had reported 3,115 cases of COVID-19 and 189 deaths as of Monday.

"The pandemic has exposed underlying gaps in our economy and society," James said. "We have been reminded of the need for strong public services and supports ... as we move forward with the economic recovery of our province."

($1 = 1.3623 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Chris Reese and Peter Cooney)

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