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The economy is in a race against time. Businesses continue to adapt and operate in a diminished return environment awaiting the vaccine rollout and a reset that will follow. The winter/spring will be difficult, but recovery is within reach as we are winning the local race against the pandemic.
With longer days, a deferred winter and lessened restrictions relative to neighbouring provinces, we have weathered the economic assault better than most. The worst may still be yet to come as viruses tend to move west to east, but our CPHO directive compliance gives us reason to remain optimistic.
I tend not to dispense political accolades easily; however, our premier can be acknowledged for service navigating this pandemic. Premier Dennis King can be credited with the right balance of leadership and compassion in protection of Islanders. With vaccine rollout on the cusp of acceleration, attention must now turn to recovery.
A number of sectors have remained strong through this pandemic, but the majority have faced unprecedented challenge from online assault, the depopulation of government offices and mobility restrictions. Despite this, our labour market remains relatively in balance.
Year over year, the available labour pool has declined about two per cent, roughly equivalent to the numbers of foreign labour the province has invited to support the economy over the last year. Low fixed income returns, and pandemic challenges have retained an aging workforce and this experience is needed in uncertain times.
There remains disparity in workforce gender, according to Statistic Canada’s December data. While women make up a larger volume of the population, men have a greater participation rate of 69.4 per cent in the economy while women are engaged 10-per-cent less at 59.1 per cent. Reducing this discrepancy should be an outcome of pandemic data analysis (as is the incidents of RSV, influenza, premature births, personal debt management, family violence, physical activity, impacts on climate change, underground economy … so much data to explore and develop robust public policy through this forced experiment).
The next several months may be the most critical period to chart our course of public policy. This spring will mark the first full and unfettered budget Finance Minister Darlene Compton has had the opportunity to present. It will determine the priorities of the government's mandate and the catalysts for recovery.
Providing targeted financial inducements will be a delicate act as the economy opens. With increased vaccinations and a potential flight of capital through travel, how the government positions critical provincial investments to our province will be a challenge.
Will investment be directed to business infrastructure improvement and disruptive economic models? Will the overheated construction sector be further fuelled and how will Progressive Conservative fundaments of tax reduction be managed in a period of deficit investments? Can business be supported as economic recovery enablers through burden reduction and will positive federal relations continue to work to our provincial benefit?
The pandemic has been a challenge. There is more economic carnage in the coming months, but forward looking we can see the finish line and business has the endurance to complete this trial.
Blake Doyle is The Guardian’s small business columnist.