FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – British Columbia’s Minister of Finance, Selina Robinson, joined Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, Tumbler Ridge, Fort Nelson, and Fort St. John Chambers of Commerce for a power lunch on Wednesday.

Robinson gave a presentation on the 2021 budget and answered questions from attendees.

“Budget 2021 is about building today, for a better tomorrow,” said Robinson. “It responds to the impacts of the pandemic and today’s challenges. It prepares us for the challenges ahead by investing in health care, strengthening the services we all depend on, and building a bridge to recovery.”

Robinson says the province is expected to have a recovery year. In fact, she estimates B.C. is poised to recover better than the national average.

“We have an abundance of natural resources. We are the gateway to Asia. We have highly skilled people, and budget 2021 is focused on the province’s response and recovery from the effects of COVID-19.”

Robinson points out a number of significant changes to the budget for health, transportation, and education sectors.

“These are things like hospitals and schools and post-secondary facilities, transit, roads and other infrastructure that’s needed around the province. It’s expected to be a record $26.4 billion over the fiscal plan period.”

Budget 2021 has earmarked $7.8 billion in capital investments to support new hospitals, and upgrades to existing ones.

Northern Rockies Regional Municipality Mayor Gary Foster raised the topic of tourism in northern British Columbia, especially along the Alaska Highway, asking for an additional look at what can be done for tourism operators in the area.

“We live along the Alaska Highway, and that’s been virtually shut off to American travellers. So we’ve had the tap shut off on us here for over a year, and it has been absolutely devastating for some of these tourist operators,” said Foster.

Peace River North MLA Dan Davies highlighted the importance of the Taylor Bridge replacement. He called it a critical piece of infrastructure, not just for the Peace region but all of British Columbia, Yukon, and Alaska. Also, Davies repeated the push for better connectivity in rural communities and along the highway corridor.

“Further north of Fort St. John, north of Fort Nelson, really need to be focusing on how do we improve that connectivity? You go north of Fort Nelson, there’s nothing until you get to Watson Lake, Yukon,” said Davies.

Robinson touched on the point raised by power lunch participants about small and medium-sized business grants and how some businesses have trouble qualifying.

Specifically, some businesses are licensed in Alberta, but hundreds of British Columbians are employed by the company, making it difficult to qualify for provincial grants.

“I think that’s another lesson that I’ve certainly learned in our government about how important communication is. At the end of the day, we want to help you be the best you can be, take care of your families, take care of your businesses, be part of your communities, and this is another takeaway for us as well.”