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Agriculture, local governments are top bailout priorities in B.C. poll

With two-thirds of British Columbians calling for financial assistance for retailers, the big question will be what to save and how.

In late April, Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Metro Vancouverites about the survival of specific components of the local tourism industry.

At the time, most residents believed governments should find a way to help restaurants, cafes, bars, retail outlets and boutiques affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As British Columbia begins to reopen after the lockdown, we asked the province’s residents about their views on whether 10 different business sectors should be eligible for a government bailout in order to continue offering their services. Across the province, the highest level of support for government assistance is observed for agri-food companies (73%), individual municipalities (70%), retailers (67%) and news organizations (57%).

The federal government has been particularly active in supporting the agrifood industry, increasing the lending capacity of Farm Credit Canada by an additional $5 billion and launching a venture capital fund to help companies adapt to the challenges that lie ahead.

With two-thirds of British Columbians calling for financial assistance for retailers, the big question will be what to save and how. Before the pandemic, we had already seen corporations closing bricks-and-mortar stores and moving to an online model. Any additional assistance for retailers may have to focus more on avoiding layoffs and less in facilitating leases for large spaces.

On individual municipalities, there is a conundrum, as local governments are not allowed to run a deficit. In April, some mayors expressed satisfaction with the measures of the provincial government related to borrowing authority for local governments and tax deferrals for businesses. This, however, stopped short of being an actual bailout.

If the federal or provincial governments decided to take a different course of action to ensure that municipalities can meet the needs of residents, they would not face a political meltdown. Solid majorities of residents who voted for the BC Liberals (78%), the BC New Democratic Party (71%) and the BC Green Party (63%) in 2017 are in favour of bailing out individual municipalities.

The public is divided on some other components of the provincial economy. Just under half of British Columbians are in favour of allowing airlines (49%) and film and entertainment companies (45%) to be eligible for government bailouts.

Airlines appear to be the type of business that would benefit from federal action, especially as it has become patently evident that international tourism will not be coming back to British Columbia in its previous form any time soon. Help has been provided so far in an attempt to stave off job losses, but it has not been completely effective. Provinces are starting to reopen and will urge Canadians to act as international tourists this summer: visit restaurants, stay the night and spend on souvenirs. Domestic flights could take a prominent role if the push to restart economic activity embraces interprovincial tourism.

Regions of the province that are not touched as prominently by the film and entertainment industry are not as likely to support a bailout. But in Metro Vancouver, where productions were happening every day before the pandemic, half of residents (50%) are in favour of governmental financial assistance.

As was the case when we asked Metro Vancouverites in April, British Columbians are more likely to endorse a bailout of taxi companies (49%) than ride-hailing companies (39%). In both instances, men are more supportive of this course of action (53% for taxis and 48% for ride-hailers) than women (46% and 32% respectively).

Enacting a program to help a different component of the local economy appears to be more complicated. Across the province, 38% of residents think individual sports franchises should be eligible for a government bailout, and 34% would extend this possible benefit to professional sports leagues.

As British Columbia paces slowly to Phase 3 of the pandemic recovery, some sporting events are happening in other parts of the world, albeit without fans in the stands. Residents of this province do not currently perceive sports franchises and leagues as a priority that requires immediate attention.

As expected, there is a sizable gender gap on sports that is not present in other industries. While 46% of men would allow governments to buttress individual franchises, only 29% of women concur. Also, while 43% of male respondents think government funds should assist professional leagues, just 26% of their female counterparts agree.

There are also some nuances on all questions when it comes to age. British Columbians aged 55 and over are the least likely to support bailouts in the areas of transportation, information, entertainment and sports. There might be an ideological opposition to deficits from Baby Boomers, as well as growing concerns about present and future commitments.

Younger residents appear more optimistic. British Columbians aged 35 to 54 – with established careers and eager to return to life as it was before the pandemic – are more likely to want to save everything. B.C. residents aged 18 to 34 put news organizations ahead of sports leagues and franchises.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from June 5 to June 7, 2020, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.