BY ANDREW DUFFY
Though details are sketchy and the ink still damp on the federal budget, industries that could benefit from the billions in new spending announced yesterday by federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty were in agreement that any infusion of cash at this point had to be seen as positive.
"It's all good news, it all helps," said Greg Baynton president of the Vancouver Island Construction Association. "It would be nice if it was a little bit more of course, but I guess everyone is saying that these days."
The VICA was reacting to the $21.3 billion announced for infrastructure projects, energy retrofits, community recreation projects and social housing spending announced as part of the $40-billion two-year stimulus package included in the budget.
Members of Baynton's organization, which does commercial, industrial and institutional construction, stand to benefit from the $12 billion tabbed for infrastructure, $7.8 billion earmarked for housing, construction, renovations and energy retrofits, $500 million for hockey arenas, swimming pools and other community recreational facilities and the $1 billion set aside for social housing.
There are a slew of infrastructure wish lists floating around the province, but Baynton is hopeful Greater Victoria will get the chance to check some of its wishes off the list — highways, water-supply infrastructure, bridge work as well as refitting and perhaps expanding aging facilities like the Royal B.C. Museum and Royal Athletic Park.
"That kind of stuff brings added value to the community, venues [like that] have been there a long time and they are the kind of venues that attract people to the city," he said.
Victoria's homebuilders were singing a similar song yesterday.
Casey Edge, executive director of the Canadian Homebuilders Association of Victoria, said the infusion of cash could go a long way to injecting some much needed confidence into the consumer.
The federal package announced yesterday includes a refundable tax credit for renovations, the tax credit for first-time home buyers, expansion of the ecoEnergy home energy retrofit initiative and additional support for skilled trades training.
"From our perspective we have excellent fundamentals in Greater Victoria, where we have the lowest unemployment rate in the country and historical low mortgage interest rates and yet consumer confidence is very soft," he said. "What I think the government is trying to do is put a little money back into the consumers's pockets and get them to invest in their community."
Philip Hochstein, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association noted this package could have a huge ripple effect in B.C.
"Every $1 billion spent on construction creates 20,000 direct and indirect jobs, so not only will B.C. benefit from the federal government's commitment to infrastructure building, but we'll also see more job creation and positive economic spin-off," he said.
The stimulus package could also keep workers hopping at Victoria Shipyards. Part of the package included $175 million to build 98 new small vessels, lifeboats and barges for the coast guard.
Victoria Shipyards, which has done coast guard work in the past, is already working "fairly steady" at this point according to general manager Malcolm Barker and is anticipating a busy cruise ship season, but that didn't stop him from smiling over the new money.
"I haven't seen any details yet, but any time they announce spending money on the coast fixing, building or modifying ships then I am all ears," he said.
The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce was also giving Flaherty's stimulus package a thumbs-up.
"Our challenge now will be to identify those projects that can be brought forward through a municipal partnership and still represent a long-term economic benefit to the entire region," said chamber CEO Bruce Carter, noting expansions to the airport runway, the Ogden Point Cruise Ship terminal and the Vancouver Island Technology Park should be on the radar.
The tourism industry welcomed the federal government's initiatives, noting $800 million in new spending will certainly help as the industry has hit "challenging economic times."
The funding initiatives included $40 million in marketing money over two years for the Canadian Tourism Commission, $100 million for marquee festivals and events over two years and $150 million for Canada's national parks system.
Tourism Industry Association of Canada president and CEO Randy Williams said those investments will improve the way "we deliver experiences of some of Canada's most important tourism destinations, and will provide both international and domestic travellers with even more compelling and urgent reasons to visit Canada."