A new dashboard from the South Island Prosperity Partnership will help measure the effects of COVID-19 on Greater Victoria’s economy on a month-to-month basis. (Black Press Media file photo)

‘Depression-era’ unemployment figures could hit Greater Victoria

South Island Prosperity Project launches new dashboard to measure effects of COVID-19

Greater Victoria could hit “depression-era” unemployment numbers in the coming months according to a new report from the South Island Prosperity Partnership.

For the first time, the South Island Prosperity Partnership (SIPP) created a dashboard to help measure how Greater Victoria’s economy is doing as businesses and residents deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While SIPP was in the midst of creating its 2020 South Island Prosperity Index – a snapshot positioning the region amongst other comparable cities – the pandemic hit and the world changed.

In response, SIPP created the Rising Economy Taskforce with different governments and stakeholders to figure out what actions are necessary for the region to recover. To support it, a responsive set of indicators was also needed to track monthly status and progress of things such as unemployment, real estate, hotel occupancy and more. The indicators have become part of a dashboard that can help provide a picture of what economic change and status looks like in the region.

READ ALSO: Transportation, housing, diversity need improvement in Greater Victoria

While there is some lag in the data, SIPP says the taskforce will advise on new indicators that will be assessed for a June edition of the dashboard. For now, the data serves as a baseline, according to SIPP.

The May edition is already starting to reveal the hit to the economy in Greater Victoria starting in March and April. A report from SIPP says there are five metro regions in Canada that have been listed by the Conference Board of Canada as most at risk for job losses in industries hardest hit by the pandemic. Greater Victoria is one of those regions with 9.1 per cent of the workforce in the accommodation and food services sector.

“We’re well above the national average of 7.1 per cent,” the report says. “This makes us vulnerable.”

The report says the region could see “depression-era double-digit figures for unemployment” despite Greater Victoria having the lowest unemployment rate in Canada of 3.2 per cent in February. In April, unemployment hit 7.2 per cent but the report says that number could be even higher as Statistics Canada uses a three-month moving average to report these figures.

READ ALSO: South Island leaders form taskforce to address economic crisis amidst COVID-19

“In April, Greater Victoria was still appearing as having the third-lowest unemployment rate out of Canada’s census metropolitan areas,” the report says. “This could change drastically as the impact on tourism (and sectors that also rely to a certain extent on tourism spending) starts to lag in the economy.”

While data for hotel occupancy is on a lagged reporting period with most recent numbers from February, the report says occupancy will likely be low for the foreseeable future. Tourism and international travel is sitting at a to be determined status based on COVID-19 vaccines and treatment effectiveness but hotels will be able to open again in June according to the province’s re-start plan.

“If people in B.C. invest heavily in ‘staycations,’ this could help alleviate the low occupancy,” the report says.

Real estate sales volumes are also down drastically since April, according to the report which says it is to be expected due to social distancing measures in place.

Other indicators such as building permits, real estate prices, BC Transit weekday boardings, monthly passengers at the airport and BC Ferries passengers are also part of the dashboard. More indicators and more data will be available for the June edition but in the meantime the dashboard can be found at southislandprosperity.ca/economic-recovery-dashboard/.

shalu.mehta@blackpress.ca


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