VANCOUVER -- B.C.'s finance minister says the COVID-19 pandemic affected the province's financial results for the 2019-20 fiscal year, leading to a $321 million deficit.

In an update releasing audited statements from the 2019 budget, Carole James says "unforeseen changes" in 2019's fourth fiscal quarter led to the significant deficit.

James says the deficit is $595 million lower than the surplus originally projected in the 2019 budget.

"While the first three quarters of 2019-20 reflected a modest surplus and steady economic growth, COVID-19 led to lower tax revenues and losses at ICBC in the fourth quarter," James said in a news release.

"Despite the impacts of COVID-19, I am encouraged that B.C. continues to show positive signs, including improving employment numbers, robust capital spending and the best debt affordability in Canada."

James says the costs associated with the pandemic – like public health measures – along with lower tax revenue because of the pandemic are some of the reasons for the deficit.

She says there was also a $298-million ICBC investment lost because of market conditions due to COVID-19 that also contributed.

"The final quarter of the fiscal year brought many challenges," James said. "B.C. isn't alone in facing these challenges, but we are in a strong position to weather them."

In a fiscal update last month, James reported B.C.'s budget had been shattered by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a deficit of $12.5 billion for 2020-21.

She says the numbers are staggering with job losses of 235,000 since February and a predicted economic decline of 6.8 per cent by the end of this year.

With files from The Canadian Press