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BC Working on Recovery Plan for COVID-19 Crisis

Better EI benefits, help for business on agenda. But province is waiting for federal commitments.

Andrew MacLeod 17 Mar 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of All Together Healthy (Douglas & McIntyre, 2018). Find him on Twitter or reach him at

The British Columbia government plans to help people and businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s waiting to see what the federal government does.

“We want to know where the shortcomings are before we jump in,” B.C. Premier John Horgan said today. “We have to wait to see what the federal government has done so we can complement that work.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged $10 billion to support businesses during the pandemic and provincial officials are expecting more details Wednesday morning.

People in B.C. need to know the different levels of government are working together to make sure businesses and workers have what they need to get through the coming weeks, Horgan said.

“The objective of our government is to provide services for people. That’s why we’re here. We do not want to come up short. I’ve made that clear to deputy Prime Minister [Christina] Freeland in our daily discussions that we all need to work on this together.”

As of today there were 186 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in British Columbia and seven deaths.

“This is a crisis situation,” Horgan said. “Every sector’s going to be impacted. We’re going to need a plan. We’re working on that, we have been for weeks now.”

Finance Minister Carole James said B.C.’s priorities are to make sure the services and supports are in place to protect health and safety, work with the federal government to bring immediate relief for people and businesses and collaborate with the province’s business community to build a plan for economic recovery.

“The best economic plan we can have is to deal with the health and safety of people and that’s why that comes first,” James said.

She acknowledged the crisis would hurt the provincial economy and result in a budget deficit.

“British Columbians can be assured that government has your back. Together we’re going to get through this.”

The federal government has already announced it is reducing the waiting time before people can receive employment insurance after their jobs end, but more changes are needed, James said.

“Our government is strongly advocating for... extending the Employment Insurance program for people who wouldn’t typically qualify.”

That would include people who are self-employed, work part-time or who are contractors, she said.

The B.C. government also wants Employment Insurance benefits to be available to people who need to stay home to look after their children. The provincial government announced an indefinite closure of schools across the province today.

Like the provincial government, the BC Federation of Labour has called for income support for independent contractors, people who are self-employed or other workers who don’t meet the current definition of employees, as well as an increase in EI benefits to cover up to 75 per cent of income.

And the federation has called on the province to change the Employment Standards Act to protect workers who take sick leave or who self-isolate or are quarantined. There should be paid sick leave for all workers, including people who have part-time or casual work, temporary workers and migrant workers, the union group said..

Horgan said the government is consulting with the opposition parties on how to make legislative changes without bringing back all 87 MLAs, which would be inconsistent with public health advice to cancel gatherings of more than 50 people.

Other provincial responses could include rent bank support for people who can’t make a monthly payment, extra time to pay electricity bills or addressing challenges in the financial sector, Horgan said.

“We are going to do everything in our power to make sure that your employment is maintained, or your salary is maintained.”

James said that the province is gathering ideas as it waits to see what the federal government does and may delay collecting provincial taxes.

“Everything’s on the table at this stage.”  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, Coronavirus

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