Happier days: Black Press legislature reporter Tom Fletcher talks about the outlook for 2020 with B.C. Premier John Horgan, B.C. legislature, Dec. 13, 2019. (Jen Holmwood/Premier’s Office)

Happier days: Black Press legislature reporter Tom Fletcher talks about the outlook for 2020 with B.C. Premier John Horgan, B.C. legislature, Dec. 13, 2019. (Jen Holmwood/Premier’s Office)

Election didn’t slow down COVID-19 aid, John Horgan says

B.C. premier’s annual year-end interview with Black Press

After a second emergency session of the B.C. legislature following a surprise election, Black Press legislature reporter Tom Fletcher spoke by phone to Premier John Horgan Dec. 18 about his government’s COVID-19 relief programs and the year ahead in 2021.

TF: The first round of BC’s $1,000 COVID relief payments opened April 1, and it was only to people who were approved for CERB, the federal emergency program, so it was a test of actual income loss from the pandemic. Now the second round is for almost everybody, and the price tag is up to $1.7 billion added to our record deficit. Was that an election ploy for short-term popularity, to respond to the B.C. Liberal sales tax cut, as you suggested yourself?

JH: Well, certainly it was partly in response to the sales tax initiative that the Liberals announced. But more importantly than that, it was to get dollars into the hands of low- and middle-income British Columbians so they could spend those dollars in their communities. And we saw from the quarterly report that came out [Dec. 17] that retail sales are down. Having money in your pocket is likely to increase retail sales. That will stimulate more activity, keep people working and keep businesses operating. So that’s the objective.

[In fact the quarterly report showed retail sales had already soared past pre-pandemic levels, due to a flood of federal money that far surpassed the actual income losses, plus the aid paid out by B.C. this spring to those who could show income loss.]

TF: Why no actual test of loss?

JH: Because it’s our view that low- and middle-income British Columbians are the ones who have struggled the most through COVID, whether that can be demonstrable as it has been with the CERB, or otherwise. Those high-income British Columbians have probably been able to weather dislocation in the workplace by working from home, or some other means. So we felt that the test was low- and middle-income, that you’re likely to spend the money rather than pocket the money, and that’s the outcome that we’re expecting.

TF: Speaking of people who have been hurt the worst, money was approved last March for small business and tourism aid. They’re still waiting and the program that was launched during the election campaign had to be retooled in December. How much did the election add to that problem?

JH: None, because the government, treasury board and then cabinet, approved the allocation of resources, and the criteria for the distribution of those resources are largely left in the hands of the professional public service. They developed the criteria, they put them in place during the election campaign, applications were called for, and what we heard afterwards is certainly that some of the criteria were too onerous and were restricting businesses’ ability to access the program.

RELATED: B.C. eases rules for small business, tourism relief

TF: Now the budget is delayed to April 20, and with it new programs that might be needed in the next few months. Do you have any regrets about calling a snap election in the middle of a public health emergency and creating a 10-week delay?

JH: I don’t believe there was a 10-week delay. Before I visited the Lt. Governor [to request the early election] I was assured that the dollars that were required for the programs in the StrongerBC initiative had been approved, and then it’s up to the system to distribute those dollars based on fair and equitable criteria. That’s how all programs develop, whether there is an election or no election.

The additional time to prepare the budget for 2021 will be time well spent as we look at where the federal government’s going to be on transfers. I’m still optimistic that the federal government will understand that the Canada Health Transfer is a key part of our delivery of public health care in B.C., and the participation of the federal government over the past number of decades has been declining to the point where it’s about 22 per cent of the total delivery of service, where it used to be 50-50.

So I’m hopeful that additional time will allow the federal government to look at where they can assist the provinces with meaningful, long-term funding rather than just one-time funding, which has been well-received and we’re gratefully delivering those dollars to communities, to businesses and individuals.

RELATED: Trudeau promises more COVID-19 aid to poor countries

TF: The federal government is now expressing concerns that increased health transfers might add to a structural deficit and possibly lead to a credit downgrade. Can B.C. really expect a major increase in the year ahead?

JH: All of the premiers, Liberal, Conservative and me, the New Democrat, are of one mind on this. The federal capacity to provide the resources that we need to deliver health care is greater than ours is. The Conference Board of Canada did a report for the Council of the Federation, all of the premiers. The chair is currently Francois Legault from Quebec. I’m not sure it was released publicly, but was used to make the case to the federal government, and we had a pretty vigorous discussion about it a few weeks ago, and we agreed we would continue to talk about it.

We have 10 premiers and three territorial leaders who are absolutely focused on this as being the number one issue for federal-provincial relations going forward. I believe it’s a real opportunity for the current federal government and the opposition parties. I’ve spoken with Jagmeet Singh, and my Conservative counterparts are speaking with Erin O’Toole to make the case that this is a generational opportunity to reset public health care. When better than as we come out from underneath a global pandemic where all Canadians have recognized the value of our public health system.

I’m very optimistic that our arguments are persuasive, and as time goes by, all of the three major federal parties will get behind us.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC politicsBest of 2020Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, updates British Columbians about COVID-19 at a press conference earlier this week. (B.C. Government image)
B.C.’s 1st case of COVID-19 confirmed a year ago today

Here’s a look at some of the key dates in the province’s fight against the novel coronavirus

Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden. (The News files)
Maple Ridge grants extension for rezoning applications

Applicants now have until Jan. 1, 2022

Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue swift water team drives up the Lower Falls trail at Golden Ears Park to help a women who lost her way. (Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue/ Facebook)
Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue aid woman stranded by waterfall

Hiker found herself unsure of the way back while walking in Maple Ridge’s Golden Ears Park

Coun. Chelsa Meadus
Maple Ridge councillor calls out province on homelessness

MLA says he has been willing to meet with the city, more addiction treatment coming

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

A lone passenger stands outside the International Arrivals area at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. As the federal government prepares to slap new restrictions on foreign arrivals, Health Canada data suggest a growing number of infections directly connected to international travel. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Holiday season vacations coincide with rise in COVID-19 travel-related cases

Between Nov. 30 and Dec. 27, 86,953 people flew into Canada from the United States

Gov.Gen Julie Payette walks in the chamber after greeting Senators before delivering the Speech from the Throne, at the Senate of Canada Building in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Report details yelling, screaming and aggressive conduct at Rideau Hall under Payette

Report says employees did not feel they had a place to go with their complaints

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker have been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
B.C. couple accused of flying to Yukon to get COVID-19 vaccine to appear in court

If convicted, the pair could serve up to six months in jail

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Grad student Marisa Harrington and her supervisor Lynneth Stuart-Hill say preliminary results from a study into the affects of stress on hospital nurses show an impact on sleep and heart variability. (Courtesy of Marisa Harrington)
University of Victoria study shows stress impact on B.C. nurses

Stress may be impacting sleep, heart health of hospital nurses in Victoria region

Sooke’s Amy McLaughlin holds Theodore, a bunny who will be going to a new owner in Nanaimo within the coming days if all goes will at an upcoming bunny play-date. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Vancouver Island woman looking to hop into bigger space for bunny rescue operation

Amy McLaughlin has rescued more than 400 bunnies, pushing for the capacity to help more

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

BC Place Stadium in a photo posted to cisc-icca.ca.
Roof of BC Place a stage for performers during online music festival

‘This will be the first time any artists have performed from the 204-foot iconic Vancouver rooftop’

Most Read