By Fran Yanor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Premier John Horgan pledged the province will fill in federal funding gaps to ensure “no one loses their job by doing the right thing.”
“I want to commend those who are taking appropriate actions for themselves, and their families, and their businesses,” Horgan said this week. “I want to assure them that we are going to do everything in our power to make sure that your employment is maintained, or your salaries are maintained.”
The premier said the province would wait for details from the federal government before tabling its own inventory of assistance for British Columbians.
“We’re going to be taking actions when it comes to ensuring that businesses, and the workers that they depend on, are comforted and in place so that we can get through the next number of weeks,” he said.
To support individuals and businesses affected by the new coronavirus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $27 billion in direct support this week, along with $55 billion in tax deferrals.
On Monday, the B.C. government will reconvene the legislature to make changes to the provincial Employment Standards Act to protect and financially support workers and businesses. Changes will also be made to the Supply Act, to ensure protection of goods and services in the supply chain.
Given the urgency of the situation and the COVID-19 public safety protocols around social distancing, a reduced number of legislators will be in attendance to debate and pass the legislation.
“For all British Columbians regardless of partisan perspectives, this is the time when all of us need to come together and focus on the challenges we face,” Horgan said.
“It’s a go big or go home environment,” he said. “And we need an appropriate response from all orders of governments.”
The B.C. government advocated for the federal government to extend the Employment Insurance program to people who wouldn’t typically qualify, including self-employed, freelance, and part-time contractors, said Finance Minister Carole James.
The federal government has since announced several measures that might, at least in part, meet those needs with the Emergency Support Benefit for people whose income is affected by COVID-19. This benefit will apply to people who typically wouldn’t qualify for Employment Insurance benefits. As well, an Emergency Care Benefit will cover people without paid sick leave, and extra Child Benefit payments and GST credit payments will go to qualifying individuals.
Other financial support includes access to loans for small businesses and wage subsidies to help pay their employees. Businesses and individuals will also be allowed to defer income tax payments until August.
The Prime Minister said he expects the funding to flow as soon as possible. People should refer to the Canada.ca website for more details.
Meanwhile, the province is pulling together its own package of financial supports for those hardest hit by COVID-19 public safety protocols, which have included the closure of bars, pubs, event venues, public gatherings, the reduction of cafés and restaurants to take out and delivery, and the closure or rapid transition to work-from-home operating models for most so-called non-essential businesses.
“We have heard from workers who are in precarious situations, small businesses who wonder if they’re going to be able to survive (and) whether they’re going to keep their doors open,” said James. “To all those people who are concerned businesses, communities… I want to reassure you and let you know that we are working on how we can and how we must respond in the immediate.”
Details of provincial support will be announced on Monday.
“We’re also talking with our colleagues across the country, with experts and business leaders right here in British Columbia, to really understand how the (COVID-19) impacts are starting to unfold,” said James, earlier this week. “As all of you know, this situation is constantly evolving. And so our response to support for business people in the economy is going to have to evolve with it.”