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

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

The Williams Lake Trail Riders Arena is slated to have a new roof installed this spring after funding from the province’s Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program. (Greg Sabatino photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Trail Riders Arena, stable stalls, to get new roof at Stampede Grounds

Some of the stalls currently aren’t able to be rented out due to leaks in the roof

A sign is seen this past summer outside Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake reminding visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Yunesit’in First Nation completes second round of vaccinations

A total of 26 people have since recovered from COVID-19 after having tested positive

A 100 Mile RCMP officer stands watch at the intersction of Highway 97 and Horse Lake Road. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Volunteers, police search Highway 97 for articles related to high-speed chase

Search will stretch from Canco Gas Station in Lac La Hache to 150 Mile House.

An aerial photograph captures snowmobile tracks in the Cameron Ridge area earlier this year, which is closed to snowmobilers. The closures are in place to protect sensitive caribou herds. (Conservation Officer Service photo)
Snowmobilers fined for operating in closed caribou habitat near Likely, B.C.

The investigation revealed they had spent several hours in the closure leaving extensive tracks

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

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

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

A vial of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a family doctor office, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 in Paris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Christophe Ena
Trudeau ‘optimistic’ that timeline for rollout of COVID vaccines can be accelerated

Canada set to receive more than 6M COVID-19 vaccine dose than initially expected, by end of March

Most Read