The COVID-19 pandemic and the British Columbia government’s economic recovery plans are expected to be key issues in legislature in the coming weeks as politicians return Monday for the fall sitting.
Most politicians will be back at the legislature in person, filling the 87 seats and following a safe-return protocol after recent sessions were largely held virtually online with limited seating in the chamber.
Economic Recovery Minister Ravi Kahlon said the New Democrat government will continue to offer relief, support and incentives to businesses, communities and families hit by the pandemic as it prepares to introduce a long-term recovery and economic strategy early next year.
“We’re looking to have something rolled out in possibly late January and I’m pretty excited about it,” he said in an interview. “What is important is to position B.C., not only for recovery, but for the future.”
Kahlon said he and other members of the government have been consulting widely with business, labour, Indigenous, conservation and non-profit groups about an economic and recovery strategy that looks out over the next 10 to 15 years.
Bruce Williams, chief executive officer of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, said his organization told the government to introduce initiatives that could increase the numbers of workers through training and immigration programs.
“There are so many jobs that need to be filled and they are not being filled,” he said.
Kahlon said the pandemic has created uncertainty in the economy and society as a whole.
“People are still thinking about how they can keep themselves, their community and their families safe, and people are tired. I think there is a sense of, ‘Why isn’t this over,’ but it’s not, and the world is grappling with this.”
But the government’s long-term approach does not sit well with B.C.’s opposition parties, which say they will push the government to look at the daily needs of the province on issues of affordability, child care, resource industries and health care.
“It’s not good enough for them to simply say they have a plan if their actions are also creating a worse situation,” said Peter Milobar, the Opposition B.C. Liberal party’s house leader. “You’ll see us trying to get to the bottom of these critical, everyday life situations.”
The Opposition will focus on shortcomings in the roll out of the government’s child care program, staffing issues in many provincial hospitals and growing problems with affordability, especially surrounding housing, he said.
“This is their second term and this is their track record and their broken promises that they need to be accountable for,” Milobar said. “That will be the overarching theme you will be seeing develop throughout this session.”
Green house leader Adam Olsen said he is expecting Premier John Horgan’s government to introduce long-awaited changes to forest policy this fall.
“It’s something the Horgan government’s long talked about but has yet to deliver on,” he said, adding the dispute over logging at Fairy Creek north of Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island is related to government policies.
“Fairy Creek is a symptom of a broken system and the government has been promising to fix that system for quite a while,” said Olsen.
Forest policy reform must involve First Nations, which includes shared decision making and revenue sharing, said Olsen..
NDP house leader Mike Farnworth said in a statement the three parties worked with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry “to develop a comprehensive safety plan” so members can return to the legislature.
Olsen said he is looking forward to returning to a full legislature.
“It’s very, very difficult to do this work by Zoom,” he added. “This is a job about relationships.”