The coronavirus is hammering the B.C. economy. Authorities have encouraged bars and restaurants to limit services, movie theatres are sitting empty, tourist attractions are closed or deserted, and concerts and events of every kind are cancelled or postponed indefinitely.
Today (March 17), B.C. premier John Horgan acknowledged economic concerns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and said the provincial government is working on providing relief.
“When I hear the top three things that are on people's minds across the province, it inevitably comes down to will I continue to receive a paycheque? Is my job secure? Can I pay my rent? Is my business going to get through this?” he said at a press conference in Victoria. “That sense of concern about the consequences of self-isolation, the consequences of social distancing, and the impact that has on the economy and on businesses, is at the top of mind for British Columbians, and indeed all Canadians.”
Horgan revealed that B.C. will amend its Employment Standards Act to prevent layoffs of employees who are forced to stay home from work due to COVID-19.
He also said the province will ask the federal government to examine options with the Employment Insurance Act that could help workers during the coronavirus outbreak.
“The people that I have been talking to, whether they be in labour, whether they be in industry, the B.C. Business Council, chambers of commerce, boards of trade, this is a crisis situation, and we need an appropriate response from all orders of government,” Horgan said.
He added the provincial government would also discuss ideas like rent banks, although gave no details on what that sort of program might look like. In response to a reporter’s question, Horgan also said the province would contemplate implementing a freeze on housing evictions.
B.C. finance minister Carole James discussed the economy further.
“There are three streams that we are working on and that we're committed to as part of our economic strategy,” she said at the press conference. “The first one is to make sure that we have services and supports in place to protect the health and safety of British Columbians. Second, we are working with the federal government and with their initiatives to bring in immediate relief for people and businesses. And third, we will be building BC's plan for economic recovery and collaboration with the business community.”
One idea suggested by James was an expansion of unemployment benefits.
“Extending the Employment Insurance program for people who wouldn't typically qualify, so that would include self-employed, part-time, contractors,” she said.
Details will hopefully come in the next few days, James added.
“The first key…will be to look at what the federal government package looks like, to look at where there are gaps, or to look at where there are opportunities for us to be able to add to federal programs to be able to provide more support,” she said.
“We are all in this together.”