After their first week back in session, MLAs will go on a constituency break next week to accommodate the Canada Day statutory holiday. The session will resume on Monday, July 6, 2020.
B.C. economic update to come on July 14
Finance Minister Carole James will provide an update on the province’s finances on July 14.
This announcement came as MLAs returned to the Legislature this week to discuss a number of items, chief of which is the government’s February budget. Much of the 2020 spending plan seems irrelevant now, given the unforeseen changes we've witnessed over the last several months.
As we outlined in our Monday
, the government is required to debate and pass the budget so they don’t run out of spending power later this year.
Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson had been calling on the government to release a fiscal update immediately, as the numbers in the February budget have been “torn apart by the pandemic,” maintaining that “people deserve to know the state of B.C.’s finances”.
Finance Minister Carole James says she is waiting until July to give this update in order to get another month of job and financial numbers. The update will include the most recent data since the pandemic started to affect the province in March, as well as June’s unemployment statistics. It will also factor in the federal government’s fiscal update, which is scheduled to be released on July 8.
When asked on Wednesday about the state of the province’s finances, Premier Horgan said “I can tell you that it is a hole and it’s a big one. And it is shared by every province in the country, every state in the union below us, and nations around the world. This has been catastrophic for globalism. It has been catastrophic for the economy.”
Government extends layoff provisions after pressure from opposition and business community
After much pressure from the business community and the opposition BC Liberals, the provincial government announced they would be extending temporary layoff provisions under COVID-19 to a maximum of 24 weeks, up from 16.
The temporary layoff provisions allow businesses to furlough workers temporarily without triggering an official termination, which would require a severance payout.
The 16-week temporary clause had been set to expire within the next two weeks, and now, after repeated calls from the opposition and business owners, has been extended to 24 weeks with an expiry date of August 30, 2020. Affected employees must agree to an extension with their employer.
The issue dominated Question Period at the start of the week, and until Thursday's announcement, the BC NDP remained firm in their decision not to extend the temporary provisions.
Members of B.C.’s business community were warning of large-scale closures if businesses were forced to pay severance for staff they fully intended to bring back to work over the next several weeks.
Organizations representing over 500,000 businesses in B.C. welcomed the news.
“This was an outstanding outcome and businesses definitely got a lifeline today,” said Val Litwin, CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce. “What we know from the data is this will ultimately save thousands of businesses from insolvency.”
B.C. enters Phase 3 of Restart Plan, non-essential travel permitted within province
Premier Horgan announced on Wednesday that the province would be moving into Phase 3 of B.C.’s Restart Plan.
This new phase allows for non-essential travel throughout the province, and for hotels, resorts, RV parks and other accommodations to resume operations.
“As we carefully turn up the dial on our activity, we can now look to travel safely around the province,” Premier Horgan said.
“But as we hit the open roads this summer, we must remember we are not leaving COVID-19 behind, and we need to continue to do our part to bend the curve and protect the progress we’ve made.”
Dr. Bonnie Henry says British Columbians must have a travel plan that ensures they can physically distance and follow other health advice.
Phase 3 also allows movie theatres and day spas to reopen, provided they are following appropriate safety precautions.
Province introduces new bill allowing for deficit budgets for the next three years
On Wednesday, Minister James introduced
, Economic Stabilization Act, which would allow the B.C. government to table deficit budgets through to 2023-24.
Balanced Budget and Ministerial Accountability Act
currently prohibits budget deficits, hence the new legislation.
“This really is unprecedented, that’s not an overused word when it comes to describing the challenge of COVID-19,” said Minister James.
“It may take three years to be able to address the fiscal challenges that we're going to face in our province,” Finance Minister
told reporters Wednesday.
However, Minister James also said it will take “a very, very extreme situation” for the NDP government to run three consecutive deficit budgets, as the legislation would permit.
ICYMI: Vancouver out as NHL hub city
The Vancouver Canucks confirmed on Thursday afternoon that the city is no longer in the running to become one of the National Hockey League’s ‘hub cities’. The decision from the NHL means Toronto and Edmonton are the only two Canadian cities that remain in contention.
According to sources speaking to Global News, there had been concern about what would happen if someone within a ‘team quarantine’ – each team would have stayed in one hotel and travelled together to Rogers Arena – tested positive for COVID-19.
Premier Horgan, Dr. Henry, and Minister Dix all expressed their disappointment with the news, but noted they wouldn’t bend public health rules for the NHL, as “protecting the health and safety of people in BC is our number one priority.”