Premier John Horgan says transit funding, paid sick leave are wins for B.C. in 'safe restart' deal
Deal focused on items like testing and contact tracing, PPE, child care, transit, cities, sick leave
B.C. Premier John Horgan praised what he called "unprecedented" cooperation between his fellow premiers and the federal government on the "safe restart" agreement aimed at speeding economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland announced the deal Thursday, which will see the feds kick in $19 billion for economic restart efforts in Canada.
Horgan said on Twitter that B.C. would be receiving nearly $2 billion from the deal.
"We all came to the table with a basket full of problems and we all decided we would work collectively on those problems," Horgan told reporters. "I think this is unprecedented, quite frankly."
The $19 billion will help pay for enhanced COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, the purchase of personal protective equipment for front-line workers and businesses, funding for municipalities for transit, a national sick leave plan and child care so that parents can get back to work, Trudeau and Freeland said.
Horgan spent time Thursday talking up the sick leave and transit pieces of the deal.
He said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry advised him early in the crisis that one of the biggest areas of risk was sick employees passing the virus to their co-workers.
He welcomed what he said was $1.1 billion Thursday to encourage sick workers to stay home.
"I'm very proud of that," Horgan said. "I'm grateful a Canada-wide approach to a Canadian problem has been met."
Horgan has been vocal about the need for a national paid sick leave program in Canada, going as far as to say B.C. could develop its own program if the feds failed to act. "So these are dollars that we will not need to find," he said Thursday.
Horgan was asked for details about how the national program would operate but said he would leave those questions to the federal government. He did say the provinces would need to update their employment laws.
The premier also spoke to how revenues for TransLink and BC Transit have "fallen off a cliff" during the pandemic, making the transit aspect announced Thursday important to provinces and cities.
Under the agreement, Horgan said the province will match every dollar the federal government spends on transit and he estimates B.C. will need about $600 million to get decimated transit budgets back on track for this year alone.
"This is for this year," he said of the figure. "We're going to have challenges going forward."
The deal comes after weeks of at-times testy negotiations between the federal government and the provinces and territories.
Trudeau previously pledged $14 billion but many premiers said that amount was not nearly enough to cover their needs.
With files from The Canadian Press