From back-to-school to borders, the premier answers frequently asked questions about B.C.'s restart plan
VANCOUVER -- Two days after unveiling a first look at the province's restart plan, the premier answered frequently asked questions about what's next for B.C.
John Horgan spoke during a digital "town hall," hosted on Facebook Friday afternoon.
In the brief period since the plan was announced, MLA and moderator Bowinn Ma said, the province has received "about 900 questions."
In the 45-minute town hall, Horgan and Deputy Premier Carole James answered some of those questions.
The NDP-hosted event did not include an opportunity for questions from the media or Opposition.
Here are some of their responses to the questions asked by Ma.
Is it safe to reopen at this time?
James said part of the reason B.C. has opted for a phased-in restart is to balance those needs.
"Businesses will have to have a plan to show how they can social distance in their business – how they can keep people safe," she said, as an example.
Horgan said the return is to a "new normal," not the way things were in January. Large gatherings won't be permitted for some time, and the way people interact with each other has changed for the foreseeable future.
Will the ban on rent increases continue?
The premier said the province's current ban on rent increases and evictions will last into June, and that timeline will be reviewed towards the end of the month.
He said the cost of living in parts of B.C. is much higher than most parts of Canada, so that's been a challenge, but that "the last thing we need right now is a dislocation in the rental market that will put people on the street."
James added the province is trying to build on federal initiatives, and that there's "still more to come."
As an example, she said, there will be an increase in the climate action tax credit for families and individuals.
What will the long-term impact of COVID-19 be?
James said B.C. is in a good position when it comes to economic recovery, but she's aware that people are hurting.
She cited just-released data from Statistics Canada that showed the province's unemployment rate climbed to 11.5 per cent last month.
James said she has "confidence" in a rebuild, however she knows some sectors, like those that rely on international tourism, will be harder hit.
How will physical distancing be enforced when kids go back to school?
The premier said public health guidelines regarding interaction with others will be part of their lessons.
He reiterated that some kids will be going back before the end of the school year, but many won't be back until the fall.
He said an announcement will be made near the end of May with more details, and attendance will not be mandatory for families worried about contracting the virus.
James was also asked about whether the NDP plans to expand $10-a-day daycare to help parents just getting back into the workforce.
She said it's still a priority for the government, but she did not provide a timeline or any further details on what an expansion might look like.
Is it safe to take public transit?
Horgan said there's been a major drop-off on ridership on TransLink vehicles, as well as with BC Transit and BC Ferries.
Horgan said there have been discussions with TransLink to ensure there are enough vehicles on the road, so riders have room to spread out, but added that public resources have been a challenge.
"There's no end to the requests for funding; there is a limit to the amount of funding that comes in," he said.
But, he said, TransLink has put in place policies including "significant cleaning," and has been tasked with finding a way to make sure buses and SkyTrains aren't packed.
He said masks won't be mandatory, but he expects the number of people with face coverings to increase.
What will the province do to guarantee sick pay?
Horgan was asked a question brought up many times by workers who aren't entitled to paid days off when they're sick:
How can you direct people to stay home, if they can't afford to do so?
The premier said likely almost everyone has gone into work with a runny nose or worse, but that can't be the mindset anymore.
As for a solution to ensure workers are paid when they need to stay home, Horgan didn't have an answer, but said he's been talking to other premiers across Canada, adding that they and the prime minister are looking for a resolution.
He thinks it's too great a burden for businesses struggling to come back from the pandemic to come up with a sick leave program themselves, and thinks the answer should come from the federal level.
So far, he said, he thinks the unemployment insurance fund is the best option, and he's trying to get others on board.
"If people are masking their symptoms because they have to pay the bills, they're putting themselves at risk, they're putting their colleagues at risk, they're putting customers at risk," he said.
What's next for our borders?
Horgan didn't give specifics, but said it will probably be a while before the border reopens.
He said he's been talking to the governor of Washington State, but he wants to make sure the gains made in B.C. aren't compromised by U.S. visitors.
"International travel is not something that's going to be coming back anytime soon," Horgan said.
"This is an international, global pandemic. Everyone is experiencing what we're experiencing right now. And the desire to get on to a plane and jam yourself in with a whole pile of people to fly to British Columbia is a low priority for most people," he said.
He's aware of the impacts on tourism and TV and film, but said anyone coming into B.C. will have to self-isolate for two weeks.
Horgan and James were also asked about the next steps for restaurants and salons, as well as the province's plan for B.C. parks, and how families can safely each other. Watch the full 45-minute event below.
Those with further questions are advised to contact their local MLA, or visit the province's dedicated COVID-19 page.