BC's NDP government authorizes COVID-19 relief as province begins a dark, dreary winter

British Columbians are fac­ing a dark, pan­dem­ic-dri­ven win­ter in which they will get mon­ey in their pock­ets but face severe restric­tions on where to gath­er and go.

The new­ly reelect­ed, New Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty gov­ern­ment of Pre­mier John Hor­gan is tout­ing its B.C. Recov­ery Ben­e­fit pro­gram, in which an esti­mat­ed 3.7 mil­lion peo­ple will get grants up to $1,000 (Cana­di­an) per fam­i­ly and $500 for indi­vid­u­als. It will cost the province between $1.6–1.7 billion.

But British Columbia’s health offi­cer Bon­nie Hen­ry has extend­ed until at least Jan­u­ary 8th rules lim­it­ing in-per­son gatherings.

Canada’s Prime Min­is­ter announced Fri­day that the U.S.-Canada bor­der will be closed to all non-essen­tial trav­el at least until Jan­u­ary 21st.

“Stay safe and stay local – today and in the weeks ahead,” Hor­gan tweet­ed ear­ly this week. No big gath­er­ings, no hock­ey games, no “snow­birds” trips to Baja, no wan­der­ing south into Wash­ing­ton, just as Wash­ing­to­ni­ans can’t cross the water to see the new Emi­ly Carr exhib­it at the Roy­al British Colum­bia Museum.

The British Colum­bia Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly, infor­mal­ly known as “the Leg,” did recon­vene on Mon­day, in per­son and by Zoom.

The left-lean­ing New Democ­rats hold an unprece­dent­ed fifty-sev­en of the eighty-sev­en seats, their largest-ever major­i­ty, with like­ly the largest set of headaches ever to face a province once dubbed Canada’s “lotus land.”

The ses­sion began with a bit of upbeat news. Moody’s has renewed British Columbia’s Triple‑A cred­it rat­ing, the best in Cana­da. Due to the pan­dem­ic, how­ev­er, the Hor­gan gov­ern­ment has delayed the provin­cial bud­get until April. The province faces a record $13 bil­lion (Cana­di­an) deficit.

COVID-19 rules, on both sides of the 49th Parallel.

In Horgan’s words: “The pan­dem­ic has turned our lives upside down.” The province reg­is­tered 737 new cas­es of COVID-19 on Fri­day, along with eleven new deaths. The pan­dem­ic has claimed the lives of 598 British Columbians.

Dr. Hen­ry pre­dicts that ten per­cent of the province’s pop­u­la­tion will be vac­ci­nat­ed by March, but cau­tions the per­cent­age must rise to six­ty-sev­en­ty per­cent before the province can relax its phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing rules.

The New Democ­rats in B.C. are copy­ing a pat­tern from U.S. politics.

In “the States,” Democ­rats tend to inher­it a mess, from the Great Depres­sion to the Great Reces­sion to the mis­er­ably man­aged COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. The NDP has inher­it­ed a pan­dem­ic plus a pos­si­ble, mul­ti-bil­lion-dol­lar white elephant.

Before leav­ing office in 2017, the pre­vi­ous (not lib­er­al) Lib­er­al Par­ty gov­ern­ment start­ed con­struc­tion on an $8.6 bil­lion Site C dam on the Peace Riv­er in north­east B.C. B.C. Hydro has plowed ahead to the point where 5,181 work­ers are labor­ing on the project. But the project bud­get has soared to $10.7 bil­lion.

Last Decem­ber, B.C. Hydro dis­cov­ered a sta­bil­i­ty prob­lem beneath the earth filled dam’s foun­da­tion. It did not make the news pub­lic until July 31st, fuel­ing con­cerns that the agency is being irre­spon­si­bly and unac­count­ably run.

Hor­gan, after tak­ing office, let the project go ahead “with heavy heart” “ rather than pulling the plug and eat­ing $4 bil­lion in sunk costs.

An expert was named to study the trou­bled project.

Hor­gan has punt­ed on the deci­sion until the elec­tion was behind him. The Peace Riv­er was divert­ed in the midst of the fall elec­tion campaign.

Espe­cial­ly with bird­dog­ging by Van­cou­ver Sun colum­nist Vaughn Palmer, Hor­gan can’t put off a deci­sion forever.

So far, the usu­al­ly blunt pre­mier has retreat­ed into politi­cian talk, say­ing the inde­pen­dent review will “ensure cost and sched­ule pres­sures fac­ing con­struc­tion of Site C are addressed in a man­ner that pro­tects the best inter­ests of B.C.”

British Colum­bia has done some things dif­fer­ent­ly in the pan­dem­ic. Its schools remain open, with no ear­ly or extend­ed Christ­mas hol­i­day break con­tem­plat­ed. And unlike the Trump regime to the south, the fed­er­al Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment under Trudeau has worked coop­er­a­tive­ly with provin­cial premiers.

Some names to watch from the Great White North.

Adri­an Dix con­tin­ues as B.C. Health Min­is­ter, deliv­er­ing dai­ly brief­in­gs with Dr. Hen­ry. He is a pol­i­cy wonk who knows his port­fo­lio, but lets Hen­ry car­ry the brief­in­gs. Ravi Kahlon, a for­mer Olympic field hock­ey play­er, is the province’s new Min­is­ter of Jobs and Eco­nom­ic Recov­ery, a for­mi­da­ble portfolio.

Raj Chouhan of Burn­a­by is the new Assem­bly Speak­er.

He is the first South Asian politi­cian to hold the job, a peace­mak­ing role in an often-rau­cous assem­bly. Indo-Cana­di­ans were once banned from the Legislature.

British Colum­bia has had an Indo-Cana­di­an pre­mier, and a Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor (the Queen’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Vic­to­ria) who was an immi­grant from Hong Kong. In nation­al pol­i­tics, the defense min­is­ter is a Sikh from Vancouver.

Her­itage has also been rep­re­sent­ed. The ances­tors of for­mer House of Com­mons Speak­er John Fras­er fought in the Bat­tle of the Plains of Abra­ham, the 1759 bat­tle in which the Brits van­quished the French.

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