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 Justin Trudeau 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.
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.