As the fall approaches, there is growing tension in our province as we anticipate a second wave of COVID-19. Today I asked the Premier what this government will do differently if we face a second wave in the fall, and how we can ensure our systems and structures can protect the mental health and well-being of British Columbians.
GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO COVID-19
We hoped that the fall would mark the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Public health officials and British Columbians, though, are wary of the possibility of a second wave. Just yesterday we had an announcement of 85 new cases. That’s the third-highest single-day jump since the beginning of the pandemic. There’s growing tension in our province around kids going back to school, our loved ones in care homes, the fall flu season, individuals’ financial security and, as well. stalled sectors of our economy. There are fears that we might be facing a second lockdown and another round of social distancing measures. In March, all parties in this House got together to unanimously approve a $5 billion fiscal package to address the immediate health challenges as well as to seed an economic recovery. However, we’re seeing the impact of the lockdown, particularly on the mental health and well-being of British Columbians.
My question is for the Premier. Few people could have predicted this pandemic and the impacts we’ve experienced. As we go into the fall with the uncertainty and the real possibility of a second wave, what will his government do differently if we’re forced to bring back more severe social distancing protocols?
Hon. J. Horgan:
I thank the interim leader of the Green Party for the question.
We have learned a great deal, as British Columbians, as legislators and as individuals, about the consequences of COVID-19 and a global pandemic. We are a small open economy. We depend on trade. We depend on other jurisdictions being as robust as ourselves. Of course, in a global pandemic, that is absolutely not the case.
We’ve learned a great deal, and we’ve taken several steps that I believe will put us in good stead going into the fall. Firstly, we’ve worked with the federal government to ensure that our borders can be closed until such time as our neighbours and those who want to come to British Columbia have a similar positive outcome with respect to cases, with respect to hospitalizations and so on.
We worked with the federal government to establish a national sick leave program, which will, as we go into the fall and into the traditional flu season, be in a position to ensure that workers will not put their colleagues and their customers at risk by going to work when they’re sick. They’ll be able to stay at home with some economic certainty that they won’t be penalized for that.
We’ve worked on ensuring that PPEs are in place — significant amounts, not just for those in the health care sector but in every sector, including education. Although there has been a lot of discussion this week about the education restart that will be beginning in September…. In my conversations with regular families, they understand the challenges we’re facing. You articulated them very well in your question.
I think all of us, at the end of the day, understand that these are extraordinary times. That requires flexibility. It requires cooperation. By and large, for the most part, all of us in this place have been cooperating with a common purpose in mind. That is to support our neighbours, to support our constituents, to lift ourselves up so that we can come out of this stronger than we went in.
What does the fall hold? Hon. Member, if you had an answer to that, we would probably be moving a lot faster than we are right now.
The Leader of the Third Party on a supplemental.
Thank you to the Premier for his response.
Throughout this session, the B.C. Green caucus has used question period as an avenue to propose and bring into the public discourse various ideas, programs and projects that could benefit British Columbians.
We’ve asked for greater transparency and accountability in our senior care homes to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens. We’ve advocated for a 12-month project to offer mental health support under MSP to help British Columbians with this overwhelming health crisis. We’ve pushed for additional support for child care centres and before- and after-school care programs so parents can go back to work without worrying about the safety of their children.
In the passing weeks, we’ve seen some of the challenges of partisan politics. The Premier referred to it earlier in his responses. We’ve also seen the power of working together. We remain committed to collaborative, evidence-based governance.
My question is, again, to the Premier. If a second lockdown occurs, what specific changes has his government made to ensure our systems and structures are better able to protect the mental health and well-being of British Columbians?
Hon. J. Horgan:
I can say that the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions has opened 143 treatment beds since the beginning of the pandemic. We’ve put in place more counselling services for British Columbians. We’re working diligently to make sure that the well-being of British Columbians, whether it be…. Their physical health, their mental health and their economic health are high priorities for us. People are the economy, and without all people working in tandem to lift us all up, we’re going to be falling behind.
I do know that as we go to the fall, the Minister of Health and public health officials, led by Dr. Bonnie Henry…. We meet regularly. We discuss trends. We look at other jurisdictions. We look at other approaches from people in other parts of the world. How are they addressing these issues? We take advice from the Green Party. We take advice, in some cases, from the official opposition. We most assuredly listen to people.
That brings us back to the K-to-12 restart. We know that school is fundamentally important to our young ones. It’s absolutely critical. Now we have to find a way to continue to provide that service for children and for families in a way that is safe. That requires cooperation. That requires listening to everybody — school districts, teachers, parents and kids.
That’s what we’ve been doing, and I think that’s the best way forward, hon. Member. Continued cooperation and collaboration are what British Columbians want, and that’s what we intend to do.