NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, December 12th, 2020

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 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.

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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