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B.C. premier says province will patch holes in new federal sick-pay benefits

Premier John Horgan. (via Flickr/Province of B.C.)

B.C. Premier John Horgan says the province is prepared to fill gaps in the federal government’s sick-leave program but needs more information on possible cracks in the plan to help employers and employees fight the spread of COVID-19.

Horgan said Wednesday (Dec. 2) he’s heard informal reports about holes in the recent program, but he needs direct evidence or data that detail any problems before taking action.

“We do know that the sick-pay benefit that we worked so hard with the federal government to establish has gaps and holes,” he said during his news conference in Victoria.

“It’s all critically important that we have this seamless approach to how we deal with sick time, how we make sure people do not go to the workplace when they are not feeling well.”

The federal benefits program was implemented last month to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at workplaces by covering the income of workers who previously didn’t get sick pay and may go to work as a result.

“That’s how community transmission begins,” said Horgan.

He said workers should not be denied pay when they are preventing COVID-19’s spread.

“We were grateful to the federal government for taking the national leadership that they did and if there are gaps, as they say, and we can identify those by looking at the data and following through to see where we can fill those gaps, we’re absolutely prepared to do that,” he said.

Horgan said he will investigate reports that some B.C. workers are being told by employers not to come to work due to COVID-19 but are not receiving sick pay.

“I want to fix that gap and those are the very things we talked about with the federal government when we encouraged them to put in place a national program,” Horgan said. “I want to see the evidence, the data, that demonstrates there are such examples.”

The premier urged British Columbians to keep gatherings and celebrations to an “absolute minimum” this holiday season, but said it’s too early to comment on what travel and gathering restrictions might look like come Christmas.

“The challenges ahead are significant. We know that. We’ve known that for many, many months,” he said. “If we continue to focus on protecting each other, we’ll come through this stronger than ever before.”

Horgan said he has spoken with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about developing a national message encouraging Canadians to stay within their province or territory.

“If you don’t need to travel, you shouldn’t be travelling,” he said.

Horgan has urged the federal government to reverse a Transport Canada decision that requires B.C. Ferries travellers to leave their vehicles on enclosed decks. “The federal government is absolutely aware of my views on this. … It’s their responsibility.”

“I’ve made my case and I’m hopeful it will win the day,” he added. “This is a critical, dangerous time for British Columbia with respect to COVID-19. It’s absolutely essential that we reduce our interactions with people who are not in our bubble or in our cohort or in our family or in our household unit. And I don’t know how more clear we can be on that.”

Horgan said the session of the legislature that starts on Monday will last two weeks at most. The NDP wants to pass legislation to ensure it can deliver its COVID-19 relief election promise of $1,000 for most families and $500 for individuals.

- with files from Business In Vancouver and The Canadian Press