VICTORIA — British Columbia Premier John Horgan says he's proud that a national sick leave program has been announced as part of $19 billion in federal funding to support the provinces and territories during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Horgan has been pushing for a federal program to provide sick pay for people who wouldn't otherwise be covered along with his two of his counterparts, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver and Manitoba's Brian Pallister.
Allowing people the security to take up to 10 days off work if they are unwell helps meet the guidelines set by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, he said.
"Dr. Henry made it pretty clear to me early on that the biggest challenge we had in the restart was making sure people didn't go to work if they had potential symptoms," Horgan said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Safe Restart Agreement on Thursday to help the provincial and territorial governments pay for a variety of needs, including paying for childcare, bailing out financially strapped cities, and increasing contract tracing.
Trudeau promised $14 billion in early June, but several premiers resisted over conditions Ottawa wanted to impose and said the money wasn't enough.
The prime minister announced plans to create a sick leave program in May but the funding formula had not been determined. Horgan said the $1.1 billion program will be fully funded and co-ordinated by the federal government.
"I'm grateful that a Canada-wide approach to a Canadian challenge has been met with not just enthusiasm but a commitment to go further, if required, from the federal government," Horgan said.
A total of about $2.2 billion in federal transfers to B.C. will be critical to keeping people afloat as the economy reopens and will bolster provincial support programs.
The province is projecting a staggering $12.5 billion deficit for 2020-21 after forecasting a surplus in the budget released before the pandemic took hold.
Transit spending was a "sticking point" in the negotiations with Ottawa, but they reached a 50-50 sharing agreement, Horgan said.
Initially, the federal government proposed a cap on transit funding but provinces with major cities, including Ontario, Quebec and B.C., argued that would have eaten up all the money without making a significant impact, Horgan said.
A drastic decline in ridership has devastated public transit, which will need about $600 million in aid this year, he said.
"Fare boxes have been hit hard and revenues for BC Transit, revenues for TransLink, have fallen off a cliff," he said.
Under the agreement, Horgan said the province will match every dollar the federal government spends on transit, in partnership with municipalities.
The agreement is not all encompassing and excludes funding for rent supports and other housing programs, Horgan said.
All of the regions have different needs and Horgan said the premiers came together while learning about challenges from P.E.I. to Nunavut.
"I think this is unprecedented quite frankly," he said.
"Are there areas where we could have used some more money? Absolutely. But what excited me about it all is that we all came with a common purpose and that was to make an agreement that met the needs of the greatest number of people and I believe we were successful in that."
— By Amy Smart in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 16, 2020.
The Canadian Press