Written for Daily Hive by Mo Amir, host and producer of the podcast This is VANCOLOUR, based in Vancouver.
“That’s been part of the problem with the NDP,” says Jas Johal, the BC Liberal Member of the Legislative Assembly for Richmond-Queensborough, critical of the provincial government’s COVID-19 economic recovery response, “They have been riding the coattails of the federal government. They haven’t done anything. They’ve been sitting on their hands. That’s the problem… You got to help people now.”
Johal brings high-profile name recognition to the BC Liberals after an illustrious 23 year career as an award-winning journalist covering major international and domestic events. It is a status and skill set that has catapulted the rookie MLA to become one of the most vocal critics of the BC NDP government.
— Mo Amir ॐ This is VANCOLOUR (@vancolour) June 22, 2020
Since the BC Legislature resumed on June 22, after a suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the governing BC NDP and opposition BC Liberals have sparred on whether or not the province’s public health response should be categorized as part of the economic response.
The BC Liberal criticism has focused on the provincial government being overly reliant on the federal government’s response, without providing its own economic assistance to BC businesses. While Johal has praised the province for its public health response, he is leading the charge, behind BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, to focus on economic recovery.
“It’s been a public health emergency. Dr. Henry has done a very good job guiding the government and guiding us, the public collectively, in dealing with the broader issue, which is priority number one,” says Johal. “Now it’s about economic recovery.”
“[The BC Liberals] made a conscious effort to work with government to make sure that we move forward. It’s not a time for politics. On March 23, Mike De Jong and I went to Victoria, to the Legislature, had an emergency session for two hours, and we approved $41 billion in spending, which means, here’s the nine months of the regular budget and an extra $5 billion for COVID spending.”
“You saw the government announce an online survey. Very disappointing. You’re four months into this, [Premier John Horgan].”
Of that $5-billion set aside, $1.5 billion in funds is earmarked for economic stimulus. The BC government has chosen not to spend that money immediately, but rather to conduct outreach through a survey and virtual town halls to consult with the public on how the money would be best spent.
“We’re in a once-in-a-hundred-year pandemic here, right? It’s not time for silly little surveys,” says Johal. “We’re paid to lead for God’s sake. We’re talking about, not a recession, but potentially a global depression.”
According to the Business Council of British Columbia, 10-15% of BC’s 200,000 small businesses could fail by 2021. Johal and the BC Liberals have called for the BC government to provide assistance with deferrals on the provincial sales tax (PST) and employer health tax (EHT).
In addition, Johal wants a further extension to the number of weeks an employee is entitled to severance after being laid off (the province already extended the time from thirteen weeks to sixteen weeks). As an example, Johal claims that an events business in his riding is obliged for $40,000 worth of severance payments soon, which would bankrupt the business.
Johal also suggests that WorkSafeBC should subsidize personal protective equipment (PPE) for small businesses. “If you’re a small business owner and you’re forced to buy PPE for your business to open up, why can’t you write it off with WorkSafeBC? Why can’t they cover that? Like, I said, once-in-a-century pandemic. This is how unique it is, right? What’s the use of a public agency when the public needs it?”
As the Official Opposition Critic for ICBC, Johal also suggests that recent savings of the public insurer should be refunded to British Columbians. He claims that with 50,000 less accidents, ICBC saves $158 million dollars, which would result in a $3000 savings per insurance policy. He compares this to refunds provided to car insurance policyholders in Manitoba and Ontario. “ICBC? Zilch.”
“I think [the BC NDP government is] saving this before the next election to send some rebate cheques then.”
Ultimately, Johal’s frustration is that he feels that the BC government knows how to spend the economic stimulus funds effectively, but is playing “retail politics” where the BC NDP want to be “seen consulting”.
“We have experts within the provincial government that know the problem. We have public servants who know what they’re doing. The prime minister and the premiers consult on a regular basis. The premier has access to federal expertise, as well,” says Johal. “We have three- to four-hundred thousand British Columbians out of work. That predominantly hits young people and women… And so far, the federal government’s done all the heavy lifting.”
As for the COVID-19 BC Restart and Recovery Survey that the BC Government launched to assess how the $1.5 billion in economic stimulus funds should be spent, “It doesn’t pass the smell test,” according to Johal. “Survey? C’mon.”
Have a listen to the full This is VANCOLOUR podcast with MLA Jas Johal: