Essential services, test kits and government aid: lobbying in the time of COVID-19

By Shannon Waters April 8, 2020

With the COVID-19 pandemic set to dominate the province’s attention for the foreseeable future, lobbyists and firms are seeking the government’s ear. 
The provincial lobbyist portal counts 35 new and recently amended registrations that include the key word “COVID-19.”
Priorities include selling products and technology to aid the province’s efforts to battle the coronavirus, securing essential service designations, and keeping government officials up to speed on the impacts the pandemic is having on industries.
Some company’s interests are more specific than others. Last week, Western Policy Consultants lobbyist Michael Bailey — who served as executive director to former premier Bill Bennett — registered to lobby the health ministry on behalf of the Lynn Valley Care Centre. The facility was the first long-term care centre to confirm COVID-19 cases and remains an active outbreak, accounting for a significant percentage of the province’s coronavirus fatalities.
Bailey registered to brief health ministry officials “on the need for government assistance for long-term care homes through the COVID-19 pandemic” and discuss the future of the facility’s contract and funding agreement with the province.

The aptly named Wuhan Easy Diagnosis Biomedicine Co. Ltd. has hired Earnscliffe Strategy to lobby the health ministry about its COVID-19 testing kits, noting they “have been deployed in other jurisdictions.” 
According to its lobbying goals, the company is a “leading in vitro diagnostic manufacturer” that specializes in “point of care testing, rapid diagnostic reagents and related equipment” and works out of the National Biological Industry Base in Wuhan, China — homebase of the coronavirus. 

Securing essential service designations
Many of B.C.’s industries and businesses are making the case that their products and services are essential in hopes of being able to keep operating.
Toyota Canada, Rio Tinto, Shoppers Drug Mart and the Canadian Home Builders’ Association registered to weigh in on the criteria the province is using to determine what businesses remain essential.

Whirlpool Canada wants the B.C. government to take “a needs-based approach” to the designation, noting that British Columbians might need their fridges or washing machines repaired or replaced over the coming weeks and months. 
“The loss of use of appliances may compromise the ability to store, preserve and prepare food and maintain effective hygiene and infection control,” the company’s registration says.
Restaurant Brands International — the owner of Tim Hortons and Burger King — wants to “clarify issues related to the franchise industry” with government officials and discuss the “measures the government is taking to mitigate” economic impacts on the restaurant industry.
Meanwhile, 7-Eleven has registered a lobbyist to ensure the premier, health minister and provincial health officer know about “the policies and procedures” it has “put in place to protect customers and staff from COVID-19, while ensuring continued access to essential products.”
An organization called Factors Group of Nutritional Companies has hired lobbyist Jeffrey Ferrier to “convey the importance” of the sale of dietary supplements as an essential service to the health and public safety ministries.
The Building Owners and Managers Association of BC is keen to support the province’s emergency preparedness efforts, offering their own “emergency communications programs” to augment the provincial response.
The Centre For Israel and Jewish Affairs registered a lobbyist to reach out to the ministry of education about coordinating the closure of Jewish day schools in B.C.

Securing government aid and informing economic recovery efforts
The BC Federation of Labour has updated its undertaking in a bid to lobby government officials on financial support for renters, as well as economic support for vulnerable British Columbians.
Tides Canada is “requesting [a] temporary increase in government assistance programs” from the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction during the COVID-19 pandemic, while First West Credit Union, a financial institution, wants to “discuss regulatory, economic and fiscal measures related to the B.C. government’s response to health crisis including COVID-19.”
Paper Excellence Canada Holdings Corporation, which owns a pulp mill in Richmond, is interested in “government support in response to COVID-19.”
Airbnb has had regular contact with the NDP government since the province’s speculation and vacancy tax were introduced, but recently amended its registration in response to the impacts of COVID-19 on the short-term rental industry. 
The firm is now seeking “regulatory reform” and tax relief for its hosts who have been hard hit by travel restrictions.
Over the weekend, Ontario banned Airbnb’s ability to provide vacation rentals during the pandemic.