Federal pandemic sick pay program not enough, Horgan tells NDP delegates

By Shannon Waters April 12, 2021

Ottawa’s federal sick pay program is “not as robust as it can or should be, but the elements are there because New Democrats spoke up,” according to Premier John Horgan.

The federal program exists because of federal-provincial NDP cooperation, per the premier, who told attendees at the federal party’s convention on Saturday that he and federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh “focused on a one-two punch” to get Ottawa to act on the issue.

“I took the fight to the premiers’ table, and Jagmeet, in the federal caucus, took it to the House of Commons, and we were able to convince the federal Liberals to start … acting like New Democrats,” Horgan said during his address.

Last spring, Horgan pledged that B.C. would “go it alone” on a sick pay program if Ottawa failed to deliver.

The resulting federal program now pays $500 per week to workers who take sick leave during the pandemic, but it has been criticized as inadequate for quelling workplace Covid spread — especially compared to a robust provincial sick pay program that wouldn’t require employees to wait weeks to be paid out.

In December, fresh off his re-election to a second term as premier, Horgan said the NDP had a provincial sick pay option “ready to go” to cover any gaps in the federal program, but that it would only be rolled out “when the data demonstrates” a need.

“We had work done and in the summer in anticipation that we would not have a national program, and we’re prepared to dust that off and go right back to it,” he told reporters on December 3.

At the time, B.C.’s labour ministry told BC Today that work on a provincial sick pay program was paused in May 2020 when Ottawa’s was announced.

The BC Federation of Labour has been pushing for a provincial sick leave program — one that includes full pay and is available to all workers in the province — since July. The organization has set its sights on Budget 2021.

“We need to make sure that it includes paid, permanent, protected sick leave for all workers in the province,” said Sussanne Skidmore, the union’s secretary-treasurer, in a statement last month. “Nobody should have to choose between staying home when they’re sick and putting food on the table.”

Snap election call was ‘important,’ Horgan says
Horgan — the country’s only NDP premier — also reflected on his decision to trigger a snap election at the end of September, nearly one year before the scheduled provincial election date.

“There were a whole host of questions about whether it was the right thing to do or not,” the premier said, adding that the BC NDP “had come to the end” of its relationship with the BC Green caucus.

“It was important to say to British Columbians that if you wanted a government that was focused on you, now was the time to put in place a stable majority government for the next four years,” he said of the September 21 writ drop.

Horgan hailed the election of “the first governing caucus with a majority of women” in Canadian history along with “the largest group of people of colour and Indigenous members ever elected” plus “seven Millennials, a couple of 70-year-olds, and everyone in between.”

Premier’s Covid-response rating sinks as third wave surges
A majority (55 per cent) of British Columbians still approve of the premier’s handling of the pandemic, according to polling from Angus Reid — a far cry from the 89 per cent who backed Horgan’s approach a year ago and down 22 points since November.

Still, Horgan ranks high among provincial leaders when it comes to how he stickhandled the Covid crisis — behind only Quebec’s François Legault (63 per cent) and the Atlantic premiers (73 per cent).