BY PREMIER JOHN HORGAN
BEFORE this year, a global pandemic was something many of us had only read about in history books or heard about from elders in our lives who lived through the 1918 influenza. But COVID-19 changed that for all of us, turning our lives upside down.
When 2020 began, no one expected to say goodbye to a family member or friend tragically taken by a virus. None of us thought we would be enduring the challenges of isolation or job loss due to a virus.
This has been an incredibly hard year for millions of British Columbians. But it has also shown us what we can overcome when we take care of each other.
We will never forget our health care workers leaping into action, some moving temporarily into hotels so they could save lives while keeping their own families safe. For months, we banged our pots and pans on our doorsteps in their honour, and to thank the grocery clerks, truck drivers and farmers working overtime to help keep food on our tables.
From the bottom of our hearts, we thank the childcare workers and teachers who adjusted their plans and made it possible for our kids to keep learning and socializing – essential for their mental health and wellbeing.
And we raise our hands to the people in every corner of the province who made the difficult choice to stay home from their place of work or close the doors of their business.
Our government followed the advice of public health officials and took the strong action needed to slow the spread of the virus and protect those most vulnerable. And we had the backs of people and businesses, delivering help to those who needed it most and began building a recovery that includes everyone.
We provided a $1,000 emergency benefit to help cover lost wages for more than 600,000 people, and provided peace of mind to over 86,000 renters with a relief supplement and protection from the threat of eviction. Now, the tax-free B.C. Recovery Benefit is available to help approximately 90 per cent of adults with up to $1,000 for families or $500 for individuals.
My ministers and I spent much of the summer meeting virtually with people from all over the province. We heard stories about the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on women, young people, Indigenous peoples, new Canadians, and people earning less than $30 an hour – often those essential workers we rely on. The pandemic deepened systemic inequalities that need to be addressed.
In this way, COVID-19 has been a storm – destroying everything in its path – and a teacher. It has reminded us to pay attention to the things we might take for granted, and shown us that there is nothing we can’t accomplish when we work together.
Our StrongerBC economic recovery plan, built through consultation with working British Columbians, sets us on a path to improve health care, get people back to work, support B.C. businesses, and strengthen our communities.
We’re hiring 7,000 new health care workers in long-term care homes and 1,200 contact tracers to help stop further spread in the community.
We are expanding targeted, short-term, and Indigenous skills training in high-demand fields.. And we’re building on the fastest creation of affordable child care spaces in B.C.’s history, so more parents – particularly women – can re-join the workforce.
And we’re helping businesses grow and hire, with a 15 per cent hiring tax credit and grants for small and medium-sized businesses that protect an estimated 200,000 jobs.
As the year comes to a close, there are reasons to be optimistic about the one ahead. The first vaccines have arrived, and in the months ahead, more and more British Columbians will receive them.
We can see hope on the horizon. But we’re not out of the woods yet – not by a long shot. Like much of the world, we are now battling a second, more-challenging wave of COVID-19.
All of us must do our part – and stay apart – in order to stop the spread of COVID-19 and get us back on track. At this time of year, I know it is especially difficult to be away from the comfort of big family gatherings and time with friends. But this is not forever.
Our government will continue to put people first. This means taking immediate actions now to keep people safe, while also tackling the long-standing systemic inequalities that hold people back.
This is my commitment to you.
Together, we will get through this pandemic. And together, we will do our level best every day to build a better future for all British Columbians.