B.C. Finance Minister Carole James presents her budget in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 18, 2020. (B.C. government)

B.C. legislature to reopen with fewer MLAs to tackle COVID-19

Province will dip into deficit due to pandemic, Carole James says

The B.C. government’s billion-dollar contingency fund and more will be needed to get B.C. through the COVID-19 crisis, Finance Minister Carole James says.

James said Tuesday she expects B.C. to fall into deficit as she works with the federal government on a relief package for people who lose employment due to the global coronavirus pandemic. She is waiting for the federal government to decide if it will expand its Employment Insurance program to cover self-employed people and contractors who temporarily lose their jobs.

Premier John Horgan said the B.C. legislature will resume operation next week, with the first priority to amend the Employment Standards Act so people are not laid off if they have to stay home due to potential virus exposure.

The legislature will have a quorum but not all 87 MLAs will be returning to Victoria to debate bills, Horgan said.

“When I hear the top three things that are on people’s minds across the province, it inevitably comes down to, ‘will I continue to receive a paycheque, is my job secure, can I pay my rent, is my business going to get through this?’” Horgan said.

RELATED: B.C. to suspend K-12 schools due to COVID-19

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The current B.C. budget has about $1 billion in contingency funds, and the next budget starting April 1 has similar provisions, but those will likely not be enough for this situation, she said.

“It is likely we will have a deficit,” James said. “There’s no question about that, but the specifics and the numbers, it’s just too early. It’s changing every day.”

James said she has been meeting with the retail industry, and there is no reason for overstocking supplies as public gatherings and businesses reduce or close to prevent infection.


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