Premier John Horgan has promised to put the election behind him and get back to work this week to respond to the widening COVID-19 crisis and other urgent matters that were set aside during the campaign. But the reality, when he arrived back in Victoria on Monday, is that the provincial government remains in caretaker mode throughout the long process of finalizing election results.
The number of COVID-19 cases in British Columbia has spiked since the start of the election campaign in September, prompting the Provincial Health Officer to impose new restrictions on family gatherings. Concerns remain about the restart of B.C.'s education system and the slow delivery of relief to businesses that have been crushed by the pandemic.
However, until the new government is formally installed, a firewall remains in place between the public service and the politicians and their senior staff. Because of the high number of mail-in ballots in this election, the count may be delayed. At best, the new cabinet is expected to be installed in the fourth week of November.
While that timeline is not unusual, the circumstances of the snap election amid a global pandemic is.
Mr. Horgan was criticized by his opponents for calling the election one year ahead of schedule, just as the second wave of the pandemic hit. Voters have granted him the majority he sought in the Oct. 24 election, and in the wake of the vote Mr. Horgan assured the public he would be returning to the legislature to pick up the work that had been interrupted by his snap election.
"To move forward with the focus on making sure everybody benefits from a strong economy and our public-health measures, that’s going to be the preoccupation for the next 100 days,” he told reporters on Sunday, the day after his election victory.
Finance Minister Carole James, who was left running the caretaker government as she did not seek re-election, said Tuesday that any new initiatives will have to wait. “What can happen now are updates, progress reports,” she said in an interview. “Legislation, new policy direction – that has to wait until the new government is sworn in.”
Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau said the extended period of caretaker government comes at a terrible time. In the coronavirus-adapted school system, students are struggling with online and hybrid education options. “We need an education minister,” she said.
As well, she said, small businesses are struggling to stay above water.
“We are in the second wave, here we are losing more businesses. And here we are with all of this growing anxiety across the province. And we’re still a month away from having a government in place,” she said.
Just days before the election was called in September, the NDP government announced an economic recovery plan, which includes three main programs to help struggling businesses. But the money has yet to be delivered.
In her Cowichan Valley riding, Ms. Furstenau said the promised help is not reaching local businesses. “I got a note a couple of weeks ago from our local Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses co-ordinator, saying that a number of businesses had gotten their eviction notices. And they had no access to help. It’s actually really devastating, not just for small businesses but to the whole community.”
Ms. James said about 500 businesses have made applications for grants and she expects some cheques to be issued in the next few weeks. She acknowledged that there are concerns about the criteria being too narrow, but she said she won’t be making any changes. “There are people who feel they would like the criteria changed or broadened, and those will be decisions that a new government will be making.”
Mr. Horgan told reporters Sunday that he recognizes the urgency of getting back to work – on the pandemic, on climate action and on indigenous rights. “We have a lot ahead of us," he said. But he said he may not be able to deliver, before the the end of the year, a central campaign promise to deliver a pandemic recovery benefit of up to $1,000 to families and individuals.
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