B.C. might go alone on sick-pay program

B.C. is prepared to launch its own sick-pay program for workers if Ottawa fails to show leadership on the important measure, Premier John Horgan says.

Horgan said he planned to push the issue with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday, like he also did last week during a scheduled weekly conference call with other provincial and territorial leaders.

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“I still believe that this should be a national program with national consequences, but we’re prepared to go it alone if need be,” Horgan said. “I do have allies in the federal government who appreciate the initiative that I’ve been promoting.”

B.C. has been strongly lobbying the federal government to create a national sick-pay program so workers with any type of flu-like symptoms can take sick leave as recommended by public-health officials without worrying about lost wages.

Public-health officials have said it’s key for people to stay home when sick in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as the economy slowly reopens, but many workers don’t have paid sick days and so many balance the financial hardships with public safety.

It’s also not fair for business owners, many of whom are suffering financially from the pandemic, to have to shoulder all the costs of paid sick days, Horgan said.

Horgan has called on Ottawa to fund the sick days using the EI program, because the pandemic is a national health emergency.

The province’s major business leaders have backed Horgan’s idea in a letter to Trudeau. B.C. is willing to pay a share of a national program, Horgan has said. If the province had to fund a sick-pay program on its own, the costs would likely be higher.

“We do have alternative plans in place, but I still firmly believe that the federal government needs to be part of this,” Horgan said.

B.C. is on track to post a deficit this fiscal year of at least $5 billion. The B.C. Business Council has estimated it could be as high as $10 billion.

MLAs will have a chance to debate B.C.’s $5-billion COVID-19 recovery spending package, as well as the budget tabled before the health crisis, when the legislature resumes mid-June, Horgan announced Wednesday. The House will reconvene either June 15 or 22, he said.

 

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