COVID-19 Update 

After last week’s chaotic rollout of the vaccine phone booking system, BC is now looking at an accelerated rollout thanks to new shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine, scheduled to arrive in May. BC’s first allotment will go to industrial workers who live together in group settings, followed by those who work in food-processing plants and agricultural workers.

Frontline workers will be able to get vaccinated outside of their age cohort, including teachers and other K-12 school staff, childcare workers, first responders and grocery store employees. The announcement that pharmacists will be part of the vaccine clinics is welcome news, as many have been offering to help for weeks now, and other provinces are doing the same.

In early April, the government plans to move to a digital booking platform and close down their five call centres. The government has assured that there are safety nets in place to prevent site crashes. And while we aren’t expecting things to go completely back to normal this summer, Dr. Henry says if they see success with vaccines, larger local gatherings might be possible by the end of summer and into the fall. That being said, don’t expect big changes in the next few months, with the exception of smaller indoor gatherings possibly later this month.

Legislature News

It is still business as usual at the legislature while we inch toward the highly anticipated budget on April 20th. Bill 5, the Insurance Corporation Amendment Act, which would create an independent fairness officer to oversee and respond to ICBC customer complaints and process issues, is in committee stage and expected to pass next week.

Also in continuing through committee stage is Bill 4, the Firearm Violence Prevention Act, which would restrict the sale, transportation and possession of firearms in the province, was paused during the committee stage after pushback from Green Party MLA Adam Olsen. He said that a section of the bill that prohibits the transportation of loaded firearms by vehicle or boat could interfere with Indigenous hunting rights. On Thursday, after a lengthy debate, Minister Mike Farnworth proposed an amendment to the bill, which eradicates Olsen’s concerns surrounding the bill’s impact on those who hold Aboriginal Title, Rights, and Treaty Rights.

You can also now order that bottle of wine or cocktail kit to go from your favourite local restaurant after the province made the temporary rules permanent this week. While you’re enjoying that take-out, you can also tune in to the BC Hockey League, which was given approval to start a limited season next month.

Question Period

Big topics in question period this week included the denial by the Agricultural Land Commission for Carrier-Sekani Family Services to build a sixty-bed treatment facility for Indigenous people impacted by the opioid crisis. The government cut of the $300 monthly COVID-19 assistance for seniors, people with disabilities and people on lower incomes came up again this week, with the minister alluding to next month’s budget possibly including some further relief. The 300 to Live campaign is planning rallies both virtually and in-person in Victoria and Vancouver on March 18 to protest the cut.

Other News

The government announced the small and medium-sized online grant program this week with a $30 million cash injection to help businesses pivot their operations online and improve e-commerce experiences. Tourism operators, hair salons, non for profits, and a whole range of groups will be eligible for this grant to explore “partnerships with the three pillars of the economy: sustainability, innovation, and equality to all communities”.  In addition, 30 percent of the program funds are reserved for people of colour, women, and Indigenous-owned businesses. Eligible businesses can access up to $7,500 to help build or expand their online businesses. The big change is this funding now includes service providers; previously, it was only open to businesses providing products.

And finally, commuters in the Lower Mainland will also have a nicer ride into work after $10.2 million was announced to refurbish six of the West Coast Express’s seven locomotives. Funding comes from the federal Public Transit Infrastructure Stream of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program. The B.C. government is providing $9.2 million for the project, with TransLink kicking in $1.5 million.