Premier John Horgan says British Columbia won’t be pressured by “honking horns” to lift the province’s COVID-19 public health restrictions.
“People want to put COVID behind them. I get that,” Horgan told a news conference Tuesday after the government delivered a throne speech outlining its political agenda for the coming months.
“I’m at the front of that line … but we want to make sure that we don’t do it in a reckless and cavalier manner just because people are honking horns, a small minority are honking horns.”
Horgan’s comments came Tuesday as some provinces announced plans to remove many COVID-19 restrictions, including Saskatchewan, which is dropping its vaccine passports and won’t renew its indoor mask mandate, while many of Quebec’s restrictions will be gradually removed by March 14. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney also announced his government will immediately start phasing out health restrictions.
Horgan, who recently underwent successful chemotherapy after being diagnosed with throat cancer, said he will take guidance on B.C.’s approach to the pandemic from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
“I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m passing the buck to Dr. Henry but she is far more equipped and able to understand that data and translate that for the public than I am,” he said.
Henry said late last month some COVID-19 restrictions on social gatherings are expected to be gradually lifted by Feb. 21. The most recent public health orders related to gatherings at sports events and concerts are set to expire on Feb. 16, and Henry has said she will announce any changes a day earlier.
Large trucks have blocked streets in downtown Ottawa for more than a week in a protest against vaccine mandates. Similar protests have also been held in other cities and at border crossings.
”We want to make sure that the sacrifices that businesses and workers and communities have made over the past two years are not just thrown away because of some noise out on the legislative lawn or in the capital city of Canada,” Horgan said. “Having said that, I absolutely understand that people are done with this.”
He said the pandemic has been one of many challenges the people of B.C. and the government have faced over the past year, including floods, wildfires, the opioid overdose crisis and last summer’s heat dome.
“In the coming months ahead, your government’s top priority will continue to be keeping people healthy and safe through the rest of the pandemic,” said the throne speech read in the legislature by Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin. “It can be easy to forget how far we have come.”
The throne speech highlighted the government’s plans to introduce a long-term economic plan next week that aims to deliver a greener economy. The government also promised to tie minimum wage increases to the rate of inflation and said it will introduce a cooling-off period on home purchases to protect buyers in a volatile housing market.
Horgan said the government will create a new ministry to focus on lands, water and resource stewardship.
New anti-racism legislation is also expected during the spring session.
B.C. Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon said the throne speech repeated previous NDP promises and was more of a look back than a look-ahead document.
“Frankly, it’s disappointing,” he said in a video statement. “We want to see how we’re going to get into the future with real measurable outcomes.”
Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said in a statement the speech acknowledges the loss and sacrifices B.C. residents made over the past year, but rather than offer a vision for the future “the government patted themselves on the back for past initiatives and reannounced projects that have been underway for years.”
—Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press