More than 1500 people in the North Coast region, Interior and Kootenay’s participated in a telephone town-hall meeting to discuss economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic on July 14. The moderated live question and answer meeting was organized by the provincial government.
The first topic, initiated by callers, was concern about travellers from the U.S.A. arriving in small B.C. communities close to Alaskan borders.
Callers were concerned the travellers could be carrying the virus to small municipalities with limited medical resources.
This was the third of four town-hall meetings held across B.C., designed for residents to share their priorities and ideas for economic recovery after the pandemic. It was attended by Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Competitiveness Michelle Mungall, with special guest Parliamentary Secretary for Forests, Lands, Natural Resources, Operations and Rural Development, Ravi Kahlon.
Mungall said the province has been advocating to keep the border closed, and with the announcement on July 14 that it would remain closed until August 21, she is pleased the federal government is listening.
“It is just not safe to open up that border to anything other than essential travel. Essential travel is that which brings our food across the border, our clothing items and so on — it’s part of that supply chain,” she said.
However, travelling for British Columbians within the province is being encouraged.
“Because we were doing so well, part of the restart plan was to allow for greater travelling within British Columbia, this is important to the tourism sector, but it is also good to get out there and get outside. Dr. Bonnie Henry has been really clear about that from the very beginning … but we have to do so respectfully.”
Throughout the meeting five poll questions were posed to participants which garnered varied results. The first being what participants saw as the most important issue facing British Columbians in the year ahead. The largest response was 35 per cent answering that a second wave of COVID-19 was their biggest worry.
With daily reminders from health authorities, Dr. Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix about being vigilant and keeping physical distance, Kahlon said he has big concerns.
“One of the biggest concerns … is when you hear something so often it becomes like background noise. My concern is, as we go on into the days of summer, that people will become relaxed on that.”
“We have now learned, through this pandemic, that you can not separate health from the economy. The two are intertwined and it means more now than it’s ever been before,” Kahlon said.
“We are not going to be able to rely on the same amount of American tourists or tourists from abroad, so that is a concern for me as well,” he said.
When thinking about B.C.’s future after the pandemic, 66 per cent of participants said they were optimistic or very optimistic for the days ahead.
Mungall said everyone is borrowing right now but B.C. was in a good position prior to the pandemic.
“We had the lowest unemployment rate in the country. We had a budget surplus many years running of balanced budgets in the province, so we were starting off in an a good place,” she said.
“… Because we started off with economic recovery in mind on day one, and created a good foundation from which to recover, we are in a better place than a lot of jurisdictions.”
“Regarding job loss, had we not responded the way we did we would have lost more lives. We would have lost a lot more jobs … We did everything we can to reduce risk, to prevent the spread. We’ve done a good job in that, and we’re going to do a good job in economic recovery as well,” Mungall said.
Khalan weighed in and said he has had conversations with contacts and business leaders from all over the world.
“(They) are also looking at B.C. and saying ‘hey that place is the place where we want to invest.’ We’ve got the natural beauty but we also have the stable economic climate. We also have good health care, and so I’m feeling very hopeful of where we are going to go.”
Seventy-two per cent of the town hall participants somewhat agreed or strongly agreed that the government is striking the right balance between keeping the public safe and restarting the economy.
Fifty-eight percent said that they were somewhat or very confident that stores they normally shopped in were able to maintain the safety of staff and customers.
The fifth and final poll question posed to participants was where should the government focus new spending on. Out of seven options, the largest number was 25 per cent choosing to spend new funds slowing down COVID-19.
Back to work funding had the vote of 25 per cent, with making life more affordable at 19 per cent. Other options were spending on climate control at 10 per cent; health care at eight per cent; and spending for the expansion of education and training received seven per cent of the the votes.
The 90 minute forum received various feedback from attendees regarding an array of topics such as the need for more electronic vehicle charging stations in the north, work going to out of province contractors, climate change, forestry, tech industry, wine industry, food security, affordable daycare and funding for seniors centres.
“It is critically important that we hear from people in communities throughout the province on what the economic recovery should look like,” Khalon said at the end of the meeting. “We want to leave everyone with how critical the social distancing measures are, doing the things we need to do to keep ourselves, our family members, and our communities safe … We will get through this together and we will come back stronger.”
For those that did not have the opportunity to participate in the town hall meeting, a survey is available to be completed at www.engage. gov. bc.ca/recoveryideas
K-J Millar | Journalist
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