The B.C. government is seeking approval for another $1 billion in borrowing to match funds from the federal government to keep transit systems and local facilities like libraries and recreation centres running in the coronavirus pandemic.
Premier John Horgan emphasized July 23 that transit is key to getting more people back to work and school in the fall, and he warned that further restrictions are a possibility as education starts up and people spend more time indoors.
Finance Minister Carole James asked the legislature July 22 for authority to spend an additional $1 billion, on top of an unprecedented deficit. Finance officials have estimated the 2020-21 deficit to be $12.5 billion, with other scenarios as high as $15 billion or as low as $10 billion, depending on pandemic conditions and businesses recovering and paying taxes.
James said the new spending authority is based on getting the maximum amount of federal restart funds for transit and municipal services. She announced last week that B.C. was expecting about $2 billion under the Trudeau government’s “safe restart agreement” with provinces.
“We know how critical transportation is for our economic recovery, and we know the needs that are there, the challenges that Translink, that B.C. Transit have facing,” James told reporters at the legislature. “We also know municipalities are facing needs as well. So this gives us the ability to be able to hopefully maximize those dollars.”
In his weekly session with reporters at the legislature rose garden, Horgan congratulated most B.C. residents for taking care in a reopening economy, and scolded young people shown in widely seen videos of outdoor parties.
“After observing footage from Kelowna, after observing footage of a drum circle in the Lower Mainland, I have to say to British Columbians, ‘C’mon, you’re better than that’,” Horgan said. “We made better progress than anywhere in Canada, up until the last couple of weeks. My appeal to you, young and old, be responsible, do your best to stay away from other people.”
After seeing large gatherings in Kelowna and Vancouver in recent days, I think ASL interpreter Nigel Howard delivers the message best. pic.twitter.com/3CbhX3UZaa— John Horgan (@jjhorgan) July 23, 2020
Horgan’s concern follows several days of more than 30 new COVID-19 cases being identified. That’s still well below the latest results in Alberta, and far below Washington state, which is recording hundreds of cases a day.