B.C. is unlikely to follow in the footsteps of Saskatchewan and Alberta in loosening its COVID-19 restrictions such as proof of vaccination and mask mandates, Premier John Horgan said.
Horgan, in his post-Throne Speech comments Tuesday, was asked about Saskatchewan’s decision to end its proof of vaccination policy next week – as well as that province likely not renewing its mask mandate once it expires at the end of February.
The premier, however, was adamant. While he deferred the formal plan for B.C. to provincial health officer Bonnie Henry (who will announce the province’s approach next week), Horgan was abundantly clear in stating that B.C. will follow the advice of the health officials and not “elected officials.”
“With respect to different jurisdictions, everybody has addressed this in a different way,” Horgan said. “I will put our records up against all of the other provinces in the country; outcomes have been better in terms of mortality [and] impact on the economy.”
He noted that B.C.’s unemployment (5.1%) and job creation have both lead the country, and that the COVID hospitalizations are once again stabilizing after the Omicron variant sent new case numbers to unprecedented heights earlier this year.
Alberta premier Jason Kenney is scheduled to announce the lifting of that province’s COVID restrictions – which Kenney has characterized as damaging – later today. Horgan, however, said he will leave that decision to Henry.
“I believe that masks are effective in protecting people, and I don’t believe that an arbitrary decision by an elected official is the best way forward in that regard,” Horgan said. “Similarly, the immunization cards [are] supported by a vast majority of people to ensure that the sacrifices that they’ve made have provided benefits for them and their families moving forward.”
Horgan added the policy in B.C. will be “in-sync with the virus, not in-synch with a few protesters” – referring to the recent trucker convoys that have appeared in cities like Vancouver (and continue to persist in Ottawa) protesting vaccine requirements for cross-border truckers.
“I support the right to dissent,” he said. “But I don’t believe we should intrude on the lives of other people.
“I would suggest we are going to follow the same path we have been on since the pandemic began, and that is to take advice from counsel from public health officials who are working with our acute care system... to make sure we are continuing to protect people.”
During the media appearance, Horgan also addressed a number of issues – such as responding to criticism that the Throne Speech was lacking in detail and new initiatives for the NDP government’s plan for the province in 2022. Horgan said the plan will be fleshed out, mostly by the new provincial budget expected in two-week’s time, but also by an economic recovery plan that is slated to be announced by Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation minister Ravi Kahlon next week.
Horgan did say it is crucial for the province to get the plan right, since B.C. is facing both labour shortages and a continued lower level of retail, restaurant and tourism activity that will require a multi-faceted approach to address the complexity of the issues.
The premier also reiterated his support for B.C. to play host to both the 2026 FIFA World Cup of Soccer and the Invictus Games, provided that the organizers can give B.C. a clear picture of the cost. The shift in position, Horgan said, stemmed from the fact that the province is in need of any events that will draw large number of visitors back to B.C. after years of stymied international travel/tourism activity.
Lastly, Horgan also said he welcomed the opposition Liberals’ electing of new leader Kevin Falcon, but added that since former leader and Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson was as the legislature today, the premier has not called a byelection for the riding – which is expected soon to give Falcon an opportunity to gain a seat in Victoria.