Ensuring the recovery is durable, just and equitable requires bold action on many fronts — and all of them must be pursued in the spirit of reconciliation, in full partnership with Indigenous communities.
Here is a summary of how we recommend the BC government approach key policy areas.
Worker health and safety
Workers' health and safety must be paramount throughout the recovery. The government must ensure that all essential and frontline workers are protected according to the hierarchy of controls. To accomplish this, the government must ensure that employers work with the WCB and PHO and their employees to ensure all necessary health and safety precautions are in place. Support, training and worker and employer education will be critical as workplaces re-open, with consistent monitoring and reporting to ensure health and safety programs are effective. The public now understands the importance of workplace health and safety in a way they never have before, and this is the time to put workers at the centre of the WCB and make long-overdue improvements to workers compensation legislation.
Worker rights and protections
The pandemic clearly demonstrated that the rights and protections of workers in BC are insufficient. Thousands of workers that we collectively rely upon are underpaid and lack job security. We need to strengthen those protections immediately and ensure that existing laws and labour regulations are enforced. Over the longer term, our economic recovery will require significant structural improvements to working conditions throughout BC to end abusive practices for good, address the changing nature of work, provide greater protection for all workers, especially those dealing with precarious employment, and provide sectoral stability and better access to collective bargaining. And for sectors that were hard hit and are likely to take longer to recover, such as tourism and hospitality, emergency supports will need to continue, and additional supports may be needed.
Public services and supports
The public sector is crucial in times of crisis, both in providing essential services and resources to communities throughout BC and in offering secure employment for workers in the province. The public sector must be central in the province's recovery efforts. The pandemic has spotlighted the urgent need to increase staffing levels in health care, including in specialized health care services and long-term care. As well, we must continue the process of making long-term seniors' a public-sector service.
Investing in public services such as childcare and transit will be necessary to support workers who have remained on the job through the pandemic, and to enable workers to begin returning to their jobs as safe re-opening permits; making transit fare-free will help to quickly restore ridership. Over the longer term, expanded access to post-secondary education will allow our workforce to reskill and help sustain our recovery. Where private insurers have responded to COVID-19 by reducing coverage, a broader role for ICBC as a public insurance provider will help close those gaps. And investment in public services will also allow us to create employment while supporting historically under-served and marginalized groups — an effort that must also be central to the province's recovery.
Supports for vulnerable populations
The communities in BC which have experienced the most grievous harm related to COVID-19 are the same communities that have been most impacted by the province's overdose crisis, the crises of homelessness and poverty, and other existing inequities in BC. The pandemic and ensuing lockdown have had impacts far beyond the economic, in areas such as domestic violence and mental health. And economic support programs still don't address the needs of many of the most vulnerable workers, including sex workers, undocumented workers and those in the underground economy. This economic recovery is both an opportunity and an imperative to end these inequities for good, from housing-first strategies to an end to poverty.
Investing in public infrastructure benefits British Columbia across the board. The economic stimulus provided through capital investment, and the well-paying jobs that result through Community Benefits Agreements, can fuel recovery in communities throughout the province, aided by local sourcing and hiring. The resulting new and upgraded infrastructure keeps supporting the recovery — for example, by making it easier for employees to get to their jobs and goods to get to market. Our communities and families benefit from safer schools and better access to health facilities. And we all benefit from an expanded, modernized energy system, including new renewable energy capacity. To make the most from this construction, we must invest in the skills and certification of workers in the trades, including greater participation by underrepresented groups; change the way we build to reflect what we've learned from the pandemic about (for example) physical distancing; and prioritize projects that help us make the transition to a greener economy.
Addressing the climate emergency
The global climate crisis hasn't paused for the pandemic, compounding the time we've lost through years of inaction. Suspending (or, worse, reversing) what climate measures we have in place now would be short-sighted in the extreme, delaying our progress toward a modern green economy while the rest of the world moves on. The good news is that accelerating climate action can spur growth in sectors of our economy that hold tremendous promise now and in the coming years. In the immediate term, that means staying on track with B.C.'s current climate measures. Over the longer term, it requires such initiatives as ensuring climate-crisis response is central to our stimulus efforts, investing in research, innovation and mitigation, spurring manufacturing in green technology sectors, and retrofitting our built environment.