Column: From the Hill -- a summer tour
I recently spent a week touring through the South Okanagan-West Kootenay, meeting elected officials and constituents as well as enjoying the lakes, rivers and mountains that make this such a wonderful place to live. Now that COVID restrictions have been lifted somewhat, I was able to chat with people over coffee at picnic table patios in the first really fine weather of the summer.
In Osoyoos I heard that the tourism industry is going full tilt at last. While this is great news for hospitality workers and the local economy, it does raise concerns among the general public about increased exposure to the virus from visitors.
Perhaps the most common topic of conversation was the issue of American travelers in BC on their way to Alaska. The government will now be issuing these visitors with a tag that must be hung on the rear-view mirror that clearly states that they are transiting to Alaska and shows the deadline date for crossing the border. While I think this is a good idea for enforcement, it might have been stronger had they also decided to issue tags for the majority of people travelling in Canada with American licence plates—Canadian citizens living in the United States here to visit family. These people have every right to be here as long as they properly quarantine themselves for 14 days on arrival. Tags showing this status could perhaps reduce the amount of worry for British Columbians and incidents of harassment these visitors may receive.
Restaurant and café owners told me that business was now quite good—very good in some cases. The ones I visited were doing a very good job of providing a safe experience for customers with good distancing, cleaning and available sanitizers. The government COVID supports—CERB for the employees they had to lay off; CEBA loans to get them through the tough times during closure, and the wage subsidy—have been essential for these businesses to survive. A few mentioned that it would have been fairer if the criteria for the wage subsidy were changed to be a sliding scale of support—more for businesses that had suffered deeper losses; less for those who had fared better. I’m happy to say that the NDP negotiated just such changes to the wage subsidy legislation that were put into law when the House of Commons sat last week (yes, we are sitting several times a month through the summer).
I met several young people in Boundary Country who are working in positions funded by the Canada Summer Jobs program. It’s always good to put faces to the people we are supporting in this way. The Canada Summer Jobs program has a budget of over $400 million and provides work for thousands of students across the country every year. Expanding this successful program was an obvious choice the government could have made to help students who couldn’t find jobs in the COVID crisis and I imagine they might be wishing they had done just that instead of asking WE Charity.
I hope you are enjoying August! We have been blessed with some good hot weather at last, but there’s a hot wind blowing today and I’m listening to water bombers take off and land at the Penticton airport as I write this. Please be careful out in the woods, keep your distance in town and stay cool!