Townhall with BC Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Competitiveness
The main takeaway from the Zoom meeting with the Honourable Michelle Mungall, BC Minister for Jobs, Economic Development and Competitiveness is that the health and safety of employers, employees and customers comes first, as business starts opening up again. The meeting was hosted by the BC Chamber of Commerce on May 13th.
British Columbia has not been as prescriptive as other provinces as to what businesses can open when, although there are basic guidelines that have been provided by Dr. Bonnie Henry. But whatever the business, Mungall explained, it must ensure that social distancing, proper personal protective equipment and good hygiene prevails.
She directed entrepreneurs to get in touch with WorkSafe BC, SmallBusinessBC, and also industry associations to get specific and good information about how they need to operate. The guidelines by Dr. Henry are to be followed to the letter; they are not suggestions, they are requirements, she said. WorkSafeBC inspectors will be following up, she reminded the meeting participants.
Acknowledging that the province is now in a recovery mode, she expects that entrepreneurs would open slowly and carefully. Of the $5 billion package that the province has put together for dealing with the impact of Covid19, $1.5 million of that has been earmarked for economic recovery, she stated. One aspect of that will be creating a centralized hub where entrepreneurs can acquire the PPE needed to do their business, she said. She said the province is also working with the Federal Government on sick leave pay, so that workers don't feel that they must go to work when sick. She said that business should not be expected to bankroll a national crisis.
With 400,000 unemployed in BC alone, she made it clear that it will be a huge challenge to get people back to work. Some will not have jobs to go back to, because their particular business, or an entire sector is in bad shape, such as tourism, at the moment. The government is looking to where displaced workers might transfer their skills to businesses that are thriving, such as some grocery stories and Canadian Tire etc.The cannabis sector is also growing, she said. The provincial government has been working with the Skills Ministry, among others, to figure out what new training may be needed. Interestingly, surveys show the most people in the province don't see their lives being normal for a year, she said.
Minister Mungall reiterated a number of times that the provincial government believes strongly that “we are all in this together”. It is not just a catch phrase for us. As a participant in the meeting, you got the feeling that they government really wants to hear the stories of entrepreneurs so they can tailor their programs well. They are also well aware of the psychological impact of this time, and are taking that into account.
“Things can be really scary,” she acknowledged. “My heart goes out to all the entrepreneurs”, which she said, have put a massive amount of work into building their businesses. She said that the business community has been showing a great deal or resilience and innovation.
By: Susan Millar