The B.C. legislature begins its fall session on Monday with all 87 MLAs eligible to be in person, and opposition leader Shirley Bond says the NDP government’s forest preservation efforts and COVID-19 program will be front and centre.
Bond says she is hearing from people concerned about slow COVID-19 testing and contact tracing in more rural areas of the province, and called for the health ministry to use its stockpile of rapid tests to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus in workplaces and schools.
“We know that the province has access to potentially millions of rapid tests, and we are hearing from organizations like the B.C. Teachers Federation that they’re willing to have a conversation about how that might be utilized,” Bond said from her Prince George constituency. “We’re hearing about it from employer groups. Here in northern B.C. we’re hearing about delays in test results, finding a place to get your test, all of those situations are challenging right now.”
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addressed the testing issue Friday, as she announced the extension of mandatory masks to children in grade three and younger beginning next week and continuing to January at least. She said a “swish and gargle” test is being made available to schools and pharmacies, but it requires lab testing for results.
“We haven’t seen transmission in the staff in school settings as much as we were seeing last year,” Henry said Oct. 1. “So these tell us that the immunization program is working. Then the challenge, of course, is that everything we need to do now is to make sure that we’re keeping the younger kids from getting infected with COVID over this next period of time until vaccine is available for them.”
With anti-logging protests continuing in Premier John Horgan’s constituency on Vancouver Island, and more arrests on the Coastal GasLink pipeline project in Northern B.C., Bond called on Horgan to make “substantive progress” on its old-growth forest protection plan and to prevent illegal actions. Legislation on forest preservation may be coming in the fall session that begins Oct. 4 and runs to the end of November.
“People have a right to express their views and a right to protest,” Bond said. “But behaviour that borders on criminal behaviour will obviously generate particular consequences.”
The legislature itself will have new rules as it sits with everyone present for the first time since March 2020. Assigned seating and masks will be in force and the legislature management has been working with public health authorities.
“From the beginning of the pandemic, and there will be people who disagree with this, but our work has been deemed essential,” Bond said. “I certainly don’t make these decisions on behalf of the legislature, but I am told there has been a thorough discussion about the guidelines that will be in place.”