Child care, sick pay, restoring consumer confidence and preparing for a second wave of COVID-19 were on the minds of local business owners during the latest Kamloops Chamber of Commerce virtual town hall meeting.
Meeting via Zoom, Kamloops MLAs Todd Stone and Peter Milobar and Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes — the B.C. Liberal Opposition critic for small business — took questions to get a sense of the supports needed during BC’s COVID-19 Restart Plan ahead of a return of the legislature on June 22.
Asked about ideas to financially support small businesses during the pandemic, Stone said the Liberals want the government to implement initiatives such as 90-day tax holidays, rather than deferred payments, along with a better commercial rent relief program.
The Kamloops-South Thompson MLA also said the government should subsidize businesses needing to make investments in personal protective equipment and Plexiglass barriers in order to reopen, noting he spoke to a restauranteur facing a $6,000 bill to install Plexiglass.
“These are real costs they’re out of pocket for and this is coming at a time when many of them [businesses] have gone several months without any revenue coming in,” Stone said.
Kamloops Coun. Sadie Hunter asked the MLAs what kind of supports can be championed when it comes to child care, with so many people now working from home.
Milobar said the Liberals have been advocating for fair and equitable access to affordable child care, noting the NDP had only delivered about 10 per cent of its promised child-care spaces pre-COVID-19.
“We’re going to keep looking for ways the government can build in a child-care system that is actually economically sustainable and deliver the spaces people need,” Milobar said.
The Kamloops-North Thompson MLA said with the concern about COVID-19 numbers possibly ramping back up in the fall, and with schools operating possibly at just 50 per cent of student capacity on any given day, a systemic way is needed to ensure those child-care spaces are available.
Oakes said she believes there is opportunity for more early childhood educator retraining that hasn’t been looked at to the same degree as other countries in getting people ready for what B.C.’s new normal might look like.
Asked how to prepare businesses for a possible second wave of COVID-19, Milobar said no government knows for sure what lies ahead, but added the sooner plans are in place at the government level, the better.
“The cold reality is most are going to be lucky if they’re running at 50 per cent of sales they normally would and you would not get your financing for your business if that’s what you went to a bank with in the first place,” Milobar said.
Oakes noted the increase in minimum wage, which rose to $14.60 on June 1, was untimely for small businesses that are starting to reopen during the pandemic.
Asked how to restore consumer confidence as phase two of the economic reopening rolls out, Stone reiterated his call for subsidized PPE costs and suggested a government marketing campaign to restore consumer confidence with small businesses.
Asked about the possibility of universal 10-day paid sick leave — which the federal government is discussing with the provinces — ending up the responsibility of business owners, Stone said he wouldn’t support such a program if that were the case.
He said while people should not be compelled to go to work if feeling safe, any national program will prove costly and the federal government and provinces need to be prepared to shoulder it.
Milobar said the costs would be problematic for small businesses to handle and he expressed concern over the lack of public debate over the program, adding that no detail has come out so far, aside from the concept.