Universal pharmacare, affordable housing and Pacific wild salmon are some of the priorities of Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns for the federal government’s 2021 budget, to be tabled April19.
He said the third wave of COVID should be government’s biggest priority, noting the toll on young people and small business owners. Startup businesses, in particular, are having trouble accessing benefits such as the wage subsidy.
“We’re hoping the government will address those that have fallen through the cracks,” said Johns, the NDP Critic for Small Business and Tourism. “We’re pushing for a moratorium on student debt payment, and making sure that people can access paid sick days to help stop the spread of the virus, in support of essential workers.
“Clearly health care is a top priority of all Canadians,” he added. “One fifth of all employees have lost all their benefits. They’ve been disconnected from their employer because of the pandemic.”
The NDP also wants to see investment in climate change and in child care. Johns said 70,000 women went back to work under Quebec’s child care program, which grew the GDP by two per cent.
“So we know it’s good for the economy. And women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”
Housing for the homeless and Indigenous communities is also critical.
As for wild salmon, Johns said B.C. had the lowest return in recorded history in the Fraser River — the largest salmon-bearing river in the world — in back-to-back years.
“Many rivers and watersheds up and down the coast are having record low returns, or on the verge of extinction. We need the federal government to have a wild salmon recovery plan. Wild salmon is critical to our economy, to our culture, to our way of life.”
Last month, Johns said the federal government’s early announcement of $400 million over five years to build and expand networks of pathways, bike lanes, trails and pedestrian bridges is a first in terms of dedicated funding for active transportation.
“This is a victory for people in our riding,” he said, noting the efforts of groups such as the Comox Valley Cycling Coalition and Cycle Alberni.
Along with re-tabling a bill on a national cycling strategy, Johns has also tabled a motion (M-73) for a national strategy to re-integrate workers with physical or mental disabilities.
“Right now we know that 99 per cent of people who have been injured in the workplace that haven’t gotten back to work within one year, don’t ever return,” he said. “Coming out of COVID, we’re seeing more and more people off work. It’s critical we get them back to work as quick as possible.”
North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney has also outlined a list of budget priorities based on the top issues raised by constituents. These include connectivity (high-speed internet), climate change, housing, child care, an aquaculture jobs transition plan, and poverty among seniors.