The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, work, socialize, communicate and provide essential services. It has also exposed deep gaps and inequities in healthcare and our society writ large. BC Greens have spent the last two years drawing attention to these gaps and proposing solutions. Unfortunately, we have seen little progress.
While the pandemic continues, the BC NDP has shifted its approach from a responsibility for collective public health to individualized responsibility. This “everyone-on-their-own” approach is having far-reaching consequences, including marginalizing vulnerable populations, labour shortages, the declining health and safety of healthcare professionals, and entire sectors of the healthcare system shutting down for periods of time. At the same time, the BC NDP government has refused to provide regular, consistent data to support their decisions and equip British Columbians with the information they need to make informed decisions.
The BC Greens' plan for Lessons from COVID-19
Illness disproportionately affects equity-seeking groups, including women and racialized groups. They tend to be low-income workers, often working frontline jobs, and unable to forgo a day’s pay to stay home if sick.
While the government has introduced a permanent program of five paid sick days for BC, it fails to meet the standard OECD level of ten paid sick days. BC’s approach does not seem to be tied to clearly articulated public health and economic outcomes as an essential public health measure, and an important basic standard for business. Government should closely monitor the impacts of this policy over the course of 2022, and work with labour advocates and business to explore moving to match other OECD countries.
Staffing shortages, violence in the workplace, burnout and mental health decline are impacting the wellbeing of health professionals and the quality of care they can offer their patients. In a survey conducted for the B.C. Hospital Employees Union, 30% of healthcare workers reported that they want to leave their jobs in the next two years. Additionally, healthcare workers are barred from speaking out about working conditions. BC’s whistleblower protection does not cover healthcare workers.
The BC NDP must protect whistleblowers and address waning morale in the healthcare sector. Healthcare professionals should not fear repercussions for speaking up when their work conditions are unsafe or patients are put at risk. Nor should they feel abandoned by their government and hopeless at work.
As exemplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, BC’s data collection and reporting systems have many gaps. The government’s introduction of anti-racism legislation is a good step, allowing the collection of disaggregated data that will help authorities better understand how different communities are affected by public health issues.
However, throughout the pandemic, the BC NDP has been reluctant to share robust data to support their public policy decisions or even follow the global scientific consensus on issues such as the airborne nature of COVID and the existence of long COVID. This has left British Columbians in the dark - and without the proper tools such as N95 masks and upgraded ventilation - when they are being asked to “self-manage” the risks of the pandemic. The BC NDP government must shift its approach to communications from hiding information to sharing it comprehensively.