During a legislative assembly management committee meeting earlier this month, the NDP government’s designated enforcer of party discipline wondered why the coronavirus pandemic posters in the Parliament Buildings didn’t specifically use the two-metre measurement.
“It just seems inconsistent,” Garry Begg, the Surrey-Guildford MLA, said on Aug. 6. “It seems that just when we get used to, or I get used to, metric, we have to do the conversion backwards now to figure out what six feet means.”
Now Begg is facing questions about his proximity to unmasked hotel workers that appeared Aug. 25 at his constituency office, which officially closed to the public in March because of the pandemic. A photograph published by Unite Here Local 40 on Twitter appears to show Begg standing less than arm’s length from two of the visitors.
“I actually thought that we had achieved socially distancing because I distinctly recall mentioning that and separating myself from the two ladies,” Begg told theBreaker.news on Aug. 28, when the province recorded its highest single-day infection total of 124. “It’s probably more the way the picture is taken we appear to be closer than we actually are.”
Caucus whip Begg, a retired RCMP inspector, said he allowed eight people to sign-in and enter the office and boardroom for an unscheduled 2:15 p.m. meeting. Unite Here Local 40 members are lobbying NDP MLAs for job protection and a tourism industry bailout.
“I think this was an unusual circumstance, this was a hot sunny day and they were all women outside, and I probably could be accused of being too courteous to them, I was concerned that they should have a glass of water and sit down and relax out of the sun,” Begg said. “It was a fairly quick transaction, actually it was a very quick transaction. I don’t see any harm in the way it was conducted.”
Unite Here Local 40 spokeswoman Michelle Travis and Stephanie Fung did not respond for comment. One of the people in the photograph appears to be the Local 40 executive director, Robert Demand. He also did not respond.
Between 2005 and 2017, when unions and companies were allowed to fund political parties, the B.C. NDP reported almost $115,000 in donations from Unite Here Local 40.
While it does not appear that Begg or his guests broke any law, the optics of the situation are another matter.
Fraser Health, the health authority that includes Begg’s constituency, recommends that: “Even when we are not sick, we should still keep two metres (six feet) from one another when we are outside our homes. Two metres is the approximate length of a queen-sized bed.”
It also recommends wearing a non-medical mask when physical distancing is difficult, to protect those nearby from sneezing, coughing or talking-related droplets.
“I certainly wouldn’t want to set a bad example for anyone to infer that I don’t agree with any of the guidelines, because I’m strictly observant of them, as are my staff and as is the office,” Begg said. “In this particular case this was an unplanned event.”
Begg said his office has a WorkSafeBC COVID-19 safety plan, but he did not provide a copy after theBreaker.news asked to see one.
Had the meeting been held in an Airbnb house instead of an office, Begg could have been fined.
On Aug. 21, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth authorized $2,000 fines against owners, operators and organizers of gatherings and events, including parties and events of more than 50 people and those hosting more than five guests in a vacation accommodation.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms in Calgary has challenged the pandemic-related compliance and enforcement moves by various governments across the country. Staff lawyer James Kitchen told theBreaker.news that hypocrisy and inconsistency abound.
“Doug Ford says you’re not allowed to go to your cabin and he goes to his cabin,” Kitchen said, referring to the Ontario Premier’s Easter Sunday Muskoka cottage trip. “This is happening all over the country. Politicians say do this, do that, do this, do that, and then they do something different. Because — and I’m not saying this is, but I have to ask the question — is it more about government control? I don’t see a public health crisis, I see a civil liberties crisis, I see an economic crisis.”
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