VICTORIA -- B.C. Premier John Horgan said Thursday the federal government’s newly announced Canada Safe Restart Plan will be crucial for the province’s recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through the Canada Safe Restart Plan, the federal government has promised to disperse $19 billion to all provinces and territories to support safe economic restarts.

While Horgan did not specify how much of that total is being allocated to B.C., he said that a 50/50 cost-sharing program has been established to help support the province’s public transit system, childcare system, as well as individual municipalities.

The premier estimates that B.C.’s transit system will need roughly $600 million to “get back on track” due to decreased ridership amid the pandemic.

He adds that municipalities also saw dramatic drops in revenue, which can impact the services they provide, like community programs and recreation centres.

Horgan says the federal government has been a “receptive partner” when the province put forward its calls for financial support.

Alarming overdose report

On Thursday, the BC Coroners Service announced that June was the deadliest month in the province’s history for overdose deaths.

Horgan says that the B.C. government is working to address both the COVID-19 pandemic and the overdose crisis across the province.

The provincial government plans to build more treatment spaces and “remove barriers” to addiction recovery, with a greater focus on health-care rather than prosecution.

“The people who are addicted to opioids are not criminals, they’re patients,” he said.

Horgan said that while access to illicit drugs may be founded in a "criminal element," those who face addiction challenges should not be considered criminals.

He added that he continues to support the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police’s call to decriminalize illicit drugs for personal use.

The BC Coroners Service says that 175 people died of illicit drug toxicity deaths in June. Meanwhile, a total of 189 have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began months ago.

Horgan addressed concerns that the B.C. government was placing an unfair emphasis on the coronavirus pandemic, rather than the overdose epidemic.

“I want British Columbians to know that we are not abandoning them on this question,” he said.

The premier said that the number of deaths related to both health crises is “coincidental” and that the dangers of the coronavirus can erupt in a more widespread way than the overdose epidemic.

“These are two separate things,” he said. “We have an insidious virus that effects anyone at anytime and we have an opioid crisis that impacts people using drugs.

“The COVID-19 crisis is a global crisis. We’ve already seen in the United States what happens when you don’t follow basic guidelines,” he said.

While the pandemic is ongoing, Horgan says that health officials continue to address the overdose crisis.

He noted that when he hired provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, one of her first tasks in the position was to help establish a provincial safe drug supply.

Horgan said Thursday that he plans for B.C. “to wrestle (the overdose crisis) to the ground, just as British Columbians collectively have wrestled COVID-19 to the ground.”