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Throne speech: “Brace for recession” in BC

Today's throne speech acknowledged that British Columbians must “brace for a period of recession” and promised a mix of government restraint and public infrastructure spending to help.

“We live in a radically changed world,” Lieutenant Governor Steven Point said. “It is a tumultuous time of uncertainty and shaken assumptions that has left families and businesses wondering what hit them.”

A recession is coming, he said. “How deep it might be, or how long it will last, is impossible to know. Few, if any, saw the sheer force and speed of the decline's progression.”

Delivered by Point, the 40-page speech sets out the direction for the government for the coming year.

The government has identified up to $2 billion worth of infrastructure projects that can be accelerated and has submitted 400 proposals for cost sharing to the federal government, the speech said.

That adds to $10.6 billion in projects that are already underway, and $1.4 billion in local infrastructure projects. All told the construction spending represents about 88,000 jobs, he said.

Point's speech re-committed to not raising taxes and nixed a proposal to raise the minimum wage from $8, where it has been since 2001. “Now is not the time to impose hundreds of millions in new costs on small businesses through an increased minimum wage that will mean more job losses, will depress job creation and will hurt those it purports to help.”

Health and education spending will be increased, Point said. Health has taken an increasing share of the provincial budget over the past 30 years, he noted. “That trend will grow in the foreseeable future, as 90 percent of all budgeted new operating spending in the next three years will go to health care.”

The government will increase spending on elementary and high school education, despite falling enrollments, as well as on colleges and universities. But the government backed off on a plan to provide all-day voluntary kindergarten for five-year-old children. Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops will get a law school to be opened in collaboration with the University of Calgary.

“Education is the best economic development and health promotion program ever invented,” Point said. “In tight economic times, it is only smart to maintain and expand educational investments.”

The speech pledged to move forward on the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement, create a Commercial Forest Reserve to keep logged lands in forestry, and expand electrical transmission capacity along Highway 37 and elsewhere. The government will require new public buildings to be built from wood, where the building code allows, and will push for a "wood first" policy throughout Canada.

It renewed commitment to the new relationship with First Nations. "We need to close the gaps in education, health, housing and economic opportunity that have for too long disadvantaged B.C.'s first citizens." The government is working with First Nations on a Recognition and Reconciliation Act that "will acknowledge . . . that Indigenous people have long lived throughout British Columbia and that this fact does not require proof."

“We will not be bullied by the moment,” Point concluded. “Let us not flinch from the difficult tests that lie ahead or from our responsibilities to the generations that follow.”

The government will release a budget tomorrow. Finance minister Colin Hansen said this morning that if the B.C. Liberals are re-elected in May, an updated budget will be presented in the fall.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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