The speech from the throne setting out the British Columbia government’s agenda for the next year focused on affordability, with particular attention to housing and child care.
“British Columbians have made their priorities clear,” said the speech, drafted by the government and read by Lt-Gov. Judith Guichon. “After years of rising living costs and stagnant wages, they expect government to make life more affordable.”
The speech included few specifics, but described the government’s general direction. It reiterated themes the NDP ran on ahead of last year’s election, including lines like “making life more affordable, fixing the services people count on, and making sure B.C.’s economy is sustainable and working for everyone; government can make life better.”
It included reminders of a few things the government has already done, such as cutting Medical Services Plan premiums in half, eliminating bridge tolls in the Lower Mainland and asking the BC Utilities Commission to freeze hydro rates for a year.
“The single, greatest challenge to affordability in British Columbia is housing,” it said. “Fixing this problem will take new ideas. It will take commitment, and it will take working together — governments, business, non-profits and communities — to make a change.”
The government planned to address demand, supply and security, especially for renters, it said. “Your government believes that people seeking to profit from B.C.’s real estate must also contribute to housing solutions. Budget 2018 will put forward new measures to address the effect of speculation on real estate prices.”
Coming legislation will “crack down on tax fraud, tax evasion and money laundering in B.C.’s real estate market,” the speech added.
The government will also introduce stronger protections for renters and owners of manufactured homes and spend money on affordable housing, the speech said.
“Starting this year, government will begin to make the largest investment in affordable housing in B.C.’s history, including social housing, student housing, seniors housing, Indigenous housing and affordable rentals for middle-income families.”
The speech also promised the largest investment in child care in B.C.’s history. “Safe, affordable, licensed care will become B.C.’s standard, giving parents the peace of mind they need and quality care they can rely on,” it said.
The government will work with others “to propel the conversion of unlicensed spaces to licensed, regulated child care, so that more parents can benefit from the savings government is providing.”
It flagged the ongoing work developing a poverty reduction strategy. “The strategy will rely on investments across government to make life better for low-income families and the working poor, from the minimum wage to housing and child care, mental health, legal aid, post-secondary education and skills training. We are all made stronger when we give families a better start.”
There are plans to review the provincial labour code, introduce rules for non-medicinal use of cannabis and to create a new relationship with Indigenous people.
“This year, government will begin developing a cross-ministry framework to meet our commitments to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Tsilhqot’in decision,” it said.
Climate change was mentioned on page 19 of the 20-page speech: “Your government will take steps to meet our climate targets, promote innovation and help families come out ahead through a new climate plan to be developed over the coming months.”
The government plans to “revitalize B.C.’s environmental assessment process” and will do so through an engagement process with industry, Indigenous peoples and communities, it said.
It also mentioned the plans to protect the coast from oil spills that led to criticism from Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. “The people of B.C. expect government to protect our coast and inland waterways from the significant harms an oil spill would cause. Government is considering new protections that would improve our ability to prepare for, and respond to, bitumen spills,” it said.
*Update: BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said the throne speech showed the NDP will abandon its election promises. “Today we’ve seen the NDP are afraid to govern,” he said. “During the election they made a lengthy list of promises and now they’re failing to deliver just about everything.”
Despite highlighting housing in the speech, that’s one place the government will fall short, Wilkinson said. “They promised 114,000 housing units and they said they’re going to deliver on 1,700 this year. At that rate it will take 67 years to deliver on their promise.”
The government also appeared to have reneged on its promise to provide child care for $10 a day and to give a rebate of $400 a year to renters, he said.
The NDP’s platform promised to “Build, directly and through partnerships, 114,000 rental, social and co-op homes over 10 years using B.C. wood products as building materials.”
Speaking with reporters, Premier John Horgan said the government is on pace to deliver on that commitment.
“It was never intended to be only social housing or only affordable housing,” he said, mentioning the need for rental housing and market-built housing.
“It was 114,000 units over that period of time. I don’t believe that’s ambitious. We came to that with consultation with representatives from the development community as well as BC Housing and their statistics, so I believe we’re on track.”
He said child care, along with housing, will be at the centre of next week’s budget. “There’s no backing away from anything,” he said, noting that the $10-a-day child care plan was proposed by advocates. “We’ve embraced it and we’re going to implement it.”
Andrew Weaver, the leader of the Green Party, said he’s cautiously optimistic about what he heard in the speech. “We have some concerns about the lack of substance in terms of the depth of some of the arguments. There’s a lot of rhetoric and we’re looking forward to the gory details that we’ll see emerge,” he said.
In particular, he said, he liked the promise to build more student housing since it will free up more rentals in communities throughout the province as more students move into residences.
*This portion of the article was an update posted on Wednesday, Feb. 14.