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BC Politics

Throne Speech Promises Action on Indigenous Rights, Pandemic Recovery

NDP government celebrates record, says child care will move to Education Ministry.

Andrew MacLeod 9 Feb

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of All Together Healthy (Douglas & McIntyre, 2018). Find him on Twitter or reach him at .

The new session of the British Columbia legislature opened Tuesday with a throne speech that largely looked backward while promising to continue the government’s work to address the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, the economy and other challenges.

The text of the speech read by Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin and written in Premier John Horgan’s office said the government “will continue to build a stronger B.C. for everyone by putting people first. Just as it has since day one.”

Horgan told reporters the speech lays out a plan for the coming year, with more detail coming in two weeks when the government releases its budget.

It also is a reminder of the challenges we’ve come through together, he said.

“We’ve been able to be successful through COVID, through heat domes, through atmospheric rivers, through fires and floods, because British Columbians are extraordinary at coming together to help each other.”

The speech included reminders of what the NDP government has done since coming to office in 2017, such as eliminating Medical Service Plan premiums and ending tolls on Lower Mainland bridges, and of initiatives that remain underway like the move to providing $10-a-day child care.

The government pledged to move ahead with tying the minimum wage to the inflation rate, introducing a cooling-off period for home purchases and collaborating with Indigenous peoples to draft an action plan on the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

It also committed to creating a new lands management ministry “to better support goals of reconciliation, economic development and environmental protection.”

The government will also move responsibility for child care into the Education Ministry, establish a new Chinese Canadian Museum and improve skills training.

“British Columbians have endured a year unlike any other,” the speech said. “From rebuilding after the fires and floods, to getting through this difficult wave of the global pandemic, to building the strongest economic recovery in Canada, we have shown we can accomplish anything by working together.”

The speech acknowledged ongoing concerns including the shortage of primary health care, the lack of affordable housing and inequality.

“Your government is working to address the over-representation of Indigenous kids in B.C.’s child welfare system and to return Indigenous peoples’ inherent jurisdiction over child welfare,” it said. “New partnerships are also starting to address the disproportionate representation of Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system, and landmark reforms are ensuring First Nations share meaningfully in the prosperity of the land they have lived on since time immemorial.”

It promised “to take concrete actions” over the next year “to support people, make life more affordable, and build an economic recovery where no one is left behind,” though it didn’t specify what those actions would be.

Steps the government plans to take to improve workplace safety “include improvements to workers’ compensation and new rules to keep workers safe from the deadly consequences of exposure to asbestos.”

Legislation to allow the government to collect race-based data, which it says it needs to deliver services more fairly and effectively, is to come during this session.

There is also an economic plan coming that the speech said would be “a new vision for building a strong economy” that would help solve challenges like inequality and climate change and “include a generational commitment to develop the talent B.C. needs to close the skills gap.”

Horgan said the economic plan is coming next week.

BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon was unavailable to take questions. But the party sent video clips of him commenting.

“If this throne speech sounded familiar to British Columbians it’s probably because we’ve heard all this kind of talk before,” he said in one. “Frankly it was disappointing, more of a look back than a look forward.”

The leader of the BC Green Party and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau said in a prepared statement that the speech was right to acknowledge the sacrifices and loss British Columbians have experienced over the last year.

“But instead of offering a vision for the future the government patted themselves on the back for past initiatives and re-announced projects that have been underway for years,” Furstenau said.

“Solving the overlapping crises that British Columbians are facing will require a level of honesty that we are yet to see,” she said. “What we need to see is humility and transparency from this government. Right now, people are losing confidence in our democracy. A hopeful vision for the future must be grounded in truth.”

Furstenau said Greens were pleased to see the commitment that the budget will focus on inequality and climate change since they were “glaring omissions” from past budgets.

“We agree that we are facing a climate emergency,” she said. “Moving forward, it is important to remember that climate delay is the new climate denial, and this government's ongoing support for the oil and gas industry are direct contradictions to their symbolic commitments to reduce emissions.”

Finance Minister Selina Robinson is scheduled to present the province’s budget on Feb. 22.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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