The B.C. government is committed to continue working on housing, health care, public safety, climate change and other priorities, according to the throne speech Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin delivered today.
Written in Premier David Eby’s office, the speech laid out the government’s agenda under the new premier who took office in November.
The 26-page speech comes in a year when the province has a forecast $5-billion surplus, a reversal from the deficit of the same size budgeted last February.
It said the government “will put this year’s surplus to work for people — to support them now and for the long term.”
“By reducing costs for families and helping businesses attract the talent they need. By growing our health-care workforce to cut wait times and give more people access to a family doctor.”
The government will use the money to build more homes that people can afford, support fast growing cities and regions and fight climate change by growing a cleaner economy, it said.
It pledged to introduce previously promised pay transparency legislation as a way to close the gender pay gap and address systemic discrimination.
There were promises to increase housing and services near public transit hubs, launch a “refreshed” housing strategy, expand substance use treatment and recovery services and introduce legislation to crack down on gangs and money laundering.
“As part of its Safer Communities Action Plan, your government is implementing new response teams to track, arrest and jail repeat violent offenders,” it said. “These teams are made up of police, dedicated prosecutors and probation officers.”
The government will introduce a “Future Ready” skills-training plan aimed at making education and training more accessible, affordable and relevant.
And it promised that in the coming months “you will see your government act with increased urgency to make sure B.C. meets its ambitious climate targets.” There will be legislation strengthening the ability to make sure polluters pay for the clean up of abandoned sites as well as a new law improving access to electric vehicle charging stations in condo buildings.
The government plans to protect more old-growth forests in partnership with First Nations and promised to accelerate that work.
The speech recognized that many people are feeling uncertain about the future. “We open this session of the legislature at a time when people are facing real challenges,” it acknowledged. “Global inflation is squeezing household budgets. Food prices are going up. It’s hard to find a doctor.”
The province continues to see mental health and addiction challenges, housing costs continue to rise and people feel like they aren’t getting ahead despite working harder than ever, it said.
“Some say we should respond to a downturn by pulling back, reducing services, or by making people pay out of pocket for health care,” the speech said. “But that would make many of our most serious challenges worse and pass down costs at a time when people can least afford it.”
A few hours before Austin delivered the throne speech in the legislature, BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon told reporters that he had low expectations for the speech and the government.
“This is now the sixth year they’re going to talk about all the reasons why health care is a priority, why housing affordability is a priority, why general affordability is a priority, and why public safety is apparently a priority,” Falcon said.
“Here’s the problem,” he said. “Results really matter and at the end of the day I acknowledge this government is great at doing press releases and great at doing announcements, the problem is they’re terrible at getting results.”
Falcon said walk-in clinic wait times are near the worst in Canada, a million British Columbians aren’t attached to a family doctor, toxic drug deaths are at record highs and public safety is worse than ever.
“At some point government has to be held accountable for results,” he said. “If this was the private sector, and every year you brought back worse results than you had the year before, and every year things were demonstrably getting worse, you’d get fired from your job.”
Ahead of the speech Sonia Furstenau, the leader of the BC Green Party and the MLA for Cowichan Valley, said she was hoping for more emphasis on the government’s vision for the province and how it would measure success.
“I think what we’ve seen from the NDP government, especially since 2020, is a lot of announcements, a lot of saying ‘we’re going to put money here and put money there,’ but no indication of how do we know if this is successful.”
Furstenau gave the example of the drug poisoning crisis, where despite increased spending there has been no reduction in the number of people dying. Similarly, she said, despite a new agreement with the province’s doctors, there’s no clear path to everyone in the province having access to primary care.
“We’re going to be focused on putting solutions in front of this government,” she said, including investing in community health centres and supporting social and co-operative housing models.
The next provincial election is scheduled for Oct. 19, 2024.
Read more: BC Politics