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B.C. throne speech stresses pulling together over pandemic polarization

The COVID-19 pandemic is still the top priority, but the B.C. NDP is promising action on the environment, the economy — and the Royal B.C. Museum.
Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin arrives at the B.C. legislature on Feb. 8, 2022, for Tuesday's throne speech. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Premier John Horgan’s NDP government on Tuesday downplayed pandemic polarization in B.C. and stressed that people are pulling together.

The traditional agenda-setting throne speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin on behalf of the government, cited a handful of new initiatives and noted the effects five waves of COVID-19 and two years of restrictive health orders are having on the province.

“To say the last year has been challenging would be an understatement.”

Extreme weather devastated some communities and the health-care system struggled to cope with the pandemic and the opioid crises.

“Just when life was starting to return to some sense of normalcy, a new and highly contagious variant of COVID-19 began to spread.

“At a time when these same challenges have increased polarization and division around the world, people here in B.C. have pulled together.”

The speech cited the high vaccination rate as proof “we trusted science and continued listening to public health advice.”

More than four million people have received at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and B.C. has one of the lowest per-capita fatality rates and one of the highest vaccination rates on the continent, it said.

The speech also tried to ease mounting concern and objections about the Royal B.C. Museum’s closure of the popular Old Town exhibit as part of a decolonization plan.

It said “the long-overdue process to modernize the RBCM will also continue, with more details on the scope and budget to be decided in coming months. Once complete, the RBCM’s exhibits will continue to tell the story of our past. But it will include everyone in these stories — especially communities that were previously overlooked, ignored or left out.”

Over the next few months, the government agenda includes the release of a new economic plan and the creation of a new ministry, likely by breaking up the present Ministry of Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Pperations and Rural Development.

“Administration and oversight of our province’s coast, lands, rivers and mountains has failed to keep pace with new realities.”

The speech said cumulative effects of economic activity must align with environmental objectives and approval processes must be transparent, timely and fair.

Another shuffle of responsibilities will see responsibility for child care services moved from the Ministry of Children and Family Development to the Education Ministry, which will manage it through new regional offices.

Also coming is release of a new vision for building a strong economy with growth that is inclusive and sustainable. Citing a recent report on a million job openings in the next 10 years, the speech said B.C. is facing a skills gap “large enough to slow down our strong economy if that challenge is not met.”

“The new economic plan will include a generational commitment to develop the talent B.C. needs to close the skills gap.”

The speech said it will also address the fragility of supply chains by improving the movement of goods and the agricultural agri-tech sector.

New “anti-racism data legislation” will be introduced which the government said will pave the way to fairer and better service delivery.

The minimum wage — currently $15.20 an hour — is now adjusted by government order but in the months ahead it will be tied to the rate of inflation.

The speech opened the spring sitting of the legislature, which is expected to run until early June.