VICTORIA — A newly elected member of British Columbia's legislature became Canada's first politician to sign a pledge to the King at the start of a fall sitting Monday, where health care and high costs were expected to be dominant issues.
It's also expected to be the last session for John Horgan as premier, who announced last June he will step down as New Democrat leader due to health reasons, and he will not run in the next election, scheduled for October 2024.
The Opposition Liberals served notice that health care was at the top of their fall agenda by calling on current Health Minister Adrian Dix, who has held the post since the New Democrats were elected in 2017, to resign.
"My goodness, when we have something like we have today where the results are just absolutely appalling in every single metric that the public ought to care about, and there's no accountability in government, that's not acceptable," Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon said at a news conference.
"That's why we called for the resignation of the health minister."
The session starts with many of the same criticisms the New Democrats have faced in the past year over health-care troubles, including lack of emergency care in rural communities, ambulance service delays and a shortage of family doctors.
NDP house leader Mike Farnworth said health care will be a government focus during the fall sitting and he expected the government to introduce up to 20 bills this fall.
"There will definitely be, I think, a focus on the cost of living, health care, for example, and a range of issues on priorities the government has," he said at the legislature.
Farnworth said he couldn't elaborate on the details of the proposed legislation, other than suggest some bills will be "meaty."
The seven-week sitting, ending Nov. 24, started with the swearing-in of Liberal Elenore Sturko, who was elected last month in the Surrey South byelection.
Legislature clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd told those gathered for the ceremony that Sturko was the first elected official in Canada to pledge an oath to King Charles since the recent death of the queen.
"As we acknowledge the passing of our former monarch, our new member of the legislative assembly will be pledging loyalty to His Majesty King Charles III, the first change of this kind in over 70 years, and I'm told is the first in Canada for a newly elected member," she said.
Falcon said he spent the past eight months since being elected party leader travelling the province, with people in every community he visited telling him of their concerns about deteriorating health services.
He said he heard an "accumulation of horror stories."
"I've been in small communities, large communities," Falcon said. "I've met with doctors, nurses, front-line staff, care aids, and I've heard from patients and citizens that have had interaction with our health-care system."
Liberal health critic Shirley Bond called on Dix to leave his post during question period in the legislature.
"British Columbians expect better from their minister of health," she said. "Will he do the right thing today, step aside and resign?"
Dix gave no indication of resigning in comments he made inside and outside the legislature.
"I'm going to continue to give everything I have," he said during question period.
Farnworth said Horgan's retirement as premier is "bittersweet," adding he's known him for 30 years.
"I think he's leaving as possibly one of the most popular premiers, not only in the country, but certainly, I think, in the history of the province of B.C. Given the nature of politics in this province, that's no mean feat," Farnworth said.
Former attorney general David Eby and environmental activist Anjali Appadurai are contesting the NDP leadership race.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2022.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly said the New Democrats were elected in 2018, instead of 2017.