Throne speech sticks close to NDP election promises

The NDP government is entering the new legislative session with extra confidence that it can deliver on a throne speech that committed to disability bus passes, more affordable housing and campaign finance reforms.

On Friday, B.C. Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon delivered the throne speech, which sets the direction of the government for the coming legislative session.

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“British Columbians deserve a government that is working for people,” Guichon said.

The speech came just hours after Liberal MLA Darryl Plecas was acclaimed as Speaker, which will give the government more power to pass its legislation. With Plecas as Speaker, the NDP-Green Alliance will have 44 votes to 41 for the Liberals.

“I’m excited about the next number of years, certainly it does give us more flexibility,” Premier John Horgan said.

Affordability was one theme of the speech, which stuck close to the priorities identified in the New Democrats’ campaign promises and its pact with the Green Party.

The government committed to addressing loopholes on leases to end unfair rent increases, boost the stock of affordable housing and invest more in the Residential Tenancy Branch.

It will also bring back the annual bus pass for people with disabilities. Following the speech, Social Development Minister Shane Simpson said that, beginning Jan. 1, people with disabilities will no longer have to pay the $52-a-month fee for a bus pass that was imposed by the former Liberal government.

The fee is currently deducted from the monthly assistance cheques of bus pass recipients. “On Jan. 1, everybody will be getting their cheque for $1,133 and there won’t be any deductions off that cheque,” Simpson said.

Guichon said the government will begin consulting families and providers this fall on how to approach delivery of a universal child-care program, plus create more child-care spaces and training for early childhood educators.

Other priorities focused on immediate crises, like putting more resources toward the wildfires that have covered an area one-third the size of Vancouver Island and the drug overdose crisis that has killed 876 people in the first seven months of this year.

Many of Friday’s commitments were already identified as must-haves in the pact the Green Party signed in support of the NDP.

They include banning corporate and union donations to political campaigns, setting a fixed provincial election date every four years in the fall starting in 2021 and setting the terms of a referendum on proportional representation to take place no later than November 2018.

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver said he was “thrilled” by the throne speech and also grateful for its commitment to act on a Green proposal to create an Innovation Commission that will spur investment in the technology sector.

“I think what you’re seeing, in my view, is an emergence of a new kind of politics. [It’s] one that’s going to work, one that puts people first, one that puts policy first and one that builds on our commonalities, not focuses on our differences,” he said.

Other commitments include embracing the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, fully implementing public school class-size and composition requirements, reducing and later eliminating Medical Services Plan premiums, and building new hospitals.

“The road ahead won’t be easy. It will take time for the better choices this government is making to take hold — transforming people’s lives, revitalizing our communities and bringing all of us together,” Guichon said.

“It will happen, starting with the work that takes place here in this legislature. That work must start and end with the people we are here to serve.”

B.C. Liberal MLA Jas Johal criticized the lack of specifics in the throne speech and the short shrift it gave to the economy.

“I heard a lot of fuzzy words today, ambiguity,” he said. “They had originally talked about $10-a-day [daycare for children] prior to the election, now it’s universal daycare.

“There was very little mention about the economy — the economy that pays for all of this, all of this spending that they were promising.”

Absent from the speech was mention of a $400 rental rebate; construction of the Site C hydroelectric dam, which the government has referred to the B.C. Utilities Commission for a speedy review; the future of B.C. Ferries; and details on potential freedom of information and privacy law changes.

The speech also highlighted areas upon which the government has already begun to act, including a $100 increase to monthly income assistance and disability rates, removal of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges on the Lower Mainland, and elimination of tuition fees for adult basic education and English-language learning.

More details are expected Monday, when the government unveils its budget.

asmart@timescolonist.com

lkines@timescolonist.com

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Earlier story:

B.C.’s Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon delivered a throne speech with few surprises Friday and written with confidence that the government can deliver on it.

The speech, which sets the direction of the government for the coming legislative session, stuck close to the priorities identified in the New Democrats’ agreement with the Green Party and its campaign promises.

“British Columbians deserve a government that is working for people,” Guichon said.

The speech came just hours after Liberal MLA Darryl Plecas was revealed as Speaker, which will give the government more power to pass its legislation. With Plecas as Speaker, the NDP-Green Alliance will have 44 votes to 41 for the Liberals.

Priorities outlined in the speech include:

• Closing fixed-term loopholes on leases to end unfair rent increases and increasing the stock of affordable housing. The government will also increase support to the Residential Tenancy Branch.

• Bringing back the annual bus pass for people with disabilities as of Jan. 1. Social Development Minister Shane Simpson said in July that the government was looking at ways to fulfil its promise to restore the bus pass program for people with disabilities. The former B.C. Liberal government came under fire last year for introducing a new $52-a-month fee for a bus pass that previously cost $45 a year. “We’re just determining now what the options are,” Simpson said in July.

• Delivery of a universal child-care program, beginning with more child-care spaces and training for early childhood educators, plus consultation with families providers this fall.

• Set up an Innovation Commission, an initiative of the Green Party caucus, to encourage investment in B.C.’s technology sector.

• More resources to fight the wildfire crisis and opioid crisis. More than 1,200 fires have burned 1.1 million hectares of land, an area one-third the size of Vancouver Island. Meanwhile, 876 British Columbians have died from overdoses in the first seven months of this year.

• Full implementation of class-size and composition requirements.

• A commitment to embrace the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and promise to address all of the Calls to Action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into residential schools. “We cannot continue to push these actions further down the road to a day that never comes,” Guichon said.

• Reforming campaign finance laws to eliminate corporate and union donations, put strict limits on individual contributions and make sure that only people living in B.C. can contribute to political parties.

• Moving B.C.’s fixed election date to the fall of 2021, and every four years thereafter.

• Setting the terms for a referendum on proportional representation to take place no later than November 2018.

• Adding new lobbying restrictions to make sure former public office-holders do not improperly benefit from their experience serving the public.

• First reducing, then eliminating Medical Services Plan premiums.

• Building new hospitals and urgent-care centres, increasing access to family doctors and reducing surgical wait list times.

• Making B.C. a leader in engineered wood products and getting a fair deal on softwood lumber.

“The road ahead won’t be easy. It will take time for the better choices this government is making to take hold — transforming people’s lives, revitalizing our communities and bringing all of us together,” Guichon said.

“It will happen, starting with the work that takes place here in this legislature. That work must start and end with the people we are here to serve.”

The speech also highlighted priorities that the government has already begun to act on, including a $100 increase to monthly income assistance and disability rates, removal of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges and eliminating tuition fees for adult basic education and English-language learning.

One notable absence in the speech was mention of the Site C dam, which the government has referred to the B.C. Utilities Commission for expedited review, while its commitment to introduce a $15 minimum wage came with no promised deadline.

asmart@timescolonist.com

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