Legislative Session to Focus on COVID-19, Healthcare, and Supporting British Columbians.
The first sitting of the BC Legislature since October’s election opened today with a Speech from the Throne laying out the BC NDP Government’s short-term COVID-19 priorities. The biggest immediate priority will be passing legislation to enable promised $1,000 per family payments to British Columbians before the end of the year.
The session began with a historic first – the election of the first politician of South Asian descent to serve as B.C.’s legislative speaker, MLA Raj Chouhan (Burnaby Edmonds). Not only will Speaker Chouhan be the first politician of South Asian descent to hold the speaker role in British Columbia, but he will go down in history as the first in Canada. He will also be tasked with presiding over a largely virtual legislative session.
On Tuesday, the government will face their first Question Period from a smaller BC Liberal opposition, now led by new interim leader Shirley Bond. The session, which is being held in-person for some MLAs and virtually for others, is expected to last for two weeks before reconvening next spring for what the government has foreshadowed to be a delayed, longer session and budget.
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Speech from the Throne focuses on COVID-19
Lt. Gov. Janet Austin opened the first session of the 42nd Parliament of British Columbia and read the speech from the throne. As anticipated, the remarks were short in both length and detail and focused almost exclusively on COVID.
- Confirmation of the NDP’s election promise to provide a Recovery Benefit payment of $1000 per British Columbia family;
- Additional details on the government’s efforts to manage the virus to date, including additional health commitments from the government’s recent campaign platform.
- Health-focused commitments included allowing more patients to receive treatment at home, reduced wait times, and training and hiring of more doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals.
The key to economic recovery-post COVID will be keeping people safe from COVID. The speech said the government believes beating the virus will allow B.C. to move as quickly as possible to address the economic recovery and its broader priorities: investing in people, strengthening communities, and supporting jobs and growth in a clean-energy future.
Other announcements in the speech included steps to assist small- and medium-sized businesses through new tax measures to incentivize hiring and help them grow and become more productive by making it easier for them to invest in equipment and machinery.
The BC NDP are expected to prorogue the legislature again in the spring to allow the government to present a second, broader throne speech with a more detailed vision for the next four years.
Budget delay will allow time for the government to finalize spending plans
New Finance Minister Selena Robinson has signalled the 2021/22 budget may be delayed.
Earlier this year, the government changed regulations that previously prescribed its tabling on the third Tuesday of February each year to allow an extra month in the year following an election. That legislation allows the budget to be tabled as late as the fourth Tuesday in March, suggesting we will see the next Budget on March 23rd.
New Ministers on the hot seat
While Premier Horgan kept a number of ministers in their previous portfolios, there are a number of new ministers, including four who are brand new MLAs. These new Ministers will have been hard at work since their appointments, learning their portfolios, and focusing on contentious issues they will be expected to respond to during Question Period.
Despite leadership change at the top and on the health file, the opposition BC Liberals have signalled they will largely continue to support the government on the health system’s response to COVID-19, choosing to instead press the government on how it plans to assist businesses hit hard by the pandemic.
New interim leader MLA Shirley Bond has said, “we intend to be vigorous in the legislature … and ministers will be expected to know their files.” While the opposition caucus is smaller than before the election, there are a number of MLAs who were former Ministers. They will also likely be looking to showcase the five new MLAs to advance their renewal narrative with the public.