41st Parliament 5th Session Speech from the Throne

Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin read the minority New Democratic government’s fourth Speech from the Throne Tuesday afternoon at the British Columbia Legislature. This usually seamless and straightforward event was marked by protests on the legislature grounds where demonstrators are standing with members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation who are in Victoria protesting the Coastal GasLink pipeline. In the morning, protesters had blocked all of the entrances to the B.C. Legislature in an effort to disrupt this afternoon’s speech, however, by mid-day, most B.C. MLAs and the Premier had made their way inside and the speech was able to proceed.

This Speech from the Throne laid out what the Horgan government sees as their key accomplishments since being elected in 2017. Some of those items include: removing big money from politics, launching a public inquiry into money laundering, raising the minimum wage, removing bridge tolls in the Lower Mainland, removing MSP premiums and continuing with the building of affordable housing throughout the province to name a few.

Focusing on affordability, the speech highlighted the building of new and affordable housing for people around B.C. and foreshadowed legislation that will be introduced during this session to give renters more security and protection against unfair or illegal renovictions.

Building on the unanimous passage of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (UNDRIP), the government indicated their next step will be creating an action plan in consultation and co-operation with Indigenous peoples across B.C.

Today’s Speech from the Throne highlighted CleanBC – B.C.’s plan and strategy to grow a stable economy. As CleanBC enters its second year, the focus will be on the creation of a climate adaptation strategy that will help prepare communities for climate impacts, an action plan to reduce plastic pollution and work with businesses to promote B.C. as a competitive supplier of low-carbon products.

The speech referenced the LNG Canada project as an important resource for B.C. but also made sure to mention British Columbia’s traditional industries – forestry, mining, oil and gas, fisheries and farming as key drivers of B.C.’s economy. The speech also highlighted the need for continued focus on those industries as part of the government’s economic plan.

Surprisingly, little new information was mentioned about B.C.’s ongoing forestry crisis, but help will be coming for communities that are suffering from the loss of jobs through grants and retraining.  The government will work directly with communities to address the systemic issues in the forest sector and find solutions that fit their unique needs, not a one size fits all approach.

Some other items that government will be focusing on this year include: additional changes to paid leave for women fleeing violence, new MRI machines to improve access to diagnostic care all around the province, changes to live event ticket sales to help make tickets to events affordable for everyone, continued action on affordable cell phone plans, increases to the number of child care spaces for school-aged children, and new partnerships with school districts to create more before- and after-school care for students.

There were hints of expected financial benefits that will be unveiled in next week’s budget: new funding for school programs to support children with mental-health challenges children from low-income families and indigenous students. Also announced was a raise to the allowable earning threshold for individuals receiving disability and social assistance benefits in the province.

The speech repeated the three constant themes of this government which have been making life more affordable for families; investing in public services to make sure they are accessible, reliable and affordable; and building a prosperous economy that works for everyone.

The media was quick to point out that this Throne Speech lacked substance and was more of a list of government accomplishments than a plan for future programs and spending. While Throne Speeches are typically general and short on specifics (that is left to the budget and legislation), it is likely that the lack of big-ticket items in this Throne Speech foreshadows a budget with limited fiscal room for new programs requiring significant spending.

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson was critical of the speech saying it once again reflected a lack of meaningful government action on their priorities such as affordability, rental rate reductions and increases to childcare spaces.