Dale Carnegie, the American author and motivational speaker, once shared wise words that will resonate with today’s political leaders: “Discouragement,” Carnegie said, “is one of the surest stepping stones to success.”
After two tough years of COVID-19, today’s Speech from the Throne allowed BC Premier John Horgan to look forward to a more hopeful future, one where British Columbians who have shouldered so much hardship and made such enormous sacrifices can count on better times. It also gives him a chance to aggressively pursue the agenda he articulated in his 2017 and 2020 election platforms. A vision focused on better support for people, improved public services, and a sustainable economy.
Typically, Throne Speeches are heavy on aspiration and light on detail, and in that regard, today’s speech didn’t disappoint. The speech read at the BC Legislature by BC Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin does, however, preview what British Columbians might expect from Premier Horgan and his government in the weeks and months ahead.
Here are five key highlights from the speech and what they mean for this year’s priorities in public affairs:
1. Health care
Keeping people and communities safe from COVID-19 will continue to be a top priority for the government. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the government would gradually lift public health restrictions in a step-by-step process. This will continue to be done based on science, not the demands of protesters.
The Government is also eager to speak about its action to address systemic weaknesses the pandemic has exposed in BC’s healthcare system. Particularly in long-term care, emergency health care and the health care workforce. Addressing these challenges will be a priority for the province. There is no doubt we will see Premier Horgan advocate with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to increase the federal government’s share of health care funding will continue.
2. Climate resiliency
The pandemic was just one of the many challenges BC faced in 2021. The province also experienced wildfires and floods that devastated roadways and supply chain networks across British Columbia—levelling rural communities like the town of Lytton. The Throne Speech suggests British Columbia will redouble its efforts to combat climate change and prepare the province for present and future effects.
The province’s CleanBC climate plan and meeting its GHG reduction target will remain a top priority. As will investment in the infrastructure, BC needs to keep people and communities safe.
3. Jobs and the economy
When an organization emerges from crisis, there’s an important question its key audiences expect it to answer: “Now what?” The Throne Speech is the Province’s first step in answering this question, and the answer is [a] “new plan for good jobs and a strong economy,” according to Ravi Kahlon, the Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation. Minister Kahlon laid the foundation for this provincial effort earlier this week with a pledge to focus on what he calls a “generational commitment to attract, develop and retain talent to support the jobs of the future.”
Next week, the BC Government will release a new plan to guide economic growth that is inclusive and sustainable. Later this year, the government will launch a new ministry to improve the management of BC’s land and resources and better support goals of reconciliation, economic development, and environmental protection.
4. Indigenous reconciliation
For Indigenous Peoples and people doing business or wanting to do business in British Columbia, the Province’s work on Indigenous reconciliation is the Government’s most important priority. The BC Government will have to maintain a careful balance on this issue, but the most recent Throne Speech indicates a strong desire to prioritize this work.
The BC Government currently faces calls from Indigenous communities, government watchdogs like Mary-Ellen Turpel Lafond, and its own grassroots supporters for faster progress. It’s also facing pressure from traditional industries like forestry, local governments in resource-based communities, and non-Indigenous environmentalists to slow down changes that impact jobs or the Province’s ability to advance social policy and environmental regulation. Moving forward government will draft an action plan in collaboration with Indigenous Peoples to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.
Despite being elected on a promise to make life more affordable for BC families, the cost of living remains a pressing issue for many British Columbians. The Throne Speech highlights changes like ICBC reforms, the elimination of MSP premiums, COVID-19 business supports, flood and fire compensation, and the removal of bridge tolls as ways the Government has shown progress in affordability – yet affordability challenges remain. The Throne Speech suggests the BC Government will focus on introducing a cooling-off period on home purchases and work with local governments to speed up approvals as another tool to address affordability. They are also committed to tying minimum wage increases to the rate of inflation and supporting families with young children by growing the province’s affordable child-care program.
The Throne Speech marks the beginning of the new Legislative session. For the first time since COVID-19, this session will see a return of all MLAs to the chamber for in-person attendance, and we expect to see this continue until the end of the legislative session. The Spring session is scheduled for 12 sitting weeks and three consistency weeks – two double-week breaks mid-March and mid-April and a third following the Victoria Day long weekend. Meanwhile, in the background, public sector bargaining will resume this year, and ministries and Opposition parties are preparing for the yearly deep dive into ministry programs and performance through the Estimates process.
How will the BC Government prioritize its aspirations? The simplest answer to this question is to follow the money. After a challenging year with unprecedented climate events compounding pressure on an already stressed budget, how the government plans to pay for their promises will be important. As Budget 2022 access is very limited this year due to ongoing pandemic safety concerns, H+K will be providing a full-level analysis of the province’s financial plan coming on February 22.
The big question now is – will Premier Horgan bridge from COVID-19 and natural disaster discouragement to a successful governing program? Can the province maintain its high approval ratings? Or will these tough times deliver success to someone else – Kevin Falcon and the BC Liberal Opposition?
As always, your team at H+K will continue to provide insights and analysis into what’s happening at the legislature and what it means for you and your business. Please reach out to H+K for public affairs advocacy strategy and work that gets you the results you need.