Past priorities are current priorities in NDP’s new legislative plan

The throne speech comes two weeks ahead of the government’s budget, which is expected to include a financial accounting of last fall’s devastating floods and mudslides.

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VICTORIA — Health, housing and Indigenous relations will continue to be priorities, while a new economic plan will also be on the agenda for the coming year, BC’s NDP government announced Tuesday in a throne speech that critics said contained “virtually nothing new.”

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A central theme of the throne speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin and marking the first day of a new legislative session, was a promise “to build a stronger BC for everyone, while continuing to support British Columbians through challenging times.”

Premier John Horgan said a new economic plan referred to in the speech will be introduced next week.

“We continue to have the strongest economy in the country but it doesn’t happen by accident,” said Horgan. “It happens by having investor confidence, by having a skilled workforce and it happens by making sure that government can be responsive to new ideas coming forward.”

The speech said those new ideas include investing in food security, solving supply-chain problems and training a young workforce.

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“One of the biggest challenges, and that was highlighted by the labor force data last week, a million jobs will go wanting in the next 10 years if we don’t start a human resource strategy to meet those vacancies,” added Horgan.

Workers can expect that increases to the $15-dollar-an-hour minimum wage will be tied to inflation.

Over the coming year, the province said it will continue implementing policies to double the number of $10-a-day child-care spaces, enhance health-care and build affordable housing. However, no details were offered.

“That road map is filled out by a budget that will be tabled in two weeks that will lay out where we plan to put public monies to meet the needs and challenges of 2022,” the premier said after the speech.

The government intends to create a new ministry to manage resources like minerals and forests differently and to do that in collaboration with Indigenous nations.

“The cumulative effects of economic activity must align with environmental objectives,” the speech said. “Approval processes for projects must be transparent, timely and fair. BC’s commitment to reconciliation must come to life through the consultation, collaboration and co-management of land and resources envisioned in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.”

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The government promises to continue to work to improve housing affordability by introducing a cooling-off period on home purchases it says will “protect people when they are buying a home, especially in a volatile market.”

It is also promising legislation by the end of this year to speed up municipal development approvals “and seek new tools to curb speculation (and) moving more underutilized units into the market.”

The speech referred to the devastating floods, wildfires and heat dome last year, but it did not mention work now underway to reform BC’s Emergency Management Act. Instead, the government promised to “work with local governments to support recovery efforts with new investments so they cannot only rebuild, but rebuild stronger than ever.”

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Government critics, like Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau, said the throne speech was short on the future and long on the past.

“Today’s speech from the throne rightfully acknowledged the sacrifices and loss that British Columbians have faced over the last year, but instead of offering a vision for the future, the government patted themselves on the back for past initiatives and re-announced projects that have been underway for years,” said Furstenau.

The Liberal Opposition leader Shirley Bond tweeted her annoyance at having to listen to the government “repeat promises that haven’t been delivered.”

“Even harder to listen to was the repeated comments about the government being there for people. Perhaps ask small business owners who are still waiting for help, residents of Lytton, those impacted by wildfires, pretty sure they are asking why the government hasn’t been there!” she wrote.

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Meanwhile, the normally staid and formal event to reopen the legislature and present a throne speech took on a humorous tone thanks to two early gaffes by the lieutenant-governor.

Instead of reading from the throne speech, Austin twice began reading from a speech that was written to end the previous legislative session, that was prorogued two hours before the speech.

“That was a short session,” Austin joked to laughing MLAs. “I can’t believe I did that. I’m human.”

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