A new session of B.C.'s legislature opened on Tuesday with a throne speech highlighting the new NDP government's accomplishments in its first seven months in power, while pointing the way to the policies it hopes to move forward on over the next several months.
"This session, B.C. will move in a new direction, with new investments in people and new opportunities for the future," said Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon in the legislative chamber.
"Government will take steps to address the challenges facing families today and put people first, regardless of who they are or where they live."
New, detailed policies on those measures weren't addressed in Guichon's throne speech, which served as a preview of the upcoming budget, scheduled for next Tuesday.
But she said the government would be moving forward on a number of issues this session, including:
- New measures in the budget to "address the effect of speculation on real estate prices" and legislation to "crack down on tax fraud, tax evasion and money laundering in B.C.'s real estate market."
- Enable cities to zone areas of their communities specifically for rental housing.
- Helping public universities and colleges build new student housing, which is currently a challenge due to their inability to take on debt for such projects.
- Stronger protections for renters facing eviction because of renovation or demolition.
The measure prompted positive reaction from housing experts and policy analysts alike.
"I was pretty pleased in terms of the housing section," said Tom Davidoff with UBC's Sauder School of Business.
But Davidoff remains skeptical of the strategy around community zoning for rental housing.
"I would prefer they encourage municipalities to sell zoning where they have low-density zoning and just let developers buy into greater density."
Iglika Ivanova with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is hopeful the upcoming budget will provide sufficient protections for renters.
"The throne speech is hinting at changes to the Residential Tenancy Act or more money for the Residential Tenancy Branch to enforce the act, or perhaps both."
On childcare, the federal government has just approved $153 million over three years to B.C., to help fund an action plan set up by the provincial government.
Guichon said the new money coming from the two governments would "propel the conversion of unlicensed spaces to licensed, regulated childcare."
In addition, the province says it will begin increasing training of early childhood educators and introduce new legislation to allow parents to access information about providers of unlicensed childcare, including previous infractions.
That, too, has advocates feeling optimistic ahead of next week's budget.
"At this point, there is so much pressure to invest in childcare...I expect a smart government will follow through," said Sharon Gregson with the $10-a-day Childcare Campaign.
She's counting on the province to focus on four immediate priorities:
"There has to be a reduction on parent fees, there has to be an investment in the workforce, we have to see wage enhancement for early childhood educators, and we have to see a commitment to 22,000 new spaces over three years."
What wasn't in the speech?
Just as notable was the lack of detail on bitumen exports, after two weeks of a burgeoning interprovincial trade war between B.C. and Alberta, sparked by the B.C. government suggesting an interim ban on new exports while it studied further regulation.
"Government is considering new protections that would improve our ability to prepare for, and respond to, bitumen spills," said Guichon at the very end of her 50-minute address, not addressing the contentious question of a cap.
Also not mentioned was the $400 renters' rebate promised by the NDP during the election or specifics on the proposed extension of the Millennium Line in Vancouver and light-rapid transit in Surrey (though there was a pledge on "moving quickly to replace the Pattullo Bridge.")
And there was little in the way of dollar figures announced for new initiatives — though that should come in next Tuesday's budget.
With files from Tanya Fletcher