Analysis

Some questions answered but some remain after B.C. government's throne speech

Rare is the throne speech that delivers new spending commitments — and this one was no exception.

On renters rebate, transit projects and Kinder Morgan, the premier left plenty of wiggle room

Premier John Horgan answers questions from the media following the speech from the throne in the B.C. Legislature on Feb. 13. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

If you've been a supporter of the NDP since the 2017 election, there was plenty to like in Tuesday's throne speech, the second from the government since coming to power.

Promises of more money for child care? Check — in part due to a $150-million cheque from the federal government over three years, which will help decrease costs for parents and increase training for early-childhood educators.

A pledge to address sky-high real estate prices in the Lower Mainland? Check. Concrete action to reduce housing speculation was re-affirmed, with details to come next week.

There were plenty of commitments — though with few dollars attached — in the speech, which builds upon the promises the NDP made prior to last year's election.

It gives more than a hint as to what the government's priorities will be in this session. 

But the omissions also let the public know what isn't.

Renters rebate

Take, for example, the $400 yearly rebate for all renters in British Columbia.

Premier John Horgan and Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon before the throne speech. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

It was one of the party's significant promises during the campaign but hasn't been commented on much since: not in last year's throne speech, not in the budget update and not in Tuesday's throne speech.

Does that mean it's no longer in the cards?

"We've already begun negotiations and discussions and consultations with municipal governments to see how we can bring forward opportunities for rental purpose building right across British Columbia, so it was right across the frame of making life more affordable ... that's what we campaigned on last May," said Horgan.  

Not exactly a denial.

Bitumen at the back of the line

When it came to the issue of protecting B.C.'s coast from oil spills with further regulations against bitumen exports, the government didn't omit the topic from the throne speech.

It just came on the very last page of the transcript provided to media: not surprising, given Horgan's previous comments describing the escalating conflict with the Alberta government over the future of the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion as a "distraction."

"Government is considering new protections that would improve our ability to prepare for and respond to bitumen spills," said Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon.

No mention of a possible moratorium on increasing exports, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley's stated reason for implementing a wine boycott against B.C.

So, does that mean it's off the table?

"It's our intention ... to certainly lower the temperature so we can have a more reasonable discussion," said Horgan, while emphasizing that no restrictions would be considered while the review — which hasn't started yet and has no end date — was ongoing. 

Green Party support

Also left unsaid in the throne speech is whether the government will fund an extension of the Millennium Line through Vancouver and a transit line in Surrey at the same time as a replacement for the Pattullo Bridge — or at a later date. 

But election promises can be broken and timelines can be delayed and pledges can be de-prioritized with relative ease — at least in the short term — if a government continues to have the confidence of the house. 

Andrew Weaver, whose Green Party holds the balance of power, seemed to indicate the throne speech was a solid start to what is expected to be an 11-week legislative session before a summer break.

"Cautious optimism ... we have some concerns about the lack of substance, in terms of depth of some of the arguments. There's a lot of rhetoric, and we're looking forward to the gory details that will emerge," he said.

Most of them will be in next week's budget, where financial guarantees for the next year will have to be made. 

And with them, which campaign promises the NDP will move forward on — and which will become stretch goals — will become a lot clearer.

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is a reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering political stories throughout British Columbia.

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