British Columbia

B.C. Liberal throne speech lays out ambitious vision borrowing from NDP and Green platforms

The B.C. Liberals are proposing dozens of new ideas not included in their election platform in a wide-ranging speech from the throne.

Province says it plans to use all cannabis revenues for drug education, prevention and treatment

Christy Clark is sworn in as B.C. premier on June 12. Her government faces a confidence vote, likely next week. (Richard Zussman/CBC)

In a wide-ranging speech from the throne, the B.C. Liberals have proposed dozens of new ideas that were not included in their election platform.

The party says it will commit to investments in everything from education to transit to housing affordability, if it can maintain the confidence of the B.C. Legislature.

"The May election delivered a divided result. Your government has listened to that result and brings forward this agenda to gain this house's confidence and, in doing so, the confidence of the people of British Columbia," says the speech from the throne, read in the legislature by Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon. "It is submitted with humility and openness to change."

Electoral reform referendum in the works

The government is changing its stance on electoral reform, announcing plans to "enable a third referendum" on the province's voting system. There is no timeline on when this referendum would take place.

On the fentanyl crisis, the Liberals are committing to dedicate every dollar from the sale of cannabis to drug education, prevention, enforcement and treatment for those who are addicted to opioids and other drugs.

The initiative would be co-ordinated by a new minister of state for mental health, addiction and recovery, something the NDP promised before the election. 

On transportation, the government will "immediately" look at ways of improving transit toward Maple Ridge, Mission, Langley, Abbotsford, Chilliwack and to both the North Shore and UBC. 

The Liberals are also reconsidering the design of the Massey Bridge, "recognizing concerns" about it.

Outside of the Lower Mainland, the Liberals say, they will work on light rail for South Vancouver Island.

Promise to eliminate tolls

Tearing another page out of the NDP platform, the Liberals say they now intend to get rid of tolls on the Port Mann Bridge "as quickly as possible," accelerate replacement of the Pattullo Bridge and remove tolls on the Golden Ears Bridge. 

"Your government has listened and is presenting an agenda not exclusive to one party, but one that includes ideas from all British Columbians that members from all three parties carry into this place," read Guichon. 

There are no details on how many of the new projects will be paid for. But the Liberals say the economy has been doing better than expected and will help cover many of the costs. 

All these promises are contingent on the B.C. Liberals remaining in power and winning a confidence vote that is expected next week.

If the government is defeated in a confidence motion, Premier Christy Clark has vowed to run the next election campaign on these new promises.

Record child-care funding

The government is also committing $1 billion in child care to create 60,000 new affordable spaces over four years, in addition to 13,000 spaces pledged by the B.C. Liberals before the provincial election. The throne speech also includes details of child-care subsidies for households making less than $60,000 a year and partial subsidies for those earning between $60,000 and $100,000.

On the environment, the province is vowing to raise the carbon tax by $5 per tonne per year starting in 2019, up to a total of $50 per tonne by 2022. The plan is to ensure new costs from the carbon tax are offset by other taxes "so companies with strong ties to B.C. have good reason to innovate and reduce emissions."

The government says it will invest $50 million over five years for 4,321 new electric car charging stations.

The speech from the throne also includes commitments to create a poverty-reduction strategy, increase social assistance and place a ban on union and corporate political donations.

The Liberals would also impose a political donation limit for individuals, ban donations to political parties from outside B.C. and ban funding to a provincial political party from a federal party.

"It's pretty clear that the B.C. Liberals are desperate to hang onto power, and they are doing virtually anything to try and convince people that the problems that they created, the mess that is a result of their 16 years in government is something they can fix," said NDP Leader John Horgan before the speech was formally read in the legislature. 

"Those best ideas are things that have been promoted by New Democrats over the last decade and have been rejected time and time again by the Liberals." 

Education and housing

Since the provincial election, the B.C. Liberals have conceded they have not done a good job at addressing Lower Mainland concerns on transit, education and housing affordability.

The government says it will commit to working with the private sector to build 50,000 new housing units over 10 years for a new rent-to-own program. The program will allow renters to "grow equity through their monthly rent payments" until they are about to own the home.

On education, the province will convene a royal commission on education, the first in B.C. in 30 years, and says it is committed to reviewing the funding formula for school districts focusing on districts with declining enrolment.