British Columbia

B.C. NDP lays out priorities in critical throne speech

British Columbia's NDP government presented its throne speech Monday, laying out its priorities more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Pandemic remains province's top priority

In her speech from the throne, Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin said the government is at a turning point in the fight to end the pandemic. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The NDP government laid out its plan to guide B.C. through the rest of the COVID-19 pandemic and manage the economy in its throne speech Monday. 

Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin delivered the speech from Victoria's legislature outlining the government's commitments to businesses and communities over the next year, while the pandemic remains the province's overwhelming priority.

Austin said the government is at a turning point in the fight to end the pandemic as the threat of new variants emerge and B.C. rolls out the largest mass-immunization program in the province's history.

As COVID cases continue to climb at an alarming rate, B.C. Premier John Horgan says the finish line is in sight. 

"But in a marathon, the final push is the most difficult," Horgan said in a statement.

More than 1 million British Columbians have received at least 1 dose of a COVID-19 vaccination. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

In her speech, Austin said more than a million British Columbians have received their first dose.

"Thousands more are being added to that list every day. If vaccine supplies are delivered as scheduled, everyone in B.C. will be able to receive one by the end of June," she said.

As part of the throne speech, the NDP is promising new, government-funded rental housing, hiring of thousands of long-term care workers and partnering with local governments to address homelessness and mental health.

Other highlights include:

  • Reducing surgery wait times and building more hospitals and urgent primary care centres.
  • Changes to ICBC that will see car insurance rates cut by up to 20%.
  • Expanding access to $10-a-day child care spaces.
  • Supporting businesses with grants to help them build or expand online stores.
  • Introducing legislation to remove barriers to accessibility for people with disabilities. 
  • Boosting digital connectivity in rural, remote and Indigenous communities.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson is set to table the government's first budget on April 20. Last December, in a fiscal update, she forecast a budget deficit nearing $14 billion.

NDP house leader Mike Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in infrastructure, but will also keep focused on the fight against COVID-19.

Interim Liberal Leader Shirley Bond said the government's economic, social and health programs throughout the pandemic have been unfocused and the Opposition will demand initiatives with straightforward goals.

Bond said Tuesday she's disappointed that as a second-term government, the NDP basically repeated the promises it had made before in the throne speech. She also argued the NDP should have had a COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan at the beginning of the pandemic.

"Those are things that could have been done in the year leading up to this very serious place that we find ourselves," she told Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South. "They're basically operating on the fly." 

Adam Olsen, one of two B.C. Greens in the legislature, says the NDP has yet to offer a clear agenda since their fall election win.

Not over yet

"The difficult times are not over yet." Austin read. "As we begin this legislative session, your government urges you not to lose sight of what has made our province so resilient."

Tap the link below to hear Shirley Bond's interview on Daybreak South:

The interim leader of the B.C. Liberal Party reacts to the NDP's throne speech and its priorities for the next year. 8:49

With files from Canadian Press and Daybreak South

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