British Columbia

B.C. throne speech promises surplus will be used to help with housing, health care and cost of living

The B.C. government is promising to mend the struggling health-care system, build more affordable housing and help with the rising cost of living, according to Monday’s speech from the throne.

Many in B.C. 'feel like they’re just getting by, not getting ahead,' Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin tells MLAs

A smiling bald man in a grey suit stands beside a smiling woman with a dark bob hair style and a pink blazer over a black, knee-length dress. They are both waving to the camera on the steps on the B.C. legislature.
Deputy Premier Mike Farnworth greets Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin on the front steps of legislature ahead of the throne speech in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)

The B.C. government is promising to mend the struggling health-care system, build more affordable housing and help with the rising cost of living, according to Monday's speech from the throne.

Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin opened the spring session of the legislature with a speech acknowledging "real challenges" for British Columbians, including inflation, a family doctor shortage, the toxic drug crisis and skyrocketing housing costs.

"People in B.C. are working harder than ever. But many feel like they're just getting by, not getting ahead," Austin told the legislature.

She said the government plans to use this year's projected budget surplus of almost $6 billion "to work for people — to support them now and for the long term."

Much of the speech touted previous commitments from the province on issues ranging from the high cost of living to repeat offenders.

But it also promised "record new investments" in housing and health care, along with new legislation on the non-consensual sharing of intimate images and ensuring polluters pay for environmental clean-up efforts.

Premier David Eby wasn't in town for the throne speech, instead travelling to Ottawa to try to work out an agreement between the federal government and the provinces and territories for increased funding for health care.

But he released a written statement pledging to help B.C. bounce back during the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing economic struggles.

"Some say we should respond to a downturn by pulling back, reducing services, or by making people pay out of pocket for private health care," Eby said in a news release.

"But that would only make many of our most serious challenges worse and pass down costs at a time when people can least afford it. There͛s too much at stake right now to pull the rug out from under British Columbians."

'They're terrible at getting results,' Liberal leader says

The throne speech warned that a global economic slowdown is forecast and said B.C. likely won't be in a budget surplus situation for long but it ended with words of optimism for the future.

"It is an optimism rooted in the fact that our greatest strength will always be our people," Austin said. "After all, it is the people of B.C. who got shots into arms, rebuilt highways after flooding, kept kids learning in schools and businesses thriving in difficult circumstances."

The government will table its budget at the end of the month.

In an media appearance before the throne speech, B.C. Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon said he's tired of seeing the status quo from the current government when it comes to major issues like health care, housing and public safety.

"I acknowledge this government is great at doing press releases. They're great at doing announcements. The problem is they're terrible at getting results," he said.

Green Leader Sonia Furstenau echoed Falcon's criticism about the NDP's focus on announcements, saying there has been little indication of how well the government's responses to issues like the toxic drug crisis are actually working.

"We're going to be putting solutions in front of this government, and I'm really hoping we're going to see them approaching this with a really clear indication to British Columbians of how are we going to measure our success as a government," she said.

With files from Meera Bains and The Canadian Press