British Columbia

'Challenges at ICBC and Hydro are enormous': Premier previews spring session

Affordable housing, daycare, and Indigenous rights are expected to headline the upcoming spring session, while mounting losses at ICBC and debt at BC Hydro continue to cast a dark cloud over the province's financial future.

Tuesday's Throne Speech will mark the start of the spring sitting of the B.C. Legislature

Tuesday's Throne Speech will provide a glimpse into the upcoming provincial budget. (CBC)

Tuesday's Speech from the Throne will usher in the spring sitting at the B.C. Legislature.

It lays out the province's plans for the coming year, with specifics to be detailed in next week's budget.

So what can British Columbians expect?

"We're going to be dealing with the issues around Indigenous rights, making sure our economy continues to grow in rural B.C., and focusing on Clean B.C.," Premier John Horgan told CBC News.

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks to the media on Jan. 24, 2019. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

He said affordability will be a priority — and for housing, that means adding to the current supply.

"There's going to be lots of talk about the jobs that we're going to create, but also making sure we're kick-starting the private sector to get the homes built in communities that need to keep pace with the fast growth."

Horgan also acknowledged the financial woes plaguing ICBC and the debt that's been piling up at BC Hydro.

"The challenges at ICBC and BC Hydro are enormous — in the many, many billions of dollars — and these things can't be fixed with a magic wand," he said.

"We're facing big challenges on both of those files."

Turning point

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson expects the upcoming session to serve as a milestone marker.

"I think we're at a turning point in the lifetime of this NDP government in that they came in with a fairly aggressive tax agenda last year and now British Columbians are looking for it to bear some fruit."

He said the B.C. NDP has a "tall task" in delivering on affordability promises.

"They've tried to do it by raising taxes, supervising increases in ICBC rates, and watching BC Hydro go up," said Wilkinson.

"I think their affordability agenda is at grave risk now and we'll be watching that closely."

"I think we're at a turning point in the lifetime of this NDP government in that they came in with a fairly aggressive tax agenda last year and now British Columbians are looking for it to bear some fruit, "said Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson. (Nic Amaya / CBC)

So what specific legislation would the Opposition like to see?

"If we were able to advance legislation — and the NDP have [previously] blocked it — we would put in a condo pre-sale flipping tax to stop people from flipping paper contracts on condos and to drive speculation out of the market."

Stable minority government?

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver is confident he'll see further action on his crowning achievement: the province's climate action plan, which was announced last December.

"I would hope to see some legislation with respect to the Clean B.C. strategy in terms of legislating vehicular standards, certain low-carbon fuel standards," he said.

"I also expect to see something with respect to the poverty reduction plan ... We'll be bringing in a bunch of private members bills and the rest will be up to the government."

"We see no reason why we would, at this stage, find reasons to pull our support for the government — we said we wouldn't do that." (Mike McArthur / CBC)

The current minority government is teetering on support from the Greens. 

Weaver doesn't see that changing in the coming months, pointing to the Confidence and Supply Agreement his party signed with the NDP after the 2017 provincial election.

"We see no reason why we would, at this stage, find reasons to pull our support for the government — we said we wouldn't do that."

Weaver went on to reassure British Columbians this province has a stable minority government. 

"This is what we've said all along: we as Greens will move forward with our agenda, and at the same time, hold government to account and ensure the people of B.C. are put front and centre in decision making."

About the Author

Provincial affairs reporter covering the B.C. Legislature. Anything political: tanya.fletcher@cbc.ca

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