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BC’s Throne Speech: Horgan starts delivering for British Columbians (and the Greens)

The British Columbia’s government delivered its second speech from the throne since forming a government with the support of the Green caucus in June. The broad strokes of the speech set up the 2018 B.C. budget to be delivered on February 20.

As these things are, the speech is a grand political play signalling what the government thinks is important to the people it thinks are important, all lent official sanction and gravitas by the vice regal’s voice and her sharply uniformed attendants. For his second such speech, it was tough to miss the signals being sent by Premier Horgan to those who voted NDP last May (and may be expected to again) and to his new friends in the B.C. Green party.

Key Themes

The central theme of the speech – making life more affordable for people – reassured those who voted for change last spring that Premier Horgan is laser-focused on the expectations of B.C.ers feeling the crunch of high costs for housing, child care and education. This emphasis on affordability also echoes a core theme of the NDP’s platform, and the agreement with Green MLAs that allows the NDP to govern until 2021.

Measures to crack down on speculation and tax fraud in the housing market are designed to address long-standing concerns about rampant speculation fueled by out-of-province investment in B.C.’s hot real-estate market. The commitment to the “largest investment in affordable housing” in B.C. history is an ambitious and overdue balm for those shut-out of suitable housing in the province’s larger markets. A measure to allow municipalities to zone areas as “rental-only” was welcomed by a tweet from Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson as a “key tool to reduce real estate speculation, protect renters and help us build 1000s of new rental homes.”

Investments to create more licenced child care spaces and the pledge to move ahead with the recommended $15 minimum wage by 2021 – both commitments of the NDP/Green agreement – are intended to appeal to women and young families that form a core of NDP’s support.

The speech, read by Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon to a legislature that includes new Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson didn’t miss the opportunity to point out shortcomings of the former Liberal government on procurement and climate change. On the latter, the government announced that it will take steps to meet B.C.’s greenhouse gas reduction targets and, returning to the affordability theme “promote innovation and help families come out ahead through a new climate plan to be developed over the coming months.”

The pipeline issue which has dominated headlines received scant attention. The speech affirmed that government intends to consult on new protections to improve the ability to respond to bitumen spills, a commitment welcomed by British Columbians concerned about coastal ecology, as well as the three B.C. Green MLAs supporting the government. Horgan continued his approach of cooling the dispute telling reporters, “I believe all British Columbians want to see co-operative federalism, not coercive federalism”

Specific measures announced in the speech:

Housing:

  • “Budget 2018 will put forward new measures to address the effect of speculation on real estate prices” and to crack down on tax fraud and money laundering in B.C.’s real estate market
  • Stronger protections for renters and owners of manufactured homes, and protections for renters facing eviction due to renovation or demolition
  • “The largest investment in affordable housing in this province’s history”
  • The “largest investment in retrofits and renovations of social housing in B.C. in more than 20 years”
  • Allowing municipalities to designate rental-only zones

Child care:

  • Create more licenced spaces in conjunction with federal funding
  • New training for early childhood educators

Economic opportunity:

  • B.C.’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy – capturing measures like the recently announced plan to increase to minimum wage to $15 by 2021, to investments in housing, child care, legal aid, etc.
  • Reviewing the labour code to provide better protections for workers, stronger compliance and enforcement, and fair and balanced treatment of workers and employers
  • Amend procurement process to give smaller B.C. companies opportunities to bid on government contracts
  • This spring, B.C.’s first Innovation Commissioner will launch the Emerging Economy Task Force to develop made-in-B.C. tech solutions

High on politics, short on specifics – that’s the reality (and the lazy criticism) of every throne speech ever. Having sent reassuring political signals to British Columbians concerned about affordability and the Green MLAs whose support he needs, Premier Horgan and his finance minister Carole James now turn to the business of specifics in next week’s budget.

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