B.C. Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon delivered a throne speech Thursday on behalf of the Christy Clark government that came with little surprises since the B.C. Liberals rolled out a series of dramatic about-face policy shifts over the last week.
Some of the new promises from a government, which is expected to fall in a confidence vote as early as next week, include a province-wide “poverty reduction strategy,” a royal commission on education, eliminating tolls from the Port Mann Bridge, a referendum on electoral reform, increasing RCMP drug officers by 30 per cent and building a new centre for mental health and addictions in Surrey.
In recent days, the Liberals announced they will ban union and corporate donations to political parties, increase welfare rates by $100 per month, create a $1-billion child care program to create 60,000 new spaces, scrap the long-held policy to hold a referendum on transit improvements and create a “rent-to-own” program for the middle class.
The NDP and Greens, which announced a power-sharing agreement after the May 9 election, have criticized the Liberals for their policy shifts, accusing the governing party of lifting key planks from their campaign platforms and delivering them in a desperate attempt to hang on to power.
Green leader Andrew Weaver pointed out in a statement issued after the speech that the B.C. Liberals have been in power for 16 years and actively opposed many of the policies it now promises to implement, including banning union and corporate donations and boosting welfare rates.
“We cannot have confidence in a government that for 16 years has argued against these policies, and in the last few days has suddenly recognized that they are in the best interests of British Columbians,” Weaver said. “We will look to the Liberals to demonstrate a genuine willingness to follow through on these commitments regardless of where they sit in the legislature.”
NDP leader John Horgan joked earlier in the day with reporters that British Columbians were “going to get a look at the NDP throne speech.” Horgan echoed Weaver’s comments, saying “you can’t change after an election, you have to change before an election.”
Added Horgan: “I believe that the B.C. Liberals have lost their way, I believe they no longer represent and reflect the values of this diverse and dynamic province.”
Moments after Guichon began speaking to the legislature, the premier’s office issued a news release that quoted Clark, who referred to the results of the provincial election that saw her party win 43 seats to the NDP’s 41 and the Greens’ three.
“The election revealed a gap in understanding between urban and rural British Columbia,” Clark said. “We have to bridge that gap because we all succeed when we thrive together, regardless of where we live in this province, we are all British Columbians.”
Despite the Liberals’ shift in policies, the government continued to promote the need for the Site C dam. The NDP has called for the B.C. Utilities Commission to assess the project while the Greens campaigned to kill the massive project.
Other promises include:
- Raise the carbon tax by $5 per tonne per year, up to a total of $50 per tonne by 2022.
- Create a new minister of state for mental health, addiction and recovery.
- Cover 150,000 children with full or partial childcare subsidies.
- Increase the number of early childhood educators.
- Provide 500 more residential care beds for seniors.
- Protect renters’ right by prohibiting landlords from skirting rent-control protections.
- A $50-million expansion of electric vehicle charging infrastructure throughout B.C.
- $50 million for B.C. Parks and double the number of conservation officers.
The government also promised to “work” to build a passenger ferry between Vancouver and Nanaimo, “work to fully eliminate” Medical Services Plan for families and expedite the replacement of the Pattullo Bridge, which links New Westminster to Surrey.
The throne speech came the same day as Liberal MLA Steve Thomson was acclaimed as Speaker of the House. How long Thomson remains in the position is uncertain, since he could resign depending on what unfolds in the next session of the legislature, which reconvenes Monday.