Premier John Horgan’s throne speech to open the spring session of the B.C. legislature recounts his NDP government’s efforts to lead Canada in Indigenous reconciliation, from adopting a United Nations declaration to sharing billions of dollars in lottery and casino funds.
Tuesday’s speech was marred by hundreds of loud, chanting protesters rejecting reconciliation, a natural gas pipeline across northern B.C. and Canada itself as a colonial invader to the province. Students and other supporters of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs trying to stop the Coastal Gaslink pipeline surrounded the legislature, blocking MLAs, staff and reporters from entering Tuesday.
One TV reporter was cursed and pelted with debris as he attempted to report on the unfolding situation. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham was turned away by protesters as she tried to enter the building, one of several MLAs who decided to stay away for the first day of a session that is scheduled to last until the end of May.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth wouldn’t comment on the protest tactics, saying only that legislature security was working with the Victoria police and he respects peaceful protest.
Lt. Gov. Janet Austin managed to make it inside the building, after the traditional 15-gun salute and inspection of military, police and firefighters was cancelled due to the large tent camp, campfire and protest rally at the main entrance.
Austin’s reading of the government’s speech referred to more than two years of work on reconciliation.
“It has made major investments in Indigenous priorities like language revitalization, funding for aboriginal friendship centres, culturally appropriate health care and mental-health supports, and Indigenous housing on and off reserve,” the speech says. “Last year, B.C. transferred the first two years of funding, as part of a commitment that will see $3 billion in provincial gaming revenues shared with first nations over 25 years.”
The speech, a traditional preview of government plans for the coming year, was heavy on political rhetoric about the previous B.C. Liberal government and re-announcements of NDP government plans. One of those is implementation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with a framework bill passed in November that now requires amendments to many existing laws.
B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson said Horgan’s refusal to speak to reporters after the speech is a sign he can’t defend it.
“It could have been last year’s throne speech because there is no agenda whatsoever,” Wilkinson said. “We see the premier falling asleep in his chair while the protesters are being heard shouting in the chamber.”
The speech reiterates the NDP government’s pledge from last week to overhaul legislation governing the Insurance Corporation of B.C. and court rules, to remove most injury cases from courts to a civil resolution tribunal.
Other initiatives include a “plastics action plan” to reduce plastic pollution, likely a provincial ban on point-of-sale plastic bags and other single-use containers that end up in landfills.