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Housing, health care and heeding rising costs: B.C. delivers Throne Speech

Lt-Gov. Janet Austin delivers Throne Speech ahead of 2024-25 budget release
Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin arrives to prorogue the 5th session of the 42nd parliament of the province while at legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

The provincial government is promising to have the backs of British Columbians as costs and inflation hit pocketbooks more than ever, posing affordability challenges in the year ahead.

That’s the over-arching message of the final Throne Speech delivered by Premier David Eby’s government before the provincial election in the fall. The speech comes two days before the 2024-25 provincial budget is released.

On Tuesday (Feb. 20), B.C.’s Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin acknowledged that “too many are still struggling to get ahead” in acknowledging “big challenges” for B.C. and its people.

“While governments can’t solve every problem or fix things overnight, your government makes a simple commitment to you: we will have your back, so you are not facing these new challenges alone,” Austin said.

These include high interest rates, inflation and new technologies, as well as global tensions and unrest.

“Parents are struggling to protect their kids from dangers that are now in the palms of their hand,” Austin said. Today’s gig economy also sees working people “struggling to make a good living” and be treated with fairness, she added.

These laments ultimately lead to one of the central themes of the speech: government’s efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing.

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“This session, your government will take new actions to help people with costs, while tackling the root causes that are making life so expensive – like housing affordability,” it reads.

Specific housing promises include measures to protect renters from bad-faith evictions and more help for first time homebuyers.

The speech also promises improvements in health care, mental health and fighting climate change. Last week, Eby said that his government would table 20 pieces of legislation during a shortened spring session of the provincial legislature.

Specific promises include an anti-racism law, legislation protecting schools and kids from what disruptive protests (like the ones opposing SOGI-123, without mentioning them by name) as well as laws holding social media companies accountable.

The speech also sets out to remind the public what government has accomplished in touting its recent run of housing-related legislation, as well as other measures considered accomplishments.

House Leader Ravi Kahlon rejected suggestions that the speech was light on specifics, pointing to the promised legislation to the anti-racism law and promised legislation to ban protests around schools.

“You can’t just a law have that ends racism…but there are things we can do to better identify where the challenges are, where there is systemic racism within our communities,” Kahlon said.

When asked whether the anti-protest legislation was aimed at the Conservative Party of BC, Kahlon used the occasion to accuse the party of bringing the politics of Donald Trump to B.C. “It’s not me that’s worried about them,” he said. “I think the public in British Columbia should be worried about them and some of the views that they are bringing to British Columbia,” he said

Kahlon also reiterated an earlier promise government would introduce additional housing legislation.

BC United Leader Kevin Falcon acknowledged that throne speeches often lack specifics, but accused New Democrats of living in a “parallel universe” where “actually everything’s just great.”

Turning to housing, Falcon touted his party’s recently announced four housing policies. They include a rent-to-own program measures to cut the PST on residential construction, eliminate the property transfer tax for first time-buyers for purchases up to $1 million. “I think those are the kind of shifts we need to see,” he said.

RELATED: Rent-to-own program, tax cuts promised as BC United unveils housing platform

When asked about the anti-protest legislation, Falcon said it depends on what the NDP plans to bring forward.

“We certainly don’t want schools or children studying in schools to be victimized by protests that are disrupting the classroom,” Falcon said. “But we will just have to see what they bring forward and if it’s sensible, we will support it, if it’s problematic, then we will oppose it.”

BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said nothing ties the speech together. “The Throne Speech paints a picture that doesn’t match up with the real problems British Columbians are experiencing,” she said. “Healthcare remains inaccessible for too many, schools are overcrowded and lack resources, homes are too costly and the gap between the rich and the poor keeps getting wider.”

Furstenau called for what she called a more honest assessment of the situation. “(Inequality) is widening and deepening, services are lacking and the uncertainty that climate change brings is making it hard for us to imagine the future we want for our children.”

Like Falcon, Conservative Party of BC Leader John Rustad dismissed the speech for its lack of specifics, but framed it as another step toward authoritarianism and the outcome of 32 years of alternating governments by the NDP and BC United, formerly known as BC Liberals.

“Whether it’s affordability, whether it’s housing, whether it’s health care, whether it’s crime, whether it’s the addiction problem, the crisis that we are seeing in the forest sector, all of these things have come from successive governments and successive policies. What I saw in the throne speech was more of the same.”

When asked about the anti-protest legislation, Rustad said protests need to be respectful and can’t create disruptions. “But at the same time, I just wonder why we are at the point where the B.C. government would look at that as being an issue.”

Global politics also marked Tuesday’s speech. A group of pro-Palestinians protester some 50 members strong marched around the legislature as Austin delivered the speech, calling on the provincial government to take several, mainly actions in support of Palestinians.

Their presence prevented Austin of entering the legislature through its main gates, giving the speech a less ceremonial tone.

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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