The B.C. government is promising to make child care more affordable, hire new long-term care staff, expand support for mental health care, and tackle inequality and discrimination as part of its plan to address growing inequalities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the speech from the throne, Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin read the province’s blueprint for managing ongoing health crises and the recovery of B.C.’s economy.
“The last year has challenged our province and our people in ways we could never have imagined,” Austin read.
“The difficult times are not over yet. As we begin this legislative session, your government urges you not to lose sight of what has made our province so resilient. A year ago, British Columbians would stand on their front lawns and balconies at seven o’clock in the evening to bang pots and pans. It is this same spirit of common purpose that we must summon again to get us safely through to the end of the pandemic.”
The throne speech laid out what to expect in the provincial budget, which is set to be tabled on April 20.
The government promised additional health-care funding to reduce surgery wait times and build more hospitals and urgent primary care centres.
The province also promised to hire thousands of new workers for long-term care with a focus on “fixing the cracks COVID-19 has exposed.”
This includes the already-promised building of a new hospital in Surrey and an expanded tower at the Richmond hospital.
The budget will include new investments to improve mental health and addiction care and the province is once again committing to ending the criminalization of simple drug possession.
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“This budget will choose to help people now and create the conditions for a strong economic recovery that reaches every British Columbian,” Austin read.
“It will make health care better while creating new opportunities for people.”
The speech also highlighted a number of previously announced ongoing measures, including changes to ICBC coming into place next month and grants to help businesses build or expand online stores.
The province is working on “developing B.C.’s first anti-racism law” and reforming the Police Act. It is also working on introducing legislation to remove barriers to accessibility and inclusion experienced by British Columbians with disabilities.
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“The focus of your government from day one has been to put people first. When the pandemic struck, that focus did not waver,” Premier John Horgan said.
“We moved quickly to provide relief for renters, middle-class families, hard-hit businesses and the most vulnerable. But we know that while we are all in the same storm, we are not all in the same boat. There is much more to do to ensure people don’t get left behind as we recover.”
The throne speech also outlined continued investments to digital connectivity in rural, remote and Indigenous communities.
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The government is also committing to considering reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and tackling the climate crisis as key to all decisions.
“Too often in the past, economic growth in our province has come at the expense of the environment. That must change,” Horgan said.
“Our economic recovery must become an opportunity to accelerate environmental protection, not an excuse to relax our commitment to sustainability. We are committed to building a B.C. where we create good jobs that help us meet the challenges of today and tomorrow and where we always work in partnership with Indigenous peoples, so everyone shares in the prosperity of this land.”
In its upcoming budget, the government is committing to help get thousands of “missing middle” rental homes built throughout the province.
On child care, the province will increase the number of $10-a-day spaces and will create incentives for parents to re-enter the workforce.
“Your government will also take steps to recognize and retain early childhood educators who have been essential during the pandemic – and will be essential to our recovery,” Austin read.
On infrastructure spending, the province mentioned the ongoing work being done on the Broadway Subway project, Pattullo Bridge replacement, the expansion of Highway 1 in the Interior, and the final phase of the Kicking Horse Canyon.
The province is calling the George Massey crossing replacement a priority, even though next steps have not been announced. The government is also committing to extending the SkyTrain to Langley but has not committed to Broadway Subway extension to UBC.
Shirley Bond, interim leader for the BC Liberals, expressed her disappointment with the throne speech, saying it offered “virtually no help, no support for right now.”
“Today we see little help, little hope and, in fact, very little assistance for British Columbians who are struggling… as we continue to be in the middle of this pandemic,” Bond said.
Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said the speech represents “minor tweaks to the status quo.”
“After a year of sacrifice and loss, what British Columbians need in this moment is a shared sense of common purpose, not only for navigating this third wave of COVID-19, but for a more just and equitable future,” she said in a statement.
“We need to recognize the responsibility this government has to address the multiple overlapping crises we face in addition to COVID-19, from the drug toxicity crisis to the existential threat of climate change.”
— With files from Jon Azpiri and The Canadian Press
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