The British Columbia Legislature returned for a new session on February 6, 2023, with a Speech from the Throne, the first since Premier David Eby took over for John Horgan in November 2022. The main themes that will guide the Eby government over the upcoming legislative session include reducing the impacts of inflation; housing; public health care; a clean economy; and climate action.
The speech promised to build on existing cost saving measures such as childcare cost reductions, hydro rate credits, and the BC Affordability Credit. The government has also promised to extend current childcare savings programs to parents with school aged kids to maximize eligibility for inflation reduction benefits.
The government promised to protect the rights of workers, particularly by protecting and strengthening unions and continuing to have robust paid-sick-leave policy. They also indicated that they would introduce new pay transparency legislation in the upcoming session – this would have the effect of illuminating and reducing gender pay gaps in the workforce. Additional new legislation would also crack down on organized criminals, tax evaders, and corrupt officials by allowing government to seize property and proceeds of crime.
Aside from building on existing housing measures, the government promised to invest $500 million in a new rental protection fund that would safeguard renters against evictions or rent hikes by big property investment companies. The speech also indicated the government would streamline provincial housing approvals, make new investments to increase housing availability and services near public transit hubs in BC’s cities, and that a “refreshed” housing strategy is to be expected in the upcoming session.
The speech took a dig at other jurisdictions that are seeking to integrate privatized services into their healthcare delivery, promising that the government would strengthen public healthcare rather than move towards a ‘two-tier’ system. The speech promised that the government would invest in new hospitals, and build on existing investments for a new medical school at Simon Fraser University and an expansion of the medical school at UBC. The government also highlighted its strategy of getting more internationally trained healthcare workers into BC’s healthcare system and noted that it was working on fast-tracking credentials for internationally trained nurses to address the current healthcare crisis. In addition, a new cancer care strategy will be announced over the coming year.
A major item of this speech was investing in communities – both in terms of addressing public safety issues and the province’s healthcare crisis, and in terms of building more sustainable and resilient communities in the province. Regarding public safety, the government indicated that new measures would be introduced in the upcoming session to keep communities safe, including legislation to crack down on gang activity and money laundering in the provinces. The government also highlighted its Safer Communities Action Plan – a strategy which would implement new response teams to track, arrest, and jail repeat offenders. The speech also indicated the government would be implementing bail reform, expanding mental health crisis response teams into more communities, building on a new model of addictions treatment, and providing secure housing for those currently living on the East Side of downtown Vancouver.
The speech also outlined strategies to deal with rapid population growth in BC, and those that would generally lead to more sustainable and prosperous communities in the province, such as investment in enrolment growth in schools, building a rural community strategy, expanding the release of race-based data to address systemic discrimination in the province, and new legislation to address malicious and exploitative non-consensual sharing of intimate images.
Clean Economy & Climate Change
Lastly, the speech focused on how the government can prepare the economy for the future, and how it can use economic tools to move towards stronger climate action. The government indicated it would introduce an initiative called Future Ready – a skills training action plan to make education and training more accessible, affordable, and relevant for the jobs of today and tomorrow. In addition, a Goods Movement Strategy will be developed to ensure goods are moving as efficiently as possible. The government will also expand its low-cost clean energy potential and promote investment and innovation in sustainable food production and agri-tech.
In terms of direct action on climate change, the government promised to introduce legislation to strengthen the ability to ensure polluters pay the cost of environmental cleanup on abandon sites, and legislation that would improve access to electric vehicle charging stations in residential buildings. The speech also stressed the importance of working with Indigenous communities to protect BC’s natural resources, including its oceans and old-growth forests. Lastly, the government promised to introduce a new Emergency and Disaster Management Act to improve BC’s ability to respond to and recover from climate emergencies.
Read the full text of the speech here.