British Columbia’s Lieutenant-Governor, the Hon. Steven Point, delivered the province’s Speech from the Throne on Tuesday, opening the 39th Parliament of British Columbia. The Throne Speech was organized under themes that focused on fiscal management and measures meant to strengthen the provincial economy. As in recent legislative sessions, the government renewed its commitment to tackling climate change and building a “new relationship” with First Nations.
Fiscal Management and Economic Development
The government reiterated its commitment to introducing the controversial Harmonized Sales Tax (“HST”), that it hopes will lower business costs and productivity by approximately $2 billion annually. The federal government has promised $1.6 billion in transition funding for implementing the HST.
Recognizing the current economic situation, the government has pledged to introduce amendments requiring balance budget following four years of deficits instead of the current two year requirement. The government has also committed to reducing discretionary spending and to targeting resources to social services focusing on patients, students, children and families. For example, full-time, five-year-old kindergarten that is expected to begin in September 2010. With a view to improving service and lowering costs, the province will undertake a review of all Health Authorities, Boards of Education and Crown corporations. No new funding will be made available for public sector wage increases.
Specific economic development measures include: a new comprehensive Asia Pacific Gateway Authority to be pursued with the federal government; an Open Skies Summit at the new Vancouver Convention Centre to be held in September; and a new Wood Innovation and Design Centre to be established in Prince George. The government also committed itself to legislating labour mobility for all Canadians wanting to work in British Columbia and to advancing open trade with Alberta under the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement.
Energy and Environment
British Columbia has plans to establish a Species at Risk Task Force to report to government with recommendations by June 2010. The task force will be asked to suggest “a new defining vision with an overarching measureable outcome that British Columbians can work together to achieve within the next decade”. As well, a new Green Energy Advisory Task Force will be appointed to compliment the work of the British Columbia Utilities Commission’s (“BCUC”) long-term transmission requirement review. That task force will be asked to recommend a blueprint for maximizing the province’s clean power potential, including “a principled, economically viable and environmentally sustainable export development policy”. The BCUC will receive specific directions to ensure the phase out of the conventional natural gas-fired Burrard generating station and to act on the BC Energy Plan and Climate Action Plan. Other measures include:
- A reiterated commitment to the Climate Action Plan and targets.
- A pledge to act to ensure B.C.’s fresh water remains a rich resource that meets economic, social and environmental needs for generations to come.
- Consultation on new statutory protections to further safeguard the environment from cosmetic chemical pesticides.
- A focus on green energy as a cornerstone of the Climate Action Plan with a focus on electricity selfsufficiency and clean, renewable power generation.
- The outlaw of international export of British Columbia’s garbage and landfill waste.
The government has promised to amend the Lobbyist Registration Act to include stronger investigative and enforcement provisions.
New Relationship with First Nations
It appears that the pre-election commitment to enact a Recognition and Reconciliation Act with First Nations has been delayed. Although the government’s commitment to the goal of reconciliation with First Nations was renewed, the Lieutenant-Governor explained that “despite many historic shifts in understanding an intent over recent years, we still have many miles to walk before we reach the mutual vision we know exists…we will continue to press for improvements in other ways”. The government plans to pursue new treaties, as well as agreements on shared decision-making and benefit sharing with First Nations.
Proposed Legislative Amendments
- Other specific measures announced in the Speech from the Throne include:
- A new Residents Bill of Rights to set out clear commitments to care and to the rights of residents living in residential care facilities.
- Reintroduction of the Labour Mobility Act; Insurance Amendment Act; Strata Property Amendments Act; Wills, Estates and Succession Act; and Police Amendment Act.
- Legislation to restrict cell phone use while driving a vehicle to create a safer driving and pedestrian environment for all.
- Legislation to deny income assistance to anyone in British Columbia who has an outstanding warrant from another province.
- Legislation to allow for labour mobility for all Canadians wanting to work in British Columbia and to advance open trade with Alberta under the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement.
- A new Wood First policy to require all public buildings to use wood first as their default building material, inside and out.
- Amendments to the Woodworker Lien Act to strengthen payment protection for forestry contractors.
A new budget is expected to be introduced in the legislature on September 1, 2009. The date for the 2010 budget has been set for March 2, 2010.