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B.C. government looks toward 'brighter future' in throne speech

The B.C. legislature in Victoria is seen in this May 25, 2020 photo submitted by the Province of B.C.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Province of B.C.
April 12, 2021 - 3:30 PM

VICTORIA - The British Columbia government looked beyond the COVID-19 pandemic in its speech from the throne to other priorities including help for the economy, improved health care and taking on inequality.

Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin delivered the speech Monday in the legislature on behalf of the government, outlining its priorities more than a year after the pandemic began and amid a third wave of surging infections.

British Columbia is in the "final push" in what has been a difficult marathon, the speech said.

"Keeping people healthy and safe until we have crossed the finish line is our collective responsibility. It is an essential precondition for economic recovery and a return to normal life."

The NDP government promises to hire thousands of new workers for long-term care and fix cracks exposed in the system by COVID-19. It said it will improve surgery wait times and build new urgent primary care centres and hospitals, including one in Surrey.

The government commits to record spending on infrastructure including replacing the George Massey Tunnel and building the Broadway and Surrey-Langley SkyTrain lines, as well as legislation to support a fund to help B.C. companies scale up and hire local workers.

It promises to introduce legislation to remove barriers to accessibility and inclusion felt by those in B.C. with disabilities.

It will also create British Columbia's first anti-racism law.

The speech said the pandemic has brought out the best in most people but the worst in others, noting that anti-Asian hate crimes rose by more than 700 per cent in Vancouver last year.

"Racism has no place in our communities. Everyone has a right to feel safe and respected."

The economic recovery will not be felt fully by those weighed down by the costs of everyday life, Austin read, as she outlined the government's commitments to increase affordability.

They include raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour in June, and getting thousands of rental homes built while also expanding $10-a-day daycare.

B.C. will act to end the criminalization of simple drug possession and make new investments in the Pathway to Hope plan to improve mental health and addictions care, the speech said.

It commits to fostering clean-tech innovation, making it easier to buy electric vehicles and supporting the industrial transition away from fossil fuels through electrification.

The upcoming budget will also expand digital connectivity to rural communities.

B.C. residents need to come together with the way that saw them bang pots and pans for front-line workers last year, it said.

"It is this same spirit of common purpose that we must summon again to get us safely through to the end of the pandemic, so that we can start building towards that brighter future we know is possible."

The speech acts as a preview for the government's budget, which will be delivered April 20.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson forecast a budget deficit nearing $14 billion during a fiscal update in December.

The government will return to balanced budgets as the economy recovers after the pandemic ends, the speech said.

— By Amy Smart in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 12, 2021.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2021
The Canadian Press

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