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B.C. NDP says in throne speech it will focus on immediate action in COVID-19 battle

Speaker for the 42nd Parliament of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia Raj Chouhan answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. Chouhan, a former farmworkers' union leader and 15-year New Democrat member of the legislature, also becomes the first South Asian to serve as a Speaker in Canada.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
December 07, 2020 - 6:00 PM

VICTORIA - The B.C. government is promising to immediately fight the spread of COVID-19 while also striving to meet its long-term goals on the province's economic recovery, climate change and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

In a throne speech read in the legislature Monday by Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin, the government says it will focus on the economic recovery as quickly as possible.

The speech says the government will strive to ensure that people work together on COVID-19 and mount a strong economic recovery as the number of deaths from the disease is approaching 500 people, but vaccines against the disease are nearing widespread distribution.

"As we gather here today, we recommit to putting our shoulders to the wheel and working together to make those better days a reality, as quickly as possible for everyone," Austin said, reading from the speech. "Focusing now on beating the virus will allow all British Columbians to move as quickly as possible to address our economic recovery."

A short session of the legislature is being held before Christmas to allow the NDP to make good on an election promise to provide $1,000 to eligible families and $500 to individuals to help cope with the pandemic. In a news release, the government said the benefit will not come until the end of the year.

Premier John Horgan has said the pandemic recovery payments will stimulate spending and help the economy.

The throne speech says the government will also provide short-term benefits to help businesses. It plans to reward eligible businesses for hiring workers by providing incentives to help people retrain for jobs that are in demand after the pandemic.

"Protecting incomes and businesses will help us realize a strong economic recovery," the speech says.

Earlier, Raj Chouhan became the first person of South Asian heritage to serve as Speaker of the B.C. legislature. The Speaker's office says the former farm workers union leader is the first person of South Asian heritage to serve as a Speaker in Canada.

Horgan said Chouhan's election is historic as the five-term New Democrat holds the distinction of being the first Punjabi-speaking Sikh outside of the Indian subcontinent to hold the position of Speaker at any legislature.

"I lift my hands to you, my friend, honourable Speaker," Horgan told the house.

Chouhan said he was humbled to have the support and trust of legislature members.

"To get here has been a long journey," said Chouhan, who immigrated to Canada from India in 1973. "There was a time when people of colour were not allowed to enter this building, let alone this chamber."

Interim Liberal Leader Shirley Bond said Chouhan's election is a step forward.

"It is an honour to be part of this historic moment," she said. "This chamber needs to reflect the faces of all British Columbians."

Bond said the Opposition will push the New Democrats to address problems beyond the pandemic, especially on the province's finances.

Horgan's New Democrats won 57 of the 87 seats in the legislature in October's provincial election. The B.C. Liberals lost more than a dozen seats, prompting Andrew Wilkinson to resign as leader.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2020.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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