VICTORIA - The clock that counts down to the expected defeat of Premier Christy Clark's minority government in British Columbia starts ticking Thursday with the introduction of a throne speech.
After that, the province watches for a confidence vote that is expected to lead to an NDP government propped up by the Green party.
But the prospect of defeat hasn't deterred the Liberals from releasing details of the throne speech in advance, including major policy shifts on issues that weren't featured by the party in last month's election campaign, such as increasing monthly welfare rates by $100, spending $1 billion on early childhood education, and banning corporate and union donations to political parties.
Clark said Wednesday the Liberals heard from voters that social issues and political fundraising reforms are major concerns and the government is now prepared to act on them.
"We'll present the legislature with a plan that reflects all of the best ideas from all of the parties that we heard in this last election, and I'm taking those lessons to heart," she said. "I am going to do my level best to make sure that our government looks, feels and is different from the government that British Columbians have had for the last six years."
NDP house leader Mike Farnworth said the election showed voters want the Liberals out after 16 years in office.
"All of a sudden they've had an in-the-coffin conversion," he said.
"After having 16 years to deal with these issues they say, 'Oh, we actually want to deal with them.' People are just going to reject that as outright cynicism by this government."
Farnworth said the NDP will table a motion Monday to amend the throne speech, which sets the stage for a confidence vote on June 29.
The election gave B.C. its first minority government in 65 years on May 9, with the Liberals winning 43 seats, the NDP 41 and the Greens three.
After the election, the New Democrats and Greens reached an agreement that will see them vote together on confidence motions and seek to form a minority NDP government with Green support if the Liberals are defeated.
A Liberal member of the legislature is expected to be elected Speaker on Thursday, but who serves in the key post in a likely NDP minority government remains unsettled.
Prof. Michael Prince, a social policy expert at the University of Victoria, said the Liberals have days left in their government but it appears they are already looking ahead to the next election campaign, likely to come before the next official date in May 2021.
"I can sense this throne speech is the first draft of the campaign document," he said. "I think we are seeing a recalibration of the Christy Clark Liberals."
Prince said by announcing welfare changes, campaign finance reforms and dropping a referendum requirement on transit issues in Metro Vancouver, the Liberals are admitting their election campaign misread many voters, and a shifting focus to more urban and social concerns is coming.
"It's a pretty frank admission of their lacklustre campaign and how they were tone deaf on issues," he said.
Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell said raising welfare rates does not change the Liberals' core message that jobs and a strong economy are the path to prosperity, but the government realizes more can be done for vulnerable people.
"This is a time where we have heard loud and clear people want to see some more changes in the social programs," she said. "The premier's heard that message. I've heard that message and we're going to do more for British Columbians who need a helping hand."
— With files from Geordon Omand in Vancouver.