Record infrastructure spending, thousands more people hired to work in health care and further “targeted” support for businesses recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic are on the way, Premier John Horgan promises in a speech from the throne to begin the spring session of the B.C. legislature.
The next round of pandemic-related spending is to be detailed in the NDP government’s budget on April 20, adding billions more to the province’s debt after it finished its fiscal year in March with a deficit of about $13 billion. “Then, after the pandemic ends, it will carefully return to balanced budgets as the economy recovers,” Lt. Governor Janet Austin told the legislature in presenting the speech April 12.
“In the year ahead, your government will continue to improve care for seniors by hiring thousands of new workers for long-term care and fixing the cracks COVID-19 exposed. It will reduce wait times by permanently changing the way we deliver surgeries in B.C. to get more patients their surgery faster.”
The speech also promises to increase spending on mental health, via the Pathway to Hope program Horgan announced in 2019. It promised to increase access to counselling and expand Foundry youth centres. “And B.C. will take action to end the criminalization of simple drug possession that directly leads to stigma and prevents people from seeking services,” the speech says.
Infrastructure spending refers to ongoing projects like the Pattullo bridge replacement, whose completion has been delayed by a year, the Trans-Canada Highway widening project east of Kamloops and the final phase of the Kicking Horse Canyon project, all with union-only workforces and a promise of more apprentice training. “The George Massey crossing replacement will continue to be a priority and steps will be taken toward building the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain, ensuring the line fully extends to Langley.”
The B.C. legislature finished a delayed fall session in March, and is now expected to sit until June 17 to debate the budget and spending for various ministries.