The BC Legislature officially reconvened on Thursday with a highly anticipated speech from the throne laying out the Liberals’ governing agenda for their next term — however long or short that may be.
Premier Christy Clark, who is leading a Liberal minority, will face a confidence vote on the speech, which she is likely to lose after the NDP and Green Party formed an agreement to topple the government at the earliest opportunity.
The policies laid out in the Throne Speech are a stark contrast to what the Liberals campaigned on during the provincial election back in May.
Big ticket items include banning corporate and union donations, implementing a referendum for electoral reform and $1 billion investment into child care and early childhood education — policies that the NDP and Green Party pushed during the campaign that the Liberals either resisted or rejected.
However, Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka says the Liberals used the Throne Speech as an opportunity to show British Columbians that the party is listening.
“I think there was definitely an outcry and we recognize what the people have said and I think the message is very clear that we need to work together,” Shypitka said. “So whether the optics are that some of the stuff was NDP-type platform material, I would refer to it more as a hybrid.
“We didn’t go that far left that we’re alienating ourselves as a party; we’re still doing this under a balanced budget, so we’re keeping our core values as being fiscally responsible but we’re letting people reap the rewards of that fiscal responsibility.”
Other policies mentioned in the throne speech included a $100 monthly increase to social assistance rates, working to eliminate the Medical Services Premiums (MSP) and ending referendum requirements for new transit revenue sources.
“British Columbians spoke loud and clear – they’re looking for a better balance between economic, social, and environmental priorities,” said Premier Christy Clark. in a press release. “Together, we have built the most solid economic foundation in Canada – and with that, an opportunity to take better care of each other, and invest in the services we all need.”
Much of the Throne Speech focused on bridging the divide between urban and rural priorities that are relevant right here in Kootenay East, Shypitka said.
“If you take little snippets of that speech that was presented [today], you’ll see we’re still standing strong on wildlife management, that’s one of the biggest topics in our area,” he said. “Wildlife management, land access issues, ecosystem restoration, all of that goes hand-in-hand and we’re still committed to the promises we made back in April on a funding model that’s going to bring 100 per cent license and tag fees to wildlife management.”
Other provincial commitments that Shypitka says will resonate within Kootenay East include doubling a Grow Local program and bringing 91,000 hectares of agricultural land into production, creating childcare spaces from $1 billion in new funding, and adding 112 new general practitioners into the system.
Prior to the delivery of the Throne Speech that was read by Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon, the legislative body had to hold a secret-ballot vote for Speaker of the House, electing former Liberal cabinet minister Steve Thomson.
“I think that was a great selection,” Shypitka said. “Steve is very well respected; he’s been a minister in different ministries over the last 12 years and a very honourable person, so to give him the Speaker role was definitely justified.”
Moving forward, there are a number of situations that could unfold.
The Liberals need one vote from the opposition to pass a confidence vote, which seems unlikely. The NDP and the Green Party have repeatedly stated their desire to hold a confidence vote as early as possible.
If the Liberal government falls, Lieutenant Governor Guichon could approach the NDP and John Horgan to form government with support of the Greens or she could order a snap election.
Based on the election results from May, the Liberals have 43 seats, while the NDP have 41 and the Greens with three. The NDP-Green alliance gives them 44 votes — the threshold for a majority — but one of their ranks would have to sit as Speaker of the House, as Thomson would likely resign if the Liberal government falls.
While traditionally a non-partisan role, the Speaker of the House usually votes to continue the debate or sides with the government if he or she ever needed to cast a tie-breaking ballot.
A confidence vote will likely be put forward in the last week of June.
NDP leader comes to town
NDP leader John Horgan came to Cranbrook earlier this week, touring the Galloway Lumber Co. mill operations and talking to forestry industry members about the softwood lumber dispute.
Horgan also made a brief stop at a local coffeeshop to meet with local supporters and talk to the media.
Shypitka said he was disappointed Horgan didn’t try to meet with local elected officials.
“It’s a free world. John Horgan, or anybody for that matter, can come through our riding and try to gain support for their cause, I’ve got no problem with that whatsoever,” Shypitka said.
“However, I had a couple calls from constituents who were concerned on unannounced visits with a film crew in hand and an entourage on hand and they felt uncomfortable with it. They phoned me and voiced their concerns and I got a little upset. There’s a time and place for everything.
“Two days before a throne speech and after a campaign that, from the NDP, was not favourable for our riding, I thought was maybe a tad bit of an insult.
“So I was opposed to the way it was handled. If you’re going to work together collaboratively, you maybe want to phone elected officials — mayor, council, regional district boards, perhaps the MLA — and that wasn’t done.”