VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – We’re set to get more details on what the new NDP government plans to focus on in the coming months.
Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon will read the speech from the throne at the legislature later today, outlining the province’s priorities for the fall sitting.
“I think it’s going to be quite vigorous and enthusiastic. You know, they’ve taken over power after 16 years and they’ve got a lot of energy [and] I’m sure lots of plans and ambitions,” says political scientist Hamish Telford with the University of the Fraser Valley.
He isn’t expecting anything to come out of left field.
“I would be surprised if there were surprises, to be honest. I think that we’re shortly thereafter the election, where the NDP had spelled out what it wanted to do in its platform, as well as the agreement with the Greens that came later in the summer.”
The Liberals fell one seat short of a majority in the 87-seat legislature in the May 9 election, prompting 41 New Democrats and three Green members to reach an agreement that ousted the Liberals in a non-confidence vote. The move paved the way for a minority NDP government under Premier John Horgan.
Former premier Christy Clark heightened the political drama with a failed attempt to force a new election before she resigned as Liberal leader and the MLA for Kelowna West. The vacant seat provides some breathing room for the tight NDP minority.
Clark’s resignation also temporarily reduces the pressure on Horgan’s minority government, which will be expected to yield one of its voting members to take on the role of Speaker of the legislature. The first order of business in the legislature Friday will be to elect the Speaker, who may eventually be forced to break ties in votes.
“I think if there are going to be surprises [in the throne speech], it’s going to be more in the vein of not proposing something new, but back-tracking or walking back plans that had been announced in the election platform and/or the agreement with the Greens,” adds Telford.
The NDP made numerous promises during the election, including pledges to cut medical services plan premiums, offer a $400 rent subsidy to offset the high cost of living, ban corporate and union donations to political parties and hold a referendum on electoral reform.
“People have waited a long time, 16 years, for a change in government,” says Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Carole James.
“People are counting on us to work on their behalf. There are so many issues that need to be addressed and we’re not going to be able to fix them all overnight, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get started.”
Monday is BC budget day
Independently audited statements released last month confirmed the NDP inherited a solid financial bottom line from the Liberals, including a surplus of $2.7 billion.
Since being officially sworn in two months ago, the NDP increased welfare rates by $100 a month, scrapped tolls on the Lower Mainland’s Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, waived post-secondary tuition costs for people who spent time in foster care and eliminated fees for adult basic education and English language programs.
The government also pressed the reset button on a couple of multibillion-dollar mega projects tied to the former Liberal government.
The $8.8 billion Site C hydroelectric dam project in northeast B.C. is under review. The $3.5 George Massey bridge project in suburban Vancouver is also on hold and the government is registered as an intervener against the $7.4 billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project between Alberta and B.C.
Interim Liberal Leader Rich Coleman has said that they will have no difficulties hurling criticism at NDP policies they endorsed in the last Liberal throne speech.
“We’re now opposition,” he said. “Our job isn’t to go out there and build the public policy but actually to hold the government to account for what they want to do. We’re going to do that.”
Green Leader Andrew Weaver has said he expects the NDP-Green voting agreement to hold despite differences that are bound to arise.
“Everyone wants the good story of the B.C. Greens bringing down the NDP, but it’s not going to happen,” he said. “We have a very good working relationship.”