B.C. appeals for ‘final push’ against COVID-19 in throne speech

Government of B.C.
WatchThe B.C. government's throne speech on April 12 urged people to hold on for a final push against COVID-19.
The B.C. government's throne speech on April 12 urged people to hold on for a final push against COVID-19.

Premier John Horgan’s government urged British Columbians to buckle down for a “final push” against COVID-19 in a throne speech Monday that promised targeted investments in health care, child care and other areas of the economy as the pandemic ends potentially later this year.

“With each person who gets vaccinated, all of us become safer,” read Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin at the legislature Monday on behalf of the Horgan government.

“Bringing us one step closer to the end of the pandemic. But in a marathon, the final push is the most difficult. This pandemic is no different, as the last few weeks have proven.”

The speech encouraged British Columbians to “not let our guard down or give up on our layers of protection. Not when we are this close to the end.”

The Horgan government said its top priority remains B.C.’s mass vaccination strategy, which promises at least one shot for every British Columbian by July 1. Currently, almost 20 per cent of the B.C. population has received at least a first dose.

“Keeping people healthy and safe until we have crossed the finish line is our collective responsibility,” read the speech.

“It is an essential precondition for economic recovery and a return to normal life. And it will remain your government’s top priority.”

However, the government also said it needs to craft a post-pandemic plan as well. The speech Monday was sparse on details, with more expected in the April 20 provincial budget, which will mark the first since the NDP won re-election in October. Much of the speech regurgitated programs government had previously announced.

“The difficult times are not over yet,” read the speech, which singled out the more than 1,400 British Columbians who have died from COVID-19. “As we begin this legislative session, your government urges you not to lose sight of what has made our province so resilient.”

New items contained in Monday’s throne speech included:

  • A new anti-racism law, to combat a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic.
  • “Targeted investments” for women, young people, people of colour, those in the gig economy and those working frontline jobs in the pandemic, all of whom have been disproportionally harmed by the pandemic and its restrictions.
  • More funding for seniors care to hire new workers and “fixing the cracks COVID-19 has exposed.”
  • “Record investments” in capital projects and infrastructure in the budget to boost local communities and create jobs.
  • Changes to B.C’s surgical system to reduce wait times.
  • A “redouble” of efforts to support mental health and addictions, because “people everywhere are experiencing increased anxiety, stress, and depression.”
  • New funding to create “thousands of ‘missing middle'” rental homes.
  • A boost to $10-a-day childcare spaces, which currently exist in limited amounts despite a 2017 election promise by the NDP to make them available to everyone.
  • New funding for schools.
  • Better digital connectivity and internet speed in rural British Columbia.
  • New “landmark legislation” to remove barriers to accessibility for people with disabilities.
  • Extra support for arts and culture groups that can’t perform due to public health restrictions.
  • A new InBC Investment Corporation to strategically fund B.C. companies with jobs here.
  • More protection for old growth forests, and changes in the province’s forestry practices.
  • Additional housing for the homeless and unhoused, which is “a critical issue that government is determined to confront.”

“We have come a long way by looking out for each other and we can finally see the finish line in sight,” Horgan said in a statement.

“Our top priority will continue to be on keeping British Columbians safe while we get more people vaccinated and plan for brighter days ahead.”

Opposition Liberal leader Shirley Bond called the speech a “disappointment.”

“We have businesses that are struggling to hold on… over 53 per cent of British Columbians are within $200 or less of being able to pay their bills at the end of the month, and what do we see? A throne speech that offers virtually no help, no support for right now,” said Bond.

“This is a second term government. This is a government where a premier sought a majority by calling a snap election during a pandemic. And today we see little help, little hope and in fact very little assistance for British Columbians who are struggling.”

BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau said the NDP is squandering an opportunity to rebuild our economy in a more positive direction following the pandemic, and lacks the vision to chart a clear path.

“What B.C. needs right now is courageous leadership, not just minor tweaks to the status quo,” she said, adding she was “profoundly disappointed” by the lack of emphasis on mental health and a “green recovery.”

“Our recovery from COVID-19 provides a singular opportunity to change our economy for the better and we cannot afford to let it pass us by.”

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Rob ShawRob Shaw

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