VICTORIA — British Columbia’s New Democrat government will be pointing out its achievements on affordability and economic fronts while introducing a political agenda for the next year as the October 2021 election approaches, Premier John Horgan says.
Politicians return to B.C.’s legislature Tuesday for the speech from the throne and the start of a spring session. The government’s budget will be tabled on Feb. 18.
Horgan said the economy is strong, the budget is balanced and improving affordability for people in B.C. continues to be his government’s priority.
But it’s not all smooth sailing for the months ahead.
The Green party, which has an agreement to support the minority government in the legislature, is looking for a new leader to replace Andrew Weaver who moved to sit as an Independent. The Opposition Liberals are already in election-preparation mode, nominating candidates, and consistently accusing the NDP of ignoring rural communities, especially those hurt by the downturn in the forest industry.
“We want to highlight what we’ve done and then highlight where we’re going to go over the next 12 months,” Horgan said in an interview.
He said the elimination of Medical Service Plan premiums, more child care options and raises in the minimum wage are his government’s achievements, but more needs to be done to make life more affordable.
“Gas prices are the top of peoples minds,” said Horgan. “Cellphone charges, admittedly a federal problem, but ones we hear about in our offices all the time, car insurance. These are costs that people are always fretting about and we’re going to be talking about these in the throne speech.”
The government said Thursday legislation will be introduced that will lower premiums at B.C.’s public auto insurer, the Insurance Corporation of B.C., by about 20 per cent, an average of $400 in savings per driver.
Horgan said the speech will also focus on infrastructure investments in education, transportation and health care in communities where growth — like in his hometown of Langford — is “busting at the seams.”
He said some global economies are facing downturns, but the B.C. budget will reflect a continued strong economy that is leading Canada.
“The budget message is the same,” said Horgan. “We’re balanced, we’re focused on delivering services. Health, education, transportation, those are the priorities we had going in and they continue to be our priorities.”
Opposition Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said the NDP downplays its poor record addressing major issues in B.C., but his members will be reminding the government of its dismal performance.
“The NDP are facing major problems in forestry, resource industries, ride-hailing and ICBC and they are going to pretend all of it is just fine.”
Wilkinson said the ongoing eight-month forestry strike on Vancouver Island has put thousands of people out of work and families and communities are suffering. The strike comes as sawmills in the B.C. Interior announce shift curtailments and permanent shutdowns, costing hundreds of jobs, Wilkinson said.
“Clearly the NDP has written off the Interior of B.C. and now they’re busy writing off the northern half of Vancouver Island,” said Wilkinson. “The premier has been maintaining this facade that everything is wonderful while people have been losing their jobs by the thousands.”
Horgan said his government has been saddled with handling problems that date back to the former Liberal government, including controls on money laundering, speculation in real estate and the financially troubled Insurance Corporation of B.C.
“The Liberals, I think, still have some learning to do from their time in government and they should maybe spend some more time looking at the things we’re doing that people are excited about,” he said.
Interim Green Leader Adam Olsen said the two-member caucus will call for a shift in the B.C. economy to focus more on innovation technologies and away from the traditional resource industries.
“I’m keenly aware that the old economy is groaning and demanding attention,” he said. “We cannot continue to rely on the oil and gas, the fossil fuel industry, at a time when climate change science is telling us we’ve got to be doing other things.”
Olsen said the Greens plan to maintain the support agreement it has with the NDP that allows John Horgan to govern with a minority until the next election.
“We have to continue to work to October 2021,” he said. “The interests of British Columbians is that their government functions whether it’s a majority or a minority.”
Horgan repeated earlier comments that he is not looking to call an early election.
“I don’t hear people clamouring for an election,” he said.
By Dirk Meissner — The Canadian Press