Premier John Horgan greets Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon for presentation of the first NDP throne speech of the new government, B.C. legislature, Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. (Don Denton/Black Press)

Throne speech confirms NDP reform promises

Education, child care funds coming in budget

Premier John Horgan’s government is moving ahead with increased education funding and additional child care spaces, announced in a throne speech that previews a range of measures based on NDP election promises.

Measures promised in the speech include increasing income assistance rates by $100 per month, overhauling legislation to protect renters from rent increases imposed by short-term leases, and setting up a Fair Wages Commission to move B.C.’s minimum wage up to $15 an hour.

Horgan told reporters after the speech that the promised $400-a-year rebate for renters is part of the budget update to be presented next week.

B.C. Liberal jobs critic Jas Johal questioned why the NDP has shifted its language on child care from a $10-a-day program to a “universal” one.

“There was very little mentioned about the economy that pays for all of this spending,” Johal said.

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Many promises in the speech lack timelines or other specifics, including the minimum wage plan that has caused tension between the NDP and B.C. Greens. The speech says “decisive action is being taken to fix the problems at ICBC and BC Hydro,” and the government will “deliver a comprehensive housing strategy to create homes for people.”

Some of the measures are completed, such as removing tolls from Metro Vancouver bridges. Others have been underway since the previous government, including meeting the terms of a funding agreement with the B.C. Teacher’s Federation.

B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver said the only thing he disagreed with in the speech was the reference to removing bridge tolls, but he was pleased with the commitment to education funding. The speech had “no surprises” as required by his agreement to support the NDP, and some wording was taken from Green commitments, Weaver said.

The B.C. Liberal government signed a deal in March providing $330 million to fund 2,600 new teacher positions, to comply with a November 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that ended a long court battle over contract language governing class size and special needs support ratios.

“The September budget update will take our first steps toward restoring proper funding for B.C. classrooms, and give students the supports they need to succeed,” said the speech, read in the B.C. legislature Friday by Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon.

The speech confirms plans specified in the support agreement signed by the NDP and B.C. Green Party, including eliminating corporate and union donations to political parties, holding a referendum on proportional representation by November 2018, and strengthening rules around government lobbyists.

Finance Minister Carole James is to present a budget update in the legislature on Monday, making changes to the B.C. Liberals’ pre-election budget.

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