By Tom Fletcher and Trevor Crawley, Black Press
The throne speech doesn’t do enough to help families, says Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald.
“An awful lot of B.C. families are finding it awfully tough. What’s the government going to do? I don’t see any new ideas. We’ve heard it all before. There is nothing specific that addresses the people’s concerns,” Macdonald said.
“They are saying look how bad it is in Alberta. Well, Alberta doesn’t have MSP payments, ICBC, gas is cheaper. All these little things are taking cash out of people’s pockets. And at the same time, we get a tax cut for the richest two per cent. They’re are not the ones who are struggling.”
His neighbour – and frequent political rival – Bill Bennett, the Liberal MLA for East Kootenay, had the opposite message, saying that what the government was doing works and should be kept up.
“We need to keep supporting the natural resource industries and also try to diversify our economy into high-tech and tourism and so forth,” Bennett said.
He pointed to balanced budgets, the progress on the Site C dam, and B.C.’s AAA credit rating as signs of the Liberals success. “One of the main messages in the throne speech is, ‘Hey, we’re doing really well compared to the rest of the country’, so we need to keep doing it and not get tempted into spending too much money or go for unproven ideas.”
The Throne Speech was delivered last Tuesday, Feb. 9, by Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon, on behalf of Premier Christy Clark. In it, the Premier doubled down on her election promise to pay off B.C.’s debt with revenues from liquefied natural gas exports, despite delays in proposed projects in the face of a global glut of oil and gas.
“Success is not for quitters,” she declared in the speech.
“It is not a choice between keeping B.C.’s natural gas industry stable or deciding to grow it,” the speech said. “We must begin to export, or the 13,000 people who depend on this industry today will be out of work.”
NDP leader John Horgan said B.C. Liberal losses in two Lower Mainland by-elections last week show the public isn’t buying Clark’s promises of prosperity.
“The premier said three years ago she was going to create 100,000 jobs with an LNG industry,” Horgan said. “Today she said she hopes to save 13,000 jobs if an LNG plant takes place.”
One new initiative in the speech is a renewed focus on food production, including an expanded “buy local, grow local” effort involving local governments and community organizations. Farmers are to be offered a tax credit for donating food to non-profits, and an agrifoods conference is to be held in Kelowna in November.
Touting B.C.’s economic performance, the speech includes unusual criticism of Alberta, saying it “lost its focus.
“They expected their resource boom never to end, failed to diversify their economy and lost control of government spending.”
Bennett predicted that the Liberal government will be tabling a budget with a surplus in the next week or so, which should help towards some other Kootenay East priorities, such as highway improvements and getting a full-time MRI at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital.
Bennett also sounded off on Liquid Natural Gas—a key part of the Liberal government’s 2013 provincial election that promised a $100 billion prosperity fund through the development of LNG. Bennett admitted that the price of oil and the state of the world economy has slowed down progress on LNG development.
“Natural gas is very cheap right now and it has taken some of the steam out of some of the international drive towards the production of LNG,” he said. “Having said that, we have at least two LNG megaprojects—one in Kitimat called the LNG Canada and the other one, the Petronas project in Prince Rupert—that I believe will announce they’re going forward in 2016.”
Macdonald also took issue with the government’s projections for LNG development in the province.
“On LNG, it always was made up by numbers,” Macdonald said. “100,000 new jobs is completely made up. It’s simply not reality. No informed person would see that as reasonable. So either the leadership doesn’t know any better or they are deliberately misleading the people of British Columbia.”
The speech restates the government’s intention to implement recommendations from former deputy minister Bob Plecas to hire more child protection social workers and modernize the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
“That work must begin with ending the culture of blame that exists for those public servants with the most difficult role,” the speech says.
With an election scheduled for 2017 and the last full budget before it to be presented Feb. 16, the speech repeats the phrase “stand up for B.C.” that could emerge as a re-election slogan. It also refers to “getting to yes,” a phrase Clark has used frequently in relation to LNG and other resource developments.
As it did before the 2013 election, the government has resumed jobs-themed TV ads focused on skills training and technology incentives.
The Throne Speech made no mention of the Trans-Canada Highway.
With a note from Alex Cooper, Revelstoke Review