The 12-week spring session of the provincial legislature that wrapped up Thursday (May 11) is getting the very reviews that one might expect.
NDP House Leader Ravi Kahlon said Thursday that his government lived up to its promises at the start of the session by passing a throne speech, a budget and 25 pieces of legislation.
“We have had the opportunity to bring forward some very important legislation such as the ability to seize assets, when people can’t explain from where their wealth has come, directly taking on gangs and gang activity (and) passing legislation to narrow the (pay) gap between men and women.”
He also pointed to additional dollars to help fight cancer and improve 911 response among other items.
“We’re very pleased with the session,” he said.
The raw numbers confirm some of these points. Twenty-eight bills (including two minor private bills) passed the legislature with spending totaling 68.4 billion for the current fiscal year. Overall, 57 bills were introduced.
Notable spending items include $1 billion in one-time grants for municipalities; almost $900 million over three years for mental health, addictions and treatment services; and the long-promised, long-delayed renter’s rebate, albeit in form of a credit of up to $400 per year.
Premier David Eby’s government also spent heavily on transportation, putting $500 million toward limiting fare increases at BC Ferries and $479 million toward TransLink in the Lower Mainland.
Other notable legislation not mentioned by Kahlon include laws designed to protect British Columbians against what is called revenge porn, the establishment of a statutory provincial holiday on Sept. 30 to recognize National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and changes that allow individuals to request birth certificates without a gender marker. Government also used the session to announce an increase in the minimum wage to $16.75 an hour from $15.65, effective June 1.
But one issue of great concern — public safety, specifically the issue of repeated violent offenders — still awaits federal legislation around bail reform. While Ottawa has promised to bring forward legislation this spring after pressure from the provinces including B.C., the legislative window is closing.
The session also included an agreement with the federal government around health care, but its origin lies in prior negotiations between Ottawa and the provinces, not the provincial legislature.
The session also included several major announcements around housing inside and outside the formal budget, key among them the Homes For People plan announced in early April.
But legislation to fulfill one of the major promises — increased density on what are now single-residential lots — won’t come until the fall legislative session starting Oct. 3.
British Columbians are also still waiting on the province to reveal the 8 to 10 municipalities that would fall under the Housing Supply Act passed in late 2022. Kahlon said staff are just finalizing details, billing it as an “important step” to address housing shortages in B.C., considered one of the most expensive housing markets in the world.
Opposition parties are offering different assessments.
Speaking for the Official Opposition, BC United Leader Kevin Falcon called the government’s legislative agenda “forgettable” and rhetorically asked whether things have gotten better since Eby became premier in late Nov. 2022.
“In fact, things have gotten a lot worse,” Falcon said. “We have seen stabbings, we have seen murders. We’ve seen more violence and uncontrolled street chaos over the last session that we have perhaps seen at other time.”
Incidents like the stabbing deaths of 17-year-old Surrey resident Ethan Bespflug and 37-year-old Vancouver resident Paul Stanley Schmidt certainly catapulted the issue of public safety to the forefront during the latter parts of the legislative session.
The related issues of housing as well as mental health and addicition had dominated the earlier parts, especially after the start of a trial decriminalizing certain types of drugs just before the start of the session.
But housing, specifically the culture of BC Housing, returned to the forefront in the final of week of the session, with the tabling of a report that found the former head of BC Housing, Shayne Ramsey, in numerous conflicts of interests in his dealings with the Crown corporation’s largest contractor Atira Women’s Resource Society headed Ramsey’s wife Janice Abbott.
While Eby had ordered the investigation into BC Housing while minister responsible for housing, critics have since accused him of selective memory and timing the release of information to his perceived benefit.
BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau used her final media availability during the session to criticize the government for pushing through legislation that prevents government lawyers forming their own union.
She praised Eby for having reached out to her and House Leader Adam Olsen on issues, but said his government often says one thing, while doing something else, which is making the public cynical.
“I think that we need a government that holds itself to a very high level of integrity,” she said.