Financial relief on the way for B.C. taxpayers: throne speech

Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon delivers the Speech from the Throne February 14, 2017 | Photo: Government of B.C. website, live broadcast of speech

The upcoming provincial budget will provide B.C. taxpayers with some form of “financial relief,” Premier Christy Clark’s Liberal government announced in its annual Speech from the Throne today.

The 15-page document offered no details of the promised assistance, but said government is prepared to share the wealth in advance of the May 9 provincial election.

“After years of sacrifice by all of us in British Columbia through challenging times, working together with a plan, your government is now in a position to pay you back, to relieve some financial burdens, and to invest in your household and in your families,” stated the speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon.

The province is projecting a budget surplus of $2.2 billion and the throne speech maintained that the money belongs to taxpayers.

“And in the coming budget your government will provide financial relief to taxpayers, while continuing to make investments in the services people rely on.”

The rest of the speech mostly recounted past government accomplishments and reiterated its commitment to growing the economy and creating jobs.

It warned that “risk is all around us” in the form of a weak global economy and the rise of protectionism in the United States and Europe.

On that front, Clark has announced that former federal cabinet minister David Emerson will be the province’s new trade envoy to the United States. He will work with the Canadian and U.S. governments to get a new softwood lumber deal.

The throne speech devoted only a few paragraphs to the planned liquefied natural gas industry that Clark trumpeted in the last provincial election. The speech said that “unforeseen headwinds have created challenging conditions” and that “bringing home the generational opportunity of LNG remains with reach.”

The speech launched a pre-election sitting of the B.C. legislature that promises clashes over the deaths of children in care and party financing.

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan has said his party plans to hold the government accountable for yet another damning report on the province’s child-welfare system.

Bernard Richard, who is expected to be confirmed as the new representative for children and youth this session, released a report last week on the death of Alex Gervais, an 18-year-old Métis youth who took his life at an Abbotsford hotel where he had been living for 49 days while in care.

Horgan said the Opposition will be “trying to get a straight answer” from the government on why such tragedies keep happening in B.C.

The Liberals have pledged to act on all of Richard’s recommendations. “But they need to have the resources to do that,” Horgan said. “They need to be candid with the people of B.C. with the challenges we face with children at risk.”

The Opposition also plans to put more pressure on Clark to get “big money” out of B.C. politics.

The Liberals have been under fire for the past year over “cash-for-access” fundraisers in which wealthy donors pay thousands of dollars to attend dinners with Clark and her ministers.

The NDP hopes to highlight the issue by introducing a bill to ban corporate and union donations for the sixth time since 2005. The previous five private member’s bills failed to receive government support.

The government likely will counter with legislation requiring parties to report their donations every two weeks — a practice recently adopted by the Liberals in response to criticism of their fundraising tactics.

Times Colonist