Despite a balanced budget that commits billions to childcare, housing and healthcare, B.C. Premier John Horgan’s remarks to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade (GVBOT) on Friday were underscored by multiple references to the “serious challenges” facing his government in the months ahead.
Among them: financial and legal challenges at B.C.’s crown corporations, an opioid crisis, transitioning B.C.’s resource sectors and fulfilling the province’s climate change objectives.
“We take no lessons from anyone across this country as British Columbians in tackling head-on the challenges of climate change,” Horgan told guests at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.
On Thursday, Horgan announced his intention to have provincial courts review his government’s proposed ban on expanded bitumen shipments in B.C., a move reciprocated by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley lifting her weeks-long ban on B.C. wine.
“It’s not about Rachel Notley and John Horgan and [Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau. It’s about British Columbia’s right to stand up, whether they agree or disagree,” said Horgan. “We’re going to see some serious challenges in the weeks ahead and I think we would be deluded if we thought otherwise.”
On meeting his government’s climate change commitments while supporting LNG – which critics, including BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, have argued is impossible – the premier reaffirmed his support for the industry provided projects meet government conditions.
Horgan said he was hopeful his government and LNG Canada’s venture partners will come to a final investment decision on the $40-billion project, which would constitute B.C.’s largest private-sector investment in history.
He also emphasized that B.C.’s traditional industries, including mining and forestry, wouldn’t be left out in the cold by the BC NDP.
“I’m not at all ready to say goodbye to forestry. It’s foundational to our economy,” the premier said, adding he sees instead a singular opportunity to transform the industry.
“That means ensuring that how forest practices work in our province are consistent across the board and we try and maximize the economic benefit of each twig we take out of our forests.”
Financial challenges at BC Hydro, legal issues with the BC Lottery Corporation and what is expected to be a more than billion-dollar deficit at the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia were also noted by Horgan as challenges that will need to be handled in the months ahead. He called the latter the biggest surprise in the basket of surprises his government received last July.
Another: affordability issues, which he says have worsened in the months since his party took power. "They sat idle," said Horgan in reference to his predecessors. Looking ahead, he said it's better to have a carrot than a stick when dealing with municipal governments on housing supply issues and expediting development.
Despite the challenges, Horgan assured guests that prudent measures and contingency funds were in place to weather them. He acknowledged too that inheriting the most robust economy in the province puts B.C. in a good position.
He repeated a focus on reducing B.C.’s debt-to-GDP ratio while balancing social need, and balancing the books.
“We were told quite clearly that you wanted to see a balanced budget,” said Horgan, pointing to two more years of balance after 2018. “Mission accomplished.”