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UBCIC Briefing Note: BC Speech from the Throne, 2019

February 19th, 2019

DATE: FEB 19, 2019

To provide a summary and analysis of the reforms and initiatives presented in the Throne Speech delivered at the BC Legislature in Victoria.

Lieutenant-Governor Janet Austin initiated the spring session of BC legislature on February 12 by delivering the throne speech that outlined the minority NDP government’s priorities and initiatives for 2019. The overarching theme of affordability mirrored last year’s speech, with promises from John Horgan’s government to implement affordable housing, affordable childcare, and a poverty reduction strategy. The throne speech of 2018 previously promised restrictions and checks on BC’s out-of-control real estate and rental market, including imposing a speculation and vacancy property tax. It also promised $153 million to help fund an action plan for affordable childcare and to carry out a new reconciliation focused strategy for improving relations with Indigenous people.

The following commitments in the speech are significant for First Nations in BC:
• BC will be the first province in Canada to introduce legislation to implement the UN Declaration, legislation that will be co-developed with the First Nations Leadership Council and other Indigenous organizations. If passed, this legislation will provide the foundation for BC’s work on reconciliation and will bring provincial laws and policies into harmony with the Declaration.
• A report on the agreement made last year between the government and First Nations to share in provincial gaming revenue, revenue that has supported Indigenous self- government.
• Supporting Indigenous learners by a implementing a new First Nations history curriculum and developing full-course offerings in Indigenous languages.
• Housing affordability will be improved by speeding up development permit approval processes to build affordable rental housing more quickly, and by addressing recommendations from the Rental Housing Task Force. BC continues to create initiatives for Indigenous housing on and off-reserve and housing for women and children leaving domestic violence.
• BC will deliver its first poverty reduction strategy; not much detail has been provided yet, but the government has stated it will “give people the opportunities and supports they need to reach their full potential.”
• The government will implement a collaborative process to develop new legislation to give universal access to affordable childcare.
• The challenge and urgency of the climate crisis was stressed; measures for the implementation of CleanBC, the climate action strategy will be brought forward in Budget 2019. BC claims that its initiatives to reduce carbon pollution and drive economic growth will be done in partnership with First Nations governments.
• LNG Canada’s liquefied natural gas project will have a “continued focus on reconciliation with First Nations” and can proceed because the government’s four conditions were met, including “meaningful partnerships with First Nations” and its fitting within the CleanBC plan.

Because the Horgan government made the UN Declaration part of every cabinet minister’s mandate letter since 2017, it is very momentous that BC is finally treating the UN Declaration as more than just a symbolic placard and enshrining it into law. Likewise, BC’s commitment to sharing gaming revenue with First Nations was a step towards recognizing the economic component of Aboriginal Title. The shared revenue supports community building, services for families, and Indigenous peoples’ self-determination and their right to determine what happens on their territories.

The education initiative to introduce courses in Indigenous languages follows on the heels of Canada’s recently introduced Bill C-91, An Act Respecting Indigenous Languages. It is a positive step towards strengthening Indigenous language learning and promoting public awareness. However, the government’s promise to implement affordable childcare legislation in the speech did not mention Indigenous people. It is crucial that such legislation is developed in collaboration with First Nations so that it can remedy Canada’s failure to fairly and adequately provide for Indigenous children who are overrepresented in childcare. Likewise, BC’s proposed poverty reduction strategy must close the socio-economic gap between First Nations and Non-First Nations. It must recognize and focus on helping the disproportionate number of Indigenous people who are unable to afford housing and childcare and are more susceptible to the public-health crisis of drug overdoses.

The speech’s claim that LNG Canada fits within the province’s climate action plan and continues to focus on “reconciliation” is partially misleading. LNG Canada’s project poses immense environmental risks, including increased emissions and methane leakages. CleanBC only broadly states that it will partner with First Nations, with no comprehensive or detailed plans outlining how exactly it will achieve this. While elected First Nation band councils along the Coastal Gaslink route have signed agreements, there is also a significant and public number of First Nations who do not support the project and have made this clear to the Province. Furthermore, the speech did not touch upon new regulations and protections that would improve BC’s ability to prepare for and respond to bitumen spills.
Despite the speech’s statement that two independent reviews are underway on the role of money laundering in BC real estate, the speech did not call for a public inquiry into the money laundering in BC’s casinos. The consensus from many is that this throne speech was “stay-the course,” with no major new policy announcements, but pledges to continue making progress on existing priorities.

• Speech from the Throne: