In a throne speech at least one critic is calling “vacuous,” the B.C. government presented a cautious preview of the coming year Tuesday afternoon, predicting a rural revival through industrial growth while lowering expectations for mining and natural gas exports.
Read by Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon to begin the spring legislature session, the speech announced the formation of a rural advisory committee to “provide independent and impartial advice on helping rural B.C. increase opportunities, manage growth and meet its full potential in communities big and small.”
“The throne speech reiterates and confirms that we have a plan and we are going to continue to stick to that plan,” said Parksville-Qualicum MLA and Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell. “We have a continued focus on fiscal responsibility to pay down debt and invest in the future … the biggest thing is that we’re going to balance another budget.”
The speech referred to five new mines opening since 2011, but avoided mention of northeast coal mines that have closed due to low commodity prices that also threaten the operation of metal mines in B.C.
Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser said “I’ve seen a lot of throne speeches in my time and this one was vacuous, it really didn’t say anything.”
Fraser criticized the government’s intention to keep cutting “red tape,” an obsession of the B.C. Liberals since 2001.
“They (the Liberal government) are cutting red tape in the mining industry to the extent where nobody is watching Mount Polley,” said Fraser. “It’s scary for me, we have a government who is philosophically fixated on deregulation.”
But Stilwell said cutting red tape ensures “a net zero increase in regulatory requirements … we’re making it easier for small businesses and people in B.C.”
Fraser said “the public confidence that the government is overseeing the public interest is gone, there is no confidence that the government is able to do their job.”
As the government continues to await investment decisions for liquefied natural gas facilities, the speech notes that LNG “could create 100,000 jobs and the revenues to eliminate our debt,” adding that exports are needed to maintain a gas industry that already employs 13,000 people.
Fraser said the government “oversold” the idea of LNG to British Columbians and he’d rather see a recognition of “the troubles British Columbians are facing … I’m talking about the never ending increases to fees, MSP, B.C. Ferries, Hydro rates, ICBC rates.”
Premier Christy Clark said the government has important tasks ahead, such as starting construction on the $8 billion Site C hydroelectric dam and revamping the education system to fill an anticipated skills gap.
Much of the speech touted earlier achievements, including the carbon tax on fuels and a settlement with B.C. public school teachers after a bitter strike last year.
The government confirmed it is about to table a third straight balanced budget on Feb. 17, and hinted at new spending aimed at expanding the economy.
The government also plans to launch a new “medal of good citizenship” to recognize those who donate their time and money to improve their communities.
— With files from Tom Fletcher