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B.C. throne speech forecasts slowdown but says it's not time to cut back on spending

Premier David Eby arrives with ministers before the start of the swearing-in ceremony at Government House in Victoria, B.C., on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022. B.C. politicians are returning to the legislature for the spring sitting, starting with a throne speech laying out the government's goals for the months ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito Premier David Eby arrives with ministers before the start of the swearing-in ceremony at Government House in Victoria, B.C., on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022. B.C. politicians are returning to the legislature for the spring sitting, starting with a throne speech laying out the government's goals for the months ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
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British Columbia's New Democrat government says it plans to put this year's projected budget surplus of almost $6 billion to work helping families and businesses as an economic slowdown looms and extra dollars are expected to dry up.

The government's throne speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin in the legislature Monday, outlined a political agenda for the coming months that includes a plan to support people amid rising costs now and in the long term.

“Some would say we should respond to a downturn by pulling back, reducing services or by making people pay out of pocket for health care,” says the speech.

“There's too much at stake right now to pull back on supports for people who are only now finding their footing after the pandemic.”

House Leader Ravi Kahlon said it is prudent for the government to use the surplus money in the budget to invest in people.

“British Columbians have been clear to us it's vitally important that we find ways to support them in their needs now,” he said at a news conference following the throne speech. “We hear concerns from people that they need more supports.”

Kahlon sidestepped questions about the government posting a possible deficit budget.

A budget surplus of $5.7 billion was forecast late last year but was previously described by the government as a one-time event largely due to higher tax and natural resource revenues.

Premier David Eby was not at the legislature Monday for what would be his first throne speech since replacing former premier John Horgan.

Instead, he was in Ottawa with other premiers to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to negotiate increased funding for health care.

Opposition Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon said the government is continuing to make announcements but is lacking results.

The NDP has consistently said health care, public safety, housing affordability and cost-of-living challenges are priorities, but the results of their plans are non-existent, he said.

“I acknowledge this government is great at doing press releases and great at doing announcements,” said Falcon. “The problem is they are terrible at getting results.”

Wait times at B.C. walk-in clinics are among the longest in Canada, one in five people in B.C. do not have a family doctor and one million people are on waiting lists to see a specialist, he said.

Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said the government appears too focused on introducing initiatives without considering solutions that can produce measurable success.

The speech said a global economic slowdown is forecast and B.C. likely won't be in a budget surplus situation for long.

The idea that B.C. should respond to a looming downturn by cutting services when some people are still struggling after the COVID-19 pandemic was rejected.

The speech said the government will introduce new legislation this spring covering pay transparency, fighting organized crime and money laundering, and outlawing malicious non-consensual sharing of intimate photos and video.

The government will announce a refreshed housing strategy that will include investments to increase homes and services near transit station areas across B.C., the speech said.

“In the fall session, after working with local governments, homebuilders and communities, new laws will be introduced to turn that strategy into new affordable homes.”

The speech said the government will continue to put people first in the budget it introduces later this month.

“It will make record new investments to improve public health care and deliver more housing for middle-class families,” it said. “It will introduce new measures to address the cost of living, especially for those most vulnerable.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2023.

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