COVID-19 recovery and beyond: Full text of the B.C. throne speech
VICTORIA -- The British Columbia government is looking beyond the COVID-19 pandemic in its speech from the throne to other priorities including help for the economy, improved health care and taking on inequality.
Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin delivered the speech in the legislature Monday on behalf of the government, outlining its priorities more than a year after the pandemic began and amid a third wave of surging infections.
The following is the full text of the 2021 speech from the throne:
It is with great sadness that I acknowledge the passing of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at the age of 99, on April 9th, 2021. As the devoted husband and consort to Her Majesty The Queen, the marriage of Her Majesty and His Royal Highness formed a foundation of leadership of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth for nearly eight decades.
On the occasion of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, Her Majesty referred to His Royal Highness as her “constant strength and guide.” His Royal Highness will be remembered fondly by British Columbians for his devotion to Queen and country, his duties as Royal Patron, and his ever-keen interest in the lives and work of Canadians. On behalf of all British Columbians, I wish to once more extend my heartfelt condolences to Her Majesty The Queen, the entire Royal Family, and all citizens of the Commonwealth, on the loss of this steadfast companion and most loyal Prince.
We begin by acknowledging the Lekwungen peoples, the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations, upon whose territories we are gathered today. For the last four years, your government has worked to go beyond these important land acknowledgements – and actively forge partnerships with Indigenous peoples. Working together, we have progressed in advancing meaningful reconciliation. Indigenous languages are being revitalized.
Child welfare legislation has been improved, so more children rightfully remain with their families and communities. And the fundamental human rights of Indigenous peoples have been enshrined in law with the unanimous passage of the Declaration Act in this legislature. This hard work has only just begun – and it must be done together to be successful. The pandemic has exposed pre-existing systemic gaps in health care, housing, and other basic services. Your government recognizes that our future must be one where we share decision making and prosperity with the Indigenous peoples who have exercised their inherent rights on their respective territories since time immemorial.
As is our tradition, we open the second session of the 42nd Parliament by pausing to remember some of the British Columbians we have lost in the past year.
Indigenous leaders and Elders: Nisga’a Nation leader Chief Joe Gosnell; Gitxsan leader Neil Sterritt; fishing rights trailblazer Ronald Sparrow; healthcare rights advocate Carole Dawson; Indigenous rights defender David Dennis; Xenaksiala land protector Elder Cecil Paul; Cree Elder and educator Dr. Rosalyn Ing.
Elected officials who served British Columbians: MLAs Ed Conroy; Helmut Giesbrecht; Lyle Kahl; Bill King; Renaldo Angelo Masi; Jim Gorst; Lorne Nicolson; Gordon Hanson; and Ian Waddell.
Leaders in sport: curler Paul Devlin; World Cup skier Brayden Kuroda; hockey player and coach Phil Maloney; hockey player and broadcaster Howie Meeker; rower Kathleen Heddle; cyclist Jim Davies; soccer coach Tony Waiters; BC Lions owner David Braley.
Prominent contributors to the arts: artist Wayne Ngan; jazz musician and educator Hugh Fraser; actor Brent Carver; composer and pianist Linda Niamath; actor and playwright Taran Kootenhayoo; and arts executive Raj Sen.
Journalists and media figures: radio host Salman Nasir; photojournalist Ted Grant; and journalist and playwright Bob Sarti.
Trailblazing members of the legal community: Constance Dora Isherwood and human-rights lawyer Joe Arvay.
Leaders in the labour movement: Canadian farmworkers’ union founder and antiracism activist Charanpall Gill; BCGEU leader John Fryer; and labour activist Kim Manton.
Philanthropists: former UBC Chancellor Bob Lee; veteran Rudi Hoenson; and fundraiser for the arts Eric Charman.
Other community leaders: political watchdog Dermod Travis; war heroes George Chow and Norman Kirby; youth homelessness advocate Katherine McParland; and veteran and founder of the Chinese Canadian Military Museum Colonel Howe Lee.
We honour their contributions to our province as we mourn their loss. Of course, this has been a year like no other. Tragically, we have also lost over 1,400 British Columbians to COVID-19 and over 1,800 to the overdose crisis since the pandemic began. These are not just numbers. They are our grandparents and Elders, our parents and siblings, our colleagues, neighbours, and friends. We acknowledge and share in the grief of British Columbians who have lost someone they love in the past year.
Putting the pandemic behind us
The COVID-19 pandemic is the toughest challenge we have faced in more than a generation. Many have had to say goodbye to a loved one too soon. Many others have felt the financial stress of job loss, or the strains of loneliness and isolation. Every one of us has been called on to do our part – and to stay apart – to protect the people around us. British Columbians have risen to the task. Health-care workers leapt into action immediately. Grocery store employees, truck drivers, and farmers kept food on our tables. Teachers, school support staff, and childcare workers carried on their important work under difficult circumstances. Small business owners changed the way they operated to keep workers and customers safe. This year, British Columbia’s Medal of Good Citizenship will recognize those who have gone above and beyond in their efforts during this extraordinary time. We have come a long way by looking out for each other. The lessons we have learned over the last year will serve us well as we turn toward recovery.
The final push
We open this sitting of the legislature at a turning point in our fight to end the pandemic. The threat of new variants means we cannot relax, even as your government accelerates the largest mass-immunization program in B.C.’s history. Thanks to the hard work of public health officials, community leaders, and volunteers, our age-based vaccine rollout is ahead of schedule. More than a million British Columbians have already received their first dose. Thousands more are being added to that list every day. A new partnership is helping 1,400 people previously working in tourism and hospitality sectors get jobs supporting B.C.’s immunization rollout. If vaccine supplies are delivered as scheduled, everyone in B.C. will be able to receive one by the end of June. With each person who gets vaccinated, all of us become safer. Bringing us one step closer to the end of the pandemic. But in a marathon, the final push is the most difficult.
This pandemic is no different, as the last few weeks have proven. High case counts mean we all must continue working together to keep each other safe. As we get vaccinations into arms as quickly as possible, we must not let down our guard or give up on our layers of protection. Not when we are this close to the end. Keeping people healthy and safe until we have crossed the finish line is our collective responsibility. It is an essential precondition for economic recovery and a return to normal life. And it will remain your government’s top priority.
Coming back stronger
When the pandemic struck, B.C. was a fiscal and economic leader in Canada. We were one of Canada’s fastest growing economies, with low unemployment rates and steadily rising wages. Despite the challenges of the last year, our strengths remain. We have abundant natural resources and clean technology. We are a gateway to Asia and major ports to North America. And our biggest strength is our people – hard working, highly skilled, and with a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation. Take life sciences as just one example. B.C. is home to 300 biopharmaceutical, medical device, and bioproduct companies.
COVID-19 has highlighted the enormous benefits offered by this sector. Think of Precision NanoSystems’ work on a vaccine, AbCellera Biologics’ work on a treatment, or StarFish Medical’s development of an ICU ventilator for use in Canadian hospitals. Their work will not only help bring us out of the pandemic, it will position our province for success in the years ahead. We are already seeing positive indications that the recovery is well underway here in B.C. Our province has seen months of sustained job growth and currently has the highest job recovery rate in Canada. Under new safety guidelines, B.C. film and television production has bounced back stronger than ever. The mining sector, which worked closely with government to remain open safely during the pandemic, saw stronger exploration over the past year than any year since 2013.
CN Rail is investing almost a half billion dollars in British Columbia to support growing demand. And Microsoft Canada recently announced it is adding 500 new jobs in Vancouver next year. While these are encouraging signs, there is a lot more we need to do: To help the businesses and workers in our hard-hit tourism and hospitality sectors rebound and recover. To ensure charitable organizations and the non-profit sector are supported, so they can support people and communities. To create good jobs while tackling the climate crisis and protecting the environment. And ultimately position British Columbia to come back even stronger once we have put the pandemic behind us.
A budget to make B.C. stronger for everyone
Later this month, your government will introduce a new budget. All budgets are about choices. This budget will choose to help people now and create the conditions for a strong economic recovery that reaches every British Columbian. It will make health care better while creating new opportunities for people. It will target help to small businesses so they can grow and hire. And it will invest in the infrastructure we need to strengthen local communities.
Your government will base its long-term budget plan on several principles of fiscal responsibility that have guided it since day one. First and foremost, your government will protect the public services that British Columbians rely on and that have proven critical in our fight against COVID-19. Then, after the pandemic ends, it will carefully return to balanced budgets as the economy recovers.
Investing in people
The focus of your government from day one has been to put people first. Even when the pandemic struck, that focus did not waver. Your government moved quickly to provide relief for renters, middle-class families, and the most vulnerable. B.C. has delivered more direct help for people throughout the pandemic than any other province in Canada. Our province also took a leadership role in protecting workers. We successfully advocated for a paid sick leave benefits for workers across Canada during the pandemic. And we amended B.C.’s laws to make sure workers cannot be fired for staying home when they are sick.
Your government understood that while COVID-19 has affected everyone, it has not done so evenly. Put another way: we are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Women have been more likely to lose a job or feel forced out of the workforce. Young people have missed out on work opportunities and vital social connections. Indigenous peoples, Black people, people of colour, as well as those working in frontline jobs and the gig economy, have all been affected disproportionally. As we move forward towards better days, your government will make targeted investments to ensure the recovery does not leave people behind.
Better health care
The work of investing in people starts with improving health care. The pandemic has shown that keeping people healthy and safe is the foundation for a strong and resilient British Columbia. Four years ago, your government set out to deliver faster, more personalized health care, closer to home.
While much has been accomplished, there is a lot more to do. In the year ahead, your government will continue to improve care for seniors by hiring thousands of new workers for long-term care and fixing the cracks COVID-19 has exposed. It will reduce wait times by permanently changing the way we deliver surgeries in B.C. to get more patients their surgery faster. And it will build more hospitals and urgent primary care centres to ensure quality health care is there when you need it, where you need it. This includes building a new hospital in Surrey and an expanded Richmond tower to deliver more services in fast-growing communities.
Supporting mental health
COVID-19 has not just affected our physical health. It has also taken a toll on our mental health. People everywhere are experiencing increased anxiety, stress, and depression. Prior to the pandemic, Canada’s first stand-alone Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions was making good progress. Now we will redouble our efforts. Through the upcoming budget, your government will make new investments in the Pathway to Hope plan to improve mental health and addictions care for people. And B.C. will take action to end the criminalization of simple drug possession that directly leads to stigma and prevents people from seeking services.
Making life more affordable
Our emerging recovery will not be felt fully by everyone if too many people continue to feel weighed down by the cost of everyday life. For the last four years, your government has worked hard to make things a little easier. It eliminated MSP health care premiums and road tolls.
It cut hydro rates and put money back into family’s pockets with the Child Opportunity Benefit. It eliminated interest on B.C. student loans and launched a grant program to make post-secondary education more accessible. And it took steps to rein in skyrocketing housing prices by introducing a speculation tax that has helped turn 18,000 empty condos into long-term rentals. The pressures created by COVID-19 have made it harder for many of those who were already struggling to balance a household budget. In the year ahead, additional steps will be taken to make life more affordable for people. Changes at ICBC will deliver a 20% cut to car insurance rates.
The reduction is on top of the COVID-19 rebate that was issued earlier this year, and in addition to last year’s freeze on rates. This means hundreds of dollars in savings to every driver in B.C. and an end to the threat of extreme annual increases. Your government will continue to seek opportunities to generate further savings for drivers that are consistent with protecting ICBC’s long-term fiscal integrity. Whether you are renting or paying a mortgage, there is no bigger monthly expense for most British Columbians than housing. That’s why your government will pursue its goal of a province where everyone has access to a safe and affordable place to call home. This will include new investments through Budget 2021 to help get thousands of “missing middle” rental homes built throughout the province. Your government will help even more families get access to affordable, high-quality child care and increase the number of $10-a-day spaces. This will make life easier and support a strong economic recovery by helping more parents re-enter the workforce. And your government will also take steps to recognize and retain early childhood educators who have been essential during the pandemic – and will be essential to our recovery.
Life becomes more affordable, not just when costs go down, but also when incomes go up. In June, B.C.’s minimum wage will increase to over $15 an hour for the first time. This will give the lowest income workers a well-deserved raise – many of whom have worked in essential services throughout the pandemic. Your government has also made permanent the largest-ever increase to income and disability assistance rates and the first-ever increase to the seniors’ supplement.
Tackling inequality and homelessness
Perhaps most challenged over the last year have been those most vulnerable in our province. This includes people facing housing insecurity. COVID-19 has also made the challenge of homelessness more visible in our communities. Those without a real home or decent shelter – many of whom suffer from mental illness and addiction – have found themselves living in dense encampments, often in city parks. While your government has made unprecedented investments in thousands of new units over the last four years, homelessness remains a critical issue that government is determined to confront. That’s why it is building new partnerships with municipalities and making new investments to tackle these issues. Combined with new approaches to support those with complex health and social needs, these initiatives will help move people from unsafe encampments to more secure housing.
Local communities have been on the front lines of COVID-19. And your government has been there to support them from the start. Cash-flow relief early on, and the BC-Canada Safe Restart Agreement, ensured local governments could continue providing services – and keep the people who provide those services working. As we turn towards recovery, investing in stronger communities will be a key priority.
Budget 2021 will make record investments in infrastructure to keep people and our economy moving. Combined with expanded training programs and Community Benefit Agreements, these investments will support good job creation where it is needed most. Projects like the Broadway Subway, Pattullo Bridge replacement, the Highway 1 expansion in the interior, and the final phase of the Kicking Horse Canyon will keep moving forward. The George Massey crossing replacement will continue to be a priority and steps will be taken toward building the Surrey-Langley Skytrain, ensuring the line fully extends to Langley. To support coastal communities, your government will also launch a made-inB.C. shipbuilding strategy and fight to bring construction of Canada’s next polar icebreaker back to B.C. shipyards.
Safe and supported schools
When schools closed down for in-class learning last spring, the lives of many families were suddenly turned upside down. Kids were separated from their social networks and cut off from services they rely on. Parents struggled to balance supervising their children’s online learning with their own work responsibilities.
This is why your government prioritized quickly and safely reopening schools – and ensuring they could stay open. The success and stability of B.C.’s safe school reopening is a testament to the extraordinary collaboration and commitment from all of our education partners. Everyone pulled together in the best interest of kids. Teachers and educational assistants, principals and vice-principals, clerical workers, custodial staff and school bus drivers; superintendents, trustees and parent advisory councils. Your government has worked closely with all stakeholders and with the federal government to provide nearly $290 million in new funding for school boards. This investment has put millions of pieces of PPE, thousands of hand-sanitizing stations, and hundreds of new frontline staff in our schools. As we prepare for the next school year, your government will continue making investments that will keep our schools safe and classrooms well supported.
Bridging the digital divide
Just as people and sectors of the economy have not been equally affected by COVID-19, neither have our communities. The pandemic has changed how we work and connect with others. And that can look very different if you are working remotely from one of B.C.’s large urban centres or suburbs, versus a rural or remote community. When the pandemic hit, your government acted fast to meet the growing demand and connect more people and businesses in more communities. Now over 10,000 more households across the province have better internet. Funding provided through the StrongerBC Recovery Plan will add hundreds of kilometres of cell coverage on B.C. highways, making life safer for people. Your government’s upcoming budget will continue this work with new investments to boost digital connectivity in even more rural communities. Many small and medium-sized businesses also had to adjust – changing the way they operate as more and more people shifted to making their purchases online.
Every step of the way, your government has been there to help them adapt to the new reality. The new Launch Online program is helping over 4,000 eligible small businesses increase their digital presence and build or expand online stores. Throughout the pandemic, your government worked to keep essential offices open safely. There is an old saying that necessity is the mother of invention. Some core services were maintained by moving online or finding appropriate new locations. For example, B.C.’s courts never closed, with the Court of Appeal meeting remotely, and some jury trials moved to safer locations in theatres. In the year ahead, your government will look carefully at public-service innovations that came about during the pandemic, with an eye to maintaining those elements that offer greater efficiency and make life more convenient for people.
Supporting arts and culture
The pandemic has dealt a significant blow to artists who rely on live performances to make a living. Not being able to see a play in a theatre, go to the opera or symphony, or catch a concert with friends, has hurt all of us. The arts are the soul of our communities. Your government is working with leaders in the arts community and Dr. Bonnie Henry’s team to plan a safe return. Until that return is possible, your government is stepping up and providing additional support to people, arts organizations, and venues.
More inclusive communities
Unfortunately, while the pandemic has brought out the best in most people, we have also seen it bring out the worst in some. Hatred and racist actions have been on the rise since COVID-19 began. Anti-Asian hate crimes have increased by over 700% in Vancouver – in 2020 alone. Racism has no place in our communities.
Everyone has a right to feel safe and respected. Your government is committed to the work that must be done to dismantle systemic discrimination that is still a lived reality for too many in our province. It launched Resilience BC, a new anti-racism network. It has committed to introducing race-based data collection to help identify gaps in services and how to address them. In the months ahead, your government will continue working with communities to develop B.C.’s first anti-racism law and to reform our outdated Police Act. It will also introduce landmark legislation to remove barriers to accessibility and inclusion experienced by British Columbians with disabilities.
To honour their contributions and celebrate the diversity of British Columbia, your government will continue building on the recently established Chinese Canadian Museum and legacy investments that recognize South Asian Canadian heritage. Diversity and inclusion are what make B.C.’s communities so special. Your government will work with you to protect and celebrate it.
Helping businesses grow and hire
Small businesses are vital to our local economies and our communities. They help give neighbourhoods their distinctive character. Many of us got our first job at a small business. Even in normal times, it takes skills and tenacity to run a successful small business – faced with thin margins and an ever-changing marketplace. The pandemic only compounded those challenges with new ones that none of us could have expected.
From the outset, your government made it clear that it would help small businesses and their employees get through it. Early on, it cut property taxes, prohibited commercial evictions, and forgave hydro bills. Later through the recovery plan, it provided tax incentives for businesses to hire workers and a PST rebate to help companies make capital investments in equipment and machinery. It has not always been easy. Things have changed quickly through the pandemic.
Your government’s response to the uncertainty has been to listen to those on the front lines, ready to respond and adjust as required. For example, your government recently expanded the timelines and adjusted eligibility criteria for the small and medium-sized business support program. The grant is now easier for businesses to qualify for, and has increased support for those in the hard-hit tourism sector.
An innovative, sustainable, and inclusive future
In the year ahead, your government will continue to help businesses recover from the short-term effects of the pandemic. And it will keep building an innovative, sustainable, and inclusive economy – with an eye to the post-pandemic world. Global markets are changing in ways that offer significant opportunities for B.C.’s goods and services. Prices are expected to continue to reflect environmental, social and governance aspects of production. British Columbia firms will be able to take advantage of a premium paid for inclusive and sustainable products. For example, agritech is already allowing agricultural, food processing and seafood sectors to benefit from the use of innovation and technology.
By embracing innovation, these producers are enhancing productivity while addressing expectations around the sustainability and traceability of food products. In the year ahead, your government will take additional steps to support innovation and technology. During this session, your government will introduce legislation to support the operations of InBC Investment Corporation. This new strategic fund will help promising B.C. companies scale up, anchor talent – keeping jobs and investment at home in British Columbia. Building on recommendations from the Premier’s Food Security Task Force, your government has created a new Agritech Concierge that will support food producers and innovators.
The pandemic has driven home how lucky we are to live in a place of such natural abundance. From Okanagan cherries to wild pacific salmon, there has never been a better time to eat the food we love from here, at home. Your government will continue to support our growers and producers by investing in our BuyBC program that promotes a wide range of local food products at grocery stores and farmers markets.
Protecting our environment
Too often, economic growth in our province has come at the expense of the environment. That must change. We can no longer rely on simple resource extraction to generate wealth with no regard to long-term consequences. Your government is determined to continue tackling the environmental challenges that were neglected for too long. This year, it will continue the work of reforming the Forest Act and the Forest and Range Practices Act to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Your government will continue to take action on the independent report on old growth, which recommended important new protection for remaining old growth stands not already protected. New measures will be proposed to increase access to fibre for communities, First Nations, and small businesses. Land management practices will be updated to improve forest stewardship and emphasize environmental protection.
The forest sector will be supported to move from volume to value – using innovation to improve management, support communities and generate economic opportunity. At the same time, your government will move forward with other measures to protect B.C.’s environment, including improving waste management, particularly of plastics. These actions will build on the progress we have made recently – like removing over 120 tonnes of marine debris from B.C. coasts and shorelines, protecting wildlife and habitat, and planting a record 300 million trees last year. Our economic recovery must become an opportunity to accelerate environmental protection, not an excuse to relax our commitment to sustainability.
CleanBC and climate action
Central to achieving our goal of a more sustainable economic future on the other side of COVID-19 is British Columbia’s CleanBC plan. It is North America’s most progressive plan to reduce carbon pollution, while creating good new family-supporting jobs. In the year ahead, your government will build on the progress already made. It will continue to foster clean-tech innovation. Through electrification, it will move more industrial activities from fossil fuels to clean, hydro-electric power. To make life more affordable for people, and reduce emissions, your government is making it easier to buy electric vehicles and working to support emissions reductions in transit fleets and heavy-duty trucking. And newly announced sectoral emission targets will keep government accountable as it works with each sector of the economy to reduce emissions, while remaining globally.
The last year has challenged our province and our people in ways we could never competitive. From the daily sacrifices made by frontline essential workers to the small businesses that have endured countess obstacles, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who have helped us come through it. The difficult times are not over yet. As we begin this legislative session, your government urges you not to lose sight of what has made our province so resilient.
A year ago, British Columbians would stand on their front lawns and balconies at seven o’clock in the evening to bang pots and pans. This nightly, noisy tribute was a way to show our thanks and support to the nurses, doctors, and other health-care workers on the frontlines. This was an extraordinary show of solidarity with those putting themselves at risk to protect the rest of us. It is this same spirit of common purpose that we must summon again. To get us safely through to the end of the pandemic. So that we can start building towards that brighter future we know is possible.
Together, we can build a B.C. where strong public services like health care are there when people need them. Where we create good jobs that help us meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. And where we always work in partnership with Indigenous peoples, so everyone shares in the prosperity of this land. The future for our province is bright. It is one of hope and opportunity. Now let’s get to work ensuring B.C. comes back stronger than ever – for everyone