VICTORIA -- British Columbia's minority New Democrat government released a long list pledges in its throne speech Friday, and the possibility of passing them into legislation grew stronger when a Liberal member "betrayed" his party to become the Speaker.
The surprise acclamation of Darryl Plecas as Speaker added more breathing room to the razor-thin minority of the NDP government led by Premier John Horgan, who has an agreement with the Green party to combine votes for a one-seat majority in the legislature.
The throne speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon, says British Columbians can expect reforms to provincial campaign finance laws that "eliminate corporate and union donations, put strict limits on individual contributions and make sure that only people living in B.C. can donate to our political parties."
It also says the government will set the terms for an electoral reform referendum and change the current fixed election date from the spring to the fall every four years starting in 2021.
The speech highlights affordability for British Columbians, starting with a $100 monthly increase to income assistance and disability rates and the removal of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges.
Protection from hefty increases for renters and annual bus passes to people with disabilities as of next January were part of the list of promises.
The speech cites homelessness as an issue that would be tackled for residents in every region and notes the devastation from the worst wildfire season in the province's history.
"The circumstances that bring a person to homelessness can be as arbitrary and unexpected as a wildfire but it is no less devastating. Those without homes need and deserve our help," Guichon read from the speech.
The speech says the government will take on the issue of overdoses that killed 876 people between January and July, many of them as they were alone because they weren't aware of the risks of fentanyl-laced substances or couldn't get treatment.
"The scourge of fentanyl afflicts communities across North America," Guichon read. "It demands an immediate and direct response, which your government is determined to provide."
"We must increase enforcement to help get deadly drugs off our streets," the speech says.
It highlights education as a high priority and says next week's update to the budget will restore funding for classrooms, a key plank for the New Democrats after the Liberals stripped cash and provisions from teachers' contracts, leading to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that called for reinstatement of funding.
B.C. Teachers' Federation president Glen Hansman welcomed the funding promise, saying the previous government's unconstitutional legislation was difficult for educators and students.
"I am looking forward to seeing the revised provincial budget on Monday," he said in a statement.
Horgan said afterwards that throne speeches are a road map for a new government.
"We've laid out, I believe, a comprehensive plan that we'll be following in the months and years ahead."
Earlier Friday, interim Liberal Leader Rich Coleman said Plecas has betrayed his own party and effectively joined the NDP by accepting the Speaker's post.
Horgan called Plecas's decision "an honourable thing."
Background on the new Speaker of the B.C. Legislature
- Plecas was first elected to the B.C. legislature in 2013 as a member of the Liberal party to represent the riding of Abbotsford South. He won handily against longtime Liberal politician John van Dongen, who left the party earlier in the year to join the provincial Conservatives before running as an Independent. Plecas won re-election in 2017.
- While in office, Plecas served as parliamentary secretary for crime reduction and later for seniors health.
- Plecas spent 34 years as a criminology professor at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, where he held the position of RCMP research chair and director for the Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research.
- He repeatedly turned down offers from the NDP to take on the role of Speaker in the wake of the spring election, saying in one media interview it would be "disrespectful" and "dishonourable" to accept the position. "I would be hurting the Liberal party, in other words hurting the wishes of my constituents, and there's no way that's going to happen," he said in June.
- Plecas's website says he is the grandson of Abbotsford pioneers and has lived in the area with his wife and two sons for the past 37 years.
- He is the recipient of various accolades, including the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia Award for Public Safety, an award of excellence from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, a teaching excellence award from the University of the Fraser Valley, the Queen's Jubilee Medal and the Order of Abbotsford.
BC Liberals issued a revised statement: this takes out a reference to Plecas being out of caucus pic.twitter.com/y3QSiQEYKm— CTV Bhinder Sajan (@BhinderSajan) September 8, 2017
So basically with Plecas as speaker, the NDP now have a lot more breathing room— CTV Bhinder Sajan (@BhinderSajan) September 8, 2017
First NDP throne speech focuses on "putting people first" contains same themes as campaign plus what's needed to fulfil agreement w Greens— CTV Bhinder Sajan (@BhinderSajan) September 8, 2017
While the throne speech says childcare, affordable housing, and other campaign promises are priority - no real specifics or timelines— CTV Bhinder Sajan (@BhinderSajan) September 8, 2017