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BC Premier Christy Clark and BC Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon make their way into the BC Legislature for the Throne Speech. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
BC Premier Christy Clark and BC Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon make their way into the BC Legislature for the Throne Speech. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

B.C. Liberals lay foundation for election with Throne Speech, balanced budget Add to ...

All Throne Speeches are paeans, of sorts, to the administrations that draft them. The degree to which a governing party uses the occasion to celebrate its achievements is usually inversely proportional to the distance that exists between the timing of the speech and the next election.

And so with just more than a year before voters go to the polls, it was a given that the Throne Speech that opened the spring session of the B.C. Legislature on Tuesday was going to be long on admiration for the wondrous accomplishments of Premier Christy Clark’s Liberal government and filled with the kind of feel-good promises that might hold up on a campaign trail one day.

All Throne Speeches are partisan political documents to some extent, but this one was more so than usual.

Of course, there’s never been a doubt what the foundation of the Liberal election platform will be in 2017: the economy. It’s been forever thus for whichever party happens to be flying the flag of the centre-right coalition in B.C. And it just so happens that Ms. Clark has, relatively speaking, a fairly positive economic story to tell. Or as the government put it in its Throne Speech: “Our Island of prosperity is a collective accomplishment that we can all take pride in.”

I couldn’t help read that line and feel profound sadness the authors gave up so quickly on their metaphor. Think of where they could have gone with it: “Ours is an island of prosperity amid a roiling ocean of global economic uncertainty that has caused others to run aground on the shoals of fiscal despair, leaving them in search of a lifeline to avoid drowning in a sea of debt, becoming a cautionary tale of Titanic proportions.”

But who ever said they had imagination in government?

Many aspects of Tuesday’s speech had been earlier telegraphed by the Premier herself. There were promises of relief for frustrated first-time home buyers and pledges to take a deeper look at some of the more unsavoury activities taking place in the Greater Vancouver real estate market. More money is on its way for the chronically underfunded Ministry of Children and Family Development, as is help for seniors and farmers. The speech portended moves on the climate-change file, as well.

Above all, the speech was a fête to the province’s envious economic standing, certainly as it relates to other areas of the country and, in particular, Alberta. Most of Canada’s leading economic prognosticators have B.C. leading the country in growth this year and next. Next week, the government will table its fourth consecutive balanced budget, something no other province in the country has done.

There isn’t an administration anywhere that wouldn’t be playing up those bona fides, run-up to an election or not. And it’s little surprise that the government would start to bang a drum that will quickly become well-worn: In an epoch of global economic fragility, it is more important than ever to be directed by a government that has a demonstrated ability to lead during tough fiscal times.

What was surprising, perhaps, is that the Liberal government, in playing up its economic record, felt the need to take a shot at the down-on-their-luck folks next door.

“Consider our neighbours in Alberta – a province of similar size and also blessed with natural resources,” the Throne Speech read. “Over the decades, Alberta lost its focus. They expected their resource boom never to end, failed to diversify their economy and lost control of government spending.”

To further protect B.C. from the global economic degradation that is occurring, it went on, it will be important for the government to resist the temptation to spend its way into trouble like others have.

I’m sure Alberta appreciates the lecture.

The government didn’t have to mention the B.C. NDP when talking about spending – it was implied. When the next election campaign rolls around, there is a strong likelihood the provincial opposition will run on a string of deficit budgets – just as Justin Trudeau successfully did in the fall. The B.C. Liberals are betting that won’t work as well for provincial New Democrats.

The government will be testing its economic theme throughout the session, which should be a rollicking one. Ms. Clark is the brand of the Liberal Party and she will be attacked in a way she wasn’t under former NDP leader Adrian Dix, who dreamed of doing politics in a more positive way.

That approach failed miserably.

New NDP Leader John Horgan is a former rugby player. He likes to play politics the way he did his sport – elbows up. The Throne Speech has set the stage for what many expect will be quite a showdown between the two leaders.

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Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

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