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Deputy cabinet secretary Neil Reimer joins Premier David Eby before the speech from the throne in the legislative assembly at the legislature in Victoria, on Feb. 20.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

The B.C. government is promising financial relief for individuals and small business in the budget it will table on Thursday, despite near-stagnant economic growth that will trim government revenues in the year ahead.

With the next provincial election no more than nine months away, the Throne Speech read by Lieutenant-Governor Janet Austin on Tuesday emphasized the need for new measures to help with a rising cost of living.

The Throne Speech provided no details of relief measures, although it hinted at more cost-of-living credits such as the $100 discount on BC Hydro bills, various tax credits and rate freezes it has rolled out in the past two years

“Too many are still struggling to get ahead,” the speech read. “They are facing some big new challenges today. High interest rates are causing considerable anxiety for anyone whose mortgage is coming up for renewal. Inflation has made the cost of groceries and daily essentials increasingly expensive.”

Those pressures are being felt by the provincial treasury as well.

One year ago, the B.C. government was on a spending spree to burn up a $5.7-billion surplus before the end of the fiscal year. Now the province is facing an economic slowdown and a deficit that was pegged at almost $5.6-billion in the last fiscal update.

Private-sector forecasters expect B.C. will see economic growth slow in 2024 to just 0.5 per cent, because of high interest rates and a softening global economy.

But the New Democratic Party government maintains that the provincial economy is still sound. “By putting people first, we have built a strong foundation through tough times,” Ms. Austin read. “Today, our unemployment rate is one of the lowest in Canada. In 2023, we added 74,000 new jobs – some of the strongest job growth in the country. We were the first among provinces in year-over-year growth in average hourly wages last year.”

The fiscal plan that Finance Minister Katrine Conroy is set to unveil later in the week will reject restraint. “Because leaving people to fend for themselves does not work. It did not work before. And it will not work now. It would mean deep cuts that weaken the services we rely on. It would drive up costs with added fees and fares, like the return of health-care premiums or tolls on roads and bridges,” Ms. Austin read.

The government expects to table at least 20 pieces of legislation in the spring sitting of the Legislature that began on Tuesday. That will include an effort to hold social media companies accountable for cases of online extortion that have led to at least two youth suicides in the past year.

The government has already announced a new BC Builds program that aims to build affordable rental buildings on underused properties, including land owned by municipalities. The budget is expected set out the province’s $2-billion share of the costs.

There will also be legislation to protect renters from bad-faith evictions, anti-racism legislation, and measures to help more first-time homebuyers get into the housing market. The government will also table a bill to protect schools and kids from disruptive protests, after several demonstrations last fall against teaching gender diversity in B.C. schools.

The Throne Speech also promised new investments to strengthen home and community, long-term care services for seniors, as well as improvements in cancer care.

The main themes line up with top issues that are expected to dominate the next election. On public safety, where the opposition B.C. United party has cast the NDP government as soft on crime, the Throne Speech offered a counter-narrative, pointing to crime statistics that show a decrease in auto theft and unprovoked stranger assaults in Vancouver.

B.C. United Leader Kevin Falcon said the Throne Speech was notable for its omissions, including the province’s “reckless” decriminalization policy for illicit drugs, which he said has led to chaos and social disorder in communities across B.C.

“It has been a disaster that has resulted in open drug use in every part of British Columbia, but certainly in our parks, playgrounds and beaches,” he told reporters. “Only in the NDP world is it actually getting better. In the real world, which all of us inhabit, it’s actually getting worse.”

Premier David Eby must call an election by Oct. 19.

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