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The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, not seen, swears in Premier John Horgan during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria on Nov. 26, 2020. British Columbia politicians are returning to the legislature today for a brief session where the New Democrat government intends to pass supply legislation to create a pandemic recovery fund.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

The B.C. government is promising to immediately fight the spread of COVID-19 while also striving to meet its long-term goals on the province’s economic recovery, climate change and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

In a Throne Speech read in the legislature Monday by Lieutenant-Governor Janet Austin, the government says it will focus on the economic recovery as quickly as possible.

The speech says the government will strive to ensure that people work together on COVID-19 and mount a strong economic recovery as the number of deaths from the disease reached 527 people on Monday.

“As we gather here today, we recommit to putting our shoulders to the wheel and working together to make those better days a reality, as quickly as possible for everyone,” Ms. Austin said, reading from the speech. “Focusing now on beating the virus will allow all British Columbians to move as quickly as possible to address our economic recovery.”

A short session of the legislature is being held before Christmas to allow the NDP to make good on an election promise to provide $1,000 to eligible families and $500 to individuals to help cope with the pandemic. In a news release, the government said the benefit will not come until the end of the year.

Premier John Horgan has said the pandemic recovery payments will stimulate spending and help the economy.

The Throne Speech says the government will also provide short-term benefits to help businesses. It plans to reward eligible businesses for hiring workers by providing incentives to help people retrain for jobs that are in demand after the pandemic.

“Protecting incomes and businesses will help us realize a strong economic recovery,” the speech says.

The government will implement health measures to provide care that is faster, closer to home and more personalized to make it simpler and less stressful for people to navigate the system, says the speech.

“The steps taken so far have saved lives,” the speech says. “However, as we face the latest wave of COVID-19, we must do even more.”

The government’s climate action goals include building a greener transportation system, the speech says.

Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said many of the details in the Throne Speech outlined actions the government launched before October’s election.

She said the Throne Speech provides “very few details about what British Columbians can expect as an economic recovery plan from this government.”

Earlier, Raj Chouhan became the first person of South Asian heritage to serve as Speaker of the B.C. Legislature. The Speaker’s office says the former farm workers union leader is the first person of South Asian heritage to serve as a Speaker in Canada.

Mr. Horgan said Mr. Chouhan’s election is historic as the five-term New Democrat holds the distinction of being the first Punjabi-speaking Sikh outside of the Indian subcontinent to hold the position of Speaker at any legislature.

“I lift my hands to you, my friend, honourable Speaker,” Mr. Horgan told the house.

Mr. Chouhan said he was humbled to have the support and trust of legislature members.

“To get here has been a long journey,” said Mr. Chouhan, who immigrated to Canada from India in 1973. “There was a time when people of colour were not allowed to enter this building, let alone this chamber.”

Interim Liberal Leader Shirley Bond said Mr. Chouhan’s election is a step forward.

“It is an honour to be part of this historic moment,” she said. “This chamber needs to reflect the faces of all British Columbians.”

Ms. Bond said the Opposition will push the New Democrats to address problems beyond the pandemic, especially on the province’s finances.

Mr. Horgan’s New Democrats won 57 of the 87 seats in the legislature in October’s provincial election. The B.C. Liberals lost more than a dozen seats, prompting Andrew Wilkinson to resign as leader.

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