The BC Liberals, which campaigned on a record of tight fiscal management, say a better-than-expected surplus this year will allow their government to pay for a raft of new programs, from child-care subsidies to transportation projects, that the party rejected before the May 9 vote.
The promises, many of them closely resembling large chunks of the election platforms of the NDP and Green parties, will likely never be fulfilled by Premier Christy Clark's government. The NDP and Green parties vowed they will not give the Liberals a chance to produce a budget for the wide-ranging agenda, saying they will seek to defeat the sitting government on a vote of confidence as early as next week.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong, who cautioned just months ago that B.C.'s finances are at risk to economic circumstances that are "fragile and unpredictable," said Thursday both last year's surplus and this year's economic growth forecasts are better than anticipated.
"What people are seeing is this old-fashioned concept of not spending money before we know we have it," Mr. de Jong said in an interview. He said he won't provide new budget figures until July but said: "We have learned that 2016/17 was a much better year, and the forecast for 2017/18 has improved dramatically."
Ms. Clark said British Columbians will have to wait for cost estimates for the new commitments, but said: "We can afford it."
NDP Leader John Horgan called it an NDP Throne Speech and Green Leader Andrew Weaver called it a Green Throne Speech. But both leaders say they will vote against it to end the Liberal government's time in office.
"It is our intention at the earliest opportunity to seek a confidence vote, dismiss the government and move on, to put in place a government that will work for people," Mr. Horgan told reporters.
If the Liberal government is defeated – outnumbered as it is by the combined votes of the NDP and the Greens – Mr. Horgan is hoping to form an NDP government that promises to enact many of the policies outlined on Thursday.
That includes a $100-per-month rate hike for people on income assistance, an end to the tolls on two bridges in Metro Vancouver, and more investments in affordable housing. The Liberals have also promised to mirror their opponents' commitments to campaign-finance changes and a referendum on the electoral system, further closing the gap between the policies of British Columbia's main political parties.
The list of differences is shorter: The Liberals remain committed to building the Site C dam and to support construction of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. They do not support measures to raise the minimum wage, nor have they committed to ending the trophy hunting of grizzly bears.
If the Liberal government falls and Mr. Horgan is invited to form government, he will find his path forward easier with the apparently ample surplus he would inherit. But if a snap election is called instead, Ms. Clark has already laid out a campaign document that seeks to outflank the NDP by going even further on promises to improve social services, affordable housing and public transit.
In the Throne Speech, the Liberals promised broader daycare subsidies than the NDP had proposed in the election, as well as a plan to build new housing units with the option for renters to eventually purchase. The Liberal plan advances climate action, promises more farmland in production and proposes to examine a long string of new public-transit projects.
"This is an ambitious plan, but it is a plan that we can pay for without higher taxes, without running deficits and without sending thousands of pink slips to British Columbians," Ms. Clark told reporters. She said her support for resource development projects and balanced budgets still sets her apart from the NDP and the Greens.
Mr. Weaver welcomed the Throne Speech – and confirmed his caucus members will vote against it.
"This is a remarkable opportunity – we now have three parties agreeing on the importance of child care, we have three parties agreeing we need to increase social assistance," he said. However, he said the Liberals have no credibility to promote ideas they eschewed in the recent election campaign.
"Do you trust a government that in its death throes, suddenly changes its mind? That lacks principle and conviction, to suddenly switch," he said, "and that doesn't give me confidence."
The Liberals hold 43 seats, the NDP have 41 and the Greens have three. All three party leaders have stated they have no desire for an early election, but Ms. Clark said a government based on the Green-NDP alliance would be inherently unstable and could force an early election.