British Columbia's Lieutenant-Governor delivered the new NDP government's first Throne Speech, promising limits on political donations, help for renters and a referendum on electoral reform.
The Throne Speech, which largely tracked the party's promises from the spring election campaign, came as the legislature opened for the first time since the New Democrats took power — a transition that happened with the support of the third-place Green Party and a dramatic confidence vote that took down the former Liberal government.
Friday also saw a Liberal MLA jump into the role of Speaker, effectively guaranteeing the NDP the stability to govern for the foreseeable future, which prompted his party to accuse him of a "betrayal."
Here's what you need to know about the Throne Speech, the election of Speaker, and what happens next.
The NDP's first Speech from the Throne, delivered by Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon, included promises on campaign finance reform, protections for renters, a referendum on proportional representation, fixing the education system and launching a fair wages commission that is expected to significantly increase the minimum wage.
Overall, the Speech promised a significant shift in the government's priorities by contrasting the NDP's vision for the province with the record of the BC Liberals, who are now in Opposition after 16 years in power.
"The problems facing people today are the result of past choices," Mr. Guichon told the legislature as she read the Throne Speech.
"Starting today, your government will make different choices – choices that put people first. And we will share B.C.'s prosperity with all of the people who built this province."
The Speech said the government will introduce legislation on campaign finance reform this fall that will ban union and corporate donations, limit individual contributions, and prohibit donations from anyone outside B.C.
The New Democrats had previously promised that such a bill would be their first piece of legislation, but Attorney General David Eby has since hinted at a much slower timeline, saying the party wants to take its time to get the law right. In the meantime, the party is taking advantage of the existing rules, including with a pricey cash-for-access fundraiser featuring Premier John Horgan on Sept. 22.
The Throne Speech also said the government will hold a referendum next fall on on proportional representation, which was a key measure that secured the support of the Green party in the minority legislature. B.C. has previously held two referendums on a system of proportional representation, but both failed. The government also plan to shift the province's fixed election dates to the fall, instead of the current May election schedule.
A fair wages commission will examine the province's minimum wage as part of a plan to eventually increase it to $15 per hour. The government announced the commission last month.
For renters, the Speech said the government will eliminate a form of lease that some landlords have been using to skirt rent controls. Fixed-term leases in which tenants agree to move out at the end of their lease, even if they intend on staying, allow landlords to increase rents far above the yearly maximum of between three and four per cent. The party's campaign platform also included a $400 per year subsidy for renters to help offset increasing rates, particularly in the Vancouver's tight rental market. The subsidy isn't mentioned in the Throne Speech.
The Speech also promises "proper funding" for the education system, an annual bus pass for disabilities, and measures to address problems within the Insurance Corp. of B.C., the Crown-owned auto insurance provider; and BC Hydro, the government-owned electricity company.
The Throne Speech also sets the stage for a provincial budget, which will be tabled on Monday. However, next week's budget is being billed as an update to a fiscal plan tabled, but never passed, by the Liberals in February of this year. The NDP's first full budget will be presented in February.
This role has taken on particular importance in the minority legislature, where the standings mean the Speaker could be routinely called upon to break ties, especially if a New Democrat took the job.
But that math problem quickly faded away on Friday as a Liberal, Darryl Plecas, was acclaimed as Speaker — a development that appeared to break with parliamentary tradition and was condemned as a "betrayal" by his party.
That leaves the NDP-Green alliance with what effectively amounts to a majority in the 87-seat legislature; with Mr. Plecas in the Speaker's chair and former premier Christy Clark having resigned her seat over the summer, the Liberals' voting power has been reduced to 41 seats, compared with a combined 44 for the New Democrats and Greens.
The Liberals, who had previously said no one in caucus would seek the job, were furious. No one from the Opposition benches applauded as Mr. Plecas was ceremonially dragged into the Speaker's chair, and the party issued a news release that incorrectly said he had been kicked out of the Liberal caucus; the release was quickly corrected.
Interim Liberal Leader Rich Coleman said Mr. Plecas had assured the party he wasn't interested in the job.
"It's a betrayal," Mr. Coleman told reporters. "I don't have to respect him."
In an earlier statement, Mr. Coleman said Mr. Plecas had told him "on several occasions" that he would not seek the job of Speaker.
"We took him at his word and believed that he would stand by his commitment," said the statement. "We are disappointed in his decision."
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