Once upon a time, Throne Speeches written by Liberal governments in B.C. were notable for their grandiose aspirations. There was little that was subtle about the plans envisioned by Premier Christy Clark's predecessor, Gordon Campbell – his goal was to be the best in the world at just about everything.
Education. Environmental management. Healthy living. Facilities for the disabled. Whatever struck his fancy. Often it depended on the last book he read. Invariably, the targets were set and forgotten.
The days of fanciful overreach appear to be over, at least if the Throne Speech introduced by Premier Clark Tuesday is any indication. Despite including some soaring rhetoric from former U.S. president John Kennedy – a politician known to dream big himself – the Throne Speech was anything but a document that dared people to imagine a future they could get excited about, that gave them tangible markers around which to rally.
And maybe to that extent this Throne Speech by Ms. Clark, the first since her stunning, come-from-behind victory in May's provincial election, was more honest and an apt reflection of our times. We do not live in the same era of precipitous economic growth that fuelled the moon-shot dreams of Mr. Kennedy – a fact noted in the speech. B.C.'s economy is growing at a fairly modest rate, one that is expected to continue to for some time – or at least until liquefied natural gas development powers old-school expansion.
"We have to have the courage to confront the reality of our own times," the speech said. "For almost 40 years, Western economies have been growing by perhaps 2 or 3 per cent per year or less. Western governments face a stark choice: to manage decline and spend themselves into bankruptcy, or find ways to grow the economy."
Ms. Clark's huge bet on LNG remains the one constant in her administration. It forms the centrepiece of her economic agenda and was the star of the Premier's Throne Speech, which was read by Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon.
"By 2030, LNG demand is projected to increase two-and-a-half times," said Ms. Guichon, reading from a document prepared by the government. "LNG is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create 100,000 new jobs throughout B.C. and a Prosperity Fund to eliminate the provincial debt."
Of course, there was nothing said about what might happen if this industry doesn't flourish in the manner the government is hoping. That is a matter for a Throne Speech far down the road to address. Instead, Ms. Clark wanted citizens to know she remains focused on the elements that were primarily responsible for her big election win: small government, balanced budgets, overall fiscal prudence and respect for the public's tax dollars.
"British Columbians have to prioritize, make choices and balance their own budgets," said the Throne Speech. "They expect no less from their government."
There were mentions of a skills training program and a 10-year transportation infrastructure plan but, as is the nature of these session openers, there were few details. Those will become available as legislation to support these initiatives is introduced in the coming weeks and months.
Prior to the last election, B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix was fond of saying that after 12 years in power, the Liberal government had run out of ideas. And so it was no surprise that when reporters were summoned to Mr. Dix's office to get his comments on the Throne Speech he suggested that the document only confirmed what he'd been saying all along.
"This speech was particularly lacking in vision and substance," said the outgoing leader. "This is pessimism to the core."
The speech, he said, failed to acknowledge the province's troubling high child poverty rate or the continual war on the middle class. Nor did it address in any way declining employment in the forestry industry or recent reports that outlined critical and profound failures in the province's child protection system.
"This is a government trying to get by, by ignoring these issues," said Mr. Dix. "This is a government bankrupt of ideas, a government that has given up on the future of B.C."
It could certainly be said that the Throne Speech reflected a government that appears to be setting a cautious path in the early stages of a fresh mandate, one uneasy about making any far-reaching promises as long as the economy remains in a modest-growth phase. Should B.C. begin to realize the riches being promised by LNG development, then you're likely begin seeing Throne Speeches of a completely different nature.
But that time hasn't arrived. And there are no guarantees it ever will.
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