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Les Leyne: Throne speech has people programs to help NDP stay atop polls

Premier David (I’m a people person) Eby set out the NDP government’s itinerary to get from where they are now (top of the polls) to where they want to be come voting day this fall (exactly the same spot).
Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin delivers the speech from the throne during the 5th session of the 42nd parliament of the province in the legislative assembly at the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. CHAD HIPOLITO, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Premier David (I’m a people person) Eby set out the NDP government’s itinerary to get from where they are now (top of the polls) to where they want to be come voting day this fall (exactly the same spot).

The three other parties on the same journey have to make huge gains in a hurry. For Eby’s NDP, it’s a matter of staying on cruise control, keeping the wheels on the bus and seeing it through to decision day.

So Tuesday’s throne speech just hammered home — over 26 pages — the elementary point that the government cares about people.

Where do you put people in a plan like this? You “put people first,” that’s where.

Because you know what “our greatest natural resource” is?

One guess: “People.”

It’s impossible to avoid shopworn phrases when you have to outline your vision for the future but convention prohibits divulging much of anything new. So the general tone is much the same as last year’s “we’re all in this together … having your back in uncertain times” outline.

That theme has been in play going back to the John Horgan years. It worked then, so there’s no point in changing it now.

For all the commiseration with and empathy for people facing severe challenges in 2023 B.C., the NDP still has problems explaining why all their good intentions haven’t fully registered on issues like runaway overdose deaths, health-care falldowns and the absurd cost of housing.

So the throne speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin, as written by Eby, devoted a fair bit of time to justifying and explaining those problems.

Particularly, the housing issue. It’s gotten so bad that people earning up to $192,000 a year will be eligible for government help in the government’s latest desperate attempt last week to make a difference.

The section on housing tries to head off opposition complaints that it’s a wholesale government intervention that sidelines private business — and money.

BC United Leader Kevin Falcon said Tuesday: “It’s government to the rescue. If that makes anyone feel nervous, it ought to.”

Referring back to the incompetence and conflicts of interest that resulted in mass firings of the board of BC Housing 18 months ago, Falcon said: “God help us.”

But the NDP stance in the speech was: “Governments getting out of the way completely is how we got into this crisis in the first place. The market alone has not been able to deliver the homes working and middle-class people need.”

So Eby’s government will push ahead with the huge changes in the housing landscape that were legislated last fall. It will be on a scale of the post-Second World War boom. The speech even equates it to the “Victory Home” program where prefabs sprung up “all over the country and were offered to veterans and reasonable rents, and later for sale.”

(The Opposition BC United pitched a rent-to-own program a few weeks ago. The idea may be in further play in coming months.)

There was an obligatory recommitment to strengthen health care, with a reassurance that “it is starting to make a difference.”

Along the same lines, the government says 3,600 publicly funded treatment and recovery beds for substance abusers are open and more are on the way.

Searching for positive outcomes on other problems, two selected crime statistics (Vancouver car thefts and unprovoked stranger attacks) were used to suggest public safety concerns are being addressed. “We are seeing some real results.”)

One of the few specific promises made Tuesday has a bit of political torque. New legislation is coming to protect schools and kids from disruptive protests.

The speech referred to “a small minority … who claim that teachers and librarians are a danger to our kids.”

That legislation relates to demonstrations about sexual orientation gender identity programs, which have drawn heavy interest from the BC Conservatives.

Eby expressed intense concern during last fall’s session about the Conservatives representing a “threat to democracy.”

The speech said: “As schools increasingly become the target for protests, your government will … ensure classrooms are not disrupted and kids can feel safe.”

BC Conservative Leader John Rustad later agreed protests should not impact schools.

The NDP can’t quite claim B.C. is turning the corner on the more intractable problems. The best they can do is suggest the curve sign might be just ahead.

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