B.C. Throne Speech 2019: Government promises cellphone billing transparency, further ICBC action

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Hon. Janet Austin starts her first throne speech outlining what the government has been doing for the people of B.C – Feb 12, 2019

The B.C. government has crafted a throne speech built on greater affordability and transparency for British Columbians.

The speech read by Lt.-Gov Janet Austin outlined the provincial government’s goals for the next year.

“Too many British Columbians feel that no matter how hard they work, they can’t get ahead,” Austin read. “The problems facing British Columbians today are hurting people and leaving communities behind. Government is making choices to change this.”

WATCH: Highlights of NDP government throne speech

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Highlights of NDP government throne speech – Feb 13, 2019

The province is committing to “take action to improve billing transparency” for cellphone users. That process will start with a legislative review and consultation.

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“High cellphones costs are a major burden for middle-class families. Canadians pay some of the highest fees for phones and data in the world,” Austin read. “Consumers deserve to know the true costs of the services they buy.

“Your government will give consumers the tools they need to get the least expensive possible service and encourage the federal government to deliver more affordable cellphone options for people.”

READ MORE: Public calls for price cap on resold tickets, cracking down on bots

For consumers, the province will introduce new rules that will ban ticket bots. Bots are often blamed for buying up tickets to sporting events and concerts only to have those tickets show up on reselling websites for much higher prices than originally sold.

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The government has promised to eliminate Medical Service Plan premiums by January 1, 2020. The province says the change could save families up to $1,800 per year. The Employers Health Tax is now in effect requiring businesses to pay as much as 1.95 per cent on top of payroll to cover the costs of phasing out MSP.

The province is promising new legislation that will cap fees for cashing government cheques and providing oversight for instalment loans as part of the larger issue of payday loans.

READ MORE: B.C. Employers Health Tax set to hit businesses starting on Jan. 1

BC Ferries rates will be frozen again for this fiscal year as well as a plan to continue discounts on minor and northern routes. The province is also nearing completion of the phase one review of BC Hydro.

“Affordability remains the biggest challenge facing B.C. families. Many people are working two or three jobs, commuting farther from work and spending less time with their families, just to make ends meet,” Austin read.

“But no matter how hard they work, they cannot seem to get ahead. Rather than letting costs rise uncontrolled, government is doing everything it can to make life more affordable for families.”

ICBC still lingers as a massive problem for the government. The province is projecting a $1.18-billion loss at the public insurer this fiscal year.

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The throne speech mentions the province is looking towards other jurisdictions for changes.

“Government believes these reforms will achieve the outcomes British Columbians deserve,” Austin read. “However, it must be prepared to take further actions to keep rates low.”

The provincial government will unveil its budget next Tuesday, February 19. The budget is expected to detail the incentives being put in place for heat pumps, home renovations and zero-emission vehicles outlined in the province’s CleanBC plan.

WATCH (aired Dec. 5, 2018): NDP government releases major climate plan

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NDP government releases major climate plan – Dec 5, 2018

“CleanBC will improve where we live and work, through building retrofits and new net-zero energy standards for new buildings,” Austin read. “Most importantly, it will create jobs and opportunity for people, businesses and communities.”

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Premier John Horgan’s government is planning on honouring a promise to become the first province in Canada to introduce legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The legislation is expected to form the foundation for the government’s work on reconciliation.

There are First Nations concerns about the province’s commitment to Liquefied Natural Gas development. The government is promising to bring in measures this spring to “bring this historic project to fruition.”

READ MORE: Canada endorses United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

On money laundering, the throne speech mentions the pair of reports that are currently being worked on and will be handed over to government by the end of March. But the province is not ready to go as far as a public inquiry.

“Your government will identify the structural causes of money laundering to hold accountable those who are responsible,” Austin read. “And your government will keep working with its federal partners to fight money laundering in all its forms.”

Other highlights:

Museum investments: The province will be modernizing the Royal BC Museum in Victoria to “protect its historic holdings” and provide better access to the museum’s vast collection. The government is also establishing a new Chinese Canadian Museum in Vancouver.

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Legislature accountability: The throne speech mentions the ongoing scandal at the B.C. legislature. The province has committed to implementing reforms to “restore trust” in the legislature.

High-speed train: The province continues to work with Washington state on determining the feasibility of a ultra-high-speed train from Oregon to British Columbia.

Class A parks: The provincial government will turn purchased land on Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, the Okanagan and the Kootenays into Class A parks.

Housing development process: The government is committing to speeding up the development process for rental housing and creating more efficient project approvals.

Rental Housing Task Force: The province is committing to implementing all of the recommendations made in the Rental Housing Task Force.

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