B.C. throne speech promises quick rollout of COVID-19 vaccine, financial help for unemployed

Click to play video 'Throne speech kicks off brief B.C. legislature session' Throne speech kicks off brief B.C. legislature session
A very different throne speech in the B.C. legislature on Monday. Global BC's Keith Baldrey has an update on the sparsely attended session and the latest on the COVID-19 relief benefit. – Dec 7, 2020

In a much shorter speech than usual, the B.C. government promised quick and safe delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine and financial assistance for those who’ve been left without work because of the pandemic on Monday, as MLAs returned to the legislature.

Rather than focus on the four-year majority mandate it received in the Oct. 24 election, the NDP government focused its speech from the throne on shorter-term goals to deal with the global crisis, though offered up no new commitments.

“The way to get through this difficult time is by following the same approach we used during the first wave: by listening to the experts, supporting health-care workers on the front lines, and taking care of each other,” Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin said as she read out the speech.

“This government pledges to be there for British Columbians for the long haul.”

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B.C. COVID-19 restrictions update coming Monday afternoon, Raj Chouhan announced as new house speaker – Dec 7, 2020

Following the federal government’s announcement on Monday that Canada will receive nearly 250,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of the year, the speech reinforced that distribution will begin with those most at risk. Provincial health officer Dr. Henry was expected to outline B.C.’s own distribution plans later this week.

The speech reads as a modified version of the BC NDP’s campaign platform and lacks specific details on many of the measures. The government was expected to introduce legislation as early as Tuesday on how pandemic financial relief will be distributed.

The $1,000 recovery benefit will be provided on a sliding scale up to an annual family income of $175,000 a year, meaning those who earn more will receive less of the benefit.

The election platform also pledged a one-time $500 direct deposit to single people earning less than $62,000 annually, with a sliding scale up to $87,000.

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“As we gather here today, we recommit to putting our shoulders to the wheel and working together to make those better days a reality, as quickly as possible, for everyone,” Austin read.

“Focusing now on beating the virus will allow British Columbia to move as quickly as possible to address our economic recovery. By investing in people, strengthening communities, and supporting jobs and growth in a clean-energy future, we can build a recovery for everyone.”

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B.C. legislature returns with NDP throne speech, new speaker chosen – Dec 7, 2020

On the issue of economic recovery, the speech broadly mentioned rewarding eligible businesses for hiring during the pandemic, helping thousands of people improve their skills or get new skills to find work and make it easier for companies to increase productivity by rebating the provincial sales tax on capital investments like machinery and equipment.

A promised, means-test rebate for renters was also part of the speech.

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The government also committed to the new Hospital at Home initiative, which allows patients to get treatment at home and helps to reduce congestion in hospitals, as well as adding more MRI machines in high-demand areas.

“The steps taken so far have saved lives. However, as we face the latest wave of COVID-19, we must do even more,” Austin reads.

“In the months ahead, your government will build on the measures already in place. Some programs will be extended or expanded, and new ones launched.”

Interim BC Liberal leader Shirley Bond has said that the Opposition will push the New Democrats to address troubles beyond the pandemic recovery fund, especially the province’s finances.

Horgan’s New Democrats won 57 of the 87 seats in the legislature, while the Liberals lost more than a dozen seats, prompting Andrew Wilkinson to resign as leader.

– with files from The Canadian Press