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February 13, 2007

Throne Speech 2007

"Beehive burners will be eliminated."
Speech from the Throne, 2007

If you had a nickel for every time a BC government has promised to eliminate Beehive burners, you'd have a good start towards retirement, but why ruin a good promise by keeping it? Let's hope they do it this time, and that their promises have more staying power than the often said but never honoured promise to eliminate Beehive burners.

In the Throne Speech, written by staff in the Premier's Office, the Campbell government promised that a Climate Action Team will recommend Interim targets for 2012 and 2016 that will determine the most credible, aggressive and economically viable targets and that a new Citizen's Conservation Council will be established and funded. The establishment of those advisory bodies are the only measurable results promised in the Throne Speech to deal with global warming before May 2009, the date of the next election. That's a major under-achievement considering that the 6,994 word Speech devoted 2,700 words to the environment; that is over half the speech, when the obligatory mention of deaths since the last speech is skipped.

The Campbell government, which is forcing the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge on the Lower Mainland as part of its controversial Gateway Project, had the gall to say: "Electronic tolls will help restrain traffic growth and transit funding will work in concert with decisions to increase densities, reduce sprawl, and reduce costs." Isn't there an apparent contradiction between encouraging urban sprawl and traffic growth with the Gateway Project while purporting to use electronic tolls to control those same problems?

The Speech proclaimed that: "Effective immediately, British Columbia will become the first jurisdiction in North America, if not the world, to require 100 per cent carbon sequestration for any coal-fired project." That would appear to mark the end of the two coal-fired power projects previously given the go-ahead by the Campbell government. It's too bad the government can't be equally remorseful about its mistakes around the Gateway Project.

The Speech from the Throne was shockingly silent on the matter of poverty. With the exception of a small increase for the disabled, welfare rates have been frozen for over a decade. The Premier appointed a three person commission to review MLA salaries and pensions because: "MLA compensation has not received any significant increases since the recommendations of the 1997 Citizen's Panel Report on MLA Compensation were adopted." In fact, they have benefited from annual indexing while welfare rates have been cut or frozen.

In the Speech the Campbell government acknowledged the horror of homelessness when it said: "Homelessness is a plague that weakens our cities, siphons our strength, and erodes our social fabric. It weakens us all. It is unacceptable." It then went on to put responsibility on the municipalities with its "solution" to require municipal governments with populations greater than 25,000 to identify and zone appropriate sites for supportive housing and treatment facilities for persons with mental illnesses and addictions in official community plans by 2008. That may be part of a long term solution in the kind of time frames used to discuss global warming, but the private market also has a role to play, a role it cannot play as long as people are either denied income assistance or paid rates that remain hopelessly out of step with market rents for even the worst accommodation.

The Throne Speech wouldn't have been complete without a shot at the sustainability of health spending. It said: "Insatiable demands for more funding in health care have gone past the tipping point. Left unchecked, those demands will see our public health care system reach the breaking point, not in decades, but in a matter of years." Perhaps the Campbell government could check with the Canadian Institute for Health Information and explain why data on its website show that per capita public health spending in BC has increased by 4.0% or less for 10 of the last 14 years. As Dr. Penny Ballem, the former Deputy Minister of Health, said: "The evidence doesn't support the Premier's position."


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2007 David D. Schreck. All Rights Reserved.