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February 9, 2010

Throne Speech Announcements

Lieutenant-Governor Stephen L. Point livened up his delivery of today's Throne Speech with several extemporaneous remarks he added to the script crafted in the Premier's Office. From explaining that "Byzantine bureaucratic practices" means too complicated, to commenting on good BC water, the Lieutenant-Governor delivered the Speech in an appropriate tone.

The Speech announced that: "Mining, oil and gas development and coalbed gas extraction will not be permitted in British Columbia's Flathead Valley." That may disappoint Minister of Community and Rural Development Bill Bennett, who has long defended resource extraction in the Flathead Valley, but it will delight environmentalists.

The Flathead announcement is not the only policy retreat signaled in the Throne Speech. It also said that: "New accountability and transparency will be brought to BC Ferries as it continues improving services with new ferries, terminals and amenities. BC Rail will be brought into government and wound down as a Crown corporation." The Campbell government took heat from all sides for continuing BC Rail with highly paid executives even though it had little by way of responsibility after the sale to CN. Since BC Ferries was created, the Opposition has called for it to be subject to freedom of information, although that legislation has become so weak that one could argue that change alone would not contribute much towards greater accountability and transparency.

Another government flip-flop was announced when the Speech said: "Legislation will be introduced enabling our universities to remove themselves from the government reporting entity." That would appear to be legislation that would allow government and some universities to defy generally acceptable accounting principles which require the government reporting entity to include boards of education, health authorities, colleges and universities. It was only 2004 when the Campbell government boasted about meeting those accounting requirements.

The "Five Great Goals", which received no mention in the August 25th, 2009 speech, got minor attention with a line about how the new budget will set a new agenda that will advance the Five Great Goals. Fortunately that is a testable hypothesis since measurements on student literacy, school readiness and new jobs per capita show that the government is struggling to meet the targets it set for itself.

The Speech announced "Government will take a fresh look at B.C.'s regulatory regimes, including the BC Utilities Commission, the BC Ferry Commission, the TransLink Commission and others," which suggests that Kevin Falcon failed with his initial review of regulations.

The substantial contribution to greenhouse gas emissions by the development of shale gas was ignored when the Speech said: "Clean energy is a cornerstone of our Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one third by 2020."

The Speech promised: "A new Family with Children Property Tax Deferral Option will be provided to all B.C. families with children under the age of 18. Those families will be given the right to defer their property taxes under a new property tax deferral program similar to the one already available to seniors and those facing financial hardship." Before anyone gets too excited, keep in mind that property tax deferral amounts to borrowing money from the government against the equity of your home. The interest rate charged by the government is set every six months by the Minister of Finance. It is a lot lower than what a bank would charge on credit card debt but it is higher than what you could earn on a term deposit.