Child care and housing top of mind in B.C. government's throne speech

Neither areas were part of the rollout of announcements the government made last week, heightening the belief they will be a centrepiece of the throne speech and subsequent budget.

Specific details unlikely to come until first full budget next week

The exterior of the B.C. legislature building is cleaned up in anticipation of the ceremony preceding the speech from the throne on Feb. 13. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

All throne speeches carry an air of anticipation.

But the one to be delivered by Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon at approximately 2 p.m. PT Tuesday, opening up another session of the B.C. Legislature, has a greater importance than usual. 

It comes just a week before the NDP deliver their first budget as government, an important milestone in any regime. With a minority government, there's no guarantee the party will be able to have another full legislative session to pursue its agenda. 

"As budgets go, this is the big one for the NDP. This is the one where all the expectations are on laying out a plan," said Bill Tieleman, the longtime NDP-linked lobbyist and strategist who was communication director for premier Glen Clark the last time the NDP formed government.

"They will really want to make sure they have a plan and program that is impressive."

'High expectations' on child care

The two areas where most attention will be focused on in the throne speech are child care and housing. 

Both were at the centrepiece of the NDP's election campaign centred on affordability. But neither were part of the rollout of announcements the government made last week, heightening the belief they will be a centrepiece of the throne speech and subsequent budget. 

"This is the throne speech and this is the budget where we have to see the investment," said Sharon Gregson, spokesperson for the $10aDay child-care campaign.

The government currently spends around $224 million annually on the child-care sector, accounting for roughly 111,000 licensed child-care spaces — enough for a quarter of children aged five and under in the province, according to the Childcare Resource and Research Unit.

The NDP has committed to a $10 daily child-care program to be phased in over a decade, and Gregson is optimistic the government will make significant steps toward that goal over the next week.

"We're expecting to see addressing the number of spaces families can access that are licensed, quality spaces; we're expecting to see a commitment to affordability; and we're expecting to see a commitment to invest in the early childhood educator workforce," she said.

"It's a complex situation, but other provinces are demonstrating how child-care systems can be built, and it's time for B.C. to do the same." 

Big details to come next week

But Tieleman cautions that Guichon's speech will, like many throne speeches before it, be heavier on oratorical flourishes than funding specifics. 

"You campaign in poetry and govern in prose. The throne speech is the poetry, and the budget is the prose," he said. 

"And you really get a lot more detail, a lot more meat on the bones, in the budget. The throne speech is simply a kind of an outline, invariably lacking in detail," he said. 

"When the budget comes down, then you really have the costing, the estimates, economic projections. All the things a government needs to do are in the budget and not the throne speech."

For all the pomp and pageantry of the throne speech — which includes a 15-gun salute — the biggest fireworks will likely come in the days and weeks following, as the government gets its largest window to enact an ambitious legislative agenda. 

"Without exaggerating, families and early childhood educators across the province have got very high expectations," said Gregson.

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is a reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering political stories throughout British Columbia.

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