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Rob Shaw: Eby hit snooze on his momentum with uneventful throne speech

Premier David Eby says he has no shortage of ideas on how to tackle the biggest crises of our time – from the strain on the health-care system, to rising crime on B.C.
Lieutenant-governor Janet Austin delivered a speech from the throne Feb. 6, laying out actions the provincial government

Premier David Eby says he has no shortage of ideas on how to tackle the biggest crises of our time – from the strain on the health-care system, to rising crime on B.C.’s streets, to the enormous cost-of-living pressures facing British Columbians.

It’s a shame he didn’t write many of them down for his first throne speech.

Voters looking to gauge the rookie premier’s thoughts on his government’s first legislative session would be hard-pressed to make sense of the remarkably dour and vague scattershot of themes that passed for his first throne speech Monday. 

At 26 pages, and more than 5,000 words, it said very little of substance on what his new government intends to do over the next few months. 

It’s all a bit perplexing, because this is a premier who has been making announcements at the speed of light during his first 100 days, and very clearly has another avalanche of announcements on the near horizon. 

Eby is sitting on almost $10 billion in surplus and unallocated cash, with a deadline to spend it by March 31. A veritable spend-a-palooza is upon the province. 

And yet, this throne speech was, for lack of a better term, snooze inducing. It was like reading an instruction manual for a toaster. At one point, during the section in which the NDP for the sixth consecutive year patted itself on the back for cancelling bridge tolls and MSP premiums, the document veered precariously-close to becoming a sleep-aid tool for those suffering insomnia.

“It feels like déjà vu,” remarked BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau. You couldn’t craft a bigger insult to Eby, the rookie premier who is trying desperately to differentiate himself from the John Horgan administration through bold policies and solutions to the biggest problems of our times.

There are a few things at play here.

Firstly, Eby wasn’t at the legislature to deliver the speech. 

Instead, he was in Ottawa, strategizing with premiers to squeeze a new health-care deal out of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His administration appeared loath to actually announce any good news without Eby’s face around to take credit for it. For a new premier still struggling to connect with the public, there’s merit in that judgement call.

Secondly, Eby, like the past two premiers before him, appears to place little value on the throne speech. It’s a boring formality, delivered in the boring old legislature, and he doesn’t even get to read it himself – the lieutenant-governor delivers it to the house. 

Former premiers Horgan and Christy Clark decided the throne speech wasn’t worth much effort. Better instead to save the good stuff for events where you get to cut ribbons, kiss babies and hand over novelty-sized cheques while people take pictures. Eby, it appears, also subscribes to this theory.

Without actual details, or much new at all, the new premier’s first throne speech was notable mostly for its dark and ominous undertones.

A reference to “economic storms” is the clearest acknowledgement yet of how bad the situation could get for British Columbians this year – squeezed between high interest rates, high inflation, high rent, high grocery prices and high cost of living generally.

“By far the biggest source of anxiety for people right now is the rising cost of living,” read the speech.

Later, it warned about threats to the climate, democracy, and “global forces.”

“When threats are at the door, government must be in your corner, standing with you and your family while helping to build a stronger future.”

The speech also offered “record” investments coming for healthcare, housing and local governments. The problem is, we’ve been hearing that for years. The focus on abstract budget lifts for ministry line items makes for adequate press releases, but is increasingly leaving the NDP government wide open to counter attacks by critics who point out it doesn’t necessarily lead to real-world results.

“They’ve been in power for two terms now,” said Opposition BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon. “We’ve seen the results of all their promises.”

The throne speech promised a “refreshed housing strategy” and an unspecified middle-income housing strategy – neither of which Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon explained in much detail in a post-speech scrum. 

Falcon pointed to an RBC report that shows B.C. has the most unaffordable housing in Canadian history, and the NDP’s existing housing strategy, which promised 114,000 new units within 10 years and has barely hit one-third of that six years later.

“That's a real failed policy result,” said Falcon.

“So the fact that this government is now saying the solution to more affordable middle class housing is somehow going to be government – give me a break… they don't know what they're doing.”

It’s not an entirely fair criticism. Eby knows what he’s doing, for better or for worse. So does his government. That’s why Monday’s throne speech was so boring – it was done so by design.

Still, it feels like a missed opportunity for a premier with momentum built up behind him, announcements in the hopper and billions ready to be spent. His government could have done so much better. It simply chose not to.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 14 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

[email protected]

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