[The following is a work of fiction.]
Note to readers: A couple months ago, readers of this column will recall that, courtesy of an Ottawa-area dry cleaner, I came into possession of an early draft of the Trudeau government’s last throne speech, although sadly, the final version proved considerably less compelling. Now, in an extraordinary coincidence, a Victoria-area dry cleaner has come forward with select pages of another draft throne speech, this time in advance of the Feb. 8 speech to be delivered by the government of John Horgan. And so, once again, I share these pages with you …
Honourable members of the B.C. Legislature and fellow British Columbians:
We are gathered in the people’s house, on the territories of the Lekwungen-speaking peoples, the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations.
It is the tradition of B.C. throne speeches to begin with an in memoriam section to mark the passing of distinguished British Columbians lost in the previous year. This past year, however, our losses have been too great to know where to begin.
Over 2,460 British Columbians have now died from COVID-19. And just when it appeared the pandemic might be behind us, we have been asked to once again keep our social circles tight to protect our loved ones, the vulnerable and our health-care system.
Over 2,000 of our fellow British Columbians — our children, parents, aunts and uncles — died as a result of the poisoned drug supply last year alone.
In June, almost 600 British Columbians, mostly isolated seniors, perished from extreme heat during an unprecedented heat dome event — the most deadly weather event in Canadian history.
This summer’s wildfires killed two more, destroyed the historic town of Lytton, and burned nearly 8,700 square kilometres of forests.
And then in November, B.C. was hit by historic floods and mudslides caused by an atmospheric river event that killed another five people, drowned approximately 640,000 farm animals, catastrophically impacted the lives of tens of thousands of British Columbians and caused billions of dollars in damage to homes, businesses and public infrastructure.
Opinion: Columnist @SethDKlein believes he has had a sneak peek at the B.C. government's Feb. 8 throne speech. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. #Horgan #BCpoli
It has been a year of death and devastation unlike any we have ever experienced; we have shared a year together few of us will ever forget. I know many are wrestling with feelings of despair and exhaustion.
We live at a time of multiple interlocking crises — the climate emergency, the pandemic, the housing crisis, a poisonous drug supply crisis, and growing inequality — and your government is obliged to govern accordingly.
Our politics must not be about the art of the narrowly possible, but rather, about making possible what yesterday seemed unimaginable.
There is only one way to meet such interlocking crises: Head on. Together. With ambition and defiance, creativity and solidarity. As the pandemic has taught us, emergencies must be approached with a new mindset, with a new spirit of collaboration and purpose, and with audacious programs that bolster our collective desire to better look after each other and our shared environment. Emergencies invite us to embrace solutions that yesterday seemed politically and economically off-limits.
That spirit of solidarity was beautifully on display when British Columbians responded to the floods last November. We must continue to draw upon that spirit as we confront the crises before us. Today’s crises don’t merely demand that we remake our homes, infrastructure, social programs and economy. They are also an opening — a chance to rebuild trust, equality, and community. In the next few years, we have an opportunity to emerge a better, more just and more democratic society, and to remind ourselves of what we can accomplish together.
Your premier faced his own health emergency this past year, a crisis that is experienced and shared by thousands of British Columbian families every year, and which serves to remind us all of the preciousness of our public health-care system. When a leader — indeed anyone — confronts an illness such as cancer, it also leads them to ponder their core legacies.
Your government has had many important accomplishments over the past four and a half years about which we can all feel proud: we have restored fairness to our tax system (although more remains to be done); we have made huge investments in low-income housing and acted to curb speculation in the housing market; we have increased the minimum wage; we have repaired ICBC; and we have created the first new major social program of a generation — public child care.
And yet, with respect to the crises mentioned above, much work remains to fundamentally bend the curve — we are not yet on a path to a safe, secure and affordable future for our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
That bright future is the legacy we now seek to ensure.
Of all the crises we face, the existential crisis of climate change is the one upon which, 30 years from now, our children and grandchildren will judge us. They will look back on our actions in the first half of this critical decade and ask whether we did all we could to secure their future.
As we grapple with this foundational threat, we would be wise to put front and centre the teachings of those who have the longest track record of success. Indigenous communities developed laws to ensure their descendants would thrive for hundreds of generations on the lands we now call home. This government must do the same.
Honouring our commitment to Indigenous rights and title
A little over two years ago, your government unanimously passed the Declaration Act, committing us to enshrine and honour the articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This was not only a historic undertaking. It was also an expression on the part of all of us who are immigrants on this land to recognize and repair the colonial injustices of the past and to respect Indigenous rights and title henceforth.
We are now seeking to make real the promise of that Declaration Act. We are working on the Action Plan required by the act.
Yet there can be no denying that events continue to unfold in our province that are in clear violation of local Indigenous laws and core articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Article 10 states, “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories.” Article 32 affirms, “States shall consult and co-operate in good faith with the Indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.”
Under the watch of this government, most notably in the unceded territories of the Wetʼsuwetʼen people, these articles have been contravened. In the Supreme Court of Canada’s historic 1997 Delgamuukw ruling, the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en people were recognized as the titleholders of their territory. Yet a pipeline is being built across their land without their consent, and their representatives, family members, invited guests, media and legal observers have been violently removed from their territory as recently as two months ago.
For many across B.C., this dispute has necessitated a steep learning curve on Indigenous governance and land rights. And in government, too, there are lessons still to learn.
At this juncture, however, your government is no longer prepared to abide such infringements of the commitments we have made or the rights and title we have sworn to uphold.
That is why, effectively immediately, we are suspending the permits to construct the Coastal GasLink pipeline. That project is now on hold, until such time as the project proponents — the LNG Canada consortium and TC Energy — demonstrate they have secured the consent of the Wetʼsuwetʼen titleholders. We will also be reviewing B.C.'s injunction laws, our provincial policing contract with the RCMP and the decision-making process within government for deploying militarized police to enforce injunctions on Indigenous lands.
And from this day forward, no major new projects or resource extraction will proceed in British Columbia without the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous titleholders of the territories concerned.
No new fossil fuel infrastructure and an end to fossil fuel subsidies
To all British Columbians who emerge from this past year increasingly anxious about the climate crisis — especially young British Columbians who have mobilized in large numbers to secure our future — your government seeks to demonstrate that we understand the emergency and are ready to act accordingly.
Your government’s climate plan, CleanBC, seeks to put us on a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 per cent by 2030 and contains numerous goals and commitments to meet that target. We recognize, however, that more is needed, and that 2030 targets are too distant. Those of you who understand the emergency wish to hold your government accountable for action within the life of the current mandate. We wish the same.
Last year, the International Energy Agency — the world’s foremost authority on energy issues — declared that, if we are to keep global temperature rise to a safe level, all new fossil fuel developments and all new fossil fuel infrastructure needs to stop as of now.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that governments need to heed the advice and warnings of scientists and experts. And that is what we intend to do when it comes to the climate emergency. That is why, effective immediately, your government will not grant approval to any new fossil fuel infrastructure projects or issue new fossil fuel extraction or development permits. We will also ensure that by the end of 2023, all forms of provincial fossil fuel subsidies will be phased out. The path to a zero-carbon society will be challenging enough — we will no longer complicate the task with new projects that take us in the wrong direction.
Real hope for workers
But to all those British Columbians who aspired to work on these fossil fuel projects, we say: “You will not be left behind.” As we meet the climate crisis head-on, your government plans to undertake an unprecedented level of climate infrastructure investments, creating jobs in every corner of the province, the details of which will be forthcoming in the provincial budget. Whether in renewable energy, building retrofits, rapid transit, zero-carbon affordable housing, transportation electrification and biking infrastructure, environmental restoration, climate adaptation infrastructure upgrades or agricultural transformation, the task is great and the need for workers immense.
The employment required to see these projects realized means our challenge in the coming years will not be a lack of jobs, but rather, a lack of workers. To any British Columbian who wishes to work on these projects, we pledge that there is a job for you. And even better, unlike so many fossil fuel infrastructure projects that require people to leave their families for weeks each month, there is every likelihood the jobs we now offer will be in your own communities.
As the world moves to confront the climate crisis, to tie the future well-being of working people to fossil fuel industries is to consign people to a life of tumult, job loss and uncertainty. Instead, your government is launching a bold, ambitious and hopeful Green New Deal that leaves no one behind. A great transition is coming. One way or another, on our terms or not, driven by well-planned policy or by the convulsions of the market — it’s coming. A few short decades from now, we will not be extracting and using fossil fuels. Far better that the inevitable transition be well-managed and just than subject to the tumult of an unfettered market.
Tackling the climate and affordability crises together
In past speeches from the throne, the issues of climate and affordability and housing have been discussed separately. No more. The solutions we urgently need must tackle these crises together. And they cannot rely on market incentives to get the job done. To drive down emissions and to see the affordable, GHG-free housing we need, we are going to have to do much of the job ourselves, together, through our public institutions.
Your government intends to redouble its plans to build thousands of new non-market affordable housing units each year. These will be zero-emission mixed-income homes in vibrant walkable and transit-accessible neighbourhoods, in partnership with local governments and First Nations across B.C.
To help finance these investments and address wealth inequality, your government will be introducing new tax measures to discourage speculation in the housing market and to increase taxes on high-value properties.
Connected to our transition off fossil fuels, as of January 2023, no new buildings in British Columbia — residential, commercial, industrial or public — will be permitted to tie into gas lines. If we intend to be zero-carbon by mid-century, then it makes little sense to build new buildings that continue to burn fossil fuels.
To propel our climate agenda, BC Hydro will be establishing a group of new subsidiaries, in partnership with Indigenous nations whenever feasible. One will be mass-producing electric heat pumps, tasked with bringing down the price of these units. Another will be mass-producing solar panels and wind turbines within our province. Another will develop neighbourhood geothermal and heat exchange systems. And another will see an army of installers helping households transition to these electric and renewable alternatives. BC Hydro will also be directed to institute a new lower rate for those homes that do not burn fossil fuels.
Meeting emergencies with game-changing solutions
Through these initiatives and more, your government intends to show it will confront the emergencies before us with new game-changing policies, programs and institutions. British Columbians expect us to lead.
We will lead on the poisoned drug emergency. We will no longer wait for federal permissions or programs to address B.C.’s most deadly crisis. Instead, your government will be providing a safe drug supply that seeks to supplant the underground market and banish the scourge of toxic drugs.
We will lead on homelessness and the housing crisis. Continuing to invest, with unprecedented ambition and compassion, in housing for our most vulnerable neighbours, and in strengthened supports for renters.
We will lead on child care, making life more affordable for hundreds of thousands of families across the province.
And, informed by science and by the devastation of the past year, we will lead on the climate emergency.
Your government will transform the Climate Action Secretariat into the Climate Emergency Secretariat, moving this expanded unit from the Ministry of Environment to the Premier’s Office, where it can direct a whole-of-government approach reporting directly to the premier.
In this session, your government will introduce legislation to strengthen our 2030 and interim GHG targets. While these targets must be set according to climate science, how we achieve these targets should remain open to deliberation, to ensure they are fair, thoughtful, and widely supported. To that end, your government will be convening a Climate Citizens’ Assembly, modelled on the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform of the early 2000s, and will task this body with advising the government on how best to meet our legislated targets.
As we move away from fossil fuels, it makes little sense that the public continues to be bombarded with advertising from fossil fuel companies that encourage the very products we seek to abandon. We do not allow cigarette companies to sponsor major public events, and now we must apply the same logic to fossil fuel companies. While much of advertising is federally regulated, your government will act within its domain. Henceforth, fossil fuels will not be permitted to sponsor arts and culture events, sports events or activities, or public conferences (such as the annual meeting of the Union of BC Municipalities). The government will backfill lost revenue that results from this policy.
And to the young people who, more than anyone, have been sounding the alarm of the climate emergency, we extend two new commitments.
First, your government is establishing a Youth Climate Corps. Meeting the climate crisis requires an all-hands-on-deck response. And thousands of young people who understand the urgency don’t wish to delay their engagement — they want to help confront this crisis now. So, beginning this summer, any high school graduate under the age of 30 who wants to spend two years serving their province doing climate response work — ecological restoration, emergency assistance, infrastructure upgrades, renewable energy installation, retrofitting buildings, and more — will be offered a position with the new Youth Climate Corps. Room and board will be provided, along with modest pay. After two years with the YCC, the province will waive their tuition for any B.C. post-secondary program to which they gain entry for four years.
Second, the government will be lowering the provincial and municipal voting age to 16. It is young people who will live out the balance of this century and whose futures we now hold in our hands. To deny them the franchise is an injustice. We intend to give them a say.
The task is great. The time is short. We have our work cut out for us. Your government seeks to be forthright about the crises we face, while resolute that solutions abound. And we invite all British Columbians to join us as we confront these challenges together.