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B.C. New Democrat government makes pledges to homebuyers, renters, in throne speech

VICTORIA — The New Democrat government pledged more homes for middle-class people in British Columbia and eviction protection for renters in a throne speech that promised affordability measures in this week's budget, with a provincial election set fo
The legislature building in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. The political agenda for British Columbia Premier David Eby's NDP government heading into an election this fall will take shape today with the delivery of a throne speech starting the spring legislative session. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

VICTORIA — The New Democrat government pledged more homes for middle-class people in British Columbia and eviction protection for renters in a throne speech that promised affordability measures in this week's budget, with a provincial election set for this fall.

Housing is a generational challenge in B.C. and the government will not tinker at the edges to fix the problem, continuing instead with its goal to build thousands of affordable homes for middle-income earners, said Lt-Gov. Janet Austin, who read the speech in the legislature on Tuesday to start off a spring legislative session.

The government is putting forward a vision where everyone can get ahead and no one is left behind, she said.

"If we work together, this will be a place where everyone can build a good life, whether you live in a city, town, rural or First Nations community," said Austin.

The speech comes ahead of the provincial budget on Thursday which is less than nine months from the provincial election.

The government passed legislation last fall to restrict short-term rentals and build more housing around public transit areas, and the housing file will continue to be a major focus this spring, Austin said.

The speech said the government's recently announced BC Builds program to use public lands owned by the government, non-profits and community groups to build middle-class housing projects backed by low-cost financing will move ahead with full force this year.

"These homes will also be built faster with more efficient provincial and local government approvals," Austin told the legislature. "And they will be income tested, designed for middle-class people who keep our communities working. Think of homes connected to schools or on top of community centres and libraries."

Earlier Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $2 billion in federal financing for BC Builds, matching a provincial commitment and bringing the pool of low-cost financing for contractors to build middle-income rental housing to $4 billion.

"Our focus, and the premier's, has been very clear," said Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon at a news conference after the throne speech. "Our focus is to continue to do the work British Columbians have sent us here to do."

Opposition BC United Leader Kevin Falcon said the government's housing plans have come without any focus on outcomes or results.

"The reality is much different than what we're hearing here, with all these flowery words," he said at a news conference. "We made it clear, if you want more affordable housing, make it less expensive. We don't want to see more high housing prices. We don't want to see more higher rents."

Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau said the throne speech did not address the mounting issue in B.C. that the gap between rich and poor keeps getting wider.

“Once again from the B.C. NDP, we see a lack of strategy, a lack of action, a lack of accountability for their spending," she said in a statement. "There's nothing tying all of this together."

The speech from the throne also said the government's housing agenda would introduce measures to protect renters from "bad-faith evictions," and help first-time buyers enter the housing market.

Austin said the government would introduce legislation connected to the sextortion suicide of 12-year-old Carson Cleland of Prince George, and the similar death of 15-year-old Amanda Todd, to shed light on bullying, cyber bullying and online safety.

"Your government is committed to making sure that Carson and Amanda's legacies will protect kids in the future," said Austin.

Todd's suicide in 2012 created worldwide headlines and raised concerns about online abuse. Dutch national Aydin Coban was convicted in the B.C. Supreme Courtin 2022of child pornography, child luring and criminal harassment of Todd, and will serve a six-year prison sentence in the Netherlands.

Surrey RCMP said recently a Nigerian man faces sextortion-related charges in the suicide of a 14-year-old Surrey male.

Austin said the new legislation will also include steps to "protect schools and kids from disruptive protests."

Conservative Leader John Rustad said protests should be respectful but introducing legislation restricting them is a "slippery path."

"They shouldn't be disruptive of peoples lives. They shouldn't be blocking highways. They shouldn't be gluing themselves to doors and roads. They shouldn't be quite frankly stopping things like health care or education from happening," Rustad said at a news conference.

Premier David Eby said earlier that he expects the government to table about 20 pieces of new legislation and a budget that looks to help families facing the high cost of living.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2024.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press