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B.C. NDP 'throne speech'

Premier John Horgan's New Democrats are returning to British Columbia's legislature ready to highlight plans for housing and child-care reforms promised during last year's election campaign.

Horgan said his minority government will not waver from its focus on affordable housing and child-care programs despite the heated dispute with Alberta and the federal government over the $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

The NDP will set out its agenda for the latest legislative session with a throne speech on Tuesday, followed by the provincial budget on Feb. 20.

"As we look at the throne speech, our focus has been and will continue to be on affordability for British Columbians," Horgan said. "The throne speech will focus on child care. It will focus on housing. It will focus on a range of issues that British Columbians have told us are of paramount importance to them."

Finance Minister Carole James projected late last year a reduced budget surplus of $190 million for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, but forecast economic growth of 2.9 per cent.

Tuesday will also mark Andrew Wilkinson's first appearance in the legislature as head of the B.C. Liberals. The former cabinet minister was elected party leader on Feb. 4.

The current standings in the legislature are: 41 New Democrats, 41 Liberals, three Greens, one Independent and one vacant seat.

A byelection will be held Wednesday to fill a seat in Kelowna West, a riding vacated by former Liberal premier Christy Clark who resigned from politics last summer.

Horgan has previously said the government's housing plans include moves to dampen speculation in B.C.'s real estate market and to increase supply of family homes for the rental and purchase markets. He has ruled out a ban on foreign buyers of B.C. real estate but said the government is reviewing the 15-per-cent foreign buyers tax introduced by the Liberals.

James said last week that housing will be a major focus of her budget.

"As we've talked about previously, we'll be coming forward with a comprehensive housing plan and you'll see that as part of the budget," she said at the announcement of an agreement with Airbnb to collect provincial sales tax revenue. James said the cash collected from short-term rentals will help fund housing initiatives.

The finance minister acknowledged the projected $16 million in annual revenue is not a huge sum, but said "every penny makes a difference."

The New Democrats promised during last year’s election campaign to deliver 114,000 housing units over the next decade.

The NDP also campaigned on promises of universal $10-a-day child care and a $400 rent subsidy, but those pledges were not directly mentioned in the government's throne speech last September.



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