If you live outside province you likely haven’t heard much about our new government, but here in British Columbia changes are happening fast, and you should know about them.
From 2001 until May of last year, British Columbia was ruled by a right-wing coalition calling itself the British Columbia Liberal Party, which is not the same as the federal Liberal Party. Under their watch, taxes were cut, services were cut, and controls removed. The result has been increased wealth for the wealthy and increased poverty for the poor. Despite spectacular riches, British Columbia can now boast the highest rates of poverty, homelessness, and opioid addiction in Canada.
So, in May of last year, we finally kicked the scoundrels out, and elected (by a hairsbreadth) a New Democratic government, headed by John Horgan, who are now addressing the host of huge problems and challenges that they have inherited, to the delight of those on the left and dismay to the right.
Horgan is a working-class guy who, as opposition leader, did a remarkable job healing his party’s self-inflicted wounds, while holding the government’s feet to the fire. You can read a bit about him here.
In office, the Horgan government has wasted no time in making changes. Here are a few:
* B.C., despite an abundance of wealth, currently has one of the highest rates of poverty in Canada. To quote the government, “Too many people are struggling to make ends meet, earn a living wage, or find and keep affordable housing. Too many families are suffering without basic necessities, relying on food banks, going hungry or sending their children to school hungry.” So, they are addressing the situation with a radical new approach, still in the works, to provide British Columbians with a guaranteed basic income. In the meantime they have immediately raised social assistance by $100. On Nov. 5 the government passed the Poverty Reduction Strategy Act, the first ever poverty reduction plan for B.C. The Act includes targets to decrease the overall poverty rate by 25% and the child poverty rate by 50% in 5 years. Pretty heady stuff, and predictibly under fire from the right. And here it is.
* Going hand in hand with poverty, B.C. also has the highest rate of opioid addiction in the country. The statistics are horrendous: an estimated 55,000 opioid addicts, and 1400 to 1500 deaths projected. The response has been to establish Canada’s first and only Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, which immediately extended services available, and began to vigorously prosecute the big pharmaceutical companies in a major class action suit against Purdue Pharma and the other manufacturers of oxycontin, as well as the major retailers, such as Shoppers Drug Mart. They are also providing harm reduction strategies, including safe injection sites and access to safe drugs, as well as increased access to treatment and housing. You can hear an interview with Judy Darcy, the minister responsible, here.
* Many of the addicted are among the homeless, but they are by no means alone. Large numbers are simply people who can’t find affordable housing. Disproportionate numbers of aboriginal people, refugees, and migrants from other parts of Canada lack housing. There are jobs, but even if you have one, rents are unaffordable. That's largely because for the past sixteen years, the deregulated, low-taxed developers have built many large and expensive buildings, and zero affordable housing. Now we have something called the Community Housing Fund to build 114,000 new rental and co-op homes over 10 years. As Premier Horgan put it, “We're not hearing a clamouring for more one-bedroom condos in the sky.”