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Clark's Throne Speech strikes sunny note, despite gloomy economic forecast

The B.C. government's revenue projections for this year have already sprung a leak. The economy is expected to grow at a much more modest rate than forecast because of global financial instability.

Still, that sobering admission couldn't stop B.C. Premier Christy Clark from forging a mostly optimistic tone in her government's Throne Speech on Monday, the first under her leadership.

Nor could it hold her back from making good on voter-friendly promises that would seem to defy the current economic state of affairs.

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On that front, the Liberals announced Family Day as the newest provincial holiday. It won't start, however, until Feb. 18, 2013, just two months before the next provincial election is to be held.

While the new holiday is certain to make Ms. Clark popular with many voters, it will not put a smile on the face of the business community. It's been estimated that a statutory holiday costs the B.C. economy about $300-million. If the economic climate continues to deteriorate, employers are certain to be even more resentful about having to pay for another day off for their workers – the 11th in the provincial calendar.

The new holiday is more evidence of Ms. Clark's dogged determination to make Families First – the amorphous slogan that has become the mantra of her government – the backdrop of practically every announcement she makes. As the Premier is quickly proving, government does little that doesn't affect families, however you may define them, in one form or another.

And so the government's recently announced jobs strategy, regurgitated in the Throne Speech, is all about putting families first. So is making education more accessible, and clearing up the burgeoning backlog in the court system and making improvements to the health system and helping police make our communities safer, all measures the speech promised. Which is little different from what most governments across the country are promising – just packaged slightly differently.

And when you don't have a lot of money to throw around to make voters pleased with you, then you have to lean even more heavily on style and presentation and making things sound more significant than they really are.

In that regard, one section of the speech was widely interpreted as suggesting the government was preparing to back off its net-zero mandate for public sector labour negotiations. Instituted two years ago, net zero would mean that any wage increase must be financed by a commensurate amount of savings found somewhere within the collective agreement.

"The government will facilitate a process for collective agreement provisions by working with ministries and employer groups to find savings through co-operative gains," the speech said.

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Is that the sound of a government softening its net-zero mandate? It isn't really. Any public sector wage increase is still going to have to be funded by savings – or co-operative gains – found somewhere else. It just means the savings can be from within a ministry budget and not just the collective agreement.

But there are few rocks that haven't been turned over in recent years to find those gains. So civil servants may not want to get their hopes up just yet.

Beyond that, perhaps the most newsworthy element in the speech was the pledge to attempt to hold a show-trial for those charged in the Stanley Cup riot. That would be court proceedings broadcast on television and radio (and, more than likely, the Internet).

"They had no problem committing their crimes in public," Ms. Clark told reporters later. So evidently they should be tried in public too.

While it's the kind of populist measure for which the Premier is becoming famous, I wish her luck in making it happen. Even the government's own criminal justice branch on Monday raised doubts about the viability of such a move. And with good reason. How could it not be seen as prejudicing a certain class of defendant? How could the courts justify televising a rioter's trial and not that of a murderer or a pedophile?

And what would it cost taxpayers at a time when the government is crying poor? Those are questions for which the Throne Speech didn't have an answer.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More

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