Premier John Horgan’s throne speech to open the spring session of the B.C. legislature on Tuesday, Feb. 11 was overshadowed by hundreds of loud, chanting demonstrators who surrounded the legislature, blocking several MLAs, staff and reporters from entering.
The crowd was made up of supporters of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who are trying to stop the construction of a Coastal Gaslink pipeline on their ancestral lands.
Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser, the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, was able to slip into the legislature Tuesday on his third attempt.
“I’m very much supportive of the right to protest peacefully,” he said. “It was a little aggressive, though. It had the potential to be kind of dangerous.”
Fraser said he was “pleased” overall with the throne speech, which outlined some of the positive changes people across the province are starting to see. The B.C. government is continuing with its plan to address the housing crisis by building homes for people and cracking down on speculation and fraud. The speech also outlined improvements to child care and the elimination of MSP premiums, saving families up to $1,800 a year.
“The theme of the work we’re doing…is to make life better for Canadians,” said Fraser during an interview with the Alberni Valley News on Wednesday. “In my chats with my constituents, people are already seeing a difference. In our region, a lot of effort has gone into housing. There are projects all over the constituency that are helping.”
B.C.’s economy is “in really good shape,” Fraser added, with the lowest unemployment rate for two years running.
“That’s after investing in people,” he said. “We’ve been able to find that balance.”
But the work is not finished, Fraser added.
The throne speech on Tuesday also reiterated the NDP government’s pledge to overhaul legislation governing ICBC, and emphasized the importance of reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. Reconciliation has been a touchy subject this month, with talks between the province and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs breaking down and demonstrations cropping up across the province.
But Fraser says he remains open to dialogue with hereditary chiefs on the issue, and has agreed to a meeting in order to resolve the impasse that has seen roadblocks on the route of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline spread to the nearby CN Rail tracks in northwestern B.C.
This conflict, said Fraser, doesn’t interfere with the work that B.C. is doing to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The next step is an action plan, which the province will develop in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous Peoples.
“All that work is ahead of us,” said Fraser. “And we’re doing it in partnership with Indigenous people.”
— with files from Tom Fletcher