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Throne speech sets family day for 2013, promises education changes

British Columbia's family day holiday will start in 2013, changes are coming to the province's education system, civil servants may get raises and the trials of Stanley Cup rioters may be televised, according to today's throne speech.

"Given our economic circumstances, B.C.'s employers will need time to adjust to this new statutory holiday," said the speech Lieutenant Governor Steven Point delivered. It was the first throne speech since Christy Clark won the BC Liberal Party leadership and became premier.

The first family day will be held on Feb. 18, 2013, the speech said. That will make it three months before the next scheduled provincial election.

The speech signaled major changes to the education system, though it lacked details. "Over the coming year, your government will act to improve the education system, provide supports to teachers and improve student safety in the classroom," it said.

"Over the coming weeks, my government will introduce a series of important changes to improve the skills of our current teachers and ensure that future teachers are provided with the tools they need to produce first-class graduates."

There will be funding to address class composition and measures to provide "flexibility and choice" to school boards and parents. "These changes will be bold and represent a significant improvement in how,when and where education takes place," it said.

There is also a departure coming from the government's mandate in recent years to not give raises to public sector workers, contracts for many of whom come up in 2012. "Though taxpayer-funded public sector wage increases will be challenging to achieve, and must fit within the fiscal plan, your government understands that public servants need to be treated fairly," the speech said.

The government will take steps to accelerate the court process, especially for family law and for traffic violations, while making sure justice is seen to be done in the wake of last June's Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver.

"The government also respectfully asks and has requested Crown Counsel to advocate for television and radio access to the courts during proceedings for those charged in relation to the Stanley Cup riot," it said.

The speech took pains to better define "family", a word premier Clark has used extensively since re-entering provincial politics: "Families of all kinds: large and small; same sex; culturally diverse; foster families and adopted children; new Canadians coming to a new world; a single mother caring for her young daughter; a son caring for his aging father."

The carbon tax was part of B.C.'s leadership on fighting climate change, the speech said. The tax is set to grow until 2012. The speech didn't say if it would be raised after that date, but said, "As we look beyond 2012, we will consider next steps in our clean energy and environmental strategies, in partnership with communities, industry, First Nations, non-government organizations and, most importantly, citizens."

Clean technology will be part of the future along with other industry, and the government is looking at tax policy, energy policy and incentive programs to encourage it, the speech said.

There are also changes coming to Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy act: "By modernizing the Act, your government will enable citizens to have more seamless access to government services and create the conditions for greater engagement with other citizens."

The speech mentioned affordable housing, noting that 5,000 more units are planned, and said new economic partnerships will be used to close the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal British Columbia.

There was a nod to a seemingly contradictory policy: "Cellular coverage on highways across the province will also be enhanced, just remember to talk hands-free." The government last year made it illegal to speak on a cellphone or text, unless using the device hands-free.

There was also a review of several things the government has done since Clark became premier in February. They included raising the minimum wage, eliminating parking fees in provincial parks, restoring $15 million in gaming grant funding for charities, reviewing BC Hydro and committing $30 million for recreational facilities.

And it walked through the details from the jobs plan Clark introduced two weeks ago in a series of announcements throughout the province.

It also mentioned the bipartisan committee that is to look at regulating cosmetic pesticide use, the BC Ferry Commissioner's ongoing review of BC Ferries and the review of all the province's Crown corporations which is to start in January 2012.

The speech failed to mention a few ongoing initiatives, including promised changes to the Local Government Act and the ongoing Canada-European Union Enhanced Trade Agreement negotiations.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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