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British Columbia government looks toward 'brighter future' in throne speech

Throne speech looks ahead

The British Columbia government looked beyond the COVID-19 pandemic in its speech from the throne on Monday to other priorities including help for the economy, improved health care and taking on inequality.

Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin delivered the speech in the legislature on behalf of the government, outlining its priorities more than a year after the pandemic began and amid a third wave of surging infections.

British Columbia is in the "final push" in what has been a difficult marathon, the speech said.

"Keeping people healthy and safe until we have crossed the finish line is our collective responsibility. It is an essential precondition for economic recovery and a return to normal life."

The NDP government promises to hire thousands of new workers for long-term care and fix cracks exposed in the system by COVID-19. It said it will improve surgery wait times and build new urgent primary care centres and hospitals, including one in Surrey.

The government commits to record spending on infrastructure including replacing the George Massey Tunnel and building the Broadway and Surrey-Langley SkyTrain lines, as well as legislation to support a fund to help B.C. companies scale up and hire local workers.

It promises to introduce legislation to remove barriers to accessibility and inclusion felt by those in B.C. with disabilities.

It will also create British Columbia's first anti-racism law.

The speech said the pandemic has brought out the best in most people but the worst in others, noting that anti-Asian hate crimes rose by more than 700 per cent in Vancouver last year.

"Racism has no place in our communities. Everyone has a right to feel safe and respected."

The speech also outlines how the government plans to address the cost of living so that the economic recovery is felt more equally. That includes raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour in June, and getting thousands of rental homes built while also expanding $10-a-day daycare.

B.C. will act to end the criminalization of simple drug possession and make new investments in the Pathway to Hope plan to improve mental health and addictions care, the speech said.

The government plans to make it easier to buy electric vehicles and support the industrial transition away from fossil fuels through electrification.

B.C. residents need to come together in the way that saw them bang pots and pans for front-line workers last year, the speech said.

"It is this same spirit of common purpose that we must summon again to get us safely through to the end of the pandemic, so that we can start building towards that brighter future we know is possible."

The speech also provides a preview of the government's budget, which will be delivered April 20.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson forecast a budget deficit nearing $14 billion during a fiscal update in December and the speech promises balanced budgets as the economy recovers after the pandemic ends.

Interim Liberal Leader Shirley Bond said the speech was a "disappointment."

The government has failed to present a full job-creation or economic-recovery plan, she said. The government is also making a mistake by looking too far in the future when so many British Columbians need support now, she added.

"Today we see little help, little hope and in fact very little assistance for British Columbians who are struggling," Bond said.

Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said the speech represents "minor tweaks to the status quo."

"After a year of sacrifice and loss, what British Columbians need in this moment is a shared sense of common purpose, not only for navigating this third wave of COVID-19, but for a more just and equitable future," she said in a statement.

“We need to recognize the responsibility this government has to address the multiple overlapping crises we face in addition to COVID-19, from the drug toxicity crisis to the existential threat of climate change."



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Bulldog puppies stolen during break-and-enter in Surrey

Bulldog puppies stolen

Surrey RCMP is requesting the public’s help after three puppies were stolen during a break-and-enter in the city.

Shortly before 6 p.m. on April 10, Surrey RCMP responded to a break-and-enter along 8th Avenue.

Officers believe the offence occurred the same day between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. while the home was unoccupied.

After the residents returned home they found their three Lilac American Bulldog puppies had been stolen.

RCMP would like to speak with anyone who may have witnessed the robbery or who may have any information.

Surrey RCMP can be reached at 604-599-0502, or if you wish to remain anonymous you can call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or www.solvecrime.ca.



Charges laid after teen in Nanaimo, B.C., robbed and told to walk home naked

Robbed, walks home naked

Police in Nanaimo, B.C., are investigating an assault on a teenage boy where the attacker is alleged to have told the 15-year-old to remove his clothes and walk home naked.

RCMP say the boy attended a gathering for teens when he was kicked and punched by a 16-year-old suspect, who allegedly threw the victim's cellphone, wallet and shoes in the lake.

Mounties say when the teen began walking, a bystander helped by giving him some clothing and a ride home, where his parents called police.

Investigators were provided with a video that police say was shared on social media, in which a number of people can be heard in the background laughing and jeering at the victim.

The 16-year-old suspect was arrested Saturday after being involved in an unrelated car accident, where police say he allegedly threatened the other driver with a metal baton.

The teen has been charged with assault causing bodily harm and robbery over the attack on the teen and uttering threats and possession of a weapon after the crash.





B.C. to target specific neighbourhoods for COVID-19 vaccinations

Targeting neighbourhoods

Taking a cue from Ontario, B.C.’s top doctor says the West Coast will begin targeting specific neighbourhoods for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Health officials have been deploying vaccines into hotspots as of late, including Prince Rupert and Whistler.

“We will also be targeting specific neighbourhoods as we have more information on where vaccine is needed,” B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said during a Monday briefing.

Health officials in Ontario are now targeting specific postal codes based on how prevalent cases of COVID-19 is in specific neighbourhoods.

Meanwhile, more than one million British Columbians have now been vaccinated against COVID-19 after the province administered 87,082 doses over the weekend.
Henry revealed that of the 1,024,457 individuals to get their jabs, 87,744 have received two doses.

Of the four vaccines approved for use in Canada, only the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires one dose. Deliveries of that vaccine are not expected to begin until the end of the month and Henry said last week she anticipates offering the one-shot vaccine as part of the province’s essential workers immunization program.

The remainder of the province is being immunized based on age groups.

“Over half of those over 65 have now been vaccinated,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said during the briefing.

Dix said 138,000 doses of Pfizer Inc. vaccine are expected to arrive this week along with about 80,000 Moderna Inc. doses.

Those Moderna deliveries had been expected to arrive last week but Dix said he feels confident they will arrive by this week’s end.

Moderna delivers on a bi-weekly schedule and another delivery is not expected next week.

Earlier in the day, the province began encouraging a broader range of British Columbians to register for vaccine bookings this week, beginning with those 55 years and older.

By Friday, those 40 years old and older will be encouraged to register.

Hopeful vaccine recipients in B.C. must first register either online, in person or over the phone before booking an appointment.

Once someone registers, they receive a confirmation code and will need to await a prompt from health officials via email, text or phone informing them they can book the appointment itself.

“In some places in B.C. it’s going to advance more quickly than others because of the availability of clinics and vaccines in different places,” Dix said.

As of noon Tuesday, there have been 183,716 registrations in the 65-69 age cohort, followed by 123,796 registrations in the 60-64 age cohort and 66,211 registrations in the 55-59 age cohort.

Prior to last week, the Fraser Health authority was the only one offering an online platform for bookings.

The remaining four health authorities had been booking vaccinations via call centres maintained by Telus Corp.



BC Conservation Officer Service hands out fines for illegal fishing

Illegal fishing nets fines

Illegal fishing near Revelstoke has led to three men receiving hefty fines.

The BC Conservation Officer Service says "three men have received a combined $1,740 in fines in relation to the overfishing of bull trout at a Revelstoke area lake."

Two of the men were from Revelstoke and one man was from Golden. The trio was charged Sunday for exceeding their daily quotas and possession limits of bull trout, as well as dressing fish in a way to prevent the number from being determined. Eleven fish and related fishing gear were also seized.

In B.C., bull trout are a blue-listed species (any species or ecosystem that is of special concern) and susceptible to being over-harvested in early spring.

Fear not, the fillets did not go to waste. Conservation officers were able to process and donate all 36 pounds of the seized fish to the Golden Food Bank.



B.C. to be more selective with health orders during 3rd wave of pandemic

More selective with orders

With the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic crashing over British Columbia, the province’s public health officer says she is trying to be more selective this time around with closures and health orders to fight the virus.

“We have recognized from the very beginning that the impacts of shutdowns and the measures that we take in public health don’t affect people equally,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“That has been an important consideration that we have taken all along in our management of this pandemic.”

Henry pointed to new rules rolling out this week that will allow health authorities to shut down individual businesses for 10 days where transmission has occurred with three or more cases as an effort to avoid sector-wide shut downs.

“Public health has been working hard with businesses that have been impacted by this virus, and it is through no fault of one business, it’s not about blaming them,” she said.

“We want to keep businesses open and keep people working, because we know how important that is, not just for the economy but for our health.”

She did not offer any hint of what she may do with the current pause on indoor dining at restaurants in B.C., which is currently set to expire on April 19.

With active cases in B.C. expected to reach an all-time high this week, Dr. Henry said she is in no rush to follow the lead of Ontario, which today closed schools.

“We heard loud and clear from families across the board, and from many of the educators in school systems, that when we had that shutdown of schools last year that it impacted negatively,” she said, noting discussions on the issue take place "daily."

“When we see increased transmission in the community, it’s when children were not in school… The important structure that school gives to families and communities, is really important and is a less risky environment.”

On Monday, B.C. announced 3,289 new COVID-19 cases, including 299 in the Interior Health region, over the past three days.



BC announces 3,289 new coronavirus cases, 299 in IH region

3,289 new cases, 18 deaths

The B.C. government has announced 3,289 new COVID-19 cases, including 299 in the Interior Health region, over the past three days.

The new cases bring B.C.’s total since the pandemic began to 112,829, although the vast majority have already recovered. There are now 9,937 active cases in the province with 368 people in the hospital, 121 of whom are in the ICU.

New cases were confirmed over the weekend as follows:

  • April 9/10 — 1,283 new cases
  • April 10/11 — 1,036 new cases
  • April 11/12 — 970 new cases

There were 18 new COVID-19 deaths over the weekend, bringing B.C.’s toll to 1,513.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said exact data on variants is not available, but approximately 50 per cent of all new cases have been linked to a variant, mostly the B1117 U.K. strain.

There have now been 1.1M doses of all versions of the COVID-19 vaccine administered in B.C.

“This is, I don’t need to say, our third wave,” Henry said. “And knowing this, we need to chart our best path forward to manage this wave.”

She urged the public to follow health guidelines and travel restrictions

“If you live in Penticton, you should not be going to Sun Peaks, or Oliver or Kelowna right now. We need to only do those types of travel if it is essential.”



British Columbia government looks toward 'brighter future' in throne speech

'Brighter future' ahead

UPDATE 2:30 p.m.

The British Columbia government is looking beyond the COVID-19 pandemic in its speech from the throne to other priorities including help for the economy, improved health care and taking on inequality.

Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin delivered the speech in the legislature on behalf of the government outlining its priorities more than a year after the pandemic began and amid a third wave of surging infections.

The speech says the province's NDP government will hire thousands of new workers for long-term care and fix cracks exposed in the system by COVID-19, improve surgery wait times and build new hospitals, including one in Surrey.

It commits to record spending on infrastructure including replacing the George Massey Tunnel and building the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain line, as well as legislation to support a fund to help B.C. companies scale up and hire local workers.

The government also promises to develop British Columbia's first anti-racism law and introduce legislation to remove barriers to accessibility and inclusion felt by those in B.C. with disabilities.

It says the government is committed to raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour in June, and promises to get thousands of rental homes built while also expanding $10-a-day daycare.

The speech says B.C. residents need to come together with the same spirit that saw them bang pots and pans for front-line workers last year.

"It is this same spirit of common purpose that we must summon again to get us safely through to the end of the pandemic, so that we can start building towards that brighter future we know is possible," the speech says.


ORIGINAL 6:50 a.m.

British Columbia's NDP government is set to present its throne speech later today, laying out its priorities more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic began.

NDP house leader Mike Farnworth has said the throne speech will focus on getting B.C. through and beyond the pandemic.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson is set to table the government's first budget on April 20. Last December in a fiscal update she forecast a budget deficit nearing $14 billion.

Farnworth says the budget will include details of government investment in infrastructure, but will also keep focused on the fight against COVID-19.

Interim Liberal Leader Shirley Bond says the government's economic, social and health programs throughout the pandemic have been unfocused and the Opposition will demand initiatives with straightforward goals.

Adam Olsen, one of two B.C. Greens in the legislature, says the NDP has yet to offer a clear agenda since their fall election win.



Seafood wholesaler, boat master fined for obstruction

Seafood wholesaler fined

A Richmond seafood wholesaler specializing in crab, and a commercial fishing vessel master, have been fined for obstruction in an investigation by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DF) that turned up undersized crabs.

The fines resulted from what DFO describes as “a serious case of obstruction,” which included the co-owner of the wholesaler eating a receipt rather than give it to a DFO officer.

A B.C. provincial court judge has found Tenshi Seafood Ltd. and the company’s co-owner, Dishi Liu, guilty of violating the Fishers Act. The company was fined $75,000; Liu was fined $25,000.

The judge also handed a $10,000 fine to Thuong Nguyen, master of the commercial fishing vessel Dream Chaser, for obstructing a fisheries officer.

The fines resulted from a routine inspection in September 2018 by a DFO fisheries officer, who observed someone running away from the seafood processor in Richmond and speeding away in a vehicle with what appeared to be a crab crate.

“Once inside the plant, the owner, and some staff, actively obstructed the fishery officer from conducting an inspection, would not answer questions, failed to provide the necessary paperwork, weights or volume figures from the previous sale, and attempted to destroy evidence,” DFO says in a press release.

“Throughout this event the co-owner of Tenshi, Ms. Liu, refused to provided fishery officers with any of the necessary paperwork for the source of the crabs found on the premises, refused to answer questions from the officers, and attempted to destroy evidence by eating a receipt.

“Several undersized crabs were found discarded in the processing plant.”

In addition to the fines, the company was ordered to provide DFO with a list of its customers for the past two years.



COVID-19 public exposure warning issued for Sasquatch Mountain Resort

Exposure alert at ski hill

Fraser Health has issued a coronavirus (COVID-19) public exposure warning for a ski resort in Agassiz.

The health authority posted the notice April 12 for Sasquatch Mountain Resort (20955 Hemlock Valley Rd), and the warning covers the complete days of April 4 and 5.

Specifically, Fraser Health is requesting "anyone at the site after hours, attending any gatherings, staff ski day or staying in the staff housing" on those days should self-isolate, while anyone else who attended the site but did not stay after hours, attend gatherings, participate in staff ski day, or stay in staff housing has been asked to self-monitor.

Fraser Health lists public exposures on its website in order to reach any people who may have potentially become infected who they could not contact privately.

"There is no known risk to anyone who attended any listed locations outside of the specified dates and times. If people remain healthy and do not develop symptoms, there is no need to self-isolate and people can continue with their usual daily activities," explains Fraser Health.

If you develop any symptoms of COVID-19, please seek testing and then self-isolate, urges the health authority.

Sasquatch Mountain Resort has now closed for the season.



When it comes to tax time in Canada, GST, PST still draw most ire: poll

Which taxes draw most ire?

British Columbians are headed to a tax season unlike any other.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many members of the workforce to carry on with their duties from home. While many deductions related to transportation and entertainment understandably dried up, some taxpayers are wondering how to report the acquisition of hardware and software that was essential to turn their kitchen table into an office desk.

Research Co. and Glacier Media asked British Columbians earlier this month about how they paid their taxes last year and what their plans are for the current fiscal period. We also wanted to see if the concept of taxes is equally off-putting regardless of its various forms.

Looking back at the behaviour reported by British Columbians in 2020, we found that just over half of the province’s residents (51%) filed their taxes by themselves, with the assistance of software or apps. One in five (20%) relied directly on an accountant or firm, while fewer chose either to file on their own without any additional programs (12%) or to contract the services of a tax preparation company (also 12%).

When British Columbians reveal how they intend to pay for their taxes this year, the numbers are similar to the behaviour observed in 2020, with year-to-year fluctuations of only one percentage point for all options tested. We continue to see a majority of the province’s residents (52%) relying on software or apps to file their taxes without the assistance of a professional.

There are some subtle differences. One in four Vancouver Island residents (25%) will rely on an accountant or firm in 2021, compared with only 17% of those in northern B.C. British Columbians aged 35 to 54 are more likely to deal with their taxes by themselves with software or apps (57%) than those aged 55 and over (44%).

In spite of the inevitability usually associated with taxes, some British Columbians hold strong feelings on having to meet these commitments that ultimately fund public expenditures.

This month, half of British Columbians (50%) think the amount they pay in provincial income tax is too high, and larger proportions feel the same way about the goods and services tax (GST) (51%), the federal income tax (55%) and the provincial sales tax (PST) (57%).

Many of today’s taxpayers are unfamiliar with the political turmoil that unfolded when the Brian Mulroney government implemented the federal GST in 1991. The Liberal Party of Canada won the 1993 election on a set of campaign promises that included repealing the tax. Almost two decades later, the GST is still on our receipts.

Across British Columbia, 56% of residents say they dislike having to pay the GST. Those aged 55 and over, who recall life without this tax, are more likely to hate it (62%) than their counterparts aged 35 to 54 (55%) and 18 to 34 (50%).

Still, the tax that evokes the largest proportion of negative responses is the PST, which has been around for almost 73 years. We found that 57% of British Columbians dislike having to pay this tax. Again, the province’s oldest adults are more likely to voice dissatisfaction (61%).

Our feelings are not as negative when assessing taxes that are not directly attached to the products we buy. We found that 50% of British Columbians dislike having to pay a federal income tax and a similar proportion (48%) are unhappy about paying a provincial income tax.

Age plays a minor role in public perceptions on the two income taxes. British Columbians aged 35 to 54 express more dismay about these commitments than their younger and older counterparts do. In any case, our animosity towards taxes is also related to our feelings about who is collecting them.

Almost half of British Columbians who voted for the BC Liberal Party in the 2020 provincial election (49%) say they dislike paying the provincial income tax – along with 46% of those who supported the BC Green Party. Among those who cast ballots for the governing BC New Democratic Party (NDP), the proportion drops to 41%.

The political angst is significantly more pronounced towards Ottawa. Fewer than half of British Columbians who voted for the Liberals (40%) or the NDP (44%) in the 2019 federal election are unhappy about having to pay a federal income tax. Among Conservative Party of Canada supporters, the proportion climbs to a staggering 65%. •

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online survey conducted from March 19 to March 21 among 800 adults in British Columbia. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.



Let users carry certain amounts of drugs without criminal sanctions: Vancouver mayor

Let users carry drugs: mayor

The City of Vancouver has outlined the amounts of various drugs people should be allowed to carry for a three-day supply as it seeks a federal exemption to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use.

Its proposal aimed at combating the overdose crisis is part of an application to Health Canada and lists possession thresholds for four main drugs: opioids such as heroin and fentanyl, cocaine, crack cocaine and amphetamine.

The recommended amounts for opioids are listed as two grams, while three grams are proposed for cocaine, one gram or 10 rocks for crack cocaine and 1.5 grams for amphetamine, based on long-term studies of drug users.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart says the city has worked with police, the health authority's chief medical health officer and experts to determine the three-day thresholds that would prevent people from seeking drugs on a daily basis.

The effort is aimed at removing criminal sanctions and reducing stigma as part of a health-focused approach to substance use.

British Columbia has also asked for a federal exemption to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use after a record number of people died from overdose last year.



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