2001 Legislative Session: 2nd Session, 37th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 1, 2001
Volume 2, Number 8
|Introductions by Members||1400|
Health care funding
Transit dispute in lower mainland
Sumas power facility
|Throne Speech Debate|
Hon. S. Hawkins
Hon. G. Hogg
Hon. L. Stephens
Hon. M. de Jong
Hon. R. Coleman
|Greater Vancouver Transit Services Settlement Act (Bill 13). Hon. G. Bruce|
Introduction and first reading
|Private Members' Statements|
For whom the bell cries. I. Chong
Design-build. J. Les
Vancouver agreement. L. Mayencourt
Hon. G. Abbott
The Victoria Symphony Splash. J. Bray
|Greater Vancouver Transit Services Settlement Act (Bill 13)|
Hon. G. Bruce
Hon. G. Bruce
Document regarding recommendations made by mediator Vincent Ready for settlement of transit dispute in lower mainland
|Greater Vancouver Transit Services Settlement Act (Bill 13). Hon. G. Bruce|
|Introductions by Members||1955|
|Greater Vancouver Transit Services Settlement Act (Bill 13). Hon. G. Bruce|
Committee stage continued
|Royal assent to bills||2035|
Greater Vancouver Transit Services Settlement Act (Bill 13).
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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 1, 2001
The House met at 2:03 p.m.
Introductions by Members
Hon. C. Clark: Today in the members' gallery we have some very special guests from Pakistan, who I had the pleasure of meeting with this afternoon. His Excellency Tariq Altaf is the High Commissioner for Pakistan to Canada, and he is accompanied by Riasat Ali Khan, who is a very active member of the Pakistani community in British Columbia. Please join me in giving both of them a very warm welcome.
Hon. R. Neufeld: It's my pleasure today to introduce to the House my counterpart from Alberta, the Hon. Murray Smith, Minister of Energy in Alberta, and his fine wife, Barb. They're here to watch question period, and we welcome them to British Columbia and Victoria.
J. MacPhail: I'm pleased today to welcome a group of people who care deeply about public transit in the lower mainland: Len Ruel, Jim Sinclair, Joe Elworthy, Don MacLeod and Geoff Meggs. They are here today to watch, with great interest, today's business. Would the House please make them welcome.
HEALTH CARE FUNDING
J. MacPhail: The Premier has a lot on his plate today as he begins to chair the annual Premiers' conference. He has the issues of health care, global warming, transit. Today we see that the Premier has joined Premier Mike Harris of Ontario in attacking the federal government and demanding increased health care spending. At the same time, he's telling the people of British Columbia that health care can expect no new provincial money under his regime.
To the Premier. After saddling our province yesterday or the day before with the second-biggest deficit in history because of high income and corporate tax cuts, why does he expect the federal government to now bail him out?
Hon. G. Campbell: What our government has been doing since we were elected by the people of British Columbia is repairing the damage that that member's government did throughout the last…. What our government has been doing since we were elected is turning British Columbia's economy around after that member's government drove it to one of the worst economies in our country, so that we get private sector investment, we have jobs, we have opportunity, we have hope, and we have the resources we need to provide health care for patients across this province. That's what our goals are.
J. MacPhail: Well, Mr. Speaker, the public wants a leader they can trust and that….
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
J. MacPhail: And I think….
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order, please, hon. members.
J. MacPhail: I would think that today British Columbians are questioning very seriously whether they can trust this Premier. I should remind the House that it was this Premier who said, when the federal government in 1995…. When he was well prepared to assume the mantle of office, it was this Premier who said, when the federal government first cut health care spending, that the cuts didn't go far enough. The Premier has been nothing if not resolute in his misleading of the public.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. member.
J. MacPhail: The spending priority for his government…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. member. Order, please.
J. MacPhail: …is high income and corporate tax cuts….
Mr. Speaker: Order, please, hon. member. Please temper your remarks with parliamentary language. The word "misleading" is not acceptable. Please, I urge you now to put your question.
J. MacPhail: The Premier has been nothing if not resolute. The spending priority for his government is high income and corporate income tax cuts, not our health care system.
To the Premier: why have you abdicated your responsibility to protect and adequately fund our health care system by denying it any more funds unless your risky, reckless economic agenda prevails? Why is it that the people of British Columbia are now dependent on the goodwill of the federal government for their health care?
Hon. G. Campbell: There is one thing there is no question about whatsoever. British Columbians don't respect, appreciate or trust that member, that member's party, that member's government, which took our economy from the best economy in the country to the worst and which presided over the deterioration of our health care system, so patients haven't got the care they
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need and so we don't have the support for nurses they need. That's why this government has allocated an additional $1.1 billion for health services, so patients do get the care they need.
Mr. Speaker: With a further supplemental question, the Leader of the Opposition.
J. MacPhail: Premier Campbell can take no credit for that whatsoever. The Premier can take no credit for that. He merely did what the government of the day did when handing him the largest surplus in history that he then turned into the second-largest deficit overnight, by catering to their corporate backers. There is one word that best describes the actions of that Premier, and that's "hypocritical." He tells British Columbians with religious zeal that high income and corporate tax cuts will pay for themselves as we speak and then goes to the feds demanding more money.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Order, please.
J. MacPhail: This Premier….
Mr. Speaker: I urge the member to now put her question, please.
J. MacPhail: This Premier now allies himself with the two Premiers who put their public health care systems at risk because of their slash-and-cut agendas.
To the Premier: given what the federal Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs said recently about the sincerity of the Premier's bargaining position, why have you substantially weakened B.C.'s bargaining power by pleading poverty to the federal government, when you've cut billions — billions — in taxes for corporations and the richest few?
Hon. G. Campbell: Beyond all the rhetoric that the member opposite brings forward, I think we have to remember what we're trying to do here.
J. MacPhail: Just answer the question.
Mr. Speaker: Order.
Hon. G. Campbell: What we want to make sure happens is that patients in this country — regardless of whether they live in British Columbia or Ontario or New Brunswick — get the care they need where they live and when they need it. What we have been very clear about is that there are two sides to this equation. One is the support of the partners of the Canada Health Act: the federal government and the provincial governments. The other is for the provinces to work together to try and control costs so that people do have a health care system that's sustainable.
Clearly, what happened under the previous government is that we watched in British Columbia as their mismanagement, their incompetence and their insatiable quest to take care of their friends clearly left patients out. We're bringing patients back into the equation. We're going to bring all of the Canadian partners together so that we have a sustainable health care system for everybody.
TRANSIT DISPUTE IN LOWER MAINLAND
J. Kwan: As everyone knows, the Premier's friends on the TransLink board are making a mess of the transit system. That's despite the fact that the former TransLink CEO, the current deputy minister to the Premier, Ken Dobell, says there isn't a transit system in Canada that wouldn't kill for that revenue base. Students, seniors, businesses and community groups are demanding that there be a long-term solution to the transit crisis — a crisis that's been brought on by Ken Dobell setting up a transit system with the highest administration costs in the country. Over 40 cents on every dollar goes to administration.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order. Hon. member, would you please put your question now.
J. Kwan: This week's Premiers' conference is an opportunity for the province to communicate a clear position to the federal government, seeking cooperation to help fund transit. To the Premier: does he have a plan to take to the Premiers' conference seeking support from the federal government to help fix the lower mainland transit system that's been broken because of Ken Dobell's incompetence?
Hon. G. Campbell: You know, I appreciate the fact that members opposite may not agree with the policies that the government enunciates or that we decide on. But you know what I don't agree with? I don't agree when the member opposite stands up and says that it was Mr. Dobell or any other public servant who made these decisions. These decisions were made by elected officials. These decisions were made by the former government. Will we go and ask the federal government to contribute to solving transportation problems across British Columbia? You bet your life we will. And will we ask top-notch public servants to serve in the province of British Columbia? You bet your life we will.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant with a supplemental question.
J. Kwan: It is the incompetence of the TransLink board, George Puil — your friend — and his friends that did not and cannot come to settle the transit strike. It was their administration that brought in the highest…
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Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
J. Kwan: …and most expensive administration of transit in the history of Canada. The incompetence has affected thousands of commuters, small businesses, people in the lower mainland, air quality in our community.
We discovered yesterday that this government is also cutting programs that encourage the green economy, which ensures that we have protection against global warming. Given this government's emerging anti-environmental agenda, can the Premier assure British Columbians that he won't jump on the Ralph Klein bandwagon to fight and kill the Kyoto agreement?
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. The Premier has the floor.
Hon. G. Campbell: I think it's important for the members opposite to remember this: the B.C. Liberal opposition voted against the GVTA agreement. It was imposed by the NDP.
The member asks: are we going to try and clean up the transit mess that was left by the NDP government? Yes, we are going to clean up the transit mess. The member opposite asks: are we going to take care of the environment? Yes, we are going to seek intervener status on Sumas 2. Yes, we are going to provide additional benefits to those who buy low-emission vehicles. Yes, we are going to base our environmental policy on sound science. And yes, we are going to watch as our environment improves in the province of British Columbia.
SUMAS POWER FACILITY
B. Penner: Tens and tens of thousands of Fraser Valley residents are concerned about the serious threat that the proposed Sumas Energy 2 power plant poses to human health and the environment. Early last year the previous NDP government repeatedly refused to seek intervener status in Washington State to fight this threat to Fraser Valley air quality.
During the election campaign B.C. Liberals promised to seek intervener status if elected on May 16. On June 29, within hours of SE2 submitting a revised application to Washington State, the Premier and the Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection wrote a letter seeking intervener status for British Columbia. Can the Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection now provide the Legislature with an update on the status of our request for intervener status?
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. J. Murray: We did promise to seek intervener status during the election. The reason for that was the concern about pollution and health issues in the Fraser Valley and lower mainland. We delivered on that promise a few weeks ago when we applied for intervener status.
I am very pleased to tell you today that I've heard from the American legal counsel that we have received approval for our intervener status. This status is going to give us an opportunity to prevent a major polluter from being located in this airshed that so many people in British Columbia depend on, and we are going to do everything we can to make sure we have that outcome.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order, please.
Hon. J. Murray: Since the previous government did not apply for intervener status, this government did, as part of our commitment to cleaner air and to improving the environment. I want to thank the MLAs from the Fraser Valley and all of the people from the Fraser Valley who worked so hard to bring this issue forward.
[End of question period.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. G. Collins: I call Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne.
Throne Speech Debate
J. Kwan: I rise today to reply to the throne speech. It gives me great honour to be standing here in the House to represent the people of Vancouver–Mount Pleasant.
I'll pause for a minute for the other members in the House with business elsewhere to exit.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please, for just a moment. Could the other members departing please do so quietly. Thank you very much.
Mr. Speaker: Please continue, member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant.
J. Kwan: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I'm wondering who has the floor.
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Mr. Speaker: A point of order?
J. Kwan: Yes. I'd be curious to know just who has the floor.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant has the floor. Please continue.
J. Kwan: Thank you, hon. Speaker. It is with great pleasure that I rise today to respond to the throne speech. I would first like to thank the people of Vancouver–Mount Pleasant for having re-elected me in this election. Vancouver–Mount Pleasant is a community of pride, an activist community. We are a very diverse community. We are a community that has over 78 ethnicities, and it is one of the most diverse communities in all of Canada. We're a community that is proud. We're a strong community, but we're also a community that faces many, many challenges.
Before I talk further about that, I'd like to thank the people who worked on my campaign: my campaign manager, Fred Wilson, and the campaign team, who really poured their heart and soul into the campaign because they believe in the issues of social justice. That is the backbone of what Vancouver–Mount Pleasant is and what we stand for.
When I think about Mount Pleasant, I do look at the beauty of it — absolutely. We have a strong small business community. We have a strong community with activists in the downtown east side around Commercial Drive, around the Main Street corridor, and I welcome a new part of the community into Vancouver–Mount Pleasant known as the Cedar Cottage area.
The people in Mount Pleasant had a strong history of activism long before I even existed or came to this country. They fight for what they believe in, and they never let go of that goal. With those kinds of initiatives over the last number of years, and especially over the last ten years, there were many gains in Vancouver–Mount Pleasant.
We see the development of the Four Corners Community Savings, serving people in the community who otherwise don't have access to banking services that we all take for granted. We see social housing better developed in the riding, providing safe, secure affordable housing to the people of Vancouver–Mount Pleasant: seniors, families, youth, people with disabilities and so on. We see a thriving community in the small business areas: in the Chinatown area, in the Commercial Drive area, around the Main Street corridor, around the Broadway corridor. Those are the small communities and local businesses that support the riding of Vancouver–Mount Pleasant.
One of the issues that I and my colleague from Vancouver-Hastings had been trying to put forward as an emergency debate sometime earlier was around the transit services. The residents in my riding depend on transit services. We are a strong community, but we are also one of the lowest-income communities in all of Canada. The average income in Vancouver–Mount Pleasant is about $16,000 a year, and people depend on transit services, which have not been available to them for 123 days.
We've been calling on the government to take action in this regard, to make sure that TransLink is held accountable and that they take on their responsibility ensuring that transit services are provided in the lower mainland. Unfortunately, to date no action has been taken. TransLink continues to refuse to accept its responsibility. They could have settled this back on June 14, I believe, when the Vince Ready report was tabled with recommendations to settle the TransLink dispute. The members need to understand that when our government, the NDP government, had responsibility for transit services in Victoria, those disputes were settled. They were settled within two days. In the lower mainland we brought in a mediator to try to settle the dispute. The report came out after the election. It was given to the minister right after the election, and to date there's been no resolution.
It has hurt the people in Vancouver–Mount Pleasant. I have seniors coming into the office with swollen feet because they've had to walk for 45 minutes to an hour to get to the office, because there's no transit services. I've personally driven constituents to doctors appointments because they cannot access transit services. We have single moms coming into the office because they've lost their jobs because there's no transit services, and this government has taken no action in that regard.
We looked to the throne speech to see whether or not there would be any direction there, and there was nothing there. The throne speech came with a lot of fanfare around tax cuts that benefit the wealthiest people in British Columbia, people who have the highest income with the greatest benefits. I look at the people in Vancouver–Mount Pleasant. The average income is $16,000. I looked at what tax benefit they would get with this throne speech. Well, it is 40 times less than the constituents and the backers of the Liberal government. I looked to see whether or not there was any good news for the people of Vancouver–Mount Pleasant in this throne speech, and it worries me greatly when I think about the tax cuts. They don't benefit, by and large, the people in Vancouver–Mount Pleasant.
I think about housing. The most critical need in the Mount Pleasant area is affordable, secure, safe housing. I looked to see whether or not the throne speech had any mention of providing and ensuring that British Columbia continues to be the most forward-thinking, progressive province in Canada in ensuring that there is a safe, comprehensive, affordable housing program. I don't see any of that. I don't see whether or not this government will commit to the 1,800 units of affordable housing that were announced prior to the election. Out of that 1,800 there are still 600 units of housing yet to be developed and committed to. Whether or not this government will continue to make those commitments….
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J. Kwan: Yes, the NDP stood strong on the record of affordable housing. There is no question about it. In fact, B.C. Housing received a national award recognized by every other person across the country recognizing the record of British Columbia in affordable housing.
People look to this government to see whether or not housing is their priority. I'm not talking about high-priced condos; I'm not talking about privatized housing. I'm talking about cooperatives and affordable housing for the lowest-income people. I'm talking about single moms, seniors and families who need those kinds of affordable housing.
We are proud of the record that the NDP government provided, and we'll wait and see whether or not the Liberals will stand on the record of ensuring that affordable housing is provided — provided for the children who are in need of housing. Surely all of the very many ministers that are now responsible for childhood development must acknowledge that affordable housing is the backbone of stability, to ensure that children thrive in a safe environment.
I will wait to see whether or not the Minister of State for Early Childhood Development will stand up to her government, to her Premier, to advocate and ensure — not just advocate but ensure — that housing is developed for the children in this province.
I think about Vancouver–Mount Pleasant in terms of the critical need for employment training initiatives. We are a community with people who are very much underemployed and unemployed. Employment programs are critical in terms of supporting them in their own personal development by offering them choices to enter the labour market, the workforce, and whether or not this government will come up with initiatives to make sure that those needs are met….
Actually, we looked at the budget that was just introduced, and in fact, in the budget there is a $7.5 million reduction in employment training initiatives targeted towards young people. Given that that is the case, I worry very much — not just for my riding but for the rest of the province in terms of young people who might not have had those choices and opportunities as they were growing up — whether or not now, at this juncture, they would have access to employment training initiatives that would be critical to them.
I looked at the throne speech. There was no indication there whether or not this government will come forward. I have a lot of concerns that they won't. We have already seen that they have made cuts to the budget in and of itself, but whether or not there are other initiatives down the road, we'll wait to see that.
I also looked in the throne speech with eagerness for initiatives and policies that would address women's issues. You know what, Mr. Speaker? It's sad to say that I did not see any indication in the policy direction that would address women's needs. Women have told me and my colleague from Vancouver–Hastings that they have to have the right to choose on the question around reproductive choice. It is their right to make sure that they have that choice. That is nobody else's choice to make for them. Whether or not this government will actually move forward to ensure that choice is protected for women, there is no policy decision or direction in the throne speech that addresses that.
I looked at the issues around women's employment initiatives, once again, and around child care initiatives that are critical to women in our communities. We looked at the throne speech. There was nothing there that addresses those issues. We looked at the budget, and the budget talked about actually cutting child care.
The Minister of State for Women's Equality actually talked about how child care is too expensive. This government has rejected offhandedly a universal child care system that even the board of trade says is a good economic approach and is a good social approach. They say that they need to consult with British Columbians. Well, consultations have already taken place. Women have spoken loud and clear in support of a universal child care program. Even their friends from the board of trade support a universal child care program. Unfortunately, the first thing that this government does is eliminate $16.9 million from a child care program and not move forward on a universal child care program, and I think that's most unfortunate.
When I think about poverty issues, the community in Vancouver–Mount Pleasant is struggling hard for their day-to-day survival. It is actually an inspiration when I look and see the many, many struggles in their lives and how they even manage to survive on a day-by-day basis. When we look at the throne speech to see what actions and initiatives are there to support people who are living in poverty and who are struggling every day to survive — for themselves, for their children and for their families — I see nothing there.
I see big tax cuts for the wealthiest, the people who don't need government assistance. Really, the people who don't need government assistance…. Well, they get all of the benefits. They have a huge tax break given to them. Then on budget day we see big corporations, multimillion-dollar corporations, getting even a bigger break. Then I look at the little people, the people who make $16,000 or less, the average income of Vancouver–Mount Pleasant. I look and see what they have got to benefit them. Well, the tax break will be less than $20 a month. That's what they've got, and the wealthiest will get 40 times that. Somehow this government thinks that there's something to celebrate.
When I think about issues around multiculturalism, I think of the diversity of our province. In Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, as I mentioned earlier, we're one of the most diverse communities in all of Canada — 78 ethnicities. We're not only diverse in the colour of our skin, but we're also diverse by way of sexual orientation. We're also diverse in terms of income levels. We are very diverse in every aspect of the word. When I look to the throne speech, there is nothing
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mentioned about celebrating and supporting multiculturalism in British Columbia, the diversity of British Columbia. In fact, days after the election the Attorney General immediately moved to step aside from supporting same-sex couples in their fight to have the right for recognition in marriage.
I'm actually getting married myself in August of this year. In fact, on August 12 I will be getting married to a wonderful person that I have come to meet, and he is my minister of romance. He is the person that I'll answer to on issues around love and romantic affairs. I am very delighted about that. But you know, it saddens me, because I have friends and I know a lot of people who are also seeking the same path that I have chosen. It should be a choice if you want to recognize your union by way of sanctifying it through a marriage procedure, legally through that procedure, or simply have a relationship in partnership without that process. It ought to be a choice.
As part of a heterosexual couple, I have that choice. We have that choice. But you know what? Same-sex couples don't have that choice. They ought to be given that choice. The NDP government actually moved forward and tried to advance and support individual choices in that regard. The first thing this government did was step back and say: "No, I'm sorry, same-sex couples. If you want to have your marriage recognized legally, we will not support you. We will simply step back." You know, hon. Speaker, that's a regression in time. In the new era of choices and opportunities those choices ought to be made by all people, no matter who they are, where they come from or what their sexual orientation may be.
Hon. Speaker, we think about other issues impacting women. I think about the pay equity legislation. One of the last acts, yes, of our government under the NDP administration was to bring forward legislation on pay equity. Women deserve to be paid at the same level for work of equal value. I looked to the throne speech to see whether or not they'll stand up and support women in the pay equity legislation, and I thought that it was most unfortunate. What the government has chosen to do, instead of moving forward with that piece of legislation, is simply say: "Hey, we'll create a panel. We'll review it. We'll take a look at it." You know what? You can see that it's not a priority, because there's no time line whatsoever. The panel can probably go on and on. There's no intention whatsoever, no signal to the women who fought all of their lives to make sure that pay equity is on the agenda, to make sure that it is brought forward and that once it has been brought forward, it continues to move forward.
There's nothing from this government on supporting pay equity legislation and making sure that it comes to fruition. You know what? That's a loss to women, yes, and it's a loss to the B.C. economy. This government says it wants to make sure that there's a strong economy. Well, women are a big part of it. They're not just a lobby group that is out there. They are 52 percent of our population, and they contribute significantly to the B.C. economy. The pay equity legislation is a significant component of that.
When I look at the throne speech, I look to see what the priorities of this government are. Lo and behold, the priority of this government is to support the oil and gas industry — offshore drilling. They say immediately that they would set up a scientific panel and that this panel will do their work within six months and figure out whether or not offshore drilling would be a good thing or a bad thing for British Columbia. I don't know how, within six months, this government can fast-track that kind of work and come to a determination when they cannot make that determination for pay equity, when everybody has spoken on the issue around pay equity and it is clear that it is a good thing for British Columbians.
But for oil and gas offshore drilling they already know where they want to go. They're going to create this so-called panel and make some sort of decision, but the fact of the matter is that the decision has already been made. There's no doubt about it. And this is irrespective of what's going to happen to our environment.
They say they care very much about the environment, but what do they do in their throne speech? There was no mention of the environment, with the exception of…. When we talk about deregulation in the budget and when we talk about mining explorations and offshore drilling and the like — everything that would be detrimental to the environment — there is nothing in terms of talking about protecting the environment. There is nothing that talks about ensuring that our air quality is improved or that it supports the Kyoto protocol. I'm not sure if the Premier actually knows what that is.
We're not moving in the direction that the world trend, the global trend, is moving towards with respect to environmental and global warming issues — with the exception, of course, of Ralph Klein, Mike Harris and George Bush. Perhaps the Premier is really interested in moving in the same direction as Mike Harris. We have never seen that kind of detriment imposed in the last ten years to our environment in British Columbia. We'll see whether or not this government will move in that direction. My suspicion is that they will.
I have lots of concerns around the environment. As I mentioned, I am getting married, and hopefully one day I'll be lucky enough to be blessed with children also. I hope that our environment will still be there for that generation and that the air quality will still be protected, but I have no assurances of that from the throne speech to date.
I think about a critical issue to our community once again, the history of Vancouver–Mount Pleasant and the issues around human rights, rights that protect working women and working men, low-income people. We talk about same-sex couples and all of those protections. I looked to the throne speech to see what direction this government might take with respect to advocating and moving
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forward on human rights, and there was nothing there. There was nothing in the throne speech. My constituents ask me, and they worry about some of the advances that we have made and whether or not the clock will turn back.
You know what? All I can say to them is that I fear that it will. I fear that the clock will turn back. We will have to be ever vigilant to watch this government and hold them accountable on issues that are important to British Columbians.
In Vancouver–Mount Pleasant we have a lot of people who have made a lot of contributions to our community. In the last while — in fact, less than a month ago — I lost a very good friend of mine, John Cheetham. He was a champion in the non-profit sector. For anyone who was involved with HIV/AIDS issues, with advancing human rights for people who are not recognized in our community or with advancing concerns for the poorest of the poor and the most marginalized people, John was there.
John was somebody who was uncommon in many ways — with many contradictions, really. He was a businessman, an accountant. He was the only accountant I knew who had blue hair — sometimes orange and other times yellow. He was the only business person I knew that I would honestly call…. He fundamentally believed in the principles not just from an economic point of view but also from a social point of view. He had a business called Ethisys.
Just weeks before he died, he won an award from VanCity Credit Union that recognized ethical businesses and individuals. That was the Ethics in Action Award. John contributed much to our community, and it is a great sadness and loss to our community and to his family members that John died suddenly.
Before he died, though, he donated time to create the world's first cost-benefit analysis on harm reduction. This cost many thousands of dollars in hours — in time — and they donated it to the Portland Hotel Society. He was very generous and a very, very good friend of mine and our community. In fact, just last week in the West Ender he was recognized as the community's hero. I will miss John greatly, and I will think of him in every struggle against the spread of HIV/AIDS in Vancouver–Mount Pleasant and the broader community, to make sure that the most marginalized people are not set aside and cast aside and that businesses understand the issues and stand up and be ethical around their principles in support of all communities. I will think of John when we fight that fight.
I know that John is actually watching us. I have no doubt that he's watching me, wishing me well and, hopefully, providing me with the guidance I will need to make sure that we move in the right direction in this regard.
As I mentioned, in the downtown east side community we have many, many challenges. There's no doubt about it. It is a strong community with activists, but we still have many challenges. One of the most critical challenges we have is, of course, the substance-misuse challenge we're faced with. For a couple of years prior to the election we have been working with the three levels of government — the city of Vancouver, the provincial and federal governments — on the Vancouver agreement. We have made some great strides in advancing that agreement.
Under the Vancouver agreement, the provincial government actually committed to 600 units of affordable housing to make sure that people who need housing, who live in substandard housing are being provided for. We have provided additional support for treatment centres and expanded treatment services in the community — not just in the downtown east side community but, really, throughout the Vancouver-Richmond region as well.
We have seen a range of detox services, sobering services, stabilizing services, outreach and methadone therapy supports being committed to and financed. Whether or not this government will continue on with that direction and place the priority that it needs to place in the downtown east side community is a question that remains to be answered.
We've also seen the creation of indoor health connection programs to provide health and substance-misuse referral services, life skills training and social support programs for street-involved drug and alcohol users. We've also seen the redevelopment and redeployment of police officers to increase their contact and visibility in the community. Those are some of the initiatives that the three levels of government have committed to.
We have also stepped up the expansion of the street program by ensuring that employment opportunities are provided to the people in the downtown east side, whether they be picking up drug paraphernalia in the neighbourhood, graffiti cleanup initiatives or even the first native artist co-op that promotes the talents of the downtown east side, which often gets overlooked, the people who have many, many skills but are not showcased in the way they need to be for those initiatives to be supported by government. Those were some of things we have done under the Vancouver agreement. Whether or not this government will continue to move forward in the four-pillar, comprehensive approach to substance misuse remains to be seen.
I sincerely hope that the government will. It is needed, and it's been agreed to by all three levels of government. We should not turn back the clock. People do not need to die in the downtown east side. Those lives could be saved. The spread of diseases could be prevented if we move forward on the four-pillar approach to substance misuse and if we are progressive in those decisions.
I've been asked time and again by the people in Vancouver–Mount Pleasant whether or not the support and priority that the NDP had placed on the downtown east side community will continue. I do not know the answer to that. I have written a letter to the minister, and I'm awaiting his response. These are some of the questions that the community wants to
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know: whether or not their government, this government, will honour the financial commitments made to date; whether or not the Liberal government will continue to make the four-pillar comprehensive approach to substance misuse a priority, as the city and federal governments have done. Will the government honour the 600 units of affordable housing committed to under the Vancouver agreement? Will the Liberal government continue to make the commitments, under the western economic partnership agreement with the federal government, on the Vancouver agreement? And will this government commit to the necessary resources to implement the various different initiatives? I look forward to the answers.
I look to the throne speech to see whether or not there are any of these pressing issues that are important and critical to Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, and I don't see anything there. The only thing, really, that the entire throne speech focuses on is around big tax cuts to people who are the wealthiest in the province, but a lot of people who are the poorest happen to live in my riding — I know that from my colleague from Vancouver-Hastings — and depend on a lot of the services that government would provide. Was there any good news for them in the throne speech? Unfortunately, there wasn't.
In my community we have a strong community of aboriginal people, and they fear that the referendum process would divide the community, would drive the aboriginal people into even more poverty, into even more regressive developments for them. We know all of the stats within the aboriginal community. They have the highest mortality rate. They have the highest rate of people being in conflict with the law. They have the highest high school dropout rate. They have the highest suicide rate, and the list goes on and on.
You know, this government says that it wants to see economic activity and stability. Well then, Mr. Speaker, drop the referendum approach. Restore stability in the aboriginal community and for all of British Columbia and make sure that there can be forward-thinking and progressive movements for the aboriginal community and all people of British Columbia.
I thank you for the opportunity to speak and respond to the throne speech today, and I look forward to working with the members. I hope the members will remember that the agenda is not just the corporate agenda, that there is a broader British Columbia other than the people who donated to their campaign.
R. Masi: I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Speaker on his election to the chair, and I expect the evenhandedness and efficient operation that we've come to expect. I'm sure that he will deliver. I'm very much looking forward to it.
Also, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant on her wedding day, August 12. That happens to be my birthday, so we can both celebrate a great day.
I'm honoured to rise today to participate in this throne speech and economic review of the second session of the thirty-seventh parliament. But before I begin, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of my constituency, Delta North, for their confidence and support in re-electing me as their MLA. I want to thank them for their overwhelming endorsement of this government's platform for change. It's a vision of a new era for British Columbia. It has been a long time since a government took up the challenge laid down by the people of this province with such a visionary and bold throne speech and an economic review.
This throne speech sets out a clear direction for our province. It is an action plan. It represents a new era for British Columbia as we begin to put B.C. back on track after a decade of decline and failure on the part of the previous government. You know, B.C. used to be the province to live in. We were known as a province where if you worked hard, you could get ahead. We were known as a province where entrepreneurs and investment capital were welcome, and then in the fall of 1991 that all changed. Our economy went from first to worst over the past ten years. We were last in economic growth, investment growth, employment growth, and the average annual take-home pay dropped by over $1,700.
This dismal record of shame is not the fault of the hard-working people of British Columbia. Responsibility for this dismal record of incompetence and lost opportunity lies squarely with the NDP. The people of British Columbia spoke loudly and clearly on May 16 of this year. They said that this must stop. They said that they weren't going to take it anymore. They said that it was time for a new era in British Columbia. This government has listened to the people, and the Speech from the Throne reflects that.
It spells out very clearly our government's solemn commitment to fulfil its contract with the people of British Columbia. The future legislation will set out the foundation for a new era of hope, prosperity and accountability. In the last election the Premier and all of us on the government side made a genuine commitment to the people of British Columbia that we would maintain the current funding levels for both health care and education in this province. Additionally, we committed to increase those funding levels as the economy grew, and this Speech from the Throne reaffirms these commitments.
It should come as no surprise to anyone in this Legislature, nor will it come as any great surprise to British Columbians, that our health care system is in trouble. These troubles didn't crop up overnight. In fact, many of the problems plaguing our health care system were identified back in 1991 by the Seaton Royal Commission on Health Care and Costs.
Despite the warnings sounded back in 1991, the previous government chose to ignore them. Not only that, they cut back spending on health care, the hiring and training of doctors, nurses, licensed practical nurses and hospital beds. With fewer beds, fewer
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nurses and fewer doctors as a result of NDP mismanagement, is it any wonder that surgical waiting lists ballooned out of control over the past five years, with general surgery wait-lists up 27 percent, neurosurgery up 79 percent, and on and on?
This is why I was pleased to see the decisive action taken by our government to address these critical shortages right at their root cause. We have committed to enhancing training programs for health care aides and licensed practical nurses. We will increase the support to upgrade the training for existing health care providers and enhance our efforts to help more foreign-trained nurses and non-practising nurses get the education and training they need.
Working with British Columbians, we will deliver on our commitment to open, build and operate an additional 5,000 intermediate and long term care beds by 2006. Over the course of this term of office we will establish provincial health standards, provide a $5 million rural travel assistance program, increase residency positions, enhance training for ambulance attendants and bolster our commitment to telehealth and locum support.
These commitments lay the groundwork for getting our health care system back on track, reflecting our government's priority to deliver, as outlined in the Speech from the Throne, high-quality public health care services that meet all patients' needs where they live and when they need them.
Similarly, our government is committed to delivering a top-notch education system for students of all ages. As one who spent much of my adult life as an educator, I can't begin to tell you how pleased I was to see this commitment on the part of the government. For too long our educational system has been subjected to the NDP's policy of benign neglect and appeasement rather than forthright leadership.
Our students have been held hostage to labour unrest, with the result that over four million student-days were lost during the previous government's reign of error. Those four million days can never be replaced, and it's our children who suffer. That must stop. As stated in the throne speech, no child's right to an education should be denied because of a school strike or lockout.
It's why we will introduce legislation in this session to restore education as an essential service, but that's not all. Successful education starts at the local level. Our government knows that school boards need greater autonomy, flexibility and accountability if they are to deliver the quality education that parents and students demand and expect.
It means providing school boards with rolling three-year funding envelopes so that they have greater certainty when planning for their district needs. It means allowing school boards greater flexibility in how their funds are allocated, and it means establishing specific goals and outcomes to better measure the success of our education system.
[J. Weisbeck in the chair.]
Parents want to be more involved in their children's education, and our government welcomes their involvement. That's why we will introduce legislation in this session to ensure that parents with children in school will be able to volunteer in that school, and as well, we will restore funding to parent advisory committees.
Our government is also following through on its pledge to usher in a new era for advanced education. We're going to double the number of graduates in computer science and in electrical and computer engineering over the next five years. We will establish a leading-edge endowment fund in partnership with the private sector. Fully funded over the next four years, the endowment fund will create 20 permanent B.C. leadership chairs in environmental, social, technological and medical research.
As a former educator, as a parent — and, I might add, as a parent of two sons who are preparing to enter the teaching profession — I am proud to participate in this exciting new era for education in our province, a new education that will provide exciting new opportunities and hope for our children and indeed all British Columbians.
It should come as no surprise to all members of this chamber that British Columbians have become increasingly cynical and pessimistic about politicians and politics. They feel alienated and that their opinion and vote don't matter anymore. This frustration tears at the very fabric of our democracy, and I believe that it is incumbent upon all of us as legislators, working with the people of British Columbia, to bridge this divide.
Our government has taken the initiative by lifting the veil of secrecy that hung over the operations of cabinet, through the televising of monthly meetings of cabinet for all British Columbians to witness. I am pleased to see that we will have fixed election dates, a first in Canada, so that the calling of elections will no longer be done at the political advantage of any Premier.
As a legislator I am very happy that we will now have the ability to vote freely on all legislative matters not identified as confidence votes. As well, I was pleased to note the commitment of this government to bring in a set legislative calendar and fixed budget dates. At long last this Legislature is being put in a business-type setting. These reforms are long overdue, and I am proud that it is our government that recognized their need and took the initiative to bring them forward.
At some time over the next couple of years British Columbians will be asked to examine and assess different models of electing MLAs, including proportional representation, preferential ballots and our current electoral system, amongst other options. A citizens' assembly on electoral reform will be set up with a mandate to examine these issues, and if they make recommendations for changing our electoral system, those recommendations will be put to the people in a provincewide referendum.
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I believe that the people of British Columbia will respond favourably and passionately when the citizens' assembly on electoral reform is established and commences its proceedings. At the same time, however, I believe that we need to examine very carefully the role of individual members of the Legislature. Are there better ways for us to harness the talents, knowledge, energy and passion that each of us brings to this job? Do we need to explore other models of legislative structure, such as in the U.S., where elected representatives at the state and federal levels sponsor and pass substantive legislation? What about the Scottish or the British models? Look even at our own roots here in Canada. You know, at the time of Confederation, Members of Parliament were far more individualistic, and coalitions ebbed and flowed on the floor of the House of Commons depending on the issue being debated.
Our government has made meaningful progress in terms of reforming this Legislative Assembly and our role in it. The Speech from the Throne confirms this. The question is: can or should we look at additional ways of further enhancing the role of MLAs so that we can better represent the interests of our constituents?
At some point over the next year British Columbians will be asked to give their direct input into a process which will have a profound impact on the future of our province. I'm speaking of our government's commitment to hold a provincial referendum on the principles that will guide the government in its negotiations on behalf of the people of B.C. with members of our first nations. I know that the people of this province want to negotiate treaty settlements that are balanced and honourable and that reflect our values of fairness and equity. What is clear, however, is that the people of B.C. do not want these negotiations carried on behind closed doors. Closed-door atmospheres lead to fear and apprehension.
We need a framework around which negotiations can be conducted with clearly defined principles. We need certainty and finality to these negotiated treaties such that every citizen of British Columbia can move forward with confidence into the future. At the same time, I believe we need to ensure that everybody's rights are recognized and protected. To be just and equitable, treaty settlements need to respect and reflect the contribution and role of everyone in the signatory first nation. That's everyone: both male and female, young and old.
Individual freedoms, rights and obligations are the cornerstone of any democracy. A treaty settlement which fails to reflect these core values of democracy is itself doomed to fail and is not worth the paper it is written on.
There is another area of public policy which I want to share with the Legislature today. It's a subject that has at times gripped our nation over the past 40 years, and that issue is national unity. In 1995 our country came perilously close to fragmenting. A mere whisker of votes separated those in Quebec who would go their own way and those who would choose Canada.
While the issue of Quebec separation has dominated the nation's headlines for the past four decades, we have heard these same appeals from our own friends and neighbours from time to time here in western Canada. Even here in B.C. there are occasionally calls from a few citizens for western separatism. I hope that these western Canadian calls for separation are isolated incidents, led only by sour and disgruntled individuals.
Certainly, these calls are at odds with those I meet and talk with in my riding and around most of the province. Indeed, we need only think back to last year, when a television ad touched our nation like no other in recent memory. I'm sure that all members of this Legislature will recall the ad I'm referring to. It's the one where a man on stage talks about what makes Canada different from the U.S. That ad spoke to Canadians deep in our collective souls. The way we reacted to it clearly demonstrated a profound love of Canada.
While we aren't known as flag-waving patriots like our friends to the south of us, we are nonetheless no less proud to be Canadian. Our country is known around the world as a beacon for tolerance, understanding, opportunity, justice and compassion. The Canada that citizens of the world seek out includes Quebec and British Columbia and Prince Edward Island and all the other provinces and territories that constitute its whole. I believe that we are a better nation because of our differences and our commonalities.
It would be folly to think that the cloak of separatism has been buried. There are those for whom this debate would suit their own agendas. The way we tackle separatism head-on is by working with all provinces and the federal government to shape and build a confederation which reflects our modern realities.
This week Premier Campbell is hosting the annual Premiers' conference here in Victoria, affording British Columbia a unique opportunity to reassert its influential role in Confederation. To be successful at these conferences requires one to demonstrate leadership, wisdom and courage — not petulance, grandstanding and crass politics, as was so often evident with the previous administration. That's why I'm proud to be a member of Premier Campbell's government, for he knows that our reputation as a province was degraded within the nation over the past five years.
Premier Campbell knows that Ottawa and the other provincial governments will be watching closely to see how our government conducts itself. They will watch to see if we can be trusted or if we say one thing in a meeting and then turn around and say something else in the media. I can tell all members of this Legislature that Premier Campbell is a man of his word and that he will represent British Columbia with integrity, distinction and honour.
All of us on the government side understand the importance of British Columbia and our role in Canada. We will be vigilant in advancing the interests
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of our province, but at the same time, we will be demonstrating the concrete benefits of being Canadian.
Finally, I wanted to turn to two issues of prime importance to my own constituency of Delta North. I am speaking of the preservation of Burns Bog and the construction of the proposed South Fraser perimeter road.
The preservation of Burns Bog is an issue that has captured international attention. Area-wise, the bog, as the locals refer to it, covers some 3,000 hectares — much, much larger, in fact, than Stanley Park.
It is a unique domed, or raised, bog ecosystem, home to over 150 species of birds and mammals and countless species of plants and insects. Some of its inhabitants, such as the southern red-back vole and the Pacific water shrew, are endangered. And it provides a critical habitat for the region's greater sandhill crane population. For a number of years now local residents, led by Eliza Olson of the Burns Bog Conservation Society, have been working and lobbying to save Burns Bog from development. They have enlisted the support, political and financial, of the corporation of Delta and the GVRD.
The province, under the previous NDP government, made a drastic decision that could have had tragic consequences if successful. It would have brought the PNE — think of it — to sit right on top of Burns Bog. Fortunately, the good residents of my constituency and others, working with the then opposition leader, Gordon Campbell, were able to stop this lunacy before it was too late. Earlier this year, at long last, the federal government stepped up to the plate and agreed to allocate funds to help purchase it. So the funding appears to be in place. Now we need to sit down and negotiate with the owners of the bog. To date, negotiating with the owners has been an exercise in frustration. However, I'm confident that we will see a resolution to this issue, one that will see us acquire and preserve Burns Bog for future generations.
Lastly, Mr. Speaker, I want to briefly touch on the issue of the South Fraser perimeter road project. For years it has been recognized that ever-increasing truck traffic moving goods between the rail terminus in Surrey, Delta Port and Roberts Bank and the border needed a better transportation corridor. Currently, the bulk of the truck traffic — and I might add that it's over 2,000 trucks a day — travels up and down River Road, through my constituency, disrupting what should be a very quiet residential area.
The principal stumbling block is funding, of course. At a projected cost of some $400 million to construct, neither the corporation of Delta nor the province can afford to build it by themselves. To make this project work, we need the assistance of the federal government. Until they step forward, it is unlikely that this project will be completed. We need this project, though, not just for North Delta but rather for the entire lower mainland. Improving our transportation infrastructure is critical to our region's and the province's economic health and competitiveness. We will need a comprehensive and sustained effort to bring Ottawa to the table, and I am hopeful that this will in fact be accomplished.
It has been my honour and my privilege to participate in this throne speech debate. And it is an honour to have been chosen by my peers in North Delta to represent them once again in this Legislature.
In closing, I wanted to bring to the Legislature's attention a statement once made by Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick on democracy. He said: "Democracy is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people." That's what it is: the freedom to encourage every one of us to do our very best.
B. Belsey: Hon. Speaker, this being my first opportunity to stand in this hallowed chamber, I want to tell the people of British Columbia — in particular, the people of the North Coast riding — how honoured and excited I am to have the opportunity to represent them. At the same time, I would like to extend my congratulations to you and the rest of my colleagues that sit with me in this chamber.
The people of British Columbia sent a very clear message to the past government that they wanted change, and in the short time that we have been in power, our government has sent back a very clear message: we have listened, and we're not afraid to give them the changes they asked for.
My riding, I believe, is the fourth-largest in this beautiful province. It extends from the pristine Bella Coola Valley in the south to the towering snow-capped mountains above Stewart in the north. From east to west it includes the two port communities of Prince Rupert and Port Edward and across Hecate Strait to the unspoiled and well-preserved Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii. This vast region hosts many different cultures and many different ethnic groups. It is a vast region supporting many families with its riches. It is home to approximately 25,000 people, of which approximately 45 percent are first nations.
This riding has sent a number of citizens to this chamber, and many have served this province well. Included in that list of distinguished representatives are the hon. Duff Pattullo, who served from 1933 to 1941 and actually became Premier of this great province — I might add that he was a member of the Liberal Party at the time — and the hon. Bill Murray, who served from 1964 to 1972 and eventually served as Speaker of the House.
However, not even the hon. Pattullo or the hon. Murray could have predicted the problems that northerners face today. Paramount on the minds of so many of those living in my riding are two very important issues. These issues are Skeena Cellulose and offshore oil and gas. Both of these topics have huge implications to those living, and the families living, in my riding. These are in no way the only issues that concern my riding, but they are the ones that I have the time to address today.
First, let me comment on Skeena Cellulose. I was the manager of maintenance and engineering at Skeena
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Cellulose operations before I was elected to represent the North Coast riding, so I do have some insight into the operation. Few facts were ever made public by the previous government, and the newspapers rarely ever supported Skeena Cellulose. All we ever heard were the negative and often erroneous facts about Skeena Cellulose and its operations.
Let me correct or at least point out some of those facts that support the pulp mill in my riding. Skeena Cellulose has set weekly and monthly pulp production records this year. That is only possible with cooperation from both the pulp mill workers and the management team, working together to coordinate labour, materials and equipment. Skeena Cellulose made a profit last year and met all its negotiated financial commitments for 2000.
The financial commitments included the cost of supplies, raw products, maintenance costs, as well as its taxes and stumpage fee. Approximately $100 million a year for the last three years has gone back into the various levels of government from stumpage, personal income tax and sales tax from people that work at Skeena Cellulose.
Hon. Speaker, I am often asked: "What would happen if Skeena Cellulose closed today?" My standard answer, when asked that question, is: how many people live in your riding? Just today I was asked that very question, and the answer to mine was: "About 50,000 people live in my riding." Well, I'll tell you what would happen. What do you think would happen if 10,000 people in your riding lost their job today? Approximately 20 percent of the people who live in Prince Rupert, or roughly 2,500 people, are either directly or indirectly employed at Skeena Cellulose or one of its facilities.
The position Skeena Cellulose finds itself in today is a culmination of a number of problems. One, of the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been generated by that company, they've been removed by previous owners who have put little money back into the facilities. Oversupply of pulp mills and markets have caused prices in the pulp industry to drop to virtually all-time lows. This could and will change in time, making the Skeena mill a very attractive asset to some buyer. But in the interim the question remains: what do we do with Skeena Cellulose?
I know Skeena Cellulose has been a very time-consuming issue for Minister Thorpe and his staff. They continue to spend long hours trying to find a buyer and a solution to the difficulties the company finds itself in today. I want to thank each and every one of them for their continued effort.
The second major issue in my riding is the potential for offshore oil and gas. This holds enormous potential not only for those living in my riding but indeed for all British Columbians and in fact all Canadians. It is important that we develop these reserves, but we must do it in ways that are tied to proper environmental practices, proper consultation with northerners and a clear understanding of how revenue will be shared with the people living in that area.
It is not with reckless abandon that I propose development of these oil-and-gas-bearing fields — quite the contrary. It must be investigated with sensitivity to both the people in the north and the environment. But it must be clearly understood that over the last 15 to 20 years, there have been many studies into the impact of offshore oil and gas development in and around Hecate Strait.
One of the most inclusive studies brought together the coastal communities, first nations, oil companies and the government. They identified 94 issues to be addressed before the moratorium could be lifted. Every single one of these issues has been addressed today. They are no longer concerns, either because of the drilling technology advancements or because they have been addressed by procedures, codes and requirements for drilling. Yet we still want to study drilling offshore.
Some of the questions that arose from those studies included the concern of earthquakes. We currently drill along the west coast of Alaska; we drill off Santa Barbara, off Los Angeles, right down to the coast of South America. These coastal locations are joined by the same geological formation. As a matter of fact, every major drilling plate in the world today has the same general geological formation. Yet we often hear the concern: what about earthquakes? Why has it been proven safe in all these other locations, but it's not proven safe off of our coast? High wind and high wave action. The wind and wave action caused by Atlantic storms in the North Sea are far more powerful than those Hecate Strait is exposed to.
Oil spills. Let me share with you some interesting facts from a report prepared by the people who look at the development of Hibernia. Forty-five percent of the hydrocarbons entering the marine environment today is attributed to tanker traffic. It's attributed to those facilities that load and offload oil and to those vessels that pump their bilge when ballasting. Approximately 10 percent of all hydrocarbons that make it into the marine environment comes from runoff from sewers and ditches where oil that leaks from cars gathers and concentrates and then is carried out into a marine environment.
Mother Nature herself is responsible for approximately 7 percent through natural seepage from earthquakes. The very first well drilled on the Queen Charlotte Islands was in an area where oil came to the surface naturally. Fishermen who crab-fish in Hecate Strait have reported, from time to time, finding crab traps that they've retrieved that have oil on them. There is a natural seepage of oil. Identified in this very same report was that 1.8 percent or less was attributed to offshore oil and exploration. It can be done safely. It is being done safely around the world.
With the proper controls in place, with a better understanding of the process and with revenue-sharing considerations, we can develop what could quite conceivably be the largest single contributor to debt reduction for British Columbia. Revenue from gas and oil development could be the largest single contributor to education and health care budgets, and it would
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become the greatest single contributor to my riding's economy.
Our Finance minister tabled one of the boldest tax-cutting budgets this province has ever seen. No government has had the vision, the wisdom or the fortitude to bring in tax-cutting measures that this government has. My riding wants to be a valued contributor to turning this province around. We want to help generate the revenue we need to support the programs that we have in place. My riding is eager, willing and able to contribute to the revenue needed to move this province back to being the number one province in Canada.
Hon. S. Hawkins: It's an honour to rise and respond to the throne speech, Mr. Speaker, and let me first say congratulations on your appointment. I haven't had a chance to congratulate you yet.
I want to say how privileged I feel to be re-elected by the people in the Okanagan for the riding that I serve. I'm very honoured to be the member for the new riding of Kelowna-Mission. I was honoured to represent the people of Okanagan West, and I know they have a great representative in the new MLA that they've elected. There are many people who helped me in my re-election, and to each and every one of them I want to say thank you.
Certainly, I want to acknowledge the staff in my constituency office who have worked extremely hard for me the last five years and who continue to give the very best service that they can provide to my constituents. To Del and Meghan I say thank you, thank you, thank you for all the long hours that you put into the office and also for all the dedicated community and charity work that you do. You've really made me proud.
I heard the Minister of Sustainable Resource Management say that he represented the most beautiful area in the province, and I challenge him to come to my riding, because I know he'll have to change his mind. I think everyone knows that the Okanagan is known worldwide for its beauty.
We are the heart of free enterprise. We can boast, as well, that we have one of the largest chambers of commerce in the province. I think it is the largest chamber of commerce membership. We have a very diverse economy. Certainly, Mr. Speaker, you know, because you're my colleague on the other side there. We have a very wonderful tree fruit industry. We have wine-making, fruit packing, processing, manufacturing, forestry, high-tech, tourism. They're amongst the mainstays in our area.
In Kelowna we're very fortunate to have an active arts community, a symphony orchestra, galleries, our sports teams — the Kelowna Rockets hockey team. Incidentally, I think they beat the Kamloops Blazers for the top spot last year, and I challenge the member for Kamloops to correct me on that. Also, I'd like to mention our Okanagan Sun football team, because I know they've done us proud on the national stage for the last few years, so I commend them.
We also have over 40 wineries and golf courses in the valley, miles and miles of beautiful beaches, ski hills that are world-class, and hiking and biking trails that attract tourists from around the world. So it really is a paradise, and I would like to invite all the members to come and visit — even the member for Comox Valley. I'm sure he will be tempted to stay, but at the very least I think he'll come back to visit many times.
On Tuesday we heard our Minister of Finance present the Economic and Fiscal Update. Like many of my constituents, I was very proud and upbeat about the direction he set us on. B.C. is coming back. After ten years of decline and struggle, I believe we now have a reason to be optimistic. After ten years of facing hardship, job losses and declining incomes, we have a reason to hope. After ten years of going from being number one to last place, I think we all have a reason to believe in a new era of hope and prosperity for this province.
The mood in my constituency after the Finance minister's report was upbeat and very optimistic. The tax announcements are good news for all the enterprising people in my riding. Good news for the workers, who got the 25 percent income tax reductions more than a month ago — something we promised and we delivered immediately after we got sworn in. Good news for the businesses in the logging, mining and energy sectors, who saw a drop in investment and business over the last ten years. Good news for the high-tech industry, small businesses and foreign investors, who are eager to come to B.C. and build their businesses here too. And good news for all the people buying the cars and trucks they need for work, business and family use.
I'm proud of our government's swift, solid action to kick-start our economy. We face many challenges. After ten years of fiscal mismanagement and incompetence, we must have and we need a vital, vibrant economy so we can pay for those very, very important high-quality health and education services that we are responsible for providing. I believe the measures announced by our Finance minister will set the stage for significant economic growth around the province.
After the tax cuts that we announced as soon as we got sworn in, business and consumer confidence has increased significantly, and that's only been in the last seven weeks. The new measures and regulatory changes that were announced on Tuesday, I believe, will increase investment; re-energize our logging, mining and transportation industries; and positively impact on working families and the job creation that will begin in this province once again.
Some people — like perhaps the two members opposite — will say that we shouldn't have cut taxes, that our measures were too aggressive or that we couldn't afford to do what we did. But I say to them: we couldn't afford not to do it. We had to move. If we didn't do something now, we would end up being a have-not province, something those members across the way were responsible for in the last ten years, taking our province from number one — from being a
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leader in Canada — to tenth place, something I think British Columbians are not very proud of and want to move forward on. That's what the majority of British Columbians want. They voted for change; they voted for positive change. They voted for a different way of doing things. They voted for fiscal responsibility, better management and a change of direction from the past ten years.
In order to build a healthy economy, we need a competitive tax system and better fiscal management in this province. I'm proud to say that our government has moved quickly to put that plan in place.
As I said, we face some very, very tough challenges that were left for us, and one of those challenges is health care. Despite escalating health spending in recent years, despite an increase of more than $1 billion in the health budget since last year, this lack of confidence is felt by patients and by doctors, nurses and other health professionals in the system. The lack of confidence, I think, comes from the knowledge that the pressure for health services is outstripping the ability of our economy and British Columbia's taxpayers to fund those needs.
The growth costs are not sustainable, and they threaten public health care in our province. Our government is willing to face up to the real issues in British Columbia's health care system and to address them strategically and realistically. We want to make sure that British Columbians can count on the health services that are most important to them and that we devote more of every health dollar we spend on patient care.
The Health Services minister has spoken to all of us in this House about the work that will be done in government in the months ahead through the core services review to examine every health program and service in government and to examine the broader health care system. We want to ensure that government and the health system are doing government right, to make sure we are providing the health services that are the most important to British Columbians and to make sure we are doing this in the most efficient, cost-effective ways.
The core review that was announced is important to help us meet health care needs in the short term and also to help us plan for the longer term. It will provide the information base we need on which to build a sustainable health care system for the future, a system that our patients can rely on. The review is critical to the work I want to do as Minister of Health Planning.
We know government has to do a much better job of planning for a health system that will meet the needs of patients and caregivers and care providers. The saddest part about coming to office was finding out that there really wasn't a lot of planning done in the last ten years for health care. I think we knew that.
We knew that from the Dialogue on Health Care. When we toured with the Premier last fall, the most consistent message coming out of that was that there was no planning for health care. No one has planned for health care human resources. No one has planned for technology. No one has planned for capital facilities.
One of the most poignant things that has happened is that the Premier, thinking forward, divided the Ministry of Health into a Ministry of Health Services, one that deals with day-to-day operations, and one that looks forward to the future, the Ministry of Health Planning. That's why we created the new Ministry of Health Planning. It was created to look forward for future planning, looking at the long term.
Through this ministry we will develop a ten-year strategy for health care in British Columbia. That will go hand in hand with our government's strategy for economic recovery. Governance and accountability are key components of our plan for health care, as will be a long-overdue ten-year plan for health human resources, a plan we hope will educate, support and create fulfilling career opportunities for the increasing number of skilled health care professionals we need on the front lines for patient care in every part of our province.
In all these matters we will be guided by input from our health care providers, health administrators and people all across British Columbia. Clearly, we do face challenges. In particular we face a very serious fiscal challenge, but we're taking on that challenge. We're taking it on head-on as part of our commitment to usher in a new era of prosperity for all British Columbians. Our health system needs dependable funding, and we are taking the economic and fiscal action that is needed to create a stable and sustainable system of public health care.
B. Penner: This is my first opportunity to formally address the Legislative Assembly since the May 16, 2001, election. That being the case, I'd like to extend my congratulations to you, the member for Kamloops, on your successful election to your lofty position as Speaker of this Legislative Assembly. That is an elected position, so it highlights the confidence that members of this body have in your abilities. Going forward, I'm sure you will continue to earn that support.
It's a great honour for me to have the opportunity to once again have a chance to serve the people in the Upper Fraser Valley. I was first elected in 1996 and represented the electoral district known as Chilliwack.
Of course since that time we've had an Electoral Boundaries Commission struck, which examined the population growth around the province. The conclusions of that commission were that additional ridings were necessary in order to account for population growth in certain regions of the province. The Fraser Valley was one of those regions where a new riding was added, and as a result Chilliwack is now represented by two MLAs. Chilliwack was split in two. There's Chilliwack-Sumas to the western side of the community, and there's Chilliwack-Kent, which I now represent. Chilliwack-Kent includes Cultus Lake, Columbia Valley, Chilliwack River Valley, Ryder Lake, Promontory, Fairfield Island, Rosedale, Popkum, Bridal Falls, Agassiz, Harrison and Seabird Island.
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Some of that territory I represented previously, and some of it is new to me.
Before I go any further, I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome to the Legislative Assembly Sylvia Pranger, the mayor of the district of Kent. I've had a chance to work with the mayor in the past, and I look forward to continuing to do so now that I'm officially her MLA. I can't say that she's my mayor, because I haven't yet moved to Agassiz. But if I were to do so, I know that I would be very well represented by her and her council.
This area that I represent also includes a number of significant first nations bands represented by the Stó:lo nation. It's certainly a commitment and a priority for me to establish and maintain good relationships with the first nations people that reside in Chilliwack-Kent.
Just to recap a little bit about what happened on May 16, 2001, in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent, I was overwhelmed by the show of public support by the people in our area and received 74.88 percent of the popular vote. I know that sets the bar pretty high for the next election, but it's a goal that I'm going to work towards to maintain that level of trust and confidence that the people in my part of the world have shown.
I'd also like to acknowledge — I guess we called them opponents; I didn't really view them as such — the people that also put their names forward on May 16 in the electoral district of Chilliwack-Kent. Those people who sought elected office and were willing to put their name on the line — put their name on the ballot, put their reputation out for the public to consider —really deserve our respect and our thanks. I believe that shows a fundamental commitment to the democratic process, which sometimes is a thing that we take for granted. Quite frankly, even those people who ran and didn't get elected show and deserve a lot of respect. There are people in our society, even here in British Columbia, who don't share those same core attitudes and beliefs that the way to resolve our differences in a society is through the electoral process, peacefully, democratically and giving people the opportunity to select the government that they think best represents their interests. I'll have more to say about those groups that are agitating in our province in a moment.
But first let me touch on a topic that's near and dear to my heart. It's called the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region. Just a few days ago me and a few other members of this Legislative Assembly had an opportunity to participate in a conference sponsored by the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region. The acronym is PNWER. I was joined by the member for Surrey–Green Timbers, the member for Delta North, the member for North Coast and the member for East Kootenay in representing the province at this conference, which was held in Whistler.
More than 850 delegates attended this conference, and many of those delegates — about 250 of them — were legislators from across the western part of the United States and western Canada. This gave British Columbia a great opportunity to communicate some key messages to our neighbours. First and foremost, we have to acknowledge that British Columbia in the recent past, with the previous government, wasn't always a reliable participant or partner in PNWER. Our Premier in this government has a commitment to better relations and to engage in constructive dialogue with our neighbours. I believe we have more things in common than we have things that divide us when it comes to dealing with our counterparts, whether it's Alberta, Yukon, Alaska, Washington State, Idaho, Montana or Oregon. All of those jurisdictions belong in PNWER, and I think that if we work together, we can accomplish far more than if we fight each other.
I'd also like to take a moment here to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. There was considerable media coverage given to the fact that a number of protesters decided that for whatever reason, they didn't like the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region, and they didn't think we should be having a meeting to discuss things that we have in common.
There were some suggestions ahead of time that things could get ugly. Certainly, we've seen very violent and nasty protests in other parts of the world. Just recently in Genoa, Italy, a young demonstrator was killed. In other demonstrations, in Seattle during the WTO and even here in Vancouver during the APEC summit in 1997, things got decidedly out of hand.
I'm pleased to report that the situation was very much under control at Whistler, and that's due in large measure to the good work of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. All too often we forget their hard work, and I think that's something we should acknowledge.
While we were there, we had a chance to meet with Staff Sgt. Hugh Stewart, who was in charge of the security operations at Whistler. He is a person who previously had come under criticism by the media and others for the police response at APEC. I'm really proud that the RCMP have stood by their man, supported him and let him be in charge again of the security detail here at Whistler, because things went very, very well.
In fact, his presence and the good work of the RCMP were not unnoticed by members of the media. Last week — I believe it was on July 27 —Michael Smyth, a political pundit with the Province newspaper, had this to say: "As far as I'm concerned, Stewart and his people do a damn difficult job and do it well."
I'd like to thank not just the RCMP but members of the media for acknowledging that these men and women who make up the RCMP are really doing our job for us as citizens of British Columbia and of Canada, to allow us to engage in democratic dialogue, open debate and free speech. Again, thanks to those members for doing that.
I can also report to the Legislative Assembly that there was a tremendous response to the speech given by the Premier at this conference. His message about the tax cuts — at that time all he was reporting back on
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were the personal income tax reductions — and his explanation of the government's general philosophy about encouraging private sector growth and making British Columbia a leader in this region were very warmly received by the delegates.
I think the other members of this assembly who were present will support me when I say that throughout the conference, in the days that followed, other members attending from the United States and from the rest of Canada told us repeatedly how impressed they were by the Premier's remarks and his general attitude about making British Columbia a leader again. It was a very positive message, and it was very warmly received.
In fact, I think I saw a look of concern on some of the Alberta legislators who were present, because for far too long Alberta has had the field essentially open to itself, without much competition from British Columbia in attracting jobs and investment. Those days are over. British Columbia is back. We're going to be competitive again. I think the people from Alberta know it, and they heard that in the Premier's speech last Thursday.
I'd also like to report on a few of the topics that were discussed. Energy was by far the most hotly contested topic in terms of getting a seat. In fact, in some of the sessions you were not able to get a seat or even stand in the room; the room was simply filled to capacity. That, I think, reflects the concern across the western part of North America in the past few months about electricity prices, natural gas prices and what's been happening with energy markets in general.
We had some excellent presentations from key industry and government leaders on the topic. One thing I learned that I think will be of interest to people here is that there's 100,000 megawatts of new electricity generation that is planned or under construction in the western part of North America. That's a huge amount of electricity. To put that in perspective, all of B.C. Hydro's generating capacity is just something in the order of 10,000 megawatts. So more than ten times B.C. Hydro's total capacity is now either planned or under construction in North America, and that will work to significantly alleviate the pressure on electricity prices in the medium to long term.
However, I also heard a message, over and over again, that it doesn't make too much sense — or any sense at all, frankly — to put all of our electricity eggs in the natural gas basket. According to analysts who spoke at the conference, something like 95 percent of this 100,000 megawatts of new capacity is planned to be fuelled by natural gas, and some of the commentators at the conference expressed concern about what could happen to electricity prices if there is again a constriction in the supply of natural gas. Obviously, prices could go up quite dramatically for people in the United States and those parts of Canada that rely heavily on natural gas generation to provide electricity.
On the positive side, we heard great things about what's being done in the area of wind generation. For some of us here in British Columbia, when we hear that mentioned, we think: well, that's got to be a pretty experimental form of energy production. In fact, it's now in large-scale use around the world. Denmark, for example, derives 15 percent of its total electricity generation from wind power. Spain and Germany are also pursuing wind generation heavily to meet their future needs, and Texas, California and Washington State are moving boldly to pursue wind generation.
It's not simply experimental; it's well past that. Wind is now providing, in some states, up to 7 percent of their total needs for electricity. Unfortunately, British Columbia did very little under the previous government, if anything, to pursue wind generation. So today, as I stand here, I have to report that we have no completed wind-generating capacity to create electricity in British Columbia.
B.C. Hydro recently announced that they are calling for proposals to build a 10 megawatt demonstration project, while at the same time Bonneville Power Administration, B.C. Hydro's counterpart south of the border, has called for firm proposals for 1,000 megawatts of wind-generating capacity to create electricity. They don't consider it a demonstration project at all in the United States. We have some work to do to catch up, and I'm confident that under a new government we will see a change in attitude and we'll take advantage of some of this new technology.
Other things discussed on the energy front included net metering. Again, just a few years ago this was a topic that was near and dear to the hearts of hard-core environmentalists but didn't seem to really be a thing that was in the realm of the plausible. Well, I'm here to report that in the state of Montana, a bill has been passed that makes net metering mandatory if an individual customer is willing to pay the price to hook up and create their own source of electricity on their own property. How is that being done? Well, there has become a tremendous market for the installation and operation of solar cell technology. Solar voltaic cell technology has come a long way. You can get much more energy now from a given square footage than you could even just five years ago, at much lower cost. I think the total cost now of generating electricity through solar voltaic cells has dropped something like 70 percent in just ten years.
People in Montana have the opportunity, if they wish, to spend their own money to set up solar voltaic cells on their property, either a freestanding unit or having it built onto the roof of their house or made a contiguous part of their new construction, and have that electricity serve not just their own needs. In the event that they are able to generate more electricity than they actually consume, they can sell that back to the utility through the grid. That's what net metering is all about.
The utility is now required by state law in Montana to install a different meter that allows the electricity to either flow into the household if the person needs the electricity or, if they are generating more than they need, flow back into the grid. At the end of the month, that consumer or resident may, instead of getting a bill,
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get a cheque from the utility for the extra electricity produced. This is obviously an innovative way to meet some of the challenges of that extra demand for electricity that all of North America is experiencing, and I believe that this government will consider favourably those types of suggestions.
Washington State too, I am told, has passed a bill requiring utilities to permit net metering just in this recent session of their Legislature, and so we'll see continued development of the technologies that make that type of electricity production plausible.
We heard about forestry. There were some forestry sessions that took place, good discussions about different practices in the different member jurisdictions. Frankly, being there at Whistler again gave us a huge opportunity to put out our message and explain to our American cousins that in fact, while we may do forestry differently in British Columbia, it doesn't mean that our forestry industry is subsidized by taxpayers. Of course, I'm speaking to the softwood lumber issue and the threat of countervailing duties.
I think we made some progress in getting our message across to our American cousins. There's obviously more work to be done. I'm sure the very capable Minister of Forests will continue to do that work for us. But all of us in this assembly and, I think, everybody in British Columbia has some obligation, when they have a chance to meet with people from the United States, to explain to them that this industry is not being unfairly subsidized and that what they're hearing about in the United States is really a form of protectionism from some of their own forestry groups that don't want the competition.
Now, I hasten to acknowledge that there are competing groups in the United States that are saying that they want open access to Canadian lumber. Those groups, of course, are on the consumer side. That's a positive development and a difference over how things used to be a few years ago. Again, we're making progress, and I think that with this new government's commitment to firmly standing up for B.C.'s interests, we will see our message getting across to people in the United States in a way that simply hasn't happened in the past.
We also had a chance to talk to some elected people from California about B.C. Hydro and about the $400 million that is owed to our Crown utility. I had an interesting discussion at a reception held Friday night by, I think, Canada's consul general in Seattle, Roger Simmons. These California state Senators took great pride in saying that they were free-enterprisers. One person in particular said that he was the only individual in their state Legislature that still had a payroll to meet, because he runs a series of restaurants.
Then we got into the topic of B.C. Hydro and the prices that were charged for electricity. This Senator maintained that B.C. Hydro was guilty of receiving excessive profits. I told this gentleman, who prides himself on being a free-enterpriser, that I was surprised to hear him use that term, because that's usually a term used by the socialist Left. He said: "No, your utility would still end up making some profit under our offer, so you should be happy, even though it's less than the profit that you had anticipated." Well, to him, I likened it to going into his restaurant in Sacramento. I asked him: "How would you feel if I sat down at your table, looked at your menu, ordered an item that was listed for $20 but then left you $15 on my way out the door?"
Hon. M. de Jong: Like you've never done that before.
B. Penner: The member for Abbotsford–Mount Lehman should maybe consider himself in those remarks. However, I digress.
This California state Senator said: "The comparison you're making is completely incorrect and is not relevant." But in my view, it is completely relevant. By the time we got through with our discussion, there were a number of California state Senators gathered around hearing what was turning into something of a heated conversation — "frank discussion" might be a better choice of words on my part.
That is the kind of thing that we need to do as a province. We need to explain our position. The previous government, for so many years, would stamp its feet and pull out its hair here in Victoria, getting frustrated at things that were happening outside of our borders. They were speaking to the converted for the most part, rather than taking our message abroad.
That's why I think it is so important that we constructively engage our neighbours so that they know what our concerns are, rather than just sitting back at home and complaining when they make a decision that we don't like. We can't very well expect them to do things that are in our interests if we haven't explained to them our way of thinking, our way of doing things and the reasons for doing things differently than themselves.
I'll leave PNWER alone for now and move off that topic. We heard earlier today some very good news, and it's very encouraging. In the Speech from the Throne we heard a commitment from the government that we would continue to fight the Sumas 2 power plant proposal that threatens air quality and water quality in the Fraser Valley.
I hardly need remind anyone that it was the NDP government that refused to intervene and missed that deadline, which passed about 15 months ago, for official intervener status in Washington State. At the time, their members said: "It's pointless. You can't tell Washington State what to do. They're not going to listen to us. Those bad old Americans, they're just…. It's not worth our breath." Well, how wrong could they be?
A new government, a new way of doing things. We found out today that British Columbia's request for intervener status has been granted. We will be a full partner at the table. We'll have a chance to cross-examine SE2. We'll get a chance to really make a difference for the people that we are elected to represent. For that, I say thank you to the Washington
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State legislators and to the people of the EFSEC, the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council in Washington State, for allowing British Columbia to intervene and be a part of this decision-making process.
Lastly, before I conclude I'd like to just comment on a few things that were announced by the Minister of Finance in his Economic and Fiscal Update this past Monday. We've already heard the good things about the tax cuts and what that should do to spur our economy. Goodness knows, it needs it. But I'd like to just comment about a few things that perhaps need a bit more attention.
I am very pleased with specific tax measures that were announced to fight air pollution. Rather than spending millions of dollars on a so-called green secretariat that consisted, I think, mostly of staff in Victoria — that was the previous government's way of doing things — our government has announced specific measures to encourage people to change their behaviour, using financial incentives. Let's face it. That has the biggest influence on most of our decisions. If you feel it in your pocketbook, you're likely to pay attention.
Specifically, the government has announced rebates of up to $1,000 for people who purchase or lease alternative fuel vehicles. This will encourage people even more so to seek out those kinds of cars that cause less environmental impacts in the province of British Columbia. I think that in the days and years to come, we'll see significant benefits from that decision. We've also offered up to $10,000 rebates, or tax credits, for alternative fuel buses — again, providing a concrete economic incentive for people to change their behaviour and make different decisions.
Finally, the provincial government has eliminated all provincial taxes on new, cleaner-burning diesel fuel. This is obviously an attempt to address the concern that existing diesel fuel is pretty dirty. It's dirtier than conventional gasoline. We know that there are quite a number of vehicles out there that are popular — I'm thinking of the Volkswagen Jetta, for example — that utilize a diesel-powered engine. Well, with this tax measure we're encouraging people to switch to a new diesel fuel called PuriNOx, which dramatically reduces the amount of emissions that are generated by burning diesel. That's something that's positive. It's something that's concrete, something you can take to the bank. Rather than just talking about doing something for the environment, this government is actually doing something for the environment.
Mr. Speaker, I said that was the last thing I was going to talk about, and I take that back. I do want to acknowledge two more things that I think are important that this government has done. We said for many years in opposition that the B.C. Legislature would operate much better if we had a fixed legislative calendar so that people could determine their own schedule and so that the public would know when we were here doing their work on their behalf and keep us more accountable. For the last ten years the NDP government simply refused to make that basic change. They had no good reason other than that it suited the political purpose of the Premier of the day to keep members of this House guessing about when they had to be here to do the public's business.
That gave the NDP government a political advantage, a tactical advantage, that actually served to hurt the interests of their own members — their private members, their non–cabinet members. Frankly, it was a disgrace. I'm pleased that we kept that commitment. We have set a fixed legislative calendar for the future, and we're showing that this Legislature will be one of the most progressive legislatures in all of Canada.
One other thing that you frequently heard us talk about here was the need for balanced-budget legislation that would impose real, meaningful penalties on ministers and the government if they failed to live within their set budget targets. On Monday the Minister of Finance tabled just such a bill, called the Balanced Budget and Ministerial Accountability Act. That act requires the government to balance its books by 2004-05 and imposes tough penalties on ministers of the Crown and the Premier if they fail to meet their budget targets. That is another commitment made and a commitment kept by this government.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I wish you well, and I wish all members of this House well, as we work during this session to continue to implement the commitments that our party made to the people of British Columbia. I know we all take our promises seriously, and we're going to work very diligently to keep each and every one of those promises for the benefit of the people that we represent.
Hon. G. Hogg: Mr. Speaker, let me start by adding my congratulations to the myriad of congratulations which you have received to date on assuming the position that you are now in. I'm sure that under your guidance, under your supervision, we will see one of the most progressive, positive and enlightened legislatures in the history of this province.
I am honoured to be here for a second term representing the people of Surrey–White Rock. This represents, if I include my years in municipal government, my twenty-fifth year in elected office: ten as a councillor in White Rock, ten as the mayor and now entering into the fifth year here. I'm honoured to have the opportunity to again represent the people of Surrey–White Rock, and they have bestowed upon me a wonderful opportunity and honour to represent them here.
As I've heard many of our new members speaking over the past week and listening to their energy and excitement about being involved in this new era that we're presenting for British Columbia, I know that on each of my opportunities to go back to my community, I hear the people of the community coming up to me and expressing their excitement that they're energized and delighted with the opportunities and the actions this government is taking.
We're already seeing changes in our community. We're seeing changes on the Marine Drive waterfront
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in our community. We have so many wonderful restaurants, and those restaurants are feeling a sense of optimism, a sort of coming alive with the vibrant excitement of the new economy and the psyche of a public which seems committed to and interested in change and new things. We're seeing that in Ocean Park, an arts community. The sale of arts is moving and starting to get moving. The Crescent Beach area, where we're seeing so many of our people who like to be involved in vacation and restaurant and hospitality, is coming alive as well.
That old, famous sage, Author Unknown, once said that a vision with no plan makes a dreamer, but a plan with no vision makes a plotter. But if you can combine a vision and a plan, you have a conqueror. Well, we have a vision, and we have a plan. That vision started to be laid out way back when we started to talk about our initial values as a party, our values as British Columbians. We interpreted those values, and we placed those into a platform which we presented to the people of British Columbia. We presented that through the course of an election. We interpreted that in a throne speech, and now we're starting to "operationalize" that.
There has been a causal relationship that has existed along that full continuum. It's not just little pieces that have been pulled out of somewhere; it's actually been turned through those roles. It's commitments that have been made and commitments that are being kept.
It reminded me of one of my favourite cartoons, which was Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown was sitting in his back yard with his bow and arrow. He'd take out his bow and arrow, and he'd shoot it into the fence and then run and up and draw a target around the arrow as it stuck in the fence, and he did it over and over again. Then Lucy came in and said: "Charlie, that's no way to be shooting, no way to be taking targets and shooting at things." Charlie Brown said: "Well, why not? This way I never miss. I always get a bull's-eye." Well, it seems that some of the planning in the past ten years in this province hasn't had that goal, hasn't had that focus, hasn't had that direction that they wanted to move towards. They seemed to be coming to an outcome and trying to draw a bull's-eye around it.
Though our throne speech we've started to lay out what those targets are, what those bull's-eyes are. We've looked at having some accountability around trying to achieve them. By clearly articulating where we want to go and putting in place a plan to get us there, we're able to much more effectively and reasonably provide for and be understood by the people of this province.
Daniel Boone was once asked whether or not he'd ever been lost in his many forays into the wilderness. He said: "No, I've never been lost, but there were, I think, three or four days when I didn't know where I was." Well, I don't think the people of this province have ever been lost either, but there might have been ten years where they weren't exactly sure where they were.
Well, I maybe need another story then. Another one of my favourite stories, which I think relates to some of the things that have been happening in this province, comes from James Michener in his novel Hawaii. Michener had a mother and a daughter sitting in their rocking chairs on the lanai looking out over the sunsets of Hawaii. They were rocking away in silence, and after a few moments the mother stopped her rocking chair and turned to her daughter and said: "You know, dear, you really should listen to your father. He has 40 years' worth of living experience." The daughter kept rocking for a few moments and then stopped and turned to her mother and said: "You know, mom, what I think dad really has is one year's worth of experience lived over 40 times."
We have to learn from experience, and I think that the things we've learned as we've watched the evolution of this province have now come to fruition as they started to be reflected in the throne speech and in the budget that we've tied into that and tied together. We're seeing an opportunity for a future that has optimism, that has hope and that is a future which the people of this province so dearly want.
We've had a decade which has been very challenging for the people of this province. Today we have the slowest-growing economy, and we have some of the most expensive programs. We have to address that, and I think the plan that we've started to lay out started to do that.
We know, in the Ministry of Children and Family Development, that economic times have to be positive for us to do all the things that we need for the people who are most in need. We know that when difficult economic times are in existence, that's when the work of the social service ministries is most needed. British Columbia's public service, our social services, depend upon a healthy economy, and healthy economies depend upon competitive tax systems and on excellent fiscal management.
I'm delighted that we are already taking steps to restore that hope and that prosperity in British Columbia so it can be reflected in the services that we provide. The tax cuts this government announced on June 6 and again on July 30 will work to stimulate the economy for businesses and, most importantly, for individuals and families and for the services they require. I am confident that we will have British Columbia as an economic leader again in Canada.
This government is committed to ensuring that we have better services so that every child has the opportunity and the support they need to grow up healthy. In the Ministry of Children and Family Development, that means we will have to work hard to provide better services. We have to ensure that we're finding the most efficient and effective ways of doing that.
Let me provide a bit of a context for the ministry. Each day the ministry receives reports of some 100 allegations of abuse or neglect. That's 100 reports a day,
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365 days a year in this province. That is something in the neighbourhood of 34,000 reports a year. Those result in some 22,500 investigations being carried out and somewhere in the neighbourhood of 4,000 children a year being taken from their homes to ensure their safety. That's 11 a day. Those are very, very high numbers.
When we look at the work that our social workers have to do — going to someone's door to investigate a report — that is amongst the most difficult tasks that any government can ask of any of their civil servants, of any of their employees. Certainly, the social workers that carry out that task on behalf of all the people of this province do a yeoman's job in very difficult situations where nothing is concrete, everything is intangible, and the decisions they have to make are so terribly difficult. The judgments they make on behalf of the people of this province to ensure that our children are as safe as they can possibly be are amongst the most difficult decisions that ever have to be made.
Every day in British Columbia children are also returned to their families with supports that may include homemakers, child and youth care workers and parenting programs. The ministry has some 10,400 children in its legal care. These are children who are medically fragile and children who have special needs. Overall, the ministry serves over 400,000 people every year. That's one in 10,000 citizens in this province. In fact, the ministry provides twice as many bed-days a year as all of the acute care hospitals in the province combined. It has an enormous responsibility to deal and to work with those.
There are many worthy social objectives that this government pursues and will continue to pursue. Those include better services for children, families and first nations. One of the values that we laid out when we developed our New Era document is reflected again and again in the throne speech and the budget and the work of the people of this House. It's an open and accountable government and responsible, accountable management of British Columbia's resources and tax dollars. These are goals which it's obvious that the people of this province share with this government. These goals transcend the barriers that have too often divided us from one another along ideological lines.
Parents of young children make choices every day. Parents make choices about their children's care, their well-being, their health and their relationships. They have to make choices about their children's future. Every child is different, and every parent needs a range of choices in terms of responding to those differences.
We know that the quality of care that children receive in their early years, the first three years, means everything. That is now undisputed in terms of the research and work that has been done. We know so much now about how their brains develop in the early years. We know that it means so much in terms of how they function in school, how they grow up and how they become contributing members of our society. We are committed to supporting families so that they have the opportunity to raise the healthy, successful children they want. This commitment is reflected in the budget that has come forward and certainly in the principles of the throne speech.
That is an investment in our future that will support families, particularly with the 25 percent cut in provincial income tax. In January 2002 British Columbia will have the lowest personal income tax rate in Canada for the bottom two brackets. That will be a big support and bonus to the families of this province.
Bringing back economic prosperity to the province will help families provide a safe and nurturing environment for their children. We have increased the budget for the Minister of Children and Family Development by approximately 14 percent. That increase means that the vital work for the ministry can continue and that we can support the initiatives which we have laid out, which we have talked about and which we will continue.
It means that we can invest in several priority areas, as outlined in the Premier's letter to me as the minister responsible and to the Minister of State for Early Childhood Development. Those include examining the opportunities for greater local delivery of children and family services; developing a plan for aboriginal children receiving ministry services in cooperation with the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services; developing a plan to lead an increase in family support services; reviewing the current legal status of children with autism and making positive, progressive recommendations; developing a framework for attracting more foster parents and supporting today's foster parents; and providing greater support for early childhood development programs.
It means that this year our ministry will move forward on those initiatives to provide better services to children and families and to place increased emphasis on early childhood development programs for families with special needs children. It means providing greater support for child and youth mental health and youth justice programs and better services to aboriginal children, and we will support aboriginal people in looking after their own children and their own families. It means support for communities to provide services for children and families in ways that best reflect those individual communities' nuances, needs and strengths, and better support for adults with developmental disabilities who live independently in our communities. It means effective support for children in care, and it means advancing the treatment of autism.
These are solid commitments that are reflected in the throne speech and are given meaning and operational life through the budget. These are solid commitments for a new era of hope and prosperity to provide children and families with the support they need to lead healthy, happy lives. These are commitments that underline the fact that we can and must always strive to do better on behalf of the children and families of British Columbia.
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It's time that we put real accountability into the system and devote resources to the job needed to put the interests of children first. This government, through its throne speech and through its budget, is doing just that.
Recently an executive realignment took place in the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and that realignment frees up 24 positions that can be redeployed to enhance our social worker capacity on the front lines. Eleven of those positions are being assigned to areas of children's mental health. That's one for each of the 11 regions that exist within our province.
This realignment of responsibilities will also make it easier for the ministry to respond to the recommendations that come out of our core service review and will ensure that we do focus our priorities and our resources exactly where they should be placed in dealing with the services and needs. The core services committee is reviewing and examining every program and service to ensure that they are focused in just that way. It's not directed specifically at expenditure reduction; it's focusing on doing things right so that we get the priority right. By doing things right, by doing government right, we will provide an information base for a service planning model that meets our fiscal requirements.
This government is committed to ensuring that funding will be targeted where it is most needed and to the people who most need help. As the Minister of Children and Family Development, I am delighted to be working with Canada's first-ever Minister of State for Early Childhood Development. Promoting early childhood development, preventing problems before they start and providing the right support to families are all the priorities that this ministry and this government hold dearly. As well, government has an obligation to properly protect and provide for those who are vulnerable in our society, especially children at risk and those in foster care.
Excellence in child protection is not a partisan issue, yet the last government consistently seemed to refuse to accept this government's offer to improve those services. In opposition we many times made offers to the government to work with them to ensure that we dealt with the issues of children and families in a non-partisan, non-political way, yet we were continually rebuked. This government is committed to providing effective services for children in care and doing that in a non-political way and involving the opposition in supporting and working with us to try and find the right answers for the difficult questions.
Mr. Speaker, this budget reflects this government's commitment to do an even better job of serving British Columbians both now and in the future. It also balances the need to control the deficit and the need to serve the people of British Columbia. In this ministry it means investing in areas that we know will provide the greatest payback in the years to come. The throne speech and the budget support the ongoing important partnership of ministry staff, youth, parents and families, and it ensures that support is provided where it is needed and when it is needed. This ministry is working every day to build stronger communities, to support stronger families and, most importantly, to support and protect the most vulnerable people in our society. Those are the adults of tomorrow and the children of today.
Many, many years ago Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went out camping. They set up their tent and went to sleep for the night. After a number of hours Sherlock awoke and poked Dr. Watson and said: "Watson, look up. What do you see?" Watson replied: "Well, I see millions of stars." Sherlock said: "What does that tell you?" Watson said: "Well, astronomically that tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of stars out there. Astrologically it tells me that Jupiter is in line with Mars. Theologically it tells me that the gods are all powerful and we are in our place. Meteorologically it tells me it's a clear sky and it's probably going to be a nice day tomorrow. Chronologically it tells me that it's about 3:15. What does it tell you, Sherlock?" Sherlock said: "Watson, you silly man, somebody stole our tent." We can't just attend to what's way out there in the sky in the future and the vision; we must also attend to what's happening today. We must attend to the tent as well as the stars and keep our eyes focused both on the needs of today and on the long-term needs of the future.
One of the previous speakers, the Minister for Health Planning, talked about the decision this government has made to have two ministers responsible for health. So one looks off at the long-range future and plans for us, and another is dealing with the issues of today and working us through those issues today. That's what this throne speech does; that's what this budget does. It allows us to focus on those very, very difficult and important needs that exist for us today, those enormous responsibilities we have to respond to today — the issues and needs of the people of this province.
But it also says: "Where do we want to be five, ten and 15 years from now?" We have to focus some energy on that, or we're going to be involved in crisis response forever. We don't want to be involved in crisis response. We won't be involved in just crisis response. We're going to deal with those issues, but we're also going to plan for the future. We're going to ensure, through that planning and through the diligent hard work of the people of this House, that we do have a new era for British Columbians.
Hon. L. Stephens: I'm very pleased to rise in my place today and speak to the throne speech and the fiscal update that was tabled in this House on Monday. But first of all, I would like to congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your election to your office. I would also like to congratulate the Speaker on his election and to welcome him back to this House after a ten-year absence. It's very good to see him here. I'm sure that both of you will discharge your duties in a fair and judicious manner.
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I would like to congratulate all of the new members of this House, as well, and all of the returning members to the House. For those of us who have been here in the past it's a very different parliament, and I think probably the main reason is because most of the members in the House are our government members. Those are going to pose some interesting challenges, but our government is committed to working very hard to make sure that we hear all the voices that are raised in this House and to being very cognizant of the different points of view.
I also want to thank my family for their unflagging support over the past ten years. I think we all know in the House how important it is that our families are first and foremost. If it wasn't for them and their support, many of us wouldn't be here. Certainly those of us who have been here for ten, eight and five and six years understand that very well. I was really fortunate to have my three sisters and my brother from Saskatchewan visiting last week, and my two sons were here this week. So for all of us who depend so much on our families for support, I think we need to make sure that we say it and let them know how much we appreciate that support as often as we possibly can.
I also want to thank the constituents of Langley, who've shown their faith in me over these past ten years, first in 1991, then in 1996, again in May of this year and this time in the government. I'm very honoured and privileged to have represented the people of Langley in this magnificent building for the last ten years, and again I pledge myself to act in their best interests and the best interests of all the people in British Columbia and not just special interest groups.
It's with a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment that I stand here today with my colleagues, the class of '91: the member for Vancouver-Fairview, the member for North Vancouver–Seymour, the member for Vancouver-Langara and the member for Richmond East. We have been through thick and thin together, and every one of us from the class of '91 and those elected in 1996 and our new members elected just three short months ago really owe our success to one man, and that is the new Premier of British Columbia, the member for Vancouver–Point Grey.
It was really through his vision articulated in our New Era document, his boundless energy as he travelled around the province building support for our party and his commitment to public service that we are all here today. All of us in this House, the people across the province and certainly those in our party support and encourage the new Premier in his quest and his vision for what he wants to see happen in British Columbia. All of us in this House are committed to helping bring that vision forward.
I'm also honoured to have the role of the new Minister of State for Women's Equality. I want to take this opportunity to state that the throne speech was probably the most substantive throne speech that I've heard in a very, very long time — probably about ten years. It outlines our blueprint for a new era of hope and opportunity and specifically this government's commitment to equality of opportunity and responsibility and compassion for those in need and addresses the overarching priorities for this government, such as better services for children, families and first nations people.
In this new era of hope and prosperity, I also have the honour of playing a role in making this happen, meeting our 90-day agenda and fulfilling the rest of our mandate. This includes supporting an independent task force to review the options, models, costs and effectiveness of public sector pay equity legislation. This task force will make recommendations to this House.
Bringing an understanding of women-centred health care and the importance of a rural and remote health initiative to ensure that all families get the care they need where they live and when they need it; targeting child care funding to help parents who need it most, increasing spaces and choices for parents to safe, affordable child care; passing a domestic violence prevention act that will address the very serious issue of violence against women: these are a few of the government's priorities that my ministry and I will be addressing in the upcoming months.
As the Minister of State for Women's Equality, I also have an advocacy role and a managing role to play. The first is to manage the government programs and services designed for women. This responsibility includes the women's centres, the transition houses, bridging employability programs, prevention and intervention initiatives for violence against women, counselling programs for women who have experienced violence and children who have witnessed abuse, and child care initiatives. The second is to lead the Women's Equality division in the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services by acting as a change agent on behalf of women within and across government ministries.
This is an important role, because throughout government in many, many jurisdictions in this country, there are benefits and burdens. There are systemic barriers that many women must overcome to access government services. It starts, really, at the government level where we're putting together the policies, the practices and the legislation to make sure that those do not impact women in a negative way. I want to encourage government ministries to examine their policies, their practices, their procedures and legislation.
The ministry is community-focused, empowering individuals within communities and delivering services that enhance the quality of life of people in those communities. With community-focused programs and services under one ministry, we are adopting, at the provincial level, a service-oriented approach that has been proven effective by local governments across British Columbia.
Our ministry's strong community focus means that we can develop integrated and coordinated programs that address all areas of women's lives. We will influence the direction and focus of services for women
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to ensure that their needs are being met in the communities where they live.
This focus has shaped our ministry's priorities for women, including aboriginal women, women with disabilities and immigrant and visible minority women, because the women from these groups have unique and very difficult obstacles to overcome. A strong emphasis will be placed on community services to address these needs.
This new approach will help us to build strong communities through strong and effective delivery of programs, and I intend to concentrate on the three areas that are of primary importance to women today: economic opportunities, personal safety and security and women-centred health care.
Safe, affordable and accessible child care, family-friendly workplaces and education and training are the keys to breaking the cycle of poverty and to creating economic opportunities for women.
Violence against women is a major threat to women's health and economic security, and I look forward to working with the Attorney General and the Solicitor General to help formulate the sexual assault policy and prevention of domestic violence legislation.
Rural and remote maternity care, mental health services, addiction services, reproductive health treatment and home care are some of the issues that affect many women all across British Columbia today. Those issues are of much more concern to the women who are living in some of our more rural parts of the province. Many women in rural British Columbia today have great difficulty accessing many services that those of us in the lower mainland take for granted.
I look forward to working with all four Health ministers in making sure that health needs are addressed in all the regions of the province. The throne speech went into our health care plan in some detail, and we will hear more about that as the days go on.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
I believe that it's vitally important to understand the realities of women's lives from different cultural, social and economic backgrounds. A key lesson that I've learned is that economic equality really is the cornerstone of equality overall. There is a complex range of barriers and burdens that affect women's lives today. My role is to identify and understand those barriers and then promote government policies that will help to eliminate them.
Women represent one-third of the self-employed workforce in British Columbia. Women-led firms are creating jobs at four times the national average. In particular, a significant majority of home-based businesses are now run by women. These are important sources of job growth, as these businesses provide jobs for others, and the use of technology and electronic communication via the Internet is increasingly important to home-based businesses. That's why we've committed to boosting investment in technological innovation and research in British Columbia through reductions in taxes and red tape.
We recognize the importance of both child care and skills training in reducing the gender wage gap and in enabling working women to expand their opportunities and choices. We remember that when the previous government brought in their Child Care BC Act, it was an initiative that was not introduced until the last months of the mandate — the dying days of the mandate. If the previous administration had felt so strongly that child care was an important initiative for the families in British Columbia, we would have expected to see legislation at a much earlier date.
What I'm suggesting is that the previous administration knew that the child care plan that they brought in was simply too expensive. I suggest they knew that it was not sustainable. And I would suspect they had a pretty good idea that they were not going to become the government after the next election and that they waited to the very, very end to try and influence some of the interest groups in the community that they felt would be swayed by an unsustainable child care plan.
This government understands that child care for families in this province is a critical issue. We understand that the availability of spaces, the cost of those spaces and the quality of care are of primary concern to this government. We are committed to targeting child care funding to parents who need it the most.
The universal child care system of the previous administration, as it was originally drafted, with universal benefits…. This government believes we can use other methods that will provide much more targeted support for people who need it. There are huge segments of our population who don't require a universal program where the taxpayer pays it all. This government is going to move to make sure that parents, families and single moms who do require assistance with child care will actually receive it.
I'm going to be working very closely with my colleague the Minister of State for Early Childhood Development, and we're going to be developing new options for targeted child care funding. This will be developed in consultation with parents and child care providers from all parts of the province and will result in a sustainable plan for our next fiscal year. The key, Mr. Speaker, is sustainable. Our fiscal update that the Minister of Finance brought to us on Monday was very clear. We cannot continue to go down the road that we are and not find ourselves in some very serious and dire straits.
With the new focus and the new options that we will be developing for child care, we will be providing the initiatives that families need while still trying to maintain our commitment to balanced-budget legislation and to making sure that the province is financially sustainable.
Improving the efficiency of the health care system will help reduce these wait-lists. Women are the priority users. Priority perhaps isn't the right word, but
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women certainly access the health care system much more readily than men do. I think that when you look at the statistics, you'll find that it's the women themselves who are attending — for child care, for childbirth, for their parents, with their children. These are the people who really understand what is going on in our health care system today. What we need to do is make sure that women-centred health care is one of the priorities of the government.
The four Ministers of Health are working very hard to develop a long-term health care plan that will, in fact, provide the kinds of efficiencies in the system that will reduce these wait-lists that all of us are affected by and protect home care, which is another vital service for women in the communities, and mental health services. Many women are finding it very difficult to access services for mental health not just in the lower mainland but around the province and particularly in the north and the remote corners of the province.
Now, while women are concerned about health care and economic opportunities, probably the most difficult issue is that of personal security and safety. Violence continues to be the number one issue faced by women in the province, and it's always the number one concern when you ask women and do any kind of survey. This is the one that is perpetually at the forefront. Many women are afraid to walk alone and afraid to use public transportation after dark. I think all of us agree that that is simply not something that a society such as ours can be proud of.
More alarming is the fact that 59 percent of women over the age of 16 have experienced violence. Our throne speech speaks to the kind of society that we want to build in this province. What we do want to provide is safety and security for, certainly, our female population and the young girls who are at risk as well. That's why transition houses, legal rights and counselling are important services that will help women escape from these violent situations or relationships.
When we were in opposition, we were instrumental in obtaining amendments to the Family Relations Act that make family members like grandparents eligible to obtain access orders to children during times of family disruption. Now, we'll also be fulfilling our new-era commitment to work with the Attorney General on a lot of these issues dealing with custody and access and the other provincial, territorial and federal issues that affect services to women.
But you know, ultimately the best way for women to make their voices heard is to get involved in the democratic process, whether that's as a political volunteer, as an elected official or simply by voting for candidates that represent their views. We need more women in public office in British Columbia at every level of government to be directly involved at the decision-making tables. As the government of British Columbia, we will continue to support and encourage women to get involved, to take an active role in implementing the changes required to ensure that equality and opportunities become a reality for all women.
With help from all sectors of the community, our ministry will have services tailored to community needs and more open and accessible to women and their families. This way we can realize our new era and our hope and prosperity for the next decade and beyond.
Mr. Speaker, my goal and the goal of my government colleagues is to work to improve the lives of all women. They've told us repeatedly how important a stable economy is for them and their families. One in five children in British Columbia lives in poverty. That is not acceptable in a province like British Columbia. Women-led families on single incomes face a daily struggle to make ends meet.
We are committed to turning the economy around to help women and their families. One of our first acts in government was to dramatically cut the basic personal income tax. By the end of our first term, British Columbia will have the lowest basic rate of personal income tax in Canada. That will not only create jobs and investment; it will also help families pay for basic living expenses like food, housing and education. When measured in 1992 dollars, our annual per-capita take-home pay has shrunk by $1,700 this decade, or 9 percent — the worst drop in Canada. So our tax cuts will effectively give all working families a raise.
When we listened to the Minister of Finance talk about his economic and fiscal update on Monday, we heard that we need to do things differently in British Columbia. The status quo is not an option. Only a province with a vital and vibrant economy can afford high-quality public health and education. That's why it is so important to get our economy back on track. We face a very serious challenge. If we don't do something now, over time British Columbia will be a have-not province without the strength to provide those quality public services that we all desire.
I want to lend my support to the Minister of Finance for his fiscal review and to tell him that the constituents of Langley have said to me loud and clear that they support the directions that this government has taken. They support the reduced personal income taxes and the reduced business taxes, particularly on the production machinery and equipment purchases. That has been a thorn in the side of businesses in Langley for a very long time. You wouldn't think so, but my riding appears to be an urban riding. But we do have lumber, mining and energy sector businesses which depend very much on a competitive economic climate. These business tax cuts that the Minister of Finance announced will go a very long way to making sure that British Columbia becomes more competitive than what we have seen in the past.
I just want to read into the record those tax cuts and what they mean. They will inject $248 million back into the economy this year. They include, effective on July 31, the production machinery and equipment sought by eligible manufacturers and by logging, mining and energy sector businesses. They will be exempt from provincial sales tax. During my years as a member of
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the Langley Chamber of Commerce, year after year we made representation to the government to ask them to eliminate this particular tax. This is probably one of the single biggest messages that we could have sent to the resource sector industry to tell them that we've been listening, we understand their needs and we have acted. This means that there will be an overall savings to business of $87 million in this year alone.
The corporation capital tax on non-financial institutions will be cut in half on September 1, leaving businesses $100 million this year, and the tax will be eliminated the following year.
The corporation income tax rate falls to 13.5 percent from 16.5 percent on January 2002, and we will strive to keep the rate competitive in the near future. That's the one thing we heard loud and clear from the Minister of Finance as well. Competitiveness and productivity are going to be the two key words to get this government back on track, to make sure that we support consumer confidence and investor confidence. Those measures, taken together — the personal income tax rate reductions, the business tax cuts and the plan that the Minister of Finance has put in place — will certainly help us to achieve that. With the throne speech direction, this government will work to provide, I believe, the best government that British Columbia has seen for a very long time.
Hon. M. de Jong: Well, what a day, what a week, what a month. What a difference an election makes. There is so much new to talk about, Mr. Speaker. But let me, first of all, deal with one very important aspect of that newness, and that is your arrival — re-arrival — here in the capital in these legislative buildings and your assumption of the chair that you now hold. We were speaking not so long ago about the importance of that position and the necessity in any parliamentary chamber for the occupant of that position to hold the esteem and respect of members. Happily, I think there would be universal and unanimous agreement that by virtue of your experience and service in the past, you hold those qualities.
Similarly, congratulations to the individual who will occasionally fill in when required, and that is the new Deputy Speaker, who will also, I know, fulfil the functions that are asked of him admirably.
Well, I have been listening, Mr. Speaker, with great interest. It's an exciting time, you know, as new members stand up and make what we call their maiden speech here in this chamber. I remember eight years ago — could it have been eight years ago? — doing the same thing and that sense of excitement, anticipation and nervousness.
It is funny, you know — the difference, to the extent that there are differences, between returning members and newer members. The newer members come and say to one another and to me and others: "My goodness, how will we fill up our allotted time in making this address?" And the returning members say: "My goodness, how will I keep my remarks within a mere 30 minutes?" It is something that seems to evolve over time. It becomes less and less difficult to somehow speak for that allotted period of time.
We're so lucky, you know — all of us. I still get nervous and excited about coming into this chamber and having the opportunity to speak to a budget or to speak to a throne speech. We are so lucky. I was thinking, when the Lieutenant-Governor made his Speech from the Throne and he began with words welcoming the thirty-seventh parliament: think of that. This chamber has convened only 37 times — 37 groupings of MLAs. It has grown over the past few years, but only 37 times in the history of this province. And we are the thirty-seventh — how lucky.
What a special honour and privilege. How fortunate we are to get to know one another, to travel to Cranbrook and be able to attend Sam Steele Days, or to go to Fort St. John. I remember the last time I was in Fort St. John meeting wonderful people. I don't know if Buster's steakhouse is still operating, but if it is, he just got a free commercial. To go to the Chilliwack fair, to go to the Cariboo and participate in those communities and get to know British Columbians, to get to see the most beautiful part of the world and get paid to do it…. Who could go to any of those places without travelling through the hub of the province, Mr. Speaker? Kamloops, after all….
Hon. M. de Jong: Or Powell River or anywhere. We're so lucky.
On top of that, to now be provided with the opportunity to give effect to those ideas, to that vision, to that desire to bring positive change to the province we call home, to be here in this place and have that opportunity, how lucky we are. And with it, I say to my colleagues, particularly in this chamber now, a special responsibility….
No government in this province in living memory has been provided the opportunity this government now has to give effect to change in so many different ways. We need only begin to think in terms of this chamber itself, the people's chamber, this place where we come on a daily basis to do our business. For people at home who think of this as that building where government does things that generally cause them grief — at least, that's how they think of it now, and maybe we can change that…. We'll be able to change that if we are able to bring about some fundamental change in the way this building, this institution, this place itself operates.
We need to be careful. We need to be respectful of the fact that there are members in this chamber who are not government members. There aren't many of them. I was thinking just the other day of the fact that the chair I used to occupy on the other side of the chamber — and almost went to by mistake yesterday — is occupied by the Leader of the Opposition, so my former opposition seat is being occupied by an opposition member. There's only one other government member who can say that.
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We do need to understand that as we craft these changes which will hopefully make this a more relevant institution to the people who provide the tax dollars that keep it operating and who look — and hopefully will increasingly look — to this chamber for leadership on issues relating to public policy, we need to be mindful and respectful that those changes have to take into account not just the dynamic at play here today in a legislature where there are 77 government members and only two opposition members, but what will stand the test of time and work in the future.
It would be, to my mind, a crime for a government provided with the mandate this one has not to put it to use to bring about those changes. We've already heard about some of them. We've heard about the government following through on the commitment to have specified election dates. Can you imagine something as novel as a legislative calendar so that the people of the province know when you will be sitting in your chair, when members will be sitting in their chairs and members themselves and their families will know when it is that they are to be here?
It seems so basic. My goodness, they even thought of it in Ottawa. It has taken until the year 2001 and a government elected with a mandate of 77 to two to bring it to effect in British Columbia, but we have. We made a promise, and we kept a promise. There are so many other things that need to happen in terms of capitalizing on the talent of the people that come to this chamber. When I look around this room today, I am confronted by an astounding level of talent, expertise and experience.
It would similarly be unforgivable, in my mind, if this government did not capitalize and bring about specific systemic change that allowed it to capitalize on that talent, experience and expertise, and we've already taken those steps.
The member from Port Alberni has served her community for 18 years as mayor and brings a perspective on issues that impact on that part of this province that none of the rest of us has. She is going to put that experience, that expertise, to work, because we are bringing about the changes that will allow that to happen. Hopefully, notwithstanding the fact that there is an overwhelming number of government members occupying this chamber today, we can bring about those changes that will withstand the test of time so that they operate in other circumstances in the future. And although I am one who loves the cut and thrust of partisan debate, we can capitalize on the talents of opposition members in ways that we haven't in the past.
So as we move forward, as we are confronted by the issues of the day that command our attention as government and as individual MLAs, I hope we will always be mindful that there is another role we have, another opportunity we have that we should not squander. That is the opportunity to change this institution for the better, to bring it into the twenty-first century, to again make it relevant to the people of British Columbia. If we achieve that, we will have done, I think, a great service for the people of the province of B.C., because it has been a long time coming.
I was just thinking back to the day I arrived, and then I'll move on. There were, I think, five or six parties represented in the House only eight years ago. There were the B.C. Liberals. The NDP was in power. There was the Social Credit Party, the B.C. Reform Party and an entity called the PDA. Most of those parties…. Well, if you apply the rules of this House, all of those parties except one have disappeared. Circumstances change, and we have to craft a House that is flexible enough to respond to those changes.
Mr. Speaker, I think the excitement that I sense in this chamber exists and is growing outside of it as well.
I hope you will indulge me for a moment. I want to also say thank you to the people of Abbotsford–Mount Lehman, formerly the constituency of Matsqui. Sadly, I am the last-ever member for Matsqui. We amalgamated, as a municipality, with Abbotsford, and the name Matsqui disappeared. I was elected in 1994 as the member for Matsqui, and in the year 2001 that name now disappears. But it is forever in my heart. I want to thank the people from that community who re-elected me to a third term. It's a special place for me.
We joke in this House about people getting up and talking about the best place in the province to live. Well, you know what? The best place in the province to live is where you have your home. That's the best place in the province. My home has been on Matsqui Prairie, now in the constituency, actually, of Abbotsford-Clayburn. I'm in the Abbotsford-Clayburn riding now. That has been my home for 30 years, and I enjoy living there.
It's quite a history, from the settlement in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the arrival, in the early part of the last century, of immigrants from Europe…. There was a strong German Mennonite influx. Later, after the Second World War, came people from Holland, where my parents hail from — a strong dairy farm contingent. Later was a South Asian influx that is now very much a thriving and exciting part of my community. So it's a multicultural community in ways that…. We often hear that term bandied about in more urban settings. But of course my community has in many ways become very urban. There are over 100,000 people now in the city of Abbotsford. My colleagues the member for Abbotsford-Clayburn and the member for Chilliwack-Sumas share responsibilities for representing those people in this place. But it's an exciting community to represent and to live in.
We have, in the days ahead — and I want to speak briefly about these events that are upcoming, which we are home to…. I mentioned some of the other events around the province. I would be remiss not to talk about the Central Fraser Valley Fair, the Agrifair. Those of you who find yourselves in that part of the province this coming weekend, please stop by. Visit my booth at the Agrifair. Coffee and doughnuts, balloons for the kids — it's all at Agrifair.
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The Abbotsford Air Show next week. There's an event that has been around for over 30 years. When you say "Abbotsford" just about anywhere in the world, people know about it.
Two events exist because of the tireless work of volunteers. All of us in this chamber have similar examples — hallmark, trademark events in our communities that exist because of the work of volunteers. It's been tough for those volunteers over the past number of years. There have been times when they have asked me whether the government of the day was really interested in the work they did and why the government of the day seemed to make it so difficult for them to operate. It's tough to attract volunteers when economic conditions are so poor. You know what? You might want to be a volunteer, but you've still got to put food on the table for your family. When that gets tougher, there's just less time available for donating the time you'd like to, to your favourite cause.
I mention the air show — Agrifair, the volunteer component — but I also mention the air show because for those of us who live in Abbotsford and the central part of the Fraser Valley, it really does represent something of a jewel. Commercial air service is now increasing into the airport. You can now fly virtually anywhere in Canada thanks to connections via WestJet, via Air Canada — service perhaps into the United States. We're pretty proud of that. We're pretty proud of the airport authority, Herman Driediger and others who are making that happen, who are liaising with the federal government to ascertain whether or not we can have a customs presence that will allow for international air travel to take place.
From the point of representing a catalyst for local development, there is no more important infrastructure asset than the Abbotsford Airport. I make no apologies for looking at that facility, and it's really tied in with the heart of the community. It was built during the Second World War as part of the Commonwealth air training plan and has been part of the community ever since. When you look at what has grown up around the air show in a few short years in terms of maintenance and overhaul businesses, air forest fire fighting capabilities by Conair and its successor company Cascade Aerospace Inc….
If you look at the type of industry, high-tech development, that could potentially take place at a facility like the air show, I have to tell you that I get, again, very, very excited. I look at and I hear about the challenge that companies like Cascade are experiencing attracting qualified employees, where, if you can believe it, the main obstacle to growth in British Columbia in that industry is the unavailability of trained personnel. Well, that's unforgivable. That is something that we need to address. When I go to Peace River North, similarly, and hear that there is difficulty attracting trained people to work in the oil and gas sector, that is unforgivable. We have failed, as a society, in addressing those basic needs. There are surely enough people who need work, who need training. We have to give it to them. We have to address those needs. We have to do it by encouraging people to come to this province and invest their money. We also have to do it by ensuring that the training opportunities are there.
So I don't apologize for saying to this House and to my colleagues that I look at the Abbotsford Airport and envisage a day when there is an aerotechnical training facility located out there. That is something that I will commend to my colleagues, to the ministers responsible, and we'll see. We'll see if we can meet that desperate need that exists and provide the training that would provide so many young people with a sound future, a family-sustaining job. After all, that's part of what our objective should be, I think.
Infrastructure is a very important part, if we take the example of the Abbotsford Airport. We can attract those tenants, those businesses. I think our Finance minister is making it easier for us to do that — and the Premier, in the throne speech. But if you can't get into the airport because of a deteriorated infrastructure situation — that is, a road system, an interchange system, that doesn't allow for that to happen in an effective and timely way — and if you're sitting in gridlock because our highway system hasn't been upgraded in over 30 or 40 years, then you're still going to have some problems.
Our ability to give effect to those improvements, surely it has to be acknowledged, is tied to us having a robust economy. It was a never-ending source of frustration for me when I heard members of the former government — and now, in the case of the two NDP members in this chamber — speak as if these things can happen magically and mythically, without any regard for the overall health of our economy. They literally believe money grows on trees. Well, I'm the Minister of Forests, and if I could find one of those trees, I'd dig it out and take it home. I can't find the money tree.
Hon. M. de Jong: The member for Fort Langley–Aldergrove handed me my No. 3 Husqvarna when we went golfing the other day.
I once had a discussion with a member of the NDP. It's true; we do speak occasionally. It's harder now. There aren't as many to speak to. We talked about the things that we want government to do, in terms of protecting health care and ensuring that we have an education system that's serving the needs of our children and social programs. I don't think there was that much, ultimately, that separated us from what the objectives are. What I tried to say and what I don't think I could achieve any degree of understanding on is that all of those good intentions in the world don't amount to a hill of beans if you haven't got the means to carry them out. That is what has taken place over the past ten years.
You know, I remember 1981. We're all different ages, and there are different formative events in our lives. In 1981 this province was in the heart of a
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recession. I remember it because I had just gone off to university, and my parents, my family, were struggling. They put their place up for sale. There wasn't any work. It was tough.
I don't think my parents cared about me any less; in fact, I know they didn't. But you know what? They had to say no a whole lot more, and it wasn't because they cared any less. It was because that was the reality. Now we need to change that reality in this province. We need to get back to where we used to be, which was number one, not number ten.
All of us came through a campaign, and all of us heard about our need to address this economic blight that has befallen British Columbia in the days that the NDP reigned in government. We heard about that; we were listening. It's something we believe in, and it's something we're taking steps to correct.
The other thing we heard…. And if anyone in this chamber disagrees with me, they can stand up and make the point. We heard an incredible degree of cynicism. No matter what we said in our book, our new-era document, I would suggest that every one of us was confronted by a cynical public that said: "We don't believe you'll do it." They — that is, the public in this province — had grown so accustomed to broken promises that they simply couldn't believe a group of politicians would follow through on what they said they'd do.
I think I can say with a certain degree of confidence that all of us on the government caucus were tremendously proud, on the first full day the government was in office, that we acted on the promise that was at the forefront of our election campaign. We said we were going to cut personal income tax dramatically, Mr. Speaker, and do you know what we did? On the first day in power we cut personal income tax. I think we felt good because we knew it was the right thing to do. I don't know about the rest of you in this chamber, but I got on the phone, and I called about 30 people and said: "See, I told you. You said you didn't believe we'd do it, and we did it."
It's difficult, I recognize this, for two opposition members in a sea of government members to perform the task of opposition. There are challenges around the time available. There's the dynamic of this place itself that makes it at times intimidating. I think the members are capable of…. I have no doubt about their ability to get beyond that. But it is also puzzling for me sometimes, because what they would choose to have us forget when they are critical of the path we have chosen is that they also campaigned under a banner. That banner by their leader, the then-Premier, was: "If it's tax cuts you want, I'm not your man." Well, do you know what? They weren't the men or women that the people of British Columbia wanted. They wanted that tax cut, and we gave it to them.
I can go through a list, whether it's photo radar, an audit of the finances, fixed budget days, fixed electoral calendars. I can go through the checklist, and that checklist is about doing two things. It is about doing what is right to reactivate and re-energize the economy in British Columbia, but it's also about one other thing. It's about re-establishing some trust amongst our neighbours.
I know my time is drawing to a close, Mr. Speaker. But do you know what? I came from a profession where it was at times pretty tough to walk the streets and not be the butt-end of some jokes. I was a lawyer. Mine was a very lateral shift in the social pecking order, but you know what? This is a great job. This is a great place to work. All of these people — 79 of them — are good people. And when we are through here, when we are through this session and this term, we are going to be able to walk out those doors — whether some of us come back or not, or choose to come back or not — and hold our heads up high. Whether people agreed with what we did or not, we did what we said we would do. That is going serve this province very well.
Hon. R. Coleman: It's always a pleasure. I always seem to draw the short straw and get to follow the member formerly for Matsqui, who represents the small suburb adjacent to my very important riding in British Columbia.
The fact of the matter is that I'm pleased today to rise and speak about our Speech from the Throne. Before I get into some of the things I want to talk about, I just want to think for a couple of minutes about how we got here as individuals and how I got here as an individual.
Every one of us had supporters back home. Every one of us had a great group of people that helped us to get elected, raised money for us and did all of those things. And of course, I happen to represent the best group of volunteers, the best group of supporters and the best organization in the province, in the riding of Fort Langley–Aldergrove.
In addition to that, there are some people who are very important whenever one runs for public office, and in my case, it's my wife, Michele; my son Adam; my daughter Jacqueline; my friends and close supporters; and of course the voters of Fort Langley–Aldergrove who sent me back to this Legislature with an increase of 20 percent over the previous time that I ran in a provincial election.
As I look forward, I think about what's passed in the previous number of years, when we stood here for five years in opposition, and we railed against a government that didn't keep its promises. We railed against a government that would do fudge-it budgets. We railed against a government that refused to have a parliamentary calendar and operate in a businesslike fashion. I look at that, and I think: the people that have paid their dues in our caucus, particularly those who were elected in 1991, are owed a great debt by the people of British Columbia for still being here today and for bringing us forward to where we are today so we could form a government.
The other thing I was thinking about when I was coming here today…. The first time that I was elected to this chamber, in 1996, and was sworn in and walked
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up there to sign the documents that were necessary, I had with me my mother, my mother-in-law and my father-in-law. It's instructive for us to remember that as time passes, we should take note of the valuable moments that we have. When I was sworn in on June 12, I had my mother. The other two had passed away in the ensuing five years. Don Yelland and Helen Yelland were just like another set of parents to me. They supported me whenever I did anything, and I really believe that they would have loved to have been here to see a change in government.
I have to fulfil a promise this evening as I speak to the throne speech. There was a gentleman by the name of Andrew Lynch who walked the halls of this Legislature as the president of the press gallery and who passed away earlier this year. Andrew Lynch was one of the great characters that we saw in this Legislature. Over a period of time Andrew became my friend, as a person that I would speak to in my position as Whip. He was always so intrigued by what was going on out there in the halls, what the agenda was, who was up for debate, how we were going to handle something. It was his whole life. He reported and wrote about it, and it was basically required reading to read The Lynch Report if you were a member of this Legislative Assembly.
Andrew died of cancer earlier this year. One promise I made to him is that I would put his name in Hansard personally, so that's why I'm doing that tonight: to fulfil a promise to a very good and old friend, Mr. Speaker.
Before I talk in a bit more depth about the throne speech, there are two more people I want to talk about tonight, and they are two former members of our caucus that chose not to run in the last provincial election, Doug Symons and Dr. April Sanders. Doug Symons, as the member for Richmond Centre, was absolutely phenomenal in opposition in dealing with the issues around transportation, and particularly the fast ferry issue, on behalf of our caucus. Doug was a tremendous help to all of us. His research was outstanding, his work was outstanding and he served this Legislature well for ten years before he stepped aside to make room for someone else to run in the riding in Richmond that he represented.
We have today a Minister of State for Mental Health, and I believe that we probably had that minister of state because of the advocacy work that was done on behalf of the mental health community in this province by Dr. April Sanders when she was in opposition in this Legislative Assembly. I think we should remember these two people as great colleagues of ours and people that gave a great deal to public life and remember the contribution that they and their families made so we could be successful here today.
There are two other people I should give thanks to. Those are my two staff members back in the riding of Fort Langley–Aldergrove — one of them Ida Fallowfield, who I've known for 20 years and who has worked for me for the last five years, and my constituency assistant Sheryl Strongitharm, who has actually worked with me both in business and in politics for the last 12 and a half years — who have been there to do a great job on behalf of my constituents back home.
I want to sort of open tonight with a poem. It was written by a gentleman by the name of Bill Clennan — not Bill Clinton, Bill Clennan. Bill Clennan is known as the Memory Man. He is one of these guys who can walk into a room and tell you the names of the 30 people he just met in the last 20 minutes. He'll bounce them back all over the place, and he'll actually remember sometimes what they do for a living.
The poem has got nothing to do with memory. If it had, I would have memorized it before I came in here this evening. It goes something like this: The contest lasts for moments,
Hon. Speaker, when the NDP called an election in April of this year, the province of British Columbia won. When the effort of the B.C. Liberal caucus and that organization was brought to election day and we elected 77 Members of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, British Columbia won. On June 12, 2001, the history of the province was changed when 77 members of the B.C. Liberal caucus were elected and British Columbia won, and won big-time.
They won to bring down what I believe, after watching it for five years, was the worst government in the history of British Columbia. And what they brought in was what I believe will be the best government in the history of British Columbia.
The differences will be evident. They're evident in our throne speech, they're evident in our promises, and they're evident in our commitment. The former government lived without accountability. They lived with phony promises. They lived with fudge-it budgets, and they lived with payoffs to friends and insiders.
Our government will be accountable. It will be accountable to the finances of the province, it will be accountable to the integrity of the members of this Legislative Assembly, and it will be accountable to our communities as we do the job that we've been sent here to do by our constituents. It will keep its commitments, commitments that we made in our New Era document and commitments that we made as individuals when we walked into public office.
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Our government will be an open government, a government that will open itself to the people of British Columbia, because we have nothing to hide. There is nothing to hide when you're honest, when you have integrity and when you provide good government and good management to the taxpayers of this province.
We're going to build and rebuild what was once a great professional public service. This province deserves that, the people who work within that public service deserve it, and we all will be better for it. It is evident, as the member from Abbotsford was saying earlier, that we are a group of people who intend to keep our commitments. People are just starting to get used to that idea. They're getting used to that idea because we came in with a 90-day plan and a new-era commitment on how we would run government. We've already moved on the 90-day plan. I'm aware of that because as the Solicitor General, my responsibility was to meet the commitment in the 90-day plan, in the New Era document, of getting rid of photo-radar. I received my letter from the Premier, I acted, and there I was.
When we gave this province a tax cut on our second day in office — a dramatic tax cut that we committed to in the New Era document — as the member from Abbotsford was saying, people started to believe that we meant what we said and we'd do what we said we were going to do. That is so important, because as we go forward and tick off every single thing that we said we were going to do, the people of British Columbia will once again gain faith in their public institutions. They will once again gain a belief that politicians are people who can be trusted, whose word can be trusted and who are credible people to be looked up to for the future by our young people in the province.
On the accountability side, we're going to bring in truth-in-budgeting legislation and balanced-budget legislation like we promised. We will live up to that because anything less would be unacceptable.
We have established measurements. The one that I get a kick out of the most, because some people find it so phenomenally difficult to understand, is the fact that ministers will forgo a portion of their pay if they don't balance their budget, meet their goals within their ministry and, as a group, work together for the success of government and accomplish the goals of government. That's nothing new. That's a model that I lived with in the private sector no matter where I was. When I had my own business, I can tell you one thing: I could never give myself a bonus at the end of the year if I didn't turn a profit and if I didn't balance my budget. That's the way it should be for government, and nobody should be ashamed to say that's a good thing.
We're going to actually have three-year work plans and business plans for what we do, so that it can be measured. That's important, because for too many years, sitting on the other side of this Legislature, I saw too many things come forward that failed. They failed because of lack of planning, lack of accountability and lack of a measurable business plan attached to them so that we know what we were trying to accomplish, where we were going to get…and what results we expected. That will not happen under a B.C. Liberal government.
You know, one of the most exciting things we're doing is changing how a Legislature works and how a caucus works in this province. For too many years the executive council of the Legislature had too much power and was not accountable enough to the other membership of its caucus. I believe, as a member of the executive council, that my first priority in this Legislature is this Legislature and my caucus. I believe that we're all working together to get successful. That's why we're going to have government caucus committees that will actually do real work, in conjunction with executive councils, so that we as a group of people can implement the plan that we have put together for the province of British Columbia. In doing that, we will protect the health care and education in this province, like we promised. We will open up government, and we have opened cabinet.
It's interesting, you know, when you've read some of the early things around open cabinet meetings. They say: "Oh, we're going to have an open cabinet meeting." Those people who came from municipal government know that they've been open for years. They've been on cable for years. Openness and accountability is nothing new in government. It was just that it needed to come to the B.C. Legislature so that the people of this province could see open and accountable government, hon. Speaker.
The public will have access to our processes in the government caucus committees, and we will have merit employment. I want to touch on that, because you know what? It's interesting how you can get people to be successful when they're given the opportunity to expand their horizons or given the opportunity to think outside the box. I have a story about that in my ministry.
Shortly after I became a minister, I had a meeting with the person that's responsible for consumer services in this province. I asked one question at the end of the briefing. I said: "What do you think should happen relative to your ministry and the future of consumer services in the province of British Columbia?" He said: "Well, I think there should be a consolidation of a number of acts into something along the lines of a fair trade act, that we should consolidate those services so that we can provide better services in consumer protection to the province, and that we should move on that legislation in the future. So I looked at him, and I said: "Do it."
Within a week I had a binder and a plan to do just that. This individual was so excited, because he said: "You have no idea how many ministers I've briefed over the years, saying this would be a good thing for British Columbia. I've never had the opportunity to even give a briefing for estimates. All I've done is brief ministers that have changed offices on a regular basis over the years. This is the first time somebody has given me the initiative to do what I think is good for
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British Columbians." Hon. Speaker, that will become a model for how we'll deal with consolidation and better legislation in the future because of the initiative of a man who was only asked one question.
Without a doubt, I have a lot more to say, and I have more to talk about tonight, but there are some things of importance that need to be dealt with by this Legislature. Hon. Speaker, I would like to reserve my place.
Hon. R. Coleman moved adjournment of debate.
Introduction of Bills
GREATER VANCOUVER TRANSIT SERVICES
Hon. G. Bruce presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Greater Vancouver Transit Services Settlement Act.
Hon. G. Bruce: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. G. Bruce: Mr. Speaker, imposing collective agreements is not something that my government will ever take lightly. It's only something to be contemplated after all other options have been exhausted. In this dispute between the CAW and the Coast Mountain Bus Co., both sides have indicated that the government should intervene. Both these particular parties have been at work a long time trying to resolve this dispute.
We've had a mediator in place since April, and we've had a mediator's report since June 14. The parties have worked over this last while in an effort to find a way of putting aside the differences and coming to some agreement, but with no success. There comes a point, Mr. Speaker, when we have to say "Enough," and we have to move on from here.
The bill that I am introducing is, I believe, balanced and measured in resolving this dispute in a way that we sincerely hope will contribute to better service and improved labour relations in the future. I hope the parties will see this in the spirit that it is presented, and that is reluctantly, but it's done to fulfil the greater community need.
Mr. Speaker, I am today introducing a bill to bring an end to the lower mainland transit disputes involving the Canadian Auto Workers Union, the Office and Professional Employees International Union, Coast Mountain Bus Co. and TransLink.
As you know, the impact of the transit dispute on many of the folks in Vancouver and small business has been severe. For those individuals with no alternative to public transit and to those businesses that depend on transit users, I'm sure this bill comes as welcome news. During the past four months the parties in this dispute have been given every opportunity to resolve these strikes on their own.…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. member, I must ask for order and note that your time has elapsed.
Hon. G. Bruce: The issue before us is one that has caused a lot of grief for many, many people, and I would ask that this House keep that in mind when we're debating it, so that we can work in a manner of peace and harmony in an effort to bring this whole issue to a resolve.
I move that the bill be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 13 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. G. Collins: I would request that the House recess until 6 p.m. to allow for the bill to be distributed and members to have a look at it. I expect that the House will then move into private members' statements between 6 o'clock and 7 o'clock this evening, and at 7 o'clock I'll be asking for leave of the House to move to second reading of the bill today.
Mr. Speaker: You've heard the request. With leave this House will recess until 6 p.m.
The House recessed from 5:43 p.m. to 6:02 p.m.
[J. Weisbeck in the chair.]
Hon. G. Abbott: I call private members' statements.
Private Members' Statements
FOR WHOM THE BELL CRIES
I. Chong: I'm pleased to speak about an exciting event about to take place in the constituency that I represent, Oak Bay–Gordon Head. I alluded to this event in my Address in Reply to the throne speech last week. Now I wish to elaborate on the upcoming town crier competition.
Some may ask: what is a town crier, and what does a town crier do? So allow me to provide everyone with a little history. Town criers go back centuries, and contrary to popular belief, they were not a British innovation but rather came into being in Greece, when a Greek soldier proclaimed that the Battle of Marathon had been won in the year 490 B.C. To this day there remains disagreement as to the first record of a country's town crier, as there is no documentation to prove conclusively where this all began. Suffice it to say, town criers have been around for as long as there
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have been towns and cities, and no doubt they will continue for some time.
History reveals that the role of a town crier was regarded as extremely important, as he was usually the only one who could read or write. The town crier was the original information provider who brought news and was a spokesperson for the king. It was also the town crier's job to make proclamations issued by parliament. For example, the London town crier would read his proclamation in his area, and then he would pass it on to the next area and so on, thus making it possible for the entire country to know what was happening in the British Isles.
Although the town crier was the most important person in his town, for some reason he was not paid for his services but had to rely instead on the townspeople to throw him a penny as he made his proclamation, thereby earning a very humble living. It seems not much has changed over the years. In terms of remuneration, as town criers go, they are presently only paid by way of honorariums usually.
In 1978, in the town of Hastings in the United Kingdom, a group of town criers decided to form an organization of town criers to carry on the ancient calling of town crying. This was known as the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers. Today its membership boasts over 130 criers, both female and male, which covers the entire United Kingdom. Their main goal is, of course, of a charitable nature. They are often called upon to attend numerous community events.
Nowadays things are somewhat different. A town crier is established when officially appointed by the mayor or the council of the community he or she represents. The crier then selects his or her outfit accordingly. The style of uniforms worn can date back to the seventeenth century. Some are authentic to the uniforms worn by the original town crier for that community. In addition, town criers require an attention-gaining device. Many have then chosen a handbell to do the job, which is the reason I chose the name of my topic, "For Whom The Bell Cries."
I hope that by sharing with you and with all the members in this House the history of town crying, you will regard town criers in a different light the next time you have occasion to see one. You will be able to do that, actually, next week, when the Oak Bay International Town Crier Competition takes place. This will be an exciting time in Oak Bay — indeed, here in greater Victoria. While there are over 300 criers worldwide, only 32 have been invited to participate in this competition. The criers represent six different countries: Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, England, United States and, of course, Canada.
At this competition each crier will perform two cries: a home cry from the town and country that they represent, and a business cry, the latter being made possible by the local businesses sponsoring a crier. Each cry is to have a minimum of 75 words and a maximum of 100 words. A town crier will ring his bell to signal that he or she is about to begin. Then each cry will begin with "Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!" and conclude with "God Save the Queen."
For those who may be wondering about the origins and meaning of "Oyez," let me enlighten you. "Oyez!" is the medieval French equivalent of "hearken!" We owe this particular tradition to our Norman conquerors.
The competitors next week will be judged in four categories. That should certainly provide great entertainment value for all spectators. The first category for judging is on sustained volume and clarity. Now, as legislators we certainly know that at times, sustained volume and clarity can be of benefit. But for a town crier, that characteristic is an absolute must. A modern-day crier needs to make him- or herself heard in the open air, often amidst the hustle and bustle of the town square or marketplace.
Clearly, the ability to generate sufficient volume to be heard and then to sustain that volume throughout the cry is in itself a challenge. Yet for town criers this is their basic requirement. I do not envy the task of judging in this category, since one would have to listen carefully for words that are clearly audible throughout the proclamation and not just be impressed by the sheer volume of the cry.
The second category to be judged is diction and inflection. For this, criers must ensure that their cries not be monotone but rather that they make use of varying tones in order that the rise and fall of their voice is appropriately matched to the meaning of the words proclaimed. This is considered the inflection part, whereas the diction refers to words being clear and distinct, such that no words are slurred or run together in a way that the beginnings or endings are lost.
Deputy Speaker: Member, your time is up.
I. Chong: Thank you, hon. Speaker. I will wait for the response from the member opposite.
H. Bloy: Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! I beg you listen to our proclamation. As all members of this House have mentioned over the last few days, in response to the throne speech, it is a new era. This is our proclamation.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head for her history on town criers and for her informative presentation and also in regards to the Canadian championships that are being held in her riding this month. Mr. Speaker, as my colleagues have told you, the town crier used to deliver the news and post it. They would post their proclamations, but now the media takes over this job. The media holds us responsible for our promises and reports our progress and delivers our news.
I paint you a picture of the town crier, originally appointed by a mayor but now appointed by the Premier, that stands in downtown Victoria and calls out the news or a crier who was appointed by the Prime Minister who has to stand out in the harsh, cold winters of Ottawa and deliver the news.
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Independent media was not a luxury of the liberal democracy in days gone by, though watching Peter Mansbridge on the national news might put a few smiles on our tempered, weathered faces in the west here, as we are now at a point in democracy's evolution where an independent media is a strong player in our parliamentary system. Independent media brings legitimacy, accountability and transparency in government from the front doors of this chamber to the living rooms of every home in Canada.
Historically, whatever attack was suffered by the crier was considered an attack on the Sovereign, a treasonous offence. The two were considered one and the same. This direct link between the messenger and the government is now untied. It seems that the media paints the picture and sets the stage that we as a government find ourselves working…. This is because a democracy is of the people. Hence, we are the culmination of their collective knowledge and intellect. So perhaps it is the media's democracy, and it takes whatever form they give it, as they are the vital link between government and people.
We must remember, though, that it is us who represent these people, and we must not see the media as antagonist. We must see them as part of a team which can help inform the public about our goings-on here in the Legislative Assembly and ultimately help us foster a society of informed, analytical and engaged citizens.
The town crier was used to inform the people, a mass that was largely illiterate. We are now all very lucky, as the majority of our citizens are literate. British Columbians must again become enthused and engaged in public life. They must begin again to ask questions, get answers and participate in their own democracy. It seems fitting that a bell calls us to these chambers, since the town crier was originally called a bellman, ringing his bell when he had something to say. As the bells ring in these hallways, we are charged with a duty to represent our constituents and our friends and our neighbours and our families.
We are called on to offer constructive debate, and I am once again reminded of two quotes, "Do not ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee," which speaks to the awesome responsibility weighing on our shoulders as elected officials; and also: "I go and it is done; the bell invites me," Macbeth. As we go to the chamber to move the people of British Columbia in a positive direction, the bell invites us. God save the Queen.
I. Chong: I wish to thank the member for Burquitlam for the response. I'm very grateful for his very enthusiastic and excellent response this evening. Methinks he has a future as a town crier.
Hon. Speaker, I would just like to conclude with the last two categories of this competition that are occurring next week. The third category that is going to be judged in this town crier competition is in the area of confidence and bearing. In this category, there is recognition that non-verbal elements may enhance or even detract from the sound of the words proclaimed. Thus it is important that the crier be in tune with his or her manner of presentation. The style, the personality, the body language and the showmanship will all be used to influence the judging. But the crier must exercise caution not to be so excessive or prominent as to divert attention away from the cry.
The fourth and final category that's to be judged in the competition will be best-dressed crier escort or couple. Of course, every crier has an opportunity to choose the style of uniform that they wish. The judge will look for authenticity for the particular period chosen.
I hope all members have enjoyed learning more about the history and role of town criers. It would seem that legislators have adopted some of the rules of engagement for ourselves when we speak. At times we display sustained volumes and clarity; at times we require proper diction and inflection to stress the importance of our particular issues. I recall, during my first opportunity to speak in this chamber, the need to be confident and forthright.
So I just want to say that here in the capital region, several municipalities have appointed an official town crier. They have been preparing and organizing for next week's competition. In the municipality of Oak Bay, which I represent, we are grateful and pleased that the very capable Mr. Kenny Podmore has agreed to accept that position. I wish them all the very best in their competition next week.
J. Les: This is my first opportunity to present a private member's statement, and I wish to thank you for this opportunity. I'll be speaking today on design-build, which is a relatively new way of delivering public infrastructure projects around our province.
The House will be aware that there is a growing need around our province for the replacement of aging infrastructure. Much of our infrastructure has been allowed to degrade and decline over the last decade or two. In many areas of the province we have deteriorating roads and bridges that need replacement, aging schools and municipal infrastructure that need replacement.
In addition, with the new economic policies that are going to be promoted by our government, new people will be coming to British Columbia, looking to this province as a location of preference for entrepreneurial business and as a safe and prosperous place for people to make their homes. This population growth will add to the infrastructure pressures for the new schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, water systems, etc., which will be required to accommodate this anticipated growth.
The lessons of the last ten years are that much of the money put into infrastructure has either been totally wasted, as witnessed by the fast ferry fiasco, or at best the investments have not been efficiently made. In this time of scarce financial resources, as we attempt to put the province's financial house back in order after
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ten years of mismanagement, we must make every dollar count.
While I was mayor of Chilliwack, we quickly learned that the traditional method of hiring architects and engineers to design projects and then letting a construction tender by low bid did not produce efficient and innovative solutions to our infrastructure needs. Cost overruns often occur, but most importantly, a low-bid tender for the wrong design is still the wrong project.
We realize that to be most efficient, we had to include the design and construction in one package to ensure collaboration between those who design and specify and those who build the project. Too often, using the traditional specific-design, low-tender approach, contractors would tell me that if only they could have been involved earlier in the process, government could have saved a lot of money.
Much of the industrialized world has moved to a project delivery system known as design-build. While this has been used only to a limited extent in this province, we need to encourage its widespread use as a way to ensure prudent investments. With design-build, the government encourages private sector innovation and creativity that are not necessarily evident in recent public sector projects. Private sector companies bid for projects not on a fixed design, but rather to a set of performance specifications that define how the facility is required to perform or what it is required to do.
Rather than building bridges to a predefined design, the government contracts to a set of performance specifications that define how the facility is required to perform or what it is required to do. Rather than building bridges to a predefined design, the government contracts for crossing rivers. Rather than building hospitals in traditional ways, the government contracts for providing accommodation where acute care services can be provided. Rather than specifying that aluminum catamaran ferries must be built, the need to be addressed would be identified and the private sector would be invited to respond.
The important issue is that government defines how the finished product is to perform, not precisely what is to be built. In order to win the competition, the private sector must come up with an innovative design solution as well as a competitive construction price. Most importantly, if the finished product does not perform properly, the private sector does not get paid. Suddenly someone is accountable for performance, which must also include life-cycle cost accounting. Also, this process provides for a significant transfer of risk from the public sector to the private sector proponent. Costly change orders become a thing of the past.
The public sector has often been reluctant to use design-build to deliver projects for fear of giving up control over the finished project. The result is projects that are overscoped and lack innovative ideas and creativity.
Much of the United States construction market is undertaken by design-build, and its market share is expected to increase significantly.
No project has proved too challenging for the private sector to respond to. Two independent studies by universities in both the United States and the United Kingdom comparing design-build to traditionally delivered public projects provided the following conclusions. Construction speed was increased by 12 percent, and total project delivery speed was 30 percent faster. Cost was an average of 13 percent less, though our experience in Chilliwack was considerably better than that. I should point out that we undertook many projects, including roads, bridges, water and sewer projects, a fire hall and, most recently, an agriculture trade show recreation facility.
Design-build projects are 50 percent more certain to be completed on time and more likely to be completed on budget or within 5 percent of budget. The most surprising finding of the study is that design-build provides superior consistency in aesthetic quality and, overall, marginally better aesthetic quality than traditional approaches. This data is supported and based on an extensive survey with over 700 individual responses.
A moment ago I mentioned a specific example of a fire hall. We used in Chilliwack a design-build process to produce this new fire hall. The result was a very aesthetically pleasing and functional facility, nicely blended into a residential area, for a price of $800,000. Not long thereafter, another community built a similar facility similar in size using the traditional specific design and tender approach. Tragically for the taxpayer, the cost came to $2.5 million.
If the private sector were encouraged to deliver projects through non-traditional means such as design-build in British Columbia, the taxpayers would receive significant benefits in cost reductions while receiving innovative and creative solutions to our needs.
I would encourage all government ministries and Crown corporations to deliver public infrastructure using non-traditional methods such as design-build to provide better value for money to taxpayers and to allow the private sector to produce innovative and more cost-effective solutions.
Deputy Speaker: Responding is the member for Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows.
K. Stewart: In response to the member for Chilliwack-Sumas, I would like to follow up on his comments on design-build to the next stage of private-public partnerships, commonly known as P3s. Private-public partnerships, or P3s, occur when a public body establishes a contractual relationship with a private sector company to create a project it cannot undertake itself. In order to meet taxpayer needs, governments are entering into agreements with private partners who can assume risk and financial responsibilities and bring cost-saving technologies and expertise to the table.
P3s offer value to governments by leveraging public resources with commercial development. They
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are fast becoming the preferred way of designing, financing, developing, completing and operating large projects. When all parties work together with vision and cooperation throughout the project, there is an increased likelihood of everyone being satisfied by the results.
P3s invest in communities by generating economic development and ensuring economic stability. In a P3 private sector partner, they are in for the long haul.
By committing to the partnership and putting the project on a solid business footing, the private sector accepts responsibility and accountability for the life of the project. The community benefits from both worlds when governments use few of the resources to meet the demands for public services while still maintaining or improving quality and standards. P3s have been called the wave of the future for public infrastructure. An increasing global trend towards P3s is evidence of these agreements in work. Successful P3s free up government resources away from facility construction and management, thus allowing more resources to be used for the actual service delivery of programs.
While P3s can take many forms ranging from contract services to design, build, operate, transfer of a facility to complete purchase of assets, the pivotal factor in every P3 agreement is risk. As the member for Chilliwack-Sumas mentioned earlier, risk is as much of a public issue in its business as it is in private business. Every major project can have significant risks attached to the planning, implementation and/or operational stages. Although every government tries to reconcile its wish list with its budget and its long-term goals and objectives, huge obstacles all too often stand between dreams and reality, unless of course we're prepared to accept more fast ferries.
By transferring risk to the private sector, the public sector gets the best value for its money by insulating itself from the risk and maximizing its ability to make optimum use of its resources. Perhaps by developing alternative revenue streams or business opportunities to provide increased services…. In addition, the public sector benefits from the private sector's increased efficiency, creativity and flexibility.
I have a few examples of private-public partnership projects. We have the Confederation Bridge between P.E.I. and New Brunswick. We have the Skyreach Place in Kelowna. We have the London Underground Jubilee Extension and the Chunnel, the channel tunnel built between England and France. Locally we have a P3 downtown core project in Maple Ridge which has a library. It has the government agent's office. It has the health…. It also has a new arts centre coming in. It's also where I have my office, and I'm very proud to note the standard and quality of the building.
We also have in Scotland the new Scottish air traffic control centre. In sports arenas we have the ballpark in Arlington and many other enterprises that have been shown to be very positively done through the P3 projects. I'd just like to thank the member for bringing this to our attention and will close with that.
J. Les: I'd like to thank the member for Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows for his response and his thoughtful words. He has developed many examples where design-build or P3s…. And those two terminologies are somewhat interchangeable. They have worked well. It should be evident to members, I think, from those examples that the private sector can be involved in any number of what have traditionally been thought of as public sector–only projects. I think it is time that in British Columbia we recognize that the private sector involvement in public facilities approach needs to be developed. It needs to be enthusiastically supported by members of this House and members of this government.
We need to boldly undertake new approaches, new methodologies, new models that can best produce the solutions that all British Columbians need at a cost that is affordable to the taxpayer. There is a wealth of ingenuity out there amongst our taxpayers. I'm sure they're ready to get involved as we build this province, and I think it is time that we allow the B.C. taxpayer to benefit from allowing this involvement by the private sector.
L. Mayencourt: I rise today to speak about a special community in our province, and I'm speaking about this place because its voice is not heard nearly enough in these chambers nor clearly enough. It's also an important neighbourhood to me personally, because I have worked there. I have helped people live better there, and I have witnessed great kindness and spirit. It is Vancouver's downtown east side, an amazingly complex and dynamic area that is often frustrating and challenging for community leaders and legislators alike.
Curiously, this area is the birth site of B.C.'s flagship city, no less than the Acropolis is to Athens. But unlike Greece, we have not kept our bond to our forebears by protecting our city's well-being. Rather, as land values shifted and economic activities moved westward, the area that is anchored by Main and Hastings streets was allowed to deteriorate. Once busy and vibrant, the Vancouver downtown east side looks on the surface like the ghost of a once-proud and prosperous community.
Fortunately, there is now in place a new accord called the Vancouver Agreement, which has identified the needs of Vancouver's downtown east side: a safe and secure community, attractive public spaces, much-needed health services, a thriving economy — all contributing towards great community spirit and action.
I'm honoured that the Premier has asked me to represent our government and to liaise with all of the stakeholders in government and in the community on this critically vital initiative. I'm proud of that, because I think that if we do this well, the whole community will heal and succeed. But if we fail, this malaise will
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spread to other areas, and our whole province will be diminished.
This agreement represents a five-year commitment on behalf of three levels of government to coordinate our efforts in a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach. What do these lofty words mean? For me, they are the expression of a promise and of the sources of energy that we as a government will draw upon to fulfil that promise. Let me share how Goethe describes it: Until one is committed,
He concludes with this: "Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now."
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
My B.C. Liberal government has a dream, and we know we can do this. Now we are joined with Providence. What a wonderful word to describe our vision of a new era of hope and prosperity for all communities in our province. We've made many clear and powerful promises in pursuit of healthy, safe and sustainable communities.
These include redirecting policing resources from photo radar to community-based policing, resulting in safer streets for all, and providing a top-notch education system, customized for each district.
The downtown east side will benefit from early intervention, first nations programs, fully funded arts, culture and physical education programs in neighbourhood schools like Strathcona Elementary; by introducing our community charter, which will give local governments greater autonomy and better planning tools; by implementing a flexible, innovative program to increase the supply of affordable housing; by focusing on reducing B.C.'s youth unemployment, which is a problem throughout our province but particularly bad in the economic malaise of the downtown east side; by expanding job training and skills development opportunities for all residents of this community; by training more social workers to properly protect children at risk and improve services to families; by establishing health standards that ensure all citizens are entitled to health care when and where they need it; by fully implementing a $125 million commitment to a mental health initiative; by meeting the needs of the 22 percent of British Columbians with mental illness who also live in this small neighbourhood and who have been repeatedly ignored by the previous government; by providing support and development for health delivery specialists like doctors, nurses, ambulance attendants and technicians; by enhancing preventative drug and alcohol efforts, such as addiction services for new moms and the reduction of fetal alcohol syndrome; by stopping the expansion of gaming, which puts strains on families; by passing a domestic violence protection act that will allow police to remove violent offenders from the home; by creating a permanent first citizens forum that will provide aboriginal citizens with a means to communicate with government about their hopes and dreams; by fighting child prostitution and youth crime with legislation aimed at providing greater protection to children at risk of exploitation.
It's a long list, to be sure. These initiatives range from the specific to the visionary. But as British author James Allen said almost a century ago, those who cherish a beautiful vision, a lofty ideal in their hearts, will one day realize it.
Columbus cherished a vision of another world, and he discovered it. Copernicus fostered a vision of a multiplicity of worlds and a wider universe, and he revealed it. Buddha beheld a vision of a spiritual world of stainless beauty and perfect peace, and he entered into it. To the visionaries of the downtown east side I say: cherish your visions. Cherish your ideals. Cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your finest thoughts. For out of them will grow all delightful conditions, all heavenly environments. Of these, if you remain true to them, your world will at last be built.
Hon. G. Abbott: It's my pleasure to rise and respond to the comments of the member for Vancouver-Burrard. I do, first of all, want to thank him for his very thoughtful and passionate remarks with respect to the downtown east side of Vancouver and to the Vancouver agreement. I would suspect that many members who have been elected to this House really wouldn't know very much about the Vancouver agreement. Certainly, until I assumed this particular responsibility as the Minister of Aboriginal Services, I really had no idea about it either. But I do think that many members of the House would have some appreciation of the challenges that face us on the downtown east side. That is a community that challenges all levels of government in our efforts to build and rebuild resources for residents and revitalize that area of Vancouver.
Briefly, the Vancouver agreement is, as the member pointed out, a five-year commitment by the federal and provincial governments and the city of Vancouver to work together to support sustainable economic, social and community development in Vancouver. It is a partnership, in the best sense of the word, aimed at addressing problems which really confront and to some extent confound all levels of government in Canada and in British Columbia.
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There are three equal components to the Vancouver agreement: community health and safety, economic and social development, and community capacity. The purpose of the Vancouver agreement is to demonstrate the commitment of all three levels of government to work within their own jurisdictions, within their own mandates and with communities in Vancouver to develop and implement a coordinated strategy that will promote and support sustainable economic, social and community development.
The first focus of the Vancouver agreement is the downtown east side. I think that's very appropriate. My exposure to the downtown east side has been quite limited in the past, generally limited to driving down Hastings Street and seeing some of the apparent problems. Just a week ago I was fortunate to spend a night with the Vancouver city police and walk through the streets and alleys of the downtown east side. It was certainly an eye-opener for me to meet the people down there. They were very generous in offering me their thoughts and concerns and their stories about their lives in the downtown east side. It immeasurably advanced my understanding of some of the problems.
What we do know is that obviously this is one of the poorest areas in Canada, perhaps the poorest area in all of Vancouver. About 16,000 people live in the downtown east side — men, women and children of very diverse backgrounds. In 1996 the median household income on the downtown east side was $11,000.
There are a number of other statistics that I think we need to view with some alarm with respect to the downtown east side: between 500 and 4,700 injection drug users on the downtown east side; 18 percent of the city's mentally ill live in that part of the community. And according to the Vancouver-Richmond health board, some 90 percent of all of the injection drug users on the downtown east side are infected with hepatitis C.
There are problems with tuberculosis, problems with sexually transmitted diseases, and so on. These are all very compelling problems. They're also reflected in the crime statistics. Some 21.6 percent of all police calls in Vancouver are in this part of it, so we've got lots of challenges there.
We need to move forward through the Vancouver agreement to address these challenges. The program that the three levels of government are moving forward on includes health initiatives, expanded treatment, streetscape improvement, housing both in and outside the downtown east side, community development programs and coordinated law enforcement. All of these are key pieces in addressing this very big problem we are confronted with.
I think all three partners agree the issues that confront us are not…. The drug issue, for example, is not just a criminal issue. We need to take a broader, more effective approach to that problem, and those elements that are needed would include enforcement, prevention, treatment and harm reduction.
These are all very heavy challenges. In conclusion, these are challenges we are going to move forward to addressing, and I look forward to working with the hon. member in meeting those challenges.
L. Mayencourt: I want to thank the member for his gracious comments. It's heartening that the member sees what I see in the downtown east side. It's a vibrant, complex, sometimes infuriating but always interesting community. It is home by choice to many talented, committed and contributing citizens of Vancouver.
As the member has mentioned, there are serious problems as well, and they are frequently presented in the media, in the hospitals and in the courts. These are in large part the consequences of poverty, physical and mental illness and substance abuse, the very roots of this area's malaise and the focus of the Vancouver agreement.
By their natures, communities like the downtown east side gain strength through neighbourhood organizations that empower their residents. At the risk of leaving out some important ones, I'd like to mention the Living Room for people living with mental illness, St. James Community Service Society; May's Place, a wonderful hospice in the heart of the downtown; First United Church; the Lookout AIDS community centre; the incredible work of the Vancouver city police; the Carnegie Centre; the excellent stewardship of the Vancouver-Richmond health board; and of course the mayor of the city of Vancouver, Philip Owen.
These are examples of people helping people in this community. My government honours and respects their contribution and will work in concert with them to address their issues and needs through prudent allocation decisions and adequate support. We're going to do far more than put Band-Aids on visible wounds. Our government commits to attacking the sources of poverty, not those who are poor.
We will treat the causes of addiction as our chief goal. We will build safe places where we can help people end their addictions and reclaim their lives. We will welcome true dialogue and legitimate participation by those who actually live and work in this neighbourhood and let their priorities form our framework for action.
Our job is to provide secure, long-term funding envelopes for health and education planning and then promote partnerships with those in the community who know best how to use them. Together with myself, we have eight dedicated MLAs representing Vancouver and a caring, compassionate Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services who share my excitement and passion for working toward a revitalized downtown east side.
Once more I'll quote from James Allen about the unlimited power of spirit when it finds its mission.
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My colleagues and I are listening to the voices of the downtown east side, and we stand ready. With leadership, vision and spirit we have committed to a dream for the downtown east side. It truly will be what together we will it to be.
THE VICTORIA SYMPHONY SPLASH
J. Bray: I'm pleased today to speak about an exciting event that will actually be happening right outside this Legislature. It's the twelfth annual Symphony Splash. On Sunday, August 5, at 7:30 p.m., 54 of Victoria's finest musicians will perform from a barge in the Inner Harbour. Among these musicians will be 12-year-old violinist Nikki Chooi from Victoria. This is a wonderful arts event that is free to the public and attracts over 40,000 residents and tourists to the Inner Harbour and the downtown core of Victoria. The grand finale will again be Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, complete with fireworks and the firing of the ceremonial guns and bells. This event is organized and carried out by the fantastic Victoria Symphony, which is entering its sixty-first fantastic season.
The Victoria Symphony is the second largest in British Columbia. The symphony is made up of music director, Kees Bakels; a volunteer guild of over 200 members; and the wonderful Victoria Symphony youth advisory council, which brings enjoyment of orchestral music to young people. The symphony is also made up, of course, of the musicians, the board of directors and the staff. This is a vital arts organization that works actively in the community, and it highlights the importance of the arts in British Columbia.
The Symphony Splash will bring an exciting event to downtown and introduce a music form to some people, especially young people, who may never have heard classical music before. This event, therefore, provides an educational aspect and enhances the community while encouraging its involvement and celebrates the performing arts.
Another aspect is, in fact, economic. There will be 40,000 people downtown on August 5. I can assure you that this represents a windfall opportunity for the many businesses in the downtown area. It underscores a vital point: support for the arts makes good economic sense. The arts employ many talented B.C. residents and employ the hard-working staff that help bring the arts to the community. The arts also represent some of the best growth opportunities in one of B.C.'s top industries: tourism. For my constituency, tourism is the top industry.
Support for the arts and the potential growth they can contribute to tourism is a sound economic investment. For my riding of Victoria–Beacon Hill the arts represent a significant part of our local economy. As I mentioned during my initial speech to this House, my riding houses the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the Royal Theatre, Langham Court Theatre and the Belfry Theatre. Throughout the year we hold several festivals in the riding such as Folkfest, free Sunday concerts in Beacon Hill Park, the Luminara Festival and the Dragon Boat Festival.
Various groups involved in the arts and culture community organize these festivals. They involve the community, and they generate tremendous economic activity for the area. These events would not occur if there was insufficient support from government for the arts. This is why I am committed to helping our government deliver on our promise to increase funding for the B.C. Arts Council to promote and support B.C.'s arts, music, artists and culture.
The vibrancy of the arts activity in Victoria drives my support for initiatives being brought forward by the community. I am supportive of the Victoria Art Gallery's efforts to find a new home that will better showcase their world-class collection and be located in an area more conducive to attracting and promoting the arts tourism market in the capital city. The art gallery in a new site can serve as a year-round tourist draw in the same way that the Symphony Splash will on August 5.
The community initiative for the building of a state-of-the-art performing arts centre in the Inner Harbour is also an exciting proposal. This proposed project would create a symbol for Victoria and for Vancouver Island in the same fashion as the Sydney Opera House has become the symbol for Sydney and, indeed, one of the key recognizable symbols for Australia. The proposed performing arts centre could be a major cultural, artistic and tourist draw not just for Victoria but also for B.C. I will continue to be a strong supporter of this initiative.
Mr. Speaker, the strength of our communities is highlighted both in times of crisis and in times of celebration. Both are times when we sense that each one of us and our families belong to a larger collection of people. I am delighted to speak today about the twelfth annual Symphony Splash, because it is indeed a time of community celebration. When we feel a sense of connection to our community, we want to help make it a better place for ourselves, our families and our neighbours. The arts population is vital to the organization of these celebratory events when citizens gather and consolidate our sense of community. When we support the arts, we support the local economy and we build a better society.
I would like to congratulate the Victoria Symphony for putting on the twelfth annual Symphony Splash and invite all my colleagues who will be in town on August 5 at 7:30 p.m. to come to the Inner Harbour, have a meal or buy a coffee in a local shop and enjoy the concert. It is one of these wonderful events that makes Victoria the capital city and one of the most beautiful cities in the country.
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At this time I look forward to the response from a fellow member.
S. Orr: It's a privilege for me to respond to this and a great opportunity for me to confirm what the member for Victoria–Beacon Hill has been talking about.
For 11 years — in fact, this is its twelfth year — the Symphony Splash event has been entertaining the people of this region and also the lucky tourists that just happen to be in town on that weekend. This event takes three months to prepare for. Over the years there has been a huge commitment not only from management and staff but from many special people in our community, people like Murray Glazier, who was the chair of the symphony when the Splash was originally conceived, which was 12 years ago, and who today is still very involved; Stephen Smith, the general manager; and Peter McCoppin, the conductor of the orchestra.
But also, over all those years, hundreds — in fact thousands — of volunteers have worked to make this event happen. These volunteers, amongst many other things, walk amongst the crowds on that evening and sell T-shirts and CDs and lots of fun stuff, including things called glow ropes, which glow in the dark. I want you to imagine, at the finale of this wonderful evening, 40,000 people mesmerized by Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture being played by the Victoria Symphony on a barge in the harbour. If you know this piece of music, the crescendo has ceremonial bells and guns. We have wonderful fireworks, and all of these people use their glow ropes to conduct the orchestra. It's an absolutely fabulous evening.
As the member from Beacon Hill said, this special event is indeed a terrific economic boost to downtown business. Not a lot of profit is actually made by this event after all the costs have been pulled in and all the bills are paid, but this event is being put on to promote community awareness and goodwill, and it introduces a lot of people, especially kids of all ages, to classical music.
Although the Symphony Splash does not make a huge profit, everyone pitches in to help. Food vendors donate a certain percentage of their sales. Thrifty Foods and other sponsors donate, and every year one of our community leaders, Donna Thomas, takes over the balcony that you see at the front of the Empress Hotel. She gets coveted seats in this prime location and charges lots and lots of money for you to be able to go and sit on this balcony. It's just another commitment from the people of this community to help make this event so very special.
As the member for Victoria–Beacon Hill so eloquently said, the arts are a huge and very important part of our community, something that I have been involved in for many years. The arts are healthy for the soul. I believe it makes for a healthier community. When you see and are part of 40,000 people relaxing, enjoying and embracing beautiful music performed by the Victoria Symphony, it proves that point.
So if you are in town this Sunday, come and enjoy the Symphony Splash and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Come and listen to the ceremonial guns and the bells. This year we're adding 15 percent more to the fireworks, so it will be a fabulous display and the end to an absolutely perfect evening, and something that I think would be enjoyed by everybody.
J. Bray: I would like to thank the member for Victoria-Hillside for her comments and her knowledge. I know that the member has been involved in the arts community in Victoria for many years and knows well what she speaks of when she talks of the importance of this event in the community but also of the arts in general.
I'd also like to re-emphasize the importance of the arts in the community. I spoke earlier about the fact that investment in arts is a sound investment for the province and for the community. The investment is in fact economic, but it goes beyond that. I believe that investing in the arts invests in the community, invests in, as the hon. member for Victoria-Hillside mentioned, the heart and soul of the community. I think it's an investment that reaps rewards far beyond just the balance sheet, in fact, strengthening our community, strengthening our society and strengthening our families.
I know that we mark the year through a calendar, and we have major holidays, depending on which calendar you use, that mark the passage of time. But I also believe that arts and cultural activities help us to mark the time in special ways. I know that many members of my community look forward every year to this summer event, the Symphony Splash in the harbour. It's a time for them to picnic on the grounds of the Legislature or other parts of the Inner Harbour, to join with family, to join with friends, in a celebration of community. I believe that supporting the arts supports all the things tangible and the things intangible that are important to our community and important to each of us.
In conclusion, I look forward to the twelfth annual Symphony Splash. I know my family and I will be there on the lawn enjoying the excitement and the celebration of community. I again invite all my colleagues and their families, if they're in town on Sunday, August 5, at 7:30 in the Inner Harbour, to enjoy an event that I think may — and I say just may — be louder than the town criers, and that is the Symphony Splash.
Mr. Speaker: That concludes private members' statements.
Hon. G. Collins: I ask leave of the House to move Bill 13 through all three stages of progress today.
Hon. G. Collins: With leave, I call second reading of Bill 13.
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GREATER VANCOUVER TRANSIT SERVICES
Hon. G. Bruce: Bill 13, the bill before the House now in second reading, restores public transit services in the lower mainland that have been disrupted by the labour dispute since April 1 of this year. This dispute deals with three labour disputes: the Coast Mountain Bus Company and the Canadian Auto Workers, the Coast Mountain Bus Company and the Office and Professional Employees International Union, and TransLink and the Office and Professional Employees International Union.
We've chosen to address all three disputes in order to ensure stability in the transit system and that the public is served. Obviously, there'd be no point in solving one if the other two could result in continued disruption.
This bill treats the CAW and the OPEIU disputes separately. In the matters involving the OPEIU and the two employers, Coast Mountain and TransLink, the bill ends the current work stoppages while negotiations continue. I'd like to just note that last night the two parties worked very hard through the evening in an attempt to resolve the few issues that were still outstanding and came very close but did not quite make it. I'm hopeful that in the spirit of what's gone forward, we'll find that those are negotiated very quickly.
There will be a 30-day period for a mediator to continue to work with these parties. If there's no agreement in 30 days, the mediator will report back to the minister. At that point the minister will have the authority to either instruct the mediator to make recommendations for binding settlement or use other means to resolve outstanding items.
In the case of the CAW and Coast Mountain Bus Company, the bill adopts many items that were agreed and recommended in Vince Ready's June report. There is an 8.5 percent wage increase over a three-year contract with a $1,000 signing bonus, and there are some agreed improvements to other benefits. The bill also provides for a high-level union-management committee, with senior representatives of the parties, created to resolve operational issues and if necessary arbitrate if the parties cannot agree.
Two large issues this committee — the operational review committee — will deal with are spareboard rules and part-time employees. However, we haven't accepted Ready's recommendation that the issue of contracting-out should be dealt with by the ORC. Instead, we believe the existing contract language regarding contracting-out should be maintained — that language which is found in the current contract.
This bill also provides that when there are efficiencies and productivity gains from resolution of the part-time and spareboard issues, then the workers should share in the benefits through bonuses. We believe that in bringing the parties together — the company and the union officials — in an effort to deal with the part-time issue and the spareboard issue, in the aspect that there can be a sharing of the returns from the improvements that are made, we will develop an efficient and effective transit system for Vancouver. This is fair, and it gives an incentive for flexibility.
It is also important to note that to reduce uncertainty, this bill speeds up the operational review committee process that was recommended in the Ready report. Originally, these issues were not necessarily to be dealt with and completed until October 2002. These issues of part-time and spareboard are very important for the efficiency and effectiveness of the bus company in Vancouver, so we have said that this must be resolved by December 31 of this year.
As I've said during the first reading, the decision to intervene in the collective bargaining process is not one that has been taken lightly. The fact that we are here today represents an end point, where all alternatives have been exhausted. All of us would have been much happier had the parties in these disputes met their obligation to bargain and reach agreements. That having not been the case, we are now taking steps to end these disputes and restore transit services to the people of Vancouver and the businesses so affected.
It has been a long dispute. I'm hopeful that in the direction that's been set here, the parties will come together in the spirit of trying to resolve those outstanding issues that, if they are properly mediated and properly worked on, will give Vancouver a transit system that is cost-effective, that is efficient, that is allowed to compete in the everyday world. And with that, the people within Vancouver itself will know that they can move through Vancouver utilizing that transit system.
Mr. Speaker, I move second reading of the Greater Vancouver Transit Services Settlement Act now.
J. MacPhail: The member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant and I have been waiting for this legislation and will, in principle, be supporting the legislation. I am disappointed and disturbed today, though, on behalf of the people who have been greatly harmed by this transit dispute. We need to take a moment just to review who those people are. I'll deal with that in a moment, but I want to go through the history of this dispute very briefly, if I may.
The then-TransLink board, in the spring, assisted by the CEO of TransLink at the time, Ken Dobell, tabled a series of employer proposals, and the union tabled a series of employer proposals in the early spring of 2001, knowing that the collective agreement was going to expire March 31. Bargaining took place, and no resolution was reached on March 31. A strike began. There were still employer proposals and union proposals on the table on March 31. Resolution could not be reached, and in fact it didn't look like there could be a resolution without assistance from an outside party.
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The employer, in the last week before the collective agreement expired, decided to proceed to the Labour Relations Board on a matter that consumed a week of bargaining time. They then withdrew their challenge at the Labour Relations Board, and time had run out. TransLink had used the last week prior to being able to settle this to make a specious argument before the Labour Relations Board that they withdrew themselves. So the strike began on March 31.
In the first week of the dispute, the government of the day appointed Vince Ready to two disputes. One was occurring here in the greater Victoria area, where the B.C. government, through a Crown corporation, was the direct employer. And there was another dispute going on where TransLink was the direct employer. Actually, it was a job that the local governments had been asking for, for ten years. TransLink was the creation of local governments. Despite great resistance through several years by the then government, the government of which I was part, eventually local authority was given to TransLink.
Mr. Ready was appointed as the mediator in both disputes: in Victoria, where the employer was a Crown corporation, and in greater Vancouver, where the employer was the local governments through TransLink. Mr. Ready set to work, knowing that he had issues before him of employer proposals and union proposals.
In the dispute in the greater Victoria area, the matter was resolved within days — within days. Mr. Ready had to make recommendations, and those recommendations were accepted. The bus service for people who were fortunate enough to live in the greater Victoria area was restored within a week, even though Victoria was already hurting by that strike.
Mr. Ready proceeded to work in the matter of the dispute between TransLink and the Canadian Auto Workers, and an election was called. He continued to work diligently, and on June 14 Mr. Ready, the special mediator, brought forth a series of recommendations. From that moment on, on June 14, the strike was about thousands of bus drivers and transit operators being on strike to resist employer proposals. The union proposals had been resolved by the Ready report.
Mr. Ready didn't just concede the matter. He is a well-experienced, nationally known mediator who has managed to resolve some of the most difficult disputes that have existed across this country. Mr. Ready didn't divide the baby down the middle. He didn't say: "Transit drivers, you get everything, and employers, you get nothing." And he didn't say: "Employers, you get everything, and transit drivers, you get nothing." He referred the matters outstanding — which were all employer proposals — to a committee that would take 15 months, if I'm not mistaken, to resolve. If the matters couldn't be resolved by the parties with assistance, there would be binding arbitration.
So on June 14 the transit dispute was all about the employer insisting that they could not live with binding arbitrations about their proposals. Every other matter had been resolved.
On June 15 the union, through its members, said: "We will recommend the special mediator's report. We don't like it, because the only matters left outstanding are the employer matters. We understand how these issues work, that the arbitrator considers all the facts and then tries to take a balanced approach." In this case, the balanced approached would only mean that the employer proposal would be considered. Nevertheless, on June 14 the workers said: "We can live with that." The matter could have been resolved — June 14, Premier Gordon Campbell fully in charge.
J. MacPhail: I'm sorry, Mr. Speaker. I do apologize. I do. I'm sorry.
The Premier could have called the TransLink chair, or he could have had the former CEO of TransLink, now his deputy minister, and said, "You know what? This Ready report makes sense, and the transit dispute is unacceptable for seniors, for youth, for small business, for students," and he could have made a phone call. He or Mr. Dobell could have called and said: "Get on with it. This makes sense. This transit dispute is unacceptable."
J. MacPhail: You'd better listen to the history, because the history is exactly accurate.
So that call wasn't made, and the strike continued. On June 18 we reconvened this Legislature. On June 18 we were here to order a cooling-off period for health care workers. The Premier then could have said, or Mr. Dobell could have called Mr. Puil and said: "Look, we're serious about our labour relations here. We think the Ready report makes sense. It makes eminent sense." That day passed — nothing.
In early July the third month of the strike has been completed, and people are in despair. Small business people are in despair; seniors are in despair. Students have no idea what they're going to do. The whole situation in the lower mainland was growing worse and worse every day. The roads were clogged, the air quality was getting worse, and still nothing was done by this government. So the union said: "What is the issue here that may be provoking the provincial government? Is it the time lines on which the matter will finally be resolved through binding arbitration?" Because the report provided for binding arbitration.
So they looked to the mediator's report and said: "Okay, if the matter is that TransLink can't wait until the end of next year to have the matter finally and bindingly resolved, we'll move that date up." And in fact, they moved the date up to December 31, 2001. The union said, "It's okay. Mr. Ready's report is fine. But we agree to actually make a further concession. We're going to allow the mediator to make final and binding settlement on employer proposals by December 31, 2001" — coincidentally enough, the binding date in this legislation that the government has now adopted.
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So on that day, which I think was around the second week in July, the Premier could have called TransLink and said: "Not only do we agree with the Ready report, but we agree with the move that the union has made, Mr. Puil. So now get on with it." That was the second week in July.
And then the Legislature reconvened on July 23, the first opportunity that this government had to take action and implement the Ready report. The day passed. There were major, major announcements in a throne speech that was wide-ranging, that delivered greatly on the corporate agenda — but nothing, absolutely nothing, for transit.
And on the next day, July 24, our first full day of business, as Opposition Leader I rose in the House and said to the Premier…. My apologies, it may have been to the Minister of Finance or the Minister of Labour. I said: "Why is it that this government continues to flow money to TransLink when TransLink is not providing bus service to the people of the lower mainland? Why is it that you continue to give millions of dollars of provincial government revenues to an organization that's in violation of the legislation to provide service?"
I also suggested that perhaps we put this money into escrow and keep it until public transit is restored, and the government stood up and said: "No. We don't care. We don't care about public transit users, and we're not going to do anything." But they had the opportunity to do that.
Then on July 27 the opposition gave notice of a private member's bill that said, "Implement the Ready settlement," and the government ignored that. On July 31 the opposition introduced the private member's bill that said, "Implement the Ready settlement" — and still not.
And so here we are today, Mr. Speaker, and what has the government done? What has the government done on day 122 of the transit strike, the longest in Canadian history? What has this government done? It has legislated the Ready settlement combined with the offer that the union made to shorten the time lines to binding arbitration. That's what this government has done. After all of the advice that the Liberal government has received, all the letters of despair that the Liberal government has received, on day 122 this government decides to act, when they could have done it…. Well, they could have done it the minute they assumed office, but they definitely could have done it June 14.
Let me just read you a couple of letters.
An Hon. Member: Who is it addressed to?
J. MacPhail: It's addressed to every single Liberal MLA. And if you read it…. I hope that as I read it, you'll recognize it, having known that you should have read your own correspondence. This was July 26.
"We're tired of this strike. The provincial government must provide the resources necessary to get the parties back to the table so the parties can negotiate a settlement. Coast Mountain and TransLink must be provided with some room to move in the negotiations. Vince Ready based his proposal on knowledge of available resources. Therefore, force them to accept his mediated settlement."
A man called an office. His EI had run out, and he couldn't continue his job search because he couldn't get around without public transit. The date of that is July 26. An ESL school said — these are just the ones to my office — that the bus strike is really hurting her business and the students.
There's a website that got up and running in late July, which said: "Write to TransLink and city council about your concerns about the bus strike." It says that they should direct the government to ask TransLink to accept the Ready settlement. So there were 16,000 hits, and 2,500 people sent e-mails in July.
I note from the unbelievably unsympathetic and patronizing comments the government benches are making about this issue that they clearly have chosen not to understand the despair this strike has caused. Not only by their behaviour now but by their lack of action since June 14 have they shown clearly who they wish to represent. If you're not from downtown Vancouver, if you're not a corporate CEO, then this government is willing to let you stand alone without bus service. There was an opportunity for the current government to take the model of settlement of Victoria. There was an opportunity for them then to take the Vince Ready settlement specifically for TransLink. There was an opportunity for them to stop the government moneys flowing to TransLink, who refused to provide the service. There was an opportunity on June 18, July 23 and July 24.
Here we are today, and somehow this government wants to be given credit for its actions today. I say that if working people and those who require the services that allow them to just get on with their life, with doing their job, with taking their kids to child care, with going to school but that don't take them into the corporate boardrooms…. Then this government doesn't give a whit about it.
The legislation is merely a reflection of what was offered to the people of Vancouver weeks ago. The legislation isn't required. This legislation wasn't required, and the government didn't need to do this
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legislation because they had the opportunity to make one phone call to TransLink and say: "The Ready settlement makes sense." They chose not to do that. They chose not to do that over and over and over again.
It is a day when the people of the greater Vancouver area who use public transit should understand that they will be left alone for weeks and weeks and weeks if they are faced with the problem. Those that are in the corporate boardrooms will have action on day one of government. This government stood up and gave massive tax cuts to the wealthiest in this province.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
J. MacPhail: And British Columbians…. It is with great pride that this government understands that they represent only the wealthiest in this province, and British Columbians can understand that on day 122 of a bus strike they will decide to act upon your behalf.
J. Kwan: You know, I listen to the comments from my colleague the member for Vancouver-Hastings. I sit there, and I watch this chamber as the members sit there and smirk, laugh and make light of the plight of the people who have been hurt by the transit strike. You know what? For the last five years…
Mr. Speaker: Order, please, hon. members. The member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant has the floor.
J. Kwan: ...that I've been in this chamber I have never actually felt, I think, a sense of shame for all the people who sit around here and purport to say that they represent the people of British Columbia. The fact of the matter is that people have been hurt by the transit strike. If any of the members….
J. Kwan: If the minister across the floor shouting at me right now bothers to come down to Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, he may know how people really have been hurt. Seniors centres have sat empty.
J. Kwan: The member for Vancouver-Burrard must surely know that the seniors could not get access to 411, the seniors centre, or to the services there. They're absolutely in despair.
I have single moms who come to the office, and I've spoken with them on the phone. They're virtually in tears because of the transit strike and because of the inaction of this government in holding TransLink responsible. The current deputy minister to the Premier, Ken Dobell, who is the architect of the administration of the TransLink board, has actually done nothing to ensure that the transit strike is resolved.
Ken Dobell, the deputy minister, was actually the one who said that funding for the transit system here in British Columbia is the best. He said that other people across the province would kill for the kind of revenue the transit board is now getting — irrespective of the fact that that the TransLink board has the highest administrative costs of any jurisdiction in operating transit.
So you ask the question of where the problems are from. The fact of the matter is this: the transit strike could have been settled, and should have been settled, on June 14 when Vince Ready tabled the report. I recall that during the election campaign, the member for Vancouver-Kensington had called for the transit strike to be resolved. Well, after the election the Vince Ready report was tabled on the 14th. What was the Minister of Labour's response at that time? "Well, gee, we can't intervene. We can't do anything."
The fact of the matter is that you don't even need legislation. If this government really wanted to settle the strike, all they had to do was to have the Premier or Ken Dobell, the deputy minister to the Premier, phone up their buddy George Puil at the TransLink board and say: "Own up to your responsibilities and implement the Vince Ready recommendations."
That's all they had to do, and the buses would have been rolling. The single moms who have suffered would have had the services. The seniors who are absolutely living in despair would have had the bus services and would not have had to stay at home. People….
J. Kwan: Do you think it's funny, Mr. Speaker? Do you think it's funny? I know seniors who are contemplating suicide because they are shut in because of the transit strike. This is not a funny matter. This government could have settled the strike, but no, they ignored it. Even the small business community, which this government says it supports, are losing their businesses because of the transit strike.
They sat idly by and just ignored the entire process, and there were numerous opportunities to bring the matter to a resolution. June 14 was the first date, in terms of the Vince Ready report. Then we had a session in the House to deal with the nurses issue on June 18, and this government didn't deal with it at all. We came back for the throne speech on June 23, with no mention of transit services, and then on budget day there was no mention of transit services and bringing a resolution.
We asked questions during question period. They were scoffed at as though the matter wasn't important. My colleague the member for Vancouver-Hastings put in notice for a private member's bill to call on the government to move forward on the Vince Ready recommendations, to simply put in the Vince Ready
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recommendations. That was ignored, and then the bill was tabled, and that was still ignored.
Now we come to today, and what's before us? Well, the Vince Ready recommendations, essentially, with changes proposed by CAW. So you ask the question: what is the delay? Transit services could have been resolved, and this government did not take action.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please, hon. members. The member has the floor.
J. Kwan: Thank you, hon. Speaker. You know, we get lots of letters. Some of them are from my constituency; some of them are not. Irrespective of that, people want to make sure that their voice is heard in this House.
There is a letter from a woman. I will respect her privacy and not name her. It was sent to every single MLA on the government side as well as on the opposition side. A part of it reads as follows: "We are tired of this strike. Vince Ready based his proposal on knowledge of available resources. Therefore, force them to accept his mediated settlement." That was dated very recently, when the strike was going on.
An Hon. Member: I have not seen it.
J. Kwan: Well, maybe you should check your mail, and maybe you'll find the e-mails that people have sent. If you actually stopped and talked to people from the lower mainland, you would know that the transit strike has hurt them enormously.
Hon. Speaker, my colleague and I will vote in favour of the legislation when I end my remarks, but the members in this House need to be reminded that the strike was prolonged for at least an extra six weeks as a result of their inaction. As a result of their inaction, members in our community have suffered and hurt, and they have had six weeks of ongoing despair that was unnecessary.
I saw even in the media there was a young mom who was protesting at city hall and also at the TransLink board meeting. She was in tears because of the inaction of this government and the abdication of its responsibility to hold the TransLink board responsible and to move forward on the transit strike. Today we now have this legislation, which would have been unnecessary if this government acted when the Vince Ready recommendations were tabled. All they had to do was ask the TransLink board to accept them and then move forward.
The voice of the member for Vancouver-Kensington might have spoken inside their caucus to say: "Hey, you know what? We need transit services. Vote for the Vince Ready recommendations and let's get on with it." But I didn't hear anything. I didn't hear anything from the member or from any of the members around the chamber, for that matter. So it is with much regret that this strike has been delayed by as much as it has at this point and that people have been hurt as a result of that. I wish to see the transit services back on the road a.s.a.p. My colleague from Vancouver-Hastings and I will be voting in support of the legislation.
Finally, I simply want to say, on the issue around free collective bargaining, that this legislation was unnecessary. The members could have done it, the government could have done it, the Premier could have done it, and the minister responsible for transportation could have done it. They could have taken the advice of the letter that I tabled in question period last week.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please, hon. members. Order, please.
J. Kwan: Before the last TransLink board meeting, the minister could have taken that letter and put her signature on it and asked for the TransLink board to move forward on the Vince Ready recommendation as it is being proposed right now by the minister. But the minister sat silent and did nothing about it and prolonged the strike until today. It is with much regret that I stand here to speak on this bill, because the matter should have been settled on June 14.
Hon. G. Bruce: What a mess — $465 million blown on ferries. You didn't know whether they would float, whether they would go back and forth, whether they would be able to take cars or trucks — but just keep dumping the money off the back end. The $465 million could have been used for our health care services, while you sat there and allowed Rome to burn — the greatest province in Canada, and you absolutely destroyed it. Taxes, taxes, taxes; regulation and more regulation — it went on and on and on. Red tape, transit strikes in Victoria, transit strikes in Vancouver, nurses upset, a health care system in crisis — and you sat there. You sat there.
The member for Vancouver-Hastings went through a number of dates as she tried to lay out the chronological order of what happened. But she missed the best date of all: May 15, the day we elected a B.C. Liberal government.
Hon. G. Bruce: No, it was May 16; I got really excited. They wanted it six months earlier. Who cares?
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. G. Bruce: Now they lecture the government on the need or the process of free collective bargaining. Why is it that the socialists on the one hand are all for the working man and woman and all the rest of that, but then when it comes the process, the aspect of back and forth, they never want the free collective process to
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take place? Just legislate. As soon as there's no agreement, just make a phone call. Pick up the phone and phone somebody in the middle of the night. No wonder we're in the mess that we're in.
But May 16 came along. I thought I was elected 24 hours earlier; I just assumed it. But anyway, May 16 came along, and there's a brighter day in British Columbia. There are tax cuts. There's a government hard at work on behalf of all of the working people of British Columbia — the union men and women and the people that are not union who work in our operations and in the businesses, big and small and medium. For all of those working people, this government understands the need for a good strong economy, and this government understands the need for a good free collective process to work. And we have allowed that to happen.
I thought it was somewhat instructive that there was not a mention of the benefit-sharing that was proposed in this legislation where, through the operational review committee, both the management and the union could deal with those issues — the part-time issue and the spare-board issue, the real guts of what will make an efficient transportation system. They can work on those two issues together.
You know, it's a new way of doing it. Where they can resolve issues and there's a real cost-benefit, that cost-benefit will be rewarded. There will be a share between the company and the union employees in a gain-sharing proposal. It's a whole new way of trying to settle disputes. Where there are efficiencies, where there is effectiveness, where you can be productive, you ought to be rewarded for that. What a novel idea, eh?
But not a mention from the socialists, who want to keep everybody low and down. The lowest common denominator is what the socialists have always been about — the average British Columbian. Who in British Columbia wants to stand up tonight and say: "I'm average; I'm the only average person in all of British Columbia"?
I'm not average; you're not average. The person out there who might be watching tonight — or off to a hockey game or a baseball game or whatever — is not average. Who wants it said that they're average? I don't want to be called average. We've got great people here in British Columbia who aspire to great things.
Mr. Speaker, I move second reading of Bill 13.
Bill 13, Greater Vancouver Transit Services Settlement Act, referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration forthwith.
Hon. G. Bruce: I seek leave to table a document with the Clerk of the House. The document is the recommendations for a settlement made by Vincent Ready, special mediator to Coast Mountain Bus Company and the Canadian Auto Workers locals 111 and 2200, dated June 14, 2001.
GREATER VANCOUVER TRANSIT SERVICES
The House in committee on Bill 13; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
The committee met at 7:42 p.m.
On section 1.
Hon. G. Bruce: I move the amendment to section 1 that is in the possession of the Clerk. This is a cleanup. I would apologize to the House.
[SECTION 1, by adding the following definitions:
Section 1 as amended approved.
Section 2 approved.
On section 3.
J. MacPhail: For the record and for history, the minister will confirm that the special mediator appointed on April 12, 2001, is Vince Ready.
Hon. G. Bruce: That's correct.
J. MacPhail: Could you outline the intention of subsection 3(1)(a)?
Hon. G. Bruce: This is to ensure an orderly resumption back to work.
J. MacPhail: What matters do you anticipate the special mediator having to consider?
Hon. G. Bruce: There could be some dispute in the phasing of how it goes back to work. We don't really anticipate that that will be the situation, but this allows for this to be dealt with if there is a problem.
J. MacPhail: Are all matters about resumption of work before the special mediator?
Hon. G. Bruce: If they are in dispute, yes, they are.
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J. Kwan: How many days does the minister anticipate this process will take?
Hon. G. Bruce: We're led to believe that the process could take about five days.
I would like to mention that in speaking with all the participants, I encouraged them as best they could to expedite the matter on behalf of the people of downtown Vancouver and the small businesses that are affected — if they could speed the process up, to do so.
J. Kwan: For the record, the people that are being affected by the transit strike are all people in he lower mainland, not just downtown Vancouver.
Sections 3 through 5 inclusive approved.
On section 6.
J. MacPhail: I'd like for the minister to explain section 6(1)(c).
Hon. G. Bruce: This refers to the issue of contracting-out language that was on the table. We are stating in this instance here that it will not be referred to the operating review committee — that the language that is currently in effect in the existing contract will be the language that is to be used.
J. Kwan: In section 6(1)(c)(i), on December 31, 2001: how did the minister choose that date? Was it chosen because of the advice presented to him by CAW?
Hon. G. Bruce: That date appeared to be mutually acceptable to both parties. We're trying to make things work together. It's kind of a new spirit in British Columbia, having people work together rather than working against each other. I think it's good for the province.
J. Kwan: When did TransLink accept this date? To my understanding, CAW proposed this date three weeks ago.
The Chair: Shall section 6 pass?
J. Kwan: Sorry, Mr. Chair, I actually didn't get an answer to my question.
Hon. G. Bruce: I happen to think that December 31 is a good date. This is in the legislation. It's a good date to get this resolved sooner rather than later. So there we are. You know, the date, December 13 or whatever…. December 31 is a good date; I like it.
J. Kwan: The question to the minister was: when did TransLink accept this date? The minister stated that it was mutually accepted by both TransLink and CAW, so my question, which I repeat for the minister once again, is: when was that date accepted by TransLink?
Hon. G. Bruce: TransLink was not part of this. This is CAW and the Coast Mountain Bus Company. We've been pushing things together over the course of these last few days in an effort to find a way to put things together and resolve the issue. Through the course of discussions, as I'm led to believe, this was an acceptable date, so we've used it.
J. Kwan: Then the question is: when did Coast Mountain Bus Company accept this date?
Hon. G. Bruce: If you would prefer another date…. The fact of the matter is that it doesn't make any difference. The parties wanted to get this issue resolved, so what we're doing is resolving it. A good way of getting it resolved, in this particular issue, was that they needed the whole ORC compressed to put together sooner rather than later, so the sooner would be somewhere before October 2002, and we thought December 31, 2001, would be soon enough.
J. MacPhail: I don't think the government can accuse anyone of holding up the legislation. All we're trying to do is get some answers about the intent of the legislation. I hope the minister takes that to heart. One of the issues that has been in dispute here, though, was the binding arbitration aspect of Mr. Ready's report and the time lines.
Over three weeks ago this very date was proposed, and I know from reading Coast Mountain Bus's response at the time that they didn't accept that. The matter is only to try to get some understanding of the minister's comments that Coast Mountain Bus did accept it and that for this reason, this is the date at which all of these matters will conclude. The minister said earlier that he believes in making both parties work together in a cooperative and free collective bargaining way, so it is merely to try to understand the intent behind his words and that this date was chosen to reach that agreement — that's all.
J. MacPhail: Mr. Chair, I have questions to ask.
The Chair: Carry on, you have the floor.
J. MacPhail: In the same clause, in the same section, section 7, there is an aspect of the arbitrator having powers….
The Chair: Pardon me, member. Are you allowing section 6 to pass, then?
J. MacPhail: Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Chair. I thought we did pass section 6.
Section 6 approved.
On section 7.
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J. MacPhail: The "Resolution of disputes" under section 7(2) has the ability, as I understand it, for one party to put forward a name other than Mr. Ready's to resolve the dispute. If both parties can't agree on an alternate name, then the minister appoints an arbitrator. I expect that the advantage of having Mr. Ready as the arbitrator, which was noted earlier on in the bill, was because of his history both with the dispute and with the parties — perhaps even his history in terms of bringing both the parties to mutually agreeable terms that have now been incorporated into legislation since his June 14 report. It also seems to me that this clause allows one party to unilaterally prevent Mr. Ready from proceeding with his work. Is that the intent of this clause?
Hon. G. Bruce: What this does is allow the two parties to come together and come up with an arbitrator to deal with those issues before it under the operating review committee. Again, in our effort to try and get the parties — albeit, it's now legislated — to work together, we believe the two of them should decide who it is that's going to be the arbitrator.
J. MacPhail: But the intent of this clause is to replace Mr. Ready. That's what it is. It says that if one of the parties wishes to nominate someone other than the one appointed, other than Mr. Ready, then all they have to do is name that person. If mutual agreement is not reached, one doesn't revert to Mr. Ready; one reverts to a party that's appointed by the minister. I'm just wondering: does the minister not see that as a weakening of the position of Mr. Ready to bring about a final and binding solution?
Hon. G. Bruce: No, I don't. I've said from the beginning — and I'll it say again — that I believe these parties can work out their differences. We've had to step in to put them back to the table and get the buses running. This arbitration process, through the operational review committee, allows for those differences to be worked out, allows for the efficiencies to be gainshared, but it has to come from the spirit that how it's first put together is that the person who will do the arbitrating is one that both parties would be prepared and happy to have at the table.
Now, they already have Mr. Ready there. They may both decide that Mr. Ready should stay there. That's their decision. They're the ones that'll make that decision. And you're absolutely correct that in the event that they can't make the decision, as a normal course would be, somebody else would have to appoint that arbitrator, and that would come back to the minister. I'm hopeful it doesn't come back to the minister. I'm really hopeful that the two parties will work it out.
J. MacPhail: Does the minister believe that Vince Ready, as the special mediator tabling a report on June 14, brings special knowledge to this table?
Hon. G. Bruce: Mr. Ready has a long and distinguished career in British Columbia. In fact, as you would well know, in this particular situation he is still involved in mediating and resolving the OPEIU dispute, and he's still involved in mediating or interpreting those disputes or differences that may occur in respect to the issues that they've already agreed on, where there needs to be clarification. These two parties may very well just say: "Listen, we would both like to have Mr. Ready there." That is their decision.
I just want to say again that we believe in the free collective process. These parties both asked us at the end of the day: "Would you step in and help us come to a resolution? Would you do it in such a way that we can still participate and resolve some of these very important issues?" I think we're very fair in how we're doing this. I'm sure they'll make a good choice.
Hon. G. Collins: I ask leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
Hon. G. Collins: I just want to ask members of the House to help welcome, in the gallery, Antoinette DeWit, who worked with me in opposition for what seemed like forever. She was a huge, huge asset in my office, in the Opposition House Leader's duties and in making sure — from our end of things, anyway — that things worked well in the House. I've since lost her to the Premier's correspondence unit, which she heads up. As much as I'm terribly shaken up about that, I congratulate the Premier on his good fortune. I'd ask if the House can please make her welcome.
Sections 7 though 9 inclusive approved.
On section 10.
J. MacPhail: Could the minister please bring us up to date on the status of negotiations between the Office and Professional Employees International Union and TransLink?
Hon. G. Bruce: At this aspect, there won't be a negotiation. The two parties did work very hard during the course of last night, and I think that at the end of the day there were a couple of issues left on the table. I'm quite hopeful that they'll quickly resolve those issues.
Section 10 approved.
On section 11.
J. MacPhail: The special mediator referred to in section 11 is, I take it, Mr. Vince Ready?
[ Page 228 ]
Hon. G. Bruce: That's correct.
Section 11 approved.
On section 12.
J. MacPhail: What is the information of the minister about the acceptance of the process outlined in section 12 by the parties affected?
Hon. G. Bruce: This is a standard way of trying to resolve these types of disputes. It's a way of bringing them back to the table and getting the issue resolved.
J. MacPhail: Sorry, my question was: has the minister talked with the parties affected by section 12 — that would be OPEIU and TransLink, or a subsidiary of TransLink — to inform them, prior to the legislation, of the process outlined? And what, hypothetically, would be their reaction?
Hon. G. Bruce: I have had general conversations with all of the parties, but my deputy and other people have dealt with the individuals respectively.
Sections 12 through 15 inclusive approved.
Hon. G. Bruce: I move the committee rise and report the bill complete with amendment.
The committee rose at 8:02 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Bill 13, Greater Vancouver Transit Services Settlement Act, reported complete with amendment.
Mr. Speaker: When shall the bill be read a third time?
Hon. G. Bruce: With leave now, Mr. Speaker.
Bill 13, Greater Vancouver Transit Services Settlement Act, read a third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. members, I am advised that the Lieutenant-Governor is on his way, so we'll take a short recess, and we'll recall you with the bells in a few minutes. Please do not wander very far away.
The House recessed from 8:04 p.m. to 8:38 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. members, I'm informed that the Lieutenant-Governor is in the precincts and would ask all members to remain seated.
His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor entered the chamber and took his place in the chair.
Law Clerk: Greater Vancouver Transit Services Settlement Act.
In Her Majesty's name, His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor doth assent to this act.
Hon. G. Gardom (Lieutenant-Governor): Have a restful evening.
His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor retired from the chamber.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Hon. G. Collins moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 8:41 p.m.
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