2011 Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 39th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Monday, November 21, 2011
Volume 28, Number 4
Victoria Chef of the Year event
Hon. H. Bloy
Elections B.C., Report of the Chief Electoral Officer on Recommendations for Legislative Change, November 2011
Orders of the Day
Private Members' Statements
Employment services for specialized populations
Trade and cultural ties with India
The importance of the Auditor General
Trade with China
Private Members' Motions
Motion 23 — Timeline for elimination of harmonized sales tax
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MONDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2011
The House met at 10:02 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
VICTORIA CHEF OF THE YEAR EVENT
Hon. H. Bloy: Good morning. I'd just like to recognize and congratulate the member for Saanich South, who was a competitor in the Chef of the Year competition for Victoria last night and served great food. I would also like to add that my son-in-law, Travis Rawluk, won the People's Choice Award at this competition. Congratulations to all.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I have the honour to present Report of the Chief Electoral Officer on Recommendations for Legislative Change, November 2011.
Orders of the Day
Private Members' Statements
for Specialized Populations
S. Simpson: I'm pleased to get the opportunity to rise and speak about the issue of employment programs and sustainable employment programs for communities that face challenges.
Hon. Speaker will know that the government most recently has restructured employment programs in British Columbia. That restructuring has been done with about $340 million of federal money that has been transferred to the province for the purposes of employment programs and putting forward employment programs in British Columbia.
[D. Black in the chair.]
That restructuring has been done after some pretty significant discussion with the organizations in British Columbia, some pretty significant discussion around employment with the range of groups that have done that. The result of that has been that some 400 contracts that were available in the province to provide employment programs have now been boiled down to 72 contracts in British Columbia, and these contracts are spread across the province. The contracts are to provide one-stop shopping for employment programs in British Columbia.
The sense I get from talking to people in the community and at the community level is that for those people who were deemed to be in what are called tiers 1 and 2 of employment requirements, this program is going to work fairly effectively. There are serious questions about how well it will work for people in what are called tiers 3 and 4, which are more vulnerable or more complex populations. That could include issues for women, for youth, for immigrant populations, for people with disabilities. All of those will be challenges that we'll see.
The points I want to make this morning really are about some of the complexities around this program, some of the challenges around this program, which the government and the minister will need to be prepared to respond to. I worry about some people that will fall through the cracks. So let me just walk through a couple of the challenges that I see.
The first one — one I've heard from a number of the organizations that in fact have employment programs, those who have been successful and those who have been not so successful in getting these contracts — is a question of rigidity.
What folks in the community will tell you is that they're happy to work, certainly, within the context of the budgets that are available and the dollars and resources that are available. Their issue is the rigidity of how they need to deliver those programs. It's very prescriptive.
The sense I get, certainly, from the contracts…. I think the contract is 162 pages long that organizations have had to sign, and it's very prescriptive all the way through. I think that creates a challenge about whether, in fact, that allows people at the community level to do what they do best, which is sometimes to be innovative.
The second issue I hear a lot about is concern about the integrated case management system. Members will know that this is a restructuring of the case management system that will pull community groups and non-profits into the case management sphere of government. It will create a situation where those organizations' files, electronic files, will be linked with government's files through an integrated case management system.
We increasingly hear concerns in the community about what the parameters of that will be, about how they will protect privacy for some of their clients who, particularly, are looking for that protection, and whether it will impede their ability to build trust with some of their clients in ways that government offices, quite frankly, don't have the ability to do. They raise those concerns. The employment programs will be the first programs into that integrated case management system on the community side starting in April, when this program kicks in.
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The third issue is, again, around these vulnerable populations and how the vulnerable populations will be dealt with. They are complex populations. They require more time than generally will be allowed in terms of the provision of resources or the amounts of money that will be allocated for employment counselling. There are questions about how they'll be dealt with. We've heard from groups like PEERS, which deals with sex trade workers, who did not bid this because of their concern.
We've heard it from organizations like Pathways. I know the minister has spoken to the people at Pathways, which is an organization that deals with complex folks in the Downtown Eastside. They have not been supported for employment programs. They are concerned about the lack of an organization that understands that. I've heard the same thing from youth-related organizations. I've heard the same thing from other groups.
There is also a concern about shrinking budgets. There's $340 million in the budget for this year. The budget allocation is less than $300 million of transfers in subsequent years. What happens there? Where does the rest of that money come from?
There's concern about transition. People are looking at a program they will take to…. They will need to run one program to March 31. The new program starts April 1. There's a concern about transition there. Some of these groups have been given 30 days. They're concerned about whether in fact they have the transition there.
My point at this point is just to say that I would hope the government would be continuing to look at that issue, look at how they ensure that those organizations that target those vulnerable or specialized communities continue to get service. There needs to be an ongoing review of this and assessment as it plays out over the coming months — after April 1 in particular.
Even in the consultation up to there I worry about youth, about the disabled, about immigrant populations, about women getting the services they require at the appropriate time they need it and not being lost in the shuffle to these larger employment centres that I think will do a good job for people who are more job-ready. But there are real questions about whether it will meet the needs of people who are less job-ready, who probably need other kinds of supports and training before they get to the employment stage in their current lives.
We need to see that, in fact, we are providing that support, and there is significant concern at the community level as to whether that will occur with these programs.
They're going to move forward. I think that's fine, but we really need to have the kind of oversight analysis and assessment on an ongoing basis to determine whether, in fact, we are going to see that.
M. Coell: I'm pleased to offer a response to the member for Vancouver-Hastings's comments on employment services for specialized populations in British Columbia. I'd just like to start out by saying that jobs have always been a central priority for this government. To me, they allow people and families to put food on the table and make them probably the most important support that individuals and families can have in our province.
Premier Clark has made it a priority to protect and enable the creation of jobs in B.C. I think the best example of that is the B.C. jobs plan that was produced this fall. It's a comprehensive plan to create sustainable jobs for families and long-term opportunities for investment in the province. The jobs plan capitalizes, I think, on British Columbians' abundant assets — our wealth of natural resources, our highly skilled workforce, a multicultural community — and also jobs for people with disabilities and the specialized populations that the hon. member mentions.
We are establishing WorkBC employment centres throughout the province at 85 storefront locations and 114 satellite offices, so British Columbians from all walks of life will find employment services integrated into one-stop shopping. It'll make it easier for people to find work and to provide the stability for individuals and families. In order to accommodate clients with specialized needs — such as people with disabilities, immigrants, aboriginal and francophone — services will be available in many languages in every community and through multiple channels as well.
In 2011-2012 the province will invest $342 million in employment services, which will help strengthen the economy and create and protect jobs for all British Columbians. Since December 2001 British Columbia has added nearly 400,000 jobs; 76 percent of all jobs are also full-time in nature. Despite the global uncertainty, our unemployment rate is 6.6 percent, lower than the national average, and B.C. has added 45,000 full-time jobs since this time last year. Between 2001 to 2010 we have enjoyed a growth of nearly 18 percent in jobs.
In May Premier Clark put more money in the pockets of youth by eliminating the $6 training wage. We've also increased the minimum wage. It is $9.50 today and will be $10.25 in May of 2012, which will be one of the highest in Canada.
Our government supports low-income families and individuals by putting more dollars back into their pockets by reduced taxes, targeted programs and enabling the creation of new and family-supporting jobs throughout the province. For example, individuals earning up to $119,000 a year pay the lowest in Canada for income taxes, and people earning $30,000 pay no income tax. That's a savings of $1,000 annually. As a result of our tax cuts, an additional 325,000 people pay no provincial income tax, and other low-income earners have seen up to a 70 percent reduction.
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B.C. is home to some of the most comprehensive supports for low-income people and their families in Canada. The range of support includes subsidized housing, child care subsidies, dental and optical care for children, generous child and seniors benefits and a wide range of employment programs, which the member is mentioning today. Our government has also invested $520 million in affordable housing and shelters for family, and about 9,000 families, through the rent supplement, receive up to $765 a month.
So government is doing a variety of programs and issues. I share the member's thoughts and concerns about people with disabilities and people who have a hard time, and have traditionally had a hard time, finding employment. I believe the programs that we've outlined this fall and that we'll be developing in the spring and into the years to come will indeed help people with disadvantages find employment in British Columbia so that they can take their rightful place with people working in the province.
We will always have challenges, and I think the member makes a very good point, in that we need to review the programs we put in place and review the funding formulas that are there from year to year as well. I welcome the further response from the member.
Deputy Speaker: Just a reminder. When referencing members of the Legislature, remember to reference them by their riding or position, please.
S. Simpson: Thanks to the member for his comments on this issue. One of the challenges around this in terms of the program — and it is a criticism that I've had — is that the decision was made by government to move and restructure a very complex provincewide program that had 400 contracts out there to a variety of organizations down to the 72 contracts that are current in the employment program.
The thing I never quite understood is, when you have that broad a range, why the government didn't make the decision to test-fly this and pilot it in a region or two in a way that would allow some of the potential bugs to get worked out. There is a fair amount of agreement that when you take something as complex as this, dealing with a wide range of people who have different requirements and needs to be able to get the services they require, you're going to have challenges. So I worry that the government decided to do this provincewide rather than try to test-fly it in a number of areas. That's part of my concern.
I also have the concern — and we'll see how this plays out in future years — that this budget is going to drop from the $342 million that the member spoke about earlier in his comments. It is going down considerably to under $300 million. How is that going to be affected? We know a number of groups have felt that they couldn't speak about this because of pretty strict confidentiality agreements that they were required to sign in the RFP process and that continue on in some fashion in the contracts they've signed now. I know those frustrations have been raised with me.
Those are the challenges. You know, the member talks about the array of other things that the government has been doing. I think that's fair, but I would note that essentially, there has been no effective increase in income assistance rates since this government took office. They cut the rates in the early 2000s and then raised them back in 2007 to essentially restore that rate again, but there has been no increase.
While the member talks about housing, we know there are 220,000 families and other household groups in core need. The member talked quite rightly about the 9,000 families that receive rent subsidies through the rent assistance program, but we know there are at least 115,000 families that are in need and aren't being served. It could be for any number of reasons, but they aren't being served. That's a challenge, and that reflects on the half a million people who live in poverty in this province, of which about a quarter are children.
We're not seeing the focus on families when it comes to housing that we need in this province, and that has a direct correlation to the employment question. There really does need to be oversight. There needs to be an assurance that those organizations that know this work and play a critical role have a voice over the next year.
Trade and Cultural Ties with India
D. Hayer: Before I start with my statement, I just want to say congratulations to Mayor Watts and her Surrey First team of councillors and school board trustees and all the other candidates who ran in the Surrey elections. I thank all the voters who participated in the election. There were good results in Surrey, and Mayor Watts won all the council seats and school board. Congratulations to her whole team, as well as everybody who put their names forward for all the positions. Thank you for doing that.
We have heard a lot about the value of trade with China and its importance for creating and protecting jobs in British Columbia. However, there's another country with tremendous potential to help create jobs in B.C. That is India.
The rapid expansion of the Indian economy and its demand for natural resources and technical expertise present many opportunities for British Columbia and India to assist each other. Although we are an ocean apart, we are certainly not foreign to each other. People of Indian ancestry are woven into the fabric of B.C., having played an important part in enriching our province
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culturally and economically in the past and certainly going forward.
British Columbia's large South Asian community strengthens our province and is an important part of our diversity, a diversity that is a huge social and business advantage, by developing a trade relationship with India. Today we have an incredible opportunity to leverage this advantage to do great things together.
In the spirit of multiculturalism, our Premier announced on her trip to India last week that B.C. is making a bid to host the 2013 IIFA awards, the International Indian Film Academy Awards, in Vancouver. Our government wants to bring Indian film megastars to B.C. for India's biggest media event. Leveraging the massive success of the 2010 Winter Olympics, the awards will help remind more than 700 million people around the world about the reasons why they should visit, invest, study and work in our province of British Columbia.
The impact of winning these IIFA awards will be huge for British Columbians. It will be like hosting the Academy Awards. This year's IIFA awards were held in Toronto. They generated the equivalent of $100 million in free advertisement worldwide for Ontario. In conjunction with the Canada-India Business Council and the Surrey Board of Trade, we are working hard to develop a winning bid for the IIFA awards. I am confident that thousands of people from India who now call our province home will support this bid.
I know our province's strong culture of diversity will play an important role in our success. Events like this will help strengthen the cultural bonds between our province and India. This is important, because India is the seventh-largest country in the world and the second most populous, with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world.
It also has the world's fastest-growing economy that supports this growth. The Indian government estimates over the next five years that between $500 billion and $750 billion will be spent on infrastructure to meet the needs of the growing economy and serve its citizens. While other economies are facing troubling times ahead, B.C. and India are in a position to help each other grow.
Our Premier has been calling this a generational opportunity, and I agree with her. B.C.'s commitment to fiscal responsibility means that we are well positioned to be a safe harbour for investment. The advantage B.C. has to offer means that we can be a great partner for India, and that partnership will allow us to prosper together. To take advantage of the opportunity, our Premier is taking charge, visiting five different cities in India last week on her recent trade mission to Asia. I'm happy to report that her hard work is paying off.
Last week the province signed a memorandum of understanding with India for mineral exploration and mining. The agreement allows both British Columbia and India to build a stronger trade relationship and to learn from each other about the mineral industry. We are fortunate to have some of the best and the most abundant mineral resources in the world, which will no doubt help fuel India's growing economy and create and protect jobs right here in British Columbia.
As one of the major steelmaking countries in the world, India requires high-quality steelmaking coal, something our province has in abundance. Our B.C. jobs plan expects to see eight brand new mines and another nine expansions of mines operational in British Columbia by 2015. I anticipate that some of those mineral resources will be sent to India as a result of our Premier's work to open markets for B.C. products in Asia.
The Premier also announced on her visit to India an agreement between the Wavefront, Canada's Vancouver-based wireless centre of excellence for commercialization and research, and the Cellular Operators Association of India. The strategic agreement is a tremendous opportunity for technology and service providers in British Columbia to tap into India's massive wireless market and create jobs in British Columbia.
India is the world's fastest-growing wireless market, with over 601 million active mobile subscribers — or 20 times the population of Canada. In a few weeks our first opportunity from the partnership will occur when Wavefront introduces ten innovative Canadian wireless solution providers to Indian carriers at the India Telecom 2011 conference in New Delhi. I wish them the best of success.
This is all part of our commitment to expand and open new markets in the Asia-Pacific region. This is our time. This is our moment. This is our chance to do great things for British Columbia. India is now the new China. Our Premier understands this, and I expect to hear more good news as a result of our government's commitment to building stronger ties with emerging economic powers.
I encourage members on both sides of the House to support this goal. By working together, we can use this opportunity to make things better for B.C. families. I will wait for opposition members to respond.
J. Brar: I'm very pleased that this government has finally realized the potential of India and particularly in our trade between India and British Columbia. I fully support, and almost every member on this side fully supports, building trade and cultural ties with India.
In fact, about two years ago I stood up in this House and made a private member's statement basically proposing to this government that full-time B.C. trade and investment representatives should be located in key Indian markets to promote Canadian companies and attract investment opportunities. Some suitable applications for opening the B.C. trade and investment representative will include Delhi, Chandigarh and Bangalore.
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I made that proposal based on a very well-researched proposal. First, the then Ministry of Economic Development's own report indicated that B.C.'s export performance in Asia had been slipping. The province's overall share of middle Asian export market fell from 0.5 percent in 1994 to 0.26 percent in 2004. That is because this government remained out of touch with the export potential of Asia, particularly in India.
Second, as the member said, almost overnight India has transformed its economy from weak developing status to a global powerhouse. Now one of the fastest-growing economies on the planet, India is projected to be the world's third-largest economy by 2050.
As reported by the then Ministry of Economic Development of British Columbia, India is growing at double Canada's economic growth rates. If it continues on its current basis, India's economy could hit $2 trillion in GDP by 2050. India has the fastest-growing middle class in the global community. Its relatively young population will supply approximately 140 million new workers, one-third of all workers worldwide, by 2020.
India's growing population; the rising per-capita income levels; rapidly expanding manufacturing, high-technology and service sectors; the associated infrastructure mentioned by the member; and natural resources requirements make it a tremendous market opportunity for British Columbia.
Third, the government of Canada had identified India as a priority market and had developed a comprehensive market plan that identifies the following sectors as offering clear market opportunities well suited to Canadians' and British Columbians' capabilities and interest in the Indian region.
This includes service sector exports such as financial services, life sciences, energy, information, communication technology, high-tech, food processing, education and construction for building huge infrastructure. In addition to that, particularly in British Columbia, we have a strong Indo-Canadian population that supports the relationship between this province and India, particularly the province of Punjab.
I made the proposal about two years ago, and the response from this government was refusal. At that point in time this government didn't agree to open a trade office and to expand our trade with India. I'm very pleased that finally this government is listening to my proposal after about two years and is ready to expand trade with India, particularly talking about opening a trade office in Chandigarh.
Our Premier just finished a trade mission to India, and there has been extensive coverage in the South Asian media about that trade mission. Particularly, I'm concerned that there are a number of questions being asked in the South Asian media, and I would like this member to respond to those questions.
The first question is: why was this member, who understands Indian culture very well and speaks Indian languages, not part of the trade mission to support the trade mission for a better outcome?
The questions also being asked are: why was a meeting with the chief minister of Punjab or the deputy chief minister of Punjab not made a priority by this government during this trade mission? If the meeting or dinner was planned, why was it cancelled? What were the reasons? Those are the questions being asked in the media by the people of the Indo-Canadian community.
Also, I would like to ask this member: how many small business people with five or less members were part of this trade mission that went to India with the Premier? I will ask the member to respond to those questions.
D. Hayer: Even though we agree on many other things that India is doing and will be doing and the details for India, we might disagree on some of the details. We had opened up an office in Bangalore quite a few years ago, and we are opening up offices in Mumbai and Delhi. We have one branch office in Chandigarh. Everybody I talked to said that we are moving forward and we've done a good job over the last number of years.
Members from both sides of the House agree, and most of staff, that we need to increase trade. I think that we can agree on the importance of building stronger trade relationships with India. India's burgeoning middle class of more than 300 million people and its increasing demand for natural resources is a tremendous opportunity for British Columbia to create jobs and protect jobs right here in British Columbia. Many respect B.C. It is like a second home to Indians, which makes us uniquely situated to take advantage of this rapidly growing market in India. Our diversity is our strength.
My city of Surrey is home to many new Canadians from India, more than any city in Canada. In fact, Surrey and many other cities throughout British Columbia celebrate India's harvest festival of Vaisakhi on a scale greater than any other jurisdiction in North America. This week-long celebration includes the biggest Vaisakhi parade outside India and is attended by thousands and thousands of people from across the Lower Mainland, North America and India. The colourful parade is truly a celebration of British Columbia's strong cultural ties with India. In the case of India, Canada truly starts here.
To ensure we are ready for trade with India, our government has created a blueprint to use British Columbia's strategic competitive advantage to create jobs and to spur economic growth — the B.C. jobs plan. The three pillars of the plan will ensure that we are up to the challenge. They are working with people and employers and communities to enable job creation; strengthening our infrastructure to get our goods to market; and expanding markets for B.C. products and services, particularly in Asia.
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Having travelled to India four times since 2006, including with Premier Gordon Campbell in 2007 and with the Minister of Health in 2010, I have seen enormous change in India. I have worked tirelessly to strengthen our province's cultural and business connections with this economic powerhouse. It delights me that our new Premier sees the potential of India to create and protect jobs for B.C. and all B.C. families.
I know that the Premier's recent visit is only the beginning of what will be an important relationship for many years to come. Many of the small businesses went with the Premier all over to different cities that she visited. When I talked to them, many of them were very, very happy with that. I'm happy to see that our government is actually listening and trying to open up trade opportunities between British Columbia and Asia and between British Columbia and India.
The Importance of
the Auditor General
B. Ralston: I rise today to talk about the importance of the Office of the Auditor General. Sometimes referred to in the literature as a legislative auditor, each of the 14 legislatures in Canada — the federal Parliament, the ten provincial Legislatures and the three territorial ones — has an independent officer, the legislative auditor, who provides assurance as to the reliability of the public accounts and reports to their respective Legislature.
The legislative auditor has a mandate to audit all government departments, corporations, agencies and funds. In addition to offering assurance on the reliability of financial statements, the legislative auditor performs compliance audits and performance audits. They are sometimes called value-for-money audits.
As the Canadian Council of Legislative Auditors pointed out in its February 2000 discussion paper entitled Legislative Audit: Serving the Public Interest:
"Legislative auditors provide a unique position in the accountability regime of Canadian governments. They've been able to serve the accountability relationship between government and Legislative Assembly because they have sufficient independence from government to be credible, they have comprehensive mandates that are set out in legislation, and they have the forums to report directly to the assembly. Moreover, they have acquired the necessary expertise to carry out their role effectively."
The modern Office of the Auditor General in British Columbia began with the appointment of Erma P. Morrison in September of 1977. Previously there'd been a lapse of some 50 years, and prior to that, although they were entitled Auditors General, they did not have the requisite independence that characterizes the modern Auditor General. Indeed, in debate in introducing the legislation that led to the appointment of Erma Morrison, Evan Wolfe, the then Minister of Finance stated: "The Auditor General's independence is his most valuable asset."
In addition, the role of the Auditor General and the accompanying Public Accounts Committee has been recognized worldwide as an important tool in assuring government's accountability in general. In a book published by the World Bank Institute entitled The Role of Parliament in Curbing Corruption, Rick Stapenhurst and Jack Titsworth speak of the importance of the role: "Strong accountability institutions promote government accountability and transparency through sound financial management."
In the Westminster system the role of the Auditor General and his or her relationship with the legislative Public Accounts Committee really comprises the full array of the impact of the Auditor General upon the government processes here in British Columbia. Jonathan Malloy, assistant professor and associate chair of the department of political science at Carleton, describes a public accounts committee as "an auditor's best friend." He suggests that the key strength of PACs, public accounts committees, is their high visibility as a public forum.
I go on to quote: "Public accounts committees are an important adjunct to the work of the Auditors General. While the relationship is generally close, PACs are their own institutions. Committees provide a valuable and unique public forum for further discussion and investigation of the work of Auditors General."
The Public Accounts Committee is chaired by a member of the opposition and receives and debates reports and the opinions of the Auditor General. Here in British Columbia the Office of the Auditor General is characterized by its vision as "a highly valued, independent legislative office recognized for excellence in promoting effective and accountable government."
Perhaps with that, I'll stop.
J. Les: I'm very pleased to respond to the statement this morning by the member for Surrey-Whalley, who is in fact the Chair of our Public Accounts Committee on which I have the pleasure of serving as well.
He is right. The Office of the Auditor General is fundamentally important in our system of government. We have certainly respected the Office of the Auditor General over the years. I think we've backed that up by providing the adequate funding, as well, that's necessary to carry out the functions of the Auditor General. Since the year 2000 the budget of the Auditor General's office has actually more than doubled, which I think is a real testament to the support that that office enjoys across government on both sides of the House.
As well, of course, it's one thing to have the Auditor General report out. But on the other hand, there needs to be follow-up as well. The follow-up provisions have been strengthened in the last decade. In the recent past, in the last two to three years, we find that over 96 percent of the recommendations of the Auditor General
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have actually been followed through and implemented by government, which I think is something that reflects well not only on the work of the Auditor General but on government as well.
The effect of all of this scrutiny of how the public's resources are spent and deployed by the provincial government is, of course, such things as the provincial credit rating. We have seen through the first decade of the 21st century how the credit rating of this province has gone from sub-par to where it is today, one of only two provincial governments that enjoy a triple-A credit rating, the highest available. That, I think, is a real credit to how the finances of this province are being managed — when you get that kind of impartial recognition of the success of the government's efforts.
I don't think that we have a quarrel with respect to the importance of the Office of the Auditor General — not at all. In just the few facts that I have just mentioned, I think that government has, generally, reflected well on the importance of that office and following through and engaging appropriately with the office.
More recently in this province we have started a discussion about whether the concept of an auditor general would perhaps be useful at the municipal level as well. The member opposite pointed out that all of the provincial, territorial and national governments in Canada today enjoy the services of an auditor general. He forgot, I assume, to point out that some municipal governments in Canada are already required to utilize the services of an auditor general. We in British Columbia propose to do likewise in legislation that, I think, will be introduced very shortly.
I would encourage all members of the House to give that some clear thought. I'm discouraged by the fact that some opposition members have already indicated that they're not interested in supporting that notion, but we on this side of the House are clearly going to be supportive of the concept of a municipal auditor general to be implemented in the province as well. With that, I will conclude my comments and listen to the wrap-up from the member opposite.
B. Ralston: I appreciate the comments of the member opposite. Indeed, he is a member of the Public Accounts Committee and an ornament to the committee.
I just want to give members a flavour. Sometimes, I know, the members, with their busy schedules, and certainly the public, don't always appreciate or have time to delve into the reports that are prepared by the committee. Last week we debated An Audit of the Environmental Assessment Office's Oversight of Certified Projects. Before that, the week before, an audit of the B.C. Coroners Service.
We are scheduled shortly to begin a discussion of the Observations on Financial Reporting: 2010-11. It is significant if the Auditor General does, in accounting terms, what is expressed as a reservation about the public accounts of the province. That does have some reverberations among those who examine and scrutinize the public accounts of the province.
We'll also be looking at a report entitled B.C. Hydro: The Effects of Rate-Regulated Accounting — again, a report in which the Auditor General expressed his concern that the way in which the accounting of B.C. Hydro is being conducted in fact understates the provincial deficit. Doubtlessly, that will be a lively discussion at our next meeting.
As the member has mentioned, mechanisms for coordinated and systematic follow-up of recommendations are in place. So it's not a question of simply reporting and making recommendations, but the Auditor General's office has a program of taking into account those recommendations and tracking them and seeing that they are, in fact, fulfilled.
I would say, in conclusion, that the Office of the Auditor General and its reports to the Public Accounts Committee are as important a mechanism of government accountability as question period and as the estimates process. When one ignores or fails to follow the directions of the Auditor General, one does so at one's peril and, I think, may impinge upon an important credibility mechanism in our parliamentary system.
trade with china
R. Lee: We have heard a lot in this House about the importance of trade with China. We also have heard about the extraordinary growth in our exports to China over the past decade.
We have heard especially about the amazing growth rate in the value of our softwood lumber and forestry products exports to China. But I am about to share something which many members of this House might not know, something which shows the value of this government's work over the past decade as well as the wisdom of our continued focus on trade with China.
In 2010 the value of B.C.'s export of forestry products to China alone was $2.2 billion or softwood lumber exports of $687 million. Compare this to the exports of all products to China back in 2001, which were worth a combined total of $945 million. What was the value of softwood lumber exported to China in 2001? A mere $38 million. Our exports to China grew from $945 million to $4.3 billion in just ten years, a 357 percent increase. It's amazing.
I've mentioned softwood lumber exports increased from $38 million to $687 million over the same period, a 1,708 percent increase. These numbers are amazing, but this amazing growth in our trade with China did not happen by accident. So how did it happen?
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Don Kayne, the CEO of Canfor, explained it very well in a recent speech. Here is what he said.
"Our position in China today is a testament to your government and matching support from the government of Canada. Your government had the vision, the courage and the fortitude to stake out ground in China. China market development hasn't been easy and wasn't even uniformly supported in the early going. However, without the demand that was created here, I think we all would agree that fewer mills would be operating and many thousands fewer British Columbians would be working."
As Mr. Kayne points out, our increased trade with China happened because this government had the wisdom to see what Chinese markets for B.C. lumber products could become.
In 2011, when we have already exported $853 million of softwood lumber through the end of September, it seems obvious. But that potential was not obvious when this government took office. As Mr. Kayne also noted, China was a country that didn't build with wood and which lacked "the regulatory framework, architectural capacity or building trades knowledge to use wood in construction." He correctly points out that this government, working with our partners in the forestry industry and with the federal government, actually had to create a market for B.C. wood products.
We demonstrated to business and political leaders in China what a great and cost-effective material wood is. Now, thanks to the work we did, China is the destination for billions of board feet of lumber. And this market continues to grow as China embarks upon a program to build millions of housing units over the next few years. The more wood we can persuade them to use, the more amazing our export numbers will be.
In 2010 this government signed an MOU with Canada and China to pursue six-storey, wood-frame construction for the Chinese housing market. If half the low-rise housing units being built in China use wood-frame construction for the top four floors and roof, 25 billion board feet of lumber would be used, the equivalent production of 100 large sawmills.
This is an incredible opportunity for B.C.'s forestry industry. What we have accomplished over the past decade — and the growth yet to come — is something to celebrate. So it's interesting to know that the members opposite have opposed and voted against investing in marketing B.C. wood products to Asia. I'm sure they regret that now.
What this government has accomplished with the exports of wood products is the template we are already using to increase trade with China in other sectors of our economy. Ten years ago we exported no coal to China. In 2010 we exported $871 million worth. Ten years ago exports of copper ores and concentrates were worth $85 million. In 2010 we exported $410 million worth.
Get ready for more results like this, thanks to this government's continued strategy of increasing our trade with China and the dividends we will see from the recent jobs and trade mission to China that the Premier led.
Trade with China is an important focus of Canada Starts Here: The B.C. Jobs Plan, which the Premier unveiled shortly before this session began. With our past success as a guide, with the Premier as our chief salesperson and with the vision that the Premier laid out in B.C.'s jobs plan, this government will take trade with China to new heights. We are going to attract more investment from China, more students from China, and we are going to export more goods to China.
Trade with China is vital to our future economic success, and I know that the best is yet to come.
J. Kwan: First of all, I want to say and acknowledge that having trade partners in British Columbia is absolutely essential to our economy. There is no doubt about it. In fact, the New Democrats have recognized that as far back as 1974, when Dave Barrett was the first Premier in the country to lead a delegation to China, to begin building the relations with China. Who would have known back then, back in 1974, that today China would become the economic giant of the future?
That said, New Democrats have seen the importance of trading partners and have worked diligently to build those relations over the years. Premier Harcourt twinned the province of British Columbia with the Guangdong province as sister provinces, and when he was the mayor of Vancouver he twinned the city of Vancouver with Guangzhou as sister cities, building, again, the relationships of the people that have immigrated to British Columbia from China and elsewhere, of Chinese descent, and to forge those relations.
Since then, successive Premiers have continued on that track, and the current Premier just discovered, it seems to me, that British Columbia is geographically located and is a destination location in terms of dealing with Asia. She's just discovered that, and she's led the trade mission to China. Well, good for her.
But let me just point out a couple of things, though, because the member talked about the issue around raw log exports. It's important to put some of these facts on the table.
British Columbia has closed some 70 mills in the last decade under the Liberals, and we've lost about 35,000 jobs. So on the question around raw log exports, as it relates to trading with China, 50 percent of the logs off the coast are exported as raw logs. Raw log exports from B.C. are up some 200 percent, which is a record high.
The government's own Minister of Forests has established a task force on the issue, and the minister has said on the record, repeatedly, that the balance is wrong. We need to look at this issue. Everyone knows that when you export raw logs from British Columbia, the fact is that you're exporting jobs out of British Columbia.
[ Page 8909 ]
I also want to say that the Premier travelled overseas, and one of her big announcements was around the mines. I have to say about these mines that one of them, the next day after she made her announcement — in the Globe and Mail, in fact, for the world to see…. The aboriginal community, the First Nations community, is against that proposed mine and has issues with it.
From the business community point of view, everyone knows that stability and certainty are the order of the day. So I would suggest that the government, before they seek their photo ops…. The Premier, before she seeks her photo ops, needs to ensure that she does her homework and make sure that she does her due diligence to consult properly with First Nations, to make sure that people are in support of the proposal before she goes overseas to make an announcement, to take a photo op.
If she doesn't do that, she's going to create a situation where she does damage to British Columbia in the long run, where people may think that British Columbia is not trustworthy. We do not want that to happen. We do not want to erode our good relations and the record that we've built on over the last number of years just because the Premier wants to get a photo op. So when we embark on this, we need to do this diligently and do it carefully.
Lastly, I understand that the member is going to make some comments in Mandarin. I welcome that, and he has provided a translation for all of us. I was the first MLA in this House, in the history of British Columbia, to bring Cantonese into this Legislature. I welcome additional languages to reflect the diversity of our province, to show British Columbians that we have a giant makeup of different communities in British Columbia, and we want to ensure that reflection is there. So bringing Mandarin into this House, as I understand that the member is going to do, is a welcome step.
We brought Cantonese in back in 1996, and now we'll add Mandarin to that record. I hope that in the future we'll have other languages as well, such as Korean, as an example — a diverse Korean community that we have strong trade relations with. For us to bring that language in this House — wouldn't that be wonderful?
Sitting on this side of the House, we have the first Filipino-Canadian elected in the Legislature. I am thrilled about that. I would welcome that from the member.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
R. Lee: [Mandarin was spoken.]
[Mr. Speaker, thank you for the honour of allowing me to be the first MLA to deliver part of a private member's statement in Mandarin Chinese. The Chinese-Canadian community is one with deep roots in British Columbia, and this is a wonderful tribute to the many great contributions Chinese Canadians have made and continue to make to B.C.
The members opposite make a great deal of noise about the export of raw logs. Today is no exception. They make it sound like most of our forest product exports are made up of raw logs, but let us look at the facts.
Over the first nine months of this year the percentage value of log exports to China, when compared to total forest product exports, is just over 9 per cent. The fearmongering of the members opposite also fails to take into account that British Columbia does not export logs unless the exporter can prove that they are surplus to domestic needs. The result is that the volume of public timber exported as logs is a fraction of the annual harvest of public timber — less than 10 percent.
Finally, by trying to stop any export of raw logs, the members opposite are in fact threatening jobs, because allowing some log exports enables harvesting and transportation employment when manufacturing is restricted by poor demand. We have increased softwood lumber exports to China by 1,708 percent in the past decade, more than 18 times. Overall exports to China grew 357 percent, from $945 million to $4.3 billion.
This is our template for continued success in our trade with China. With Premier Christy Clark leading the way with the B.C. jobs plan she has laid out, our best days for trade with China are ahead of us.]
[Translation provided by R. Lee.]
Hon. T. Lake: We move to private member's Motion 23.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, the unanimous consent of the House is required to proceed with Motion 23 without disturbing the priorities of the motions preceding it on the order paper.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Private Members' Motions
MOTION 23 — TIMELINE FOR
ELIMINATION OF HARMONIZED SALES TAX
J. Brar: I rise today to move a motion to fast-track the elimination of the HST because the uncertainty surrounding the transition away from the HST system is severely hurting our local economy and costing us jobs.
My motion reads as follows:
[Be it resolved that this House views it as advisable to fast-track the elimination of the HST and re-implement the GST/PST system in order to bring economic stability to the province and assist small businesses in creating jobs in British Columbia.]
Let me tell you why this government needs to fast-track the elimination of the HST. The HST continues
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to hurt small business, industry and our local economy. The beginning of HST was a bad surprise, and the end of HST is not in sight. Even after losing the historic HST referendum, this government wouldn't do anything for 18 months because they want to continue favouring their corporate friends and ignoring small businesses and the people of British Columbia as long as they can.
This government implemented the HST system in just nine months. Why do they need 18 months to eliminate the HST? That's the question the people of British Columbia are asking.
They're doing it because the HST is a tax shift. The HST transferred $1.9 billion in taxes paid by big business onto the backs of consumers. Therefore, with this 18-month delay, big business will continue to pay less; small businesses and the people of British Columbia will continue to pay more. The HST is hurting our economy, and it is hurting the small businesses of British Columbia, specifically the new-home builders industry.
The Canadian Home Builders Association of B.C. has produced a report, The HST: Industry Feedback, 2011. In this report they published the testimonials of homebuilders who say that they can't sell their inventories because buyers are waiting for the HST to be eliminated. They ask the B.C. government to address the concerns around the 18-month transition away from the HST, as transition rules back to the PST have not yet been made. The effect is that consumers are not buying new houses, as they are now waiting for the elimination of the HST.
The Canadian Home Builders Association report states: "Waiting 18 months for transition rules to be formulated, adopted and carried out will decimate our industry beyond repair." A builder in Kamloops says: "I have about $2 million in inventory houses completed and ready to move in. I am in the process of building a 22-unit duplex development but have stopped building after four units because nothing is selling. I think that if the HST is not reversed until 18 months that none of my inventory will sell. Buyers will wait. We would like the HST extinguished as soon as possible."
Another quote. A cabinet manufacturer in Kelowna states: "The transition back to PST cannot be 12 to 18 months from now. The government, with this news, will cause many buyers to wait until the changeover back to the PST is completed, thereby further reducing business in an already severely impacted market. A 12-month-or-longer delay will force further layoffs by cabinet manufacturers and may likely force some members of other industry out of business."
To conclude, the construction industry is the key to our economy and key for job creation in the province of British Columbia. The Premier has gone on a trade mission to China and India, claiming that the mission will create jobs in B.C. If there's one thing the Premier of this province can do today to create jobs, it is the elimination of HST as soon as possible.
It is about time that this government showed some respect for the democratic will of the people of British Columbia, fast-tracked the elimination of the HST and re-implemented the PST system in order to bring economic stability to the province and assist small businesses in creating jobs in B.C.
J. Rustad: I want to thank the member opposite for bringing forward this motion this morning. Really, when you talk about debating in the Legislature and you talk about needing to discuss things in the Legislature that are positive for the province, there can be nothing more important than talking about things that will enhance economic stability in the province and assist small business in creating jobs in British Columbia.
When you look at where we're at with the unemployment rate today, it's hard to imagine that an unemployment rate in British Columbia is lower than at any time in the 1990s, even when we've gone through the most serious economic downturn that the world has seen since the Great Depression. That says something about creating jobs and, in particular, about supporting small business, which is critical for the province of British Columbia.
You would think that the member opposite, in bringing this forward, would maybe have said something about turning British Columbia into a have-not province and what that did to British Columbia, to confidence and to the ability to create jobs. You would think that they might have actually apologized for doing that to the province and talked about how those sorts of things should perhaps be reversed in terms of being able to create jobs. That is what we have done on this side of the House.
Fiscal stability is a key in bringing consumer confidence and in bringing business confidence in job creation. Fiscal stability is what is needed. During the 1990s what did we see? We saw debt downgrades. We saw budget targets that were always blown, and we saw no confidence. Jobs were not created, and people left the province. That has been reversed under the B.C. Liberals. We have some of the highest, if not the highest, business confidence anywhere in the country, right here in B.C., because of the policies that the B.C. Liberals have done.
In forestry or in mining…. The member opposite for Stikine that we like to call the no-digging MLA…. You know, it's critical that we have mining activities, that we see exploration. What have we seen in the province of British Columbia that supports small business, that supports economic stability? We have seen the highest recorded levels of exploration anywhere in British Columbia, because we have driven the right environment. We've created the right opportunity for companies to in-
[ Page 8911 ]
vest. They want to see job creation, they want to see that stability, and they want to see mines coming forward.
Yet that side has opposed, every single time, a project that has come forward, unless it's already permitted. The member for Stikine refuses, continuously, to stand up and support even a single project, when that is the mecca of new mining opportunities in this province. What does he say about it? "Well, Highway 37 electrification — it would have been better if we had spent that money on planting trees."
It's clear that if you want to have job creation in this province, if you want to have economic stability, if you want to have confidence in small business, you need to have the right environment. You can't just give a few platitudes or try to take political advantage of a situation. You actually have to have it at the core. You have to understand what job creation is about. You have to understand that taxes kill small business.
Under that regime in the 1990s, the tax regime…. We were one of the highest tax regimes in the country. We've reversed that as B.C. Liberals, which is a driving force in creating jobs in this province.
The people of British Columbia expect their government to bring forward policies that are going to be sound fiscally, that are going to support the programs that we want and that are going to create jobs and create stability. That means across the province in every corner.
You cannot sit there on the other side of the House, as the other side of the House has done, and oppose new projects coming forward. The oil and gas sector, opportunities in mining, independent power projects — all these things that have created the employment and the low unemployment numbers we have. You can't do that and yet be able to stand up and credibly say that you know how to create a small business environment.
It's very clear that we have the right path, that we are creating jobs. Our jobs plan is going forward, creating the right environment, creating a positive atmosphere, attracting people to this province and, ultimately, improving the strength and confidence in the economy. We're going to continue to do that, and that side can continue to wonder what happened.
S. Hammell: Hon. Speaker, it really is almost unbelievable — almost unbelievable. We have had the worst tax policy that has hit a province in decades, and the government stands up and tries to defend it. I can even quote and just say that we have not heard….
S. Hammell: This is a builder, maybe from the member's constituency himself. He writes to the Premier: "We have not heard a reply to our letter regarding the most recent tax change in B.C. The taxes have caused so much uncertainty that it has completely stalled our economy."
This is a construction company president writing. "I have two daughters. One has already moved to Alberta this year, and now the oldest of 21 years has had enough and is moving in September. As I said before, above in the letter, if this doesn't get dealt with immediately, there will be big repercussions in the workplace. Moving out of B.C. may be the only answer. Anxiously waiting for your reply."
Nothing, hon. Speaker. No reply — nothing. You bring in the HST, and you actually stand up and try to defend it, not by taking responsibility for your actions but by trying to blame out somewhere else — some other decade, some other time. But you don't stand up and assume responsibility for the uncertainty, the lack of clarity and the lack of confidence that you have driven into the marketplace in British Columbia.
Businesses know. When I speak to business, or the members on this side speak to business, what they are extremely distressed about is that it takes a year, or less than a year — ten months — to bring in a tax and almost two years to get rid of it. This is a tax that is hurting their business, hurting the certainty that they need to function well in the marketplace. People know that business needs certainty. They need clarity around the rules. They need to know what the rules are. They'll play the game well, but what they need to know is what the rules….
This government has not even given to the business community that functions out in our economy a road map of how we're getting out of this. We don't even have a date to get out of this. For the member for Nechako Lakes to stand up and to support or to say, "We are wonderful. We are absolutely wonderful on the other side. We have engendered confidence in our business community," just defies all expectations.
Not only was the tax not thought through. When an initiative was brought in, it was ridiculed. The initiative was successful, and the government could have moved to get rid of the HST then. They determined they would be defeated through a referendum. The referendum was defeated, and the response is two more years of uncertainty in this province. Well done. You may be proud of that record, but I don't think the people of British Columbia are at all.
So having described the words I've described about how people have talked to me about this situation in British Columbia, what the people want — in particular, people in the construction and renovation part of our economy — is the blueprint out of this mess.
They want the government to table that blueprint, to tell us when we're getting rid of it, to tell us how we're disengaging from this situation, to provide them with certainty, with clarity, and to build confidence back into our communities.
[ Page 8912 ]
B. Bennett: I thank the member for introducing this animating motion this morning and for the opportunity. The province will reinstate the combined 12 percent PST and GST tax system. The people have spoken, and the PST will be reinstated at 7 percent with all permanent PST exemptions. I hope that's clear enough.
Where it makes common sense to make some administrative improvements, I hope that the Finance Minister will avail himself of that. If they make common sense and they're administrative in nature, I'm sure that the opposition will support those.
I actually voted to implement the HST. I'm not ashamed of that because I believed then, and now, that it was the best way forward and that it was in the best interests of all British Columbians. An elected person should never be ashamed of doing what he or she thinks is the right thing to do for the people.
Our failure was in how soon after the provincial election we introduced the new tax policy. We also failed to consult as much as we should have. And I've, certainly, on a personal basis, and many of us have, apologized for that on numerous occasions.
In the referendum, my constituents in Kootenay East voted to get rid of the harmonized sales tax, and I have accepted their direction with the greatest respect. But I also believe that the referendum was not only about the HST. I actually believe — and I have reason to believe from talking to people and listening to people — that the referendum was also about them, the people of all political persuasions, sending government a message that they do not appreciate surprises.
We have received it on this side of the House. Under the leadership of the young and energetic leader from Vancouver–Point Grey, who was not part of those HST decisions, we will restore the PST and its exemptions, and we will move the province forward with more new jobs in the province and more opportunities for all British Columbians.
Now, as for the motion itself, it's an obvious attempt by the opposition to pander to this simplistic pitch they've been making across the province lately that, you know, government doesn't want to get through this transition in an intelligent and considered way — as if the Finance Minister would be treading water on this one. Hardly likely.
Government will make this complex return to a new provincial sales tax system with all of the collection, all of the remittance, all of the audit functions developed from scratch. But "fast-track," as the motion calls for? Haste led us to a referendum on this matter, and the last thing, I believe, we need now is a policy that's not fully thought out.
I support the Finance Committee's recommendation that the transition be effected "as soon as reasonably possible." Hopefully, there will be some interim transition rules that will kick-start the home-building industry, particularly the second-home-building industry and the construction industry in the Kootenays, the Okanagan and Vancouver Island. But I expect the Finance Minister of this province to do his due diligence, and I'm sure that he will.
The motion features the term "economic stability" — as if the opposition knew anything about economic stability. It's really a joke that the NDP knows anything about the economy. They did have an opportunity to show us what they know about the economy, and I think that we should look at what they did — not at what they're saying; not what they said then and not what they're saying now — in over a decade that they were in government. When they had this opportunity, what did they do? Well, if you're a working person, you had less money in your jeans under the NDP.
Under the B.C. Liberal government, disposable income is up every single year, up 24 percent since the year 2000. B.C. has added 45,000 full-time jobs since December of 2010 — 45,000 full-time jobs. Since December of 2001 B.C. has added 400,000 new jobs, and over 75 percent of them are full-time jobs.
Everywhere else in the world you've got financial uncertainty. Here, in October our unemployment rate was 6.6 percent — lower than every single year under you know who. The people know who is best at navigating through these dangerous economic waters, and it's not the NDP. It's the B.C. Liberal team that's led by an enthusiastic young leader who is not responsible for us standing here today in this place debating returning to the provincial sales tax but who will lead the B.C. Liberals to a victory in 2013, and she will, in fact, make certain that B.C. is a safe and attractive place to invest and create jobs.
In closing, I just want to say that the Leader of the Opposition was in my riding last week, and he's welcome to go there as much as he wants. We invite him. I wish he had phoned me up. I would have bought him lunch or a cup of coffee. But in any case, he said — and I was somewhat surprised to hear this — on the front page of the local newspaper that the NDP doesn't win government unless "we win Kootenay East."
Well, I have bad news for the Leader of the Opposition. I have really, really bad news for the Leader of the Opposition. I'm going to run again, and I'm going to win. I'm going to win. I'm going to be winning that seat. After the next election, on May 12, 2013, these fine folks will be sitting in the same place they've been sitting for three terms, over there in opposition.
B. Ralston: Well, meanwhile back in Kootenay East, let's look at what's actually going on. Mike Delich, who is a businessman residing in Fernie and the director of the Canadian Home Builders Association of British Columbia, came to the Finance Committee, and here's
[ Page 8913 ]
what he had to say about the impact of the HST and why it's important to expedite the return to the new system. "Prior to June 30, 2010, real estate sales were very strong in Golden, Invermere, Radium, Kimberley, Cranbrook, Fernie and Sparwood. Right after that date, when that HST came in, it went dormant. We have had virtually no sales in that last year and a half."
I'm quoting, because with the member opposite, sometimes the facts are very painful. He also said, speaking on October 12 at the committee:
"For the record, on the Saturday of the Labour Day weekend our company had an open house and sales centre. We had eight individuals come through, eight families. They were all qualified to purchase. They all said they liked the product. They loved the East Kootenays. They loved our community because we have a ski resort and the river. When we did our callbacks on Tuesday, they said: 'No, we can't buy because of the uncertainty of the taxes and because of the HST.'
"That is happening in Fernie. As well, it's happening in Kimberley, and it's happening in the Columbia Valley — Radium and Invermere."
That's the reality of the transition back.
Now, the member can say…. Well, at least he did talk about the HST. The first Liberal speaker didn't even mention the HST — the love that dare not speak its name.
So it's very clear that that's the reality of what's going on in the Kootenays. The member may call that pandering, but what is necessary is for transitional rules. We're not saying, and I don't think anyone is suggesting, that the entire system be transformed back overnight. Obviously, that's going to take some time. But what is necessary is transitional rules.
As members opposite will know, because a number of them have been lobbied…. Let me quote from the Okanagan, the managing editor, Jon Manchester. They are concerned. He writes an editorial, and it's entitled "Hurry Up on HST Changeover."
"Businesses that have paid heavily under the HST are stuck in no man's land. First, the uncertainty leading up to the referendum and now government foot-dragging on the change has put a chill on investment."
He goes on to talk about those people who have lobbied regional MLAs. So in the Kootenays there are problems. This is in the Okanagan. He says:
"The Canadian Home Builders Association, the Urban Development Institute and the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, the Southern Interior Construction Association and the B.C. Real Estate Association have lobbied regional MLAs for transitional rules to see them through this period. The government has not responded."
I'll conclude this quotation.
"Urgent action is needed to speed up the HST transition before further damage is done."
So there's an industry that exists. There are people there waiting to get to work. The transition needs to be accelerated, and that's precisely what this motion asks for. It's not pandering. It's the reality that's out there, and members opposite have all been lobbied by representatives of those associations. They know full well the reality. So let's hear a response from the government by the end of the debate that they will get on with it and promulgate some transitional rules as soon as possible.
D. Barnett: We all know we had a referendum in British Columbia, and we got a direction from the people out there. And we all know that the government is listening to the people, and the government is taking responsible actions to deal with the referendum. It takes time — between 18 and 24 months, as the independent panel reported to government. This is something that is very complex. I am sure the members on this side understand complexity and responsibility, and I'm pleased to know that that is how this issue is being dealt with.
You know, no province has ever introduced or implemented HST and then moved back to GST, so we know it can't be done quickly. And I'm a little bit shocked from day to day in my riding. I listen. I talk to people. Yes, there was a huge group of the public that sent me a message, but the message is changing daily as they knock on my door, regardless of what other members across the floor may say.
I get very frustrated when I hear people talk about jobs, particularly in the resource communities of rural British Columbia, because every time we're moving ahead and there's complexity and studies and things need to be done, the opposition says: "No, stop." Jobs cannot be created when every time there's a new resource industry out there, somebody says, "No, stop," and riles up the public.
We have great opportunities because of the initiatives of this government. People have courage. They have convictions, and they understand that jobs create health not just wealth, like some people say. Jobs create good families, good health, good schooling, good social programs, and that's what it's all about — creating good, healthy communities.
You know, we have to rewrite some legislation for this initiative, and it takes time. Working with our partners in the federal government — it takes time. I know the Ministry of Finance and our great minister are working with the federal government out there, putting together the plan and how this is going to be done responsibly, and they're not going to negotiate in the public arena. We will transition back faster, if possible, but it has to be done responsibly.
You must also remember that there are over one million people who are receiving an HST subsidy, Madam Speaker, who will no longer receive that, and that message has to also be delivered.
The committee out there that went around the province of British Columbia, the Select Standing Committee on Finance…. The member across the way just talked about it. I was at one of those all-morning sessions, and one of the industries that was there begged the select standing committee to go back to the government and
[ Page 8914 ]
say: "Please, leave it as is. Please. It will hurt our industry." So there are two sides to every story, but that's not the question.
The question is…. The public sent a message, and we on this side of the House will honour that but only responsibly and in time that makes the transition so that it is a responsible, physically managed process.
J. Kwan: You know, the member for Cariboo-Chilcotin said that the government listened. Well, let me just say this. The government listened, kicking and screaming, with British Columbians dragging them back away from the HST.
The Liberals, as you know, Madam Speaker, misled British Columbians in the last election and said they weren't going to bring in the HST. Then right after the election, they brought in the HST. Then British Columbians, in a resounding recall initiative, told the government that they did not support the HST, and that forced the referendum forward. The initiative caused the government to now have to reject the HST. And you know what? The government managed to bring in the HST in less than a year, but now it will somehow take at least 18 months to go back to the old system.
What's happening in the meantime with this delay? Industry is saying that it's actually hurting them. Let me just put this on the public record. It's industry from different sectors and from different parts of the province.
Bob Rennie, people will know. In Vancouver he's known as the Condo King. He's the person who advances development and tries to get investments in place to get the economy going in that sector in that way, and this is what he said about the delay. "I'm just looking for my government to give me certainty as soon as possible, and the consumer needs it. They need to make this decision. I need someone to stand up and tell me what the rules are. What day does the HST go away? If I sign a contract today on a presale that completes after March 2013, am I only paying GST?"
That's what the business community wants to know. What are the transitional rules? What day will the HST actually go away? And none of the government members have been able to provide that to date.
My good colleague from Surrey-Fleetwood has put forward a motion to say that the government needs to fast-track this for the business community, for the economy of British Columbia. Give British Columbians a set date — get on with it — to get rid of the HST and go back to the old PST-GST system so that there's certainty in the business sector.
But Bob Rennie is not the only person who's saying that there are problems. The Canadian Home Builders Association of British Columbia has also put on the public record about the challenges that the HST has caused them and the uncertainty as a result of the government's slow foot-dragging of reimplementing the GST-PST system. In the meantime, the business community is sitting there, not knowing what the transitional rules are. How could that be?
This is from a Liberal government, which says: "Hey, they're business friendly. They're good managers. They will make sure that people know what the rules are and how to play the game." Well, guess what. They're not doing that. They're not providing the information to the business community.
J. Kwan: The member for Chilliwack says: "But wait for it." Well, businesses can't wait.
Some of my colleagues have already put on the public record that businesses have shut down as a result. People had to leave the province as a result of that, and that's the reality. They cannot sit here and wait. After the government misled British Columbians about the HST in the last election, and only after the referendum where people said no to the HST…. They still don't know what the rules are to transition back to the old tax system, and that's simply not acceptable.
From Kelowna, the chamber of commerce said, on October 13…. The treasurer of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce said: "The uncertainty surrounding the transition away from a harmonized sales tax system is severely hurting our local and provincial economies." That's actually from the chamber of commerce.
This is not being made up by people. These are people in the community who are trying to get on with their business, trying to get on with building British Columbia's economy, and the Premier says she has a jobs agenda. How about including fast-tracking and getting rid of the HST, giving certainty to the business community on this as part of her jobs agenda? That would rejuvenate our B.C. economy, locally and provincially. So for the B.C. Liberals — some of them can barely utter the word "HST" in this debate — how about going back to the Premier and saying: "Include this as part of your jobs agenda. Let's get rid of the HST. Let's get on with it and stop dragging our feet on this important matter"?
In case you're wondering, the people who are speaking against what's happening right now with the HST — some of these folks are big supporters of the Liberal Party. It's not like somehow it's just coming from one sector or one political movement on this issue. People are saying to the government, across political lines, to get on with the transition rules. Let people know what those rules are, and give us a date so that we know when the HST is going to end so that they can rebuild our economy.
I urge the government to support this motion, those who have courage to get up in this House and speak in
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support of their community, of their businesses, of the local economy and the provincial economy in support of my colleague, the member for Surrey-Fleetwood's motion in asking the government to fast-track getting rid of the HST and give us certainty and a specific date on when that will actually happen.
R. Hawes: I read the motion here, and I'm astounded at the audacity of the NDP in putting forward a motion like this. I'll read the last part of it: "…bring economic stability to the province and assist small businesses in creating jobs in British Columbia." Like they know anything at all about that. If they really cared….
I really searched to try to find their definition of "small business," because I know that during the HST debate a year or so ago, they were constantly saying the HST is only for large corporations, etc. Yet the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the chambers of commerce, pretty much every small business organization in the province, spoke long and loud about accepting the HST and carrying on with it, and yet they spoke against what they called big business. But for them, anyone who makes a profit or is not union must be a big business or a corporation.
They talk about the homebuilders. Let's just read here a quote from Tim Kasten, the president of the Canadian Home Builders Association of British Columbia. Here's what he said in 2009: "The last time the NDP were in charge, they directly attacked independent, family-owned construction businesses with policies like union-only hiring, pension suspension legislation, and badly hurt the economy." That's what the Home Builders Association thinks of our friends opposite.
If you were to go and speak to just about any sector of the business community anywhere in British Columbia, from the small businesses like mom-and-pop grocery stores right through to the mining industry, every one of them is going to tell you that the greatest fear they have is that sometime the NDP will come back and form a government in this province. Because that's what stops…. That's the biggest fear in this province, and the biggest deterrent to investment in this province is the fear that we could ever have a government like we had in the 1990s ever return here.
Here's also a quote from Tim Kasten: "The NDP platform shows their hostility to the interests of homebuilders and homebuyers, by proposing significant re-regulation that would disadvantage independent construction companies and raise prices across the board." That's what Tim Kasten says about the folks opposite, and yet they get up and they want to quote that the homebuilders, as though it's their friends, are on their side, which is utterly ridiculous.
These people do not understand small business in any way, shape or form. I know my friend from Chilliwack is going to soon be talking about how the only business you understand is how to turn a big business into a small business, because that's, for you, what small business is — what used to be larger businesses.
I know that during your reign in the 1990s the only growing sector of the economy was the moving-van business, as people moved to Alberta. Yet you have the audacity to stand up here and talk about people who might want to leave the province — utterly and completely ridiculous. You should be ashamed of yourselves. You should be ashamed of bringing forward any kind of a motion that talks about small business when you know what your record in the 1990s was.
Frankly, if you don't think that's true, go to Stats Canada and look at all of the stats about British Columbia's performance in the 1990s. The highest taxes in the country, the lowest job growth in the country and the worst-performing economy in the country: that's your record. That's what you would bring to British Columbia.
I don't know how you could possibly look yourselves in the mirror after putting a motion like this forward. This must have been some kind of a joke.
Deputy Speaker: Member. Member, the debate must flow through the Chair.
R. Hawes: Yes, Madam Chair. I forgot for a minute because, you know, when you read things like this, you just get so excited.
It's so easy to talk about the horrendous record that that group put forward in the 1990s. You in your independent state even know that during the 1990s families hurt in British Columbia. Jobs build families, and you have a record of destroying jobs, destroying investment, and that would happen again.
I would suggest that we are going to move back to the PST-GST system. It's going to be done in an orderly fashion in accordance with the law. It's going to be done in a way that makes sense. The Finance Minister has already said that he is going to try to expedite this as quickly as possible but to make sure that it runs as smoothly as possible.
To that end, it's been a pleasure to speak to this, and it's been a pleasure that these people want to bring forward a mirror to hold up their horrible, horrible record in destroying this province in the 1990s. By 2013 — my colleague from Kootenay East is absolutely right — we will be forming government again, and you folks will be in a much smaller area over there, contained as you should be.
M. Mungall: First, I'd like to thank my colleague from Surrey-Fleetwood for bringing forward this motion and giving us an opportunity to yet again speak on the HST. While it is an opportunity to yet again speak on the HST, we're also sitting here saying: "Why on earth are we speaking on the HST yet again?"
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Well, the reason for that, contrary to the assertions from the member for Cariboo-Chilcotin, it's not because this government has handled this file with responsibility; in fact, quite the opposite. It's because the B.C. Liberals have managed to be absolutely irresponsible when it comes to the HST, every step of the way.
First, they misled the public during the last election, and said: "No, we will not bring in the HST." They put it in writing. What happened merely a few months after election day? Guess what. We're going to have the HST — no consultation, no public input.
When I was on the Finance Committee, I asked the president of the chamber of commerce: when did he find out about the implementation of the HST? He said the same day as everybody else: 9 a.m., July 23, 2009. That's when he found out that the HST was going to go through. He had not been consulted. The chamber of commerce of British Columbia had not been consulted. No one had been consulted about actually putting this in and what it would look like for British Columbia.
Why? Because apparently, the Liberals just know what's best for everybody, and who cares about public opinion? Well, the public had their say. The public had their say, and the public said: "Scrap the HST." That is what the public said.
The public had some expectations — despite the complete lack of responsibility that this government shows when it comes to the HST — that maybe they would finally get their act together and take away the HST in a timely manner. That's not the case. That's not the case at all. It didn't take long for the Minister of Finance to notify British Columbians that it might take about 18 months, maybe longer, to remove the HST, despite the public having fair and reasonable expectations that the HST be removed in a timely manner.
What has this done? Well, let's look at one industry, the Canadian Home Builders Association of B.C. They did a report, HST Industry Feedback 2011. These are some of the conclusions in that report. "Waiting 18 months for transition rules to be formulated, adopted and carried out will decimate our industry beyond repair."
Testimonials from British Columbians around the province in this industry. A builder from Kamloops says: "We would like the HST extinguished as soon as possible." That is their request to this government — to extinguish the HST as soon as possible. A cabinet manufacturer in Kelowna says: "The transition back to PST cannot be 12 to 18 months from now. A 12-month-or-longer delay will force further layoffs by cabinet manufacturers and may likely force some members of our industry out of business."
This doesn't sound like a positive step forward for British Columbia's economy — their delay. Their delay sounds like it's having a negative impact on British Columbia's economy. Yet despite the feedback that they are hearing from British Columbians, they will not be moved.
The situation alone with cabinet manufacturers and forcing members of that industry out of business could have a negative impact on apprenticeships, on trades training. We are seeing a looming skills shortage by 2017, and 160,000 jobs will go unfilled because we don't have the people trained for them. Yet here we are, abandoning an industry that has the ability to train people for the benefit of British Columbia, and the Liberals will not be moved. This is outrageous.
Sometimes it's important not to move on an issue. Ask Rosa Parks, when she refused to move from that seat on a bus. This is not a situation like that. This is a situation where the government needs to listen to the people of British Columbia and is refusing to do so yet again. They have not listened to the people of British Columbia on this issue from day one, and they were forced to do so because of a referendum, and they still drag their heels.
I encourage every single member on the Liberal side of the House to take this motion seriously, to take their work seriously, and get down to business for the benefit of British Columbians and stop dragging their heels.
J. Les: I'm pleased to get up this morning and respond to this motion. You know, it would be humorous if it wasn't so sad to see the NDP bring up a motion professing to care about small business. Indeed, as the member for Abbotsford-Mission pointed out earlier, one of the best lines I ever heard was from a friend of mine, who said: "The NDP does actually have a small business policy. They start with bigger policies, apply NDP policies and watch it go smaller." That's what we've seen in the past.
J. Les: You'd like to hear it again? Sure. "Start with a large business, apply NDP policies, and watch the business get smaller." If you'd like me to repeat it again, I'd be glad to do that.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Just to be clear, what we did when we implemented the HST was that we got rid of the provincial sales tax — got entirely rid of it. It was a tax that had been implemented in various ways since 1949 — a very, very complex piece of legislation cumulatively, and it is that tax that we now have to rebuild. That work is ongoing in conjunction with the federal government, which needs to pass legislation first before we can actually promulgate the transitional rules that members opposite are talking about.
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This is a very complex piece of work. This is something that cannot be done recklessly, and it cannot be done in a hurry. The independent panel that reported out before the referendum happened said very clearly that if we were to go back to the PST, it would take from 18 to 24 months — their words, not government's.
After the referendum was completed, the Finance Minister said very clearly that we would do everything possible to comply with the wishes as expressed by the public in British Columbia in 18 months, and that work is ongoing. But we cannot do this recklessly. This is a major shift, again, in the economy, a shift back to the PST, and we can't do it recklessly.
In the meantime, members opposite would have you believe that in the interim the economy is entirely in shambles. Well, I would beg to differ with that point of view as well. In September StatsCan reported out that the British Columbia economy generated more than 30,000 new jobs — more than half of the new jobs that were created in all of Canada in that month. Our unemployment rate is at 6.6 percent, well below the national average.
There are many different categories that you can examine in terms of how the economy of British Columbia is doing. It's doing not badly, and that is on the heels of the worst recession that we've seen, certainly in this generation. So let's not all buy into the argument, as suggested by members opposite, that our economy is at a standstill. It is not. It is doing quite well.
I don't think I need to say too much more. The work of transition back to the PST is ongoing, and in the meantime British Columbians continue to work hard, and small businesses continue to thrive. We have seen a lowering of taxation for small businesses to the point we're below the small business threshold. It is now zero percent in terms of their income tax. It is that kind of record that I am very pleased about. It is a record that would never be matched by the NDP, were they ever to form government again.
It is clear that NDP intentions would be to immediately go back to a high tax regime. That is clearly what they're about. They attempt once in a while to feebly deny that, but NDP is entirely synonymous with higher taxes. I'm proud to be a government that has created a culture of low taxes and robust economic growth.
J. Les moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. T. Lake moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 this afternoon.
The House adjourned at 11:54 a.m.
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