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, February 20, 2012
Volume 29, Number 6
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Orders of the Day
Private Members' Statements
Investing in the north
Healthy learning environments
Private Members' Motions
Motion 30 — Net zero mandate and government spending
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2012
The House met at 10:02 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. B. Lekstrom: At this time I call private members' time.
Mr. Speaker: Member for Abbotsford-Mission.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Member.
R. Hawes: Thank you. Mr. Speaker, I wasn't used to getting heckled before I even started speaking.
Private Members' Statements
R. Hawes: Annually in this country thousands of people die from cardiac arrest. I want you to think for a moment about what you would do if you were in a restaurant and someone at a table near you fell over, clearly in cardiac arrest. Would you know what to do? Would you know what to do if it was a member of your family? Maybe if it was you, is there someone in your family who would know exactly what they should do?
[D. Black in the chair.]
Today I want to talk a little bit about the ACT Foundation. That's a national organization dedicated to making sure that students in every province, everywhere in Canada, are trained in CPR, cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The ACT Foundation every year trains thousands of students. To date so far in this country there are 4,000 teachers trained to deliver in high schools and middle schools in Canada. But in British Columbia the ACT Foundation has not been able to convince the government as of yet to make this a mandatory part of the school curriculum.
Now, I just want to talk for a minute about what the ACT Foundation does. The ACT Foundation teaches not just CPR and trains teachers to deliver a program, but the ACT Foundation at no charge supplies mannequins to schools across the country.
Any school that wants to embark on a program of CPR training for their students will receive mannequins on a one-to-one basis for the classes — one mannequin for every student — which is really a remarkable not just teaching tool or asset, but I think it's remarkable that the ACT Foundation has embarked on this.
As I say, there are 4,000 teachers trained across Canada so far in delivering CPR to students, and it's not just CPR. They also teach what to do in the case of an obstructive airway — which, as everyone knows, is the Heimlich manoeuvre — where whatever the object is that has blocked the airway, you force it out through a tightening or a rapid compression of the chest.
When someone has a cardiac arrest, they have mere moments before brain cells begin to die. The body runs out of oxygen quickly. So if you don't get immediate help, or within six or seven minutes if paramedics aren't on site to give you the resuscitation you need, someone needs to be there giving you CPR or you will begin to lose brain cells. At about ten minutes, you won't be brought back.
If you think about it, from the time that you see somebody in a restaurant or in your home or wherever that has a cardiac event, how long does it take for someone to first call 911 and, second, for the paramedics to arrive on site?
I can tell you, Madam Speaker, that across this country there are thousands of people who die annually, needlessly, because there's no one there who understands or knows how to give CPR. The other side of that is that even if the paramedics arrive on time, there are many, many people who are resuscitated but have suffered such severe brain damage that they can no longer function and they can no longer provide for their families or be active, participating members of their families the way they were before.
This is a tragedy, a tragedy that is completely avoidable. It's avoidable because if we were to embark on making sure that our students — every student — graduates with CPR training, if you think forward…. As some of us here move on to other places, over time, pretty much every British Columbian would have CPR training. If every British Columbian had CPR training, I can tell you, Madam Speaker, we would, in this province, save countless lives, save countless families from losing their loved ones to brain damage and, from a financial standpoint, the cost savings to government over time is incalculable.
I'm here to advocate on behalf of the ACT Foundation that we consider now implementing mandatory CPR training as part of the high school curriculum. I know that across Canada so far there have been 1.8 million kids who have received this training. About 250,000 annually are trained. In British Columbia there are thousands of kids that are receiving the training, but unfortunately, it's on a hit-and-miss basis. It's not in every high school, and it's done on a voluntary basis in these schools.
Where you have a teacher or a vice-principal or a principal in a school that recognizes the importance of doing this…. Teachers get moved. They get promoted. They leave the system. Vice-principals move on to be princi-
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pals in other areas, so the program once started in any particular school quite often will be dropped as people move around, and so you might get a few years of kids in any particular school that get trained, and from then on, nothing in those schools.
I happen to believe that's a tragedy. For those who have ever suffered a cardiac event, and frankly, I have, in 1991…. I can tell you that I really understand the importance of CPR training. I really understand what happens if you don't get assistance quickly. CPR today has changed so much over the last few years, and really, it's a pretty simple technique. It doesn't anymore involve mouth-to-mouth or any of that. It's just simple chest compressions to keep blood moving in the body.
Madam Speaker, I will have a little bit more to say after I hear from the opposition, who, I'm sure, support this.
S. Hammell: I rise to thank the member for Abbotsford-Mission for bringing forward this topic today.
As the member has stated, the ACT Foundation — A-C-T, or ACT Foundation, stands for advanced coronary treatment — is dedicated to establishing free CPR as a mandatory program in every school in Canada. Just in researching my response, I noted that in the literature on the foundation, there is a very strong presence from Quebec and a very strong engagement in the province of Quebec.
But if you do notice, in Quebec both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health have supported, as provincial leaders, the program and, therefore, established or provided that kind of leadership and established the program in a much stronger way — has allowed the establishment of the program in a much stronger way in the province of Quebec.
It would be interesting to see how much further we would get in British Columbia if both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health supported the notion that CPR be a mandatory lesson or be taught in every school in British Columbia, because the member is quite correct in the sense that it is a very simple program. It takes four hours. You have to train the teachers to do the training. But it is a very, very effective means of having citizenship response to cardiac arrest.
As the member also said, it goes beyond cardiac arrest to the choking and to defibrillation and to a whole bunch of other ways that a citizen can actually help someone either in their family or their community. I think the notion is a very, very strong one.
I have to also comment on the foundation itself. I think that because the foundation has structured itself in a way that has appealed both nationally, provincially and locally with a very simple, clear mandate and clear goal, over time it has been very, very successful. It has trained over 1.8 million citizens, largely students, to perform this act if they're faced with it. In fact, many students and many citizens now have been able to react, not only in family situations or in situations where someone in their immediate area has all of a sudden had a coronary, a cardiac arrest, and been able to step in and perform CPR or the choking….
Anyway, I do want to say that I appreciate bringing this forward. The ACT Foundation not only has national leaders; it has provincial leaders, as I've commented about the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health in Quebec. But it also has, in B.C., the B.C. paramedics association, St. John Ambulance.
A number of professionals in this part of health are supporting the ACT Foundation, and they also have a very, very strong recognition program that when people are successful and have performed this act, they then have a way of recognizing that act that the person did to save or try to save someone's life.
I think the notion that eight out of ten cardiac arrests happen in the home…. To be able to train citizens or members of the family to assist if this happens is a very, very good thing to get behind, and I would like to thank again the member for Abbotsford-Mission. This is an excellent program, an excellent foundation, and I support the initiative entirely.
R. Hawes: Thank you to the member for her supportive comments. I would like to say that too often we denigrate the pharmaceutical companies, but I would like to thank and congratulate, on behalf of all citizens, three in particular — AstraZeneca, Sanofi and Pfizer — who supply thousands and thousands of dollars to the ACT Foundation to pay for these mannequins. I would also like to acknowledge Boston Pizza, which has given over $380,000 to the ACT Foundation for the purchase of mannequins. This is an example of great corporate participation for citizens.
There are four Rs that are taught by the ACT Foundation. The first one is risk. It teaches kids to understand that healthy eating, healthy living can actually lower the risk of having a heart attack. They teach kids to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack and what to look for. Then they teach them how to react, and the first thing you're supposed to do is phone 911 before you do anything. Lastly, they teach resuscitate: supply CPR or apply the Heimlich manoeuvre as required. Those are the four Rs.
I would also like to very quickly mention two situations, one in Vancouver. A young lad named Jaron came home one day. His dad had just returned from a trip to China. He opened the door, thinking that it would be a great reunion, only to find the father on the phone to 911 and the mother holding his 13-year-old sister on the floor in panic. He had taken CPR training in high school. He immediately gave CPR to his 13-year-old sister, and Lucy — the paramedic came and revived her — has completely recovered. Jaron, because of his training, saved her life.
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That happened in Vancouver.
Keira, who is an 18-year-old lifeguard in Langley, was watching the pool. Someone yelled that there was something going on in the sauna. She took a look, and someone had gone into cardiac arrest. She applied the CPR that she had also learned through the ACT Foundation in high school and saved that man's life. There are countless stories like that across Canada.
Families have been spared the loss of a loved one. Families have been spared the loss of a loved one to brain damage because of a lack of oxygen in many cases across this country. There is absolutely no argument to be made against making this mandatory in our high schools across this province. It saves lives, it saves families, it saves money, and it makes all of the sense in the world.
On Wednesday of this week the ACT Foundation will be here in the legislative buildings, demonstrating for all of the MLAs. I urge all MLAs to attend the Rattenbury Room on Wednesday afternoon to learn what you can about CPR and how to save lives.
H. Bains: For decades improved transportation meant increasing road capacity to move more cars at a greater speed. But transit experts and the general public soon realized that with this approach we cannot solve our traffic congestion. It imposes high social and environmental costs, and it is not affordable.
We here in the Lower Mainland, where many communities are still in their infancy, have an opportunity to do it right and do it with a new approach. Not that the roads and bridges are not needed. They must be a part of the overall long-term solution to moving people and goods, efficiently and effectively.
As transportation engineer Walter Kulash said: "The new paradigm is: how about moving people instead of cars. Isn't that why we were moving cars in the first place?" There's a book called Divorce your Car! by Katie Alvord and Stephanie Mills which lists many of the benefits of public transit. Here are a few. Transit saves land. Unlike freeways, transit — especially rail — encourages compact development. This also saves money, energy and cuts pollution since less sprawl requires less infrastructure.
Transit helps create jobs in the economy. One study estimates a $3 to $3.50 increase in business revenue for every dollar invested in transit. Spending $1 billion on transit creates more than 7,000 more jobs than spending a billion on roads.
Four, public transportation saves money. Transit users spend about $200 to $2,000 a year on travel, much less than the cost of owning and driving a car.
Five, transit saves time, hassle and lives. Leaving the driving to someone else might mean a longer trip overall, but you can spend the time doing something else — reading, writing a letter and catching up on the world.
According to the national safety council, transit is one of the safest ways to travel. Where the average death rate per 100 million passenger miles is about 0.95 for autos, it drops to 0.04 for trains and 0.01 for buses.
Public transportation restores community and equity. Transit can help restore community by bringing people out of meta-box isolation and into more contact with one another. Transit gives a wide range of people safe, independent mobility, helping to integrate your old, poor, disabled and other non-drivers more fully into community life. Shared transportation is also the most equitable way that society can provide mobility to people regardless of income, age and ability. This equity can be cost-effective in unexpected ways.
So if those are the benefits, why then do we not see as much investment in public transit and at a speed that is needed to meet the needs of growing communities and populations, especially south of the Fraser and the northeast region of our Lower Mainland, two of the fastest-growing communities?
Well, I think there are a number of reasons, and here let's examine a few.
First, the decision-making process at TransLink, the body that is responsible for delivering transportation needs in the Lower Mainland, is flawed, undemocratic, lacks accountability and transparency, and is dysfunctional. It is dysfunctional because the decisions are often made in private. Mayors are not involved in the policy-planning stage, only asked to vote yes or no to transit policies drafted by others. They cannot even amend the proposals, and if they say yes, then they must come up with the money to pay for it.
The changes were made in 2007 by the then Minister of Transportation removing effective democratic control from the hands of locally elected politicians and putting it into the hands of unelected so-called experts.
Mayors, elected by their constituents and accountable to them, who are familiar with the transit needs of their communities, feel rightfully that they are sidelined and have no say or very little say into transit policies drafted by others affecting their communities.
Second, ideologically biased and politically motivated decisions by government are resulting in higher costs to taxpayers and cause construction delays. Government's insistence, for example, that certain transportation projects must be P3s will burden taxpayers with higher construction costs for decades.
The Golden Ears Bridge, a P3 project, where a private contract is guaranteed a return on its investment, based on wrong traffic assumptions, is costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year. These are millions not available to pay for transit needs of other Lower Mainland communities.
Another example. The decision to make the carbon tax revenue-neutral is another example of a botched
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government decision. Instead of using a portion of the carbon tax on transportation and other environmental improvement projects, the government decided to give a tax break to corporations. Had the government made the right decision to use portions of the carbon tax to pay for transit needs, Lower Mainland taxpayers would not have been asked time and again for more money to pay for transit needs.
So how do we fix it? Well, changing the government's model of TransLink would be a good start. Transit professionals agree that transportation and land use decisions goes hand-in-hand. One of the primary roles of the mayors and their city councils is to make those decisions that are related to land use, so that would be the natural body to be at the transit-planning table to influence transit policies in line with land use decisions.
The mayors have already set up a committee to look at ways to improve government structures. I agree with the mayors' approach, but it's the government's leadership that is needed to bring legislation to make that happen.
Government policies must be for the sole benefit of the public it serves. It means practical, commonsense decisions to deal with the needs of transit. That's what is needed, but I think it will take the leadership of the government of the day in order to make that happen.
The mayors right now feel, also, that there needs to be an independent audit of the TransLink operations so the public gets the confidence it needs in order to make that happen.
So two things. The sole purpose of government policies should be to serve the public that it is elected to serve. Secondly, it must come up with practical, commonsense solutions to deal with the needs of transit.
Deputy Speaker: Just a reminder to all members that private members' statements are the views of private members and not a condemnation of other points of view in the House.
D. Horne: On that note, I couldn't agree more with the member that public transit is extremely important and something that we all need to support. Public transit is something that, as the member just stated, really does allow us to move many more people much faster and at much less cost — both to our environment as well as financially — to us all.
That's why I'm excited, as the member for Coquitlam–Burke Mountain, to now have the first shovels in the ground and the destruction of some of the property for the new Evergreen line. I and our government have been very committed to building the Evergreen line and have worked very hard to make sure that that does indeed happen.
I'm excited about the fact that we're now moving forward and we're now getting that project underway. That project will, in just a few years, actually allow people to go from my area in Coquitlam, as well as Port Moody and the Lougheed Mall area, to go downtown, to go to the airport, to go to Surrey and to go to many of the other regions.
Many people look at transportation as sort of just for commuters that are going from one area to the downtown, to their jobs. But transportation is much broader than that. You take a look at the many facilities, the many institutions that we have throughout the region. As the member noted, Surrey, one of the fastest growing areas in our region, has many institutions. The new Surrey campus of SFU is a fantastic facility. Obviously, the fact that we have rapid transit to that area is a real importance to those students, as well as the Millennium Line that serves the Burnaby campus of SFU.
That's why over $14 billion has been committed, which doubles transit ridership by 2020. It is, I think, a very good goal because building transit and building opportunities for people to get around our region much quicker than they have in the past is very, very important to us.
Not to be partisan, but I will note that we spent a long time on the Evergreen line in our area, and there was much debate and much question as to what the best way to approach that was. That process took a long time — a very long time. I will say that people like Mayor Fassbender and Mayor Stewart showed great leadership in moving that project forward. It's because of the leadership of people like Mayor Fassbender that we're building the Evergreen line.
That being said, there's another mayor from our region, Mayor Trasolini, who was incredibly negative, showed no leadership and, quite frankly, was probably one of the difficulties.
So it's in dealing with all of the levels of government and bringing everyone together. It's about communicating with each other and actually being constructive that we build these processes. I know that Mayor Fassbender is now talking more about mayors' involvement in the planning process, about putting a proposal forward so that mayors are more involved in the planning process, and I know that this is a good thing.
I think that this is something that we need more of. We need more consultation. We need more working together. We need more constructive conversation in order to make all of these things work. I know that that's the type of thing that actually gets these projects moving forward, that actually will get things like the Canada Line, the Evergreen line, the UBC line and all of the other projects that we're moving forward with actually completed in the future.
The gateway program, as well, part of our job strategy in the Canada Starts Here program, is being able to move goods and services. Basically, as the member has said, in moving people it's extremely important that we
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have rapid transit. But the road system and our road network and we being able to move goods around our region are also extremely important. It's something that we have also concentrated on and something that we must concentrate on to ensure that, basically, our economy and the jobs that are there and that are needed in our regions continue.
This is something that is important for all British Columbians. It's not just people in the Lower Mainland and it's not just people in the more urban areas of British Columbia that benefit from good transportation and good routes to market; it's people in all areas of British Columbia — people in the north that are involved in the forestry sector. You take a look at the great increases that we've had in that sector, and you see the benefits of this.
So thank you, and I thank the member for bringing this forward.
H. Bains: I thank the member for his response. I think we are, it seems to me, on the same wavelength when we speak in this House or outside, but when it comes to putting those thoughts into practice is where, I think, many in the public would agree with me that more attention is needed for public transit.
We don't have what we need. We need — especially south of Fraser and in the northeast sector of the Lower Mainland — public transportation that must be affordable, efficient and user-friendly. We are making progress but at a very, very slow pace.
If you listen to Mayor Diane Watts of Surrey, and if you listen to people such as ex-Mayor Trasolini, it's their leadership, actually, and foresight that have pushed the minister and the government in order to act on some of the projects that are needed in their regions.
For example, Mr. Trasolini was up front and ahead of everybody in asking the government to make sure that the Evergreen line does move ahead, because as he called it for long time, and as many others in his community would call it, a Nevergreen line…. But I think it was the people like Trasolini…. I think we should commend them for their leadership and foresight in order to bring that kind of service into those communities.
South of the Fraser the mayor and the council have been asking that we need 500 buses, and that was a few years ago. This community south of the Fraser, all those communities — Delta, Surrey, Langley — are looking at a million residences in 2030. That will be 33 percent of the Metro population, but do we have the public transportation that will meet the need of this growing population of those communities? The answer is no.
That's why a study commissioned by the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association found many flaws in our approach right now. They have said clearly that Surrey is not receiving its fair share of transit investment from TransLink, based on its share of existing and future population growth.
A quick look at some of the numbers that were provided to me by one of the bus drivers…. Pat O'Connor, who is also a transit activist, brought very, very alarming numbers to me for service in the south of Fraser. He says: "Take a look at the number of conventional buses we have and the shuttle buses we have. On a per capita basis, that comes to one bus for every 4,500 residents in that region." But what we need…. In Toronto, for example, and Montreal we have one bus for every 1,200. During GVRD days we had one bus for every 1,200 residents. That's what we need, and I'm hoping that the government will act on it.
INVESTING IN THE NORTH
J. Rustad: Today I'm pleased to rise to speak about investing in the north. There is an enormous opportunity for a northern decade of prosperity — a decade where we will see investment on an unprecedented level; a decade where we will see investment in not just, of course, the economy but in jobs, where communities will be growing, where there'll be opportunity for the north to really lead our province through this next decade.
Madam Speaker, I just want to start by giving you some numbers around what that means, around investing in the north. For example, in my region, in the Nechako region, there's a total of 13 proposed mine, energy and biomass projects undergoing various stages of assessment, totalling $3.3 billion. That's an enormous amount of money.
When you add things up across the north, it is close to $60 billion — for example, in the northeast, 32 proposed mines, energy and biomass projects, totalling about $16½ billion; in the Cariboo, another 24 proposed mines, energy and biomass projects, totalling $2.6 billion; and in the north coast a total of 41 proposed mine, energy and biomass projects through various stages, totalling over $32 billion. It's enormous what that means.
It's easy to throw around numbers. I mean, a billion — what's a billion? It's an enormous amount of work. Yet when you look across it…. When you look, for example, in Kitimat alone — with Rio Tinto and their investment in upgrading the smelter, which will give that smelter another 30-plus years of life, create thousands of jobs in employment and guarantee those jobs going forward — it's an enormous investment. More importantly, it's an enormous investment of confidence in British Columbia and, in particular, in northern B.C.
Throughout all of these projects that we see, we're seeing that around the confidence. When you think about this northern decade and the potential, confidence is really a key, because you need to attract those dollars. You need to be able to tell investors that you're going to be putting an investment in the ground that's going to be 15 or 25 or 35 years through the life of the project.
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You've got to invest that money today and tell investors that you're going to have a return. So having confidence — giving confidence to those investors so that they know they can get a return — is absolutely critical.
But along with that, how do you give that confidence? Well, part of that is having the right political environment, having an environment that opens the doors for industry to invest, that tries to encourage it, that doesn't have too tough of a regulatory regime.
Although it's very important that we have good environmental standards and make sure that all of our regulations and standards are met, still you cannot be to the point where you're trying to hold back that kind of an investment. You also have to have the right tax regime. You can't have an environment that ultimately penalizes companies for investing. You have to be able to make sure that investors get a return on their dollar so that they're willing to put that into the ground.
I'll just give you two quick examples of that. In Australia they decided to change their royalty regime around mining. What happened? Investment practically came to a standstill. The amount of investment dropped by more than 40 percent overnight, simply from that change.
In Alberta, when they decided to change their royalty scheme around oil and gas, what happened? Investment dried up overnight, and they all came and started investing in B.C. Why did they do that? It was because we had a consistent environment. We had an environment that tried to encourage investment and that still made sure that we brought in billions of dollars of revenues to the province in terms of resource revenues. But it's having that right tax regime that is critical.
The member opposite, of course, is going to get a chance to respond to this. Just a question to him. You know, I extend my hand out in saying: how can we work together to make sure that we carry forward with that confidence? What is it that we need to be doing to send the right signals around tax policy, regardless of who may end up being in government, so that we can make sure that this investment and this opportunity in northern B.C. can continue to grow?
In my riding — as I mentioned, about the $3.3 billion — I'll just give you some examples of some of those projects that are investing. For example, Thompson Creek is putting over half a billion dollars into the expansion of the Endako mine.
The Endako mine is a project that has been mining now for more than 47 years. Through this expansion, this will give a life of another 17 to 25 years, potentially more. When you talk to the people of Fraser Lake about those jobs, about what that's meant for the community and the area, there's no question. That mine has been a phenomenal asset for them, as well as for people across the north, and it's those types of investments that we want to see more of.
Just recently the Premier was with the CEO of Imperial Metals and announced the expansion of the Huckleberry mine project south of Houston. Once again, that is a project that was about to come to the end of its life in terms of the resource.
They've found more resources. They're going through an expansion. It's going to be able to preserve those jobs. It's going to add another 70 jobs over the long term. Ultimately, once again, for the community of Houston, and indeed across the north, it is that foundation that helps to support families, that helps to support children going through and the whole bit. It helps to add that hope for the future.
North of Fort St. James we have the Mount Milligan project, another investment by Thompson Creek. It's a great project that's going to bring hundreds of new jobs. For example, to show what that does, in the community of Fort St. James they have seen a 25-percent increase in their population since the last census. That's an enormous increase for a small community, and it does come with challenges. But it also shows the kinds of opportunities that come with investment and, ultimately, how that flows through to be able to help us with services.
South of Vanderhoof we've got the New Gold–Blackwater project. New Gold spent $550 million buying this project. They're spending more than $40 million doing a bunch of work this year. They're going to be entering into the environmental assessment process, and they're hopeful that they're going to get through that and start construction by 2015, through to 2017, when they'll have the first pour of gold. It's very exciting times.
D. Donaldson: Thank you to my colleague from Nechako Lakes for introducing a very important topic for northern B.C. and for B.C. in general. I will get to his question about how we can work together. I do have a couple of suggestions about that.
Much of what the member talked about deals with non-renewable resources: the mining and natural gas sector — again, also on the forestry part, but minerals and oil and gas. We must begin to act like we own these resources, that we're in the driver's seat — we as the public — and that it's the public resource, instead of acting like we have to give it away or get rid of it as quickly as we can. Investment is a key to this, but we are, to a certain degree, in the driver's seat.
I want to talk a bit about inequality that has to do…. We have this great abundance of natural resources in the north, and yet the B.C. Statistics report just from last month talked about a growing inequality in Canada. B.C. was second only to Alberta in terms of income inequality among the provinces. B.C. had the highest income gap among the provinces in 2009 when comparing the lowest 20 percent of earners to the highest 20 percent. We have this amazing abundance of natural resource wealth, yet people in the north are experiencing more and more
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of an inequality gap.
We know it's not just about economic justice. Issues of economic justice are linked to social justice and environmental justice. We need investment in the north. I think the member has done a good job of pointing that out.
We're losing out on opportunities, though, and a couple of areas that we need to do some more work on are in First Nations consultation, especially…. It's not just me saying this. The vice-president, Byng Giraud, of Imperial Metals pointed this out — that there needs to be a better framework around First Nations consultation so that there's more certainty around the investment atmosphere.
As well, we need to do a better job of environmental assessment robustness. There's a lack of public confidence in the environmental assessment process. That's a result of topics like Prosperity mine, where we had two different processes showing two different results. The provincial process approved the mine. The federal process, which was able to consider more facts, said that it wasn't in the best interests to have that mine go forward. We're talking about efficiencies in environmental assessment processes. We're all for efficiencies, but cutting corners will only lead to unnecessary delays.
I want to also talk about social justice. The Ombudsman's report pointed out the inadequacies of reinvestment in the seniors health care system — some horrific stories there about our care in the north compared to other parts of the province.
In training — I know the member opposite was in favour and was part of the Finance Committee report recommending an engineering school for UNBC, and we haven't seen anything on that — if we want to see the benefits accrue, mostly to the people in the north, of this great development that's at our doorstep, then we have to put training into institutions like Northwest Community College's School of Exploration and Mining, which subsists on a year-to-year basis with no core funding, or in their trades program, which received a cut this year.
We don't want to see the fly-in, fly-out. I know the member on the opposite side does not want to see that kind of scenario in the northwest, where the people taking the jobs come in from elsewhere and the locals don't have the best opportunity to acquire those jobs.
I'd like to finish off by talking about reinvestment. David Baxter, the economist with the Urban Futures Institute, talked about 70 percent of the new income in this province generated from non-urban areas. That's the kind of notion that we need to embrace and say: we need a bit more reinvestment in our communities depending on that income generated by these resources.
Greg Halseth, a professor at UNBC, talks about the investment bank and that if you keep withdrawing and withdrawing, the bank will go broke. These are communities that he is talking about in the north. We need to reinvest in those communities. Resource revenue-sharing might be an avenue to do that. There are other mechanisms as well.
Finally, we had the Auditor General's report on forestry last week saying that reforestation is not keeping up with the growing inventory of land in the need of restocking. When we look at that, we say: the future is bright, but we don't want to be left behind again.
The people of the north do not want to be left behind again. An example of that is in the forestry sector and how we got left behind when all of the revenues that flowed out of the north were not properly reinvested in the last 11 years back into the north. Again, it's a matter of focus and a matter of investment. Thank you very much for allowing me to respond to the member opposite in this debate.
J. Rustad: I want to thank the member for Stikine for his comments and for sharing his thoughts. He didn't quite seem to get to what we could work on together to be able to do things, although I do agree about the training and that side of things. There's a lot that we are doing with the jobs plan coming forward. We are investing in some new training. We have regional committees that are going out and trying to determine just what it is and how we can refocus those dollars to make sure it meets the needs.
I do take exception to one thing that the member said about the wage inequity, noting that there's a gap that's growing in B.C. If you look at those statistics, what we have seen is that the number of wage earners in the low category has dropped dramatically.
We've seen an increase in the middle category and an increase in the high category. Because of those increases, the differential has grown. It has nothing to do with the low side. His solution seems to be that he would like everybody to kind of just muddle around down in the bottom and the middle, but that just does nothing for bringing confidence, as I said, in terms of wanting to see investment and driving those opportunities that we need in northern B.C.
The member opposite also talked about forestry, and I am glad he did, because I wanted to get to that in terms of investing in the north. There's no question: forestry is critical in terms of our future. What we've been doing in China…. We've seen lumber exports into China increase 60 percent just in the last year alone. That's a critical piece on building confidence in the forest industry and ultimately driving opportunities.
We've had a tragedy in my riding as well, in the community of Burns Lake. We've had a mill that had a terrible accident. Two people lost their lives, the workers were put out of work, and it has left the community in an uncertain state. But I can tell you, Madam Speaker, that the companies around the north pulled together. This is just an example of what I mean by this investing in the
[ Page 9258 ]
north and opportunities.
We held a job fair just a week and a half ago. More than 1,300 jobs were presented there on very short notice — companies putting it together — and almost 400 of those were provided or offered by local companies, in particular the forest sector. The mills all across the corridor are looking for people. They're willing to work with them, to train. It's that stepping up to the plate and supporting communities that is critical.
But ultimately, we do need to get to the fibre question. The member mentioned about investing and inventories. It's interesting when you look at some of the TFLs that have been invested around the province, in particular Dunkley Lumber's TFL. The work that they've done on there — being able to expand the detail of their inventory, being able to expand the silviculture practice, shorten the rotation period, expand the type of volume they're getting off…. It's that kind of innovation that we need to go.
We as government need to try to drive those kinds of investment policies. So I'm hopeful that the member for Stikine…. When we talked about the Burns Lake situation, he said that he'd be happy to step up and try to help in any way. I look forward to working with him to try to find some of those resolutions. Thank you for the opportunity, Madam Speaker.
HEALTHY LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS
R. Austin: I'd like to take the opportunity to speak about what constitutes healthy learning environments for our children.
We are at an important crossroads, with a great deal of political uncertainty pending in terms of a soon-to-be-legislated settlement to the B.C. Supreme Court decision on class size and composition, namely the passing of Bills 27 and 28. That being the context, I think it's important to step back for a moment and try to describe what is the vital function of our education system.
What makes the best learning conditions for our kids? Most importantly, what can we do as legislators to bring about those learning conditions so that our children, each and every one of them, can in their own way find success in the school system and ultimately go on to lead satisfying, healthy and productive lives?
We provide publicly funded education to satisfy a number of goals: societal, economic and to enhance our humanity. Public education is an opportunity to recognize that we all come into this world from a different place, and a pooling of our collective resources enables all of our children to be given opportunity to thrive in our community, irrespective of their circumstances at birth. It is the single best way in which a society attempts to even out the inherent inequality — not by forcing everybody to be equal, but by enabling all to have the opportunity to prosper.
Schools teach our kids the important grounding from centuries of wisdom gathered from our collective base of knowledge. These are the building stones that form the foundation for our kids to hopefully seek further knowledge as they grow older and gain experience in life. This has an economic value to us, both as a society — because our post-industrial world demands an incredibly skilled workforce…. Of course, it matters to individual families, as it is the skills that each of us gains in school that enable us to find employment and take care of our families.
But we also often fail to realize the other important goals of a publicly funded education system. It isn't just about creating workers as part of our economic model. We also learn because that is who we are as humans. We are created to be inquisitive about ourselves and the world we live in. We need music and dance, art and literature, physical activity, and to learn the social norms that help us function together. We also need to learn what makes a civic society and how we can participate in democratic engagement, as is our right.
We need all of these things simply to prosper and celebrate our humanity, and all of this we receive in large part from our schooling. We learn an awful lot from our parents, but we also rely in large part on our years in school to help create the citizens that we all want to be so that we can shape our families and communities to be people and places that enrich us.
What do we need to accomplish these worthy goals? Firstly, for any child to succeed, either in school or anywhere else, they have to have their basic physiological needs taken care of. Children have to be fed with food that nourishes them, both for physical growth as well as intellectual and emotional well-being. They need warm shelter, both at home and, of course, in the infrastructure that we provide publicly in our school classrooms.
Children need to feel love, appreciation, kindness and positive guidance, both at home from their parents or primary caregivers and family, and at school — from their teachers, naturally, but also from all adults who come into contact with them in a school community, whether it be the principal, the school secretary, teaching assistants or the custodians who work in our schools. These things may seem self-evident, but they are all part and parcel of a complex social interaction that is vital in creating the fertile ground upon which a child can prosper and grow.
Many of these important things are provided by parents, according to both their financial ability to provide it as well as to their own understanding of the role of parenting. No one, however, can fulfil their duties as parents if they themselves are struggling, and so it is clear that the rate of poverty in any society is a clear indicator of people's ability to provide the all-important items that I have listed. We have seen that when families are struggling through tough economic times, don't have adequate incomes and perhaps don't have adequate edu-
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cational skills to manoeuvre in our highly competitive society, then their children can often suffer as a consequence.
We must also try to ensure that when a child is in school their classroom is clean and free of toxins or germs which, when many kids are placed closely together for many hours a day, do harm them. We also need to ensure that our teachers are supported to do their job to the best of their ability.
As a society, we make major investments in education, using our teachers. They spend years studying to become teachers, and anyone who has spent any time in the classroom, as I have been fortunate to witness…. The role of teaching is a complex one that requires skill, patience, empathy and a huge desire to assist others.
If one agrees with this, then the learning environment, in terms of the number of kids in a class and the composition of that class, is critical in assisting children to learn and teachers to teach. In particular, it's important that in the primary grades we have as small a number of children as possible, followed by the elementary level. In the secondary level it is not as critical, but it still helps to have class sizes that promote high educational outcomes.
Overlying this whole discussion about class size, however, is the context of each class — namely, its composition. Teachers have to assess their students on a regular if not daily basis to assess the strengths and weaknesses and then come up with strategies that speak to those assessments.
If there are children who have been identified as having learning challenges, then adaptive strategies have to be used to help that child. If the special need is behavioural rather than cognitive, this poses other challenges in terms of classroom management techniques that connect that child to their learning while remaining true to all the normative learners in the class.
Given all these various factors in today's modern classroom and the huge expectations that we have of our education system, as well as the teachers who have to deliver on the goals that I have outlined, the important question for all of us in this chamber is simple: what are our responsibilities as legislators in assisting the teaching profession and all those who administer our system to achieve these goals?
Clearly, we have to ensure, in the budgetary process, that we are putting in the necessary resources for our schools to function at an optimum level. Let's remember that every single dollar that is used in the K-to-12 system comes from here in Victoria.
Yes, we have school boards to govern local districts, but they can only make decisions based on the resources sent from this Legislature. So when any minister or MLA says positive things about our school system or teachers, we must back that up by providing the resources for everyone in our school system to do their work as the professionals that they are.
But it isn't simply a case of dollars and cents. We also pass legislation that prescribes certain aspects of our school system — the standards or parameters within which the trustees, administrators and teachers have to do their jobs. So when we pass laws that recognize the importance of class size and composition, surely we expect those laws to be adhered to.
G. Hogg: Thank you to the member for Skeena for highlighting some of the more important things in our society and, certainly, education being one of those.
As we look around the world today, we know that in the free and democratic societies virtually every country, every jurisdiction, is looking at how they can improve their educational system, looking at the challenges that exist within them.
Charles Leadbeater has been consulting in some 130 countries around the world, looking at that and referring to a number of the concerns that exist and how we address those more effectively and, as the member points out, what the responsibilities of the legislators are in terms of addressing those. Certainly, the goals that the member laid out I would certainly concur with — the goals of inclusivity and ensuring that there is an opportunity for self-worth, for belonging, for broad-based education.
In England they're currently looking at some other educational models, and certainly — as has well been stated many times — the industrial model that we look at in terms of educational delivery is one that perhaps is outliving its time, as new jurisdictions and new ways of looking at education are starting to come to the forefront.
The studio school model in England, I think, is a particularly interesting one, where some of the lowest performers academically were moved into studio schools. As a result of the performance of studio schools, they joined the top percentile of educational performers. So these were students who had been identified as being very poor performers, and now they were performing at the very, very highest of the educational model.
The studio school is based around the studio models that were prevalent in the renaissance, where they are heuristic learning, they are participatory learning, they're engaged in the democratic process that the member has referred to. They have now expanded to some 45 of them in England, and they're expanding even further as they're finding that some of the challenges they've had educationally are being addressed through that.
Certainly our responsibility, as we have the model we have now — ours — is to look at what can be different, what we can do that would be more responsive to the types of goals that have been referred to. What are the new technologies that allow us to do that? It's clear that there are new technologies and ways of doing that.
In fact, Charles Leadbeater, who was here for the past
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four days meeting with teachers and superintendents across this province and looking at some of those models, has said that one of the most important ones is how we look at how we create community, not just in the context of the school but more broadly. Desmond Tutu said that the highest praise that can be played in his culture is to say that you have what it takes to be human. He said what it takes to be human is a commitment and caring for each other. How do we look after each other, and how do we share for each other?
I think that there are some things that we've been doing around the edges of that — the Breakfast Clubs of Canada, for instance. I sit on their advisory board, provincially.
Being able to have a breakfast program for all students, I think, is something that is important in terms of the member's issues about being able to come with a full stomach, being able to address those issues.
What I like about the Breakfast Clubs of Canada is that it's inclusive. Everyone in the school gets to participate. There's no identification of people, but it is an inclusive process. The CommunityLINK process, I think, was also a very interesting one, which I had the privilege of helping to look at and start.
We found that, in terms of educational performance — and it is, again, holistic — those people who are being identified as having the most significant challenges educationally were those who were low income, aboriginals, children in the care of the state and new Canadians. All of those were the ones who were not performing in terms of age-appropriate behaviours. Again, generalizing, but that was the issue.
So we found that by putting a program into the school, actually there was a change of about one letter grade improvement. And all that had to be done was…. It had to be three factors. It didn't matter if it was an after-school program or a lunch program or a breakfast program or a counselling program. If these three factors were in place, it changed their performance.
It was teacher support — teacher engagement — and we know that teachers are crucial and the most significant variable in terms of academic performance. Secondly, community support. It was a sense of community, a sense of engagement and participation. And thirdly, participation from the administration. So if those three variables were in place, those three conditions, it changed the educational performance of the lowest performance on average one letter grade.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
We have a number of schools in British Columbia where over 10 percent of the population at that school comes from those high-risk variables. So if you happen to be from one of those three areas, three conditions, and in a school that has over 10 percent, you're in double jeopardy. We have some schools in this province where over 50 percent of the population of students is from those three variables. Their ability to perform is certainly challenged, and we have to look at ways that we move into those.
The school fruit and vegetable program….
Mr. Speaker: Thank you, Member.
R. Austin: I'd like to thank the member for Surrey–White Rock for his comments in regards to my comments about school learning environments.
I think it's very important for us to always continue to look at ways in which we can improve our school system and learn from other programs that have been started in other parts of the world and to see what success can be gained and how we can bring it into our school system.
However, I would like to point out that when you are looking at changes to a system, especially one as big and as varied as the school system, you need it make those changes in an environment of stability where the school system itself is functioning as best it can.
I think that the challenge for all of us here in this Legislature is that decisions that have been made recently have created instability in our school system and created so many challenges in the classroom that a lot of teachers are wondering: how can we improve our teaching styles when so many kids are arriving at school hungry?
The hon. member mentioned Breakfast Clubs, which actually I was a participant in starting when I was a community schools coordinator. It would be great if all the children throughout British Columbia had an opportunity to arrive at school and be fed sufficiently that they could actually not be hungry and learn. Unfortunately, that's not the case, and we need to address that.
The high rates of poverty in children are something that teachers now have to deal with on a daily basis. It's a fundamental thing. I think when people go into education, they arrive at a university, the faculty of social work is here and the faculty of education is over there, and they choose to go to the faculty of education to become teachers.
What's happened over the last several years, though, is that too many of our teachers now have to spend their time practising social work and doing teaching off the side of their desk, and that's fundamentally wrong. We need to have a system of supports for families and for children so our teachers don't have to concentrate on solving all of the social ills but they can actually concentrate on what each child needs in terms of helping them.
I also want to go back to the whole notion of composition, because this is very, very clear. In the court decision that was made just over a year ago, Justice Susan Griffin stated very clearly that in her mind, it is also "clear from the government's own evidence that a key reason that
[ Page 9261 ]
school administrators and the government did not like to have class size and composition limits included in collective agreements was the fact that these limits increase costs to school districts."
So at the end of the day, when talk about helping our teachers and improving our school system, we have to recognize that it is part and parcel of our function here to send the resources necessary for the school system to function. When you consider that these decisions took out in excess of $200 million in resources, primarily for kids with special needs, that has created a bit of a crisis in our school system.
Hon. D. McRae: I call Motion 30.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, unanimous consent of the House is required to proceed with Motion 30 without disturbing the priorities of motions preceding it on the order paper.
Private Members' Motions
MOTION 30 — NET ZERO MANDATE
AND GOVERNMENT SPENDING
J. Les: I would like to present the following motion.
[Be it resolved that this House supports the "net-zero" mandate to control spending in these uncertain economic times and ensure taxes remain low for B.C. families.]
In speaking to that, I think it's important to step back and have a look at the very tenuous economic environment that we live in today internationally.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
We've all been watching carefully, of course, the daily news that emanates from Greece and the very difficult discussions that have been going on there, where their past economic profligacy has landed them in a place where they're going through just the most dire economic circumstances and, in fact, have lost control of their own economy. Their creditors are now dictating as to what government programs will continue and what will be cut back and all of those kinds of decisions that they no longer have the luxury of making themselves. A pretty desperate situation.
Unfortunately, I don't believe that Greece is the only place where that kind of scenario is going to unfold. In Spain they're running huge government debts — 23 percent unemployment rate — so the news there is likely to be pretty unhappy as well. Italy has landed in a place where it doesn't even have an elected government at the present time.
In Japan they have run up the public debt-to-GDP ratio from what was 68 percent in 1990 to, today, 225 percent debt-to-GDP ratio. If we make it out the end of this year without some catastrophic economic news from Japan, I would be very, very surprised.
In the United States, as well, they are now running not billion dollar deficits; they are now running trillion dollar deficits. Bankruptcies of various cities across the United States are now no longer uncommon, fed primarily by public-sector wage and benefit packages that have been negotiated in the past that are now not affordable. That's not an opinion. That is a straight-up fact, as it's being experienced by a lot of people today in the United States.
So we have a putative economic recovery that's going on internationally, but it is very, very fragile. It is in that context that we exercise our responsibilities here in the province of British Columbia. I think it's always important for us to be fiscally prudent and moderate in our expectations and ensure that we do not load up our children and our grandchildren with debts and deficits that they will not be able to afford. That is critically important.
We are still today in British Columbia in a very enviable financial position. We still have our triple-A credit rating in British Columbia. It's a pretty rare commodity nowadays. On the first $120,000 of income, British Columbians enjoy the lowest personal income taxes in Canada. Our debt-to-GDP ratio over the last decade has gone down, and we will be balancing the budget one year from now. Those are, I think, all very important achievements that British Columbians have made together over the last decade, but it does not mean that we can now take our foot off the brake and start to spend money we do not have.
In that context, the net zero negotiating mandate is absolutely appropriate, considering that a 1 percent increase across the public sector equals an additional $196 million of spending — not just in one year but year after year after year. I think it's an important time to suggest that everyone needs to do their bit to ensure that we can maintain a thriving economy and an affordable public sector.
Of all of the public sector unions, over three-quarters of them have now negotiated a zero-and-zero settlement. I salute those bargaining units and those unions, because they obviously have understood and recognized that these are not flush economic times. These are times when we all have to be careful, prudent, disciplined and responsible. I think that is the way forward in the province of British Columbia.
There are those that characterize, you know, large wage- and benefit-increase demands as being not a great demand, not very much. I think the opposition leader characterized it as such. I think that is clearly wrong. We need to maintain our financial discipline so that we can assure the future of our children and grandchildren in
[ Page 9262 ]
the province of British Columbia.
B. Ralston: Well, the member opposite has talked about fiscal prudence. I think he's talked about being careful and prudent and disciplined. Frankly, coming from the other side, this is, unfortunately, very much a question of empty rhetoric. An important component of fiscal prudence is that when you speak as a government on fiscal matters, you are believed, because you are straightforward with the public.
Unfortunately, the record of this government, particularly in this term…. And this is the term in which they're living out Gordon Campbell's mandate, beginning in the election in 2009. Everyone will remember that in 2009 the Premier assured the public by saying that the deficit in the budget that was tabled prior to the election would be $495 million maximum — maximum. And as we now know, and as many of us suspected then….
B. Ralston: Perhaps the member for Kamloops–South Thompson needs to find himself a spot in the corner in the parliamentary dining room at this point.
The deficit turned out to be $1.8 billion.
The other part of the explanation offered by the Premier in the campaign back in 2009 was that the HST would not be introduced. In fact, it was reduced to writing in response to questions from the restaurant association, which had a keen interest in whether or not an HST would be imposed, and that was the case.
This is the government that's living out its term based on those representations made in the course of an election campaign. So when we talk about prudence, a requirement of prudence is that there be a straightforward representation of the fiscal facts, and there hasn't been, and there continues not to be. And yet, for all of the rhetoric that we hear from the other side, six of the last 11 budgets have been deficit budgets. The budget tabled tomorrow will be a deficit budget, making it seven of 12 budgets — deficit budgets put forward by the B.C. Liberals.
Deputy Speaker: Members. Members.
B. Ralston: Another aspect of fiscal prudence — this suggestion that we all have to be careful and prudent — is to look at the record of waste and mismanagement by this government over their time in office of $400 million over budget on the convention centre, $200 million over budget on B.C. Place, a $30 million payment to Boss Power, a $6 million payment to B.C. Liberal insiders Basi and Virk.
In addition, in the course of their time in office they have hammered middle-class and working families with the HST, which we learned on Friday will still be in place, notwithstanding the referendum, until April 2013 — nine months to bring it into place, if you believe that they weren't thinking about it before the election, and 19 months to get rid of it.
MSP premiums have increased dramatically. Most recently the announcement was a 6 percent increase each year. Hydro rates, due to the mismanagement of B.C. Hydro and the deferral accounts, where the Auditor General himself said an illusion of profitability was created where none existed and from that illusion was taken revenue to be put into the provincial budget.
So this is not a government that can properly boast of any kind of fiscal prudence.
We've heard recent metaphors about tight reins, yet we see, at the same time, a huge, expensive television and radio campaign with print ads about the so-called jobs plan. They're spending millions of dollars, showing expensive spots on television at the most expensive times during hockey games, and all to promote a plan that is very thin to nonexistent. So the idea that there isn't money for B.C. Liberal pet projects, for B.C. Liberal political advancement, is clearly not the case.
Aside from what they paid David Hahn, a salary when he was CEO of over a million dollars a year…. He's now off in retirement on a pension of $330,000 a year, thanks to the B.C. Liberal ferry board. Nice work if you…. Well, I guess you're not even working. Nice work if you can't get it.
They talk about other areas of prudence, but let's look at what….
B. Ralston: Okay, I want to just talk about health authorities. There's an expression that if you can't measure it, you can't manage it. They're not tracking the extra costs in keeping seniors in hospitals, and that costs, for one senior for one day, an extra $1,200 a day.
J. Thornthwaite: I'm rising to support the motion, the net zero mandate.
We have committed to balancing the budget in 2013-2014, and we want to maintain that commitment. We've been very clear that there is no more new money to fund wage increases in our fiscal plan, and we're not going to raise taxes or take on more debt to do that. The net zero mandate applies to the 2010 round of bargaining and reflects the public's desire to carefully manage projects for provincial spending.
Soaring debts and deficits in Europe and the United States illustrate the need for British Columbia to spend responsibly and to ensure that the debt does not spiral out of control. The financial markets have zero tolerance
[ Page 9263 ]
for governments who do not meet their fiscal plan. I was just watching the BBC last night, and certainly Greece, Portugal and Spain are listening to this big-time. People are losing their jobs, and there was lots of evidence of that on the television last night from Europe.
In contrast, our government wants to boost jobs, to save jobs, and how you do that is to make sure that we have a zero mandate so that we're not increasing wages at the expense of jobs.
In Greece, Ireland and Spain you're seeing governments laying off teachers, layoffs of public servants and lots of big changes. Our goal is to protect the public service. We have to tailor our expectations to the reality of the world we live in and, frankly, to taxpayers.
Taxpayers have said pretty clearly that they don't want and don't feel like putting a lot of money into government anymore. So even though we recognize just how important all of our public servants are, we really have to hold the line on fiscal spending.
I'd like to just talk a little bit about the BCTF teachers' wage increase. Under a net zero mandate, if we were to increase or reopen the zero mandate for the teachers — because they're the last union that is yet to settle — we would retroactively have to reopen previously settled contracts from other unions, which could potentially cost us billions of dollars — which is on top of the $2 billion that the teachers union has already requested.
Our Minister of Education has already said that he is willing to negotiate with the teachers union. There's a $165 million LIF fund, the learning improvement fund, all about collaborative management of special needs resources. He said: "We need to have collaborative management…superintendents, principals, vice-principals, teachers, education assistants and parents. That is hugely important." And there's new money for that. He's actually used that as an example of Bill 29, which has been very, very successful with the HEU and the Nurses Union.
For my particular riding, what I'm trying to do right now in regards to helping special needs students is I'm organizing these regional round tables for special needs. I'm looking for individuals, parents, teachers, special education assistants and those with expertise in special needs to meet with me to start talks on how we can improve the system to ensure that all special needs children in the classroom have the best chance of succeeding to their maximum ability. So far I've had positive responses in North Vancouver from many, many stakeholders in education, and I'm looking forward to having my first meeting with this group in the next couple of weeks.
The other thing that I'd like to mention that is going on really, really well is the capital investments that we're doing in education. In the fall of 2011 we announced $353 million in school capital plans for 19 new schools, additions and sites in school districts. In my own riding, my own North Vancouver school district, we've had a grand opening just in the last few months at Ridgeway, a sod-turning at Queen Mary, a tour of the brand-new educational services Artists for Kids and Carson Graham — brand-new facilities.
We've also had, recently, seismic upgrades in Carisbrooke, Canyon Heights. New schools recently: Westview, Highlands, Lynn Valley, Sutherland. And my own children's school, Windsor, has a brand-new track and field as well as a new….
J. Thornthwaite: I just wanted to make sure that everybody knew that there's a lot of spending going on in education. With regards to the special needs students, we're really going to have to pull up our socks and help them. We're working on that right now, and also the capital investments.
So in summary, then, I just wanted to reiterate what I said. We as the provincial government have to make sure that all of the investors worldwide have confidence in our system. We maintain our triple-A credit rating. We want to balance — and we will balance — the budget. We face Asia right now. We've got, already, recent investments from Rio Tinto in Kitimat — $3 billion; Mitsubishi and EnCana — almost $3 billion; and $200 million from Western Forest Products. There we've got an expression of confidence in our system, and we want to continue that. So we're on a roll. We have a plan and we're seeing progress. The private sector is responding, and the zero mandate will help and maintain our confidence.
C. James: I want to start off with a comment that was made by the mover of the motion, where he stated that it was important to look out for our children and grandchildren. Well, it's our children and grandchildren who are paying the price right now for the B.C. Liberal record and what we have seen over the last 11 years.
Taxpayers expect a couple of things. They expect a wise use of their tax dollars, and they expect their government to set priorities that will make a difference for them, to meet their needs — practical solutions to come forward to meet their needs. The B.C. Liberals fail on both counts.
Let's take a look at what the reality is for B.C. families. This motion speaks to ensuring that taxes remain low for B.C. families. Well, let's look at the Progress Board indicators from December of this past year, December 2011. One of the indicators is social conditions, which talks about how B.C. families are doing. It measures how well B.C. families are doing under the current government.
Well, B.C. ranked ninth — second to last when it came to social indicators, and that's the government's own Progress Board. Now, you will remember that the Premier has now gotten rid of the Progress Board. There may be a reason for that, when you look at the stats that
[ Page 9264 ]
they put out. But I think it's important that the members on the other side remember, when they're taking a look at priorities and the failure of their government for the last 11 years, that the priority has not been B.C. families, the priority has not been support, and the Progress Board states it quite clearly.
Let's look at the costs for families. "Keeping taxes low," I hear the mover of the motion say. Well, let's take a look at costs for families over the last 11 years. Let's take a look at 11 years of increases in fees and services — things that make it more difficult for families in British Columbia.
B.C. Hydro. We just need to take a look at the rate increases before this latest rate increase that has been talked about — $180 more per year. How does that make it easier for B.C. families? That is, as I said, before the latest increase that has just been announced.
Advanced education. Tuition under the B.C. Liberals has more than doubled for students. Those are individuals who are going back to school to better themselves, who are doing all the right things — all the right things to make sure they're supporting their families, increasing their skills and getting the kind of training they need to be able to get employment. How have they been treated by the current government? They've seen tuition double under the B.C. Liberals. Life less affordable for families.
MSP premiums. Well, there's an example. Medical services premiums, where families are paying an increase of 6 percent a year just from 2010 on — a 50 percent increase since 2002. How is that supporting B.C. families? How is that making life more affordable?
If you take a look at these issues, all of those things impact families directly. What have they seen? They've seen increases in fees and service. That's an increase in taxes. This government likes to say they haven't increased taxes. Every one of those is an increase in taxes for families. It's money coming directly out of their pockets. That's what they've seen under B.C. Liberals.
We've seen an increase in park fees. One of the last things left for families that's an affordable vacation is to go to a park, a B.C. park. Last year, during the anniversary of our parks, we saw the fees increase. That's again a tax on families, on people who can least afford it — particularly when they're looking for something affordable. The B.C. Liberals even take that away, the one affordable thing that was left.
Ferry fares. As Vancouver Islanders we hear about that every single day. It shows how out of touch the members are on the other side, when they aren't talking about that increase in taxes for people who live on the Island who go back and forth. Huge increases.
I mentioned that there were two areas that the public looks for. That's affordability, a government setting priorities that matter to them. They also look to see that their tax dollars are spent wisely, and the B.C. Liberals have failed on that count as well. We just need to talk about the HST to see that. The HST pamphlets — take a look at $780,000 shredded. That's a good use of taxpayer dollars? The public expect it to be used wisely.
We only need to mention Basi-Virk. It doesn't take much more than that for the public to recognize the waste of $6 million for two individuals convicted in court. The government paid their costs for $6 million. That's managing taxpayers' dollars wisely? The public knows it isn't. The public knows that the B.C. Liberals have failed on both those counts.
So to see a motion like this coming forward that talks about ensuring that taxes remain low for B.C. families — when this is the reality for people in British Columbia, when we know that families are struggling to manage, when they see their tax dollars being used and wasted by the B.C. Liberals — it's very clear that this government doesn't have a leg to stand on when it comes to a motion like this.
D. Barnett: Today I stand here in support of the member for Chilliwack. "Be it resolved that this House supports the 'net-zero' mandate to control spending in these uncertain economic times and ensure taxes remain low for B.C. families."
Why is it important? It is important because we must keep our triple-A credit rating. We must also take a look around the world and see the soaring debts and deficits in Europe and the United States and see the ramifications of this kind of management.
We must also keep taxes affordable for families — yes, to keep taxes affordable for families. Yes, some families struggle from time to time, as we all do, but over the past 11 years we have seen many jobs created, with good financial management, in the infrastructure of many projects in this province all across British Columbia.
Our highways are in some of the best condition I have ever seen them in. We have what we call the Cariboo connector, which has taken British Columbia and made it a safer place to drive. The jobs that it has created in small rural resource communities — it's unbelievable what it has done to help families. The jobs that are created create dollars and cents for families to spend in our stores, in our shops and through income tax. This is why we must keep the mandate as it was proposed in 2010.
We always talk about families and communities. They are what keeps this province vibrant. With good, responsible government, we will always have a great climate — a climate that the investment community will continue to come to, because that is what creates these jobs for families and for strong, healthy communities.
In 2010 the mandate of government directed that public sector employees and their bargaining agents seek settlements with public sector unions for two years with no compensation in areas during that time. Three-quarters of the 182 collective agreements under the 2010 mandate have been successfully renegotiated. I congratu-
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late these public sector employees and their bargaining units.
Today, 20 minutes ago, I received information that the B.C. Public School Employers Association board of directors has ratified two-year collective agreements in 11 school districts under government's 2010 net zero mandate.
You know, I could speak forever on this issue. But as I hear always from all levels of politicians, from all political stripes, we have said for years that we must take care of our financial house today and not leave a debt burden on our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. If we all believe this, then we must stand tall and together and make tough decisions, keeping in mind the next generation's future.
J. Horgan: It's a pleasure to rise on a non-partisan Monday. I throw that out there early on to try and keep the member for Kamloops–South Thompson at bay as I speak for my six minutes that I've been allotted today to talk about ensuring that taxes remain low for B.C. families.
Of course, you would wonder how that sort of motion could come from a government that has been systematically raising taxes since I arrived here in 2005. Of course, the pinnacle, the cherry on top, would be the harmonized sales tax, a $1.8 billion shift from the corporate friends of the current government onto the backs of the ordinary families that they allege to be protecting in this motion.
How is it that you can have a government that has imposed a harmonized sales tax on the people of B.C. without warning, without any input from the public, and then they say: "Yeah, we're keeping taxes low"?
Every January since 2009, MSP premiums have gone up — every January. And that's going to continue on for another couple of years. Again, the people on the other side are living in this fantasyland, this dream world that says: "We don't raise taxes." Well, you do. What is the harmonized sales tax if not a tax on families?
We've got a whole host of others. We can go into Crown corporations that have increased their costs. My colleague from Victoria–Beacon Hill spoke about being a Vancouver Islander trapped by excessive costs at B.C. Ferries.
B.C. Hydro. We hear of the urgings for fiscal constraint, but we've got jiggery-pokery on the other side. My colleague from Surrey-Whalley highlighted it very well, calling on the Auditor General's report to make known to the public — and hopefully to those on the other side that have got the opportunity to open their ears — that B.C. Hydro has been putting deferred debts into accounts for ten years now.
When we left government there was one deferral account — one deferral account designed to manage rates through high- and low-water years. Now, take a guess. Anyone want to help me out on this? Take a guess. Twenty-seven deferral accounts; $2.2 billion, rising to $5.5 billion over the next number of years. If that is not deferring debt to future generations, I don't know what is. How you can go from $2.2 billion to $5.5 billion and somehow claim that you're fiscally responsible is absolutely beyond me.
Now, the best part of the Auditor General's report was when he referred to the fact that B.C. Hydro was in a deficit situation. It shuffled money into a deferral account to give the impression of profitability. And why did that happen? So the Minister of Finance of the day could harvest a dividend when one shouldn't have been delivered. That distorts the books at B.C. Hydro. It distorts the books of the province.
Now, distorting the books of the province has become a fine art with the B.C. Liberals. We could go back to their balanced budget legislation. They hit the desk and said: "We're going to balance the budget." Well, they've missed on seven deficits during that time. They'll be 12 years in power, seven deficits. But they're going to hold fast.
I love these non-partisan days, because it gives us a chance to exchange ideas, to grow as individuals, to put stuff on the table so that we can all have a better understanding of the realities that we live in. Sadly, 11 years in the bunker on the other side has restricted ideas from getting in. So when we talk about trying to reduce costs on middle-income families….
Deputy Speaker: Members.
J. Horgan: Thank you, hon. Speaker. I'm going to carry on. I have my feet, and if those had any understanding of the traditions of this place, I'm entitled to keep talking without interference from the Member for Kamloops–South Thompson. My colleague from Hastings says, "Just get on with it," so I'll do that. I'll do that quite happily.
We've got removal of rent protections. We've got costs at parks increasing, generic drugs, seniors care, delisting of some health care services. Medical services premiums, of course, we've already talked about. Tolls, public transit costs — everything going up, up, up, but the government has the audacity, has the gall to come into this place the day before they deliver yet another deficit budget and say they're all about fiscal constraint and propriety. It's absolute hogwash.
HST — a $1.8 billion transfer from your corporate friends to the people that you're professing to stand up for in this motion. I don't know how you hide the shame. I don't know how you hide the shame of saying, "We're all about reducing taxes," when you brought in the harmonized sales tax. Don't know how you do it.
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J. Horgan: I'm always smiling, hon. Member. Surely you know that by now.
I know it's not charitable to have sport at someone else's misfortune, but I have to confess that the past 24 months of watching the Liberals stammer from post to post trying to find a wedge issue to run on…. Unfortunately, they're not going to find it today in this place. What they're going to find instead is a competent, responsible opposition ready to take power, and what we've got on the other side is an opposition-in-waiting. I can't wait for to you move over here.
C. Hansen: It's interesting. Over this last 40 minutes, in the contributions from the opposition side of this chamber, they have clearly either not read the motion or are not prepared to address the issue that's fundamental to this motion that's before us today. We have heard input from the opposition members on a variety of subjects, but they're not prepared to address the issue that is before this chamber now, and that is the issue of the net zero mandate.
We've made it very clear on this side of the House. We support this resolution, and we're prepared to vote for it.
I have not heard from any of the NDP members what their position is on this motion. Are they in favour of it? Or are they opposed to it? And I think in the remaining time that we have this morning one of the members in the NDP has an obligation to tell this House and tell the public where you stand on this critical issue. I think it's very important.
I want to just start by paying tribute to the public servants that we have in British Columbia. I think they do a phenomenal job. In the ten years that I had the opportunity to serve in executive council — and indeed in all of the years that I've had the honour and privilege to serve as an MLA in this House — I have worked with some phenomenal public servants who really do give everything they can to their jobs and their responsibility to making sure that British Columbia is a better place, because of the responsibilities that they have.
If you look over the last 11 years, we have seen the state of the British Columbia economy go from one that was one of the weakest in Canada, in spite of the fact that we had very strong national economic performance at that time, in the late 1990s…. We saw, over the last decade, the B.C. economy coming back. We saw the strongest job creation of any jurisdiction in Canada, and we saw people attracted to British Columbia because of the lower tax rates that we put in place and the economic opportunity that we as a government prepared.
You know, we got the dividends from that. We actually saw government revenue starting to increase as we were able to outperform the world economy and outperform the Canadian economy during those years. We were able to share that dividend with our public sector workers in British Columbia. We were able to provide wage increases during those negotiations.
We were able to provide in 2007 a very significant signing bonus for all of the public sector workers who had collective agreements negotiated at that time. As a result, we saw a positive outcome from that, and we saw public sector wages go up during that period of time. When we had the revenues, when we had the surpluses…. That's when we're in a position to be able to share that surplus with our hard-working public sector in British Columbia today.
Well, in September of 2008 the world changed, and it changed pretty dramatically — as we saw, basically, from September, October, November and in January of 2009 and February of 2009, when the budget came down in February of 2009. We saw the world economy actually gradually going into an increasingly critical tailspin.
Initially, I can tell you, we thought British Columbia was going to be more insulated from that world economic downturn than we were. But we did get caught up into it. By mid-2009 we saw the effects of that world economic downturn coming to roost right here in British Columbia as well, in spite of the strong economy that we had. In fact, I can tell you, the economy in British Columbia would have been way worse off during that economic turmoil had we not created the groundwork in the strong economy leading up to that.
But the reality is: we are now back into a world of deficits. We need all to make sure that we do our part to get us through this and get us back to a world of surpluses, so that we are once again in a position to share those gains going forward.
We've said that in this next mandate…. We've got 75 percent under the 2010 mandate; 75 percent of the public sector workers in British Columbia at the provincial level have now freely negotiated new collective agreements and ratified those agreements. As we go forward, we're saying there is an opportunity for wage increases going forward, but let's sit down and work together with unions, the representatives of those workers and the workers' ideas themselves, and see: how can we find savings?
I think that the rank-and-file members of our public service are probably in the best position possible to figure out where we can find savings in the system. And if we can identify those savings, then guess what. We can translate those into wage increases for our hard-working public sector in British Columbia.
I think it's through that kind of cooperation and that spirit of working together that we're going to be able to make sure that British Columbia continues to have a strong economy, that we can get back to a surplus and that we can live within our means. As those savings are identified by that cooperative process, we have indicated
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that we're prepared to share those with our hard-working public sector workers throughout British Columbia.
M. Karagianis: I heard the previous speaker make some allegations that this side of the House hadn't read the motion, but I would have to assure him that we have certainly read the motion thoroughly. We understand exactly where the government is coming on this, I think, on the language in the motion: "…the 'net-zero' mandate to control spending in these uncertain economic times and ensure taxes remain low for B.C. families."
I think it's rich that the government would bring forward a motion with this kind of language in it, given the kind of record that we have seen over 11 years of this B.C. Liberal government. Frankly, I think everyone in British Columbia knows that the B.C. Liberals simply cannot be trusted when it comes to B.C.'s finances. It is rich for them to bring forward this kind of motion.
This government, when they want to talk about the kind of spending in uncertain economic times, has overseen billions and billions of dollars of off-book debt being buried. They have seen deficit after deficit after deficit, despite the fact that they passed balanced-budget legislation. They have demonstrated no fiscal prudence whatsoever in dealing with the taxpayers' money.
You only have to look at the kind of cost overruns that have gone on in the history of this B.C. Liberal government to know that anything but fiscal prudence is the record of this government. Vancouver Convention Centre — $400 million over budget. Independent power projects — their great special projects here for independent power — where British Columbians are now paying four times the cost of power, a four-times-inflated cost of power, while at the same time families are paying more in B.C. Hydro rates and finding it more difficult to get from payday to payday.
We have seen a government that has had a million-dollar ferry boss running a ferry corporation which has now been run into a deficit….
Deputy Speaker: Members.
My apologies. Continue.
M. Karagianis: We see a B.C. Ferries corporation that has run itself into a deficit situation. While at the same time families are paying more to get on ferries, coastal communities are finding their economies impacted by the reduced number of travellers on the ferries, directly at the hands of the kind of fiscal management we've seen from this government.
We have seen dollars squandered. Jobs have gone to Germany. Jobs left my community to go to Germany, where ships were being built at the expense of our B.C. shipbuilding jobs and shipbuilding workers here in British Columbia. That was a decision, fiscally prudent, to put jobs in Germany rather than jobs in British Columbia.
If you want to go on and look at some of the other moneys that have been squandered here, computer systems that have not worked and been scrapped — millions of dollars spent at those. The BCUC and smart meters — how many billions of dollars? There are $12 billion of smart meters being put in at a time when…. Is this good fiscal management? Is this good fiscal management on the part of this government, just to spend this kind of money? I guess it is.
When the government talks about not wanting to burden future generations with debt, they don't seem to be able to draw the line whatsoever on their own activities for the last decade. We saw millions of dollars spent on legal fees around the B.C. Rail corruption scandal, and that continues to be an issue that British Columbians feel very bitter about, at the same time that the government has burdened them with more costs day after day.
So the second part of the motion here is: "…ensure taxes remain low for B.C. families." Well, let's just talk. I know that my previous colleagues have outlined the kind of taxation that families are feeling in the way of user fees. Every single day families are struggling with B.C. Hydro rates, with ferry costs that are increased. ICBC rates have gone up. User fees on everything that families are touching. We've seen delisting of health care services. We've seen increased Pharmacare costs for generic drugs. Long-term care for seniors escalated sky-high. That's coming out of families' pockets every single day.
We have seen a long list of all the ways that the government has taxed us to death with user fees. Of course, the biggest enchilada of them all is the HST, which not only was brought in, in a deceitful manner but has stayed with us, despite the fact that the public in this province rose up and said: "We want this tax removed. We will refuse to pay this tax." The government has continued to drag their feet day after day on that.
How can you possibly say that you're making life more affordable for British Columbians when you've squandered money on bad projects, on cost overruns, on friends and insiders at the same time you have levied cost after cost after cost onto British Columbians day after day, making it more difficult for families? And this government has the gall to stand up and say that they are fiscally prudent?
Everyone in British Columbia knows you cannot believe this government. You cannot believe them on their fiscal responsibility. They have continued to benefit the wealthy and their supporters at the expense of families. Families are paying every single day. British Columbians need a government that will actually put them first, take action to make their lives more affordable.
The time will come. As we have canvassed many times, this is a government now acting like opposition. It is time
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for them to take their place on this side of the House and allow a more responsible, fair and equitable government to take place that will put B.C. families first.
J. Rustad: I'm pleased to rise to speak to this motion. I just want to reiterate the motion into the record: "Be it resolved that this House supports the 'net-zero' mandate to control spending in these uncertain economic times and ensure taxes remain low for B.C. families."
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
I think it was Vaughn Palmer that talked about Monday morning debates as being an argument for the sake of an argument. Clearly, on something that is this important an issue for us as a government, for the people of the province and especially for our public sector — something as important as the net zero mandate — I find it somewhat disappointing that the opposition would not engage on this. We've gone on and talked about the rationale why, the fiscal issues that are around it, but the one thing that they refused to talk to was the particular motion around net zero.
What that raises, what that talks about, is the fact that they're not interested in how the budget should be balanced. They're not interested in how we can try to guide the province through what is being described — the 2008 recession — as the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. They're not interested in any of that stuff.
The fact of the matter is that they've called for an increase in spending in everything — everything. When you call for an increase of spending in everything and then you complain about taxes and how you make it difficult for families, how do you square that equation? I don't know. Here was an opportunity for you to stand up and talk about it and come forward with reasonable motions or reasonable thoughts, but nothing.
Just recently, in a review of the Ontario budget, there's been the suggestion that Ontario may be facing the same problems that Greece is. Why? Because their spending has gotten out of whack with their revenues. There's only so much you can do in terms of taxpayers and being able to go through, and they're in a situation where they're running a big deficit. They didn't control their spending. They didn't control and go through net zero mandates, and now they're facing and paying the price.
You've got Greece and what's going on there, and Spain and Italy. I think it was in Spain — I just read over the weekend — where hundreds of thousands of people were out standing, protesting because they have to go through austerity. I really feel for them, and I feel particularly for their public sector workers.
We have a great public service in this province. They do a lot of good work. Yeah, I'm sure some people would disagree about this issue and that issue, but in general their heart's in the right place. They're trying to do the best they can for the province, and I would love to be in a situation where we can offer better compensation for them.
We offered a great package back in 2006, and for the first time we actually had a negotiated settlement with the BCTF. It was a shocker. It was the first time ever since the new mandate and structure came into place. Unfortunately, today, now we're in a situation with the BCTF where we don't see eye to eye.
I guess that's understandable, but all the other public sector unions that we've had to negotiate under net zero mandate have come forward and said that they supported the net zero mandate. They weren't happy about it, and who would be? But the reality is that they felt they needed to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem.
So when I think about a debate this morning on net zero mandate — and once again an opportunity to be able to actually engage in something fundamental, to turn a Monday morning discussion into something more than just banter back and forth and politics, but actually talk about something meaningful — the opposition was absent. They refused to go there. It is unfortunate.
I would love to see us at some point down the road have a debate around taxes, have a debate around what's reasonable and what's fair and have a debate on how you're going to fund $7 billion in promises — right? — versus being able to have things go forward.
I mean, you can increase corporate taxes by 20 percent. You can freeze small business taxes at 2.5 percent. That means $600 million. That's a drop in the bucket compared to the promises, so where would that money come from?
There's only one place that would come from, and that is…. The member for Victoria–Beacon Hill said families are struggling. You can't put additional burdens on. I mean, we're trying our best to manage and to get back to a balanced budget, to try to smooth through this thing without creating too much turmoil. Then you've got the guys opposite that are making incredible promises without any consideration at all as to how they're going to impact on families.
The net zero mandate is a responsible thing to do in the province facing these particular uncertain times. We have no idea what will happen and flow out from Europe and if we have a collapse of a country or two in Europe financially and how that could freeze up the financial system. Those are challenges. Those are big challenges.
We've got the government down in the States that is spending way beyond their means, that is going to have to make tough choices. Those are uncertainties that B.C. cannot control.
What we can do is try to be fiscally responsible. What we can do is try to ensure that taxes are low. What we can do is try to make sure our spending doesn't get out of line, so that our future can be certain in this province,
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so that we have a solid economic base from which to be able to build on, so that families can have jobs and so that we can go forward in providing the best services we can within the means of a government.
I say once again: it is truly a shame that we did not have that engagement in a debate such as important as this. I look forward to more opportunities in the future. I hope that in a non-partisan sense perhaps one day we can actually engage in something serious, as opposed to just bantering and going back and forth.
J. Rustad moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. D. McRae moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 this afternoon.
The House adjourned at 11:57 a.m.
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