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
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Volume 29, Number 10
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Introductions by Members
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
CPR training in schools
TOOB service club
YMCA-YWCA Strong Kids campaign
Construction worker safety at Toba Inlet project
Richmond Family Week breakfast event and healthy eating promotion
Anti-violence initiative by aboriginal men
Budget provisions for education and skills training
Hon. N. Yamamoto
Increases to Medical Services Plan premiums
Hon. M. de Jong
Budget provisions for health care funding
Hon. M. de Jong
Privatization of liquor distribution
Hon. R. Coleman
Role of Patrick Kinsella in liquor distribution privatization
Hon. R. Coleman
Orders of the Day
Budget Debate (continued)
Withdrawal of comments
Budget Debate (continued)
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2012
The House met at 1:34 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
Hon. M. de Jong: In the gallery today, Mr. Jeff Dunton is the president of the Abbotsford District Teachers Association. Doug Smuland is the vice-president. They are accompanied by a former president of the Abbotsford District Teachers Association, Mr. Rick Guenther, who I believe is in pursuit of other offices as well.
I know that every member of the House will want to make all three of those gentlemen feel welcome in the chamber today.
J. Horgan: Joining us in the gallery today are a group of young adults from the PATHWAY Project in my constituency in Langford. The PATHWAY Project is a 16-week employment training exercise that provides meaningful teaching and learning skills to young people in my community. Joining us today are Brandi Baerg, Chahala Boyce, Coulson Feltham, Terrence Guignard, Tyler Hounsome, Taylor LeBus, Rachel Maher, Sabrina Rocco and Lauren Stokoe, and leading the pack are Jennifer Harrison and Randy Waldie, the two facilitators. Would the House please make them very, very welcome.
Hon. G. Abbott: I had the opportunity this morning to meet with a delegation of teachers. They include Lynda Bennett, who is the president of the North Okanagan–Shuswap Teachers Association; Brenda O'Dell, who is the vice-president of the North Okanagan–Shuswap Teachers Association; Rick Guenther, who has already been introduced, from the Abbotsford Teachers Association and a member at large of the B.C. Teachers Federation executive; and Bruce Cummings, who is president of the Vernon Teachers Association and also a candidate for the B.C. Teachers Council. I'd ask the House to make them all very welcome.
K. Corrigan: It is my great pleasure to introduce Richard Storch, who is the president of the Burnaby Teachers Association. Richard graduated from SFU in 1994 and has taught in Burnaby ever since. He has served two years as vice-president of the BTA, and this is his second year as president. He has been a resident of Burnaby almost his entire life, has attended public school in Burnaby and can attest to the fact that Burnaby is a great place to live, work and play. I hope that you will all make Richard very welcome.
Hon. S. Cadieux: I had the opportunity this morning to meet with two gentlemen from the Coast Mental Health Foundation. Darrell Burnham and Buzz Knott are here. They're meeting with a number of members to discuss Coast Mental Health's strategic plan and opportunities to work with government in future in delivering programs for people with mental illness. I hope the House will help me make them welcome.
L. Popham: I would like to introduce Sean Hayes to the House. He's the president of the Saanich Teachers Association. He has been teaching since 2000 and is on leave from Claremont Secondary School, where he teaches science. This is in Cordova Bay, in Saanich South. Sean has two daughters attending Lochside Elementary School in grades 1 and 2. Please make Sean welcome.
R. Hawes: I have, actually, a fairly lengthy introduction. I'll start with Sandra Clarke, who's the executive director of the ACT Foundation, whose aim is to make mandatory CPR free for every student in Canada. Along with Sandra is Jennifer Boissonneault, the operations manager for the ACT Foundation.
They came to our caucus this morning with a number of other people who are supporting this move to get CPR in schools, including Bronwyn Barter, who is president of the Ambulance Paramedics of British Columbia; Dave Deines, the first provincial vice-president; and B.J. Chute, director of public education for the B.C. Ambulance Paramedics.
Cris Worthington is in the gallery…. Pardon me, my list is too long here. Kevin Luchies is the principal of Lambrick Park Secondary School. Bryan Neal is a teacher-instructor for CPR at Lambrick public school. Today in the Rattenbury Room there are students who are teaching MLAs, staff and press, if they want to come, on the techniques of CPR, and talking about the values of CPR.
Those students from Lambrick School are Priya Bains, Niamh Williams, Cassy Ransford, Daniel Charles, Chantelle Emslie, Hayley Thomson and Akela Broughman. They are all here in the gallery. They will all be downstairs in the Rattenbury Room following question period waiting for you to come and learn this life-saving technique. That's the first part of the introduction. If we could make all of them welcome.
Secondly, and I think very importantly, this program has actually saved lives in British Columbia. In 2010 on the way back from the Olympics, there was a woman who had a cardiac arrest on the bus coming home from an Olympic event. That is Sandra Giffin. She was sitting beside her husband, Cris Worthington, who had had first-
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aid training and CPR in the past. CPR was administered. Her life was saved by her husband and by an 18-year-old student on the bus who had taken CPR in school.
More importantly — well, not more importantly, but just as importantly — in the gallery is Levi Hildebrand from North Vancouver who, while running in North Vancouver on a training thing — actually, to be a fireman — suffered a cardiac arrest and went down. Happily, just out for a jog on the dike were two young girls. That would be Candace Bateson and Cassie Leonhardt, who both had taken CPR in school and saved the life of Levi. Levi is in the gallery today as a survivor — 19 years old — and his two heroes who saved him. I think they are life-saving heroes, and they deserve…. [Applause.]
Mr. Speaker: Just to remind members, two-minute statements follow introductions.
C. Trevena: I'm very pleased to introduce in the gallery today Neil and Elaine Thompson, the president and vice-president of Campbell River District Teachers Association in school district 72, from Campbell River. Steve Stanley and Nick Moore from the Comox Valley are also here, as is Mireille Earle, who is with school district 93, the francophone school district. I hope the House will make them all very welcome.
Hon. M. McNeil: In the House today are three Vancouver school teachers: Debbie Pawluk, president of the Vancouver Secondary Teachers; Sylvia Metzner, first vice-president, Vancouver Secondary Teachers; and Chris Harris, president, Vancouver Elementary Teachers. I look forward to our meeting this afternoon, and I would like the House to join me in making them feel welcome.
K. Corrigan: I have another introduction to make. In the precinct today is Gordie Larkin, a very close friend and neighbour. And I'm going to mention again that he's a director of B.C. Ferries, even though he doesn't like me doing that. I hope everybody will make Gordie Larkin very welcome.
E. Foster: It gives me great pleasure today to introduce two members of my constituency. These two young ladies have spent the last year as ambassadors for the Vernon area, travelling around the province representing us at many community events, all the while maintaining an A average in their graduation year in high school. They just completed their first semester at Okanagan College, and in April they are both leaving for a three-month training program and then off to do outreach work with children in underdeveloped countries.
I would ask the House to welcome two outstanding young British Columbians: Queen Silver Star 51, Aksana Skrinnikoff, and Princess Silver Star 51, Kaitlyn Chirkoff.
G. Coons: I have two guests in the crowd today, two teachers: Marc Hedges, local president of the Central Coast Teachers Association in Bella Coola; and Joanna Larson, local president of the Prince Rupert District Teachers Union and member of the BCTF executive committee. They're here visiting with their MLA regarding the many issues and concerns that are important to teachers. Please make them welcome.
Hon. D. McRae: I have two sets of introductions today, if I may. First of all, I'd like to introduce Ken Friessen, who is a chicken farmer and cattle rancher, and his father John Friessen, who is, amongst other things, the PNE ag advisory committee chair. We also have Robert Lepp, who owns Lepp Farm Market, and Peter Schouten, who owns Heppell's Potato Corp. They're joining us in the House today. Will the House please make them feel welcome.
I'd also like to have the House recognize two people that I know from the Comox Valley. We have CVTA president Steven Stanley, who is in the House today. Thank you to the member for North Island for introducing him from the Comox Valley. Steve and I were colleagues at G.P. Vanier many years ago, and he was a very, very strong teacher. I appreciate his insight. We also have Nick Moore joining him, who teaches at my daughter's school, Ecole Puntledge Park. Would the House make them both feel welcome.
N. Simons: In the House today I'm hoping my colleagues on both sides will welcome Louise Herle, the new president of the Sunshine Coast Teachers Association. She's taught for 20 years. She taught music and French in every age group you can imagine. I just want to say that I had the opportunity to witness her teaching, and I have seen the eyes of children light up and become inspired in aboriginal education. I just think her dedication to her profession is something that we can all thank and appreciate.
J. McIntyre: You can obviously see it's teacher day in Victoria. I also have two guests. Beth Miller is a resident of Squamish and a teacher in school district 48, Sea to Sky. She's been a teacher for 17 years, a specialist in French and English. She is currently serving her third year as the local president for Sea to Sky Teachers Association.
Also with us is Rob Millard, a longtime resident of West Vancouver. He's been a teacher in the district for over 25 years, has served on the College of Teachers and is currently the president of the West Van Teachers Association, school district 45. I hope the House will add to their welcome as well.
J. Kwan: I'd like to join the Minister of Children and Family Development in welcoming the Vancouver teach-
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ers delegation to the precinct. Debbie Pawluk is the president of the Vancouver Secondary Teachers. She's an English teacher, a social studies teacher for 19 years in Vancouver. Sylvia Metzner is the first vice-president of the Vancouver Secondary Teachers Association. She's taught special education for 20 years in Vancouver — not an easy task but important work needed in the classroom.
Last but not least, I'd like to welcome Chris Harris. He's the president of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers Association, a kindergarten-to-grade-3 teacher for 14 years in Vancouver. Of course, VESTA last week joined with other partners in hosting an important forum around education and poverty as to how it impacts the students. We had the opportunity to hear from front-line workers who are teachers in our school system on how that is working in the school system. I would like the House to please make welcome these three special guests.
J. Rustad: Today I have the pleasure of introducing a constituent, Kathryn Warren from Burns Lake. She is the president of the district teachers union and has, from what I understand, 20 years experience in teaching. We had a very productive discussion earlier this morning. Accompanying Kathryn is her mother Avril Warren, a retired teacher from Saanich. Would the House please make them welcome.
H. Lali: I have two guests sitting up in the gallery behind you, hon. Speaker. One of them is Jason Karpuk. He is the president of the Kamloops-Thompson teachers union. Accompanying him is Susie Corbet. She's the first vice-president of the Kamloops-Thompson teachers union. They were here meeting with MLAs from both sides of the House and met with me last evening, along with three other teachers, presidents from my constituency, talking about educational issues that are important to not only the students that they teach but also the public in general. I would like the House to please join me in welcoming Susie and Jason to our House.
L. Reid: The three Richmond MLAs today had the pleasure of lunching with our representatives from the Richmond Teachers Association. Al Klassen is here, our president, and Jerry Fast, vice-president. I ask the House to please make them very welcome.
Mr. Speaker, on your behalf, it's a pleasure to introduce Debbie Passarell, second vice-president of the Okanagan-Skaha Teachers Union, and Ron Rachinski, South Okanagan–Similkameen teachers association president. Would the House please make them welcome.
B. Simpson: I would also like to add to the list of teachers and delegates from the various teachers associations that are here. Two teachers from Quesnel are here today: Teri Mooring, an elementary teacher, currently the president of the Quesnel District Teachers Association and on the BCT executive as a member-at-large; and Rick Cash, an elementary teacher who is vice-president of the Quesnel District Teachers Association.
I would like to formally thank Rick. Rick was my election planning committee chair for 2005 and 2009, and I haven't had a chance to formally thank him for that high-paying function that he did for me. I think I still owe him the beer. So I'd ask the House to please make him feel welcome.
Also in the House today are two people who try desperately to make me look good at home while I'm down here. I said desperately, Mr. Speaker. Adam Schann has been with me since he was 18. He's now the ripe old age of 25. Adam takes care of our community outreach work and communications work. Then, new to my staff, Heather Lloyd has just joined us, working on constituency and casework and doing a brilliant job. I ask the House to please make them feel welcome as well.
K. Krueger: There are two special guests in the gallery today representing my beloved constituent Renee Renkema, who retired a year ago from a long career of teaching and is now fighting a desperate battle with cancer. I want to acknowledge her and them for representing her. Also, Hoberly Hove is my Kamloops–South Thompson Constituency Association president. He was a student teacher of mine in Dawson Creek when I was in grade 8, and we've been friends ever since. He was designated Canada's principal of the year several years ago.
They have represented him, and they represent my darling wife, Debbie. She and I celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary today. In keeping with our family-friendly theme, we spent Valentine's Day apart. We're spending our anniversary apart, but we're here doing the people's business. I just want to thank them for being here.
Harry has upstaged me, as usual, and introduced Susie Corbet and Jason Karpuk already. I want the House to make them very welcome and thank them for representing the teachers of school district 73.
B. Routley: It's indeed a joy today to join with so many other MLAs in acknowledging the great service that our teachers do throughout British Columbia. Today we have with us Erika Blume. She's the president of the Lake Cowichan Teachers Association and vice-president of the Cowichan Valley Teachers Federation. This is Erika's first time in the Legislature, and she's eager, I know, to observe the provincial government in action. So please join me in welcoming Erika.
Hon. S. Thomson: I have a couple of guests I'd like to recognize here, who I'm looking forward to meeting with later this afternoon: Al Skucas and Léon Lebrun from the Trails B.C. organization. They do great work in promoting trails in British Columbia, and I'd like the House to
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make them welcome.
I know my colleague from Kelowna–Lake Country is going to introduce our teacher representatives.
D. Donaldson: I have the pleasure to introduce two residents of my constituency who are in the gallery today. Karin Bachman from Smithers has been a teacher for the past 21 years at Lake Kathlyn Elementary School, and she's currently the president of the Bulkley Valley Teachers Union and represents teachers in Smithers and Houston.
Also, Asa Berg from Atlin. Just for members' benefit, if you were to drive from here to Atlin, you'd be driving 2,400 kilometres. You'd have to drive into the Yukon and then back down into B.C. to get there. So I welcome Asa here. She's probably the farthest-afield person who has been in the gallery in this session. She is president of the Stikine Teachers Association. She's worked as a teacher for over 20 years in B.C. and originally worked as a teacher in Finland. They were updating me on the current talks with government and the importance of negotiating a collective agreement.
Would the House please make them welcome.
J. van Dongen: I'm pleased to have two introductions today. The first is Arthur Enns, who is the CEO of Menno Home and Menno Hospital and who provides wonderful services to seniors in Abbotsford in partnership with the Fraser Health Authority. I ask the House to please make him very welcome.
My second introduction is actually an announcement of my first grandson. I'm not quite as prolific as my father was. His name is Troy Peter. He is born to my son Peter and to Clarice — 8 pounds 9 ounces, born in Nanaimo Hospital. He's a new constituent of the member for Parksville-Qualicum, and he's a little brother to big sister four-year-old Janel. I ask the House to please make him very welcome.
N. Letnick: My only regret is that the member for Chilliwack wasn't here to hear the introduction from the member from Abbotsford, with the grandchildren. We'll get that soon enough.
On behalf of the MLAs from the central Okanagan, I'd like to thank Alice Rees, president of the Central Okanagan Teachers Association, and Susan Bauhart, the first vice-president, for their great work — them and all the teachers in our area — and make them feel welcome.
M. Coell: I have a guest from Saltspring Island here in the Legislature today. Jack Braak has been a teacher for 25 years on Saltspring. He is presently the local association president of the Gulf Islands Teachers Association. Would the House please make him welcome.
Hon. P. Bell: Last but never least, I'd just like to, on behalf of my….
Hon. P. Bell: Heckled by my own side today.
On behalf of my colleague the Minister of Justice and Attorney General and myself, I'd like to thank a local Prince George teacher, Matt Pearce, who came and met with us yesterday. We had a very constructive discussion. I know for a fact that Matt is absolutely a committed teacher and a wonderful coach. I'd like to thank him for being here to talk to us.
Mr. Speaker: Member for Juan de Fuca, you can't resist.
J. Horgan: I know it may seem inconceivable, but there may be someone in this precinct today who was not introduced, and I offer you my warmest introduction on behalf of all members here.
Mr. Speaker: I can't believe there was anybody that wasn't introduced. I think we set a record today.
(Standing Order 25B)
CPR TRAINING IN SCHOOLS
Mr. Speaker: Member for Abbotsford-Mission.
R. Hawes: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I'll try to stay within two minutes.
I'll give you two scenes here. The first scene: the family dinner. Dad has a heart attack. He falls on the floor in cardiac arrest, and 911 is called. The family panics. Within nine minutes the paramedics arrive. They revive Dad, but unfortunately, permanent brain damage has occurred.
The second scene: Dad has a cardiac arrest. He falls on the floor, and 911 is called. But the daughter, having taken CPR training in school, immediately begins CPR on Dad. Nine minutes later the paramedics arrive. They revive Dad — full recovery, no brain damage.
Brain cells start to die within four or five minutes without oxygen. CPR actually keeps the blood moving and keeps some oxygen going until the paramedics arrive. It gives a chance at life. B.C. paramedics all too often see accident scenes or whatever, where there is someone with a cardiac arrest and everybody stands around. They call it the stare of life. They're wondering: "You know, somebody should do something." But they don't know what, and so the victim actually either dies or has some kind of permanent damage.
The ACT Foundation is a national charity dedicated to having every high school student in Canada receive
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free CPR training. To date, 1.8 million students have received training, 4,000 teachers have been trained as CPR instructors, and 40,000 mannequins have been provided across the country at no cost to government.
Today four provinces in Canada have CPR as mandatory and part of their curriculum. Sadly, British Columbia is not one of them. Here CPR training is done in schools on a voluntary basis, and when teachers and administrators move, often the programs will stop. They stop and start. It's not effective, giving that kind of education to kids with a voluntary program.
So let's all get behind the movement to have CPR declared as a mandatory part of the curriculum in all schools in British Columbia. Let's give families a chance to keep their loved ones whole.
TOOB SERVICE CLUB
V. Huntington: I will need your indulgence as I use unparliamentary language to introduce yet another unique Delta organization to this House. A group fondly known as TOOB, or more properly the Tsawwassen Order of Old Bastards, is a venerable Delta service club with origins in Tsawwassen's Rose and Crown Pub.
In 1984 Wally Hill and his friends decided to get together for the purpose of ensuring that no one in the Tsawwassen, Ladner or Point Roberts area went without groceries to put together a Christmas dinner. Garage sales and book sales enabled TOOB to deliver 25 well-packed grocery hampers that very first Christmas.
In 2001 TOOB gathered with other service groups and by 2011 was helping to assemble and deliver 610 hampers to needy individuals and families.
TOOB continued to grow and in their own words are "proud to act as a conduit of goodness" as they sell smoky sauerkraut and their internationally famous curly fries at our local events. They raise funds that provide care for those in need of developmental, emotional, medical, physical and addiction services in Delta. And 100 percent of TOOB's donations, profits and gaming grants are directed to the charitable works.
Unfortunately, at least from my personal perspective, the Tsawwassen Order of Old Bastards is not yet fully gender- or age-integrated, the membership having been startled by my overture to become an Old Bitch. And TOOB prefers one to be 35 before qualifying as an Old Bastard.
Nonetheless, TOOB is beloved by all Deltans — old and young, men and women alike. I hope members will join me in thanking TOOB's president — known, by the way as AB, or Arch Bastard — for their wonderful commitment to a better, more caring community.
Mr. Speaker: There were only about five withdrawals that you would have to make there.
YMCA-YWCA STRONG KIDS CAMPAIGN
K. Krueger: Thanks to the member opposite for widening the definition of parliamentary language just in advance of this remark.
This month, YM and YWCAs across B.C. are giving kids a chance to be active through the Strong Kids campaign. With fundraisers, special events and even toonie donations, money is being raised to help underprivileged youth experience programs put on by the Y. Programs let kids play together and interact in a fun, active setting, developing their social and life skills, preparing for a bright future.
My staff somewhat rudely suggested that if instead of being raised on a homestead I had engaged in team sports when a kid, I'd probably get along better with the members opposite. Seriously, I would have liked all the opposition folks to be stronger kids.
The Strong Kids campaign gives youth a sense of belonging and friendship without turning to the streets.
I was joking about that, by the way.
Many children across Canada aren't fortunate enough to play organized sports or participate in a group recreation because of the cost. This program gives them a chance to take part. It encourages health, recreation and physical activity. It lets every kid be a kid. And on a strictly non-partisan note, yesterday's budget will help with this as well.
This week at the Kamloops YMCA anyone can drop by to throw toonies into the pool and watch lifeguards dive for them, with all the money going to the Strong Kids campaign. Our own Minister of Environment, the member for Kamloops–North Thompson, is attending six boot camps at the Kamloops Y to raise money for this great program. Thankfully, he won't be diving in his Speedo. I'm telegraphing him my encouragement and my hope, at his advanced age, that he can meet the fitness goal.
One of the YM and YWCA's slogans is: "Just too young to be old." I ask the House to join me in supporting the Strong Kids campaign so that no one need grow up without the joy of childhood.
CONSTRUCTION WORKER SAFETY
AT TOBA INLET PROJECT
G. Gentner: I rise today in memory of Samuel Joseph Fitzpatrick, who died three years ago today. At a young age he and his brother hired on as rock scalers for the Sea to Sky Highway upgrade.
Rock scalers clear loose debris and secure anchors. They rappel down rock faces with manual power tools. They read rock formations, set blasting charges sometimes, hanging on rock, tightening retainer bolts, applying shotcrete. It's all very dangerous work.
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While working with a hand drill, Sammy, at the age of 24, was struck and killed by a large boulder that rolled down the hill at the Toba Inlet run-of-the-river project. His mother writes: "Sam was my oldest son. He was very courageous and daring, very kind and funny. He was a hard worker, he was honest, and he was growing into a fine young man. His loss is a huge void in all our lives."
The day before, a similar incident had occurred at the job. In WorkSafe B.C. hearings his father stated that his sons didn't want to work that day on the site, as they felt it wasn't safe. His mother said Sam and Arlen, being young workers and anxious to please, went ahead and complied with the work order.
WorkSafe B.C. reports: "The employer was reckless and grossly negligent with respect to obvious hazards. It is clear that simple enforcement and basic supervision would have prevented the fatality which occurred." Last July Kiewit was fined $250,000 for seven violations. While the family grieves and attempts to move on, the company is now appealing the decision.
I pay homage to the Sam Fitzpatricks who have helped build this province and to a death three years ago today, mourned by those who painfully wait once again on a decision that will never bring Sammy home.
RICHMOND FAMILY WEEK BREAKFAST
EVENT AND HEALTHY EATING PROMOTION
J. Yap: It's been said that the family that eats together stays together. Last Sunday morning I attended a special breakfast at the Thompson Community Centre in Richmond, which brought families together to do just that. Organized by Touchstone Family Association, this event drew about 300 people from across Richmond, including children, parents and grandparents. It was a great kickoff to Family Week.
Breakfast was prepared and served by the good members of Richmond Fire-Rescue, who generously donated their time, along with Touchstone's youth volunteers. The keynote speaker, Ms. Mijune Pak, a noted foodie and blogger, talked about the importance of the simple act of families eating together and her own experiences eating together with her family. She also promoted healthy eating. More details can be found in her blog, www.followmefoodie.com.
Over the week the campaign will encourage Richmond families to learn about healthy cooking, shopping for food wisely and different ways to enjoy eating in the city together. It will teach people to feed the body in order to feed the mind through a series of engaging events, like cooking classes taught by top chefs and open group meals at popular community and shopping centres in Richmond.
Our Premier and government's focus is on supporting families. Events such as Richmond's Eating Together are entirely aligned with this goal, which helps strengthen neighbourhoods, communities and, ultimately, our province. I invite all members to join me in thanking executive director Michael McCoy and his team, especially event chair Kelina Kwan, for this successful event and all the good work Touchstone does day in and day out in supporting families in my community, Richmond, and throughout the province of British Columbia.
BY ABORIGINAL MEN
K. Corrigan: Last week the member from Vancouver–Mount Pleasant and I were honoured to attend the gathering of aboriginal men standing up against violence towards aboriginal women and children. It was a call to action for aboriginal brothers, uncles, grandfathers and sons to come together to build a provincewide campaign to end violence against aboriginal women and children.
I would like to congratulate all who were involved in this very successful and powerful event, including Paul Lacerte of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres. I also appreciate the invitation and would like to thank everyone for the warm welcome to my colleague and to me and the other women who were privileged to attend the event.
Paul and others pointed out that violence towards women and children was not in their culture and that it was always historically their responsibility to protect them.
No one could be more eloquent than the words of the speakers and attendees themselves, including Chief Bobby Joseph, elder and retired executive director of the B.C. Indian Residential School Survivors Society, who acknowledged the courage of attendees and said that with regard to violence against aboriginal women and children: "Either you are involved, and you shouldn't be; or you are complicit, and you shouldn't be; or you are in denial, and you shouldn't be." He said that despite the links of violence to colonialism, to residential schools and to broken government bureaucracies, the violence has to stop, and it has to stop today.
While Chief Joseph was speaking about violence in aboriginal communities, the message was a universal one, and the leadership shown by this gathering of men was a fine example to all communities of the potential, as Chief Joseph said, "to re-empower ourselves so that we can re-empower our women."
BUDGET PROVISIONS FOR
EDUCATION AND SKILLS TRAINING
A. Dix: The government's own labour market outlook says that B.C. is on track for a shortage of 61,500 workers
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over the decade. The Premier herself said that her jobs plan was "built on the foundation of great skills training."
The reality is that the Liberal government delivered a budget that singled out advanced education and skills training for harsh treatment. Funding for apprenticeship training — slashed. Trades training — cut. Colleges and universities — cut. Nothing to help young people with affordability. It's the budgetary equivalent of the Premier tweeting "no tax cuts" in the morning and jacking up MSP premiums in the afternoon.
Will the minister agree with me that the priority of skills training was abandoned by the government in this budget? Will she take action at the cabinet table to see that the situation is rectified?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Yesterday I listened with a great deal of pride to our Minister of Finance deliver Budget 2012. I felt a great deal of pride because I'm part of a team that delivered — actually, outperformed — nine of the last ten budgets, Mr. Speaker. The only budget we actually fell short of…. Well, the rest of the world did as well.
Years of conservative, prudent, sound fiscal management — something that the members opposite know nothing about, by the way — has allowed us to take advantage of investing in post-secondary education during challenging fiscal times. We have made the largest investment in post-secondary education in the history of British Columbia.
As our Minister of Finance said yesterday, the days of government overspending are over. There's a new paradigm. We have a world-class post-secondary education system in British Columbia. This side of the House is proud of that.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
A. Dix: It may be now easier to imagine how skills training was so badly treated at the cabinet table. I mean, the minister is not speaking out for the very programs that our society needs to build the economy of the future. This is the reality.
Mr. Speaker: Member.
A. Dix: You know….
Mr. Speaker: Just take your seat for a second.
A. Dix: It's not just me that's saying it. It's the business community that's saying it, labour groups are saying it, and young people are saying it.
Just last week a report from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce concluded that the growing shortage of highly skilled labour is becoming desperate, threatening our ability to keep up in a global knowledge-based economy. Yet the Minister of Finance singled out the minister's ministry for particularly harsh cuts. It simply makes no economic sense to go down this line, especially when the government says that its jobs plan is based on skills training.
I ask the minister to explain why her ministry was cut so dramatically compared to even other ministries in the budget and what plans she has to talk to the Minister of Finance about rectifying the situation.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Let me remind the member opposite: Budget 2012 continues with record investments in post-secondary education. This year we invested $10,000 per full-time student. Next year we're continuing to do that. We're investing nearly $1.9 billion. That's just in annual operating costs, with a year-over-year increase of $9 million. That's a huge number — $1.9 billion. That's over $5 million a day, each and every day, which the taxpayers of British Columbia invest in post-secondary education.
Budget 2012 also includes an increase of nearly $400,000 to improve StudentAid B.C. We do have a world-class, top-quality post-secondary education system in British Columbia, and it's about time the members opposite started recognizing that.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.
A. Dix: Well, the minister was listening to the budget speech where the Minister of Finance himself singled out post-secondary education for particularly harsh treatment. He said that was necessary, in spite of the skills shortage the province is facing.
We have a government and a Minister of Finance that offers $15 million for advertising to promote the jobs plan. Now, the minister will know, because she has it on her desk, that she has a proposal to create a northern technical institute. It would cost less than that to create 2,000 training spaces.
The minister is Minister of Advanced Education. Let me ask her. Does she think the priority is advertising, or does she think the priority is training spaces? Which will she advocate for at the cabinet table?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Let's be clear about Budget 2012 and the years out. We are actually expecting some savings from our post-secondary system. We want to realize administrative savings, in very much the same way that the health care sector did as well, through their shared
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services model, because we want to make sure that we maximize the value of the huge investment that taxpayers already make in our post-secondary system.
I think we have a great system. I will continue to be proud of the system, and I think it's an opportunity right now for us to thank the taxpayers of British Columbia for the huge investment that they make.
M. Mungall: Well, the Prince George mayor, Shari Green, had this to say in anticipation of yesterday's budget: "Certainly, from my perspective I hope they're looking at advanced education funding." The mayor of Prince George was hoping that funding would go up because she knows how a shortage of skilled workers impacts the resource industries in her communities.
Can the Minister of Advanced Education explain to Mayor Green why the Liberals have slashed investment in post-secondary education, despite the fact that 80 percent of jobs in the next five years are going to require some level of post-secondary education?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Let's see what we've done for students lately. The College of New Caledonia — a new trades expansion of the Quesnel facility, a $5 million investment. At the College of New Caledonia — again, a $10 million investment in the new trades and technology centre at the Brink building. At UNBC — a $5 million investment in a waste-wood gasification plant. I can go on and on. I have a list of the investments that this government has made.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Mungall: The minister can go on and on about various photo opportunities for her Premier. They talk about photo opportunities for her Premier, but on this side of the House we're talking about funding for post-secondary education to get students into seats.
She, like the rest of the Liberals, knows that there will be major projects in the north that require skilled workers. Colleges train the people for those jobs, but this is where things are at in the north right now: College of New Caledonia is looking at a deficit this year; Northern Lights College in the same situation. And at Northwest Community College they're handing out pink slips. That's what they're doing, and it's all before they even saw this government's budget on post-secondary education.
How can the minister stand in this House today and say that there is no problem, that students in our economy won't be affected by the Liberals' continued failure to invest in our future?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'd like to draw the member opposite's attention to the investments that we've made in her riding. In Nelson-Creston we've made over $10 million of investments in capital projects: a $2 million investment in the Castlegar aviation centre, a $1.5 million in the Kootenay School of the Arts, a $3.45 million investment in student residences at Nelson.
Let me ask the members opposite…. All I'm hearing are these grandiose promises. They haven't respected taxpayers. We have indicated in our Budget 2012 exactly how we're going to balance the budget. We're waiting for the members opposite to figure out exactly how they're going to pay for all these promises.
MEDICAL SERVICES PLAN PREMIUMS
B. Ralston: The day before the budget was released the Premier chose to use Twitter to communicate what was in store for British Columbians. Her tweet promised: "We will not raise taxes." What member of the government across the way will admit the obvious proposition that a 4 percent increase in medical service premiums is a tax increase?
Hon. M. de Jong: First of all, I should congratulate the member for posing a question relating to an announcement that was made in Budget 2009.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. M. de Jong: Good for the member in that respect.
So $2.60. That is the additional amount that we are asking an individual British Columbian, starting in 2013, to contribute, to assist us in expanding spending on health care by $1.5 billion. If the member is opposed to increasing spending on health care by $1.5 billion, he should say so. If the member is opposed to the $1.2 billion in additional capital spending that will take place over the course of the fiscal plan, he should say so.
The member should stand up and come clean with British Columbians about all of these promises and how they're going to pay for them. We're proud of our record on health care spending, and we're proud of the budget that was tabled in this House yesterday.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
B. Ralston: Well, the minister can make light of what is in fact a tax increase. Let's look at the totality of the taxes that have been increased and fees upon British Columbians, on ordinary working and middle-class families.
In addition to medical service premiums, skyrocketing Hydro rates, ICBC increases, tuition fees. And of course, who can forget that the HST is still in place for yet an-
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other year? So wherever families turn, they face a Liberal government intent on picking their pocket — a 6 percent increase in medical service premiums…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
B. Ralston: …in each of the last three years, and now another 4 percent.
My question is to the minister. What did he say around the cabinet table to protect B.C. families from yet another medical service premium increase?
Hon. M. de Jong: I said this: "It is good, and I am proud of the fact that 800,000 British Columbians pay no medical service premiums." I said: "It is good, and I am proud of the fact that an additional 200,000 British Columbians pay reduced medical service premiums."
And I said one other thing: "Wouldn't it be interesting and fascinating if the opposition, having gathered together just a few short months ago and crafted a document they saw as a blueprint for the future of the fiscal situation in British Columbia…? Wouldn't it be odd, wouldn't it be strange, wouldn't it be uncharacteristic if the author of that document had the courage to table it in this House today?"
Mr. Speaker: Just take your seat, Member.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
BUDGET PROVISIONS FOR
HEALTH CARE FUNDING
M. Farnworth: It would be really great if they had the courage of their convictions to call an election today.
Last year the current Minister of Education, the former Health Minister, said during their leadership debate: "With the shifting demographic to an older population, it is entirely unrealistic and unreasonable to tie it" — that is, health care spending — "to GDP, as has been suggested in this campaign."
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
M. Farnworth: Well, many health care professionals would say that the budget that was tabled yesterday was crazy, because it flies in the face of the experience of every Health Minister over the last decade and beyond when it comes to health care.
The question for the minister is: what services, what programs are going to be cut by the tabling of this unrealistic health care budget?
Hon. M. de Jong: A budget that is in excess of $16 billion, an increase over the course of the fiscal plan that is $1.55 billion…. I'll say it slowly for the member: billion dollars. I expect in the days ahead we are going to hear about people from the opposition side talking about cuts to health care spending.
Mr. Speaker, $1.5 billion in additional spending, increases to all of the health authorities — recognizing, by the way, that they face pressures: increased costs for services, increased costs for products, inflation, an aging demographic. No doubt.
I want to say this clearly. I want to say this so that members make no mistake. We do not measure success on this side of the House purely by how much money you throw at a problem. We measure success based on outcomes, and the national bodies that measure outcomes say that British Columbia is leading the way. In terms of life expectancy and all of the areas that matter most, we lead the way, and we will continue to lead the way in delivering health care services to British Columbians.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Farnworth: Well, had the Minister of Health maybe talked with his two colleagues just to the other side of him, they may have got a different story, because what this budget doesn't do is recognize the challenges that seniors face when it comes to getting proper care, whether it's home care or the services they need. The Ombudsperson's report on seniors care says just that, and there's no recognition in this budget for the concerns of seniors.
This budget will lead to more hallway medicine, more Tim Hortons care, and if the minister has the courage of his convictions, then he will table in this House exactly which services will be impacted by this budget. Tell the people of Chilliwack which hallways are going to be clogged in their hospital. Tell the people of Port Moody which hallways are going to be clogged at Eagle Ridge. Have the courage of your convictions to table what services are going to be impacted by this budget, because 2.8 percent is going to result in less health care for the people of the province of British Columbia.
Hon. M. de Jong: Well, let's explore the notion of courage and integrity. I have heard, just a few moments ago, members of the opposition advocating for significant increases in budgets to the Ministry of Advanced Education. I have heard, in the past, admonishments
[ Page 9348 ]
from members of the opposition for increases in budgets to other ministries — Environment, Agriculture — and I expect, over the course of the next number of weeks, to continue to hear that.
Now, we have increased the budget. The Finance Minister announced increases to the budget, to the Health Ministry, of $1.55 billion. Do you know where that money is coming from? It's coming from other public services. So if the member and the opposition want to be taken seriously — if they want to be taken seriously in this debate, in this discussion — they should reveal in the document they prepared that they have hidden away somewhere where that money is going to come from.
The member wants more money in health care. Which of the ministries is he going to take it from, or is he going to take it from British Columbians? Is he going to take it from British Columbians? They can answer all of those questions by tabling the document that we all wait for with bated breath.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
I want to remind members that we're almost through question period, and we've had four questions. So would people keep the questions down and the answers down.
D. Donaldson: Yesterday this B.C. Liberal government announced they intend to sell off several valuable assets in order to pay for their own economic mismanagement. This includes selling off two liquor distribution warehouses and the distribution business itself.
To the Minister of Energy, petroleum resources, gambling, housing, mining and liquor distribution: will he table today the business case showing that it makes any sense to sell the silverware today to pay for the groceries tomorrow? Specific economic benefits, tangible results — the business case that led to this sell-off decision.
Hon. R. Coleman: An analysis was done on the amount of liquor that was actually in the system that could be gleaned out of inventory relative to the moving of the distribution and warehousing system in British Columbia to a different model. At the same time we looked at our real estate assets that would no longer be needed and the cost it would be if we wanted to modernize to a new modern warehouse at a significant dollar level.
As we went through that discussion, it was decided that we would go to the market with an RFP, a request for proposals, to see what the private sector might come in with — a recommendation with regards to improving our opportunities and gleaning some money for taxpayers in British Columbia — all the time knowing that this would be done with successorship so that members of the B.C. Government Employees Union would have to be engaged because they would be part of the successorship in the proposal if it goes forward.
ROLE OF PATRICK KINSELLA IN
LIQUOR DISTRIBUTION PRIVATIZATION
S. Simpson: Patrick Kinsella and his lobbying firm met with this minister and his colleagues on January 4 and 6 of this year on behalf of their client, Exel Logistics. They discussed the awarding of a contract for the privatization of warehousing and distribution of liquor.
What role did Mr. Kinsella play in yesterday's decision to privatize these services, and why did those meetings occur before this was announced to the public?
Hon. R. Coleman: I wasn't in the country on January 6 of this year.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Simpson: I'm sure that the minister was in the country on January 4. Maybe he'd like to tell us if he participated in that meeting. The reality is this. The lobbyist registry is clear. The subject matter was privatization and outsourcing. The intended outcome was awarding of a contract, and the details were to develop a new liquor distribution system for the province of B.C.
The minister has offered up no business case for this decision. Mr. Kinsella is the ultimate B.C. Liberal backroom boy. He was involved in this months before the decision was made. We've seen this movie before with Mr. Kinsella and B.C. Rail.
What assurances can the minister give this House that Mr. Kinsella and his company that he's working on behalf of don't have the inside track on this deal?
Hon. R. Coleman: I know it's the habit of the opposition to besmirch the name and reputation of individuals from outside this House inside this House. If he wants to carry on that, he can go outside and make accusations with regard to an individual. I'm not biting on that bait, hon. Member.
We're going to have an RFP process. There will be a fairness process to watch, to match the RFP process as it comes through. And just for the member opposite, he should know…. I would suspect, and I'm pretty sure about this, that if you go do your research, you'll find that the BCGEU has met with proponents about distribution and privatization in British Columbia a lot more times than I have, hon. Member.
M. Karagianis: Well, given the history of Mr. Kinsella
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and this government and the inside information on contracts, I would like to ask the minister how many times he met with Mr. Kinsella. In fact, were there any other proponents that put forward offers on the contracts for this distribution? Or did Exel have the inside track right from the beginning, even before the contract has been tendered?
Hon. R. Coleman: I've had the liquor file on and off over the last 11 years. During that period of time there's been a variety, a number of proponents that have come and talked to us about not just distribution but also retail stores, whether they should be sold — brought us different models that they saw worked in other jurisdictions. That's always been an ongoing dialogue.
Nobody has the inside track on this. It would go out to a request for proposals. That would be assessed by a person who would make sure that the fairness of the proposals and the bids would be met. At that point in time government will make a decision about the distribution system with regards to liquor.
I don't know what the members are so worried about. Ask yourself the question. If you can get to a wholesale price for the entire industry by doing this, if you can bring down the price to the consumer, if you can increase the service to British Columbians, if you can save money for the taxpayer and if you can actually put money in the pockets of British Columbians so that they can reduce the cost of health care and education, it's worth taking a look at.
[End of question period.]
D. Barnett: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Introductions by Members
D. Barnett: I would like to introduce a longtime constituent of mine who was born and raised in 100 Mile House in the Cariboo. He's a logger, he's a rancher, and he's now a councillor for the district of 100 Mile House. I would ask the House to welcome Bill Hadden.
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: Mr. Speaker, we will continue the budget debate for the balance of today.
B. Ralston: Mr. Speaker, perhaps we should wait until members get a chance to leave the chamber. I'd like to think they would want to stay for my speech, but I suspect they may not all wish to.
Mr. Speaker: Members, if you could get off to your other business so we can have a little bit of quiet in the House.
B. Ralston: I've been provided with an assurance by the Minister of Health that he's going to be watching in his office, so that makes me feel a little bit more assured here continuing my speech.
I want to begin where I left off yesterday and look at the purpose of the budgetary process. Really, the budget is the foundation document of any government. It's the most important statement of their principles and their values and the direction in which they hope to take the province. That's the device by which a lot of the political will of the government is expressed, the choices they make and the directions they choose to head.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
In the budget that was tabled yesterday, the government spoke somewhat of its record over the last ten or 11 years. I think the suggestion was that the budgetary process and the budgets over the last 11 years had produced some results, but I think what would be helpful in assessing that suggestion in the budget would be to begin by looking at the last report — the final report — of the Progress Board.
You'll remember the Progress Board. For those who don't, let me briefly explain to you what it was. It was a policy review group established by the Liberal government when they came to power. Premier Campbell set it up, and the appointees to the Progress Board were chosen by the government.
So this is not a non-partisan think tank. This is not outside government. It certainly had a policy review and policy assessment function and reported to the government and to the public regularly on a number of topics. So it's useful, when we come to consider the Liberal record over the last 11 years, to look at the final report of the Progress Board, particularly when it comes to economic matters.
The Liberals would have you believe that they have done an absolutely superlative job on economic matters, but the Progress Board, their own handpicked and appointed group, really doesn't support that at all. In fact, the progress they've made is in some cases rather in the reverse. In other words, British Columbia has fallen back relative to other provinces.
Let's have a look. For example, this is taken from the Progress Board report — the 11th and final benchmark report. B.C. ranked in the category called the economy — that's real GDP per capita — in the year 2000, fourth,
[ Page 9350 ]
and in the year 2010, fifth. So a key economic measure in a report put together by the B.C. Liberal government on their own progress — or, in this case, lack of progress — shows that on a key measure, real GDP per capita, they fell backwards.
That's not progress. That's regress in the B.C. Liberal world, something that they absolutely and utterly refuse to acknowledge. In fact, that's probably the reason why this was the 11th and final report of the Progress Board. The new Premier no longer really wants the inconvenience, I suppose, or the political damage or just the sheer reality of having the Progress Board chart the backwards steps of this government.
On personal income in 2000, British Columbia ranked in Canada third and in the year 2010, in personal income, ranked fourth. On jobs, in the year 2000 British Columbia ranked fifth in Canada and in the year 2010, according again to the Progress Board, ranked seventh. So backwards in economy, personal income and jobs.
Environmental quality in 2000, first; in 2010, environmental quality, first. Can't do any better than first, I suppose, so we stayed the same there as a province.
On health outcomes. That's particularly apposite just given the rather — I don't know; how shall we describe them? — entertaining answers of the Minister of Health. Health outcomes in 2000, according to the Progress Board — not according to me, not according to some NDP source; this is the handpicked, B.C. Liberal–appointed Progress Board — first. So started from a very high base back in 2000, and that has been maintained in the year 2010 — still first. Those are obviously long-term trends, but I'm sure every British Columbian appreciates that ranking.
On social condition. Social condition is an amalgam of a number of factors. Let me just read them, because this is, again, the choice of the Progress Board, the B.C. Liberal–appointed Progress Board. The indicator is actually an amalgam of five indicators: the LICO — that's the low-income cutoff; low birth weight; property crime; income assistance recipients; and long-term unemployment. These are some of the most intractable of our social problems, and no one, I think, would dispute that.
In the year 2000 we were, regrettably, ninth. But after ten years of B.C. Liberal rule, according to the Progress Board, we're still ninth. So the triumphant calls, the self-congratulatory rhetoric that we hear across the way really isn't supported by their own handpicked organization. Gone backwards in the economy, in personal income and jobs and made no progress in social conditions at all.
I think when you come to assess some of the rhetoric that was used, some of the language that was used yesterday by the Finance Minister in his budget, we ought to at least reflect on that and place it in some kind of a context.
I want to deal at this point with a few specific aspects of the budget, since I've had a chance to review it in more detail over the course of last evening and this morning. It's a bit rushed, but that's the life of a legislator that we lead here, and I want to make some comments about that.
On page 51, under the rather grandiose title of "Release of Surplus Corporate Assets for Economic Generation," there's some explanation of what the Minister of Finance talked about in his budget, and that is the sale of what are called surplus assets.
It's significant, when you look at the budget document itself, that no revenue is booked in this fiscal year, the fiscal year of the budget — that is 2012-2013 — but only in the following two years. There's $475 million booked, anticipated, in 2013-2014 — the budget that would be tabled in February 2013 right before the election — and $231 million in 2014-2015.
I'm sure conveniently, but not entirely accidentally, the revenue that's anticipated from asset sales, so-called, will take place in the budget year right before the next election — if in fact it's called on schedule and not called earlier or not postponed. For the sake of this argument, I'm assuming it will be called in May of 2013.
Now, the government in this brief note claims to have reviewed and identified over 100 properties and assets. There's a suggestion by the very title that these are surplus to government need. They're just a frozen economic asset that's waiting to be unlocked, and this will have some beneficial economic effects.
I want to talk about, just as an illustration of the shortsightedness of this policy, a property that I'm fairly familiar with in the heart of the city of Surrey, the second-biggest city in the province and the fastest-growing major city in the province. It's a property at the corner of Highway 10 and 152nd. It's near the geographic centre of the city of Surrey. That corner, the northwest corner, was originally scheduled to be developed as a shopping centre. That ran into some legal difficulties. There was a challenge at the public hearing, economic conditions shifted, and the shopping centre was never built.
By the suggestion that it was going to be a shopping centre, one gets a sense that the property market, certainly, and people in Surrey view it as a central location within the city and desirable for that fact itself. Of course, traffic volumes along 152nd Avenue, north and south, and Highway 10, east and west, are considerable. So it's ideally located close to central traffic routes, central bus routes and central public transit routes as well.
When it was purchased by the Ministry of Health — I believe Penny Priddy was the Minister of Health when it was purchased — it was envisaged as the site of the future hospital in the city of Surrey, not immediately but in the long term. The reason that was chosen was, of course, for its attributes of centrality and the fact that it was closer to the growing centre of population not only in South Surrey but particularly in Cloverdale, east of that part of Surrey.
At the time it was purchased — and I'm familiar with that part of Surrey — the number of dwellings around it, the number of houses was pretty sparse. Since then, over the last 15 years, there is a substantial new, smaller shopping centre on one part of that corner. There's commercial development in the area. There's substantial growth in an office park immediately to the south, and there are a number of condominium developments, all within a half-mile.
So the population in that area has increased dramatically. Anyone who knows anything about real estate…. Or just common sense would dictate, given all that development in the immediate vicinity of this vacant piece of land, that it has dramatically increased its value.
In fact, the then government in 2005 clearly had it in mind still as a site for a hospital. In the third week of the 2005 election campaign the B.C. Liberals were in some trouble in Surrey, I think it was perceived. In fact, they were right. A number of New Democrat members were elected in that election. There was much public outcry, I think, and concern about the operation of Surrey Memorial Hospital. The member then for Surrey-Panorama, now for Surrey-Fleetwood, had been elected in a by-election in 2004 and raised the issue of Surrey Memorial repeatedly in the Legislature, so there was a public sensitivity in Surrey to this issue.
In the third week of the election campaign the then Premier, Mr. Campbell, headed out to that piece of vacant property and proclaimed that the citizens of Surrey should be assured that a new hospital would be built on that particular site. All they had to do was, of course, vote for him, and that would take place.
Now, what's the expression of François Villon? Où sont les neiges d'antan? Where are the snows of yesteryear? All those promises seemed to have just faded away, completely forgotten. Nothing ever came to pass on that site, but it's still held by the provincial government.
Now we hear from the Minister of Finance that this site is somehow surplus to government needs. The visionary and provident decision taken by a government many years ago to acquire the property in advance of development when the cost was substantially lower is now going to be the subject of a cash windfall if it's sold by the government. But the more important result of that decision will be that public land is no longer available at this ideal site for future public purposes.
Now, the government may choose — and this is the argument they're making — not to build a hospital there in the next five or ten years. Fair enough. There's been an expansion of Surrey Memorial. Overdue considerably — many years — but nonetheless, there has been capital expansion in the hospital site in the northern part of Surrey.
But it seems to me that a more forward-looking government would want to at least keep this piece of property in its inventory — perhaps even work with the city of Surrey to use it, if not now, down the road for some significant public purpose.
Any planner who has planned school sites in new developments or hospital sites or indeed acquiring public land for public purposes after the fact, in the sense of after major development has already taken place, fully understands the difficulty in getting neighbourhood consent for that and fully understands the dramatic increase in costs. That would be public money if it were to be acquired again — or a similar site in a similar location.
So this decision is not a wise one and really speaks to a very shortsighted view of the use of public land and the provident decision that was made so many years ago.
The public…. Although I don't think the public reaction has yet begun, because this only just started. One will recall that some school districts were trying to divest themselves of public land, and there was some public reaction against that — again, being of the view that selling off public assets in that way was shortsighted.
The other concern that one has to have is: what is the present zoning of this land? It's likely institutional. It may not even have ever been zoned for a hospital. Typically though, one would want, if it's going to be sold for highrise development…. I doubt that it would be highrise, but it might very well be condominium development. Per acre it would be very, very rich.
One would like to see a government that wanted to get a good return, the best return, take it through a rezoning process and have the benefits of the increase in land value as a result of rezoning come to the government as the seller of it rather than go to a developer who purchased it and then took it to the rezoning and got the benefit of the increased value of land by virtue of the rezoning.
It's not at all clear that that's the proposal. And given the rather short timeline that the government has put on this fire-sale disposal of assets for its own short-term financial purposes, one doubts that that more considered, measured and thoughtful approach will be taken. One would hope and would expect that a more considered and serious analysis of this property would take place — and of all the other properties.
Now, it's not to say that there are no properties that are surplus to government needs and that the decision shouldn't be taken. I think of, for example, in the city of Burnaby. There was a high school on Kingsway where the very step that I'm suggesting was taking place.
It's no coincidence that Burnaby is considered — was nominated and decided by Maclean's magazine — the best-run municipality in the country, and it's for decisions like the one I'm about to describe that that is the case. They took the land, rezoned it to highrise residential, reaped the benefit of that increase in value and then sold it to a developer who developed a series of highrise apartments on that site. So the public treasury benefited rather than a private developer.
That's a decision that you can make, but this govern-
[ Page 9352 ]
ment, in its business practice, has shown a reluctance to safeguard the public treasury over the private interests of others. Again, that's another alternative that doesn't seem to be part of the analysis, given the short-term nature of this proposal.
One wonders. If you're a purchaser and you know…. The government has already announced and has in its budget, as I said, some line items. They're probably, admittedly, largely speculative as to what can be sold, but they have some line items in their budget.
Have you strengthened your bargaining position as a seller by telling prospective buyers: "We have to sell this. Our political necks are on the line. We need this money for the budget. We have to balance it next year. Please come and buy it. We need the money"?
Has that strengthened your bargaining position as a government, or has it weakened your bargaining position as a government? I would say that it has weakened the strength of the government's bargaining position when it comes to selling those particular assets. It's not a wise course of action at all.
It doesn't seem to be, despite having been in power 11 years, that there's an ongoing and orderly consideration of this process. And one could well understand that government, given its land holdings — there are legitimate reasons for disposing of property — would have an ongoing program where there wouldn't be this sudden rush to inventory properties and get them out the door, as this appears to be. But that doesn't seem to be the case.
Certainly, this seems to be heralded, at least by the minister. Again, these are early days. My ability to probe into this initiative has been limited by the very brief period of time I've had to examine it, but it doesn't seem to be the case that there's been that kind of thought to have gone into this process. It seems to have started from ground zero a relatively brief time ago.
Now, the other area that I want to comment on, in terms of asset sales, is the sale of the Liquor Distribution Branch warehouses and distribution network. In this year's budget, on page 16, it says very clearly that the Liquor Distribution Branch is in the budget as a revenue line item. That's revenue — $906 million for the coming year and a similar amount each successive year, although I think it declines slightly.
Now, some of that may be subject to an anticipation of a decreased volume of sales, or some of it may be a result of the proposal to sell the wholesale network. It's not clear.
Clearly, when you have an asset that's giving you $906 million a year in revenue…. We heard the minister repeatedly yesterday talk about the necessity to be…. I think his word was "prudent." He repeated that a number of times and some other typical self-descriptions along that line. Wouldn't it be prudent to have a good and careful analysis of something that generates that amount of revenue — if, by the process of dismembering, taking apart what seems to be an integrated operation, you would dramatically reduce public revenue?
However much one might think that, ideologically, it's better that this should be delivered by the private sector, that they're automatically more efficient, there are a number of mortgage holders in the United States — in fact, millions — who would tell you otherwise.
Let's just assume that you set aside your ideological predispositions for a moment. As a prudent manager of the treasury, wouldn't it be wise to have a business plan and some analysis that you would release in order to convince people of the wisdom of your decision at the time that you announce it?
Now, the opposition asked in question period. Frankly, the minister responsible claimed that some analysis had been done, but his answer was — how shall I say? — a little unfocused and a little unclear, not terribly helpful in shedding much light on that analysis.
In fact, I understand that back in the era of the core review…. I wasn't in this House back then, but after the B.C. Liberals won the election in 2001, they embarked on a program of ambitious review of most of government, and they did look at the Liquor Distribution Branch, particularly on the wholesale side. They came to a decision that, in part because of its revenue-generating capacities, they would not dispose of that. They would not send it to the private sector.
In fact, they may have even made the same decision about the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. However much their ideological predispositions were telling them that it ought to be sold, sent to the private sector, it again provided a reliable, long-term revenue stream for government that they decided ultimately not to tamper with.
So I'm curious — and many, I'm sure, members of the public are curious: what has been the trigger? What has been the motivating factor to make this decision to sell off this asset at this time? It's something that we don't have any answers for just yet.
Now, understandably, there are those in the private sector who would certainly dearly like to acquire that asset. Right now in British Columbia, as I understand the structure, the wholesale side is a monopoly. That gives it more economic value, as a monopoly, than it would be if there were a competing series of warehouse systems throughout the province that were competing with each other to supply all the retail stores.
So is it intended that that monopoly will continue? What would be the regulatory mechanism that would make sure that that was done fairly? Or would it simply be turned over to a private operator to operate it in accordance with market principles, one who would set prices that may disadvantage more rural retail locations? Not all the retail locations are owned publicly. What would be the impact of that on the public retail distri-
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bution network? What would be the impact on sales, on prices, on convenience, on the jobs of those people who are employed there?
In Alberta — again, from what I understand — the government chose the opposite route of selling the retail outlets, letting that go private yet retaining control of the distribution system, the wholesale side, which is a completely different mix from the one that's proposed here.
At this early stage all I'm really doing is raising a series of questions about this decision. I think it's fair to ask — in fact, given the profession of prudence that we've heard repeatedly from the Finance Minister — that he or the minister responsible for the agency answer these questions. But particularly for the Minister of Finance, the line item — $906 million in the budget that we're discussing: how is that going to be affected? How is that good for the long-term fiscal health of the province?
Whatever you think about the management quality, or whatever you think about the debate about public or private control, it's a revenue source, a substantial one, and it should be looked at. So I really question the decision in that way.
This may be a bit rash on my part, but I look forward to some answers. Frequently in these kinds of matters, full answers are not forthcoming. Sometimes, if this goes into an RFP process — that is, a request for proposals — the government may claim that some of this information is proprietary and should only be available to qualified bidders and that the public doesn't really have the right to know about the ins and outs and the intricacies of the operation because that would impinge upon or damage the request-for-proposals process. I hope that's not the case. I hope that there are some answers forthcoming and that there is a justification given for this decision.
I get the sense from the minister, though, that the decision has already been taken, unlike what appeared to happen in the 2002, 2003, 2004 period, where it was open to the government to recognize that perhaps they had made a mistake. They didn't want to damage a source of revenue, and they reversed themselves.
Anyway, I look forward to that public debate. I hope the minister will provide some answers. I'm not overly optimistic. I probably will put in my request for freedom of information, and I expect an answer in about 18 months to two years. That's usually how long it takes in anything politically sensitive with this government. That's no way to proceed — of course, everyone recognizes that — but that's been the track record of this government on those kinds of proposals.
That area of the budget that is described as asset sales is, I think, an area fraught with real difficulty for the public of British Columbia and seems to be guided entirely by the political timing that the minister feels pressure on.
That is the prospect of two by-elections which are going to be called very shortly. The one in Port Moody has to be called by the beginning of April at the latest, I believe. I expect that that is a consideration, unfortunately, in these announcements — a wish to perhaps give a nod to a certain side of the political spectrum where there's a political challenge felt, rather than being guided by the long-term fiscal interests of the province, the long-term revenue source that that represents.
I'd like to move on to another section of the budget, the general economic outlook. In any budget, one wants to look at the fiscal environment not only within British Columbia but within Canada for comparables and just the general situation of the province globally — whether it's in British Columbia, outside British Columbia or in the United States; whether it's what's happening in Europe or what's happening, indeed, across the way in the Asia-Pacific countries. I want to look a little bit at those. But before I do that, I want to also just look at what risks there are to the fiscal outlook that the government has spoken of.
The absence of a couple of these details, I think, is important in just evaluating the assumptions that the minister has made and the conclusions that he has drawn in casting his budget. One area that really isn't dealt with in the budget and is significant is the impact of a couple of changes in major federal programs. The opposition has touched upon this in question period. Particularly, I'm thinking of Bill C-10, which is the so-called omnibus crime bill of the federal government.
Now, I'm not proposing to enter into the debate launched, unfortunately, by Mr. Toews — you're either on the side of the child pornographers or you're not. I think all of that is a little unfortunate in creating political division in the country when none ought to exist in this kind of a debate. What I'm interested in is the fiscal impact of the crime bill upon provincial budgets. The impact — and I'll talk a little bit about what the Parliamentary Budget Officer has said about it — will be considerable.
The omnibus crime bill, contrary to the experience in the United States, where their prison costs have just soared out of control…. I'm thinking of states like Texas, for example, where the impact of mandatory minimum sentences gives judges no discretion and leaves the discretion largely to the prosecutors. But if you are convicted or plead guilty, you're off to jail for a set period. The judge has no discretion to send you to a term of imprisonment or not, or to a term of imprisonment shorter than the mandatory minimum.
What that means is that prison populations inevitably increase. And most mandatory minimums fall within what's called provincial jurisdiction, where a sentence of — I'm not sure whether it's a law or by convention, but it's certainly longstanding — two years less a day, or anything less than that, is served in a provincial institution, and of two years or more is served in a federal institution. The mandatory minimums often are in the range of six months or a year. They will create more provincial pris-
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oners and, therefore, the need to find a place and pay for a place to imprison them.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer, who's an independent officer of the federal legislature, the federal parliament, has begun to do some analysis on that. The federal government, as I understand it, was very unwilling to provide a lot of detail, and so he has really been delayed in his ability to complete that analysis.
One analysis that he did complete was an analysis of the impact of abolishing what is called the two-for-one rule, whereby a prisoner who spent time in pretrial custody — that is, in jail prior to your trial, guilty plea or sentence — was given credit for two days for every one day spent in pretrial custody.
There's a long history to that, but generally, it was thought that pretrial custody, because there are no rehabilitation services and you're simply awaiting trial, was considered more difficult and onerous to serve. Therefore, that was accommodated or reflected in sentences by the judge at the time of sentencing by reflecting in the sentence two days' custody served for each day actually served.
Now, that was abolished by the federal parliament. There was, of course, some public debate about that, and people felt that that was not "real time." He did a calculation of what the cost of that would be, and the impact of that simple two-for-one policy he attempted to calculate was dramatic — that one measure alone.
It's not broken out in the report as to what the impact would be on an individual province, but it's clearly going to have a financial impact on the operation of the provincial justice system. So what we on this side have been asking for, and our very able critic from Burnaby–Deer Lake, the critic for Solicitor General — now part of the new, consolidated Ministry of Justice — has been asking, is for the calculation. What is the future impact on the provincial budget of this federal measure?
There is no negotiated compensation. The federal parliament hasn't said: "Well, we think this is a political priority. We are going to do this. We understand that this will have increased costs for the provincial governments. Therefore, we're going to transfer so many tax points, or we're going to create a prison transfer program, or anything like that."
They have simply left it to the provinces to find the money within their own budgets. So if you're a Finance minister, you're budgeting not only for this year and thinking perhaps not only to the 2013 election, but you're being prudent, as I know the minister professes to be, you would be looking at that question. You would have some answers, and doubtlessly, since it is very current and topical, you would have placed it before the House as part of your provincial budget, as a supplementary document, so that the public could begin to get a sense of those costs.
Has this minister done that? Is that analysis available? It may have been done within the ministry. I don't know. It certainly hasn't been provided publicly. I suppose one could submit a freedom-of-information request, and in 18 months to two years, one might get an answer.
The other area that has a major impact, and this is the subject of very recent….
B. Ralston: You let me worry about the applause, Minister. Don't worry. I know these topics are probably not of any interest to you, being a member of the cabinet. You probably have no input into them anyway.
Deputy Speaker: Members, through the Chair.
B. Ralston: Fiscal prudence seems to be just an expression rather than something that the minister wants to pay attention to.
The other issue that is a major financial fiscal concern for the provincial government in the long run is the impact of the changes announced at the Minister of Finance meeting in December, in Victoria — and the Parliamentary Budget Officer has also looked at that — renewing the Canada Health Transfer and the implications for federal-provincial-territorial fiscal sustainability.
Really, what his conclusion is, and we have seen the first impact of that…. The Canada Health Transfer is a relatively complicated formula involving transfer of tax points and some cash. There was a deal reached between the provinces and the federal government in 2006, when Mr. Martin was the Prime Minister, to forward a certain amount of money annually at a relatively generous, I think most would agree, rate of increase each year to help the provinces pay for the growing cost of health care.
What the federal minister did is not really renegotiated but simply dictated what the terms of a renewed agreement are going to be. It's actually not an agreement. It's simply a federal proposal that is going to be enacted with or without the consent of the provinces.
The long-term impact of that is going to be to transfer many of the fiscal burdens — just as Mr. Martin did in the 1990s in his relationship between the provinces and the federal government — and transfer a lot of the federal fiscal problems onto the provinces. So the federal responsibility for health care over the life of the agreement and beyond will trend downward, because the federal government will provide less and less in the way of financial support to the provinces, and the provinces will be forced to pick up more and more of the health bill.
Again, big implications for the provincial budget not mentioned by the minister in his remarks. And really, other than a brief mention by the Premier suddenly realizing that switching to a per-capita formulation would disadvantage British Columbia and create, beginning
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next fiscal year, $250 million less in federal transfers for that purpose, there's been little analysis or public discussion by the government of the implications of that.
These are serious matters. These are major issues in federal-provincial fiscal relations. The government has not dealt with that at all.
The other thing that I want to look at is that the government has, in its budget, touted the shift in the destination of exports. I think, in particular, we've heard that lumber sales to China are up dramatically. I think that while it's going up, doubtlessly the members opposite will want to claim credit, and to be fair, they have done some work in travelling to China and persuading some Chinese businesses to buy more British Columbia lumber.
But the assumptions seem to be that this trend line is only going to go up. It's not going to go down. Yet in a recent article, published last week in the Globe and Mail, what the article points out is that in China "it can be expected that the housing market will continue to face headwinds during the first half of 2012 unless the Chinese government steps in to ease the country's monetary policy" — Mr. Ekström, a Seattle-based consultant, Wood Resources International.
Indeed, monthly sales have increased in recent years. Annual sales reached a record in 2011, but if you look at the bad news — recent monthly sales, September 2011, $104 million; October, $89 million; November, $82 million; December, $67 million — the final months of 2011 showed significant declines.
That's not the entire premise on which the budget is built, but certainly, if you look at the economic history of China, it's a country that's capable — although, certainly in the last decade, the trend has been steadily upwards — of sudden and very dramatic reverses in its economy. Given that it's a command economy and a centrally led economy, the capacity is there to change direction very abruptly and very sharply.
While obviously everyone welcomes, I'm sure — we welcome, certainly — increased sales to China, we also, I think, should not be so naive as to think that those sales could not trend downward at some point in the future. Some of the assumptions that are contained in the budget — certainly in the minister's budget speech — are ones that I think should be approached with a measure of caution.
I also want to touch briefly on the price of natural gas. There are some assumptions that are made in the budget. An increase of a dollar per unit of natural gas yields, I believe, $350 million to $400 million in the provincial budget. Natural gas has been a really important source of government revenue, and not only just of the lease sales. Those are amortized, at the direction of the Auditor General, over a number of years, nine years. We're taking in 1/9 of the price at a time over the nine-year period.
The sale of natural gas has been an important source of revenue, but I think everyone recognizes that the shale gas revolution, the revolution in technology which has led to the technique known as hydrological fracturing — or fracking, as it's called — is spreading not only in the United States but throughout the world. The technological advantage leading to greater production has led to more supply, and obviously, basic economics would dictate that the price would go down.
The longer-term trend seems to be that the price, certainly in North America, will go down and even may have an impact on electricity prices, because sometimes in the United States, particularly in east coast utilities, natural gas is used to power generators that generate electricity.
There's an assumption in the budget of rising natural gas prices over the next two years. I know it's something that's also in the Alberta budget. But it is very difficult to predict natural gas prices.
They used to move lockstep with oil prices. They've basically decoupled, I think the expression is, so that there's no longer an obvious relationship between natural gas prices and oil prices, and therefore, it's increasingly more difficult to predict. If that's a challenge to the budget, a caution, I think that's one certainly worth mentioning. It doesn't seem to have entered into the calculations that are on display in this budget.
One can think of a certain commodity trader in Calgary a number of years ago at Amaranth traders who lost $600 million or $700 million, betting against the price of natural gas. Even the most skilled players in the market can fail to predict accurately the price trajectory of natural gas, so it's certainly worth bearing in mind that caution.
Aside from those cautions about the budget, I also want to set the budget discussion in a broader economic context, as I said earlier. I want to talk about the economic context of the budget in some more detail.
The Ministry of Finance also tables an economic review and outlook with the budget and talks about its projections of real GDP growth, gross domestic product growth, and looks to, through the Forecast Council…. It's a body set up by the Ministry of Finance where a number of private sector economists meet regularly and offer their predictions for GDP growth over the medium and longer term. I think it's fair to say that the minister again claims a prudent calculation or assumption about economic growth in this calendar year and next calendar year.
The assumption is 1.8 percent growth, as opposed to what the private sector consensus seems to be of 2.4 percent. That may be prudent and, if it's overly prudent, may enable the minister to meet his targets quite a bit more easily. But the assumption is based on a look at the American economy, which is still deleveraging from the 2008-2009 crash. The general economic wisdom about deleveraging in a financial crisis is that recovery takes
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There's an economist named Reinhart who has written a book, an extensive analysis of the recovery from economic financial crises of the type that we saw at least originating in the United States and spreading globally. Generally, they take a much longer time to recover from, and in some senses, some parts of the American economy may never recover.
The B.C. Business Council, in its look at the economic outlook, notes as a bright spot that corporate profits in the United States are very high — the highest in 60 years, relative to GDP. They offer that as a positive interpretation, as a foundation for business investment. Perhaps more bleakly, where an increased share of profits goes to capital and to the high-earning people at the top of the income scale, it will increase and continue to increase the income of those people at the top while the income of other wage earners stagnates, and their share of the profit falls. It produces the effect in the United States — we see it here as well, and we see it particularly starkly in British Columbia — of a growing inequality of income that is a trend. It has its echoes here, certainly.
The government has, I think rather unsuccessfully, talked about a jobs plan, a very skimpy document with no real targets. It doesn't mention manufacturing, arts and culture — generally, a pretty lacklustre effort thrown together, I suppose, for some short-term political advantage. But what that document doesn't recognize, I think, is this real challenge that faces not only the American economy but the economy here in British Columbia.
I give an illustration of that and just why we on this side are continually stressing the importance of training and education as a way to seek an advantage and opportunities in the global economy. I'll give an illustration which I thought was a particularly graphic one. A recent article in the New York Times talked about a dialogue between President Obama and Mr. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, who recently, unfortunately, died. This was a conversation that took place about a year before he died.
Mr. Obama's question to Mr. Jobs was: "When are those Apple jobs that have gone outside the United States going to come back to the United States?" It's a legitimate question, given that although there are, I think, 28,000 Apple employees in the United States, there's probably an army of about 750,000 contractors and other employees who assemble the products and put them together.
Mr. Jobs's answer to the American President was: "They're never coming back." The reason is one that really is, I think, the challenge that faces not only the American economy but the British Columbia economy: the challenge of creating good jobs here in North America.
The reason for that, the example that was given…. The Apple iPhone, which many people are familiar, has taken off, and its sales are widespread around the globe. It's assembled in Guandong province in China, largely by a company called Foxconn, a Taiwanese company which has a manufacturing facility in Guandong province. Most of their workers reside in dormitories, and there's a couple of hundred thousand on site.
Mr. Jobs had identified a problem with the iPhone in that when it was placed in your pocket, the screen which was on the front of the iPhone would get scratches. He was very unhappy with that. Given his, I think, celebrated intuitive feel for the view of the consumer and the user — and that is part of the success of Apple — he didn't want that.
A company executive left the meeting, flew overnight to Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong. The Foxconn operation, according to this story, that very evening called 11,000 workers in on a night shift to begin the process of converting the production to deal with replacing those screens with glass screens. Within six weeks they had completely re-engineered the production process, and those new, improved iPhones were being churned out.
It's that — and Mr. Jobs spoke of this to the American President — flexibility, the dedication, the willingness to work long hours. Most of these workers…. Foxconn is the subject of much attack — legitimately so. There have been a series of suicides in their dormitory facilities. They work 12-hour shifts. If the company wants to order another 3,000 workers, they can do it. But not only is it the relatively low wages at which they are paid, it is their dedication and the ability of the production process to turn literally on a dime at that kind of request and still produce a very high quality, meeting all the specifications of a very exacting customer like Apple.
If you look at that story, it is illustrative of the challenge that faces the United States and Canada of how to create good-paying jobs here in this jurisdiction that will sustain us in the future. The competition is real and very dramatic. I can think of no starker illustration of that than that particular story.
It is important, therefore, that when we speak of global challenges we are paying attention to the need to educate our citizens in a way that will enable them to provide the kinds of skills to the production process, to other industries, that will enable them to retain and hold the jobs of the future. In fact, in the United States the flight of manufacturing continues. Certainly, Ontario is experiencing that same thing and to some lesser degree here in British Columbia, although our wealth has historically been based on resources and not on manufacturing.
So those are the global challenges that we face and that we have to look at when we consider what we're going to do in terms of preparing our citizens for the challenges that are ahead.
I want to return now to look a little bit further at the global context. I want to talk now a little bit about Europe. I know the Finance Minister is fond of pointing out the problems that Greece is experiencing. Of course,
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the eurozone is an amalgam of strong and weaker economies, and the German economy is doing very, very well. Europe does constitute 20 percent of the world economy.
Although we're less conscious of it here in British Columbia, given our geographic position, it's important to acknowledge that it may have an impact. Christine Lagarde, who is the new head of the International Monetary Fund, pointed out in an outlook at Davos, where she spoke on January 28, that she expects that the great deleveraging will continue and that there will be further fiscal consolidation.
She points out that the United States and Japan are running higher deficits and debts than the eurozone taken as a whole. Perhaps that's the perspective of a French citizen, but she is now head of the IMF and brings that useful caution — although debt in Japan is generally owed internally rather than externally. That economic context is an important one.
I know the Finance Minister made a trip to Europe, which he's talked about rather repeatedly. I disagree with some of the nuances he gleaned from that trip. He seems to ignore the strength of Germany, although he did spend some time in Frankfurt. Greece undoubtedly has some problems, but it's a very small part of the whole eurozone. I think, however difficult the process has been there, the problems are being resolved, largely due to accepting a package that's being led by Chancellor Merkel and the President of France.
I'm not as pessimistic about that and its impact globally as maybe some others are. As an example, it is, I suppose, a dramatic one, but it's not one that I think is particularly helpful here in British Columbia.
The other part of the budget that I want to discuss…. The minister talks about…. Again, some of the comment around the budget was achieving efficiencies in service delivery.
On page 52 of the budget there is some discussion of innovative program delivery. A mention is made of the shared services program in the Ministry of Health. The suggestion is made that that was a success, although I think that's disputed.
No one disputes there should be and are other ways of delivering service that might improve efficiencies, but the minister seems to think, after 11 years in government, that there are still dramatic strides that could be taken and will be taken in the course of a single fiscal year. Although we'll definitely see, that seems to be rather unlikely. I think what people will do is simply hunker down, manage as best they can and wait for the following fiscal year.
Certainly, the role of innovation in government services is an important one. There are genuine steps that could be taken and should be taken, and I don't want to dismiss that prospect entirely. In a paper published by the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation — a school of public policy and governance, University of Toronto — called Shifting Gears: Paths to Fiscal Sustainability in Canada, they give some examples, particularly in health, where there might be savings made.
The example that I choose is one that we may adopt here at some point: prescriptions in Sweden. Currently 42 percent of all prescriptions in Sweden are transferred from the doctor to the pharmacy electronically by Sjunet, the Swedish ICT network for health care, by using web-based prescribing.
The use of e-prescriptions has resulted in lower rates of user error, stronger security and privacy as well as time savings for health care provider organizations. In 2005, five years after the beginning of planning and development, there is already a net benefit of approximately $27 million. That's referenced in a European Commission document. That's what takes place.
In British Columbia if you get a prescription, the physician typically scrawls it out on a piece of paper in legible, or sometimes illegible, handwriting. You take it personally to the pharmacy, and the prescription is filled. There's an example, given that we already have a very developed PharmaNet program where it's provincewide, contains the entire population. Anyone who's had a prescription is contained there. It's been developed at some considerable expense. That would seem to be, perhaps, a useful increment to that program.
I use this example just to illustrate that I don't dismiss entirely the idea that innovations in service delivery can be made and should be made and that there are potential cost savings there. But those are things that have to be worked at over the long term, and not simply by exhortation and diktat at the cabinet level. It's difficult to see that those savings would necessarily result in the time that's allotted. As I say, I do want to express some skepticism about being able to achieve those particular targets, particularly in that frame of mind.
I want to now turn to another area of what the government would call innovative service delivery — I'm not as convinced of that — and that is what are called P3s. Government offered those as an alternate method for delivering service and saving the government money. Again, I'm not convinced.
In fact, there has been a dramatic increase, just over the last fiscal year, of what are called contractual obligations. In the 2009-2010 Public Accounts, on page 75, in footnote 25 to the consolidated financial statements for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2010, the total amount was $53.041 billion — so $53.041 billion on page 75. In the subsequent year — that's one year later — the same Public Accounts, same document, note 25, contingencies and contractual obligations for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2011, the total is now $80.171 billion. So the increase over the course of a single calendar year is from $53.041 billion to $80.171 billion. By anyone's calculation,
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that's a very dramatic increase, obviously.
What are the implications for the long-term fiscal position of the province? There are some commentators — the OECD, for example. The OECD countries' publication says that one of the disadvantages of that $80 billion number, to take that example, is that when a government decides to retrench, when it wants to reduce expenditure, it's prohibited from reducing the expenditure that goes to pay those contracts. They are often 30- or 35-year contracts. There's an annual payment that consisted of a blended payment for capital and interest, and the government doesn't have any discretion in reducing those payments.
Just as the province in its public accounts speaks of an interest bite — in other words, the amount of interest you have to pay each year because you borrowed money…. It's not expressed as a measure, as a percentage of the budget, but there is a similar lump of payments that have to be paid that the government has no choice but to pay. If you broke the contract, which is hypothetical, of course, you'd still have to provide the service. You'd have to pay for the contract and go back and provide the service. Practically speaking, you're locked into that contract.
Those contracts, contractual obligations, since the borrowing is done by third parties and not by the government itself, are not calculated in the debt-to-GDP ratio.
While there has been some focus in the discussion of this budget about the increase in the debt owed by the province, there has been relatively little, if any, attention paid to the dramatic increase in contractual obligations, which has increased up to $80 billion. That poses, again, a long-term fiscal challenge to the province. I suppose it's positive in the sense that the province has been able to build and complete certain projects, but it is locked into a process and a series of payments that it has no discretion over.
The analysis from other Auditors General across the country is that often the payments, those blended payments of capital and operating money where there is no ability to separate them out, may well be much higher than the government would have been able to obtain had it borrowed on its own account, given that, generally, governments have better credit ratings than most private agencies.
A particular illustration of that was when the Port Mann project wanted to go to market and borrow privately to finance the building of the new Port Mann bridge. The credit markets were such in 2009 that the government had to step in and essentially provide the bulk of the borrowed capital in order to make the project work.
This P3 process is something that deserves scrutiny and has long-term implications that I think are really brushed aside and unexamined by the present Finance Minister and the previous ones, and certainly merit more consideration.
I want to now turn to a little bit of a look at what is sometimes called the productivity debate. Again, this focuses on some of the assumptions that the Finance Minister has made in his budget about the ability to innovate in service delivery, and it relates to the issue of productivity.
Don Drummond, who recently completed a report for the Ontario government, was previously the bank economist for the TD Bank. He spoke in a recent paper which he called Confessions of a Serial Productivity Researcher, and he has been focused on the issue of productivity for some time.
Productivity doesn't mean simply…. There is a reluctance to discuss it publicly. I think Jean Chrétien told his cabinet not to discuss it because he thought the people would think it meant just that everyone should work harder. That's an exhortation that we sometimes hear from our leader, for example, but productivity involves more ingredients than simply working harder.
That's really important, because if you have an aging population and a declining workforce, getting more productivity, greater economic results from the workforce, becomes increasingly important.
I had the pleasure to attend a recent forum. I think the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation spoke first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, I got there a little late, and I missed his speech, but I did manage to stay the rest of the day.
B. Ralston: Well, I heard contrary reviews. I didn't want to bring that up, but now that you've mentioned it, I will. They were people who were heading out. They weren't standing up to applaud.
There was a speaker, Mr. Côté, who's the founding partner of what's called SECOR consulting, and he talked about the productivity debate as well. The focus of the conference was on innovation, both in the public sector and the private sector. That's relevant to what the Minister of Finance is talking about in terms of innovation in terms of service delivery.
Mr. Côté said that productivity really consists of the way in which capital and labour are combined to produce an economic result. It's not just a question of the application of labour. He has studied it, and his conclusions were not, I think, terribly welcomed by what was a largely business audience.
His conclusion was that there's a 30 percent productivity gap between Canadian business and those in the United States. His conclusion was that Canadian business — and he described it as "fat" — generally competes in cozy markets, regional markets, and there's less investment in information technology. He identified the prob-
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lem as being in senior management, and he said: "The big gap is not on the shop floor." I'm quoting him exactly.
I simply say that to report what he said, but I think it is significant. Mr. Drummond says this as well. And Mr. Carney, as the governor of the Bank of Canada, has said that a lot of what were regarded as impediments to productivity — for example, tax rates — have changed in recent years. Some of the other innovations that people have looked for or requested have already taken place.
[D. Black in the chair.]
Really, the challenge for Canadian business and for Canadian governments is the challenge of real leadership at the top — particularly in business, in management — in making those productivity advances in a way that hasn't taken place so far.
Canadian productivity is low. Productivity here in British Columbia, even within the Canadian context, is lower still. It's a challenge to business leadership here in the province and to what is done in government, in terms of innovative applications of those principles, to increase productivity here in British Columbia.
Mr. Drummond says that the conventional view was that public policy was the culprit, but he no longer believes that. There's been a series of changes that he spoke of. Really, he says now, the focus has to be on "private sector business behaviour." And Mr. Drummond asked: "Why has not the Canadian business sector been more competitive, more entrepreneurial, more productive? One must look into this residual in the production function and try to determine what is going on."
He gives the example of the 2003-2007 period when "retained earnings and a sharply appreciating Canadian dollar only produced modest real increases in Canadian investment in machinery and equipment and almost no changes in nominal value. Why did corporations just sit on their profits over this period? Did they not realize this was a golden opportunity to ramp up their productivity to better withstand global competition? Why, instead, did they leave so much of their earnings in corporate bank deposits?"
So the debate in the Legislature, and the frame of reference of the minister, is: "Well, if these impediments to investment are simply swept away, that investment will result in a more productive use of capital. And obviously, all the benefits that come from that in terms of growth and jobs will follow."
Mr. Drummond doesn't agree. Mr. Côté doesn't agree, and suggests that even when the objective conditions for investment may have shifted, there is something that needs to be done further to encourage business leadership to make those investments and to increase the productivity of Canadian business.
I don't have an obvious answer to that. But it does, then, lead into the debate that if you're incenting innovation, there are programs at the federal level, which are reflected in the provincial budget, that have an impact on innovation.
The most obvious program was the subject of a report by the federal government called the Jenkins report, which looked at research and development, particularly what's called the SR&ED program. That program is a $3.5 billion national program that is a tax-credit program for investment in research and development by business.
We heard a presentation — from Mr. Gupta, who is president of MITACS and also a professor of computer science at the University of British Columbia — that in some ways Canada is first in expenditure on research and development, yet the results are far down the OECD scale. The government has embarked upon a study of that program and has made a number of suggestions.
It's relevant provincially because if you receive a SR&ED grant, there's a provincial top-up of 10 percent. You don't have to make a separate application for the provincial program. You simply are granted…. Any qualifying business is given an extra 10 percent. It's about a hundred-million-dollar expenditure in the B.C. provincial budget.
There are some proposals to change that. I expect that in the federal budget that's going to be announced in March, the federal government will clearly indicate its direction. But the indication seems to be that they're going to adopt some or most of that particular report.
What it will switch to is making the calculation for access to that SR&ED grant a little bit more rigorous in terms of its research-and-development outcomes. There's been criticism of the SR&ED program in the sense that it's become so complicated to access that people have been forced to hire consultants, typically people who've worked for the Canada Revenue Agency. They sometimes do it on a contingency basis, in the sense that they will charge a percentage of the tax credit that you get back in cash, and they have to be paid.
So there's a sense that the process by which these grants work is inefficient. It's not achieving the desired result, it's not adding to the productivity of Canadian business, it's not increasing research and development in the country, and it's not increasing research and development here.
Some of the important industries here, such as the technology sector, have some dispute with whether or not the grant should be entirely a labour credit. In clean technology, for example, there's obviously considerable capital investment that's required at the research stage simply to approve the wisdom of a process or its efficacy. There's some dispute there, and that may be something that's modified.
But if one is looking for and doing a review in government of programs that have an impact on the bottom line, have an impact on the productivity here and the economy,
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have an impact on knowledge industries, this is an area that should be focused on. Really, I can't think of anything that I've heard coming out of this government on this topic at all, notwithstanding its importance.
I do want to make a few…. I'm not sure how much time remains for me. Perhaps the Clerk…. I have a few minutes more, I think, relatively speaking.
B. Ralston: I'm told that it's a little bit longer than that. I know the members opposite are….
Another dramatic example missing from the budget was any mention of…. I think this was probably most dramatically expressed by Ms. Turpel-Lafond, the independent officer of this Legislature, who acts in a completely non-partisan role. She commented on this budget. She described it as "callous" and "a U-turn from the Premier's families-first agenda." I further quote her: "It's fine to have a harsh economic agenda, but at least soften it out by some compassionate approach toward people who are suffering through a deep recession."
The budget was significant for its complete absence of any mention of the impact of the recession, the downturn, on B.C. families and particularly on children. Since she speaks with some considerable authority about the impact of government programs on children, I think it would be wise for the government to listen carefully to that advice.
I know that Ms. Turpel-Lafond has called upon the Premier to meet with her and devise a strategy in a collaborative way to better lift children who need that assistance out of poverty, to enrich the lives of children in our province. Sadly, in this budget not even the glimmer of a suggestion that that was a priority for the government, and I think the comments of Ms. Turpel-Lafond are unfortunately pretty accurate when it comes to describing the impact of this budget.
On this side of the House we've introduced a private member's bill. My colleague from Vancouver-Hastings has introduced a private member's bill that would begin to set this Legislature in the direction of thinking about the elements that would be part of a poverty reduction plan.
Surely, the goal of government has to be not only to solve or begin to solve the problems of business or the economy, but also to lift those people who require assistance. That's a traditional role of government, I think, even by Burkean conservative standards: to lift those who need assistance and help them with creating better lives for themselves and particularly for their children. So nothing in this budget to deal with that, and that's regrettable indeed.
The other comment I wanted to add before I begin my final peroration here…. I wanted to also quote Sharon Matthews, who is the president of the Canadian Bar Association's B.C. branch. She said in response to the budget: "I know the government will say, 'Oh well, we understand that there are some problems in the justice system. Of course, we've been in control for 11 years.'" Not really accepting full responsibility — that seems to be the usual standard, unfortunately, for the government.
An Hon. Member: Closing courthouses.
B. Ralston: Closing a number of courthouses — absolutely.
My colleague the Leader of the Opposition was out in Chilliwack, where an important case of impaired driving alleged in the jurisdiction of Chilliwack went to trial. There was a conviction, but there was also an application brought under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The judge decided that the person's right to a trial in a reasonable period of time under the Charter had been breached, and that conviction, conditionally entered, was stayed. In other words, the charge, although there was a conviction, was dropped because of the long, long delay in bringing that….
I know that the citizens of Chilliwack are frankly outraged about that. They are beside themselves with a justice system that would see someone out on the highway, driving in a dangerous manner, intoxicated by alcohol, a risk to public safety and to others, not facing any criminal consequence because the criminal justice system took so long in getting that person to trial. I know that members in this Legislature will be unanimous in their denunciation of the situation that gave rise to that.
That's the situation that Sharon Matthews, who's the president of the Canadian Bar Association, was addressing when she commented on the budget. She said: "For the justice system, it's a status quo budget." I'm quoting, and I further quote her: "Unfortunately, the status quo in the justice system right now is a crisis. Without immediate injection of resources, that crisis is going to be maintained and grow, so it's disappointing."
That's, again, not a partisan person — the president of the Canadian Bar Association's B.C. branch. I don't know the woman. I don't think I've ever met her. She may have presented to the government Finance Committee, but I don't know her personally. And that's a very stark criticism of this government's record in the justice system.
I think the government really doesn't want to address that. They've got a review; something's coming. But as Ms. Matthews points out, there's an immediate crisis, and nothing is being done to address that. So this budget really fails in a number of areas, and that is one further one.
Finally, as I draw to conclusion, I want to talk a little bit about the process that we're about to embark upon, which is the budgetary process itself. The control of sup-
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ply — that is, the ability of the parliament to vote on government appropriations and control the expenditure of government — is the hardest-fought victory of the parliamentary system throughout its history over many centuries.
Unfortunately, when the Globe and Mail recently commented on this as it applies to the federal parliament, individual MLAs have relatively little control, if any, and input into that debate on supply, which is really the primary reason, the main historic reason why parliaments were created and was their main purpose — controlling the supply, the money that goes to the Crown to spend in the coming year.
Back in 1999 Mr. Enns did a study called Credibility, Transparency and Accountability: Improving the B.C. Budget Process. In 2009 he did another update at the direction of the previous Minister of Finance. One of the things that he concluded was that the consideration of supply, the whole estimates process — one talks about policy innovation and doing things differently — is very, very old-fashioned and arcane. We debate estimates, which are….
Sometimes, if the budget is tabled, as it is sometimes in an election year, six months after the beginning of the fiscal year, we table the estimates of what is going to be spent when, by modern information technology, it's already known how much has been spent and where, six months into the fiscal year. What Mr. Enns called for was a system that was more transparent in the sense that the budget would be tabled in a way that would be consistent with the estimates and with the public accounts. So one could trace an element of the budget from its genesis in the budget itself through the approval process at estimates and, ultimately, into the public accounts in a seamless way.
Now, that obviously is something that's very ambitious and could only be implemented over a number of years. But the goal would be to make the whole budget process a little bit more accessible, not only to members but to the public so that you could understand what happened when something was approved in a ministry or not.
That doesn't seem to be…. With modern information technology, it is not so far-fetched that one couldn't do that. We would then have better access. I know that one of the Deputy Speakers — not you, Madam Speaker, but the other Deputy Speaker — has expressed an interest in making that process a little bit more transparent. I haven't participated in those discussions, but I think there's something to be thought of there.
Obviously, it's not a high priority, but if we are going to speak of innovation, ultimate service delivery, doing things betters, doing things in a way that respects the public a bit more, we might want to consider those steps in relation to our own internal processes here as it deals with the budget.
Certainly, that was the recommendation of Mr. Enns in his 2009 report. I did meet with him personally and had a chat with him about it, and I think he recognized the ambition of that goal and the number of years that it might take to implement it. But I think that is the direction in which we should be moving, not sticking with the rather arcane and cumbersome process by which we debate the budget now.
I want to say in conclusion that this budget — where I think most of the public expected the new Premier to place her stamp on the budget, on the processes of the province — has been a complete and abject failure. It simply seems to be consumed by some rather shopworn rhetoric about austerity. Fiscal prudence is important, but there's no vision in this document. It leaves out vast areas of the community, as Ms. Turpel-Lafond has said, and the province is not better off for this budget. In fact, it's worse off.
I would conclude my remarks by saying on behalf of the official opposition that we'll be opposing this budget when it comes time to vote.
R. Sultan: It gives me a good deal of pleasure to have the opportunity to follow the respected member for Surrey-Whalley in commenting on the government's budget of 2012. I should also interject that I share the member's concerns — the member for Surrey-Whalley. Given the role of Crown asset disposal is playing in the fiscal plan of this government, clearly the disposition of these Crown assets in a highly ethical, transparent, arm's-length manner goes without saying. I trust that will be the case.
But turning to the budget itself in the broader context, I'd like to begin by quoting the Investment Industry Association of Canada, representing the investment industry from Newfoundland out here to Victoria.
"The Investment Industry Association of Canada commends the B.C. government for taking measured remedial steps to repair the unexpected budget deficits in the past two years and a concomitant increase in public debt. These budget measures will stabilize the public debt burden at 18.3 percent of gross domestic product within two years and preserve the province's enviable AAA credit rating. This government is not prepared to tolerate a continued escalation in the debt burden that will be left to younger generations."
They carry on and say:
"The government has put in place a responsible plan to slow program spending at a moderate pace over the next three years to an annual average rate of 2 percent, down from an average 3 percent rate in the past several years. The plan resists tax increases to bring the budget into balance. The corporate tax rate for B.C. businesses will remain unchanged at 10 percent" — I must interject, of course, that that's conditional upon things perhaps looking brighter than they may be in 2014 — "one of the lowest in the country and the small business rate at 2 percent.
"Business will benefit from the red-tape reduction program and the increase in the small business venture capital program for direct investment in new companies. The personal tax rate remains unchanged as the lowest in Canada. Ian Russell, president and CEO of the IIAC, said: 'These tax and other measures will promote business investment and growth in the province. In this budget
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the government recognizes the importance of a competitive business climate to seize the advantages as the gateway to the North American economy.'"
Clearly, the investment industry gives this budget a positive report card, and they give this positive report card in a difficult economic setting.
It's increasingly clear that the financial collapse of 2008, referred to several times by the member for Surrey-Whalley, triggered in part by those kids in red suspenders from the Harvard Business School that I knew so well, supplemented by financial models designed by PhD mathematicians from the University of Chicago — and I knew a few of them in my time — was a global turning point, revealed as emperors wearing no clothes, or several trillion dollars of mortgage debt, in the United States, dubious accounting in European governments and banks, and a general inability to rein in a huge pool of liquidity sloshing around the world under only modest control.
The world at large that was initially viewing this as a Wall Street and city of London capital market phenomenon soon learned that it was only months before the disturbance and upset contaminated and adversely impacted the so-called real world of goods and services and, through the interconnectedness of the global trade and financial network, infiltrated all the countries around the world.
So here we are, some 40 months later, viewing the tentative economic rebuilding underway. The U.S.A. seems to be displaying the first signs of a tentative recovery. Europe, however, is sliding backwards, and we must assume there's a certain nervousness as to the soundness of balance sheets in Asia.
In this delicate environment this government has introduced a budget which will be sharply scrutinized, not only in this chamber but elsewhere in the world, for its example of what I believe can fairly be called courage and candor and its willingness to face up to reality and risks in very troubled times. The budget, in sum, as befits the times and as presented, is a cautious, conservative, belt-tightening and risk-averse set of numbers.
I'd emphasize three points. British Columbia has avoided the worst of the external collapse confronting most of the world and is coming out of the recession early. We're coming out of it early. I sense that. Why? Is that good luck, or can we give credit in some measure to good government?
Well, I believe it's evidence that a decade of fiscal conservatism in this House has paid off, while reckless expansion of spending and money supply elsewhere has not. I think we are now seeing the fruits of good government on display in terms of the economic condition that all British Columbians enjoy, despite the belt-tightening to which we're all submitted.
The second point is that this budget gives very little wiggle room. To reduce the spending envelope to 2 percent in an inflation environment currently running at 2.3 percent will require unprecedented discipline and determination, starting right here in these chambers.
Thirdly, government is all about making choices, and I believe the choices — in many cases, choices which we don't have many options other than to consider — reflected in this budget have been shaped with an appropriate respect for seniors, homebuyers, the poor, the disadvantaged and others to the degree fiscal realities allow, although it cannot repair all of the income redistribution inherent in the HST, which is being dismantled in response to the vigorous pressure from the public and from the NDP.
Some budget specifics. The province forecasts a deficit of almost a billion dollars in 2012-13 and small surpluses of $150 million in '13-14 and $250 million in '14-15. The budget projects modest economic growth over the next three years.
School districts will receive $4.7 billion over the next three years. Government will invest an additional $165 million to establish a special fund to deal directly with the issues of class composition, and I think the focus there is on special needs. The Ministry of Health budget will increase $1½ billion over the three-year fiscal plan to nearly $17.3 billion by 2014-15.
New tax measures that benefit seniors, families and businesses in B.C. include the B.C. first-time new homebuyers bonus of up to $10,000, the B.C. seniors home-renovation tax credit of up to $1,000, the children's fitness credit and the children's art credit.
Our corporate income taxes are now among the lowest in the country, and combined with federal tax reductions, the corporate income tax rate in B.C. is among the lowest of all of the G7 nations. Business owners understand the importance of government balancing its budget to maintain that.
The fiscal plan also includes a temporary one-point increase in the general corporate income tax rate to 11 percent in 2014 if necessary. We will not know that decision until subsequent budgets emerge. The small business corporate tax rate will be maintained. That's basically the skeleton within which the numbers have been put to bed.
I might also mention that I think that it is probably true that we have reached a turning point in the economic history of this century in the sense that as the budget suggests, we are forecasting a 2 percent growth environment for British Columbia, and I think that's probably a reasonable expectation for the country as a whole.
I can recall years ago, when I was chief economist of a major bank in the east, it dawned on me one day that instead of the 5 and 6 percent growth rates that we'd become very used to, 3½ percent growth seemed to be more typical. I went and informed my superiors that I thought we were living in a 3½ percent world, and in fact history bore me out. Now I think that we have to manage our af-
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fairs under the assumption that we're living in a 2 percent world with all of the constraint of our ambitions and desires which that implies.
On the health side, as I said, the budget will increase to $17.3 billion. The minister has referred to bending the growth of the health-cost curve. It had been growing fairly recently as fast as 7 percent per annum, was brought down to 5 percent and will now be hopefully — possibly, we think — pushed to 3 percent, but not without a good deal of smart management and restraints.
These are very ambitious goals, unprecedented in, I think, health ministry history across the land. We shall have to see how it works out. It will depend upon the expertise of some of our own in-house, supremely qualified and trained medical experts to achieve that. We are going to try and achieve that despite growing obesity, new and dangerous pathogens, the influx of seniors with typical health system costs four to five times greater than those who are younger — despite all of that, challenges enough.
The statement has been made that this budget is characterized by abandonment of the low-tax strategy of the government. I quote, from the Globe and Mail this morning, Mr. Brethour in Victoria: "The reality is that the Liberals have, in their continued drift leftward" — that might surprise some people in this chamber — "given up the high ground of low taxes and will be reduced to arguing that they would raise taxes — but not as much as the NDP would." Well, that's an unusual paragraph. I've never met this gentleman. I'd like to have a talk with him.
Let's just take a look at whether in fact it's true that we have abandoned our low-tax strategy. As a coincidence, as I was sitting there reading the newspaper in the foyer of the east annex about 12 o'clock today, at noon, who should walk by but a gentleman from KPMG who was calling on someone else.
I seized the opportunity to check a fact. I said: "Is it true, as the KPMG worldwide survey of tax rates indicates, that Vancouver, as an example of the general tax environment in British Columbia, has just about the lowest combined tax environment of all of the major cities in the world?" He said: "Yeah, that's about the way it is — the lowest in the world."
I find it astonishing myself, and when I explain that to my constituents, they look at me as if I've somehow lost my senses. But here are the data. This is KPMG. I would argue they're perhaps the world's most pre-eminent, at the moment, accounting firm — global, international. People at Pricewaterhouse wouldn't agree with that.
Okay, here's the data. Here we are in Vancouver, ranking number one. That means we're the lowest. If you move to Calgary, you're going to have a 6 percent increase in your combined tax burden. Wow. If you move to Toronto, a 21 percent increase. If you move to Monterrey, Mexico, a 22 percent increase in taxes.
If you move to Houston — and we all know those Americans enjoy such low taxes, and you certainly don't have to pay a lot of the bills for heating oil and so on, and the gas, etc., as up here — a 53 percent higher tax burden in Houston. The champion on this list, my old hometown of Boston: 60 percent higher taxes than Vancouver.
So despite some little tweaking of the tax rate in the budget presented by the Finance Minister here yesterday, we are still by far, all things considered — all levels of government, all types of taxation considered, including the famous HST — world beaters.
I'm not sure where all those people who send me e-mails complaining about high taxes actually plan to move. Some of them are very condemning and threatening. They're going to come down to the office and give me a piece of their mind. Curiously, I see a lot more people moving into this part of the world rather than leaving, and there's probably a reason for that.
Let's turn to the debt situation. The province forecast a deficit of almost a billion, as I said, in 2012-13, and moving into surplus in the two subsequent years by a thin margin — not much wiggle room, as I've said.
The capital-to-GDP ratio — capital to gross domestic product — what has become commonly accepted as a very convenient and easily replicated measure of sustainability, is forecast to peak at 18.3 percent in 2014-15, and then decline down.
Why is there this fixation on debt-to-GDP? Well, in part, it is influenced very heavily by capital spending, which of course is typically funded from debt, not tax revenues. In fact, in this budget we're talking about spending another over $10 billion on new schools, new hospitals and infrastructure.
But this fixation is also because of what we see happening in other countries around the world. Let's quote three for examples: Ontario — well, at least it likes to think it's another country; the United States; and Greece.
This is off the press, Monday, February 20. "Reuters — Greece will need additional relief if it's to cut its debt to 120 percent of GDP by 2020, and if it doesn't follow through on structural reforms, its debt could hit 160 percent by 2020, a confidential analysis by the IMF shows." So 160 percent. Well, that's a big number.
Ontario, our most indebted province. Their debt-to-GDP ratio was only 15 percent as recently as 1990. It's climbing to 40 percent by 2014. Don Drummond, the TD Bank economist that the member for Surrey-Whalley referred to who issued a report on Ontario, said: "Folks, unless you adopt all of my 362 recommendations in my report, you're going to go up to $411 billion of debt and have a ratio of 50 percent."
Of course, he uses that to argue for harsh austerity — harsh austerity. We've been used to restraint and constraint for ten years, but Ontario doesn't even know the meaning of the word. I suspect they're in for some tough lessons.
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Finally, the United States. Here's a note prompted, I think, by Bloomberg. Some blogster of no particular reputation wrote it, but the facts strike me as true. This, I think, was yesterday. "As the U.S. Debt-to-GDP Passes 101 Percent, the Global Debt Ponzi Enters Its Final Stages." Well, I don't agree with the last half of that sentence, so strike that.
But he does go on to say, with some wit:
"Today, without much fanfare, U.S. debt-to-GDP hit 101 percent with the latest issuance of $32 billion in two-year bonds. If the moment when this ratio went from double to triple digits is still fresh in readers' minds, it's because the total debt hit and surpassed the most recently revised Q4 GDP on January 30, or just three weeks ago.
"Said otherwise, it's taken the U.S. 21 days to add a full percentage point to this most critical of debt sustainability ratios. But fear not. With just under $1 trillion in new debt issuance on the deck in the next nine months, we'll be at 110 percent in no time."
You think running British Columbia is difficult? I don't know if we want to trade places with President Obama.
So what? Who cares what the ratio is, anyway — 110 percent, 160 percent or our 18 percent? Will it affect borrowing costs? It has to come from somewhere. More importantly, in my view, it encourages a higher degree of caution elsewhere in the entire financial institution pyramid of debt, which is the modern economy. When people get nervous about governments, everybody else lower on the food chain begins to start thinking twice about extending credit, and households find it harder to finance themselves.
Governments, to cure the problem, resort to painful and disruptive tactics. I don't know if many of you noticed. I just happened to be channel-surfing last week — late at night, I guess it was — and here's Athens burning. I mean, I thought: "Oh my gosh. Is the Parthenon going to be burned?"
The rioting is…. Well, it's shocking. The people took to the streets, and they burned down whatever they could — not that we haven't had our own experiences in that regard. So debt-to-GDP matters.
Then there's a fourth comparison I would make, in closing, and that would be to my favourite projection of a government-budget-in-waiting, as the member for Vancouver-Hastings pointed out — namely, our friends across the aisle. Now, they've been very cozy. They say they have a budget and some numbers, but they're not going to show it to anybody. But through the magic of research, we can reconstruct what they have in mind.
For example, unbeknownst to them, we had our spies out there tracking all the promises they've made over the past period of time. There are 21 significant ones, and I have to say they're all great ideas. For example, we should peg per-capita interprovincial health care spending to keep us in the forefront of all the provinces in Canada. We should spend $1.1 billion on transit. We should spend $1.7 million to reinstate Buy B.C. And on it goes — forgone fees on log exports, the creation of a ministry of women's equality, stand-alone dialysis unit in Chilliwack, etc.
It all adds up. Well, the first version of this added up to $10 billion per annum. Then they said: "No, no, no. That's probably too aggressive. We'll give you a corrected version." The one I have happens to be $8 billion. They said, "No, no, no. That could be criticized," so they gave me the third version, which was $6.8 billion. That's the one that was used at the press conference a couple of days ago.
It wasn't very hard to figure out these people — led by their leader, of course — have made promises to spend at least $6 billion or $7 billion a year in their first ten months under a new leader. I was so bold to say: "Well, at that rate, they aren't going to slow down the promising in the next ten months as the election gets closer, so I'm betting that it's going to be double."
Let's call it $6 billion. It'll go to $12 billion. I don't have any trouble as an economist making that forecast. But in fairness, they've said: "No, no, no. We are also prudent, careful economic managers, and we will pay for all of this." So they revealed their tax plan to pay for it. The tax plan said that they're going to cancel the tax cuts associated with the carbon tax and divert the carbon tax revenue into general revenue. I think it's somewhere into transit, somewhere along there.
That's only a $1.1 billion personal income tax increase that they have promised to British Columbians should they come into power, and we'll hold them to that. A 20 percent increase in the corporate income tax, $370 million — that's a promise. That's an election promise from the folks across the aisle, and they're going to reinstate the corporate capital tax on financial institutions alone at $120 million.
I say forget about it. They're not going to stop at financial institutions. They're going to reinstate the capital tax in its full half-billion-a-year glory as it was in the '90s. You can bet the farm on it.
It's not so difficult to take where we are and add on the increment of spending that they have promised and the increment of revenue they promised by increasing taxes and say: "Well, what would British Columbia look like under an NDP government today?"
To cut through a lot of numbers here, which I really don't have time to relate and which would bore you — but I'm glad to give you copies should you be interested — the bottom line is that the size of government goes from about 21 percent of GDP…. We represent about a 1/5 of British Columbia, so 1/5 of British Columbia is managed right out of this room here. Have you ever thought of that? It will go up to 27 percent under my somewhat ambitious doubling scenario. So one-quarter of British Columbia would be managed right here, right from these desks. That's a pretty big enterprise.
The increased deficit, if you just take the promises made, would be around $6 billion. If you take my forecast, it would be $12 billion. Well, how on earth did they
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plan to pay for an additional deficit of $6 billion or possibly even $12 billion?
Well, I offer three ways of doing it. You can pay for it by raising taxes, you can pay for it by cutting spending, or you can go further into debt. This is where I was genuinely startled. I thought: "Well, it shouldn't be hard to come up with another $6 billion in revenue." Try it.
The Finance Minister has that little gimmick thing, you know: "Pretend you're the Finance Minister, plug in numbers and see what you get." Well, I thought it would be fairly simple. We'll tweak corporate taxes a bit, personal, and maybe do something on the sales tax rate. No, no, not that easy.
So here's one way you can do it. Cut the Health budget by a third. That will be popular. Then you've solved your deficit problem on the more modest range, the $6 billion range. Or you could do the same thing and cure it by cutting Education spending in half. So we'll shut down half the schools and half the universities. That will do it. Or we could raise income taxes, business and personal combined, by a mere 80 percent. Or we could increase taxpayer-supported debt by 20 percent, and we'll start the treadmill to Ontario, Greece and the United States.
Well, I'm running out of time. I was going to compare their operating ratio — that is to say, the deficit as a percentage of GDP. I don't know if I'm allowed to hold up a copy of the London Economist, but I would recommend that you always go to the back page. This is my report card on how the countries around the world are doing. It lists 43 different countries with all their key macrostatistics.
Where would the NDP state of British Columbia rank in terms of the budget balance as a percentage of GDP? It turns out that we would only be exceeded by six of these 43 countries. The United States would be worse. Japan would be worse. Britain would be worse. Greece would be worse. Pakistan would be worse, and Egypt would be worse. But all the others would be better. So that's the possible fate that may lie in store.
To conclude, we can have a lot of fun saying, you know, as Ms. Turpel-Lafond says: "Why don't you spend a big chunk of money on children and families, you brutes? You lack compassion."
Or we have this guy from the bar society — without conflict of interest, of course — saying: "You really should be spending a lot more on the justice system. All those murderers and criminals are being let out onto the streets."
Then the Finance critic himself had a story in the Vancouver Sun yesterday, and he listed a long laundry list of things that we weren't doing — student aid, forest health, education and skills training, needs-based for post-secondary students, families facing another rate hike on electricity, ICBC coverage, B.C. Ferries, etc.
Deputy Speaker: Member, your time has expired. Thank you very much.
R. Sultan: You get the idea.
N. Macdonald: Very well said, as well. It can be difficult.
Just to start off with, look, I mean, the previous speaker — obviously, there's a whole number of things that I wouldn't agree with in terms of his characterization of the future of British Columbia. But I will say that on this side there are very few members that we have more respect for. We know the knowledge that he brings to this position. I've said before in this House that it's always a pleasure to listen to him speak, and I thank him for the presentation. That's, I think, as positive as we're going to get here in the next half-hour.
I turn to Budget 2012. The presentation yesterday begins a lengthy process for us. We will move into a process called estimates, which is a ministry-by ministry look at the money that has been set aside to properly service the people of British Columbia. My experience over the past six, seven years is that it's a bit of a cat-and-mouse game.
I do want to say that I have dealt with a number of ministers that were not at all forthcoming. The minister that my colleague for Cowichan Valley and I dealt with last year, the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations — that still doesn't roll off the tongue, that one — has been most forthcoming, and I do look forward to the opportunity to ask questions again of his ministry — a ministry that has still been unable to come together and work in a coherent way. That was one of the many grenades that Premier Campbell threw into this government before he left. It is a mess. It continues to be. You meet with ministry staff, and they have a whole host of interesting names for that ministry.
What is clear is that the minister has failed at the Treasury Board to make the arguments that needed to be made if we were going to get wise stewardship of our most precious resource, and I think that's sad. I'll come to that later on.
This budget is the continuation of a pattern. I mean, let's be clear. We have a new leader and a new Premier, but there is nothing different in any way in terms of this budget. It is basically, for the most part, rolling over existing levels of funding. It's not as if there has been a lot of thought given to where we're going. It is a few cuts here, but essentially it's just the status quo rolled out, and with that I think the results become pretty predictable.
It is interesting to hear a former professor, a former economist talk about numbers and talk about the economy as if it is disconnected from individuals. The fact of the matter is that this status quo budget, this continuation of what we have had for the past 11 years, has led to a very predictable result. It predictably leads to child poverty.
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When these members vote and present budgets like this and vote for it, they are voting for child poverty at levels that are higher in this jurisdiction than any other jurisdiction in Canada, and they are making decisions about the future of those children. That's the fact of the matter. That is a conscious decision that members on the government side are making: to push children into poverty. Years later, after seven or eight years where we've been asking for a poverty reduction plan, something to deal with that, there is nothing here. That's one decision that's made.
Other predictable results: there are going to be seniors issues that are left improperly dealt with; we are going to have our public lands mismanaged; we are going to have court delays — all predictable. When this government came in 11 years ago and thought that it could close courthouses — in my area, of the four courthouses that were there, three were closed; jails were closed; there was a reduction in judges — predictably, we've come to a place where justice is not being served in a number of cases where it should be served. Predictable outcomes for decisions that are made here so this government can stand up and say that it has the lowest tax in this region or that region. But it is not they that bear the burden for the downloading of the true costs of budgets like this.
You have a different leader, but it's the same backroom crowd. We heard the name Kinsella today, but it's the same people behind him. It's Kinsella; it's Brown, McLean, Davies, Turner — names that most of the general public wouldn't be familiar with, but for people that are familiar with B.C. Liberal insiders, they're familiar names.
It's the same money behind the government, and it's the same B.C. Liberal priorities, which to be honest, are private and narrow. Those are the B.C. Liberal priorities rather than the public and inclusive priorities that are needed. They certainly do not represent the priorities for people in Columbia River–Revelstoke. You look at the numbers, and you have to look in detail so that you see what is really happening with the budget, just as when legislation comes forward you have to really look at the detail to get a true sense of where the government is going.
I think what most people realize is that government rhetoric often tries to create an illusion very different from the realities that face families in this province. Budget 2012 certainly makes sure that the government's ability to create illusions is looked after.
If you look in the budget, one of the areas that you see where money was found is the $15 million for ad campaigns. At a time when we can think of all sorts of areas where we need funds…. Certainly, in my critic area there is critically important work that could be done with that $15 million. Instead, what this government chooses to do is to spend $15 million on ads. I mean, let's be clear. It's a pre-election year. These are not public service announcements. They're essentially electioneering on the public dime. So that's a priority — okay? That's a decision that this government makes to put that ahead of the many, many other areas where that money could be spent.
They also have $26 million — that wasn't decreased; that didn't get cut or reduced — for the government propaganda arm. You have what used to be the public affairs bureau renamed, but it's essentially the same thing. I mean, it is interesting for people to always remember that one of the things that we have in British Columbia is about 200 people who do that propaganda work here.
Now, Barack Obama has 42, but the government here needs 200. It shows you the priorities of this government — that its ads and propaganda are one area that they're going to invest in because they need that rhetoric and that capacity to spin what is going on here.
Now, I will accept that you always have to watch the money that you're spending. I do accept that there are fiscal realities. The government tried to lay those out as they saw it, and some of the speakers have tried to do the same thing. But essentially, it is the same game plan that they've had for quite a long time: you cut taxes; you get rid of regulations. And 11 years on, the benefits of the trickle-down economics that the member before me talked about and, essentially, that build this budget…. The impacts are there for everyone to see.
Trickle-down economics. Well, it was supposed to create growth. But growth in this last decade has been less than the previous decade. Now, that's a fact. You go to Statistics Canada. That's the fact. Members stand up and talk about how fantastic they are with the economy. The fact is that growth was bigger in the decade that they condemn all the time.
We were told that with all of those tax cuts for the rich, something different would happen, but it hasn't. And we were told that income tax, if it was cut, would come back because the pie would grow. Yet you look 11 years later at income tax, and income tax is essentially the same as when it was cut. So after all that time, that's what we have to see.
Predictably, with this formula, the rich have become richer. Programs have become degraded. The land has become degraded. Poor, including many children, have become more numerous and poorer. That's what has happened.
As to the myth of competence, well, you know, I've been here six years. I would ask any one of the government members to just go have a look at the convention centre. See how you ran that. There wasn't even a plan. When they started the project, there wasn't even a plan. It was a board loaded with B.C. Liberal insiders with no expertise.
We had member after member promising. I remember the member for Chilliwack, who is now some sort of assistant to the Premier, guaranteeing $500 million. He said: "Not a nickel more." It was a question in estimates.
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"Not a nickel more than $500 million." Well, he was $400 million off. That's a lot of nickels.
But they still stand up. It's one thing to stand up and tell everyone how competent you are, but I sometimes think they actually believe it. That hubris is what so often gets them into trouble. Just because you say you're competent doesn't mean you can build a convention centre without a plan, that you can load up a board of B.C. Liberal insiders and have it just happen. It's happened with B.C. Place, and it's happened with the reorganization of many of the ministries and the flip-flopping around that we see.
Now, the deficit in 2001 was — what? — $34 billion, in that neighbourhood. If you look at the figures here, you have the Canadian Taxpayers Federation talking about the deficit going up to over $60 billion. I think the figure they use in the next number of years is $66 billion. So that's the debt.
Now, the previous speaker talked about the level of debt that we're carrying compared to other jurisdictions. There's no question that we're in a far better place. In a whole number of areas we're in a better place. But there are contractual obligations that need to be added to that. There are contractual obligations of about $80 billion.
One of the projects that was built in my area, which is a wonderful project, doesn't show up as debt. It was a P3, and it shows up instead as a contractual obligation. So I think we need to bear in mind, when the government throws out numbers, that we're talking about contractual obligations of an additional $80 billion.
When you talk about debt, when you talk about contractual obligations, you have to look at whether you're getting value. Very often these projects can provide value. Nevertheless, in Budget 2012 the debt balloons. So when we're talking low taxes, we're also talking about the fact that in seven of the ten or 11 years we have not taxed to the levels where we can avoid deficit. That's part of the record too.
When you look at where money is coming in, the fact is that we get, as ordinary people, hit with the MSP increases again. The gas tax is going up again. ICBC rates are going up again, and we know that hydro rates are going to go up as well. So that's the pattern.
The other pattern is that corporate taxes may go up in 2014 if necessary, so we'll see. I mean, what are the odds on that happening? I just think that the imbalance speaks for itself.
In the meantime, the HST stays in place until April of 2013. So let's just be clear. That $2 billion tax shift that the people of British Columbia rejected…. That's the tax shift — the HST — that the Minister of Finance said was his A-game. That was the A-plan — right? That was the best thing he could do for the economy, and the people of British Columbia said: "Well, forget that. Get rid of that." I guess we're in the midst of that process. It took — what? — nine or ten months to bring in the HST, a brand-new tax. But now we're being told again that it's going to take 20 months to go back to the PST that we had for 60 years.
N. Macdonald: Now, do you really want to engage on the HST? Is that really what you want to do? It seems to me that it was a bit of a career wrecker.
Budget 2012 includes the $2 billion tax shift from corporations on to the backs of ordinary Canadians, ordinary families. I mean, one other element that's talked about was that Budget 2012 was going to set up a balanced budget in 2013 — again, not likely. The B.C. Liberals plan to put down a budget prior to the 2013 election and then plan to have the election, and then in the summer after the election we would get the real numbers. We know from 2009 that the guarantee, the absolute guarantee, repeated again and again that it would be $495 million as deficit, and it turned out to be six times that number. As well, the other surprise was the HST.
The idea that just by saying in this budget that there is going to be a balanced budget…. I think there will be a good degree of cynicism about whether that is really going to be the case. I think this government is well past the point where the public is going to find that a credible promise.
Now, part of the plan laid out in Budget 2012 for balancing the budget in 2013 is to sell off $700 million in government assets. Obviously that's not sustainable. The choice is to liquidate some of these in a desperate attempt to meet some political agenda. Very few people would realize what went on with the highway maintenance properties that were privatized. You know, I can't say for the pattern, but I know there were a whole host of questions in my area about how those properties were liquidated.
I think the best example, and the one that we can use as the most worrying example, of where public assets were liquidated by this government was with B.C. Rail. It was basically given away. The people of British Columbia did not get value for that asset being given away. B.C. Liberal insiders benefited incredibly while the public lost, and those people are still there. Kinsella and McLean did very well — still there, flying around the Premier, helping out with the leadership campaign. I mean, let's be honest. There was corruption and a lack of fairness in that sell-off of our assets.
So with the $700 million that the government proposes to give away or sell off, it's heads-up — right? The public really has to make sure that that's being done in a forthright way. There are open questions as to whether this government is capable of that, but we'll be watching.
When people say in my area what they expect from their government, it's pretty straightforward what they
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expect. They expect that the level of government that's responsible for education is going to manage education and skill training and make it a priority.
As soon as communities were built in the Columbia Valley, one of the first things they got was a school. They realized that children needed to be educated. That is more true now than at any point in our history. If you go to developing countries, the ones that are successful have invested heavily in education.
That is the future for this province. It always has been. People see it as a priority. If you are going to have a good school system, you have to resource it. That's the reality. If you don't resource it, then you take away the opportunities for our children. I can tell you, you go to any community and that is not the choice that people would make. They want good schools, they want their children well-educated, and they want to make sure that it is a priority. Again, I would say that with this budget the B.C. Liberals are failing us.
In my area we want access to health care in a way that is fair for rural British Columbians. I will go from person to person, and each will say that they want our seniors treated with dignity. They absolutely want seniors treated with dignity. I can't imagine that there's anyone on the government benches who would say differently.
But the fact is that you have an Ombudsperson's report that lays out a number of challenges, and this budget chooses not to address them. These are not new challenges. The Ombudsperson's report was four years in the making. None of the issues that I read from my area were issues that the government didn't know about. We passed along the information. They're not new issues, but there is a conscious choice not to deal with them.
People in my area want a justice system that works. There will be different stories coming up, but I can tell you that when a family waits an extended period of time to see justice and they see the case thrown out, there's something really fundamentally wrong with that. I know that's not the outcome that any member here would want. In our area it was a cocaine dealer. Nobody wants that, but it is a predictable result when you don't look after the system the way it needs to be looked after.
There was a callous disregard for the inevitable outcome of decisions made by this government, and now they're standing up and saying: "Oh, this is wrong, and this is wrong." Well, who put that in place? Who was responsible? There's no willingness to take responsibility, and there's no willingness to actually deal with the issue in an appropriate way.
So people want education done properly, health care done properly, and they want a justice system that works. If you can provide those things, people understand that it costs money. If they think you can do it competently and they think that you're going to do a good job, then people will accept that there's a certain cost.
You know, I have lived in jurisdictions where taxes were way, way lower. I lived in Tanzania. We didn't pay anything, but we had no police, the court systems didn't work, and the roads weren't there. If you want to pay less, you get less. What we need to find is the balance. You need to find the balance as to what is going to provide you with the services that create a society that's fair and just, where children aren't left in poverty, where court systems work, where education is something that is of a world standard.
The last area that I want to speak on — and I want to speak about it as long as I can — is just on forestry. This government was handed a Cadillac, and they've chosen to save money by not putting oil in the Cadillac. That's the reality. It is a beautiful asset. It continues to be a beautiful asset, but what we are seeing is that government mismanagement has predictably led us to a place where we don't know what's going on in the land. We don't know.
You hear it from every possible group, and you've heard it for years. You've heard from the Auditor General — looking at it, no emotions, strictly from a fiscal framework — just as: "Here's your most valuable asset. It's worth a quarter of a trillion dollars. You don't know what you're doing." That's what they ended up saying. "You have allowed it to degrade."
Again, with this budget, they're going to cut forest health over two years by $20 million. A relatively small amount of money that would be needed to get the inventory right is instead being spent on ads to promote the government. That's the priority. A situation where your most valuable asset just needs some investment — this government steps away from it.
Inventory — $22 million, on average, back 15 years ago. Now you're down to $6 million. You have the Auditor General, you have forest professionals, you have the Forest Practices Board. Everyone is saying that you're not doing enough. You don't know what's going on in the land.
In terms of planting, we could have as much as two million hectares. It could be one million; it could be two million. We don't know. There used to be a time when the Minister of Forests could phone up and get an accurate number. We don't know. It could be a million or two million. That's not a shocking number? That's not a shocking reality?
When this government took over, fires and disease were areas of provincial responsibility. It was a law that the province had to replant. This government, in one of its…. I don't know where they thought it was going. They introduced legislation that got rid of that requirement, cut the budget by 90 percent. Predictably, we're in a place where we have a degraded forest, where the Auditor General is saying: "You're wrecking something that is incredibly valuable." That's the reality.
So when this government stands up and they brag
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about the fact that they're not spending money on the forests, well, congratulations. That seems to me a ridiculous way to approach our most valuable asset.
It's not the only part of the mismanagement. Basically, by changing legislation, getting rid of personnel, you got rid of enforcement. There's no enforcement in the woods. That's the reality of it. The amount of waste that's left out there is absolutely astronomical, and the waste means lost opportunity, which is the same with raw log exports. It is a wasted opportunity.
Last weekend we travelled up and down the Island, and we met with mill owner after mill owner that said, "We can't get wood," at the same time as this government is allowing 5.5 million cubic metres of wood to go offshore. Now, you're always going to have some raw log exports. I think in the '90s it was about a million cubic metres. But 5.5 million cubic metres…. The example that my colleague from North Coast used is that if you took that wood from 2011 alone and you put it on logging trucks, those logging trucks would stretch, touching bumpers end to end, from Victoria, the steps of this parliament, to Thunder Bay. Now, that's wasted opportunity.
It should be no surprise that in this government's tenure that 35,000 good, family-supporting jobs in forestry were lost. It's no surprise. And what is the reaction of government, given those circumstances? It's to do nothing. It's to accept that the best we can do in British Columbia is knock down a tree and put it on a barge and create — what? — how many jobs? That an industry that used to be one of the most sophisticated in the world is at that level….
You know, a hundred years ago there were rules in place that tried to keep logs in this province. It was there, and there was a vision. I mean, the NDP was up against the Social Credit, but Social Credit had a vision. Social Credit respected the land, just as the NDP that followed it. And that's all gone. That has gone.
We've talked about the timber resource being worth a quarter of a trillion dollars. The land as a whole is probably, I think, priceless, but if you want to put a price tag on it, the price that you hear is about a trillion dollars. We're not looking after it.
Jim Walker — people in forestry will know the name — here in Victoria retired. Otherwise, he wouldn't be allowed to speak — a retired high-ranking member of the Forest Service, when there was a forest service.
Here's what he said. It was just in the paper. He just expresses it beautifully. He says:
"Without corrective action — and, yes, that means money and staff — B.C. stands the risk of rapidly becoming a silvicultural slum. People, don't be fooled into thinking this will always be the land of big trees, grizzlies and salmon for your children to enjoy. Our world-class reputation for forest productivity and biodiversity is not a free good. It requires a level of responsible stewardship that this government abandoned the day they took office and replaced, in the majority of cases, with a return to cut-and-run. 'Streamlining the regulations' and 'results-based management' have largely been convenient euphemisms for cutting environment standards to satisfy the greed of offshore markets and corporate friends.
"British Columbia is one of the very, very few places in the world that still has the option to 'do it right,' but we desperately need responsible forest management as a properly funded policy priority rather than just another political sound bite."
Well, Jim Walker, congratulations. You could not have said it better.
What I can tell you is that there is an opportunity. There are all sorts of things that we can do better, and we will do better.
J. Yap: It's an honour and a privilege for me, as the MLA for Richmond-Steveston, to take my place in this important debate — the second reading debate on the budget, Budget 2012, presented by the Finance Minister yesterday. I am delighted to rise to represent my constituents and speak strongly in favour of this budget, which I believe is the right budget for the times for British Columbia.
I do want to, first of all, follow up on a few comments that were made by members of the opposition, some comments initially made by the critic for the Ministry of Finance and by the last speaker, before I get into the substance of my comments.
First of all, the member for Surrey-Whalley, to paraphrase him, talked about an opportunity for our new Premier to put her stamp on this budget. I believe the opportunity has been taken, and this budget is clearly a budget with our new Premier, our government stamp on it, to provide the plan to take British Columbia through these challenging financial times.
At a time when the economic recovery of the global economy is fragile at best, we see signs of a turnaround. But you know, the temptation to do the kind of thing which the members of the opposition, when they had their time in government to spend, to tax, to live beyond our means, clearly, would be there. Instead, we have a prudent budget, a fiscally responsible budget, a bit of a belt-tightening budget, but one that I know that the vast majority of British Columbians will see as the right budget for our times and support the direction of our government.
The member for Columbia River–Revelstoke spoke eloquently just before me. He made the comment — if I am paraphrasing right — that every member on this side makes a conscious decision when we vote to support the budget. We make a conscious decision on this side of the House to support families because…. Again, to paraphrase the member about dignity, he made some comments about dignity.
There is nothing more that provides dignity than a job. This side of the House, this government, stands for creating jobs through the private sector, enabling the creation of jobs. Our jobs plan, which this budget supports, will help more and more families around the province
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get jobs to support families and sustain communities all around the province of British Columbia.
I did pick up a phrase that the hon. member for Columbia River–Revelstoke did say, and I commend him for this. He said: "I accept fiscal realities." I heard him say that. I'd like to follow through in my comments now to build on that, because we do live in interesting times. You know, there's a very well-used saying that we live in interesting times.
You can't surf news blogs or Internet news sites or read the paper and not see on almost a daily basis the challenges facing the global economy — the situation in Europe, well discussed by all of us — and the difficulties faced by people in certain parts of Europe. A colleague of mine asked me to perhaps not keep talking about Greece. But all of us — I'm sure, our hearts go out to the people of Greece as they make this really difficult adjustment.
We can also learn from the experience of others. I was struck when I looked on the bbc.co.uk website. It had a little headline that said: "What went wrong in Greece?" There's a lot of material there that I'm sure all of us are familiar with, but here's a startling statistic. In Greece today the cost of borrowing on a ten-year bond issued by a government, which is kind of a benchmark instrument in financial markets…. The current interest rate, Madam Speaker — if you could respond, I would ask you to guess what you might think it is, but I won't ask you to guess — is approximately 34 percent.
Debt-rating agencies have downgraded the debt of the Greek people, Greek government, to basically junk bond status. The BBC article contrasts that with other jurisdictions which have more favourable borrowing rates. In Europe, Germany has the most favourable rate — under 5 percent. It's actually under 3 percent, the benchmark. It's no surprise that Germany, within the EU, has a triple-A credit rating, one of a declining number of jurisdictions that has that.
Of course, here in British Columbia we have, as one of our clear assets, a triple-A credit rating, which didn't just happen. It happened because of the prudent management, the fiscal management and guidance and stewardship of this government since 2001, where we've worked to restore the fiscal credibility of British Columbia, and that's what this budget will continue to do.
We want to keep B.C. as a preferred destination not just for people to move to live among us, to move here, immigrate here, but to be a safe harbour for investment. We want British Columbia to be that preferred destination, and it is. This budget continues to reinforce, continues to support that notion, that plan that all of us on this side of the House will continue to support and to work on, on behalf of British Columbians.
Some of the highlights of this budget have already been discussed, but I will focus on a few that I believe are particularly relevant. The fact is that this budget, this plan, calls for the province of British Columbia to balance its books, to have a surplus in operations next fiscal year.
I think the people of British Columbia have seen our record as a government that prudently manages the finances of the province and can have confidence that once again we will deliver, as we have for the last ten years except one year when we had that incredible downturn in the market. Every financial plan that we have put forward, we have achieved as a government, and we will again achieve that with this budget.
At the same time, this budget will protect key services. We all want our great health care system to continue to deliver great health care for British Columbians. All of us want that, on both sides of the House. This budget will ensure that of any area of any program spending by the province of British Columbia, health care continues to get the biggest share — over $1½ billion over the next three years.
Even though my high school and basic university level of mathematics will tell me that's an increase, an increase of $1.5 billion over the next three years, I am sure we will hear from others, members of the opposition, saying that somehow that $1.5 billion increase is a cut. Well, the fact is it is an increase, a meaningful, substantive increase to ensure — along with a focus on finding efficiencies, finding savings so that we can reinvest those savings in our health care system — we continue to deliver the best health care system anywhere in Canada right here in British Columbia.
We'll continue to invest in our education system, our K-to-12 system and advanced education, at record levels. It's been said that our children are the leaders of tomorrow, and that is, of course, the case. We want to ensure they are provided with the best possible education.
We have a great education system, which we're continuing to invest in. Having said that, we want to make sure we find the best way, the most effective ways in a modern and changing world, to deliver education so that our leaders of tomorrow — our young, our children, our youth — who get the education here can be productive and contributing citizens in British Columbia.
Another aspect of this budget is the initiatives to keep B.C. competitive, to keep our economy competitive. You know, B.C. is not an island. We are connected to the entire global economy. Sometimes in our busy daily lives it's hard to see that events and markets around the world have a direct impact on us here in British Columbia, but I believe more and more British Columbians are alive to that fact.
Thanks to the effective marketing and effective work of a number of ministers throughout the years in our government, we have been able to shift our dependence on one big market, which is still a big market for us and will continue to be a big market — the United States. But we're diversifying our customers. We are diversifying
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the economies that we will trade with and, in particular, economies in the Asia-Pacific. Two big ones, China and India — we have increased our trading with them by huge percentages.
It just occurs to me that the good member for Columbia River–Revelstoke talked about how we have seen the impact on the forest industry. What was not said by the hon. member was the fact that our biggest purchaser of lumber, the United States, is still coping, trying to turn around from the deepest recession in a generation and, basically, a collapse of the housing market in the United States in 2008-2009. While there are some signs of bottoming out and a gradual return to building activity, it is going to be a long time before we will see the levels of sales to our biggest lumber purchaser, the United States.
In the meantime, we have diversified our markets. We now are hitting record levels of lumber sales to economies in Asia, especially China, and that is a direct result of the marketing focus and promotion by our government. This budget will continue to emphasize the need for us to look at more opportunities for trade for our economy in the Asia-Pacific.
This budget holds the line on spending. As we heard my esteemed colleague from West Vancouver–Capilano referring to what the Finance Minister had mentioned in the budget speech, we need to bend down the rising cost curve that had been the case. This budget brings in a plan to do just that.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
As I said earlier, this budget will encourage a continued focus on finding efficiencies so that we can reinvest savings into programs. Our approach, unlike that of the opposition, is not to just keep throwing money, and our approach is not to measure success by the amount of money that we throw at whatever issues, whatever challenges. We know that is the socialist approach. That is the mantra of socialists.
The opposition members — the party of labour, which the member from Alberni said — talked about the fact that they are…. The true socialist approach is to just keep spending money.
J. Yap: I will get to it. We have to ask: where is the money going to come from? Where is the money going to come from, which all of the program promises that are being made by members of the opposition, by their new leader…? We have to have that discussion, because the opposition is saying, "Well, just spend more money." In fact, they are looking through their campaign, their promises to spend on different programs…. It's a big mystery. What are these program promises going to cost?
J. Yap: Yes, in the drawer. Somewhere in a filing cabinet in an office in the Legislature is that tabulation of what the costs will be. At least, that's what we're looking forward to hearing.
We on this side of the House want to see B.C.'s economy continue to grow. While the previous speaker tried to discredit a kind of basic approach to encouraging economic growth, it has been proven that the way to achieve growth in your economy, in any economy, is to ensure that your taxes are as low as you can keep them — a competitive tax regime, regulation; make sure your regulations are not excessive; and to have an approach that will encourage investment, encourage the creation of jobs in the private sector as opposed to public sector, which is the preferred approach of members of the opposition, to keep expanding the public sector to a level that is not sustainable.
Our approach is to enable investment and therefore job creation. We do that in large part by fostering confidence, as I said earlier. We do that by a series of policies and approaches and strategies that signal to the world that British Columbia is a great place to do business, to hire people, to create value, to create wealth and to generate profits — not a dirty word, which I understand is frowned upon by socialists on the other side of the House.
We have in British Columbia such incredible advantages, and this budget will ensure that we continue to keep those advantages. The triple-A credit rating, as I mentioned, means we have the lowest possible borrowing costs. I mentioned earlier what the costs are to an economy that has lost control over its borrowing. Our debt-to-GDP ratio continues to be the envy of the world — 18 percent.
J. Yap: The member laughs, but as I said, the fact is it is the envy of the world. Would the member talk to someone, anyone, in the country of Greece and say: "Would you like your country to now only have 18 percent debt-to-GDP versus 166 percent?"
I'm sure that that person on the street in Greece will say: "Eighteen percent — bring it on." And that's what we have right here in B.C.
We have this incredible advantage of fiscal prudence and a welcoming of investment to British Columbia. Let's contrast that, if we might, to the situation when members of the opposition were sitting on this side. Some of them were present and in government in the 1990s. I know the members across the way don't like to talk about it, but it's very important for all British Columbians to compare and contrast, because these folks have plans, and British Columbians need to know what those plans are.
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A great way to see what to expect would be what happened in the past, and I'm sure the member would agree with me. So what happened in the '90s? Well, let me list what happened; 50,000 people left the province of British Columbia in search of work outside the province. That's what happened.
We became a have-not province at the end of the last few years of the NDP government — a have-not province, meaning that we had to receive financial support from other provinces in Canada. We had an economy that was in decline at a time when the rest of North America was booming. In British Columbia we were declining. I know the members want to rewrite history, but the facts speak for themselves.
Getting back to the excellent credit rating which British Columbia has earned these past ten years. During the 1990s we saw downgrade after downgrade of the credit rating of the province of British Columbia under their watch. That's what we had.
We need to keep reminding ourselves and looking at what it is that the NDP would do, should they ever form government again, and to compare and contrast what we are doing and will continue to do. This budget is a blueprint for the exact approach that we need at this time for the province of British Columbia to continue to see its economy grow in a difficult world economy.
Some of the highlights in this budget. I applaud the Minister of Finance for looking at all of the asset holdings of the province of British Columbia and identifying surplus assets — surely, the opposition are not suggesting we should hang on to surplus assets which are not providing value to the province of British Columbia — to get value from those assets so that we can invest into the programs that are important for the province.
I applaud the inclusion of a review of assets and looking at privatizing some assets. I know that's a word which is highly disliked by socialists, by members of the opposition. I just want to state on the record that it's a good thing. We want to have the right size of government, and that is the way you provide good stewardship of our economy.
We also want to continue to reduce the regulatory burden on business, and the budget makes reference to encouraging that. That's an important part of our jobs plan — which, as you know, is key. The jobs plan is key to continuing to support the growth of British Columbia and support the creation of private sector jobs around the province.
One of the elements of the jobs plan is the creation of a major-projects office, and I applaud the government for taking this important step so that we can move forward projects that are strategic and important to the province of British Columbia.
I mentioned the Asia-Pacific customers and key trade opportunities. This budget provides continued focus on building more relationships, finding more customers — more people, more businesses that want to do business, want to trade with us here in British Columbia — by setting aside within the budget a marketing plan that would allow our province to continue to promote what we have to offer here in British Columbia. I think that's key. That is key.
Another initiative in the budget which will see elimination of the 2 percent fuel tax on international flights to British Columbia will also be another important signal and a very meaningful change that will make flying through and doing business here in British Columbia more competitive in this highly competitive world of international business. And for my community, for Richmond, which hosts the major airport in western Canada — YVR, Vancouver International Airport — this is very welcome.
It's important to look at how the increase in flights impacts our economy. As you know, Madam Speaker, for every scheduled daily flight added at YVR, between 150 and 200 jobs are created, and that is exactly the kind of economic growth that all of us should be applauding and supporting. This budget will lead to expansion of our trade relations, including airlines coming here to do business in British Columbia.
The budget affirms that we want to encourage and support young families, and I am delighted that the Minister of Finance was able to include in the plan for this year the up-to-$10,000 credit for first-time new homebuyers, because it's so important…. As you know, Madam Speaker, the housing industry, the real estate development industry, is so fundamental to our province, to our economy in communities all around the province.
This initiative alone will continue to spur economic activity through real estate development, through people being able to purchase their first home. This builds on the initiatives announced last week, with the transition rules for the real estate sector. As we transition away from HST to PST, this will help continue to spur economic growth in the province of British Columbia.
There are other key initiatives that I want to talk about. The $500 credit for children in sports, fitness or arts, I think, is a continued affirmation of our approach to supporting families. As a parent of two, now, young adults, having gone through and navigated through the world of activities when they were growing up, I can well relate and know — and I've already received feedback from constituents about the fact — that this is a great way to recognize the value that our young children receive by being active in sports programs, fitness programs and arts programs.
This credit will be a meaningful measure of support for families as they go about living their lives, so I applaud the Finance Minister for this particular initiative.
There is for seniors, also, support — up to $1,000 for
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home renovation, which is so important to help our seniors be able to stay longer in their homes.
I see that my time is about to run out. I'd like to conclude by reiterating that this is a great budget, a fiscally prudent budget, the right budget for the times for the province of British Columbia. I thank the Finance Minister for the great work in bringing this budget forward, because it will continue to build on our assets, our success as a province, as a leader here in Canada. It is true. Canada starts here, right here in British Columbia.
C. Trevena: I rise to respond to Budget 2012. It gives me great pleasure to stand here and give my views on what I think is really quite a frightening budget for the people of B.C., for communities of B.C. and for families of B.C.
Before I talk about some of the areas I'd like to focus on, which are areas of interest to me as both a constituency MLA — issues that reflect on the North Island and on the economy for my communities — and also my critic role as critic for the Ministry of Children and Families, I'd just like to correct the member opposite on a couple of points.
He was talking about the usual line from this government when they have their speaking notes. They all have them. They're all in little folders, and they read straight off of them, whether it's question period or budget speeches. This time it was budget, so it was talking once again about deficits and fiscal management. And I just really do want to correct the member and remind him that his government, which has been in power now for 11 years — well over a decade, since the turn of the century — has had seven out of 12 deficits, and in fact, this budget is the largest deficit in the history of the province.
He has also been asking, as many of the members opposite have, what the NDP would do, seeming to forget that he is part of a government and this government is supposed to tell the people of B.C. what they are going to do. In fact, I think one of the most risible events of the last few days was when the Premier stood up and kept asking the Leader of the Opposition what he would do when one of her ministers was being asked questions.
I think what the people of the province want is clarity. They want leadership, and they want some vision. These are frightening times. They're very frightening times, and they really would like to see a government that can look at the structure for everyone and make sure that everyone gets a fair share.
This is one of the real problems of this budget. There are a few baubles, a few trinkets there on offer for some of the middle classes, but on the whole, it's a budget for the wealthy. It's a budget for their friends. What people have…. Instead of having any vision, really, they've got a Premier who is really a power-hungry former talk radio host, who just wants to have the opportunity to stand up and grandstand rather than be there for the province and help people of the province.
It is that sort of light and that sort of approach which has left us with, as I say, really quite a nasty budget. It has been described as…. I think the Finance Minister himself described it as prudent, but I think it underestimates things. The Finance Minister talks about prudence in how much money there is to spend and where the money is going to go. There is an underestimating of how much money there is, I believe, and I think that they are just playing around with figures.
We have to remember that we had just a few years ago the promise from this government that the deficit would be $495 million, not a penny more. We come back a few weeks later from an election and find out that it's in the billions. So while the Finance Minister can stand here and talk about what is good and isn't, where the money is and isn't, I think that the people of British Columbia are taking all his words, and the words of this government daily, with a pinch of salt.
In fact, a couple weeks before the budget was tabled, one of the commentators that everybody reads, who works and is involved with this House…. I think that most people out in the real world…. I know that people in the North Island are not glued to everything that commentators say in the newspapers, But one of the commentators said that if you believe what's going to be in this budget, you might as well believe in the Easter Bunny.
I think that we are looking at this with a real deal of concern and skepticism, but this is what we have before us, and this is what we have to deal with, unfortunately. This is an unfortunate thing.
As I mentioned, trinkets and baubles are some of the things. We've seen this waving of the tax credit for children — for their sports and for their arts. It has been worked out to be about $25 per child. That isn't really going to help many people. It's not going to help the many, many people who can't afford to put their children into special sports programs or into music or arts programs.
I look at this and think: "Wouldn't it have been better just to spend that bit of money?" I know it's not a lot of money. It's there as a sort of little gimme, a little gimmick. Wouldn't it have been better to have given that, maybe, to school districts so they could have built up their physical education programs, their arts programs or their band programs? But no. We're just going to give this away.
We have the seniors home-renovation credit. I know this is being broadcast. I think this must be the seniors plan. We've had promises of a big seniors plan, and what do we see in the budget? We see a home-renovations grant. I have to say, talking to seniors in my constituency, that they're coming back to me and saying: "Well, we might get as much as the children are going to get in the children's credit." There is a huge amount of skepticism about this — about what it means and about the real effects of it.
As I say, it's not surprising there is skepticism. Last
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week we got a scathing report from the Ombudsperson about seniors care. It really was quite frightening. The executive summary was really thick. We all got it. We got three CDs of report. It's a huge report, has many, many recommendations. I believe it's something like 170 recommendations.
We are also, at the same time, promised that there is going to be this big seniors program. What do we see? How is this reflected in the budget? It's reflected by the home-renovation grant. I think that people are quite rightly very skeptical about what this budget means and how it is going to affect them and how it is going to affect the health in all aspects, the good health, of our province.
I'll just mention again on health that we have seen yet again that the medical service premium is going up. B.C., I think, may be the only province left that actually has a medical service premium, which is the extra payment that we all have to pay for our health care. It's going up by 4 percent. Now, 4 percent…. I know that people rationalize it out. The minister today, earlier on, rationalized out how much it is per person per week. But this is an 85 percent increase since 2001.
In the 11 years this government has been in power, the cost to individuals for health care — the actual physical cost that an individual pays for health care — has almost doubled. It's 85 percent. Families are paying $732 a year. That's how much 85 percent is — $732 a year more in MSP. This goes on top of increased hydro bills, ICBC. And it goes on — the extra fees they pay, the extra camping costs they pay. It costs a lot more under this government than it has in the past.
Again the minister, in question period, when he was asked about this and the downloading…. After the Premier had put out her budget, after doing the fake throne speech back in the comfort of her radio station, because that clearly is where she's most happy…. Having done that, she then used the new media to tweet out the fact that there were going to be no tax increases. So we raised the fact that a 4 percent increase in MSP premiums is actually a tax increase. This government might not realize that regressive taxation is taxation.
After all, we still have the HST 18 months after we had a referendum which said we are going to get rid of it. We still have it, and we're going to have it for another year.
Maybe this government doesn't realize that MSP is a tax. So when the Health Minister stands up and talks about how many people actually don't pay MSP or pay reduced MSP, I think what the Health Minister has forgotten is that means they are earning too little. They are poor. These are poor people in our province who cannot afford to pay their contributions to health care.
I think it is really frightening that this can just slip by, and go on saying: "Oh well, look at all these people not paying their MSP." Well, if they were earning money, if they were having a better standard of living, they would be able to pay it. That being said, it is a flat tax.
I'll move on to the other flat tax, which is still galling people. There's no question that it's galling people — the HST. We have it here for another year. It came in just very quickly, in a year. It's taking almost three years to get rid of.
This is one of those constant points of aggravation for people. There are one or two little buyouts to friends of this government, whether it's the new-home builders or whoever. But we are seeing that the HST is still there for yet another year. People are going to have to pay this regressive tax on a huge range of items that they have been paying it on, which is eating into their very, very limited incomes.
Things aren't good in B.C. at the moment. People can try and make it sound like they are, but they aren't good. People are very worried. Yes, they can see what's happening in Europe, but they can also see what's happening in their own backyards. They can see what's happening to their jobs. They can see what's happened to their families' jobs. They can see the fact that food costs more, that clothes cost more, that everything costs more, and they are getting less. They're not getting helped by this government. Those who really need it are not getting helped by this government.
We see issues such as housing. We have a huge homelessness problem in this province. We've got a problem of people who can't afford good-quality housing, and yet in this budget there is nothing for housing. There is something there, again, playing to the friends of the government. There are some things for those who are buying a new recreational home, a new second home.
Yes, some people do have second homes, and yeah, that is what some people have. Some people have recreational homes, but that isn't a need for this province. It shouldn't be a priority. I think this is one of my concerns about this budget — where the government's priorities have gone.
As I say, it has not gone to those who need it. It has not gone to those 800,000 people who have to have assistance to pay their MSP. It has gone to those people who are comfortable, and I'm very happy that they are, and I think it's important. What we'd hope is that everybody can get to the state where their kids are in the music programs and the sports programs. This is what everybody wants for their children. But this budget doesn't help.
The Finance Minister, in his speech, talked about outcomes and how he wants to measure the success of his budget in outcomes. Well, I go back to this. We're seeing seniors living in poverty. We're seeing senior care in a spiral downward. We've seen a report which has had big coverage received here in this House. Everybody said how bad it was. Where are the outcomes? What is going to happen as a result of that? That is a real outcome. That's the test of the outcome — dealing with the inequality.
My critic role is the Ministry of Children and Families. We often say on this side of the House, and I think I said
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this during my response to the throne speech: "Worst child poverty eight years running." A real outcome would be dealing with that poverty. It would be dealing with families living in poverty. It would be looking at the budget and instead of saying, "You're going get the same for the next three years…."
Everybody knows a flatline budget is a reduction. There is no question. Costs go up, even MSP. Employers and social service agencies and others have to pay the contributions for MSP. It eats into their budget. Costs go up. A flatline budget means that you're not going to get the service where it's needed.
I'm going to come back to my critic area and talk in a little bit more detail about it, but I just wanted to touch on a couple of more points. I think I'd like to touch on them, highlight them and then come back to other areas where I want to talk in a little bit more detail.
One of my concerns is the government's priorities in how they are financing this budget and where they are saying that the money is going to come from. The concept of selling off Crown property to deal with a problem today is, I think, extraordinarily shortsighted. To sell off the assets because you have…. I mean, as somebody said earlier on, you sell the family silver to pay for the grocery bill. I think that is very damaging for today and for our future.
We are very lucky in this province for having Crown lands, very lucky that we as a people…. What the Crown land is, is public land. It's our land. It's land owned by everyone in B.C. Everyone who lives in B.C. has access to that Crown land. Much of it is forested.
That land is our land. When we talk often on this side of the House, myself as a representative of a forest-dependent community, we talk about the trees on that land and how we should ensure that we get the value of those trees for us, because those trees are coming from our Crown lands.
But when you start talking about selling off assets, selling off land, selling off property, you're selling off the birthright of British Columbians. You're selling off what every British Columbian should expect will be there not just for themselves, not for their children, but for their great-grandchildren, their great-great-grandchildren.
The government shouldn't just say: "That's it. We're a bit short of cash now. We want to make things look okay so that when we get to an election next year, we're flush. We've paid it all off, and we're looking good." That is so shortsighted. We get the words: "Oh, don't worry. It's just a parking lot here or a school there."
Thin end of the wedge. One, thin edge of the wedge; two, people don't trust this government. How do they know that that parking lot, that school won't then be that piece of land, that area until our Crown lands — our lands, our public lands — are eaten away to deal with the political ambitions of a failed and tired government?
A few years ago we had a government that prided itself on its environmental stand. It's interesting speaking just after the former climate change poobah or whatever he was for some time, now the member again for Richmond-Steveston. I don't think we have anybody who deals with climate change anymore, or if we did, they would have, I think, raised a few eyebrows.
Obviously, we have the review of the carbon tax, and we have — what I find very frightening — the tax exemption on jet fuels so that we can get more flights in here. The impact that has on the environment is huge, and I think again it shows, really, the misguided priorities of this government.
Now it's going to be okay to fly your Learjet around. You've got the money to fly your Learjet because you're going to have less aviation fuel tax. That tax funds public programs. That's what taxes do. So those who can afford to fly their Learjets are not going to be investing in our tax base for our infrastructure, for our province. Again, it's a gift to the wealthy. That alone, without even thinking of the impact on our climate and on our environment, is worthy of serious, serious concern.
There are so many areas where this government has let down the people and the environment itself. I mentioned previously about the use of our logs from our lands and getting the value from our logs because they are our logs. They should be serving our communities because we have many people who aren't working in our communities. We've got this fabulous natural resource out there, but instead, the logs are shipped out overseas, whether to China or elsewhere.
I made a comment the other day that the amount of raw logs exported last year, if they were telephone poles, if they were laid end to end, would circumnavigate the world more than 1½ times. That's how many raw logs left our province last year.
We should be getting value out of our land base, but instead, this government has given up on it, and this budget does nothing to help.
We had, again, another damning report. The Auditor General's report on forest health came out last year, another damning report which could have been addressed in this budget.
Here it is the centenary of the Forest Service. The centenary — 100 years of proud service. We don't actually have a Forests Ministry anymore. We've got an amalgam of dirt ministries. We don't have a Forests Ministry. The 100th anniversary of the Forest Service, and it's being dismantled. It's a tragedy, it really is, because this is our land base. This is something we should be so proud of, and it's being dismantled.
Cuts to forest health, cuts to silviculture, cuts to the land base, a lack of investment. This, again, is so sad, because it's not just now. Trees grow here. Yeah, it's tree-growing country. I live in the north Island. We grow trees
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very well there. You can see them growing. This winter, particularly — it's nice and mild — they're growing very well. But it takes a long time to get a tree ready for harvest, a long time.
That is being ignored. We're not getting the trees back in the ground. We're not getting the seedlings back in the ground. We're not dealing with forest health in a way that will invest in our future.
Again, this is something that is so shortsighted and completely ignored in this budget. Here we are, the 100th anniversary of the wonderful Forest Service, and what do we get? We get disregard. We get cuts. We get wilful ignorance — wilful ignorance.
I think it's sad for the people of British Columbia, knowing that the damage being caused here through the priorities of this government — priorities which are self-serving, priorities which are shortsighted — are leaving their province so much the poorer and leaving them so much the poorer.
This is something that really is a tragedy, and that's why I was starting my response to this by talking about how sad it is to have this.
As I say, I'm the critic for the Ministry of Children and Families. We do have the worst child poverty in the country, eight years running. There are regularly cited problems within the foster care system. We have repeated citings of the problems for young people aging out of care.
It's not just those young people who have special needs, the ones that we have highlighted and whose really tragic stories have come so eloquently, those who are moving from the responsibility of the Ministry of Children and Families to that of CLBC, but those young people who have been in the care of the ministry, who are trying to survive on their own, who are going out there, into the world, trying to deal with very simple things — whether it is renting an apartment, dealing with hydro, just getting themselves set up and trying to find that first job. We fail them.
These young people so often are the ones who end up on welfare. They end up being homeless. Is there anything in this budget for them? No, there's nothing for that age group. There is nothing.
There's nothing for those young people, those kids and families, who have mental health issues. This comes onto the ministry. There are wait-lists for mental health, for child mental health. There's nothing in this budget for that.
The budget is flatline for this ministry. The cost of living is going to go up. That means that what is in this budget — within three years the ministry will get less. It's been described by the children's representative, an independent officer of this House, as grim, as callous. She's quite right.
What it shows very clearly, again, is it points to priorities. It points to what this Premier wants, and this Premier doesn't want to really help families.
We have this slogan: families first. This budget belies that. This budget shows that that was nothing more than just a little bit of branding and obviously didn't work well enough with the focus groups, so: "Let's get rid of it, and let's not put any money in for families, because we really don't care about them, and we're definitely not going to put them first. We're going to put our friends first."
It's a sadness. It is an outrage. I can't see how anyone could, knowing what we have in this province — knowing the level of poverty, the level of problems, the level of need — just accept that we can have three years of the same budget and an effective cut.
There's a little bit of juggling going around. Some of the areas have changed names now within the ministry. We saw just before the budget that $2½ million was going to be moved to children with special needs, which is really important, but it's come out of another area. It's come out of youth justice.
What it is, Madam Speaker, is shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic, and that is an indictment, when we're talking about children and families — that you can't have a commitment. You can have a slogan. You can say: "All is great. We love children and families." But you can't have a commitment of really dealing with it. That's the problem.
The priorities of this government have become so bent out of shape. They've become so caring about their own friends, their own political ambitions, and they forget that their job as a government is to serve the people of British Columbia.
This government, this B.C. Liberal government, is not serving the people of British Columbia and hasn't done for more than a decade. This has really highlighted it, and I think it really shows that what they're doing is based on a desire for power and has no moral foundation. It is, as I say, driven by priorities that are just out of kilter with what is needed in this province, what is needed here in B.C. in 2012.
I'm going to address, for my remaining time, some of the constituency issues, because I think it's a microcosm. People in my constituency are very disappointed, very disappointed on one specific issue but on the broader areas, that there is nothing here for them.
The one specific issue is that there is no budget line for a new hospital for Campbell River. In the capital build under Ministry of Health it's not there. There had been every indication from the health authority that they were going through a new system that would speed things up, and we see that it isn't there.
This is a big disappointment for people in North Island. Not only is it much needed for our health care in the north Island, for Campbell River and for the Comox Valley, I'm not sure if the Minister of Agriculture is going to bother to stand up for his constituents' interests and raise the fact with the Minister of Health that we needed that. It's not there, and it should be.
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People are very concerned about what's happening here with the lack of investment in post-secondary education. They know we need trades training. They know we need those skilled people going through North Island College, getting their training so that they can have jobs at home.
People are concerned that there's nothing here to address the crisis in the forest industry or to address the real issues for the community — how people are going to get jobs, how we're going to rebuild our communities, how we're going to be sustainable.
These are the concerns that I have in my constituency. There's nothing there which is really going to be addressing those problems that people face every day, whether it's problems with education or post-secondary education, whether it's problems paying the HST, whether it's problems paying MSP.
How are they going to deal with everyday life? They're not getting the answers through this budget. There is nothing there in this budget for them. There is nothing there for the people of B.C.
It's a budget where the priorities have been pushed out of order. It's a budget that is, I think, indefensible. I find it interesting to listen to the members opposite trying to defend it, but I think it is a sad reflection of a government that has been in power too long, has run out of ideas and has reduced itself to simple self-interest and the interests of its friends.
On that note, I'll take my place and let others participate in the debate. But I will be voting against this budget, and I'll be ensuring that people within B.C. know what a problem the budget is.
J. Rustad: I just want to thank the member for North Island for being clear at the very end of her speech, after what dragged on and on about something that I would think of as absolutely horrendous — just to make sure she was clear that she would actually be voting against the budget.
I can understand that from her perspective, but I think that as the first budget that our new Premier of the province of British Columbia brought forward, this was a budget that truly set a course for our province. I think it set the right course. It set a course of fiscal discipline. It set a course of prudence. It set a course that allows the confidence to be built in this province to attract the kinds of jobs and the investment that we need, for our communities and our province, to be able to provide services. I'm proud to be able to stand up and support her first budget.
Before I go into my full comments, I want to start by thanking my family, particularly my wife, Kim. You know, as you go through this year after year, it's always tough when you have to leave home and come down to Victoria. She's always been so supportive, and I just wanted to say: "I thank you, and I love you."
To my constituents, I also want to thank them for supporting me and supporting what we're trying to do here in Victoria for the riding. We have a great riding. We truly do. We've gone through all kinds of challenges and adversity, but the strength of the people in the riding has really come through in spades.
I want to talk just a little bit about some of the things that are happening in the riding that I'm proud of. We have two of the largest sawmills in the world, which have been humming through, which have been working hard. The people that are working for those companies have done such a great job that they allow the company to be able to invest in them and create those opportunities. They've been very supportive of the communities. It is a great thing to see.
I also have one of the largest pellet mills in Canada. Hopefully, with their plans of expansion, it will be one of the largest pellet mills in the world. Wood pellet is something that is in demand, and it's a great offset and a great supplement to our existing forest industry.
I have two existing mines in my riding. One of them has been operating for more than 47 years. It's going through a $500 million expansion that will extend the life of that mine for another 17 to 25 years. I've got another mine that has been operating now for more than 20 years, and it's going through a big expansion that's going to extend its life for another dozen years or more — not to mention that I also have a new mine coming on stream. It's just outside of my boundary, but I still consider it part of my riding. It's the Mount Milligan mine. All of the services and stuff for it are coming out of Fort St. James.
Fort St. James is a community that just a few years ago saw two-thirds of its forest mills shut down. It had a real tough time going through the downturn because of the U.S. housing market and has come back. Its mills are reopened. The jobs are back, and not only that, it has seen a 25 percent increase in its population base because of what's happened with natural resources — with forestry and with the new mine that's going in. It's great to see that kind of investment and confidence.
You know, when you hear what the members opposite have been talking about — all this doom and gloom and stuff — it's hard to imagine. Our province right now has an unemployment rate of 6.9 percent — 6.9 percent. There wasn't a single year under the NDP in the 1990s that even came close to 6.9 percent. That's phenomenal, and that is the envy of many countries around the world in terms of that and in terms of what we've been able to achieve.
You look at the record that we've been able to build on with this first budget under our new Premier. It's phenomenal. I look at taxes. This budget has no tax increases for personal income taxes and no corporate tax increases unless we absolutely have to, to match the budget in 2014.
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It has no changes to small business. MSP has gone up by 4 percent, but that was part of our 2009 budget in terms of the next step going forward. We've got a tobacco tax increase. Sorry to the smokers, but yes, there are some tax increases in there.
We have, since 2001, had personal income tax reduced by 37 percent. For a family of four earning $70,000 a year, that's more than $2,000 a year in savings that goes directly into their pockets, which helps to build the economy.
The other thing I'm very proud of is that when you look at all taxes inclusive — sales tax, income taxes, property taxes, every tax inclusive — we're the second-lowest tax regime in the country, and one of the lowest in the G7. That's something to be proud of. But I'll tell you why it's good to be proud of those moments and actually celebrate them. The fiscal discipline in this budget is a key to being able to continue with those types of things.
When you look at what's happening around the world…. People look at Greece, and they look at other jurisdictions like Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy or even places like the United States or Ontario. You look at what's happened there, when spending gets out of control, and the challenges and the difficult choices they need to make.
If you do not act responsibly in terms of your spending, in terms of your taxation, you get into a trap because it gets harder year after year after year, when your spending is out of control, to try to get it back in line.
Ontario, for example, is planning to be balanced by 2018. That's five or six years from now. Every five to six years we have a recession or at least an economic slowdown. How are they going to find a way to get it balanced through that type of situation? They've got such tough choices in front of them to try to even get close to being back to fiscally responsible. Quite frankly, I would not be surprised to see protests in the streets like we're seeing in Greece because of overspending and lack of responsibility.
When you look at the signs of what overspending and lack of responsibility is, it's this thing called a credit-rating downgrade. People at home might think, "Jeez, you know, what's that? It's not a big deal." The point is that when you see downgrades, what you're seeing is a lack of confidence in that jurisdiction's ability to meet its debt obligations. It's a lack of confidence in that jurisdiction's ability to be able to manage the finances and, ultimately, to be able to help provide prosperity for the people in the jurisdiction.
What did we see in the 1990s under the NDP? Credit downgrades. They were on the path that Greece is on. They were on the path that Ontario was on. They were on the path that even the U.S. is on with their credit downgrades.
In 2001 we had to make some real tough choices, and we turned it around. Over our fiscal period we've actually had credit upgrades. In other words, we've managed to say to the people of the province and people around the world that we can manage our budgets well, that we can meet our targets. They never met any targets.
We missed a target once in 12 years. Okay, that happens when you have the worst economic recession in the world's history. You can hit us for that one. But we've hit every other target. We have, through that period of time, been able to expand health care spending, expand educational spending. And this budget expands the spending of our government by 2 percent a year.
It's a reasonable measure. Sure, some people will say, "Maybe you're spending too much," but it is a reasonable way to be able to move forward, to get us back into a surplus situation and still be able to protect and provide the services that are required.
In my riding I have a lot of resources and a lot of resource activity. It's a rural riding, many small communities, and we're very dependent upon resources and resource activity. So how are we supporting that through this budget? For example, there's a backlog of work orders. We've had a problem. There has been so much activity and requests for work orders in the province that we've had a backlog, so what we've done as part of our job strategy is commit money to cleaning it up. This budget continues to support that, and by August more than 80 percent of the backlog will be cleared up. We've already hit our target, exceeded our target, of over 40 percent here just by the end of December of this last year.
We've had $24 million that's going into the ministries to help deal with the permitting process and getting through it so those activities happen on the ground. This is critical for my riding. I've got a project just south of Vanderhoof, owned by New Gold. It's a Blackwater project, a goldmine potential, and they're going through a process. They want to hit their target of being able to start construction by 2015 and to have the mine up and running by 2017.
That's an enormous boost to the economy in my area. That'll be 300-plus good-paying jobs, $110,000-a-year-average jobs, and almost double that in terms of the spinoff benefits. It's enormous. But we have to be able to get them through the permitting process. This budget helps to support that and supports directly my families and my communities by doing those sorts of things.
We've got a credit in terms of housing. You know, down in the Lower Mainland, where you've got, maybe, million-dollar houses, $10,000 might not sound like that much. But up in my area, where the average house is $250,000 or $350,000, $10,000 is a big help for those families that want to go out and buy that new house. So you're attracting people into your community through new jobs, and you're helping them to be able to buy that first house. As children grow up and they're moving out of the house, that's a huge benefit for them and will be a boon not just for our economy but for those families.
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We also have a benefit in the budget for seniors. I've talked to many seniors in my riding that are asking…. They'd like to be able to stay in their home. They've got to do some renovations. They've got to put in…. Whether it's some bars in the bathroom for help in walking or other types of things, some ramps, all of those things cost money. We can't automatically do all of that, but a thousand-dollar tax credit towards those renovations is a big benefit for the people in my riding.
We have an increase in terms of our capital investment and our capital budget. I know the opposition likes to rail about the capital budget going up. Under the NDP their debt-to-GDP ratio was 21.3 percent. We've managed to drop ours through good fiscal management. When we came into tough economic times, we didn't want to stop the spending, so we had to do some extra spending to be able to help boost the economy and go through that.
We're now up, and by the end of this budget period we'll be up around 18.3 percent. It's levelling off and projected to drop from there. But those are capital investments that are critical. Whether it's hospitals, schools or transportation in my riding, that type of investment is critical.
It reminds me…. I think about the resource development and activities in my riding. And roads and transportation are critical — having extra passing lanes, making sure that you've got good services and well-maintained roads, as best as can be. It's all an integral part of people moving around and being able to have a good economy.
Back, I think it was, in 1997…. Think about this for a minute. How do you maintain your roads, how do you try to support a resource-based economy, when your budget, from the Alberta border to Burns Lake in the middle of my riding, was $1 million? That's it. That shows what the NDP's priority was on transportation.
We have spent tens of millions of dollars a year just in my riding alone, let alone the rest of that Highway 16 corridor. But we need those investments. Of course, you know, you've got the heavier use because we have the resource activity. I would hate to think of going back to a day where their idea of a million dollars on capital expenditures would be what they would like to see for supporting resource development.
Speaking about resource development and the tax thing, there is one thing that the NDP have just said and that they've talked about a number of times out and around, and that's around the carbon tax. They would like to cancel the tax offsets that have come to the carbon tax. Okay, but what does that mean? That means about $1.1 billion in tax offsets would be cancelled. Where do they want to take those dollars? They want to take those dollars, and they want to spend it on transit.
Okay, that's an interesting idea. So what does that mean for the average person? Well, for anybody in northern B.C. it means they're going to lose their $200 tax credit, their home tax credit that they receive. That's a nice hit to rural B.C., but it's what they want to do. They want to take away the $200 that we added to the home tax credit that people receive.
It means a 5 percent tax decrease that we have for the personal income taxes is going to go bye-bye. That right there is to raise personal income taxes by 5 percent. It's what they say they want to do. If you add in the other things that it's impacting, suddenly, for an average family, that is a lot of impact, particularly for rural B.C.
But here's where it gets even worse. They want to take that money and spend it on transit. In my riding I don't have a bus. No such thing as transit in my riding. It doesn't exist. However, I have a lot of loggers and miners and individuals that require their trucks to be able to go back and forth into the forests on a daily basis. I have a lot of trucking that needs to move our goods to market and move around. I have everything that would be paying without receiving any benefits, because they would like to take the money and go spend on it transit.
That speaks clearly of what their perspective is of rural B.C.: raise taxes on the people, take away the benefits and go spend it somewhere else. I very much look forward to seeing their platform when they do eventually release their numbers, because it's those types of things that will speak to the truth of how they respect our resources and how they respect the people in rural B.C.
One of the things that I've worked on that I'm very proud of is the work that I did with the Farm Assessment Review Panel. We came through, and we did an analysis. We went across the province. We were talking to people about how that process should be, and we brought forward a number of recommendations. This budget supports the final instalment of those recommendations to come through. Now, there were a couple things that we didn't get done, but we couldn't seem to know how to get those through with finance, and I'm okay with that. But we've got the really critical ones.
One in particular I am very proud of: farm buildings under current laws receive a $50,000-a-year tax exemption. It doesn't matter if you have a million-dollar dairy barn or if you've got a $50,000 hay barn. That's it; you receive a $50,000 benefit. When you look at other jurisdictions around the world, it really isn't a very good thing. It isn't as competitive as other jurisdictions, so one of the things we came forward with the Farm Assessment Review Panel was to give an 87 percent tax benefit for those farm buildings. It's a way to be able to help support investment by the agricultural industry, to be able to allow them to improve their barns and see those tax savings and allow them to improve their facilities all across the province.
That's one of the things that this budget supports. That's a pretty good thing for farming. It's not a huge amount, but it is significant. I'm proud that we've been
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able to do that and move that thing through because, when we came forward with those recommendations for the agriculture community, I heard back from them. I heard back from them that they were happy with that. They wanted to see it go forward. When I toured on the Finance Committee, they came forward and said: "Can you move these recommendations through? We'd like to see it happen." We've been able to deliver on it.
One of the other things that are critical in terms of supporting the growth in northern B.C. and supporting what we're trying to do is also on training. When you think about the new jobs and the investment throughout northern B.C., it's close to $60 billion of investment that's on the books from the Cariboo ridings all throughout the north — $60 billion.
We've had just an absolutely horrific accident in Burns Lake, where we had two people die. We've had 19 that were injured and about 250 that were displaced from their work. Many of those people have been able to find some additional work — we had a jobs fair with over 1,300 jobs just from the north and the area that are available — but some will need new training, and part of our jobs plan is to support additional training dollars to be able to help meet those needs and to be able to help ultimately support the expansion that we want to see in terms of our industrial activity.
We are currently spending and supporting over 50 skills-training programs that are being developed in over 20 post-secondary institutions around the province. We have $2.5 million dollars for ten new skills-training programs in northern B.C. alone, and the programs are part of the employment skills access incentive.
The B.C. government is investing over $13 million in new employment skills training in regions throughout the province. There's $10 million in skills-training funding to B.C. sector and industry groups directly working with them to be able to help provide training and over a million dollars just to the Association for Mineral Exploration B.C. — mining, which is so critical for the north and for my riding.
That kind of investment is a critical component of our job strategy, moving forward. And when you see those opportunities in the north, think about LNG for a second. That's going to drive billions of dollars of investment. It's going to create nearly 800 long-term, good-paying jobs and over 9,000 jobs during construction phases and going through. That kind of growth and those kinds of opportunities truly speak to an incredible potential for northern B.C. And as the budget has laid out, it supports trying to capitalize on that and those growths and that job strategy.
So what did we see during the NDP in their time? Throughout northern B.C., when northern B.C. had a challenge, it was about $400 million they spent on a little company called Skeena Cellulose. As soon as the money ran out — poof! — the jobs are gone; the mill's shut down. That is not the way to run a government. That's not the way to do business.
Madam Speaker, you cannot just throw money at a problem. You can try that, which is what the NDP did. You can throw money at a problem. But the problem with that and the challenge with that is, first of all, it becomes a waste of taxpayers' money. Second of all, it's completely unsustainable, and in the long run it will fail.
That seems to be the solution that they've come up with, whether it's the justice system, the education system, advanced education, the health care system — you name it. There is a group that are looking forward to an opportunity, if the NDP ever do get power, and that is the hardware store, because they'll be selling a ton of shovels so that these guys can just throw money at problems. But that is definitely a recipe for a problem.
You know, the member for North Island talked about the gas tax, the sales tax….
Deputy Speaker: Members. Members.
I need to be able to hear the member on his feet.
J. Rustad: The 2 percent jet fuel tax was talked about by the member for North Island. She was very concerned about this. She thought this was just a terrible idea. Do they have absolutely no idea what the potential growth is with air cargo transportation and what that could do for the province? All across the province could benefit from being able to develop a new industry that's growing at about 18 percent a year. Taking that tax off gives us a little bit of an extra edge to be able to try to attract some of that growth here in the province.
These are the right steps to do if you want to lay a foundation for a strong economy, to be able to expand and diversify. I heard, I think, the same member for North Island talk about this budget as trinkets and baubles. So $1.5 billion into the health care system — they call that a trinket and bauble?
My god, that is an incredible amount of tax dollars. That needs to be respected. They consider that a trinket and a bauble? Wow. I find it hard to understand how they could reference that.
One of the other things that is critical in my area, of course, is forestry. I talked about the mills that I have in my riding and the pellet facilities. Probably about 40 percent of the economic activity in my riding is forestry. The challenge that we're facing in Burns Lake, of course, is around fibre supply, and I'm hopeful that at some point here we're going to get to a decision for a rebuild of the mill to help us continue to support that community.
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Forestry is critical. But I want to talk about some success in forestry. This is ancient history. I'm not trying to hit the NDP over the head with this at all. But pre-1987 the province was responsible for planting trees, and we had a six- to eight-year regen delay. We had about a 63 percent success rate of growth of trees when trees were planted. And we had over a 20-year period of time to get to a free-to-grow status.
Some changes were made, and now the mills that do the harvesting are responsible for that. And when that area is harvested, in some areas on the Island the regen delay is two weeks, but the average across the province is six months to 18 months regen delay.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
The success on planting today is somewhere between 95 and 97 percent, and the quality of the stock and the types of trees that they're using get us now so that getting to free-to-grow is only about 11 or 12 years. It's phenomenal what we've done in terms of the improvement in the forest.
I heard the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke talking about millions of hectares that aren't planted. There is a reason why that's the case. We've had a pine beetle that has devastated a big chunk of that forest, and that area is required to be able to help meet our midterm fibre supply. There is understory in it. You can't just plow it under and try to plant. That would be a totally irresponsible use of the fibre.
The examples I do want to give are some of the tree farm licences that we have in the province. On the same type of area, area that has gone into area-based management has gone from 120,000 cubic metres to well over 200,000 cubic metres per year in terms of harvesting. We've seen an increase in the amount of wood that's available. We've seen a decrease in the rotation period. We've seen much better silviculture practices and investment.
That area-based management, I think, has a real potential in this province. Their solution would just be to throw money at a problem instead of looking at innovation and trying to find better ways to actually be able to manage on the land base. That's where we need to be, and that's what we are looking for and looking at in terms of our forest industry across the province.
I want to take another moment to talk about the constituents in my riding. When the accident happened in Burns Lake, and that tragedy came with an impact, instantly people rushed to the hospital — health care professionals, even retired health professionals. They rushed to the hospital to be able to help out.
The professionalism of the people that worked through that system, that helped those injured people get through and the way the entire north came through was absolutely above and beyond. I really have to congratulate and thank those professionals that came up to the plate, that did the job. It went well beyond what was the normal call of duty to be able to help with that situation.
I'll give you another example. Fire crews. You know, all the communities around in my riding are relatively small. The fire crews that were called out…. Within ten minutes of the incident happening, there was a call that had gone to the neighbouring fire department. The fire chief was in Halifax. He got the call, he was able to help organize his crew and called the mayor within two minutes after that, and crews were on the road within ten to 15 minutes to go and help out with the situation.
It was phenomenal how people pulled together to be able to get through this. It's that strength that gives me confidence in the future, not just for my riding but for the province. It's the way that people can pull together, the way that they can solve problems and move forward and take advantage of opportunities that really gives me the confidence that we are on the right track.
We've been able to have the right budget in place — this first budget under our Premier — to be able to support that. We've got the confidence from the business community to be able to invest in it.
Most importantly, we've got the people and the quality of those people within our ridings to be able to step up to the plate, do the things that need to be done, take advantage of it and help grow our province.
We have a northern decade in front of us that's going to be an engine for the province. Our province is going to be an engine for the country. I look forward to the years ahead. I truly do, because we're going to see some spectacular things that we have not seen for several generations. Our government is going to be there to support it.
This budget is the right budget for being able to help foster that growth, and in the long run, I do believe that B.C. will continue to lead Canada and the world and be the envy.
WITHDRAWAL OF COMMENTS
Mr. Speaker: The member for Vancouver-Hastings has something to say.
S. Simpson: Hon. Speaker, I may have inadvertently erred in a reference in the House today. I referenced two specific meeting dates. I cannot confirm those meetings occurred on those specific dates. In order to be accurate, I wish to withdraw those comments.
Mr. Speaker: The member withdraws his comments.
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Member for Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows, noting the hour.
M. Sather: Noting the hour, I take my place to begin my speech at the next sitting, and I move adjournment of the debate.
M. Sather moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. M. Polak moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 6:52 p.m.
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