2012 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 29, 2012
Volume 30, Number 7
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Introductions by Members
King George Dragons basketball champions
S. Chandra Herbert
Introductions by Members
Introduction and First Reading of Bills
Bill M212 — Workplace Bullying Prevention Act, 2012
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Pink Shirt Day
Friends Against Drunk Driving
Book about Edmonds Community School
Community social services workers
Infection control at Burnaby Hospital
Hon. M. de Jong
Municipal property tax for ports and Fraser River dredging
Hon. B. Lekstrom
Role of Patrick Kinsella in liquor distribution privatization
Hon. R. Coleman
Support for children and families
Hon. R. Coleman
Pink Shirt Day and prevention of bullying
Hon. C. Clark
Orders of the Day
Budget Debate (continued)
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 29, 2012
The House met at 1:34 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
Hon. M. Polak: Today in the gallery we will be joined by two classes from Langley Christian Elementary School. They are led by their teacher Mr. Tim VanHemert. Accompanying them is a large group of parents who are volunteering their time to make sure the students get an enjoyable trip to Victoria and to the Legislature today. Would the House please make them very welcome.
KING GEORGE DRAGONS
S. Chandra Herbert: I bring great news to the House. The King George Dragons clinched the Lower Mainland AA boys basketball championship spot. They're now going to Kamloops, March 7 to 10, to take on the rest of the province. So please congratulate them and their coach, Darko Kulic, for doing us all proud.
Introductions by Members
R. Sultan: In the House we have two of the best lawn sign people on the North Shore, John and Cathy Cave, who operate Take Off Now. If the urge to take off now grabs you, they will arrange a package tour to Cuba, Mexico or an Italian cruise liner. John will drive you to the airport absolutely free.
Hon. H. Bloy: It is a privilege today to introduce three students that have joined us today from Simon Fraser University. We have Arvinder Dhillon, who is a member of the student society board and SFU senate and a former, soon to be reappointed, student rep on the SFU board of governors. Marc Fontaine is also a student rep on the board of governors, while Sara Moghaddamjoo is a student member of the SFU senate. They are here with faculty and staff, and they're part of SFU day in Victoria.
We also have with them Wilf Hurd, a former member of this House and government relations person for Simon Fraser University. Would the House please make them welcome.
J. Rustad: Our wildlife is a precious resource in B.C., and managing it is incredibly important. We have a group of people here today with the United Sportsmen's Association that are very involved in managing wildlife. I'd like to introduce to the House Sean Holloway, Brett Logue, Dan Brooks, Bryan Martin, Stewart Fraser and Vince Cocciolo.
They came and met with our caucus today. They're involved with guide-outfitters, and they're very passionate about our wildlife and conservation, as well as, of course, opportunities for hunting. Would the House please make them welcome.
P. Pimm: Today in the precinct I have constituents, in fact, from Fort Nelson, B.C. I'd like the House to help me welcome the mayor of Fort Nelson, Bill Streeper; the city manager of Fort Nelson, Randy McLean; and the strategic planner for Fort Nelson, Colin Griffith. Would the House help me welcome them, please.
First Reading of Bills
BILL M212 — WORKPLACE BULLYING
PREVENTION ACT, 2012
R. Chouhan presented a bill intituled Workplace Bullying Prevention Act, 2012.
R. Chouhan: I move that the bill intituled Workplace Bullying Prevention Act, of which notice has been given in my name on the order paper, be introduced and now be read a first time.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Member.
R. Chouhan: Today is Anti-Bullying Day. While this day sends an important and effective message, there is still much more work to be done to prevent and protect victims of this abuse. Victims of bullying have suffered severe trauma caused by harassment, and in some cases, it has led people to commit suicide.
Harassment causes psychological and physical harm. It includes wilful acts, patterns of behaviour, ignoring and isolating people. It is an act to humiliate and intimidate people. Bullying does not stop on the playground. It can carry on to the workplace. On the job, bullying is an issue that affects a large number of workers in every sector of our workforce.
In the workplace, victims of bullying are unable to work to their full capacity. This not only impacts individuals, but also the business. The productivity is affected and becomes a financial loss for the business owners.
This act carefully defines harassment and provides
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measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment.
It provides sound policy for investigating incidents and making workers accountable for acts of harassment.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill M212, Workplace Bullying Prevention Act, 2012, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
(Standing Order 25B)
PINK SHIRT DAY
K. Heed: The last Wednesday of February is known across this nation as Pink Shirt Day. It is a day where we as Canadians take a stand against bullying.
It started in 2007 when a student at a Nova Scotia high school was bullied for wearing a pink shirt on his first day of school. He was harassed, called a homosexual and physically threatened.
Two grade 12 students heard what had occurred and decided to act. They went to a nearby discount store and purchased 50 pink shirts. They contacted their friends and classmates hoping to get them on board with their cause, which they dubbed as "the sea of pink."
The response was overwhelming. Hundreds of students showed up wearing pink, some of them covered from head to toe. Students say it was a powerful moment when the victim of the bullying walked into the school and saw the sea of pink.
It took only two students who were not willing to turn a blind eye to initiate change. Their efforts transformed into an international campaign against bullying, where celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres have publicly praised their cause and where every police officer working in West Vancouver, under my command, proudly wore a pink shirt as part of their uniform of the day.
Pink Shirt Day has become an annual tradition in this House, and I am pleased to see both sides continuing this campaign. By promoting awareness, we will initiate change. I am proud this change started with the next generation, who showed the country how to do the right thing, because I know what it's like to be bullied and to deal with the consequences of bullying.
D. Donaldson: Cyberbullying is a problem in society. Statistics indicate 42 percent of kids have been bullied on line.
Although similar to traditional bullying, using on-line social media sites to threaten and harass has its own unique characteristics. It can be more anonymous. The ability to forward messages means the bullying can escalate to a wide audience quickly.
Cyberbullying does not end at three o'clock on school days. It can occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The results for victims can be tragic, with several high-profile suicide cases in the last number of years.
Cyberbullying has increased in recent years. Girls are twice as likely to be victims and perpetuators of cyberbullying. I know of young women in Stikine who have received repeated negative messages on Facebook and Twitter from female peers using very degrading words. Much of cyberbullying involves sexual harassment. With boys it's often about homophobic slurs.
There are ways to address cyberbullying. Only 25 percent of school districts in the province have anti-bullying policies explicitly addressing sexual orientation and gender identity. The government needs to be a leader, ensuring all schools in the province have such policies.
Another avenue is through peer pressure, making cyberbullying unacceptable. So today, on national anti-bullying Pink Shirt Day, I am launching an awareness-raising contest in Stikine with Smithers hockey product and Vancouver Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis, called Don't Let Cyber Bullies Score!
It's for 13- to 18-year-olds. They must describe their own or others' experiences with cyberbullying through a poem, written or in slam poetry version by audio and video, submitted to Stikine MLA offices. The deadline is March 16.
Hawkair, the Gitksan Government Commission, Smithers RCMP community policing, school district 54 and local radio stations the PEAK and CFNR are also on board. The prize is a trip for two, airfare, accommodation and tickets to see the Vancouver Canucks play Calgary, March 31 in Vancouver, and of course, the goal is: don't let cyberbullies score.
FRIENDS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING
M. Dalton: Earlier this month there was a tragic accident in Maple Ridge. Two teenagers were killed, and others were seriously injured.
The accident has shocked my community, and as you drive along Dewdney Trunk Road, you will see a large memorial with dozens of bouquets, notes and other memorabilia placed by grieving family members, students and friends. Grief has also inspired six teenagers to start a campaign and a new society called FADD, Friends Against Drunk Driving.
I met with FADD members last week, and they told me that their goal is to educate and save lives through positive peer pressure. They aspire to talk to students before
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they grad and share about the very real dangers of drinking and driving. They told me that kids feel like they are immune to death and often tune out when adults talk on the topic. All the high schools in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows have opened their doors to them.
Ryan Nunez, Brendan McHugh, Gabby Kalinich, Connor Schuchard, Andy McComb and Jake Cantin are the teen directors, and they have been overwhelmed by the support they have received. In the past couple of weeks their Facebook page has had 3,000 likes from all over the world. They are working on a website, logo and marketing products. They have been interviewed on CKNW, the Fox, the Beat and featured in local newspapers.
FADD has received e-mails from others who have lost loved ones through drunk driving, and it wants to develop support groups. FADD members believe that if one life is saved, it's all worth the effort.
I commend these young people for the effort they are making and believe they are making a real difference.
EDMONDS COMMUNITY SCHOOL
R. Chouhan: I would like to talk about a book about an exceptional school and its staff which happens to be located in my constituency. The students at Edmonds Community School come from all over the world. Their parents are often refugees who have overcome harrowing events and circumstances in order to find safety in Canada. Like them, their children have often escaped war zones and witnessed horrific events before finally landing at Edmonds.
In From Bombs to Books Edmonds School principal David Starr shares the deeply moving stories of his students, their parents and the staff at Edmonds who support them. He describes the upheaval many of these families have undergone and how they managed to flee some of the most dangerous lands and people on earth.
He paints portraits of students who are often troubled by what they have experienced but who are surprisingly happy, normal children who have put their family's grief and trauma behind them. He also describes teachers and social workers who have embraced these families and dedicated themselves to making a difference in their lives.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank Principal David Starr for writing his first book about the challenges faced by refugee students, their parents and teachers in an inner-city school.
D. Barnett: Today I would like to give a very big thanks to the guide-outfitters from the United Sportsmen's Association for visiting us here at the B.C. Legislature. They bring in tourists from the United States and all over the world to experience B.C.'s one-of-a-kind hunting.
Guide-outfitters support B.C.'s economy in a huge way; 237 guiding businesses bring in up to 4,500 hunters and over $100 million annually. What many people do not know is that many guide-outfitters are family-based businesses. Many are ranchers or trappers, and I know some that are operating in their fifth generation.
Guiding is a huge part of our tourism industry. When hunters come to experience British Columbia, money goes into our hotels, motels, airports, gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores and more. Every pocket of every community they visit benefits from their stays with us, and many visitors leave without harvesting an animal. They come for the experience — to take some beautiful photographs and fun stories to share back home.
Guide-outfitters are also very strong advocates of healthy wildlife practices. One of their main goals is to increase wildlife numbers through proper wildlife management.
I support B.C.'s guide-outfitters and thank them for helping the rest of the world experience B.C.'s great outdoors.
COMMUNITY SOCIAL SERVICES WORKERS
N. Simons: Tomorrow marks the beginning of Community Social Services Month, a time when we make an effort to recognize the work of over 15,000 people in British Columbia who, whether we notice every day or not, enrich our lives by making our communities a better place to live.
Who are community social services workers? They are the people who work with women and children who've experienced domestic violence or abuse. They provide counselling to people who suffer from addictions or trauma in their lives. They care for our children by giving them the great start that they need through early learning and care. They counsel victims of crime and prevent crime by working with young people in restorative justice programs. They help house the homeless. They help people find jobs and help people from around the world settle in our beautiful province. They make sure that people with developmental disabilities live the full lives that we expect in our communities.
Here are a few testimonials from some of those who work in this sector. Karen works on a crisis line. She says there's a kernel of resilience in everyone, even those who've experienced massive trauma: "It's an honour and a privilege to help nurture that resilience and help it flower in each individual."
Dorothy has worked with people with developmental disabilities for 20 years. She says: "I've enjoyed my journey with them tremendously…. There's nothing I wouldn't do for them. I believe community social service workers have enhanced their clients' lives a thousand times over…. I've learned how important it is to treat each individual with respect."
Ted works in a homeless shelter. He says: "The people
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who come here are down on themselves. They don't know where they're going to turn. We help them turn that around and help them get back on their feet."
Cam tells of when he took a resident to a wrestling event. "His favourite wrestlers came by, and they hugged…and the look on his face was like pure gold. I'll never forget it." He says: "I get to work with people who enjoy helping other people. We're not in it for the money; we don't make much of it. But we care about people, and we are good at it."
So I ask the House to join me in recognizing March as Community Social Services Month.
INFECTION CONTROL AT
A. Dix: Senior medical leadership have taken the unprecedented step and put out an unprecedented warning about patients being at risk at Burnaby Hospital. I quote from a letter signed by seven clinical department heads and other physicians from the hospital. "The current CDAD infection control management at Burnaby Hospital at best is a serious hazard to the patient population served by the Fraser Health Authority."
Over the past two years the hospital has recorded 473 cases of patients suffering severe complications stemming from C. difficile, and 84 of those cases involved the death of the patient. Will the Premier request that the B.C. Centre for Disease Control do a review as to how the health authority is ensuring adequate infection control standards at Burnaby Hospital?
Hon. M. de Jong: As I mentioned a few days ago in the House, I did have an opportunity to visit and tour the hospital in Burnaby. I must say that I was impressed, as I generally am, with the professionalism and dedication of the staff.
I will say this, because Burnaby, like a number of the facilities in Fraser Health, is confronted by challenges associated with population growth. We are in the midst of a major master-planning exercise with respect to the campus. I think the member will know that the extent of the investments that have taken place in Fraser Health around hospitals and care facilities is extensive. The number of residential care beds has grown by thousands.
There are challenges, but the master-planning exercise that is underway today is designed to ensure that the kind of care that people expect and deserve at Burnaby Hospital will continue.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
A. Dix: With the greatest respect to the Minister of Health, the letter is dated January 9. The letter states, amongst other things, that "such is the degree of the CDAD problem and the ineffectual response to it that we believe it could be objectively considered medical negligence."
What we have is a serious problem at the hospital — rates of infection well above not just the provincial average but the regional average, significant concerns expressed by the doctors involved.
So my question was very specific, because I think this is a pretty serious situation for people in the community and for confidence in the hospital and for the confidence of those people, as the minister says, who are very hard-working and working at the hospital. Will the minister today ask the Centre for Disease Control to take steps to review what's going on at the hospital so we can take action now to address what he has to agree is a serious public health problem?
Hon. M. de Jong: I want to offer this assurance to the member and members of the House. We actually track this on a daily basis. In fact, I would assure members of the House that there are far more mechanisms in place than ever before to ensure that we are tracking this kind of disease — C. difficile, by the way, being a challenge that is confronted by medical facilities not just the continent over but the world over.
There are mechanisms in place. As always on these matters, I can assure the member that we will be guided by the advice that we receive from the clinicians, who are dedicated to ensuring that patients receive the safest and the best possible treatment in our hospitals.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.
A. Dix: Well, in this case, the people involved, the physicians directly involved, are describing the situation as a serious hazard. Tracking the problem is one thing; doing something about the problem is another thing.
In addition, the physicians in this case want a review of the facility housekeeping contract to break the chain of infection and to protect patients. So I guess my question to the minister is very simple. I mean, this is not a new problem. It's true. Infection rates have been higher over time, but this is a significant letter sent to the head of the health authority on January 9. It talks about the extent of the hazard in the view of those people working at the hospital.
Isn't it reasonable to do what I think the government probably should have done at the time and ask an external review to come in and address the problem? Isn't that a reasonable response to a serious public health question?
Hon. M. de Jong: One of the reasons we established
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the patient care quality review mechanism is to ensure that there was an agency in place that could assist in addressing issues as they are presented and as they arise.
Again, I want to assure the member that part of the site-planning exercise that is underway is designed to ensure that there are — as we redevelop the Burnaby site, like we have other sites in Fraser and British Columbia — more single-room-occupancy beds that operate to reduce the possibility of infectious disease transfer.
There are issues. They arise. The member has raised the issue here, but we have a system and a clinically based mechanism in place to ensure that patients can enter our hospitals confident that they are receiving the best possible care in safe surroundings.
K. Corrigan: We're talking about a very serious disease that sometimes kills, has killed, one that's highly infectious. Here's a doctor's assessment: "The sustained endemic rates of CDAD at Burnaby Hospital have ranged between two to three times the national and provincial averages for more than the last two years."
So for two years this sometimes lethal infection has raged through a major hospital in the Lower Mainland. Infection rates up to three times the national average. Infection that has been linked to hundreds of cases of serious illness and dozens of deaths in my community. This has been going on for two years. What I want to know: has the minister read the letter, and has he responded to it?
Hon. M. de Jong: A couple of things come to mind. First of all, I don't want anything I say to convey that I or the government or the ministry or the health authority don't take seriously an issue like this and the threat that C. difficile represents.
I will say this. At the time I visited the hospital, to the extent that the issue was raised, the clinicians I met with indicated to me that they felt all appropriate steps were being taken. I do rely to a certain extent on the information that I received when I was at the hospital.
In addition, I would offer the member this assurance. People like Dr. Doug Cochrane, I can assure the member, who plays a leading role with the patient care quality review board, have a level of expertise — which I hope the member isn't challenging — in developing recommendations around which issues like this can be dealt with. We will continue to follow those recommendations.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
K. Corrigan: In the letter it says, as was stated previously, 473 recorded cases of patients suffering severe complications after contracting C. difficile at Burnaby Hospital and 84 deaths. These figures do not take into account two further outbreaks that resulted in unprecedented unit closures later last year.
What's the government's health authority doing in the face of these outbreaks? Cutting the position of an infection control officer specializing in C. difficile.
The record has been hiding, ignoring and delaying. The site director assigned to the hospital chose to minimize its chronically high C. difficile rate. That's what the doctors say in the letter.
My question, going back to the minister again: has the minister seen the letter, and has he responded?
Hon. M. de Jong: I don't begrudge members of the opposition raising issues that are important, and important to British Columbians. But to suggest that people don't care or people are ignoring the problem is simply inaccurate and unfair.
The Provincial Infection Control Network that was established in 2005 was dedicated, in part, to addressing the specific kind of problem we are discussing today.
The member can come into the chamber on any given day and suggest that her judgment or the judgment of one of her colleagues should supplant that of a clinician or a learned expert like Dr. Cochrane. I will not do that.
I will, however, be guided — and the government will be guided and the health authorities will be guided — by the advice of clinicians and take into account the concerns expressed by clinicians who practise within the hospital. Of that, you can be sure.
M. Farnworth: I don't doubt for a minute that the minister cares about the issue. The minister stated here today that they have procedures in place. Well, those procedures clearly, if you listen to the clinicians, the people working in Burnaby General Hospital, are not working today — 473 cases of infections, 84 cases of related deaths.
Here's how the doctors are characterizing the current infection control systems that are in place: "At best, a serious hazard to the patient population served by the Fraser Health Authority. The coordination of this activity at both the local and regional levels, at best, is chaotic."
This is an intolerable situation for health care in Burnaby, the Lower Mainland and British Columbia. Will the minister commit to having the Centre for Disease Control come in and do a review of the methods and the processes that are in place, and listen to the clinicians who are dealing with this unacceptable situation every single day?
Hon. M. de Jong: Look, as I mentioned a few moments ago, we take very seriously the observations of clinicians. In fact, we have incorporated them into the process of review to a far greater extent than has ever been the case in British Columbia — the Provincial Infection Control Network, patient care quality review boards and, of course, clinicians on a daily basis who
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The extent to which we take this challenge that confronts medical facilities around the continent and around the world seriously is revealed in the fact that we have invested $7 billion in the construction of new facilities that are better equipped to control outbreaks of a phenomenon like C. difficile.
So lest there be any doubt in the member's mind, the commitment of the government to work with clinicians is ironclad, and it is revealed in the investment that we have made on behalf of all British Columbians to build the best and safest hospitals anywhere in the world.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Farnworth: What is pretty clear is that the physicians working in Burnaby Hospital don't think the right things are being done or that enough is being done. I'll remind the minister. Why else would they say: "It can be objectively considered medical negligence. As such, we believe the Fraser Health Authority has placed itself at significant risk of medical legal action based on generally accepted principles of medical litigation."?
In their own letter they complain about how things are chaotic and not working, and they list 16 recommendations that could be implemented, that could make a significant difference in dealing with this terrible rate of outbreaks of C. difficile, which is two to three times the provincial and national average.
So will the minister take the concerns of the clinicians and the physicians seriously, sit down and implement the recommendations that they have outlined to deal with this unacceptable situation at Burnaby Hospital?
Hon. M. de Jong: I appreciate the passion that the member brings, but I again want to assure him that the government and I and the health authorities take the matter very, very seriously. I can provide the member with this information. We have data that speaks to the rate of infection, tracks it on a daily and monthly basis. I can provide that information to the member.
I don't dismiss for a moment the value of observations being provided by clinicians who are working on the floor of a hospital like Burnaby, but I will say this. We need to work with them. We need to work with the nurses, we need to work with the administrative staff, we need to work with the broad group of people who are responsible for administering care, and we have to ensure that the investments this government has initiated on behalf of the taxpayers of British Columbia continue so that old facilities can be upgraded to ones that are better equipped to address the spread of disease like C. difficile.
MUNICIPAL PROPERTY TAX FOR PORTS
AND FRASER RIVER DREDGING
V. Huntington: The Minister of Transportation has frozen and is now permanently subsidizing the property tax rate for B.C. ports. He's not going to take changes in economic growth into account, and he's not going to account for growth in revenues and profits. To make matters worse, because tax rates differed, his municipal compensation formula is patently inequitable. Delta, which hosts Canada's largest container port, receives less compensation than Squamish.
In spite of what the minister might believe, we all want to see an economic climate in which business can do long-range planning. But the job of government is to create a fair and equitable playing field on which that long-range planning can operate. It is not the job of the provincial government to subsidize a large federal entity — in perpetuity, mind you. Port Metro Vancouver is not a B.C. Crown corporation.
Will the minister at least agree to open discussions with the municipalities and negotiate a base tax rate that will ensure equitable compensation to local B.C. communities?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: The Ports Property Tax Act, which we were able to enshrine and make permanent last week in our budget, is something I think we should all be proud of in this province. It's created all kinds of economic development. To date, about a billion dollars' worth of investment in our ports and an additional up to $2 billion are on the books as a result of making this port property tax permanent.
For the member, when she talks about what it means for different communities…. Let me tell you what it means, Member, for your community. It means jobs for the families and the men and women that work there. Member, we have to ensure that our ports are amongst the most competitive on the west coast of North America, because it is a competitive environment in which we operate. We're going to ensure that we're the gateway to the Asia-Pacific not only for British Columbia but for all of Canada and North America.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
V. Huntington: I'll tell the minister what it also means. It means the destruction of one of the finest ecosystems in the world and the using up of prime agricultural land in this country.
The CAO of Port Metro Vancouver says the government subsidy is essential to support competitiveness. Just when did the people of B.C. say their taxes should support one of the largest corporations in the province, a corporation that has already received hundreds and
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hundreds of millions of dollars in support from B.C.?
Mr. Speaker, the minister will subsidize Deltaport in perpetuity, but he won't commit matching funds so we can dredge a harbour to keep a local community alive — the same community, by the way, that hosts the port. If the minister insists on giving ports an annual $5 million property tax subsidy, will he at least contribute the dredging dollars needed to keep small businesses alive in Ladner?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: I will address both questions she raised there. One is on the continuation of the port property tax — again, something that I want to be very clear. We make communities whole based on their rate and the differential. So communities do not lose money in this, and I want to be very clear on that.
On the issue of the Fraser River dredging. I know we've had the opportunity to meet on that, and I appreciate the member's input on that. We have met more than once on this very issue. I think the proposed solution of periodic dredging, after a catch-up on the dredging, is something we have to pursue. We agree on that.
Port Metro Vancouver has funds available. We're going to work with them. I know that the city has actually put funds available as well. They've moved it forward. We're working on that. I'm confident — as we've said in our discussions, Member — that we're going to find a solution to this to make sure it works for everybody.
ROLE OF PATRICK KINSELLA IN
LIQUOR DISTRIBUTION PRIVATIZATION
S. Simpson: The government has confirmed that they have no business case for the selling off of the liquor warehousing and distribution operation. They cannot tell us whether they are looking to create a private monopoly or breaking the business up.
However, we do know that B.C. Liberal insider Patrick Kinsella and his client Exel Logistics engaged with ministers, trying to buy this business. We have been down this road before with Mr. Kinsella with B.C. Rail, and we know how that turned out.
Will the Premier assure this House that due diligence will be done on this scheme and made public before any request for proposals is contemplated?
Hon. R. Coleman: Well, at least the member opposite didn't make up some other meetings I supposedly attended and that he decided that I had gone to, and he doesn't have to come back into the House this afternoon and apologize for the last time he accused me of that.
I said before, when this question came up, that there will be a fairness analysis of any bid process. It'll go out to RFP. It'll be an open process to the public. It will be fair. It will be well managed. It will be balanced, and there will be a fairness lens put on the proposal.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Simpson: I'm sure the government and the B.C. Liberals would have told us that there was fairness on the B.C. Rail deal too, and we saw how that all worked.
We've seen research from Pricewaterhouse and from the University of Saskatchewan telling us that the privatization of liquor in Alberta has created a host of problems around pricing and availability. The company behind the Alberta operation is a subsidiary of Mr. Kinsella's client, Exel Logistics — no business case and what is appearing to be an inside track for a single proponent. We are worried about the fairness and the intelligence of this decision. How does the Premier plan to ensure fairness and no repeat of the B.C. Rail debacle with the Liquor Distribution Branch?
Hon. R. Coleman: It never ceases to amaze me how this particular member likes to throw basically libellous comments across the House about people in the public and British Columbians and companies but never goes outside and actually backs it up with the facts.
The fact of the matter is this. We will go to an RFP. It'll be an open process. The bids will come in, they will be analyzed, and they'll be dealt with by a fairness commissioner to make sure that they are fair and balanced in the decision that is made.
It is a good decision for the province of British Columbia, because the other alternative — to spend extra money to build new warehousing and stuff — would be a waste of taxpayers' money, versus to get an opportunity to sink the money back and put it against the debt of the province and build a fiscal plan for British Columbia, long term for British Columbians, versus what you might want to do.
M. Karagianis: Mr. Patrick Kinsella is a top donor and key political backer of the Premier. So a very straightforward question to the Premier: did she meet with Mr. Kinsella, and did they discuss selling off the liquor distribution?
Hon. R. Coleman: Quit tilting at windmills. Get your head around the fact that we're going to go to an RFP, an open bidding process for somebody that might want to come in and buy the Liquor Distribution Branch and give better service to British Columbians and actually put some money back into the government's coffers so we can do more things for health care and education. Actually, we may have an opportunity to increase productivity and jobs for British Columbians as a result as well.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Karagianis: The Premier seemed pretty anxious
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to speak yesterday on all questions. So again, a question straight to the Premier. It stretches the realms of believability that she wouldn't have met with her good friend and key political backer Mr. Kinsella. When did they meet, and did they discuss the sell-off of liquor distribution in this province?
Hon. R. Coleman: Oh, I get it. They don't know about RFPs because they probably never did one in the ten years they were in government. They don't know about competitive bidding because they never did that when they were in government. Certainly, they don't know about putting a fairness commissioner on a file like this to make sure it's fair to all parties that bid so the right proponent with the right proposal gets the bid.
That's what we're going to do. It'll be fair, it'll be open, and it'll be balanced. It'll be the right thing to do for British Columbians.
B. Ralston: Poma Dhaliwal, vice-president of the Alliance of Beverage Licensees in British Columbia, questioned why the government would want to sell off the profitable, publicly owned liquor distribution system, which isn't broken. After all, the Liquor Distribution Branch contributed $899 million in government revenue this fiscal year, and no one in the public is asking for this sell-off. Will the minister confirm that the only person who's asking for this sell-off is Mr. Kinsella and his lobbying firm?
Hon. R. Coleman: To the member opposite: I guess I could give you a briefing in how we actually extract our revenue out of liquor. The sell-off of the Liquor Distribution Branch will not affect government's revenues one iota.
The fact of the matter is that we take our funds from the markup and the taxes of the liquor as it comes through the system. That's how we make our money for the taxpayers of British Columbia, and we'll continue to do that.
Now, I know they don't like to see us paying down debt or finding money to make government more efficient. I know they're opposed to jobs. I know they are not fiscally conservative and don't actually believe in balancing the budget, but on this side of the House, for the future of my children and grandchildren, I'm proud of the fiscal changes we're doing in British Columbia today.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
B. Ralston: I don't know why the minister is proud of $706 million in phantom revenue that has been concocted for this three-year fiscal plan. At the front of the budget document…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
B. Ralston: …the Deputy Minister of Finance, quite properly, has expressed a reservation about the likelihood of this sale resulting in real revenue.
How much of the $706 million is pencilled in for the sale of the Liquor Distribution Branch?
Hon. R. Coleman: When you get over the grassy knoll behind the shade of the tree over in the corner, you'll find a fair and proper process with regards to putting up a tender for the Liquor Distribution Branch in British Columbia, and you'll find out we also protected revenues. But don't worry, hon. Member. I know the agenda on the other side of the House.
The Leader of the Opposition just said yesterday to the Vancouver Province columnist that government should drop its net zero mandate and put more money on the table to get a negotiated settlement with teachers. That means he would drop $1.3 billion more on the me-too clauses in every collective agreement we've signed in the province of British Columbia and flush a few billion dollars more on top of the $6.8 billion he's already flushing.
You can't pay the bills. He wants to push us into debt. He wants to destroy the economy of British Columbia, and we're not going to let that happen.
SUPPORT FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
C. Trevena: I'd like to address some of the real priorities for the real people in this province. This week saw the release of the Metro Vancouver homeless count. The results point out the lack of supports for children and youth under the B.C. Liberals over these last 11 years. Mr. Speaker, 56 people with children were found homeless, the highest number ever counted. The majority of those children were 12 years old or younger, and there were five children under the age of one. That's five babies.
The Premier says families first. What about those families? To the Minister of Children and Family Development: when will we see a provincewide plan to address these shameful statistics, a plan which really helps B.C.'s most vulnerable families?
Hon. R. Coleman: Last spring 145 people were street homeless in the city of Vancouver, a drop of 82 percent in the city. In Metro Vancouver last spring the drop in the people who were homeless in the entire region of Vancouver was over 54 percent.
I just want to give the member three numbers. Six thousand — that's the number of people that are no longer homeless in British Columbia since 2006. Ten thousand — the number of families that are receiving rent assistance in the province of British Columbia, where
[ Page 9569 ]
they live, till they support their families. That's for low-income families in B.C., something you voted against. And 18,000 seniors households in British Columbia get a cheque quietly every month to offset the rent where they live in British Columbia so that they can have a quality of life — something you also voted against, hon. Member.
[End of question period.]
Hon. C. Clark: I rise to make a ministerial statement.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
PINK SHIRT DAY AND
PREVENTION OF BULLYING
Hon. C. Clark: Today we mark Pink Shirt Day here in British Columbia. It is a very, very proud day for me personally, to sit here in this chamber and see so many members who are wearing pink, see so many kids up there in the gallery wearing pink — to even see the jaded, cynical journalists who report on us in the press gallery, many of them wearing pink.
I think it says a lot about our commitment here in this province to combat bullying. This started for me in 2006 when I hosted a radio show. One day a woman phoned in, and she said something to this effect: "You know what? Bullying just happens. It builds character, so kids should just get used to it." That comment passed into the ether, as many comments do on the radio.
I got an e-mail from a woman named Brenda. She wrote to me and said: "I want to come on your show, and I want to tell my story about bullying." And she did. She spent an hour talking about how she was a bully, how she'd locked two little girls in the back of a car and convinced them that she was kidnapping them and they were never going to see their parents again. She talked about how she'd beaten a girl so badly in the school yard that she broke her clavicle.
Then she talked about the impact that had had on her life, how she'd led a dysfunctional life addicted to drugs and alcohol and never able to have a real relationship, as a result of the knowledge that she had harmed so many people because she was a bully.
When she left the studio, she looked me in the eye and said: "You know what? You have a bully pulpit here on the radio. You have to use it to do something about bully-
[ Page 9570 ]
ing." And I didn't know what to do.
A couple of months later I was reading the Globe and Mail, and they did a story about national heroes. Among the national heroes that they chose were two young men, David Shepherd and Travis Price. Those were the two young men that my colleague referred to a few minutes ago — the two young men in Nova Scotia who, when they saw a grade 9 boy being bullied at school for wearing a pink shirt, decided that they were going to stand up and do something about it.
They were going to stand in the way of the bully and make a statement that said: "If you are going to bully him, you're going to have to bully us too." So they went down to the dollar store, they bought 50 pink shirts, and they put them on themselves and all their friends. The next day there were a bunch of kids wearing pink shirts, and the day after, even more kids, until the last day of school that week when everybody except the bullies was in pink.
I read that in the paper, and I thought: "You know what? We can do something about bullying here in British Columbia." I sat down with the people in management at my station, and I talked to them about how we wanted to do a pink-shirt day, and we needed their support to do it. None of us thought that it would be successful. We thought that if we went out and sold T-shirts, we might make back some of the money we spent on it. We couldn't believe the response that we had in just a few months to put it together.
We were sold out of T-shirts in a matter of weeks. There were thousands of kids wearing pink on their own in schools, thousands of people in workplaces, police officers, RCMP, bus drivers. We saw ambulance drivers dye their white shirts pink for the day. We saw people in offices all over the province wearing pink. People in schools in Egypt were wearing pink because they wanted to take a stand against bullying.
They were amongst the people, the hundreds of people, that I heard from who talked about how bullying had dramatically affected their lives, how in some cases it had traumatized them for decades. The thing about bullying is that when you are victimized by a bully, you often never, ever get the chance to make good, to find closure, to ask for an apology, to feel like you had justice out of the situation.
The trauma that you can feel from that…. For some people it's short-term, and for many, it's over years and years. It can last a lifetime. I learned that in the last many years that we worked on Pink Shirt Day — me and many colleagues across the province.
I'll say this about bullying. We often use the word "bully" to refer to a lot of things, but I want to be clear about what it is. Bullying is when one person purposefully, intentionally harms another repeatedly and gets something from it. They get attention. They get a sense of self-esteem. Who knows what they get?
I learned that the way to stop bullying is multifaceted. There's a lot that government can do to stop it. There's a lot that government can do to try and prevent it. But government is not the majority of the answer.
I said, when I was in the private sector: "If I ever get back into government, I'm going to do something. I'm going to ask government to do something about bullying." So we included it in the throne speech, and we are going to do something this session to address bullying. We are going to take bold action on this.
But I want to be clear. The way to stop bullying — and all the kids up there will know this, because they will have learned it in class — is to stand up, to step in. When you see someone being purposefully harmed, you stand up for them and say: "That's not acceptable."
It doesn't matter if you're at school or if you're at home or if you're in your workplace. Step in, and deprive that bully of oxygen, because if the bully doesn't have an audience, the bully won't have a reason to do it anymore.
So I want to say thank you today to all of the members of this House who have decided to take part in Pink Shirt Day, because today we come together. We find unity in a common cause that matters to every single one of us, whatever our political view.
I want to say thanks to all the professionals, all the adults, all the teachers and educators, all the parents, all the folks who work in daycares and especially all the kids. Today is the day that we say: "For the next 365 days, whenever I see bullying happening, I'm going to stand up, I'm going to step in, and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that that bully doesn't get the attention that he or she wants."
A. Dix: I think this day across British Columbia…. It's very moving in the Legislature to see people wearing pink, but it's even more moving…. I know the Premier — like I, like all MLAs — has gone to events that have been student-led, youth-led events that have made a real difference.
I want to thank the Premier for her remarks today and for the work she has done on this issue. I think it's important work that we have to do together. I think symbolically, we in the Legislature have to show our own example in this regard.
The Premier has said that action is going to be taken. We want action to be taken, and I want the Premier to know that both on the question of workplace bullying and especially on the bullying involved in our public schools and all schools in British Columbia, we're prepared, absolutely, to work with her under all conditions, work together under all conditions, to see that change happens now.
It is, as I say, inspirational that this is a movement that was started by young people, driven by young people, who have taught all of us, I think, a lesson about how to make social change. It's our obligation here as their representatives and the representatives of the voters of B.C. to give that life and to give that action.
So let's work together over the next little while. Let's get the job done together in the ways that we can. As the Premier rightly says, it's not all about legislation. It's about our daily lives and what we do every day.
I want to thank the Premier. I want to thank all of my colleagues in the Legislature for their support of this. Now let's get the job done. Let's work on this together in this session.
Hon. I. Chong: I ask leave to make an introduction.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Introductions by Members
Hon. I. Chong: I sometimes don't immediately notice, but I do see in the gallery a good friend, a constituent of mine, a former mayor of Oak Bay who did not seek re-election. We wondered what he would do with his time. Apparently, he's got time to watch question period. I would ask the House to please make welcome Christopher Causton.
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: Shockingly, we will do the budget debate continuation again this afternoon.
Mr. Speaker: Members, if you could go off to your other duties.
D. Barnett: To continue on with my speech to Budget 2012, we also provided over $1 million to the Association for Mineral Exploration B.C., the Mining Association of B.C., Aggregate Producers Association of B.C. and their industry partners. The money will be used to further develop human resource strategies designed to meet the increasing demand for skilled labour in B.C.'s mining sector.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
Over 450 employees provincewide will gain the essential skills they need to succeed, while increasing productivity for employers through a $1.5 million investment in essential skills training. Our province has the greatest increase of apprentices in the whole country, and it is our job to see to it that they are supported as best as possible. We are also extending the training tax credit program, which encourages employers and workers to get involved in apprenticeship programs.
At Thompson Rivers University we have increased annual operating grants by $11.2 million, which is a 20.9 percent increase, and provided 111 new funded student
[ Page 9571 ]
spaces since 2005-2006.
The government also supports First Nations and aboriginal communities through its aboriginal training-for-employment program, which helps participants pursue further studies and employment opportunities in a variety of fields. Just last month the Xeni Gwet'in First Nations Government in the Williams Lake region was granted $150,000 to support hands-on training and in-class instruction, as well as career planning and skills for various occupations.
We recently learned that lumber exports to China rose by 60 percent in 2011, surpassing the $1 billion mark. As part of Canada Starts Here, the B.C. jobs plan, the government is investing $550,000 to help the B.C. silviculture industry.
The investment will develop new human resource strategies to meet the challenges of a changing labour market over three years. The funding will go towards developing a human resource strategy to ensure the industry can continue to develop, recruit and retain reliable and capable workers. This is a very welcome funding announcement for my riding, which relies a great deal on the forest industry.
Health care. We know that health care is a priority for all British Columbians. We will continue to work hard to identify best practices for delivering care and finding administrative savings, and we will continue to work to reduce the rate of growth in health spending and achieve key health outcomes that lead the country.
In my riding we've had a number of wonderful health-funding announcements over the last year. We just announced that $200,000 will go to each of the 100 Mile District General Hospital and the Cariboo Memorial Hospital and health centre in Williams Lake to strengthen public access to emergency services in rural communities. We announced $106 million for the northern cancer control strategy, including a new B.C. cancer centre for the north in Prince George, as well as a $26 million expansion of Quesnel's G.R. Baker Hospital.
The Ministry of Health budget will increase by $1.5 billion over the three-year fiscal plan to nearly $17.3 billion in 2014-2015. We are determined to make our health care system the best in the world, and total spending on health care equals 42 percent of our government spending.
Government spending in the Ministry of Health reached $14.64 billion in 2010-2011, which is an increase of 69 percent since 2000-2001. There is no doubt in my mind that we are working hard to get adequate funds into health care while making our system the best it can possibly be.
Investments in infrastructure in our communities are critical for a strong province. I'm incredibly proud of our government's track record on transportation. We have invested wisely in our infrastructure, and we're finally catching up to what the NDP didn't do for the entire period of the 1990s.
Since 2001 this government has invested more than $45 billion on capital infrastructure. We have seen infrastructure investment all across the province, from the Port of Prince Rupert to the Port Mann bridge. In 2010-2011, 92.1 percent of projects met their budget and schedule. This is because we know how important it is to British Columbians that we get work done on time, so they can sooner get themselves to work and support their families.
In my riding alone I have seen millions of dollars in road improvements and repairs as well as the construction of two spur dikes and flood prevention infrastructure. In 2010-2011, $50 million was invested as part of the Interior and rural side roads program, and from 2011-2012 through to 2013-2014 we'll have invested another $152 million. This makes sure rural roads are safer and more reliable and eases access between rural communities. We have invested $33 million as part of the oil and gas rural road improvement program.
Our government knows very well how hard the mountain pine beetle has hit rural communities, and we are investing $30 million per year to facilitate the safe and effective transportation of harvested mountain pine beetle–killed timber to repair damage done to the highway system by the extraordinary increase in heavy truck traffic and to help ensure the goals and objectives of the B.C. mountain pine beetle action plan are met.
While I'm talking about mountain pine beetle, there are a few facts that I would like to present. I heard from a member across the way about an issue at Twinflower Creek area, which is in my riding. It is created by pine beetle, by drought, by factors and by Mother Nature. I'm very interested in the comments from the member across the way.
Because of the mountain pine beetle there has been an increase in harvesting, and harvesting is very important if we want to create jobs and have an economy. What frustrates me is that I have lived and been a part of this pine beetle for the last 30 years, I guess, since it first started. In the '90s, when many of us were working and part of local government, we asked the government of the day to help us mitigate this by allowing management of parks. But no, we couldn't mitigate. We let Mother Nature take its course.
Now we hear that the problem is created by government. Well, the problem is not created by government. And in the Twinflower Creek area there is a mitigation plan being put together cooperatively with the community. It's called the Big Creek watershed storage assessment project. It's funded by the Cariboo-Chilcotin pine beetle coalition, which of course….
L. Popham: Did you tell the ranchers that? They don't know….
[ Page 9572 ]
D. Barnett: Excuse me. They are aware of it.
Investing in this is the provincial government and industry. When this plan is put together, I believe it will be a plan for all watersheds in British Columbia affected by pine beetle.
We have also put a lot of time, energy and money into fighting the pine beetle issue. For example, I will give you a breakdown. So $185 million was given to the Northern Development Initiative Trust to help northern economic diversification communities diversify their economies — $30 million specifically for beetle mitigation. To date, out of that $185 million and the $30 million being utilized, $32 million of this fund has gone to 101 projects, leveraging $205.5 million in total funds.
And $50 million for the Southern Interior Development Initiative Trust to help communities. Since 2005, $236 million on Forests for Tomorrow for reforestation activities will ensure long-term timber supply.
I could go on and on, but what amazes me is this is such a huge economic-dependent community — the Cariboo-Chilcotin and others. To hear the opposition say that this government has done nothing…. I just cannot believe those words were said, because we have done so much to help these communities.
We support, and we still support, these pine beetle coalitions, which cover three-quarters of this province of British Columbia, yet when the opposition was asked to participate when we first started these coalitions, the answer was: "No, we are not interested."
The work that has been done and is ongoing has created economic development throughout three-quarters of British Columbia. I am so proud to be part of a government that recognized that fact and understands the issues in my riding.
The government is ensuring that all communities receive the benefits of B.C.'s strong economy. That is what we're doing through the pine beetle initiative, through other community initiatives — but working with our communities, not bringing issues out without all the facts. If we are going to have strong communities, united communities, the facts need to be known.
As I continue, this government is about economic responsibility, good fiscal management, balancing budgets and keeping triple-A credit. I could go on and on about the great things that this government has done and why I chose to be part of a good government — a good, manageable government; a government that understands; a government that finds the positive, not the negative; and a government that always knows both sides to the story, because there are always two sides to every story.
In conclusion, through innovative projects and programs we are working towards a stronger, healthier B.C. We are a province with many advantages. Our people, our resources and our jobs are inevitable and valuable. We have innovative and sustainable infrastructure projects and stable economic prospects. We have strong families and communities that benefit from robust health care, education and social sectors.
We as a government are doing everything we can to maintain and improve these strengths and to keep B.C. strong well into the future. I'm proud to support this year's budget, and I'm proud to represent the great people of the Cariboo-Chilcotin.
S. Simpson: I'm pleased to have my opportunity to stand in my place to debate the budget for this year.
It's always a pleasure to get the opportunity to rise in the House and to speak on behalf of the people of Vancouver-Hastings, my constituency, a constituency that I've spent most of my life in and that I'm very proud of. I'm very proud of the people of my constituency and of all the work they do, particularly all the work they do in supporting each other.
There's a wonderful tradition of that. I know that all of my neighbours in Vancouver-Hastings share my sense of value in being able to live in a community that functions in that way.
I'm really pleased to have the opportunity, as I said, to talk about the budget a little bit. Let me start with a bit of an overview of what I think are the real challenges with the budget.
The first one is that it's not a particularly sophisticated budget. That's really problematic at a time when we are facing very complex issues — complex financial, social and environmental issues, sustainability issues. We know what they are. We talk about them in this place. We talk about them outside this place.
But what we've seen now is a budget that is just not sophisticated at all in how it responds to the issues and the challenges that are put in front of us by the global situation that we hear the Finance Minister talk about and by the complexity of the economy as we know it and our need to be able to sustain services for British Columbians.
If you look at the budget, I think one of the most telling things is the way that it deals with each of the ministries. This is a budget that, with the exception of health care, which got a bit of a lift, and a small lift in Education and a statutory lift in Social Development because of increasing income assistance rates…. We've seen a situation where there had to be a statutory lift there in order to meet those needs. But other than that, if you look across all of the other ministries, with the exception also of a cut, of course, in Advanced Education, they essentially are an across-the-board freezing of the budgets.
When you look into the service plans…. We know the service plans aren't the documents that they were a few years ago, where they provided pretty significant information and that information essentially isn't there anymore. But what it does tell us is that largely they've been frozen over the next three years based on this budget.
[ Page 9573 ]
This is a budget at a time when you should be looking at the economic realities, the impacts of those economic realities on our communities, on our citizens, on our most vulnerable citizens, and figuring out how to measure and look at the differences — how each one of those ministries plays a role in responding to those needs and then ensuring and trying to balance the budget in a way that ensures that each of those ministries is getting the necessary resources that they need in order to play their role.
But that's not what we saw. We saw a budget that instead just flatlined across the board.
It almost makes you wonder whether there is a Treasury Board under the B.C. Liberal government, whether there is a place to have a conversation about those priorities, whether ministers were coming to that Treasury Board to advocate for the priorities that they saw, to bring their budgets for their individual ministries forward to Treasury Board to talk about how they saw balancing demands with resources within their ministries and where they thought the priorities of government should be reflected within their ministries. But that's not what the budget shows us.
The budget shows us a pretty ham-fisted approach to how to deal with this. As a result of that lack of sophistication, the thing that usually comes with lack of sophistication is lack of vision. There's nothing visionary about this budget. There's nothing visionary because of this lack of sophistication and clearly the lack of work that went into the budget in order to make it work for British Columbians.
Now, I suspect that that lack of vision probably comes back to a hard political reality. The hard political reality is this. This is a government that is focused on two things. One is trying to minimize the amount of damage that they're going to face coming into an election in 2013 and believing that they need to balance that budget at all costs and need to portray that to get there, to see if they can save as many seats as they can save by 2013.
The other political reality of this is a set of by-elections in Port Moody–Coquitlam and in Chilliwack-Hope that are coming up sometime in the next few months, where clearly the government is pretty concerned about the possibilities that they face in terms of results in those elections.
As a result, they've built a budget that affects everybody in British Columbia around a couple of narrow political objectives.
Any time you do that, any time you take something like a provincial budget, as large and complex as it is, as important as it is, and decide all of that work, all of that analysis, all of those complexities, all of those issues can be set aside in order to see if we can get a couple of steps closer to these political objectives…. That's what we've seen in this budget. We've seen the government do a number of things to get there, and some of it is particularly bad public policy.
Now, we've already talked — and I've spoken a little bit here — about the lack of vision as it affects across ministries and the decision of the government's conduct. But I want to talk about a couple of specific examples of poor public policy as it relates here.
The first one is this asset sale, the land sale — as somebody said to me, the going-out-of-business sale for the B.C. Liberals on their land sale. They've got $706 million that they've booked in this budget as returns on the sale of some hundred properties. Now, clearly the government, I would expect, should have some idea what those properties are. They should have some idea what they're getting for them, or it's pretty hard for me to understand how you book a number as specific as $706 million — not $702 million or $708 million but $706 million.
So there's been some thought about this, clearly, as to what properties they must be and how they value those and how we're going to get to $706 million.
In question period the other day the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation said, in response to a question around discussions with First Nations and obligations of government to consult around Crown lands in terms of treaty, that there had been no determination on those properties and that when that determination came, there would be the appropriate consultation.
The minister's comments…. I paraphrase, and I apologize if I get it wrong. But generally, she was saying we will have those discussions at the time when we identify those properties clearly. The question here is: how on earth do you figure out it's $706 million and that that's what you're going to get, if you don't have a list of properties?
We've asked those questions here, and minister after minister — the Finance Minister, the House Leader…. No, the Premier wasn't answering questions on land asset sales the other day, so we didn't hear from her on that. But we have had nobody tell us where this list is and how this list exists. That's a real problem.
When you talk to folks, not NDPers but people who understand the role of government and how government best performs, you will find very, very few people who don't want to buy those assets. Now, if they want to be a purchaser of the assets, they might think it's a pretty good idea. But if they're not looking to buy them, if they're just looking at what constitutes good public policy, they will tell you that you simply don't sell the assets that have a long-term public good in order to get through the next few months to try to balance your budget. That's just bad public policy. And yet the government is crafting a balanced budget around exactly that initiative.
Now, the other thing, of course, that we see with the government in terms of how they do this is where they're moving on Crowns and the decision around Crowns. I'll talk about two in particular.
We've had the conversation in this House numerous times about B.C. Hydro, and we know the government
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is booking about $1.8 billion of dividend over the next number of years from B.C. Hydro. However, we also know that, largely, this is driven by an issue around how deferral accounts have been established and put in place.
So 22, 27. I've lost count of the number of deferral accounts that have been put in place, which we hear from the Auditor General create the potential for upwards of a $5 billion hole in B.C. Hydro by the time they're maxed out. There's nothing good about that management.
Then the question becomes: is this truly about being prepared to take what has always been viewed as the Crown jewel of the Crown corporations and run it into the ground in order to artificially create these dividends to offset expenses? Is that what we're talking about here?
Well, it certainly appears to be the case, because there's no justification. There's no plan that can be found — certainly not one that the independent officer could find — about how those deferral accounts work and where the resources are — or the plan, even, to be able to pay those accounts off. It doesn't exist. There's nothing about that that's good management. That's gross mismanagement. But it's par for the course for the B.C. Liberal government.
This government, as has been becoming clearer and clearer every day, has been mismanaging this province in the most horrendous way for years and years. That's becoming painfully clear. But it's not the only one. We have ICBC. Now, ICBC this past year was projected initially…. Originally, it was going to turn about a $277 million dividend. It didn't work. It turned out to be about half that, a little more than half of that — the dividend — which is fine. That's a reality.
Now we see, though, of course, that that dividend is essentially being projected to double or almost double, to go to $230 million and then, I think, up to $260 million in the next couple of years. Overall, between now and 2014 it's to return almost $1.2 billion to the provincial government as a dividend by 2014.
Now, the way this is being done is by driving up the rates, not on the optional so much — in fact, they're driving the rates on the optional down — but on basic insurance. This is the insurance that all of us are obliged to buy, and rightly so, to ensure that we have everybody properly insured who is driving a vehicle. They're driving that up by 11.2 percent.
On the optional insurance, where ICBC competes with the private sector, there's a 6 percent reduction in insurance rates. What you have is a situation where it's increasingly appearing that the government has decided that particularly those people who have the biggest financial challenges and economic challenges personally — the people who are most likely to only buy the minimum amount of car insurance that they require, which is basic, in order to get their car on the road — are the people who will pay for this. They're the ones who'll pay the 11.2 percent, and they don't get an offset of a reduction in the optional. So it'll be paid there.
We know, of course, that one of the biggest challenges in this province is inequality and the growth in inequality. Most people have got a car on the road. And those people for whom money is tight, who have a car on the road and who insure at the minimum levels they can, will take the biggest hit on this. So it reinforces that inequality.
As we know, there's about $3 billion of dividends projected out of those two Crowns alone to go to government over the next number of years — $3 billion of dividends. This is a problem. It's not that there's a dividend return to government. There's historically been a dividend return to government. There will be a dividend return to government from these Crowns in the future.
The issue becomes this. When the government manages the books through very questionable practices like deferral accounts or seems to be driving up rates or fees — in order to push the dividend up, not to enhance the viability of the corporation — that's a problem. We should be taking that dividend, hopefully because of good management of the Crown, and a fair return. We should be taking a fair dividend. But that is not what we're seeing in this case, because of the way the government has chosen to structure these two decisions — very problematic, very bad policy.
The other piece that we've seen — and we spoke about this a little bit earlier today — is around the Liquor Distribution Branch and, particularly, the warehousing and distribution aspect of that. The government has told us through the budget that the intention is to privatize that, to sell it off.
That's a political decision. It's a policy decision. People have a right to make those political and policy decisions. But when you make them, you should have something to support that decision. We have asked continually for the business case that makes sense. No one has provided that business case on the government side. The Premier hasn't provided it. The Finance Minister hasn't provided it. The minister responsible hasn't provided it. Nobody can give us a business case. That's a problem.
We also know that at this point we can't get an answer on whether we're talking about a private monopoly. I've been reading about the situation in Alberta, where they have privatized. The entire system is private there, and they've encouraged us.
I read an editorial in the Calgary Herald from yesterday, I think it was, that said to British Columbia: "Don't do what we did." They still support the privatization, but they said: "Don't do what we did." Part of the concern is: are you going to create a private monopoly? Here's the challenge. If you create the private monopoly, you create a real problem in terms of how liquor gets controlled, how it gets distributed, availability, and you create pricing challenges. Even where they've regulated there, they found that problem. They've created that problem.
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We know the biggest breweries in the country are in the middle of a lawsuit with a subsidiary of the company who would like to buy here, who controls that operation in Alberta. It's over whether they can appropriately distribute properly their product, and they're suing over that. That's a reality there.
The other reality that we know is…. I've been looking — and I would love for somebody on the government side to correct me on this — across North America, and I've been trying to find the situation where you have private distribution in warehousing and you have public stores — publicly owned stores in a retail operation. You don't have them.
What you have in every other area where this has been done is either a public system or a private system. Now, the Premier and the Minister of Finance, when they've been asked whether this is phase 1 to privatizing the rest of the Liquor Distribution Branch and selling off the stores, have said: "Not at the moment." They haven't denied it. They haven't said no to it. They've said not at the moment. Every place else you look, that's what you see.
We had the minister responsible today trying to tell us that the money is in the stores and in the retail side. Well, if the money is in the stores and the retail side, you can certainly be assured that that's what the private sector will want.
The government won't tell us if that's the road they're going down. But it is the road that everybody else says…. That's the conclusion that everyone else has got to who went down that road. We know the people of British Columbia believe that the government-operated system gives them benefits and provides stability and security for them, and they like it. They prefer the government-owned system.
What are some of the other challenges? We've heard the Premier, though admittedly she doesn't talk about families first very much anymore…. That one is completely off the table. Instead, what we're seeing here is a Premier who obviously is trying to hang on to her job, and I understand that. So we're not getting any response that is substantive to the many challenges that families are facing, to the costs and the pressures families are facing.
We're seeing a government here that chooses to cut in one of the key areas that a provincial government can play a role in terms of the economy. I've heard this government tell us numerous times that governments don't create jobs and the private sector…. You know, the private sector is pretty important in creating jobs, and I agree with that — absolutely.
S. Simpson: I'll bang my desk too.
The private sector is where the jobs are. So when you talk to the private sector, when you talk to private sector employers, when you talk to people who are leaders in private sector industry….
S. Simpson: Yes, as a matter of fact, we are talking to them more than ever, by the way. More than ever they're wanting to talk to us. The phone rings a lot these days.
What we're seeing here is the thing that they tell us the most. They would say: provide a trained, educated workforce. The biggest thing that the provincial government can do for them is to provide a trained, educated workforce. So what does this government do? It cuts the budget. Remarkable. It cuts the budget. We know they've turned their back on that area.
We also know that the government has not responded or reacted in any substantive way on the issue of poverty. Eight years — highest rates of child poverty in the country. Highest levels of overall poverty in the country. Half a million British Columbians living in poverty. About 130,000 of those are kids. There was nothing in this budget to support those people at all. There was nothing in this budget that tells us this government has any idea how it's going to bring poverty down, how it's going to break that cycle.
How do these failures occur? Well, as I said, they occur because we have a government that has developed a budget that is preoccupied with two by-elections and a general election in 2013, rather than what's good for British Columbia. That, more than anything — that approach, that lack of coherent thought — is really what we see here in terms of why this government is losing public confidence. The lack of coherent thought.
The other thing is that it's not just in this year. This is a government that will tell us that they want us to believe that they've done a good job. So let's look at just a couple of numbers about how well they've done. These come from the Progress Board. You'll remember that we did have a Progress Board. And I'll tell you, when the Progress Board was put in place, I thought: "Well that's a body that's probably going to end up a shill for the government."
I was wrong. The Progress Board did some very important work over the time that it was in place. It took its work seriously, and it did the work. And what did they tell us in their last report before the Premier killed them off? What did they tell us? Well, they gave us a little bit of an update on how things are going.
They told us how in the year 2000 British Columbia was fourth in the country in real GDP per capita and how in 2011 we're fifth in real GDP. We've fallen. They told us how in personal income in the year 2000, real personal income, we were third in the country and how in 2011 we've fallen again to fourth. They told us how in the year 2000 in terms of job creation we were fifth in the country
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and how in 2011 we are seventh.
In key area after key area after key area this government has failed British Columbians. It's failed British Columbians. Part of the big problem here is the legacy that they will leave behind, and this is a serious challenge. In '09-10 in the public accounts we learned that this government has signed $53 billion in contractual obligations. That's a pretty big number. One year later that number has grown to $80.1 billion of contractual obligations.
Now, what we will learn from people like Mr. Drummond, who did work recently in Ontario, and others is that these are obligations. The biggest problem with these obligations is that they remove the capacity of government to be innovative and make decisions. And the way they do that is that these are obligations that we've got to pay for, and we don't get to change that. So unlike operating matters, where you can be flexible and you can be innovative, these are obligations that you cannot change.
The largest number there are in power purchase agreements, essentially — a large number of power purchase agreements — where we're buying power at a price that's higher than we can sell it for. That's the absurdity of this government's rationale.
We have a budget that has no vision, a budget that is pedestrian in its thinking, at best. We have a budget that does nothing for the most vulnerable people who need its support. We have a budget that is selling off British Columbia's assets — assets that belong to the people of B.C., not to the B.C. Liberals.
It's all about trying to survive an election next year. What I would say is they're trying to survive an election, but I'll tell you this. The people of British Columbia will get to make that choice in 2013, and all of the tricks and all of the spin in the world will not save this government from British Columbians' total disappointment and lack of confidence in the abysmal job that you've done for a decade for the people of British Columbia.
K. Krueger: The thing that I like the best about this budget is its drive to eliminate the deficits once and for all.
We were tremendously proud when we were able to eliminate the structural deficit that we inherited from the NDP government that preceded us. We were tremendously dismayed when, pretty much at the end of it, we did get caught up in the whirlpool that was created by the worldwide recession that started south of our border. We want to get out of it as fast as we can, because we continue to believe that that is the thing we have to do for our children, our grandchildren and, indeed, for everybody who's in the workforce right now.
It's a real pleasure to follow the member for Vancouver-Hastings, because he stands up and tells the truth about what he thinks. Everybody heard him in this chamber. Everybody can go back and read what he just said on the record. He made it very clear that he thinks it's a mistake for the government of British Columbia to be building capital projects.
He talked about numbers that are reported. We're proud of that. We're building the Port Mann bridge. There's hardly a jurisdiction around North America that feels the courage to launch big projects like that in recent years, let alone right now.
We're building the Evergreen line. We helped Canada build the Canada Line. We built for the Olympics, and we built infrastructure that we wouldn't have been able to afford without the Olympics for many years to come. But we know those are lasting things. Those drive an economy. They create jobs for British Columbians. They make our economy work because they make things more efficient.
But the member said: "No, no. The thing you should spend on is operating. Spend on operating, because then if things get tough, you can always choke off the operating costs." Well, that's not how it works. We all know that.
We have communities thrilled to have new hospitals built. They didn't see any new hospitals built in the NDP government years. But while they're building them, they say to us: "Why don't you just shell-in a few more floors? We know you don't need them right now. We agree with that. But it'll be cheaper to shell-in a few more floors right now. Then you can always, sometime in the future when we need it, budget for operating and hiring the staff."
Lo and behold, as soon as they're built, that community's doctors come forward and say: "Well, this is just silly. We've got empty space. We could fill it up with beds and patients and hire more doctors." The health authority is saying: "Well, good grief. We're having a struggle keeping up as it is." But oh no, we're pushed for that operating budget.
Sure enough, things do get tough. They got really tough for the NDP when they were in government, but they found they didn't have the courage to cut back the operating expenditures.
Indeed, we don't think it's right to cut them back in health care, and we don't think it's right to cut them back in education. So we've been determined not do that. We've continually added, over our 11 years in government, to the operating budgets for health care and education, but they're really pinching a lot of the other things we'd like to do.
I think it took tremendous courage for our Minister of Finance to stand up in this House and make a commitment that we're sticking to the course. We're going to eliminate the deficit. We think that's important. We're not going to impose the tax of carrying charges of interest on operating debt on our children, let alone our grandchildren. We're going to stick the course, and I want to give him a real round of applause for that.
It's absolutely tempting to spend more on operating
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— absolutely. I almost worried about having Stockholm syndrome when I was the minister responsible for arts, because their arguments…. It isn't a pitch; it's the truth. They say, "Not only do we add tremendously to British Columbians' quality of life, but we actually are huge job creators," and they are. It's true. One of our goals is to create as many jobs as we can in British Columbia.
They also say, "We help you deliver on health care and education and social services," and they do. They go into the schools, and they help us with the education of children. They help to turn children on to their artistic abilities. They help tease those things out, draw them out, encourage them, teach them. They do all sorts of things for us. So we'd love to give more money to arts organizations, but we just don't have it right now.
Yet we've given quite a bit. We've got a very good track record as a government. The Premier and the Finance Minister just came up with some more. But it is really tempting to jack up the operating expenses and hope for the best, and we've seen examples of that.
The member actually raised the Drummond report. That's an Ontario report. We all know that. It says that those poor people in Ontario are looking at a $30 billion deficit in 2018. My goodness, that's six more budget years from now, and they're not expecting to be out of deficit? Certainly not. They are expecting to be running a $30 billion deficit. May we never, ever get there.
When I was the Minister of Arts, my critic was the member for Vancouver–West End, and he did a really credible job. He was always pestering me about giving them more money, and I agreed with him. I wanted to. I had to go to the Finance Minister of the day, and he also stuck the course. The key to our government's success, the reason we have a triple-A credit rating in the middle of these very troubling times, is fiscal discipline, doing what we said we'd do and sticking to our course. We don't want to tax the kids.
Ontario is a basket case financially, and we feel sorry for them. Their Premier this past week reproached Alberta for being successful — that the west has all this money coming in and that it's driving up the Canadian dollar and that, for heaven's sake, he doesn't want that. He'd like a low Canadian dollar because he's in such bad shape, his province, that he sees that as a better thing.
We did start our term in government in 2001 with a huge structural deficit. We employed a team of experts to tell us how bad it was. They came back and told us that it was really, really bad. We had the courage to stick with our plan. We had promised to cut income taxes to the lowest level in Canada for the bottom two tax brackets. We expected to do it over three years, I believe the target was, and our cabinet did it the very first day they were sworn in. The opposition just howled. There weren't very many of them, but they were very articulate.
They said, and the NDP membership around the province joined the chorus, "Those are tax giveaways," which always confounded us. If you let people keep more of the money they earn in their personal bank accounts or in their company bank accounts if they are employers, job creators, how is that possibly a giveaway? They earned the money in the first place.
Lo and behold, what do they do with it? They spend it on the goods and services that they want. That encourages more businesses to spring up and existing businesses to thrive and grow and provide more of those services and goods to people.
I have the great privilege right now, and I did once before, of chairing the Small Business Roundtable, travelling around this province, meeting small business people. There is nobody more nimble, more able to spot an opportunity and rise to that opportunity, let alone identify a challenge and have some practical solutions to give to me for the government — nobody better at all of those things. Small business people really appreciated our tax cuts. They appreciated that they had more customers who had more money to spend.
Our economy popped up — not quite like a cork, but it came up fast from the extreme doldrums of the 1990s, when you had to go to Chiapas, Mexico, to find a jurisdiction doing as badly as British Columbia, incurring successive deficits in the '90s, going further and further into debt. People couldn't find jobs, so they left.
While the previous member was speaking, the member for Stikine heckled me and said: "What about that worker shortage at Mount Milligan?" We didn't have worker shortages anywhere in British Columbia in the '90s. We had unemployment. We had 50,000 British Columbians, most of them young people, leaving, looking for work. To have a mine under construction at Mount Milligan, which I'm fairly certain wouldn't be there if those members were still in government….
K. Krueger: We hear them heckling. I know this kind of hurts. I don't like to hurt them, but they should really face up to the facts.
The member for Stikine, of all people, raised this and said: "What about Mount Milligan? They've got a worker shortage." That's a very good thing. That's jobs chasing people, and that mine will pay more to get people.
I actually read that article. It said that mining engineers from British Columbia went to Australia because they could make better money there. We'll just have to get them back.
We've got some of the best mineralization in the world. We've got new mines coming on all over British Columbia. The Premier expects eight just in the very short-term future, and we're going to have those workers coming back to British Columbia and workers moving to British Columbia.
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K. Krueger: The member for Stikine now says something about what about B.C. Well, my understanding is that we've got twice as many people training in apprenticeship programs for their Red Seals as we ever had under the NDP, and that's a tremendous thing as well.
The economy soared once we did those tax cuts that they consider giveaways. Once we did them, the jobs were created, the economy soared, and things got way, way better. I remember the day we celebrated for the first time in British Columbia's history that there were two million British Columbians getting paycheques — a milestone, an absolutely great milestone. That was under our B.C. Liberal government early on in the last 11 years that we've been government, and it has just kept getting better.
We've had a setback, with the rest of the world, recently, but we still have almost 400,000 more jobs, more people drawing paycheques, in British Columbia than we ever had in history before the B.C. Liberals became government. We've got the lowest taxes in Canada, up to $120,000 in income. We did pay off the accumulated NDP deficits, and we'll pay off this brief history of deficits we've seen since we got caught in the worldwide recession.
There were other kinds of deficits. It makes me laugh when I hear the candidate for the NDP who wants to run against my colleague from Kamloops–North Thompson, in the media saying that we've got to do something about the fact that there are people who temporarily have to occupy beds in the hallway at Royal Inland Hospital. Man, I hate to see that happen to people.
She doesn't realize, because she doesn't have the history of the matter, that in their whole ten years in office the NDP government of the '90s didn't build a single assisted-living bed or a single extended care bed in the whole Thompson health region.
The member for Esquimalt….
K. Krueger: Well, somewhere down there.
K. Krueger: The former chief of staff of the Dan Miller government in the NDP years says that's nonsense. It's nonsense that they weren't built, I say to the member, nonsense that they didn't build for the future as the population was aging. We could all see this problem coming, but they didn't build them — not one.
We have built more than 400 new assisted-living and extended care beds in Kamloops in our 11 years in government — more than 400. Presumably, if the NDP were still in power and still ignoring Kamloops like they always did when they were in power, we'd have 400 more people lining every corridor in Royal Inland Hospital. I don't know where else they could possibly be.
They rag on me, the NDP supporters in Kamloops, that we ought to get seniors out of the acute care hospital. I agree with them, because it's not the ideal setting for someone who needs extended care or assisted living. They need to be in a place that provides programs, more of a homelike atmosphere. It is fabulously expensive to have someone in the acute care hospital. We have been very successful in placing them, because we've built all those beautiful new facilities all over town. That's where people are, and they love them. They absolutely love them.
There was that House Leader's colleague a few minutes ago, saying: "No, no, no. Don't invest capital money. Spend your money on operating." Well, that's how you end up with people in hospital corridors with nowhere to take them, ever, because you didn't spend the capital you needed to. Mind you, they weren't generating any revenues, and that was a problem. They also were quite frightened of the deficits they were accumulating, and rightfully so.
They left us with these problems, and that was just one of the other deficits beside the obvious financial deficit.
Deputy Speaker: Members.
K. Krueger: The member has a lot to say right now. I'm sure he feels quite stung.
It's interesting. We have two former chiefs of staff from the Glen Clark era, the 1990s, and they're the senior people, the go-to people. One of them is the leader. Their results were absolutely awful, and they haven't changed a bit. He's still indicating, Mr. Chair, that he thinks they did things well.
Another deficit, of course, was in roads. The only new road I can remember them building is they worked on the mid-Island highway. It's a very small feat compared to the Coquihalla, but it cost 50 percent more to build the mid-Island highway.
Did they do anything for the Sea to Sky? No. Did they do anything for the Port Mann Bridge? No. They let things sit or crumble all over the province. We had that deficit to clean up as well.
There was a deficit in post-secondary education. There again, the member who spoke before me from Vancouver-Hastings says that you shouldn't spend capital money, especially if it involves debt. Well, we created a university in Kamloops, Thompson Rivers University. The NDP wouldn't do it. The Kamloops people were beseeching them. Wouldn't do it. It's so successful that we went on and created regional universities all over British Columbia…
[ Page 9579 ]
K. Krueger: …and they're doing great.
The member is asking me how they are doing. We've got 1,500 international students at Thompson Rivers University this winter. We have a thousand in the summertime now. Every last one of them, I heard, brings an average of $35,000 into the local economy and into the British Columbia economy. We can do that. They are doing that at TRU. We were willing to take the risk, to borrow the money when we needed to and build things, and look how it's paid off. I'm tremendously proud of that.
We built the beds for the seniors. We built the new facilities. We're building the highways. We rehabbed the highways. We built the universities.
I was just told at a Camosun College board of directors meeting last week that Thompson Rivers University sets the standard in the province for the regional universities because they've never lost sight of the importance of skills training. They've never swung over just to the academic side.
K. Krueger: They get the odd recruit for these regional universities who says, "I'm a PhD, and I do not ever want to teach in a university where they teach welding" — as if that's a small deal.
In that regard, the member for Stikine was right with his heckle, because anybody who looks down on skills training like that really doesn't understand the importance to the economy or the importance of those jobs.
At TRU a person can come in and be trained as a teacher, and then he can be trained as a teacher of teachers. He can go and can ladder past his BA. He can get a master's degree. He can learn how to teach shop…
Deputy Speaker: Members.
K. Krueger: …in high schools and, indeed, at the university itself. We have two streams, and neither of them is regarded as less honourable than the other. They're both honourable, and that's how we're building the economy and how we're going to rise to this huge challenge we've created for ourselves of thousands of new jobs opening up in British Columbia — well-paying, family-supporting jobs.
Highland Valley Copper. It's not as though the NDP had a track record of supporting mining — not at all. We all know that. Think of the Tatshenshini. Think of the fact that our exploration dropped to — what? The member behind me will remember the exact number. I think it's a 1,500 percent improvement we've had in mining exploration since we've been in government. People just left. There was no hope. If you found anything, the NDP government of the day didn't want you to be able to mine it.
We cut taxes, like we said we would. We cut them more than 100 times.
K. Krueger: And yes, Member, now we have nearly 400,000 net new jobs.
In Kamloops last year, Stats Canada just us told us recently….
I wish the member would stay, because I'm going to miss him. He can't heckle when he's not in his chair. I wish he'd come back and give me more inspiration. I'm never going to get through what I meant to say.
Stats Canada told us recently that we have 2,500 more new jobs in Kamloops than we did a year ago — 2,500 in one year. Isn't that amazing? I think it is amazing. We can't even really say for sure — the local government, the MLAs — where they all showed up. The private sector didn't build anything huge and brand-new, but it's because the economy is rising. A rising tide does lift all boats. People need employees. Businesses need employees, and they bring them in — 2,500 net new jobs, 400 in one month alone recently. It just keeps getting better.
How do we do that? How do we encourage that kind of confidence — that people grow their businesses and that they hire more jobs? Well, we do it by fiscal discipline.
It was really interesting when we debated the private member's bill the other day. We wanted to hear what everybody thought about driving for net zero, that we shouldn't be spending more money than we're taking in any longer than we absolutely have to and that we've got to get out of deficit.
The members opposite wouldn't rise to that, wouldn't speak to it and didn't even want to mouth the words "net zero." It's usually no problem getting them to mouth things, but that they didn't want to say. They wouldn't talk in the private member's debate. They talked about other things.
In fact, they say things that they should never say, things that aren't true — for example, saying that we have the worst job creation record in B.C. history. Absolutely false. Nobody else has ever been a government that created 400,000 net new jobs in the time we've had.
They constantly throw out this false allegation that we allegedly have the worst child poverty rate in Canada. That's not true. The report that they draw that false statement from actually specifically says to not use their data in that way, because that wouldn't be accurate. That wouldn't be fair. We have tens of thousands fewer children living in poverty than British Columbia had with the NDP — tens of thousands.
Those allegations are false, but it's because they have nothing to cling to. They have no plans for what they
[ Page 9580 ]
would do to make things better for British Columbians if, God forbid, they ever became government again.
They continually want to attack us, try to bring us down, make these false statements, bring these allegations against us, but they have nothing to offer. They won't say what they would do. What they have done, disastrously, is hopped into bed with people like Bill Vander Zalm, and look how badly that turned out. Now people are saying: "What did you do that for?"
I did a round table in Dawson Creek, B.C., and people from around there, business people, came. There was one fellow, and he asked the first question in my Q an A after the round table. This was before the referendum result, which was sad, as we know. His question was: what can the government do to save the HST? I said: "I don't know if we can. How can you help us?" He said: "Oh, you've got to think of something, because I have four businesses. I service the oil patch. I clean 40 commercial buildings. I have a video store."
K. Krueger: I can't remember what the fourth one was, because the member is heckling me again.
That's good. You're keeping the juices flowing, Mr. Member for Stikine.
He said: "It has been great for my businesses. I desperately don't want to lose them."
Deputy Speaker: Members.
K. Krueger: Oh, don't rebuke them, please, Mr. Chair, because it's part of the process, as far as I'm concerned.
He said: "How can you save the HST?" I said: "You've got to help us save it." He said, "We've got to save it," and he kept monopolizing the Q and A. By the end it was as if he'd driven himself into the confessional, and he said: "I led the charge for Vander Zalm in Dawson Creek. I went out and recruited everybody. I told them all these things about HST."
I'm sounding like the member for the Cowichan Valley all of a sudden.
He was so ashamed. It was like a conversion experience he'd had.
K. Krueger: Absolutely. Thank you.
He was ashamed that he ever worked with Vander Zalm. He didn't want to have done it, and he wanted us to undo it, but we couldn't. We couldn't reverse all the false news, and that unholy alliance cost British Columbians $1.6 billion that we've got to pay back. I don't know how anybody over there can criticize this year's deficit with a straight face when they and Vander Zalm teamed up to do that to the British Columbian economy and revenue.
Vander Zalm was a disgrace as a Premier. He was a disgrace when he libelled Ted Hughes. He has been publicly disgraced yet again. He wanted a jury trial. He got it, and they said: "You are libellous. Pay the man 60,000 bucks." Tragically, he loses money….
Deputy Speaker: Members.
K. Krueger: It's okay, Mr. Chair. I don't mind that. I think it's part of the process.
What I do mind is people saying things in here that aren't true and the inability to get up and respond to them because we've got all these structured rules. I really like heckling. I think it's a good thing. They actually are giving me fodder here, because the things they say are so funny and jar so dramatically with the things that they did in government.
I'll tell you something else that these members don't do that really bugs me, and that's these people who, for their own selfish interests, lobby government through the media, especially judges.
Now, any one of you members would really have a problem if you phoned a judge and said, "I don't think you're handling that case right" — especially if you're a cabinet minister.
We all know what happened. We had a judge recently saying that he let an accused child offender leave his courtroom, and he made political statements about this being because the government is not funding them properly. That is horrendous. I would rather have a guy shake me down on the street for money than let an accused child offender walk, with the prospect that he might offend other children. I was absolutely appalled. It's outrageous.
MLAs don't phone judges. Judges should judge individual cases before them. They should get them done. That is a tremendously inefficient system. It has inefficiencies built in every step of the way. It seems to have no drive to conclude cases.
I think they've got to shake themselves up. They don't want us coming in and telling them how to do things better, but I don't think they should be politicking. I think they should be judging their cases.
It's dishonourable to start politicking from the bench. There have been a number of examples of that, including a group of judges actually suing the government for higher wages. When people hear what wages they get now, they're scandalized because they're so out of whack. They get paid way more than anybody who is elected to serve in this House or any of the people who work for us.
It's just completely unacceptable that they would then
[ Page 9581 ]
sue the people of British Columbia, through the government, because they want to do better yet. They want to be blind to the economic situation that other British Columbians and the whole province find themselves in. They should batten down the hatches and do their jobs, one case at a time.
Be happy that the level of crime is way down. Stop whining about how many judges there are, and get the work done. Do something creative.
There are call centres that actually do a very efficient job of making sure the next client who needs service gets the next server. Why couldn't we do that? They're already doing virtual court things. They're doing videos in courtrooms. I don't know, but there's no real good reason — except that they don't want to be watched — why judges don't want cameras in courtrooms. I think it's really healthy for the judges to be under public scrutiny.
I've long advocated the Court Watch system, which they use in other jurisdictions, where the public is encouraged by the organization. "Go on in and watch the judges. It's really interesting." When they know that people are watching, you would find the judgments that ensue a lot more along your line of thinking, because the judges aren't as accountable when people aren't watching them.
M. Sather: You don't like those judges, do you?
K. Krueger: It's not that I don't like judges, Member opposite. There are many good judges. There are some real bad apples. If you've been doing your reading, Mr. Member, you'll know about those and some of the outrageous things that they have said and done.
Now, when they laugh like that, I think they probably haven't been doing their reading, and they're not aware that we have some real problem people on the bench. We have way too frequent adjournments, way too many stays.
K. Krueger: Oh, and Member, it's not as though I don't know they're going to read it. I hope they're going to read it, and I hope they're going to have a real hard look in the mirror.
Some of those judges have no great drive to get things done, but they want to lecture. They want to hector the government. I hope this upsets them enough to sit down and talk to each other and say: "Well, those things the MLA said today are true. We've got to stop having these disgraceful cases of people walking from the courts."
It's tough to get people charged or get their case into court. We all know that. It takes a long, long time. Once they're there, the judge who's responsible should take that case very, very seriously. Every one of them should work at least an eight-hour day. I've been in court and seen judges just get tired of listening and make a pronouncement that didn't look very fair to me.
I think the judges should look at the way that they choose judges. I think the lists they submit for who should next get to be a judge are way too brief sometimes, and I don't think we know the half of that.
I encourage the members opposite to read about Court Watch and encourage their constituents. Probably lots of people don't know about that organization. I think that a whole lot of their constituents, just like me and my constituents, are flabbergasted by some of the things that judges do and some of the people that walk away with a slap on the wrist or even less.
The last NDP speaker, Vancouver-Hastings, said that he felt the budget was, essentially — this is a paraphrase — too straightforward. It needed to be more complex. What that is not even code for, because we hear it all the time, is that the government should just throw more money at every problem they raise — more of this, more of that. Don't keep driving for productivity or efficiency — or balance, of all things. Throw more money. He said: "Spend on the operating side. Don't build stuff." Again, that's my paraphrase, but that's what he said.
That's the choice that British Columbians had in 2001, when they elected us; in 2005, when they re-elected us; in 2009, when they re-elected us. That's the choice they'll have in 2013. Do you want a government back that says, "Don't build anything long term. Just dish out the operating money," especially to their buddies in the BCTF and other big public sector unions?
We all know that a huge percentage of our expenditures in health care and education are salaries and benefits. They say: "Shovel them more." Glen Clark bragged…. It's a matter of record. He bragged, "We're shovelling money off the back of trucks," and he literally was.
He created this Forest Renewal B.C. operation. The poor guy I ran against in 1996 was an incumbent. Somebody asked him in a public forum in Barriere: "What is FRBC?" He said: "It's a way to spend money."
He was a very honest guy, and the crowd all just laughed uproariously. He was puzzled. He looked at me, and he said again: "No, it is. It's a way to spend money." And that's what it was. They were shovelling money off the back of the truck, and the NDP Premier was bragging about it.
Well, we say the way to go — and this is what our Finance Minister said in this budget — is to stick with the basics. Don't spend more than you take in. Pay off debt as fast as you can. Avoid interest of the future. Create conditions for a winning economy. Encourage the private sector and all the individuals in it by making their taxes as small as possible, including public sector workers.
I hear teachers representatives say they're not paid as much as teachers in other provinces. They pay lower income tax than teachers in any other province, and that's what we believe in. Take government's hands out of their
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pockets. Let them make their spending decisions. Let job creators create more jobs. Build families, and support them. Be open about what you're doing. Be accountable, and the formula that's worked for us for the past 11 years and worked so well for British Columbians will continue to work.
I'm so proud to represent small business, so proud to represent the people of Kamloops–South Thompson.
K. Krueger: Member, in spite of what you think of business, small business employs 1.05 million British Columbians. You're accountable to those, Mr. Member. You shouldn't be heckling about job creators, because you've got a lot of small businesses in Smithers and the Bulkley Valley. Some of them were probably large businesses before you were government. That's how you got a small business in those years. Buy a big one, and wait.
We didn't like that. We're building an economy. We're really colour-blind about it. We're electrifying Highway 37.
My time is out. Thank you for your patience.
D. Black: Thank you for this opportunity to address the Legislature on Budget 2012. I think I can promise the members of the Legislature that my address will be somewhat less bombastic than the member who preceded me.
I also want to thank the members of the Legislature for showing their confidence in me in choosing me to serve as Assistant Deputy Speaker. It's been an interesting place to sit in this Legislature, as you're doing yourself, and I think I've learned a great deal. One of the things I've certainly learned is a little bit more patience while I've been sitting in the chair, and that's probably a good thing for me.
As many members will know, I've made a decision not to run again in the next election as the MLA for New Westminster. I think, like other members of the House, that I announced my decision rather early, but it was based on the rampant election speculation that was going on at the time.
The new Premier was indicating to the people of British Columbia that there was likely to be an election in August or September of last year, and I felt an obligation to let my community know that I would not be seeking re-election. But the Premier changed her mind, and that's a theme that I think I'll be repeating quite a bit through my address today.
She now says that the election will take place in May of 2013, which is the fixed election date, but you never know. There are a few things on the horizon that could even change that. For instance, we have a couple of by-elections coming up that should be announced very soon, which may change things in the Legislature. It may change the Premier's idea about when the next election should be.
However, in spite of endless electioneering, I think probably it's a good idea to delay the election until 2013, because it gives the people of British Columbia an opportunity to really examine carefully the record of this government, the record of the budget that they're presenting today, and to judge what the priorities of this government have been in relation to what the priorities of a government-in-waiting may be.
It's been a missed opportunity for the new Premier to show that she really is different. She touted herself, as she was elected leader of the B.C. Liberal Party, as coming forward with some fresh ideas in a new way. Unfortunately, in spite of all of that fanfare, the promised change has not happened.
The Premier said she'd put families first, and we can certainly see from this budget that families are anywhere but first. I would hate to see a budget from this government where they said they were putting families second, because families-first just isn't working for families in British Columbia. The question is: where is the substance?
The government speaker, the member for Kamloops–South Thompson who spoke before me, said it's really tempting for the government side to spend more money. He recognizes that there are issues within British Columbia that could do with bigger investment being spent.
I would bet anything that in the next budget, which will be a pre-election budget, that we will see a lot of spending coming out of that side of the House. We'll see a lot of speculation on what they would spend if they could only get re-elected once again. It will be a budget that would be overflowing with largesse to the people of British Columbia. I'd put money on that.
In this budget where are the protections for our most vulnerable residents? Where are they? Is our health care system really so perfect that the only thing it needs is higher MSP premiums? Is that the case? Where is the assistance for young people who need improved access to skills training and affordable university and college educations? Where are the new jobs that we keep being promised; and where, where, where is the commitment to lifting B.C.'s children out of poverty?
Once again this budget all but ignores the environment and leaves arts and culture behind. The legal system is in a shambles. Where are the solutions? A Canucks jersey and big smile just don't provide the substance that British Columbians need and want. This budget is a rehash of tired old plans — plans we have seen for the last 11 years, plans that didn't work in the past and are not going to work now.
Let's just talk about jobs. B.C. has lost more than 20,000 full-time jobs in the past year, and the unemployment rate in January was 6.9 percent. Fewer jobs were
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available in forestry, fishing, construction and mining. The Premier's jobs plan leaves job creation simply to the private sector. That didn't work for Premier Campbell, despite continued tax cuts. But this new Premier tries yet again to fool the people of British Columbia with the same old tired formula.
Of course, we do need family-supporting jobs in British Columbia, but where are they in this budget? What we see is a plan that lacks clear job targets at the same time it ignores major sectors of the economy, sectors such as forestry, tourism, the green economy. The advertising budget for this so-called jobs plan is $15 million — $15 million that could be better spent on services for the people of British Columbia.
The struggling construction industry got some modest help through a tax credit for first-time homebuyers. Yeah, it's a good idea to help people buying their first home, but this move does nothing to address the drastic need for affordable family housing in B.C. It really isn't going to have much impact on new-home construction, because the time frame is so short.
If we want a skilled workforce in the future, shouldn't we be investing in skills training and post-secondary education? The answer is yes. But young people and their needs are glaringly absent from this budget. In fact, colleges and universities will be hit by a 3 percent reduction in funding over the next three years. There is no increase to student aid while tuition in B.C. has gone up again for the ninth year in a row. Upon graduation the average B.C. student debt load is almost $27,000, which is a $10,000 increase since 2001 — a $10,000 increase in the student debt load in just over ten years.
We need to restore needs-based student grants to ensure young people can get the education they need. Post-secondary education is becoming inaccessible. It's becoming inaccessible at a time when more and more jobs require some level of certification or advanced education.
There is also no new funding for skills training in the budget. I have to wonder who is going to fill these jobs. How will we train the skilled labour force we need to ensure economic growth?
The reports are out. The government has them. We have seen them. We know that there is a looming skills shortage in British Columbia — a looming skills shortage of tens of thousands. And if we want to be ready for the new economy and have the skilled workers to fill those jobs, we must invest in skills training now to be ready so that we're not importing workers once again to fill those jobs, so that those jobs can go to people in British Columbia who are trained and ready to take them on. The government is clearly failing our young people in this regard through their wrong-headed policies.
My constituents also want to know what the future holds for public schools in the province. When the overall funding increase for 2012 falls below the inflation rate, school boards are expected to find savings in the coming year to keep ahead of inflation, and they've been told to do that for the last ten years. For ten years they have not received increases to meet the needs of the population or to meet the needs of inflation. Where are these savings now supposed to come from?
As well, funding for public libraries has been rolled into the overall education budget, making it more of a challenge to discover where these funding cuts are going to be or take place. Does this actually sound like the way to make B.C. the best-educated, most literate jurisdiction on the continent? Apparently, the government has abandoned that commitment, along with so many others that they've made over the years.
Budgets are about priorities, and I wish that this budget had included a hot meals program for schools with an emphasis on healthy, close-to-home food choices. This really isn't a pie-in-the sky suggestion. In many countries around the world the school meal is just a part of the regular day.
Swedish, French and Japanese children all get a fresh meal each and every day, and in Brazil 47 million children are fed at 190,000 schools. It's something that could be done here, when we know that there's rising poverty and that children are coming to school hungry. It could be done if we made that a priority.
The government provides little in this budget for families who are looking for relief in tough times. Instead we actually see more financial pressure being put upon them and being put upon the middle class.
Those trying to survive on income assistance or disability allowances are falling even further behind. A family of four on income assistance in B.C. would have to spend 47 percent of its income to buy the minimum amount of food needed to remain healthy. This is according to a new report by the Dietitians of Canada.
Even those who are working don't fare a lot better. A low-wage family in British Columbia spends more than one-third of its total income on food. The dietitians report also observed that parents may eat less and may skip meals to keep their children fed, and then when money gets really short, children start showing up at school hungry. That's why we have school breakfast programs in many schools and why teachers actually buy food out of their own pockets for kids who haven't got enough to eat. That's what it says in the report.
Other troubling statistics were noted in a Food Banks Canada report issued in 2010. Over 90,000 individuals in B.C. were assisted by a food bank, 30 percent of individuals using a food bank are children, and seniors are increasingly lining up at a food bank for help.
The dietitians report recommends a provincial poverty reduction strategy, an initiative my colleagues have been urging this government to put in place for a long time. It's an initiative that many governments of different stripes
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across the country have implemented and that has made a difference. Yet in spite of all of these challenges faced by an increasing number of British Columbians, this government stubbornly refuses to take any action on that.
A recent B.C. Stats report revealed that this province has the largest gap in the country between the most affluent and the most vulnerable of its citizens. The government's own agency stated that "compared to other provinces, B.C. ranked dead last in 2009, with the largest gap between the top 20 percent and the bottom 20 percent of income earners."
While inequality increases dramatically in British Columbia — and we've got the reports that show how much the income gap is widening in B.C. — the Finance Minister's response to this was a flippant response, saying how people might live and compare life in Cuba to life in British Columbia.
Clearly, this government doesn't take the struggles of B.C. families seriously. The high cost of housing in much of B.C., particularly in the Lower Mainland, is a huge issue that impacts everyone from working families to single moms to seniors. For renters, the choice of meeting the monthly rent isn't really a choice at all. They either make the rent or they move out in the street. The same choice or, more accurately, the same lack of choice is present when it comes to paying for utilities. Pay your rapidly increasing hydro bill or risk being cut off. Families and seniors with nowhere else to cut end up buying fewer groceries.
In my constituency, in New Westminster, these tough realities are faced by residents each and every day. A significant percentage of New Westminster residents have household incomes under $20,000 a year. Many of these are families headed by single mothers. They are being squeezed harder and harder by this government.
One of the growth industries we do have in this province is judicial stays, which have almost doubled since 2010. This budget does not address the growing backlog in B.C.'s justice system, which is really in shambles after years of systemic budget cuts. I just want to remind the House that this government has closed 60 legal aid offices. They've closed the Vancouver pretrial centre. They've closed ten jails, and they've closed 24 courthouses. This has had a real impact on the justice system in British Columbia.
It is unacceptable that people charged with serious crimes — serious crimes like drunk driving, like child luring, like drug trafficking — should have these charges dropped because the time to get to court has taken too long. That's totally unacceptable. In fact, in the child-luring case the man got off because it was 27 months before his court date came up. That meet, to meet with a young girl, was to take place in my community, in New Westminster, and he never went to trial.
The government has a responsibility to ensure that accused criminals are prosecuted in a timely way, and it is simply not living up to its responsibility. It is no wonder that many British Columbians have lost faith in our justice system. Things will only get worse. They can only get worse as our provincial justice system tries to cope in the future with the changes and the downloading that will happen to the provincial government if Bill C-10 passes in the federal House of Commons. Downloaded costs will be put onto the backs of B.C. taxpayers and onto the provincial government, and there is nothing in this budget to even address that issue.
I'm also concerned about the budget cuts to legal aid — $2.9 million, or almost 4 percent, budget cuts to legal aid. This creates another burden on the court system as well as causing hardship for the men and women who need legal aid to get a fair hearing.
Speaking of skewed priorities, I read what this budget says about health care with mounting concern for the people in New Westminster and the people in Fraser Health district. There is nothing. I looked carefully. There is nothing in here for Royal Columbian Hospital, and I really find this shocking. I remind the Premier in this House that Royal Columbian is the tertiary care hospital for Fraser Health's more than 1.6 million residents. That's one-third of the B.C. population. Royal Columbian is a tertiary care facility for all of those people. Royal Columbian hospital treats one in three people in this province.
There is more to say about Royal Columbian Hospital. It's a specialty care centre for trauma and emergency for Fraser Health. It gives the cardiac services. It is the only hospital in Fraser Health providing open-heart surgery. Neurosciences. It's the only hospital in Fraser Health providing neurosurgery — brain tumours, aneurysm repairs, stroke care. The neonatal intensive care unit at Royal Columbian has had the best outcomes of any hospital in Canada since 1998. That's something we should be celebrating. All the other 11 acute care hospitals in Fraser Health, including Surrey, transfer their sickest patients to Royal Columbian hospital for all of those above specialties.
When I questioned the Minister of Health in estimates last year, he talked about the expansion of the Surrey Hospital taking the pressure off Royal Columbian, but it won't, because Surrey does not offer those high-level, high-risk procedures. It won't have trauma. It won't have cardiac surgery, intervention or neurosurgery, so it will not relieve the strain on Royal Columbian.
Also, the B.C. Ambulance protocol means that all fresh trauma is sent to Royal Columbian from anywhere east of Boundary Road, up through the Fraser Canyon and to the U.S. border. That's a pretty big area.
The other issue at Royal Columbian is the issue of the Sherbrooke building at Royal Columbian. This is the building that serves mental health care, addiction ser-
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vices. It's old, it's antiquated, it's unsafe, and it doesn't have the space to address the privacy concerns of patients. They do a wonderful job there. I've been, I've toured, and I've watched.
They do a wonderful job, but they're operating in a building that needs to be taken down, quite frankly. It's not seismically safe, and it's on the banks of the Fraser River. Seismically, electrically, the space is below standards, for some of the most vulnerable patients in British Columbia. It needs to be demolished.
That leads me to what is happening at Fraser Health on the expansion that has been promised for Royal Columbian Hospital. They have been working for several years with the Ministry of Health on a concept plan for the renovation and expansion. The property has been put together with the cooperation of the city. Everything is in place, except that the concept plan that was delivered to this government in 2010 has not moved forward.
I'm told by people from Fraser Health and people in this business that it generally takes six to eight months for a concept plan to be approved and maybe some changes made and for the process to continue. That concept plan has sat with the Minister of Health now for almost two years without a word coming back. I think people in Fraser Health have a lot to be concerned about with the well-needed expansion of the hospital.
The pressing need for this expansion is described on Fraser Health's website. It says on the website: "Royal Columbian Hospital has significant physical, structural and resource challenges. Physicians and staff are faced with aging infrastructure, cramped operating rooms, a congested emergency department and other daily service pressures resulting from a rapidly growing and aging population. Expansion is urgently needed." I can attest to that.
Among the proposals are a new eight-storey tower that would include an expanded emergency department, more surgical beds and more patient beds. Why hasn't the Ministry of Health approved this plan and begun the process for expansion at Royal Columbian?
I don't know the answer to that, but I do know what it's like to get calls in the middle of the night when RCH emergency is overflowing — once again, overflowing. I get calls from people in New Westminster and the surrounding areas when they are being treated in Tim Hortons because the emergency is so full. The problem is not with the emergency ward. The problem is not because too many people are going to the emergency ward willy-nilly.
The problem is in the hospital because there are not enough beds in the hospital. The other problem that exacerbates it and causes the backfilling into the emergency ward is because we don't have enough beds to move out patients who no longer need acute care. They're stuck there. They could move.
They are there at a cost of $1,200 a day, when that's the worst kind of economics in health care. It's appalling.
You know, doctors and nurses there do an amazing job in conditions that are sometimes appalling. I went in during the H1N1 situation in British Columbia, and I saw how the doctors and nurses and health care workers there were adapting to that emergency, adapting their facility, honest to god, by taping things up to try to make sure there were units where you could isolate people so the disease wouldn't transmit.
It was incredible. It was like a MASH unit. It was really like a MASH unit. Even nationwide coverage, news coverage right across the country, when the emergency services were moved into the Tim Hortons restaurant, hasn't moved this government into action.
What the government has done is they've raised MSP premiums by 4 percent, starting next January. That means raising the fee more than 22 percent in the last four years alone. Families will be paying an additional $732 a year, hardly a step to put families first.
I agree with my predecessor as MLA, Chuck Puchmayr, who says many of the problems at Royal Columbian can be traced back to this government shutting down St. Mary's Hospital in 2004, closing it down. It might interest you to know that still, after they ripped that hospital down, a big empty lot is sitting there — nothing there yet. There was no need to do that.
What Mr. Puchmayr said was that we took immediate capacity out when we closed St. Mary's. He said: "We warned the provincial government at the time what the impact would be." The problems since 2004 have proven that Chuck and the rest of my community who fought the closure of St. Mary's were right.
There've been many other shortsighted decisions by this government. Some of the worst have affected Community Living B.C.
Funding cuts have resulted in the closure of 65 group homes, and 2,800 special needs adults are waiting for services. Not helping is the fact that four different ministers have been in charge of Community Living in the past 18 months alone, including two since the Premier entered the Legislature last spring. The buck never seems to stop. It just keeps getting moved around.
We urgently need this government to initiate an independent review of Community Living's chronic underfunding, the closure of group homes, the dubious home-share system and the failure to adequately transition young people from the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Only then can we properly evaluate a system that serves more than 13,000 people.
I've mentioned the needs of seniors throughout this speech, but I want to spend just a little bit of attention to the Ombudsman's report issued after her three-year investigation into seniors care.
The report outlines serious problems in the way the government treats seniors, such as no standards in the
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key areas of residential care, no obligation on service providers to notify police of incidents of neglect or abuse. And unfortunately for care home residents, there are no measurable standards for staffing levels.
In 2005 the government put forward a so-called seniors budget that went nowhere. The current Ombudsman's report includes 176 recommendations, all of which this government ignores. My colleague from Kootenay West articulated very, very succinctly and very completely all of the concerns that are raised in the Ombudsman's report. What a callous way that is to treat seniors in British Columbia who have built our province.
Over the past 11 years this government has cut home support services, increased MSP premiums, implemented convalescent fees and reduced or cut subsidies for community programs used by seniors.
Century House is a seniors centre located in my community of New Westminster. They experienced these cuts a couple of years ago when their excellent senior peer-counselling and Vital Connections programs had their funding cancelled.
Senior peer counselling–trained volunteers to provide one-on-one support to those experiencing difficulties in dealing with aging, health challenges, the loss of a loved one, or other problems. Receiving the support at a critical time in their lives makes a big difference in helping seniors retain their independence.
The Vital Connections program provided professional counselling for those who needed extra assistance from a trained geriatric counsellor. Although they were devastated by the loss of government funding, the members at Century House knew the values of these services, and they vowed to keep them going. They implemented a detailed and successful fundraising plan. The funds raised enabled both programs to start up again, and they are continuing to assist seniors. I want to congratulate all the wonderful people at Century House who've let this continue by their hard work.
This budget does nothing to support seniors except offer a tax credit for installing some handrails or walk-in tubs. And to receive that tax credit of a thousand dollars, a senior has to spend $10,000 before they get the tax credit. A walk-in tub costs thousands of dollars. And you know what? I'd be very surprised if the seniors I see lining up every week at the food bank on Sixth Avenue in New Westminster will be able to contemplate that kind of an expense. My colleagues and I have been advocating for a seniors advocate for many years, and even that's not part of this budget.
In short, Budget 2012 fails to live up to the Premier's hype about being families-first. It fails to live up to the Premier's hype about offering a new vision and being a new Premier. This budget has about as much credibility as Budget 2009 that promised us there'd be no HST and promised us that the deficit would be $495 million, not a penny more. We heard that over and over again in that election campaign: "Not a penny more."
What did it turn out to be when we got here after the 2009 election? It turned out to be almost $3 billion. I submit that this budget has no more credibility.
I'd just like to close with one quote, if I may. It's a quote from the Greek philosopher Plutarch. "An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics." I submit that this is a failed budget for those reasons.
J. McIntyre: It's my pleasure to rise today to take my place in the budget debate. I'm delighted. Here we all are on Pink Shirt Day, Anti-Bullying Day, and indeed, there was a sea of pink here in the House. I just want to congratulate everybody for partaking in a day that's really gained the momentum it deserves because it's such an important topic.
Before I begin, I'd also like to just thank the speaker before me, the member for New Westminster. She alluded to the fact that she's decided not to run again, and I just want to thank her for her service to the province in this term and her service federally. I know that she's represented the constituents of New Westminster very ably and passionately over these years for many years, so thank you.
I decided to take a little bit of a different tack. I don't have a formal prepared speech, but I thought I would take my time today and talk about some of the themes, obviously related to budget, that have interested me and some of the work I've been doing as an MLA. I'm just sort of going to reflect and make some observations.
I, of course, want to start with some thank-yous. I also wanted to talk about key highlights from the budget but also things like the importance of fiscal prudence in our relative situation in the country, when you look at jurisdictions like Ontario and Alberta next door, things like the importance of increased productivity and the importance, actually, of Canada and certainly in B.C. of undertaking more innovation, making sure that we are putting the right resources behind R and D and making sure that we keep our economy competitive.
I also want to take a little bit of time on talking about some of the investments that, once we get this budget balanced, which we're hoping to do next year, in the next cycle…. I would like to spend some time talking about what Martha Piper called the three t's. I'd love to see investments accelerated in talent and in trade and in technology.
Also, of course, I want to talk about my riding and some of the benefits that have been actually flowing, even in tough economic times, into the Sea to Sky area, and I'm very grateful for the attention that my communities have received over these past few years.
Let me start with a few of the budget highlights. I was
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very proud on budget day when our Finance Minister brought in a budget, and the words "prudence" and "fiscal discipline" have been used to describe it — but they are. I really believe that he struck a balance, that the ministry struck a balance in three key ways.
We are on a path to eliminate the deficit; we are building a more attractive economy to attract investment in jobs, which is what we're aiming to do through our B.C. jobs plan; but we're also protecting some of the public services and social services for some of the most vulnerable. I think that's a very fine line to walk, especially, as I say, in an economic era where we have not come out of the recession as quickly as we hoped.
So some of the highlights, and I'm sure some of this has been mentioned by some of my colleagues. Just for the record, we're projecting very modest economic growth over the next three years, but we're also containing our spending growth to about 2 percent, all the while protecting — not only protecting — things like health, because we found an opportunity to add $1.5 billion to health.
We're also trying to protect education and, as I say, some of the social services. In fact, we've increased some funding for social services due to some increased caseload pressures that we're foreseeing.
School districts are getting the learning improvement fund, the $165 million that will help right in the classroom. As I said, we're increasing the health budget, and there are some new tax measures that I'll come back to, as I think that they'll be very important for people in my riding.
There are measures that will help seniors, families and businesses with some tax credits. We're keeping our corporate income taxes and our small business taxes at low rates, as we've steadily reduced them — not quite as far as we'd like to, but again, I think walking that fine line, we've got them in a very good place. I know my accountant says there has never been a better time in history to be in business in British Columbia. That's a great thing.
While capital spending for the next three years will be almost $20 billion, with the taxpayer-supported portion of that about half, I think the really important thing for British Columbia residents to know is that we're keeping the tax-supported debt-to-GDP ratio at a very low rate. We are still well under 20 percent. I think it's going to peak at just over 18 percent. But the important thing….
That may not mean much to people and some of the people listening at home, but you have to look at the relative…. First of all, we inherited one that was at least 21 percent, left to us by the NDP. We brought that right down. We've had to raise it again, admittedly, in these tough economic times, as we invested in infrastructure to keep jobs and keep the economy going. But it's going to trend downward again in a couple of years.
You look at places like Ontario that has a debt-to-GDP ratio that's double ours, at about 35 percent, and the Canadian ratio is 35 percent. Then you go to places around the world and even to the U.S. and our neighbours, and it's way over 50 percent. So you have to keep that in mind. It's a reason we have a triple-A credit rating. We've worked very hard at it, and we're trying to make sure that moneys we spend are on behalf of programs and services to constituents, not being paid to banks in interest.
On to the importance of fiscal prudence. I thought it was very interesting. Our Finance Minister, in advance of bringing in his budget last week, had an op-ed piece talking about fiscal prudence and why it's important. He makes the point that British Columbia is obviously still feeling the effects of worldwide economic storms, but this record of fiscal management that I've just been talking about is providing, he says, "a solid foundation for our economy, making us a safe harbour for nervous international investors." He goes on to explain about the debt-to-GDP ratio that I was just talking about.
I think it's very important that people understand how important it is to the performance of our economy and to be able to support families by keeping a balanced budget. There has been lots of press about these things. Laura Jones had something in the Province on February 23 saying that 91 percent of her small business constituents said that balancing the budget is a priority. Well, small business is the economic engine of our province, and business people and families understand how important it is to not be overspending, you know, even a household budget. We all know the lessons from that.
Gary Mason had an article talking about Don Drummond's report, which some of us have been talking about, showing the unfortunate shape that Ontario finds itself in. It's not only this debt-to-GDP ratio of about 35 percent, but they have a prescription of something like hundreds and hundreds of recommendations of the steps that Ontario's going to have to take to get themselves out of the very, very deep hole that, unfortunately, they find themselves in.
I grew up in Ontario. My father is in Ontario. My brother and sister-in-law are teachers in Ontario, and they're going to have to deal with a very, very different situation than British Columbians. I'm really proud of our record.
I also want to make one more comment here. There was another very interesting article. It was actually an editorial in the Globe and Mail on February 24 that made a comparison between Alberta and B.C. We just saw a new Premier in Alberta and her Finance Minister, Ron Liepert, bring out a budget that's completely different. I'll say here it's quite interesting.
I won't go into the whole article, but it's well worth the read. It ends by saying: "The contrast between the two budgets speaks well of the fiscally conservative B.C. Liberals, while the Alberta Conservatives are looking like
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spendthrifts." Interesting comparison.
It leads me to one of my themes that I was talking about, which is the importance of increased productivity and the need for innovation to keep our economy competitive. Again, there's been much written about this for many years. I've attended board of trade leadership seminars, and the visionaries and the big thinkers of our country are all pointing us in a direction of investment.
People like David Emerson have been beating this drum for many, many years. It has been so important. We know that R and D is lower in Canada than other jurisdictions, and unfortunately, B.C. lags behind some other provinces within our country.
As this article by Kevin Lynch says: "In a knowledge economy, talent and innovation are creators of competitive advantage and drivers of success." Innovation drives productivity, it drives competitiveness, it drives living standards, and we have to be on this bandwagon. I think that we can't make those kinds of investments unless we're in a strong fiscal position to be able to take the dollars and invest them where we know we'll be able to have success going forward, and we will be able to have jobs for our children and our grandchildren.
I would really like to see us, once we get this budget balanced in the 2013-14 year…. I think it's very important. I've had the great privilege of being the Chair of the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth. I'm in my third year now. It has been a huge learning curve, I have to say — sort of straight up. But it has been a real pleasure to work with the people I do and to be able to do things like the poverty hearings that we held, I guess, almost a couple years now, where we brought in an array of experts who were able to help direct us into things like minimum wage, actually.
You'll see our government has now raised the minimum wage. We're now working with UBCM in some communities to work on regional plans to be able to help the most vulnerable in communities.
I know and understand that in better economic times, I would love to see more investment where we know — and that is the investment in the early years — the return on investment is huge. It's at least about 8 to 1. Unfortunately, if you've got involved in the justice system, it's sort of 16 to 1. So we know. The research is all pointing us that one of the best areas we can invest in, of course, is our human resources, our talent.
I would love to see us get that 30 percent of children who are arriving at kindergarten who are not, according to Paul Kershaw and Clyde Hertzman's work at UBC, appropriately ready for kindergarten. I'd love to get that number down, and I'm sure that I have the support of my colleagues in working on steps where we can better prepare our children.
We've already taken some of those steps. We have full-day kindergarten. We're now rolled out completely on that. I think we're well over 300 StrongStart centres. So we're trying to make those investments, again, in very tough economic times, but I think our government is very committed to making sure that we're investing in our talent as well as physical infrastructure.
I'd love to see us go further ahead at an accelerated rate in our modernizing in the delivery of the K-to-12 education system. Our Education Minister is doing an excellent job. He has launched a B.C. education plan. There's a website. He's looking for feedback. He's using it as a forum for teachers, for stakeholders, parents, people in the parents groups at their schools, school trustees, anybody interested, to be able to help us to move forward.
I was very privileged to hear Sir Ken Robinson at Mulgrave School last year talk about the problems with the school system, that it belongs back in the 1800s where students were churned out like widgets, I think is the way he described them. So we really need to work and tackle it, but it's a very, very big subject.
It can't happen overnight, but our government is embarking on ways in which we can honour teachers and honour excellence in the classroom, honour our students by making sure that we deliver personalized learning so that we can tap into the passion and the talents and strengths of each of our individuals as they go forward.
Then, of course, post-secondary, where already we've got at least double the apprenticeships in the last few years, which we inherited. My son is doing an electrician apprenticeship through the union, and it's been an absolutely fabulous program. It's really on-the-job training, but he's currently at BCIT doing more of the academic part of it. But as has been said before, we need to make sure that we fix the disconnect between the professions and jobs we're turning out and the skills that are needed.
[D. Black in the chair.]
I think it's very clear that there's a disconnect right now. Again, you read many articles. We need to make sure that we are putting every effort in — I guess, actually, in K-to-12 and also in post-secondary skills training in universities — so that we're not educating people for jobs that don't exist and that we're better able to fill the demand for jobs.
You see that in the papers every day. Certainly, in British Columbia, before the 2008 downturn, we had jobs looking for workers rather than the other way around. We want to get back to that, but we want to make sure that our youngsters and those who have been in the workforce that need retraining are training in the direction where they will be able to get a good-paying, family-supporting job, and we're committed to doing that.
Also, of course, on First Nations. I've been working very closely with the Squamish First Nation and the Lil'wat Nation. We want to make sure that for First Nations, we are closing that socioeconomic gap, that we
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are making sure that we have improved graduation rates for First Nations.
Some information I saw the other day shows that we actually have made quite an important improvement. It's a very, very low rate, unfortunately, but it's gone from in the 40s to over 50 percent now, in something I saw recently. So I think we actually are making progress, and I'm very proud of that.
Of course, there's a huge way to go, but we can't do that without our federal partners. I just read in the paper today that the federal government now…. I'm going: "After 150 years they figured out that they need to make sure they have an education system as good on reserve as they have off reserve?" Well, bravo. They figured it out.
This was Martha Piper's three Ts of talent, trade and technology. Trade — much has been said about that. I won't spend much…. We know very clearly — and the efforts we're making through our B.C. jobs plan and everything else — that our future is with the fast-growing economies in Asia and Southeast Asia.
We're also looking, through the federal government, at increasing trade with Europe. Also, I'm very interested in Beyond the Border, which the federal government and Anne Callaghan, the fairly new U.S. consul here in Vancouver, have been working on, where we can make sure that we expedite and get rid of the thickening of our borders that's happening with the trade with the U.S.
We know we have to put emphasis there and then also into technology, because — and I've already just mentioned this — we know that by investing in technology, there's that link to innovation and to productivity. That is the only way our economy is going to grow, and it's the only way we're going to have the kinds of jobs we want for our children.
I've spent a lot of time learning much more about some of the green jobs, I'll call them. Clean, green and jobs that are high-paying and will ensure that those of our best and brightest have places to work.
Things like life sciences and also film and digital media. We've extended tax credits in that area. There are 5,000 or 6,000 people in the North Shore, an area that I partially represent, that work in these businesses. We've given tax credits.
We've tried to make sure that we can buoy up those industries, because we're dealing with very, very generous incentives from within our own country, from places like Ontario and Quebec, in both life sciences and film and digital animation. We've got great clusters of success here in British Columbia in those fields, and we need to be able to support those and provide as much as we can reasonably do to make sure that those industries thrive.
Keeping an eye here on the clock, I'd love to switch over now to some of the things in my riding, near and dear to me, in West Vancouver–Sea to Sky that it's been my great privilege to be representing. I think it must be coming up seven years now. It's been, as I say, an amazing privilege. It's a wonderful, beautiful, scenic area of the province — very diverse.
We've had many legacies, I think partially, of course, fuelled by the hosting of the 2010 games. I represented all the snow venues, from Cypress Mountain up Callaghan Valley and up into Whistler. So there was great excitement, lots of construction and an enormous amount of economic activity in building and jobs going on, which is not, obviously, at the same pace now. But we've been blessed with legacies — in addition, of course, to the safety upgrade to the Sea to Sky Highway that everybody marvels at and is grateful for, which has really opened up that Sea to Sky corridor.
We've had a number of infrastructure investments. We've been very blessed on the joint federal-provincial investments that have been coming through over the last, I guess, several rounds over the last three or four years, as we've been in this recession.
We've had many grants and projects all the way from West Van to Pemberton. We have some of the legacies left of the physical infrastructure, like the wonderful cross-country facilities in the Callaghan Valley, and also the fact that so many volunteers received training. We know that our society would come to a grinding halt if it weren't for the wonderful efforts of the volunteers — whether that's sports, arts, in the hospitals — everywhere that our society really relies on.
We had lots of training going on in the Sea to Sky corridor, where people have been able to now use all of those talents at World Cup events. I was just recently at the Bobsleigh World Cup and the NorAm cross-country trials that were held in Callaghan Valley.
We've got lots of legacies to be thankful for, including, actually…. One of the projects I've been working on for a long time — the last couple of years — was a historic land use agreement with the district of the Squamish and the Squamish First Nation. After many, many years of never finding a common path, they have now gone from an MOU to a legal agreement on how they're going to deal with the legacies — the land legacies that have been given to the Squamish Nation for the widening of the Sea to Sky Highway and also through some other land purchases.
I really think that in the last five, six years we've made enormous progress on growing and taking advantage of the economic opportunities that have been offered to us in Sea to Sky. Some of those, actually, I've only briefly alluded to.
The amount of infrastructure. The trails. We've had trail investments in Pemberton and in Lions Bay and in Squamish. We've had diking. We've had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in places like Pemberton and Squamish, which unfortunately are vulnerable to flooding, particularly in the fall.
We've had the resort municipality initiative that has continued to provide $6 million or $7 million to Whistler
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for them to be able to invest — it used to be the hotel tax — in tourism, and benefits like the whole greening of the Whistler Medals Plaza that occurred. And there was a whole series of free concerts last summer, where community and visitors have had a wonderful chance to have a big gathering place that never existed before in Whistler.
We've had all sorts of infrastructure investments, like to deal with sewer and wastewater in places like Bowen and West Van; the wonderful turf fields that my colleague for West Vancouver–Capilano and I had the privilege of opening last year. It's a huge…. I mean, there are 10,000 people on the North Shore that play soccer and field hockey that those fields will benefit forever. So we've been very blessed, actually.
Let me just finish. I think I have a few minutes more here. I'm still talking about the riding, but I thought I would like to pick a few things from the budget that I think will be of particular interest to those in Sea to Sky.
One of the things, for sure, is the first-time new-home buyers bonus — to be able to receive $10,000. I appreciate that it's just for a year, but the fact that that can be an initiative and an incentive for many people in the riding who have been renters…. Houses are quite expensive in the whole Sea to Sky corridor, not just in Whistler and West Van.
I think this will be a big incentive for people, for their families to be able to go from rent to home ownership. And $10,000 is a lot of money. So I am very appreciative to the finance department for finding those dollars.
Things like the seniors home-renovation credit. There are a number of people…. Of course, in West Van we have a disproportionate amount of seniors. They'll probably be delighted to be able to upgrade their homes with some of the railings and easier-to-access bathtubs, showers — all of those kinds of things that will help us keep our seniors in their own homes for longer. We all know that the research shows us that that's the best place for seniors to remain as long as they reasonably can.
The children's fitness and art credits. Admittedly, it's not a huge amount of money — it's up to $500 of expenses; you'll get probably $25 — but it also aligns very nicely with the federal incentive. Between the two programs, it'll be a spur to be able to have kids in healthy sports activities and pursuing arts. All those kinds of things will help families — not just in the corridor, obviously, but families around the province.
One of the things I think was very important was eliminating the provincial jet fuel tax, the 2 percent. That is hugely important for places like Whistler. We know what it will do to YVR and to Richmond and, really, the Lower Mainland. It's a huge bonus. But that is particularly great for Whistler and for bringing tourists right up the Sea to Sky corridor.
The training tax credits are great. Again, I said my son was doing his apprenticeship. We're extending that. It's over $30 million we're extending. Those are very important for young people, making sure that they get the training they need, including the new one that's for shipbuilding, which of course will be a big boon in North Van and environs.
Those people who'll be in those apprenticeship programs come from all around the Lower Mainland. It's not just restricted to the North Shore, even though the actual facility is there. Those kinds of things will be very important.
The tax relief for the ports and the fact that we're looking at permanently capping that. That's huge for the North Shore, a very big benefit, and in Squamish, of course, because Squamish has a working port. I know that there were some media there from Squamish Terminal saying what a great step that is for government to be giving some certainty for long-term investment.
The fact that we've kept the small business corporate rate low. We'd like to go lower, and we will when we get back to balanced budgets. I think that's on the agenda. But the fact is that that will help all of the small businesses, the retailers in the Sea to Sky corridor and other places.
Then, finally, I think one of the most important things for my corridor — well, looking at the anchors, Whistler and West Van — is the HST. To look at the transaction rules, the fact that just before the budget was announced…. I think there are other things in the budget that pertain to this.
The fact that we're raising the threshold for applying for those credits up to, I think, well over $800,000 from the $525,000 will make a big difference. I guess, like other places…. We heard loud and clear the complexity of going backwards and reversing a tax and having to go back through transition rules. That's something that's never been done before. It was definitely a damper on some of the new-home building, especially in the luxury end.
I think the fact that we've got certainty and we've got the timing and the rules, and we also have a set of rules for that transition that protects both the buyers and the builders…. I really want to say thanks to the Minister of Finance and the ministry for the hard work they did on trying to unravel and figure out that jigsaw puzzle, because it was not easy. I certainly heard from people in my corridor that we needed to solve that and resolve it, and I think we've done that.
In conclusion here — I probably have just a few more minutes — let me just say that I really think that Budget 2012 is maintaining the core services of health care, education and social services that British Columbians have come to depend on and rely on. It augments some of the priority program funding areas like health, social services and justice. We've responded to those areas where we know we've had difficulties in these economic times. We've also delivered, of course, on our commitment to get back to balanced budgets.
I think the other thing that's very important also is
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that we've got this stimulation through tax training credits and others to be able to make sure that we're putting some money behind the jobs plan and making sure that we get jobs and skilled labour and that we're working on our trade initiatives.
I think a lot of this does set the stage for the government to emerge from these difficult economic times in a much, much stronger position. We know that we're competing with Ontario and places for industry, and the fact that Ontario is going to keep an HST and we're not puts us at a disadvantage.
So the fact that we're in a much stronger position from an economic point of view and the fact that we have a triple-A credit rating…. I think if companies are looking to invest in our country and they're looking at Ontario or B.C., they're going to take a very good look at B.C., because we have such a relatively strong position.
Anyway, I'm very proud of this budget, as I say. I think it walks a very fine line, and I want to give my thanks to the minister, to the ministry and to all those who worked so hard to make this such a success. I'm sure you can tell in my comments today that I'll be voting in support of this Budget 2012.
M. Karagianis: I think it's fair to say that British Columbians were really looking with great anticipation to this budget. This was certainly expected to be a defining moment for the Premier. She has been the leader of her party for about a year now, and I know that British Columbians were looking to this budget to see exactly how the Premier was going to define herself.
The last year has been fairly unremarkable, so this budget, I think, was expected to really kind of show us exactly what kind of direction this Premier was going to bring to her party. In fact, I've heard from people in my community the sense of disappointment and the sense that this really is a stopgap budget, that this budget is simply meant to get this Liberal government to the next election. Beyond that, there does seem to be a real lack of vision and certainly a lack of commitment to some of the slogans that the B.C. Liberals have been touting and that the Premier herself has touted.
I think that in many ways, it underdelivers by a long shot. I've certainly heard from people in my community that they were not impressed at all with this budget and that they see through much of the guise of this budget.
It would seem to me that despite the claims that this is somehow a new government with lots of new ideas, in fact what we see is very much the same kind of budget and the same kind of priority set that we have seen since 2001, when this government was first elected. So really, it looks like the Premier is simply serving out the term of office that was already very much determined by her predecessor, and this budget very much puts proof to that.
The government has made lots of claims that somehow they're new and shiny, yet all of this claim of fiscal prudence and discipline really ignores the fact that this is a government that has been in power for 11 years. This is not a group of individuals who have arrived new to the scene and have come in with new, fresh ideas and an opportunity to reprioritize the way government is spending taxpayers' money.
In fact, what we see is a government that is out of gas, I think, and tired, frankly, after 11 years of laying out a plan, very well defined in 2001, about what their priorities were going to be. They have strategically, year after year, sort of fulfilled the vision that they painted for British Columbia, and this budget now is the culmination of, really, more than a decade of mismanagement.
Consequently, we see some scrambling, some efforts to try and put together a budget — cobbled together, really, out of a number of really failed ideas that the B.C. Liberals have managed to try and carry out here under their previous leader and now under their current leader. You only have to look at the state of Crown corporations in British Columbia and the numerous reports that have been brought forward.
The government is having to review its own work, go back and review the things that it has done and try and somehow put a different face on them. And we've had independent reports, all which have been scathing condemnations, without fail. Every single report that's come out has shown the government to be mismanaging the taxpayers' dollars and the business of the people in British Columbia.
When you look at independent reports that show that not only has this government failed in every single one of their slogans, which we've heard year after year after year, right up to the most recent one, which I think is families first…. I'm not sure if that's still the slogan today or not. It could change at any given moment.
The reality is that families have been put last by this government time after time, and it is felt significantly and deeply in British Columbia right now in my community and in communities right across British Columbia. For a government that talks about families, they have done a considerable amount to make it less affordable for families every single day in British Columbia.
For a government that says, "We're all about less taxation," they have managed repeatedly to add more costs and more user fees to families, while at the same time really making a shambles out of many of our institutions, Crown corporations and services here.
It started, certainly, in 2001, with the dramatic cuts that the B.C. Liberals brought in at that time. It has continued year after year, and the government likes to try and pretend that that didn't happen. "That was some other group of people. That was some other regime that did that."
In fact, it's all the same individual people, the same group of individuals we see on the government side of the
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House — including the Premier herself, who was in government for many years, sat in opposition for a number of years, sat in government and made many of the decisions that we are now reaping the rewards of, meagre as they may be, including the most recent teachers dispute. Many of those things were started — the initiatives were started and rolled out — at the hands of individuals who sit on that side of the House.
When I look at the number of reports by really reputable bodies within this province, I think it speaks very strongly to exactly what kind of mismanagement has occurred here.
B.C. Hydro. The most recent sort of revelations coming out of B.C. Hydro and the independent views of what this government has done around their management — from the day they tried to dismantle this, unsuccessfully, to their really failed propositions on independent power. We are now buying high, selling low — the antithesis of fiscal prudence and good disciplinary fiscal management, the absolute antithesis of it. Even grade school children know that that is wrong. That is the wrong way to manage the taxpayers' money.
This issue of so many deferral accounts. The B.C. Liberal government for so many years has really purported themselves to be just such superior business managers. The fact that they would be in any way able to hold their head up…. They have 27 deferral accounts basically jamming debt into future generations, and British Columbians are now going to have to start paying. The most recent rate increase is to begin to address that. For a group of people who say they wanted to make sure there was no debt forced onto future generations, they've done anything but.
In fact, we have all kinds of debt now sitting in deferral accounts, which future generations will certainly have to pay for. Or else current British Columbians are going to have to pick up what is already a tattered budget and a tattered treasury and try and make up for that in some way with higher user fees.
When you look at the state of B.C. Ferries…. After the failed experiment of a sort of quasi privatization — with a million-dollar manager, who was brought in with a very specific directive from this government on the way that they wanted to push forward on B.C. Ferries, after they had kind of demonized the previous structure and demonized the ships that were built here in the 1990s — what do we see?
Ten years in we see that the government itself has run this ferry corporation onto the rocks. We see huge, huge deficits. We see that ridership is down. Fares are up. Communities are unhappy. Ten years in their experiment has failed, categorically failed — not by the commentary of the opposition but by an independent and very credible organization.
Now, the government will refute that, as they often have. If they don't like what the Auditor General has to say about the way they keep their books, they refute it. If they don't like what any of their reviews or boards or bodies say, well, refute it. You can only turn a blind eye to the reality for so long, and all of this information is there and available for anyone who wants to go and read it.
We had the Ombudsperson send out a report here after a long, very thorough and very responsible review of seniors care in this province — again, something that the government tore to ribbons in the first few years that they were in power, then pretended that they had put it back and that seniors were at the heart and the forefront.
I remember the seniors budget. It's much like the families-first budget. All of it really is so hypocritically the opposite of what has occurred in the province.
The Ombudsperson's report here has come up with 170 recommendations, not four or five. It's not something that says: "Well, after 11 years of running the health care system for seniors in this province, this government has to tweak a few things here and there." No, this is an absolute top-to-bottom report that says this government has mismanaged the seniors care to the point that there are at least 170 recommendations, all of which speak very much to the situation that seniors and families are experiencing here and have talked about for years and that the government has turned a blind eye to.
The Ombudsperson now has said that our system, our seniors care, is in an absolute desperate state of affairs. The government, so far, has had minimal response to this — again, not wanting to look at ten years and 11 years of their own behaviour and wanting to sort of refute or ignore or downplay what the Ombudsperson has said.
The Representative for Children and Youth is, I think, one of the most highly respected individuals in the entire province. She has done a superior, stellar job of acting as an advocate and a representative for children and youth in this province. She has repeatedly had to bring this government to task over the way that they have run the Children and Families Ministry. They have continued to promise: "We're going to do things better. That was then; this is now. We're a new group. We've got a new revelation about how we should be handling Children and Families' responsibilities."
What does Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond call the budget? "Grim." I think that in itself is a small word but a huge, profound statement on what this government's families-first budget has really delivered. And you know what? I trust her a lot more than I trust this government.
The judicial system. We've been in this House talking about this. It's been in the news for months and months, where the judges themselves, the justice system itself, are crying out and pointing very direct fingers at the mismanagement by this government of the safety affairs of this province.
People walking away from courts without ever having been tried for alleged crimes. Why? Because the govern-
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ment has stripped away and mismanaged the system. It's underfunded, undermanaged. Not enough judges — judges themselves are saying that, not the opposition. The judiciary itself is crying out and saying that this government has, by neglect, crippled the system and is allowing criminals to walk free.
That's 11 years in. This is not a new government that is inept in some way because they just took the reins of government and didn't realize the depth of the problem or any of those other things. This is a government that has categorically and systematically managed this province for the last 11 years. This is the result: a judicial system in disarray, weakened, where judges are now speaking out, saying the system is in big trouble and the government is not listening.
The list of ways that the government has squandered and mismanaged taxpayers' dollars in this province, at a time when they're now saying, "Everybody has to tighten their belt. We all have to do more with less. Everybody has to give their little pound of flesh here…." Yet we have ten years where this government has squandered money on all kinds of projects.
When you look now at a tightened budget, when you look at the kinds of services that have been sacrificed against the kinds of dollars they have spent, you have to say to yourself: "What responsible government would ever play those priorities off against each other?"
There have been consistent service cuts and tightening of belts for everybody from Community Living through to the Children and Families Ministry, to Forests, to the Environment Ministry. Every one of them has been stripped down, tightened, cut, reduced. Do more with less. Yet the government has spent millions of dollars on questionable projects.
When you say we're living beyond our means, well then why are we spending all kinds of money that is going to waste here? Some $9 million on HST ads; $780,000 on HST brochures; $400 million of cost overruns on the B.C. convention centre; $200 million cost overrun on the B.C. Place roof; and of course, the notorious Basi-Virk trial, the B.C. Rail corruption scandal, where a $6 million payoff was given?
At a time when the judiciary is crying out for enough funding to ensure that criminals who are charged today are actually tried and either found innocent or guilty, we let admitted criminals walk away. We paid the $6 million bill for that, and yet we don't have enough money to properly fund the judiciary right now. A $30 million settlement for the Boss Power fiasco, when the government admitted their guilt — broke the law, had to pay that to Boss Power.
Then, I guess, the big granddaddy of them all, the HST disaster. This is what the government concocted coming out of the 2009 election. When they had deceived us about the depth of the deficit that this government was in, they came up with the HST. If there has ever been a more disastrous policy of this government, I don't know what it is.
There have been many disasters. We've talked about the way they've run Crown corporations into deficits and into quite a disastrous mess, but nothing…. Everything else pales slightly in comparison to the HST. Taxpayers rose up and said: "We are not taking this lying down. We will definitively stand up and say no to this regressive tax system."
Not only did the government spend and squander a bunch of money; some of it was shredded. So $780,000 of brochures were shredded — right? — and ad campaigns that were failures and a government trying desperately to fight back against the public outcry here.
We are now sitting two years out from the last election, and we're still stuck with an HST that a year ago people said: "We don't want it. We want it gone." There's a reminder for people every single day.
For those who are looking in this budget for some kind of relief, a tiny little bit of relief, but for people who are paying more HST on top of higher fees every single day in my community, it just means continued hardship. You only have to look at your telephone bill, your hydro bill. Every single thing you touch has this HST still there — a vivid reminder.
I would have thought that a prudent and fiscally responsible and fiscally disciplined government — and, frankly, just a politically astute government — would have said: "Let's get rid of this thing as fast as possible, because it has done nothing but bring this government down." It brought a Premier down — likely to bring another Premier down.
When the government claims they're not taxing working- and middle-class families, that in itself is so ludicrous as to be beyond even laughable — lifting MSP premiums, lifting hydro rates, lifting ICBC, ferry fares, user fees everywhere you turn, the HST every single day on everything you do.
We have the highest debt in the history of this province, ballooning to $65 billion. This from a government who claims fiscal prudence and discipline? So $65 billion, and a deficit that we may or may not get rid of.
I know the government likes to say, "We're going to get rid of it in a year," but they also said that it was only $495 million in 2009. They said many things over the last ten years that turned out not to be true — many claims, many promises broken.
Now, I think the reality is that the trust factor for this government is gone, pretty much shot to pieces over the last 11 years, but never more so than in the last couple of years. Between the HST and now — this lack of any kind of vision or direction from the Premier while we just eke out enough time to get to the next election — how could any British Columbian have confidence in the way their money and their tax dollars are being managed? How
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could anyone have confidence in that?
I believe that this government's reputation is damaged beyond repair. It is gone. It has disappeared. The HST, of course, was kind of the final blow.
I suspect as we see this budget turn out to be yet another kind of vacuous and false document — I'm sure we will — that taxpayers, then, as we go to the polls in 2013, will finally have their say. I hear about it every day on the street. I don't think the government for one moment should be deluded that they can fool the taxpayers yet again here in this province, because I don't think they can.
Even schoolchildren know that after 11 years in government all your record is there, laid bare for all to see. You can't claim it was somebody else that did it. It was this government that made these decisions — very specifically, have put us in a position with huge, huge ballooning debt, with a mess of every single Crown corporation, with huge costs that families are having to pay over and over again.
I think British Columbians actually really need a government that wants to take action to make their lives more affordable and easier, not more difficult and less affordable. The government has taken the wrong tack.
I think the taxpayers that I talk to and citizens in my community say they need a government that will protect their services — health care, first and foremost. Not the kind of report we saw from the Ombudsperson that says that the state of seniors care is just desperate in this province — desperate. Families know this. The government seems not to.
I know that citizens in my community want to see the education system be strong and healthy so that their children have a chance to compete in the economy of tomorrow. But every step of the way, this government has managed to mismanage the education system. We're currently in a crisis in this province, and we'll be discussing that in the days to come.
Certainly, we know the state of post-secondary education means that it's less affordable. There are less opportunities for the next generation than any of us in this room enjoyed. We all had better opportunities than we are offering the next generation, and this government continues to ignore that.
I think the people of British Columbia want to know that the government is managing the environmental responsibilities. That seemed to be a big banner project, a big banner for the B.C. Liberals a few years ago. It seems to have kind of gone out the window along with the five great goals and all of the other empty slogans.
The environment, much like many other sort of core values and services that British Columbians have, really has been kicked around and stripped of resources. We're not even doing anything concrete about creating better opportunities for people, more green initiatives for the future and making sure that families can participate in a better and greener lifestyle. I think people want that in their lives.
M. Karagianis: You know, the heckling from the Finance Minister is all well and good, but I have my right to have my say here.
I think that the citizens of British Columbia want to make sure that our resources, like our forests, are managed for the future.
M. Karagianis: I will take that out of the record if the Finance Minister wishes.
You know, we've seen the state of some of our resources, like the forest industry — so mismanaged. Forest health is in such a drastic situation right now. We've heard that it will take a hundred years to replant the trees that are desperately needed to be replanted now. So once again we are depriving future generations of that resource and mismanaging it.
I just think overall that British Columbians want to be able to believe in a government once more that is looking out on their behalf. I think taxpayers want to have the confidence and belief that their tax dollars are being well spent and used, that the health care system will be there when they need it, that they won't get sick when they go in the hospital, that their kids can get an education and not come out of post-secondary education in debt for the next 20 or 30 years.
I think people want to know that their parents and their seniors are looked after and not billed to death or left without appropriate and adequate services. I think that British Columbians want to have a good, healthy environment. They want to have an economy that works for all of them, and they have had anything but.
After 11 years the government has had more than ample time to show their capacity, and they have mismanaged it, and they have squandered it. I cannot support this budget in any way.
B. Bennett: I've got a bit of a cold today, but I'm going to do my best to get through this. This is an important debate, and it's my honour to speak in support of this budget.
I'm actually going to speak about two budgets today. I'm going to speak about the government's budget, which is available to all of us, on line or in hard copy, to be judged and for the government to be held accountable.
But I'm also going to say a few things about the opposition's budget, which we know exists somewhere out there in the ether. Perhaps members of the other side have actually laid their eyes on that elusive, mysterious
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document that seems to exist, but we don't really know.
So to start off with, I just want to just say what I think a budget is. It's fairly simple. A budget is an estimate of annual expenses and annual revenue that results either in a surplus or a deficit. If the budget shows a surplus, a significant amount of that surplus should go towards paying down debt that's been accumulated during hard times. If the budget estimate shows a deficit, there should be a credible plan to balance the budget as quickly as possible.
When times are tough, sometimes governments do choose to continue to spend more on essential services like health and education rather than allow them to be reduced to balance the budget. That, of course, adds to the deficit, and it also slows down the return to a balanced budget. This government made that kind of choice between 2008 and 2010 when funding for health care and other important public services continued to be increased despite the hard times worldwide.
But as important as having a surplus is, what is of paramount importance at a more macro level out there in the big, bad world beyond the borders of our relatively small jurisdiction is that whatever estimate government makes in an annual budget, government must achieve its target, at least most of the time. Those in the financial markets around the world don't like deficits. There's no question about that. But what they really don't like are governments that fail to achieve their estimates year after year after year.
Some opposition members who were here a decade ago will know where I'm going with this. They know the truth about their own party's budgeting performance.
So the government's budget is a tough budget. There's no question about it. But it's the right budget for B.C. at this time. It's a budget that illustrates government's commitment to our core value on this side of the House of respecting the money that taxpayers send us. It's a budget with a strategic investment in services like health, like the justice system, education, social assistance and people with disabilities. The budget also includes a very credible plan to balance the provincial budget, which is what we said we would do a couple years ago, in 2013-2014.
This budget has actually been called by some commentators in the country the most conservative budget in Canada. While the opposition may turn to salt or to stone if they even utter the word "conservative," they really should consider what the word conservative means. I looked it up. The on-line dictionary that I used defines "conservative" as cautiously moderate.
Well, that's exactly what the Finance Minister has done here. That's how he's approached his job. His economic assumptions are cautiously moderate. Growth is estimated at a lower rate of increase than even the cautious Economic Forecast Council estimates.
When we hear members of the opposition in this House stand up, one after the other, begging the public to believe that government will not meet its budget target — we just had a member just a minute ago say that — just bear in mind that economic growth estimates are cautiously moderate, and forecast allowances as well.
Forecast allowances in this budget are actually cautiously moderate as well — the amount forecast by the Finance Minister that might be necessary in the event of surprises over the next fiscal year. That's what a forecast allowance is used for. Those forecast allowances — cautiously moderate. The Finance Minister is putting enough away for the next three years so that B.C. will be covered.
We could have made them smaller. That would have cut down on annual expenditures. It would have made the Finance Minister's job a little easier, actually, if he had used smaller forecast allowances. But he didn't do that. He made them sufficient as a reasonable hedge against the unforeseen, which is what they're for.
The world is littered with governments that did not budget in a cautiously moderate way. All you have to do is look at pretty much anywhere in Europe — maybe a couple of countries that would be exceptions — or the U.S. or, I'm sorry to say, our own Canadian province of Ontario. These jurisdictions are now paying the piper for the kind of irresponsible music they've been making for the past several years.
Now, I don't know whether the opposition members in the House and all of those who are in their offices glued to their televisions will get fidgety as I state my case. They've been propagandized, obviously, by their spin doctors to believe that the NDP government's performance in the 1990s was really not all that bad.
I get a particular kick out of this one — this change in messaging that I've noticed. It's not that subtle. It's a change of messaging that I've noticed over the last little while when they refer to the 1990s as: "You know, it really wasn't that bad. It was pretty good, actually."
Let me just try and understand that, because the question I have is: turning the strongest economy in Canada into the weakest economy in Canada during a period of time when there was economic expansion around the world is not all that bad? Well….
They've also been told just to keep claiming that the budgeting of this government is not credible. We hear that in every speech from the opposition. They are obviously repeating this mantra over and over again and hoping that eventually people will believe it or at least enough people will believe that mantra.
What is the truth about the government's budgeting performance over the past 11 years? Let's go over it. Let's just have a look at it. Let's look at the facts. Well, I was lucky enough to get elected in 2001 when the B.C. Liberals got elected as government. There was an expert economic panel that was appointed, and they were asked, amongst other things, to assess the budget estimates — remember when I talked about what a budget is — of the disgraced NDP government.
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They found that there were far more funding commitments than there was revenue to cover them. It was a structural deficit — kind of a nice little gift to leave for the next government coming in, in 2001. So we took it on the chin, like good men and women, and we accepted the reality of this structural budget deficit of over $3 billion, and we made a public commitment. It's on the record. Go look it up.
We made a public commitment that we would balance the budget by the end of the third full year. That's a public commitment. It's out there. It's easy to look up. I recommend that the opposition, if they have their laptops in with them or their BlackBerrys, google it right now. They'll see that that commitment was made that we would balance that budget by the end of the third full year.
So what was government's performance during that three-year budget cycle? Well, hmm, in each of those years the government exceeded the target set, until the budget was balanced when we said it would be balanced in 2004-05. We exceeded the targets in all three years — interesting. What happened next?
Well, the government estimated surpluses for the next four years — small surpluses but surpluses nonetheless. What was the result for that four-year period? Hmm. I'll be darned if those B.C. Liberals didn't exceed the budget targets in all four of those years. They took portions of those surpluses, and they actually paid down the provincial debt — exactly what a prudent fiscal manager would do.
So let's just review. You know, we've covered off seven years, seven of ten years where budget targets were not only met; they were exceeded. Seven out of ten so far — I'm not done yet, though — exceeded the targets.
That gets us to 2008-2009. That was a tough year. We estimated a small surplus. We came in with a small surplus. The surplus actually was a little bigger than what was estimated the year before in the budget, but we exceeded again the targets. So that's eight years out of ten that we've exceeded the budget targets that we've set.
Then 2009-2010 arrives. I'm not going to talk about the fact that the world economy stuttered to a degree that hasn't been seen since the 1930s. It's been said before, and I don't need it say it. But we got it wrong that one year. In that one year we underestimated the size of the deficit. Mea culpa, hon. Speaker. We got it wrong one year. It's true.
Here we are at 2010-2011. What happened that year? Well, the B.C. Liberal government, once again, for the ninth time in ten years, exceeded its target and came out of that fiscal year with a much smaller deficit than was predicted in the budget. So as for that fairy tale that the opposition is trying to spin around the province — I heard it again today — that one wrong estimate makes the B.C. Liberals unworthy of the privilege of managing the B.C. economy, it's just ridiculous.
It's like, I bought a new toaster a while ago, and it works really well. It toasts bread really nicely. It's uniformly toasted, and I really like it. It's quite reliable. But maybe one day it'll burn a piece of bread, and it'll be a bad piece of toast. The opposition, I think, would suggest that I should just toss my toaster in the trash. That's what they would counsel me to do. But I'm going to continue to rely on it, and frankly, that's the same principle that applies to budgeting.
The international financial markets are so confident that they can rely on B.C. government's budgeting that the morning after the Finance Minister delivered his budget, they bought $100 million of B.C. bonds — the morning after the budget. So they have confidence in this government, despite what the opposition is trying to peddle.
Well, after what the NDP is claiming is this terrible period of fiscal excess and mismanagement that I hear the opposition talking about, the world's financial markets continued to believe that B.C. should retain its triple-A credit rating, only one of two provinces in Canada.
You'd think if what the opposition is saying had any merit whatsoever, the financial markets would say: "No, no. Those rascals shouldn't have that triple-A credit rating." But they're not saying that. They're saying that, actually, when you look at places like Ontario — and I hate to say it again; I was born in Ontario — France, the U.S., Japan, they're all heading in the wrong direction. They're all losing credit rating.
This is the interesting part that the opposition never seems to get. When your credit rating goes down, you pay a higher rate of interest. So your taxpayers, the people we're accountable to, are going to pay more interest on the provincial debt because you have a lower credit rating.
So when I hear the opposition say, "Well, who cares about the credit rating? It doesn't matter — triple-A, double-A, C-minus. Just those international bond traders — they're the only people that care about that...." That's not the case, because taxpayers actually pay a higher rate of interest. It comes right out of their wallets.
What I think is even more important than that is that triple-A credit rating, that reputation around the world for reliability in budgeting and in fiscal management, actually drives investment and job creation. There can't be much more important than that, having the kind of jurisdiction that people feel safe in investing their money in, which is what B.C. is right now. B.C. is a safe haven.
I was just in France. I can tell you they want to come here and invest because of our reputation as fiscal managers. It is exactly the opposite from what the opposition has been spinning over this last little while.
So we've put our cards on the table. Our budget is there for everyone to review carefully and to judge, but that other budget that I was going to talk about, the NDP budget — well, they don't want to put their cards on the
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table for some reason or other. It's hard to say, but maybe I'll speculate.
Back in October they did say that they had their own budget. It does seem to have gone missing. It's as if the NDP budget had disappeared off the face of the earth. It reminds me of one of my favourite movies.
Deputy Speaker: Members. Members, I need to be able to hear the speaker, please.
B. Bennett: It reminds me of a movie from about 20 years ago, based on a Tom Clancy novel in the 1980s. You might have seen it. It was called The Hunt for Red October.
For those not familiar with the story, the plot was centred around a Soviet submarine, the Red October, which was captained by Sean Connery's character, Captain Ramius. Now, this was no ordinary submarine. It was an experimental vessel that was equipped with a stealth propulsion system, making it pretty much invisible to sonar. This stealth system made it possible for the submarine to sneak through the deep ocean undetected and fire its nuclear payload without warning. That's pretty scary stuff.
Ramius, whose wife had recently died, was disillusioned with the Soviet system of government. He saw the submarine as his opportunity to defect to the United States, and so he set out, supported by a few of his senior officers, to do just that. Prior to setting out to sea, Ramius sent a letter to his admiral informing his superior that he was going to defect and he was taking Red October with him. That way he was sure that nobody would want to turn back because the Soviets would be out gunning for them.
So here's the rub. The Soviets knew the Americans were aware of Red October's existence, but the Soviets still denied the existence. It's kind of similar to the way the opposition today refuses to talk about the missing NDP budget.
It does make a person wonder what it is they have to hide. Actually, I don't wonder. I don't really wonder what they have to hide. I think I know what's in that mysterious NDP budget. You know, instead of facing the realities of the global economy and the fact that British Columbia must live within its means, the NDP have instead said: "We're not spending enough taxpayers' money. We should be spending more taxpayers' money. That's the solution. Let's spend some more money."
Of course, on the surface of it, spending more of the taxpayers' money is often popular. Who doesn't like more money in the public services? But I wonder what else is hidden on that orange submarine. I'm guessing that on that hidden, elusive orange sub we will find the truth, not only about what they propose to spend but how they intend to raise it. How are they going to raise that money?
Instead of it being — or in addition to it being — "Spend, spend, spend," it's probably more like "Tax, tax, tax." And that's why they refuse to show their own budget, just like the Soviets denying the existence of Red October to the Americans. The opposition, the government, everybody in this place knows that submarine exists, but the opposition doesn't want the public to know what's in it because the public would hold them accountable.
The truth is that this NDP budget will be painful to the wallets of British Columbians because, as they always do, the NDP will try to pry as much hard-earned money from taxpayers' wallets as they can to pay for their escalating, irresponsible promises.
Now, The Hunt for Red October introduced an interesting phrase to the public that has an application to today. The expression is known as a "Crazy Ivan." The term "Crazy Ivan" originated during the Cold War. It refers to a sharp, sudden turn a Russian submarine makes to see behind it to check to see if it's being followed. It's meant to confuse and shake off would-be followers or pursuers.
It's similar to how the NDP dodges and weaves and bobs around to avoid having to talk about the budget that everybody knows exists but that it seems they can't find right now.
There's little doubt that the NDP have been pulling a few Crazy Ivans of their own recently in an attempt to misdirect British Columbians over their own spending proposals and taxing proposals. But like the Soviets, the NDP are fooling no one. It's high time British Columbians know exactly how much an NDP government will raise their taxes and plunge B.C. into a sea of permanent red ink.
We're living in tumultuous economic times. The global economy is fragile, and governments around the world are tightening their belts. Unfortunately, the opposition refuses to accept this reality, and they still seem to want to party like it's 1999.
They do seem to be living in their own little world. It makes me think of the stories, back decades ago, of the Japanese submarine crews that didn't know the war was over. They didn't know it had ended. That is the orange NDP submarine. It's a submarine that no one really wants to live on because, for one thing, if you go under water with that NDP orange submarine, you'd better be able to hold your breath for a very, very long time.
Make no mistake, building the NDP's orange submarine will be very costly to the taxpayers of B.C. It'll come in over budget. It will not perform as advertised. It may even sink to the bottom of Canada again, as it did the last time that we let them build a submarine. Frankly, I think the NDP's orange submarine will be fast ferries version 2.
Right now the NDP just try to pull Crazy Ivans whenever they're questioned about their spending promises. But soon they're going to have to surface, and then their spending promises will be exposed to the light of day for all to see and, hopefully, torpedo to the bottom of
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The public has a clear choice. Choose a government whose performance over ten years is hailed around the world and that is driving investment and jobs to British Columbia — that's one choice; that's a clear choice — or they can choose a poor performance that will drive investment and job creation away from B.C.
Now, I don't happen to believe — I think the public is too smart for this — that the public will choose to buy a time-share in that rickety, leaky orange submarine and take the risk of it once again sinking slowly to the bottom. I think the public will take a look at the financial markets in the world and how they view British Columbia.
I think the public is already taking a look at how trade with Asia is growing. They're looking at how B.C.'s markets are being expanded and diversified. Look at all the provinces of Canada, look at the U.S., and determine how their economies are changing. Ours is the only economy that's actually diversifying markets and growing markets on this continent.
I think the public will see how well B.C. is doing for employment, compared to the rest of Canada, how incomes have grown steadily over the time that this party has been in government. Incomes have grown steadily, and I think the public will recognize that as between the B.C. Liberal government and the NDP opposition, there really is only one group with any credibility in managing the B.C. economy, and frankly, that is the group that has met its budget targets in nine of the last ten years and has created an economy that is admired around the world.
J. Brar: It's always a real honour for me to stand up in this House and debate the budget introduced by the B.C. Liberal government.
I just want to start by saying that the B.C. Liberals have lost the trust of the people of British Columbia when it comes to the budget. In the budget before the election, the B.C. Liberals made the promise to the people of British Columbia that the total deficit would be $495 million, not a penny more. That was the promise made by the B.C. Liberals, before the election, to the people of British Columbia.
The other promise they made before the election was that they had no plans to introduce the HST. But that was before the election. As soon as the election was over, they did the opposite. The deficit for that year was four times more than the $495 million figure given before the election — four times more. Even then, this member for Kootenay East is still saying their budgeting is the best. Not only that, they also introduced the HST just a few days after the election.
The people of British Columbia gave them zero on their budget. That's the rating they have among the people of British Columbia. This budget offers absolutely no hope for the middle class and, specifically, for people living in poverty, on income assistance or low-income earners.
The B.C. Liberal budget is based on one single principle. The member for Kootenay East was talking about the core values of the budget, but I want to say this. The B.C. Liberal budget and all the budgets, if we go back to 2001, are based on one simple principle. That principle is: give more and more to the rich and less and less to the middle class and the people living in poverty. That's the principle that they've followed during the last ten years.
They have used the middle class and the poor as a bank machine to collect more and more revenue from them in order to give more tax cuts to the wealthy and the corporations. Once again, this budget offers a tax cut for major airlines but is sticking B.C. families with yet another increase in MSP premiums, the fifth increase from this government, totalling over 85 percent, or $732 per year for families with children.
The final outcome of B.C. Liberal budgets is that the gap between the rich and the poor has been widening in this province as a direct result of their fiscal policies. That's the end outcome of their fiscal policies, and there's absolutely nothing in this budget to address the growing inequality and poverty in this province.
The government has completely ignored the people living in poverty. That's why I accepted the welfare challenge to experience firsthand what life is like for half a million B.C. families and individuals living in poverty, and to shine some light on this very profound issue that the people of British Columbia are facing.
On May 25, 2011, I received a thought-provoking letter from Raise the Rates, entitled "MLA Welfare Challenge." Raise the Rates, a coalition concerned about poverty, inequality and homelessness in B.C., invited me to spend a month living on welfare.
Over the years, I've received many letters from people living in poverty, sharing their heartbreaking stories of a life in poverty. This letter reminded me once again of all the stories I've heard from the people during my seven years as the MLA for Surrey-Fleetwood.
After much consideration and support from my family, stakeholders and colleagues, I decided to accept the welfare challenge, to experience firsthand what life is like for half a million B.C. families and individuals living in poverty.
As a father of two young children, it's hard for me to imagine that in a province as wealthy as ours we have 137,000 children living in poverty — the highest child poverty rate in the country for eight consecutive years. It's hard for me to imagine that 70,000 British Columbians use a food bank every month and that one-third of those using food banks are children.
It's hard for me to believe that the gap between the rich and the rest of British Columbians has widened to the point that the top 10 percent of B.C. families now earn considerably more than the entire bottom half of the
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families of British Columbia. The income gap between the top 20 percent of families and the bottom 20 percent of families in B.C. is the highest in the country. We have a wealthy society. We can do better, and I am sure that British Columbians want us to do better.
That's why I chose to live on provincial income assistance for a month, beginning January 1, 2012. Over the month, I met with people living in poverty and on welfare, listened to their painful stories, heartbreaking stories. Each story has a message for all of us, for all members of this House. We cannot afford not to take action to address the growing gap between the rich and the poor. We must start addressing inequality with a pragmatic approach, with clear targets and timelines. That's the path that the people of British Columbia want us to pursue.
I recognize that addressing poverty is not simple. It's not simple, but we do have a choice. We have a choice to close our eyes and accept the status quo, and that is not the choice many British Columbians want us to make. We have a choice to show leadership and start addressing these issues with a pragmatic approach. That is the path the people of British Columbia would like us to pursue.
I chose this path, believing that through this welfare challenge, I can gain a stronger understanding of the underlying causes of poverty and of how poverty affects the lives of the people around us, and better address these issues in my community and around the province in my role as a Member of the Legislative Assembly. I hope I can go through it.
Madam Speaker, I would like to share briefly my journey with you. I started my journey into poverty on January 1, the day that people of British Columbia were celebrating the new year. I went out there to find out what new year's means to the people who are homeless. I was dropped by my family at Surrey Central SkyTrain station at about 11 o'clock, and that's where I started my journey.
From there I went to a place in Surrey called the Front Room, in the Whalley area. That's a place where homeless people come to eat, shower and sleep — because they have a shelter as well. I was there for four hours talking to people and listening to their stories.
The first story that I heard changed my perspective. It changed my perspective completely about the people living in poverty and the people who are homeless. That was a story of a person whose name was Rick. I asked him why he's in that room, and he told me that he used to live in Winnipeg with his family of two children and his wife. All three of them were killed in a car accident by a drunk driver. He lost his family, and he left that city because that city was full of memories about his family.
He came to B.C. to re-establish his life, a very broken life, as he'd lost every member of his family. He worked in the construction industry and as a bouncer at a nightclub for 20 years. Now sadly, he was diagnosed with liver cancer, and as a result of that, he lost his job. He lost his job, and that's why he was sitting in the Front Room.
To blame Rick as a person who doesn't want to do work or who is lazy is not only wrong; it is an unethical and cruel thing to say to that person. That is the first story.
During this journey I met a lot of people. I met a lot of people, and I will tell you that story as well. But from that place the very first day I went to another place called Surrey Urban Mission, in the Whalley area again. That's where I had my supper, and that's where I slept — in that shelter, that night. They gave me a mat, to sleep on the floor, and a blanket. It was a big room. In that room there were 17 other mats on the floor for 17 other people.
I was the first person to arrive in that room, and then other people started coming and coming and coming. By 11:30 there were 17 people in that room — 17 people. There were three couples in that room that night, and this is the new year there. When people of B.C. are celebrating the new year, there are 17 people, and there are many more, sleeping in other shelters, sleeping right here in this beautiful province of British Columbia that we call the best place to live. That's what I saw in that room. There were 17 people sleeping on that day just to pass the time.
I met hundreds of people. I met single mothers, teen mothers, refugees, the homeless, farm workers, seniors, vulnerable youth, people with disabilities, people with mental health problems, legal aid workers, aboriginal leaders and workers, low-income earners and so on during this month.
They all told me their very painful and shocking stories as to what is happening with them in this province. I would like to share with you, Madam Speaker, as to what are the key issues they raised with me. That's how I would like to focus my story today.
The first thing they told me…. Almost every person I met told me of the lack of affordable housing — affordable housing, affordable housing. That is the word I heard from almost everyone I met, because affordable housing is the key for the people living in poverty.
Let me tell you a story. I met a number of single mothers in Surrey during this journey, and two of them had two children each. One of them was living in B.C. Housing, B.C. affordable housing, and paying $500 as the rent. The other one was living in private housing and paying $750 as the rent.
The mother living in B.C. Housing had $3,000 more per year than the mother living in the private housing, and $3,000, at that level, is a huge amount of money. I can tell you, because I lived on welfare myself, and my weekly budget for groceries was $30. So $3,000 is a lot of money, and that is the change we can make by providing these people with affordable housing.
I also met another single mother in Vancouver, and she has two kids. Her income was $1,400, and her rent cost about $1,100. She was basically borrowing money from her friends just to survive, because she had no other way
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to do that. She was finally investigated by the ministry of income assistance to find out how she survives on that amount when she pays $1,100. That is what is happening here in this province with the people living at the lower end of the society.
The story of a single mother — her name is April Wheeler — and her son, Nicholas, speaks volumes about the lack of affordable housing in this province. April had to give her son to foster care because she was unable to find accommodation on the welfare allowance of $570 a month, reported by the Vancouver Sun on February 27, 2012. A mother had to lose her son to foster care because she couldn't afford to rent a place with the amount which is available to her under the income assistance policies.
That's what is happening right here in British Columbia, and that's happening in the most beautiful city in the global community. We call it Vancouver. Clearly, this mother, April, is not part of the family-first agenda. She does not exist for that agenda. That is very clear. Only the blessed families are blessed by the B.C. Liberals under their budget. That is what has been happening for the last ten years.
I also want to tell you that I stayed in an SRO — we call it single-room occupancy — in Vancouver. That is the story I also wanted to share with you. This was a room, 11 by 11, with no fridge in that room, no TV, no computer, no microwave. So you do not have a cooking facility in that room.
You get $610 as a single individual who is expected to work, and that is what I got. My rent for that SRO was $450. That was the rent. I did not have any cooking facility in my room, so therefore I was not able to cook in my room. I had very limited facilities to do that, because I had no fridge.
There are 5,000 people living in that situation in Vancouver, in SROs, who do not have cooking facilities in their rooms. They don't have the money to go out and eat at a restaurant, because the money, after all the expenses — after your rent, bus tickets and phone — you are left with is less than, close to, $100.
You cannot go out and eat at restaurants with that money. So what do you do? What people do — the 5,000 people that I'm talking about — is line up for free food every day for lunch and supper. They spend almost four hours just to eat lunch and supper, here in this beautiful province of British Columbia.
Then, in an SRO you share a washroom. I did share a washroom with 11 other people, and it is like going to a war. You cannot make any mistake. You cannot forget anything when you go to the washroom because the washrooms are very dirty. If you drop something on the floor, you lose it. You must be very prepared to go there.
In that situation, in that kind of accommodation, to expect from somebody that they should find a job…. I think that is not a realistic expectation for those people. That also tells us the story of lack of affordable housing.
I met a person who came to me when I was walking on the sidewalk, and he said to me: "Mr. Brar, I want to tell you that I came to Vancouver about ten years ago, and I was working in the construction industry. I worked for ten years, and after ten years I was laid off because of the bad economy. Now I ended up going on welfare because I couldn't find a job again due to the bad economy in this province." He ended up living in an SRO because that is the only room he can afford on that amount.
He told me a very shocking story. He told me he lives in a building that is close to Hastings Street and Main Street. He lives in an SRO building with seven storeys, 15 rooms on each storey, and altogether 105 rooms and 105 people living in that building, with one shower. One shower — that is happening in this province of British Columbia, in the most beautiful city in the global community.
To expect from that person to go and find a job…. I don't know anyone who can go and find a job in that situation. Affordable housing remains the key concern of the people I met.
The employment programs. I also met with employment program people. What I can say, with my experience and working with them, is that the employment programs are not working for the homeless and chronically unemployed people.
I met three counsellors of a program in Vancouver's downtown. What they told me was that they were able to work with the employers and find jobs for people who are homeless or living in shelters. So they were able to place them. There were some good employers that they found.
But what happened is that they placed about 40 people, one by one, from the street or from the shelters. All of them, they told me, were fired by the employers within two to three weeks, because when they come there, they smell, and they bring all their belongings with them. So they told me they found out very quickly that the first step for these people is not employment. It's actually finding them affordable housing. That's what they told me.
People also told me that welfare rates are low. Welfare rates are low, they told me. Policies of these ministries are not working. Let me tell you, Madam Speaker, the province of British Columbia, this government, does not provide people with any earnings exemptions if you are a single individual expected to work. What it means is that if you go out and find a part-time job and earn $100, the ministry will deduct dollar for dollar.
One of the persons in the Downtown Eastside told me: "Give us a reason to get up in the morning and do something meaningful." Right now, this policy basically discourages people from finding employment. B.C. is the only province in the country that does not provide earnings exemptions to the people who are expected to work — the only province in the country.
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People also told me that child support — what single mothers get — is also deducted dollar for dollar. That's the support they get from the other partner, and the government deducts that money dollar for dollar as well. One mother told me: "My children believe that I am lying to them. It is a very hard situation for me to deal with — my children — when I tell them that I don't get that money." I heard that from people.
I also heard from people about the affordability and access to transportation. In Surrey, for example, if someone has to go to the Surrey Food Bank to get the free hamper, people need to spend $5. It's very interesting to find out that the public transit in poor areas is poor. The bus that goes close to the food bank is every hour, and the bus ticket is valid for only an hour and a half. If you go there, you cannot go and come back in one hour, so you have to spend a second ticket. Basically, you end up spending $5 just to get the free hamper.
I also got a tour on the bus and found that there are no shelters on the road at many, many bus stops. So the seniors and the persons with disabilities and the mothers with young children have to walk to bus stops and stand and wait for the bus, whether it's raining or snowing or whatever is happening. I heard that from people as well.
I also heard about the retraining programs from the person who met me in Vancouver. He said to me: "I worked in the construction industry for ten years, and now I've been laid off because there are no jobs in that industry." He said: "I need to brush up my skills to do something else, but I don't have any support from the government." I heard that, as well, from people.
I know I can go on, on this, but I know my time is limited. So I would like to take this opportunity, also, to convey my heartfelt thanks to all the people who provided me with valuable support through my journey into poverty in January 2012.
My sincere thanks to the people for sharing their painful stories and valuable information and ideas that will help me work towards positive change. Through the entire challenge, I received hundreds of letters, e-mails, phone calls and comments on my blog, Twitter and Facebook from people across the country, appreciating my choice in accepting the welfare challenge.
Thanks to all of you for your deep interest in the profound issue of poverty and for standing up for the most vulnerable people of the province of British Columbia. I also want to say thanks to those who provided constructive criticism of my journey into poverty. That's what makes our country a true democracy.
I give my sincere appreciation to stakeholders and activists who assisted me in connecting with the people living in poverty. To my colleagues: thanks for your support and meaningful advice. I would like to say special thanks to my friend Ajmer Rode for translating my blog into Punjabi and publishing a Punjabi booklet of my journey into poverty.
I would like to thank my staff Ruby Bhandal, Patricia Enair and Kuldip Ardawa. They do a superb job for the Surrey-Fleetwood constituency office and its constituents. Thanks to these ladies for sharing and working ever so diligently on this unprecedented task with such positive energy. I cannot find words to say thanks to Ruby Bhandal for her good judgment, valuable advice and support during the welfare challenge.
Last but not least, I would like to say thanks to my beautiful wife, Rajwant, my son Fateh and my daughter Noor for allowing me to serve the most vulnerable people of British Columbia by accepting the welfare challenge. Their unwavering support means more than I can find words for.
I would like to conclude by saying once again that as a father of two young children, it's hard for me to imagine that we have 137,000 children living in poverty in this province. It's hard for me to imagine that 70,000 British Columbians use a food bank every month to survive and that one-third of them are children. It's hard for me to believe that the gap between the rich and the poor in the province of British Columbia has been widening. Right now the top 10 percent of B.C. families earns considerably more than the entire half, 50 percent, of families at the bottom.
We have a wealthy society. We can do better, and I'm sure the people of British Columbia want us to do better, but there is absolutely nothing in this budget. It is about time that we developed a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with clear targets and timelines.
They have a plan in Newfoundland — a Conservative government. They have a plan in Nova Scotia — NDP government. They have a plan in Quebec — Liberal government. They have a plan in Manitoba — NDP government. But here in B.C., even though we have had the highest level of child poverty for the last eight years, we do not have any plan to reduce poverty. So it's about time that we develop a comprehensive poverty reduction plan to give some hope to the people at the lower end of this society.
B. Stewart: It's a pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to a budget that I think has taken an awful lot of work by the ministry staff and the Minister of Finance. Frankly, I'm very appreciative of the hard work that they've done.
I'm also appreciative of the people that work in my office here in Victoria, Rick Orlando and Kevin Dixon, and Cheryl Doll and Erica Macnab back in my home riding. They often face the day-to-day questions about how come the government is unable to supply all the services that sometimes people's expectations have risen above. We try very hard in both offices to work towards that. I also really appreciate the support of my wife, Ruth, and the rest of my family to allow me to be here.
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I'm particularly proud to be able to stand here today, though, and speak about the 2012-2013 budget and the work that the minister and the Premier have done, as well as all of the cabinet, to be able to look deep into their ministries — what I think has been really digging deep — and find the necessary opportunities that exist to allow us as a government to return to balanced budgeting in 2013-2014 as we promised in the budget in September of 2009.
This particular budget is one that I'm sure political students are going to look back on and be discussing years from now in terms of how difficult it was, especially based on the hurdles and obstacles that have been thrown in front of the Finance Ministry.
Take the recession of 2008, the unpredictability of the free fall in the economy not just here in British Columbia but around the globe — our neighbour the United States, which was already facing economic challenges themselves — and, more importantly, the fact that revenues precipitously dropped and it was anyone's guess as to where the bottom of that was really going.
I think, more importantly, the fact that we've been able to stabilize…. We've been able to restructure a lot of our economy in terms of getting the forest industry back at a level where forest companies all across this province, in every community that depends on the fibre basket that's out there, are back working. We've got mine expansions happening. We've got lots of really great opportunities.
I know I've heard from many of my colleagues here — things such as the liquefied natural gas that is going on in the northeast of the province and how it's directly employing 500 people just in the Chilliwack-Yale area in producing trucks for that particular market. That just goes to show how important a vibrant and diversified economy really is to the province.
So this budget is really ahead of the curve. It represents a new paradigm in terms of what it is that we really have to imagine as legislatures, as people that are elected. We have to be able to find new ways to do more or to do the same services that we provided at one time in new and innovative ways, without necessarily just thinking that we can provide more money and to tax people to be able to provide those services.
Here in British Columbia we have the same challenges as many of the other jurisdictions around the world. We're given an aging and expanding population and still global financial uncertainty, but we have to find new ways to maintain and deliver those services. It would be easy for us to follow the advice of our friends across the aisle, to overpromise and underdeliver; to spend; to squander our children's future opportunities to raise families and leave them with a huge unpayable bill; to bow to the sense of entitlement and not be able to say no when no was the right answer.
We've seen what happens. I mean, it's only the last few weeks that we've seen the tough measures that countries like Greece…. And we focus in on that, but there's a long list of other countries in the European Union that are facing similar challenges, where they've promised things because it was easy to do. It's very easy to promise things. But the reality is that the tough decisions are when you have to say no and you have to manage and live within the financial means that you're given.
There are warnings right here on our home front. Sure, Alberta and Saskatchewan are two other provinces in western Canada, as well as British Columbia, that are helping carry the Canadian economy in a lot of ways. But look at Ontario. The net debt-to-GDP in Ontario rose in '09 to 28.9 percent; in 2010, 33.3; and 2011, 35 percent. And it continues to steadily rise each year. When I grew up, we used to think of Ontario as being the economic engine of Canada. The reality is that they are really having to rein things back in, and because of their overzealous spending and lack of fiscal prudence, Ontario suffers from a nine-year deficit that adds up to over $116 billion.
I've heard some of our friends across the aisle cite Don Drummond's report on the state of finances in Ontario. They're not that bad. That's a good thing, but I don't really think they've grasped the fundamental point of Mr. Drummond's analysis — that governments cannot continue to spend more than they take in. That's the key.
I am anxious to see their plan. There exists a basic fundamental difference between the two sides of this House. It's the difference between spending versus investing and families prospering. It's the difference between low taxes versus high taxes.
Let's talk about taxes for a second. You know, since 2001 this government has done everything it possibly could to help put more money back into the pockets of British Columbia families. Take, for instance, an individual that was making $50,000 a year back in 2001. Today that individual is paying 40 percent less in income tax than they did in 2001.
A family of four making a total of $70,000 is also receiving a 40 percent reduction in their income taxes. An individual making just $20,000 — and we just heard the previous speaker talk about how challenging it can be at the lower end of income — has a reduction of 95 percent in taxes they would have paid since 2001. More importantly, seniors — who we do care about — on a $40,000-a-year income, a reduction of 100 percent. They pay no income tax in British Columbia. For my friends across the aisle who talk about caring for seniors, their record on taxing is embarrassing.
Let's talk about investments. One of the things I can tell you about is investments. You know, I had a particular opportunity to help invest in Okanagan companies personally, and I went ahead and invested with a group of other Okanagan people…
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Deputy Speaker: Members.
B. Stewart: …to help build small business — people that had ideas, that really wanted to take it out, to help grow. I know my colleague from Kelowna–Lake Country and I are a couple of the original investors in this group, and those companies are still there working hard.
The reality is that the government in this budget is going to invest further into small businesses, because they enhance and diversify the provincial economy. One of the best long-term ways to build a healthy economy is to create new small businesses or expand existing ones. To help accomplish that, the small business venture capital program increased by another $3 million to provide tax credits for direct investments into new eligible corporations.
Now, as you may know, I've had some experience in running a business, and one of the most significant challenges from my perspective in business is securing enough capital to get it up and running. It's easy to have an idea. Well, for my friends across the aisle who don't seem to know much about small business, this is the premise of the Dragons' Den. But for most young entrepreneurs, going on CBC is not an option.
B. Stewart: Have you been on CBC?
I have to tell you that, frankly…. You know what? I can tell you that I wish there was a Dragons' Den out there when I started out.
Venture capital programs encourage investors to make equity investments. It helps level out that risk and helps the people that are taking their ideas, their hard-earned cash — and literally all of their cash — to be able to put it into an idea. It helps to be able to take those unique ideas that create small business. These programs give business continuous access to early-stage venture capital to help them develop and expand.
Under this program, in case you didn't read the details, eligible investors can receive an income tax credit of up to 30 percent of their investment in eligible business corporations to an annual limit of $60,000.
What is an eligible business? Well, to qualify as an eligible business, you have to be incorporated for not any less than two years and be doing business in a targeted sector, such as community diversification, development of interactive digital media products, clean tech, prescribed manufacturing and processing, destination tourism or research and development of proprietary technology.
But you know, one of the things that I can say honestly that I've heard across the province…. You can see it in our unemployment numbers — the fact that in June 2008 we had 2.276 million workers working in British Columbia. In March of 2009 that number had dropped to 2.204 million workers, but today, in January of 2012, we've surpassed that number at 2.292 million workers.
With an unemployment rate of 6.9 percent and an economy and a global situation we're facing, one of the things that our employers are facing is the fact that they truly have a skill shortage. The fact is that they're looking for new workers. That's one of the main things we hear.
That's one of reasons why the B.C. training tax credits are part of this new budget. Not everyone wants to start a new business, and not everyone should, but this province faces a current and a future shortage of skilled tradespeople.
We have extended the B.C. training tax credits for an additional three years to the end of 2014. With an approximately $31 million annual funding, the apprenticeship training tax credit program encourages employers and apprentices to participate and complete apprenticeship programs offered in British Columbia.
The employer…. As one of them, I have to tell you that it is something to take on an apprentice. It's a mentorship. It's a responsibility. And it's great to have that support, knowing that you can bring them along slowly with the right training and the fact that you can pay them a good wage to get them to be able to survive in the apprenticeship world of getting up to being a journeyman. Frankly, these refundable tax credits are for salary and wages paid by employers to the eligible apprentices, but more importantly, the apprentices registered in an eligible program are also eligible for fully refundable personal income tax credits.
We also have a special category for trades training in respect to First Nation individuals or persons with disabilities. Individuals' and employer tax credits will be enhanced by a further 50 percent. I think that's a statement about how much we care about some of those marginalized in our province.
One of the things I was really most excited about — when the Minister of Finance announced the first-time new-home buyers bonus. I mean, I can't tell you how thrilled I was to hear that we were encouraging not only the development of new homes but the fact that kids like my daughter, Llane, and her husband, Jan, and son, Kitson, and daughter-in-law, Jen, may be able to make that first-time home purchase.
I can honestly remember buying that first house, which…. Unfortunately, there aren't many houses at that price anymore, unless they're being pushed over. The reality is that $10,000 was a lot of money. As a matter of fact, it's more than what my first down payment was on a home.
The fact is that today, with higher costs that are put on by communities — land costs, the scarcity of it and the reality — this is a particularly important incentive to make certain that not only the building community but people can get into new homes. I've recently taken the opportunity to have a look and see what that does, and it makes a big difference in terms of getting them started.
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I know they've been saving many years.
So we all know — but maybe you don't know, and I'll repeat — that the B.C. first-time new-home buyers bonus will be a temporary, one-time, refundable income tax credit for first-time homebuyers who purchase a newly constructed home. The credit will be calculated as 5 percent of the purchase price, up to a maximum credit of $10,000. You know, I guess I just have the one regret — that there wasn't a tax credit like that around when I was buying my first home.
What do these programs have in common? They're investments designed to give families a head start and help spur our economy.
Let's talk about investments — health care, for instance. One of the areas that the Central Okanagan has seen massive investment from the provincial government has been health. Recently the Leader of the Opposition came to Kelowna and alleged that this government has ignored the Central Okanagan and health care in the Central Okanagan. How dare he say that? The reality is that the Okanagan….
From one end to the other, the health authority is on one of the biggest capital investment projects within the province's history. The Ministry of Health's budget has increased by 69 percent, growing from $8.65 billion in 2000-2001 to $14.64 billion in 2010-11.
Now, I just had to put that into perspective. The province ten years ago was 130 years old. Here we were. We were spending just under $9 billion when the province was 130 years old. Here we are ten years later, and we're spending just about $6 billion more a year on health care. Now, I'm sure that spending is a long ways from the day when John Diefenbaker first said that he would put 50-cent federal dollars into any province that wanted to have a health care program, from the days that it first started in 1966.
But we continue to hear the fact that we're not putting more money into health care and education. Well, in this budget we're increasing the budget in health care by $1.5 billion — a billion and a half dollars. I haven't had a chance to go through all the estimates, but I think a billion and a half dollars would swallow up, pretty much, quite a few ministries that are in government.
It might not be as large a percentage as we have been able to afford in other years, but the reality is that we are trying to manage health care. The fact that we are going to put in another billion and a half in the next three years just underlines the fact that we care about people's health.
In 2014-15 health care will account for more than 42 percent of the total government spending. Budget 2012 recognizes the importance of health care facilities, and it's going to be investing $2.3 billion over the next three years in the health sector.
Capital projects in our area. I mentioned them a minute ago — $440 million that was announced with the expansion of the Kelowna and Vernon hospitals; $393 million that is still earmarked for a new project that's just about to break ground in the next short while, the Interior heart and surgical centre in Kelowna. These projects are about making certain our hospitals are able to deliver health care efficiently and making certain we do it in an effective manner so that the quality of patient care is improving. The reality is that this is about making certain that we put patients first.
We've also done something in the Central Okanagan. We opened a new university there. I don't know if you noticed that in 2005 — UBC Okanagan. It's fully subscribed in terms of students that are there. It's going to be teaching people. Mr. Speaker, 36 new students a year through the UBC distributed medical program are going to be graduating from UBC Okanagan, and they're going to be going through Kelowna General Hospital, which opened up the UBC Clinical Academic Campus in January of 2010.
One of the things we have to do in health care, though, to be able to lower that curve…. Let's talk about innovation and investment. Let's talk about finding new ways to deliver services, especially in rural British Columbia.
Telehealth uses video conferencing, but it also uses supporting technology to put patients in touch with health professionals across distances, vast distances. We take it for granted, if we're in one of the urban or semi-urban ridings, even the rural ridings, until you get out to places where you're literally hours from any medical centre.
The fact of being able to put these technologies in the hands of qualified health professionals can really bring the people in remote areas together with the health professionals — they could be at St. Paul's; they could be in different parts of province — so that they can get the best possible assessment.
It reduces the travel burden, particularly for elderly people and for those with young children. It provides access to a wider range of specialists' advice and services. It delivers faster, more efficient health care by using technology to remove the distance barrier.
Think about it. What about the weather conditions? I was just talking back in my riding, and it snowed again today. I'm sure it did in many other parts of the province. I'm sure that's a big barrier for some of those remote communities that we take for granted, which don't have the fabulous highway system that we do here in this part of the province.
Since 2004-05 the province has invested over $16 million in telehealth programs, helping those in remote and underserviced communities with things like telecardiology; tele-COPD, which is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; telediabetes; tele–forensic psychiatry; telegenetics; tele–home care; tele-ICU; tele-oncology; telepacer; telepharmacy; telepsychiatry and mental health; video linkage.
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These are just a few of the projects that are available to communities that never had the access. They don't have a hospital in their community, but they may have a nurse or a nurse practitioner in a clinic, and they'll be able to link up with the best across the province.
One of the things that I think I mentioned is our investment in health care, and education is the other one that I often hear we're not putting enough resources in. It's difficult to catch up on an infrastructure deficit. We have been investing faithfully in infrastructure and education, so nothing could be further from the truth.
Since 2001 the province has invested $84.3 million in Central Okanagan school district 23, completing 13 construction projects that include one new school, three schools that were replaced, expansion to eight schools and renovations to another school. The province has just recently spent another $8.2 million in capital funding for the additional spaces for full-day kindergarten in school district 23.
This budget protects education funding despite declining enrolment. Block funding remains still at $4.7 billion. We're maintaining the funding, yet we've got less students, and that is a challenge. It's a challenge for school districts, it's a challenge for the Minister of Education, and the reality is that we're trying to find that balance. I mean, if we could reshuffle the deck sometimes, it would be great, but that's not always possible with fixed assets.
One of the things that we've recently announced in this budget is the increase in funding of an additional $165 million over three years for the establishment of the learning investment fund. These new resources will target vulnerable learners and challenges regarding class composition in the classrooms with the highest needs. The school district in Central Okanagan received $17 million since 2001-02 in one-time funding.
One of the things that is a factor is that the per-pupil funding has gone from $5,781 to $7,948 per student in the last ten years. We've got eight new StrongStart centres, and we've got a myriad of other schools that have had additions put on for capacity for students: Bankhead Elementary, Black Mountain Elementary, North Glenmore, Peachland Elementary, Pearson Elementary — so many that it's almost too numerous to mention.
One of the ones that really stuck out was KSS, Kelowna Secondary School. Of course, growing up in West Kelowna I never really expected that my kids would be going to that school, but it had a lot of extra….
B. Stewart: Sorry, Westbank.
I expected that they might end up at the same school or one of the schools on the Westside, but they chose to go to KSS because, number one, they were in French immersion. It offered a wider range of services. Not only had my dad graduated at that school in the 1940s, but that school was still up when two of my kids went through. It was torn down, and my last son graduated at the new $23.151 million Kelowna Secondary School that, frankly, is an unbelievably state-of-the-art educational facility.
I'm pleased to see that that investment has gone on in our community to help build that. We continue to add to other secondary schools, like Rutland Senior Secondary. Mount Boucherie Senior Secondary had an addition to capacity that cost $8.7 million.
The new Dr. Knox Middle School is a replacement costing $26.9 million. I mean, these numbers are staggering. Frankly, the taxpayers know we need to have good infrastructure to make certain that the learning outcomes and the teachers that give those learning outcomes have the best possible facilities.
I was recently at an expansion at Shannon Lake Elementary with the Minister of Education. We were going on a tour of the schools, and I was surprised by the technology the teachers are using so that everybody in the classroom can hear — headsets with microphones and speakers all around, SMART boards. I mean, it boggles the mind as to how much technology has moved into the classroom. They're not all there yet, and we do need to continue that investment.
The other thing that is really important in our riding is that the province as well as the communities, like the city of Kelowna, have partnered with the provincial government, really, on the initiative to end homelessness. I want to tell you about some of the projects in the riding.
Besides the fact that we have the Shelter Aid For Elderly Renters, which costs about $6 million in the Central Okanagan, we also have 1,300 low-income working families in the region that get a rental assistance subsidy so that they don't have to move out of their home. They can continue to rent and be able to have that subsidy so that they don't have to move to someplace where everything in that neighbourhood happens to be at the affordability. It's about keeping families together in the communities where they grew up.
To end homelessness, we have actually added four projects in our riding. We've added Cardington Apartments. We've recently added the Willowbridge transitional housing project, which is run by Shelagh Turner of the Canadian Mental Health Association — a 40-bed unit — and we contributed $4.8 million to that project. I was pleased to be there at the one-year anniversary of a facility that really is sorely needed.
We also have another project that was finished in my colleague's, and neighbouring, riding of Kelowna-Mission, which is 39 housing units for women, operated by New Opportunities for Women Canada. I have to tell you that this is taking people that really need that care and certainty to be able to get their lives back together, where they have had a relationship that hasn't worked
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out. The reality is that that particular facility is up and operating.
Recently we announced the building of New Gate apartments in another nearby riding of Kelowna–Lake Country, and that particular project — I know; I recently passed by — is nearing completion. So to say that we're not doing anything for people that are at the lower end of the income scale…. We're trying awfully hard, but the bottom line is that this government is committed to making certain that the lives of British Columbians, families in British Columbia, do come first.
This budget is going to bring spending in 2011-12 in at $44.392 billion; in 2012-13 another $43.869 billion; in 2013-14, $44.19 billion. I'm hoping that without tax increases….
The only thing that we have agreed is that because of the fact that there is a change from the harmonized sales tax back to PST, we want to make certain that tobacco is not getting a get-out-of-jail card free. So there is some tax to be reintroduced back on that.
The MSP increase that is there was talked about when we introduced the budget in 2009. We told people that we had to be able to fund the health care. We really needed to make certain that MSP had to fund more of what we were doing in services. It's a small portion of what we actually spend.
Budget 2012 sets the foundation for sound fiscal management — to achieve the government's commitment to balancing the budget by 2013-14; to maintain a fiscally sustainable, taxpayer-supported debt to GDP; and to maintain our triple-A credit rating. I know recently the Minister of Finance pointed out that Ontario, on a recent bond issue, is having to pay considerably more than what we are in B.C.
S. Hammell: A year ago the B.C. Liberals chose a new leader who promised change from the previous decade of rule by Gordon Campbell. The Liberal brand was tarnished and the notion of a change in vogue. Since the Premier took office, she has seldom, if ever, mentioned the name of the man who occupied the Premier's office and the constituency of Vancouver–Point Grey before her.
She refers to the government of Gordon Campbell as "the previous government" in a tone of voice she once reserved only for the government of the '90s. So change does come in many forms. This was despite the fact that the Premier was once the Deputy Premier and the leading cabinet minister in that government for nearly four years and that this was the Premier who recruited her to run in 1996.
The 2012 budget was presented last week by the Finance Minister, who also sought the leadership of the B.C. Liberal Party last year after a decade at the side of Gordon Campbell. The Finance Minister was there when his government tabled the 2009 budget just before an election. In that election the government promised a deficit of $495 million maximum. But the deficit exploded into a projected $3 billion deficit when the election was done.
Now, this is really interesting. I've learned something new today — that when you undercut a projected deficit and you come in at $1.8 billion, that's really now counted as meeting your objective, and one on the good side of the ledger, according to the member.
Deputy Speaker: Members. Members.
Deputy Speaker: Members. Members.
S. Hammell: The Finance Minister was there when the B.C. Liberals promised in the 2009 election campaign that we would not have a harmonized sales tax. When the Premier returned to politics last year, she tried to persuade British Columbians to stick with the HST, and I have to say: what was she thinking? The Premier and the Finance Minister got their verdict from the people in last summer's referendum, so the Premier and the Finance Minister got fair warning that British Columbians are looking for change. There's that theme again.
British Columbians are hoping for an end to policies that, according to the most recent reports from Gordon Campbell's own B.C. Progress Board, left B.C. worse in Canada in terms of people living below the poverty line. The board said B.C. is second-worst in terms of social conditions. People hoping for change from this Premier and this Finance Minister got fair warning about how much change they could expect when the Premier closed that board down.
Even after this move, any British Columbians who retained any hope that the Premier and the Finance Minister would make real change in this budget have been disappointed. We got yet another deficit budget last week from the Finance Minister and little else, except the promises that the next year's budget would be balanced. That's a promise that can't be verified until the next B.C. election is over. But that's, again, like the $495 million maximum deficit that we have heard before. Where have we heard all that before?
The budget contains a number of accounting tricks that have been questioned by the Auditor General and others, such as the infamous deferral accounts at B.C. Hydro. Economists are questioning the key figures in this budget…
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Deputy Speaker: I cannot hear the speaker.
S. Hammell: …including the size of the deficit, but then again, that's not a change. By inflating the size of deficit, this Premier and the Finance Minister are trying to convince British Columbians that there's no money to deal with problems in health care, no money to repair our tattered social services and no money to reverse the damage done to our schools and post-secondary institutions by this government over the past 11 years.
This budget includes a tax cut for the airlines with the removal of the aviation fuel tax for international flights, but it will burden B.C. families with the fifth increase in MSP premiums since this government took over. Again, that's not a change. Since the Liberals took office, this regressive tax has been increased by more than 85 percent or $732 per year for families with children. That's not what British Columbians were hoping for when the Premier announced that she would introduce family-friendly policies.
The budget doesn't touch spending for the Premier's office. It doesn't cut $15 million in the pre-election feel-good television ads from the government. None of that is changed.
While this government looks after its partisan needs, our universities and colleges, our skills-training programs, are expected to make cuts. Apprenticeship training is facing cutbacks over the next few years. There's nothing in this budget to enhance student aid at a time when improvement is badly needed. Again, that's not a change.
Thanks to the B.C. Liberal decision to eliminate non-repayable needs-based grants, British Columbian students now carry the second-highest average student debt west of the Maritimes at $27,000. Students in British Columbia pay the highest provincial student loan interest rate in the country — well done — prime plus 2.5 percent.
There's just nothing in this budget for students. The government is still dragging its heels on responding to court decisions overturning legislation that it used to shortchange our school by enlarging class size in our schools.
The government's education policies under this Premier, like her term as Education Minister a decade ago, are based on conflict with teachers. Again, that's not a change.
The government's attack on education makes it more difficult for British Columbians to prepare for tomorrow's economic challenges. Since it's now harder to better yourself in British Columbia, it comes as no surprise that income inequality is continuing to grow in this province.
What is in this budget for our constituents looking for better health care? The Finance Minister announced in this budget that health budgets will be tightened up in the coming years and beyond — this shortly after a report from the Ombudsperson condemning the state of care for seniors in British Columbia.
We were put on notice in December that tough days were ahead for health care when the Finance Minister welcomed an announcement from his federal counterpart that the federal government would unilaterally cut its health care payments to the provinces in the future.
This Finance Minister and this Premier have stood by while their friends in Ottawa increased the burdens on B.C. taxpayers through their crime bill and their trade deals. One is tempted to say that this budget is purely that of the Finance Minister, because it seamlessly continues the policies of Gordon Campbell's government. That's not much of a change.
There are increases in regressive taxes such as MSP premiums, hydro fees and ICBC premiums. There's yet another year, despite what the people of the province wanted, of the harmonized sales tax, despite those stated objections by the voters who sent us here.
Working families can no longer get help to deal with the challenges of this recession or better themselves for new career options. In fact, the only people getting help from this budget are the government's friends and insiders. Some businesses are getting relief from the HST right away, while everyone else must wait another year.
Yet others will get another gift from this government in the form of a fire sale of government assets. At the centre of this fire sale are the government's liquor warehouses, whose sale, we understand, will benefit friends of the governing party.
Another part of this fire sale hits close to home for me — a parcel of land strategically located in Surrey, between four of the five town centres in my rapidly growing city. It's a property on the northwest corner of Highway 10 and 152nd Avenue. It's near the geographic centre of the city of Surrey. The land was purchased in 1999 for $5.8 million, after plans to build a shopping centre fell through. This piece of land the ministry held, hoping to use it for a hospital expansion in Surrey.
The population in that area has increased dramatically, and so has the value of the land. The B.C. Liberal government made many promises over the years to improve health services in Surrey. In 2005 the Premier of the day came to Surrey and promised that a new hospital would be built there.
Deputy Speaker: Members. Members, there's a speaker.
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Deputy Speaker: Member.
Go ahead, please.
S. Hammell: It's sometimes just good fun to go back and look at how the history of health in Surrey played itself out, because just before the 2005 election, when concern reached a boiling point, Premier Gordon Campbell promised to fast-track a review on Surrey Memorial Hospital. I remember clearly. There was water in the hospital because of leaks.
Gordon Campbell came out and said: "I should tell you that 'quickly as possible' means there will be shovels in the ground, and that probably means we will build in 2007 and, at the most, early 2008." We will not see that hospital completed until 2014. The interesting thing about that hospital and the out-patient centre is that both of those hospitals are being built on public land that was in the public trust.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
The only reason that the out-patient centre was built where it was is because the land was in the public trust, and that's where it was the cheapest for this government to put the hospital. The out-patient centre was built on public land that was bought years ago by other governments and not sold to pay down the budget, to make their budget balance.
Now the Finance Minister says he needs to sell that land to balance his budget. That is just shocking. You sell land in the public trust that could be used in the future by governments, just like this government used the public land bought by governments in the past.
When the Premier took up her office nearly a year ago, she promised to make changes for the better for the government, from her former leader.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
S. Hammell: Since then we have had a year of photo ops and still more promises of real change. As the 2012 budget approached, many people saw through what we would finally see as the vision that this Premier has for our province. Those hopes were dashed when we received last week's budget. There is no vision in this budget beyond the fire sale of assets.
Is there any suggestion of a vision? No, there's nothing in this budget. At least Gordon Campbell set out five goals for what he did call the golden decade. Remember them? They almost sound comical in the current context.
The first was: make B.C. the best-educated, most literate jurisdiction in the continent. What do we have? A school system in chaos, a post-secondary system harder to access than ever before.
The second golden goal: lead the way in North America in healthy living and physical fitness. Tight budgets, restricting access to physical fitness and better health.
This is one of the best. Build the best system for support in Canada for persons with disabilities, those with special needs, children at risk and seniors. What do we have? The fiasco in Community Living B.C. and constant threats to the payments and services needed by disabled British Columbians.
Another promise was: lead the world in sustainable environmental management with the best air and water quality and the best fisheries management, bar none. Major cutbacks in environmental regulations and protection of our fisheries. Away we go.
Although this is the record of the Campbell government — and this was supported by every member opposite — at least that government pretended to have some goals. Now, this government, under this Premier, has given up on any goals, except for photo ops and the hopes that jobs and investments would come back before the next election.
But it's over. Change is coming. Today more and more British Columbians have set some goals for the coming months — to vote out this government and bring an end to being nickel-and-dimed with fee increases and regressive taxes. They want to bring an end to bait-and-switch policies and broken promises. They want a government that has the needs of working British Columbians in mind, not just the desires of a small circle of friends and insiders.
This government is 11 years old and out of ideas. The budget that we are debating has proven that. British Columbians want a new government that will give them hope for the future, access to better education and skills training and the ticket to better lives, because nearly 80 percent of jobs in the future will require some form of post-secondary education.
Our party will be presenting these and new ideas to British Columbians. Our constituents want a government that will work to reverse the decline in the forest industry. They want a government that will be honest with them. They want a government that has a plan to balance the budgets and that is better than a gigantic fire sale of strategic assets.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
S. Hammell: That's why they are looking at the New Democratic Party and the member for Vancouver-Kingsway to provide the leadership for this province and this….
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B. Simpson: I rise to begin speaking to this. I'll say a few words, and then I will note the time, as being directed by other members of the House. But I do thank the Speaker for the recognition.
Where I want to just quickly start is that I find it interesting how this budget not only reflects the times, and I'll speak more about that tomorrow, but it reflects a change in what we think is an election budget. I noted with interest people calling this an election budget. It shows that we have shifted, because an election budget used to be shovelling money off the back of a truck. Now an election budget is a conservative budget, and I'll speak more about that tomorrow.
B. Simpson: Wait until tomorrow morning.
Mr. Speaker, noting the hour, I move adjournment of debate and reserve my right to continue when the House reconvenes.
B. Simpson moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. T. Lake 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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