1982 Legislative Session: 4th Session, 32nd Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
FRIDAY, JUNE 11, 1982
[ Page 8145 ]
Special Appropriations Act (Bill 11). Report. (Hon. Mr. Curtis)
Third reading –– 8145
Social Service Tax Amendment Act, 1982 (Bill 30). Committee stage. (Hon. Mr. Curtis)
On the amendment to section 4 –– 8145
On section 4 as amended –– 8146
On section 12 –– 8147
Housing and Employment Development Financing Act (Bill 39). Second reading.
(Hon. Mr. Curtis)
Hon. Mr. Curtis –– 8147
Mr. King –– 8148
On the amendment
Ms. Sanford –– 8152
Hon. Mr. Curtis –– 8154
Home Purchase Assistance Amendment Act, 1982 (Bill 46). Second reading.
(Hon. Mr. Chabot)
Hon. Mr. Chabot –– 8154
Mr. Barber –– 8154
Motion: Nuclear arms reduction
Hon. Mr. Gardom –– 8161
Mr. Macdonald –– 8161
Appendix –– 8162
The House met at 10 a.m.
HON. R. GARDOM: Hon. members, there are a number of distinguished guests in our galleries from the People's Republic of China, who are members of an auditing study team whose mandate is to establish the office of the auditor-general in China. I would like to say to them: Hwanying Junggwo pengyou lai B.C. sheng. Syiwang nimen feicheng kwaile chengji meihau. Ching nimen daihwei B.C. sheng renmin dwei Junggwo renmin de youyi jufu.
These gentlemen have spent a week with senior officials and the federal auditor-general in our national capital. We are indeed honoured that they have designated the office of the B.C. auditor-general for their only provincial visit. Today they are meeting with Mrs. Erma Morrison, hopefully the Minister of Finance (Hon. Mr. Curtis), the Chairman and Secretary of our public accounts committee and a number of B.C. accounting and financial officials.
Leading the delegation is Mr. Sun. His colleagues are Mr. Dzang, Mr. Tsu, Mr. Hsien and the interpreter, Mr. Dzang. I am sure all members would like to bid them a very cordial and special welcome.
MR. BARRETT: As the husband of a Chinese-speaking person, may I add my welcome to the Chinese delegation by saying: Tonjer, meihau and hwanying.
HON. MR. BENNETT: It is a pleasure to present in the gallery today the winner of the 1982 Queen Elizabeth II B.C. Centennial Scholarship: Miss Marlee Kline of Vancouver, a psychology graduate from Simon Fraser University. This award is worth $20,000 and commemorates Her Majesty's visit to British Columbia during our centennial. Marlee will be attending Oxford University's Magdalene College this fall to pursue a two-year law degree. Marlee has now won many scholarships, including the Simon Fraser University award for her individual contribution to the social and cultural development of her university.
In addition to Marlee, we have one of the two runners-up in the gallery: from Victoria, Ronald Niezen, an anthropology student from UBC who will pursue his studies at Cambridge University. The runners-up receive $4,000 each to further their graduate studies. Not here today but attending the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London is Bridget Elliot of UBC. I would ask all members of this House to make these exceptional students welcome.
MR. MACDONALD: Kungwok pang yow gung hay gung hay gum yat ho tin hay in British Columbia dojay, dojay.
Orders of the Day
HON R. WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, I ask leave to proceed to public bills and orders.
HON. MR. WILLIAMS: Report on Bill 11, Mr. Speaker.
SPECIAL APPROPRIATIONS ACT
Bill 11 read a third time and passed.
HON. MR. WILLIAMS: Committee on Bill 30, Mr. Speaker.
SOCIAL SERVICE TAX AMENDMENT ACT, 1982
The House in committee on Bill 30; Mr. Strachan in the chair.
Sections 1 to 3 inclusive approved.
On section 4.
HON. MR. CURTIS: Mr. Chairman, I move the amendment standing under my name on the order paper. [See appendix.]
On the amendment.
MRS. WALLACE: Mr. Chairman, this is an interesting amendment inasmuch as it deletes the second part of this particular section, because there is a court case presently being appealed. I wonder why the minister is so inconsistent, because part of section 1 is also being appealed. A court case relative to the front-end loader tractors is under appeal as well, I understand, thanks to the courtesy of the minister in replying to my query. There was a previous decision that the exemption of the Bobcats was contrary to the intent of the legislation. That particular court ruling indicated that the intent of the legislation was whether or not the equipment could be used for farm use, and would be used for farm use, not whether or not it could be used for something else. In this case, the court found in favour of the mushroom farmers, who took it to court.
That was some time ago, yet the people involved in that particular case.... A fair amount of money had to be repaid to people who had actually paid sales tax on those pieces of equipment, and it worked a considerable hardship on the dealers in that equipment. In fact, I know of one firm that has had to close its doors because of their inability to cope with the financial burden of that tax which they had not collected but were forced to pay. In speaking on this amendment, my concern is that different rules seem to apply to subsection (b) than to subsection (a). I'm certainly not suggesting that the minister should take front-end loaders out of subsection (a), but I'm wondering why he's using one set of rules for (b) and another for section (a).
MR. CHAIRMAN: This debate might be more appropriate in discussing the section, not the amendment. But we've gone this far, so please proceed.
HON. MR. CURTIS: As you wish, Mr. Chairman. There is no inconsistency. With respect to the subsection that would be removed by the passage of this amendment, it does not speak of litigation, which has been going on for quite some considerable time. The committee will note that the subsection now being debated for deletion was to be effective on April 6, the day following the presentation of the 1982-83 budget. It does not speak about a court case or cases which
[ Page 8146 ]
may be pursued by the parties. It simply speaks to the question of the deletion of that tax measure for this fiscal year.
MRS. WALLACE: In the minister's news release, which indicated that he was going to delete this — that this amendment was on the order paper — as I read it he gave the reason that the case was before the courts; he was deleting it because the decision would not be down, and he was going to wait until that decision was made. Did I not read that correctly, Mr. Minister?
HON. MR. CURTIS: Yes, Mr. Chairman, that's essentially correct, but I'm speaking in the narrow context of the subsection before us. We are not proceeding with the taxation measure announced in the budget and originally proposed in this bill. We are not proceeding with that for this fiscal year. If the member seeks a commitment with respect to the next fiscal year, I'm unable to give that, because that would be the subject of a review of taxation matters later in this calendar year. I'm not ducking the question, but all we're doing is removing it as of today; therefore it is not active within the 1982-83 fiscal year. I have no idea whether a tax of this nature will be reintroduced in a year or two or three. I do not know, sir.
MR. DAVIS: Mr. Chairman, I support the deletion basically because had a tax of this kind been imposed I and I'm sure many people would view it as a tax on resource processing in the province — resource processing using electricity and electrolytic methods. I think if we have a basic philosophy for industrial development, it has to include resource processing as one of its elements. This tax, had it been imposed, would be anti-development in that sense. So I'm glad to see the minister withdrawing this particular provision from the bill.
MRS. WALLACE: I just want to make it clear that I'm not asking whether or not the minister is going to do this at a later date. I was asking why he did it, and whether or not my understanding was correct. He has given me the answer as to why he did it.
On section 4 as amended.
MRS. WALLACE: Now inasmuch as the minister indicated that he withdrew the amendment because it was before the courts, why then has he taken a different approach in relation to the item of front-end loaders, which is on this particular list that we're referring to in section 4(a)? Why a different tack? This one is also before the courts, according to the minister.
HON. MR. CURTIS: Mr. Chairman, I have the press release to which I believe the hon. member for Cowichan–Malahat is referring. It is dated June 10, and it speaks of an amendment to this bill — the amendment dealt with. It is four paragraphs long. The third paragraph in full says:
"A recent court ruling held that electricity used for these purposes was a direct agent or catalyst, and therefore was outside of the taxing powers of the act. The Ministry of Finance is currently appealing the decision."
That is all that is said about any litigation which may be before the courts at this time with respect to this matter, Mr. Chairman.
The concluding paragraph says:
"After reviewing an extensive analysis of the industry in British Columbia, Curtis announced that the government has decided to withdraw this amendment, pending a final decision on the Ministry of Finance's appeal in the courts."
The key phrase here is: "After reviewing an extensive analysis of the industry...." That is the fundamental reason for the amendment which has just been approved, and for the amended section which is before us.
I appreciate the member's point. In the case of court cases with respect to another matter which is not before us in this section — front-end loaders or Bobcats — it may appear we are not being consistent. But I submit that we are being consistent. Again, the subsection which has just been deleted — I hope I'm not reflecting on that vote — was as of April 6, 1982. It did not speak of any time prior to that date.
MRS. WALLACE: Mr. Chairman, I note that the minister says that we're not discussing the matter of Bobcats, but I think we are. This subsection reads: "prescribed tangible personal property when purchased or leased by a bona fide farmer to be used...solely for a farm purpose." The court ruling I'm talking about indicated and decided that what this act intended is that in each case these questions should be asked: is the machinery capable of being used on a farm, and is it to be used by the purchaser solely for the needs of his farm? That's saying almost the same thing, although in different words, as this act, yet I have a letter dated June 4 and signed by the minister which says he has appealed that ruling. The whole thing just doesn't make sense to me.
HON. MR. CURTIS: We have appealed both of them, in fact. What is dealt with in subsection 4(a) is the further exemption of equipment used by bona fide farmers for farm purposes. The member may wish to meet with me on this.
There are always cases before the courts regarding litigation on tax matters; it's an ongoing process. Today in committee I am not going to speak about the likelihood of success, or the diligence with which the ministry, the government or the Crown will pursue those cases, whether it applies to front-end loaders or to electricity used in the process described in this subsection. That, I think, would be completely inappropriate for the purposes of this section.
MRS. WALLACE: Mr. Chairman, this seems mighty strange and inconsistent to me. Here we have coming into effect a piece of legislation that removes the sales tax from front-end loaders effective April 6 of this year. At the same time, the minister is appealing a decision that's almost word for word what this legislation says for people who purchased those pieces of equipment prior to that time. It seems to be discriminatory against those people who purchased during that period of time in view of the court decision, which evidently has prompted this piece of legislation, because it's almost word for word from the transcript of the court case. But the government sees fit to appeal that decision at the same time as they're bringing it in and making it mandatory from April 6.
[ Page 8147 ]
HON. MR. CURTIS: I disagree with the member for Cowichan–Malahat. In the recent history of tax matters at the provincial and federal levels, there must be many instances where prior to a law's being enacted by the legislature or the parliament, and in the absence of an exemption, as an example, the responsible ministry — in this case the Ministry of Finance — would take the appropriate action to recover the revenues in question. All this section speaks of is: as of April 6; forward from April 6, 1982. I'm not going to be drawn into a debate in this context. Perhaps it may be raised in my estimates, but I'm not going to be drawn into a debate now as to the merits, or lack of merit, of court cases which predate April 6, 1982.
Section as amended approved.
Section to 11 inclusive approved.
On section 12.
MR. LEVI: I wonder if the minister could comment on the question of the sales tax with regard to people who raised money on a voluntary basis. I provided him with the material related to that particular effort. Some $9,000 was raised, and they have to pay sales tax. The federal government does not require that. It was a gift to the Children's Hospital. I was hoping that the minister would find an appropriate place or even be prepared to say that he's going to add it to the schedule exclusions. I don't want to lose the opportunity to get him to respond to that. I thought it might be under this section. He's evidently getting some good advice from his official there. If the minister would care to comment, I'll sit down.
HON. MR. CURTIS: Mr. Chairman, to the hon. member for Maillardville–Coquitlam, I confirm that he raised this in second reading of Bill 30 and has since provided me with material relative to equipment which is purchased by a social club — certainly a non-profit organization — and then made available to a hospital. I informally undertook, as I undertake now, to review that very carefully within the ministry for possible action at some future time. I do not feel that it is possible for me, within the space of these several weeks, to make that change. Certainly I would not want to make that change without the very careful examination to which I've referred earlier. But I assure the member and the committee that we have made full and complete note of that which he brought to my attention. It should be pointed out that the province itself, the provincial government, like any other purchaser in the province, pays the tax on its purchases.
I'm inclined to agree with the member that there seems to be some validity, but if an amendment were presented today, then out of necessity, not because I disagree with it but because I would be quite nervous about the possible implications and how far it might reach, I would have to recommend that we not accept it.
MR. LEVI: Mr. Chairman, I'll watch and wait and see what the minister does. I know that a large number of organizations do this and raise a lot of money. I think the key thing that was brought out to me by the particular group, the PH Club at Penticton, was that it felt it was really a question of double taxation; they pay taxes as individuals, and here they are in an effort to provide for a very worthwhile cause and they suddenly find that they're being taxed again. So I'll look forward to seeing an amendment from the minister either in some omnibus form or a little later on.
Sections 12 to 14 inclusive approved.
HON. MR. CURTIS: Mr. Chairman, I move the committee rise and report the bill complete with amendment.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Bill 30, Social Service Tax Amendment Act, 1982, reported complete with amendment to be considered at the next sitting of the House after today.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Second reading of Bill 39, Mr. Speaker.
HOUSING AND EMPLOYMENT
DEVELOPMENT FINANCING ACT
HON. MR. CURTIS: Mr. Speaker, I have a few remarks to make in respect to Bill 39, the Housing and Employment Development Financing Act. I trust that other members will assist in offering comments with respect to this piece of legislation, which is, in fact, a companion to others that have been presented in the course of this session or which are yet to be called for debate. The purpose of this bill is to introduce an innovative new financing mechanism for housing and employment development programs within the province of British Columbia. The bill itself provides for the issuing of up to $250 million of housing and employment development bonds for terms of up to five years with the funds to be allocated by a special cabinet committee, which is dealt with under another bill.
This special funding, together with the fiscal injection provided by the operating budget and the provincial government's substantial capital investment program, will, we believe, provide a major stimulus to help sustain employment during the current downturn in provincial economic activity. The most innovative aspect of the proposed mechanism, the bonds, is the concept of exempting interest on them from personal and corporate income tax. If the interest rate were exempt from both federal and provincial tax, it would be possible to issue these at a rate of almost 50 percent below that which would be required for a fully taxable issue. The benefit of this lower rate could then be passed on in the form of low-interest loans for housing construction and other employment creating projects. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, as you realize, full tax exemption of the interest on these bonds requires the agreement and the cooperation of the federal government. I have to say to the House that the federal government has not appeared to be eager to accept the British Columbia proposal.
Contrary to an earlier report which was carried in the press — and, I think, dealt with in this Legislature very early in our spring session — we made early contact, first in conceptual form, with the Minister of Finance and his officials as well as the minister himself in Ottawa to discuss this. Two direct communications to Mr. MacEachen have gone
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from my office — one to Mr. MacEachen and one to the Minister of National Revenue — and I have had further contact with other federal ministers as well. In addition, officials of the Ministry of Finance in British Columbia have been to Ottawa to discuss the proposal with their federal counterparts and have participated in a number of discussions, both in writing and verbally. Yet, Mr. Speaker, out of all this, we do not yet have a specific response to the tax exemption proposal insofar as the federal government is concerned.
I shall continue to press for that agreement, and at an early opportunity would, in fact, want to meet with the federal Minister of Finance and other appropriate ministers to discuss this. Given the possibility of failure at the federal level, the Ministry of Finance in British Columbia is exploring alternatives to the tax exemption concept, and there are some options which would be available to us within the ambit of Bill 39. I will comment on those at some later, appropriate time.
Mr. Speaker, the federal government has permitted the raising of Canadian interest rates to a height which certainly is of concern to every thinking Canadian. That point has been made on many occasions. One would not want in the context of this bill to discuss the interest rate levels in the United States versus interest rate levels in Canada, but let me say that the interest rate levels in Canada at this particular time are harmful, debilitating and threaten many activities in our country. The federal government is in charge of monetary policy, as members will know, and it cannot simply pass the blame for high interest rates to the United States, as occurred as recently as the Versailles economic summit. But having said that, it is not good enough for the provincial government — for any provincial government — to simply fire off verbal rockets towards Ottawa saying: "You must do something." That is the essence of this legislation: this legislation would permit us, as a province — albeit with limited scope, because we are a provincial rather than a federal government — to undertake the kind of activity which I'm sure, and which my colleagues are sure, would have a beneficial effect on the people of the province of British Columbia.
I think that the federal government, having been presented many months ago with this concept from the province of British Columbia, owes us at least a chance to try this innovative and quite exciting proposal. At least we are trying, Mr. Speaker. I say in this assembly that I hope that these words, as well as the other words which we have mentioned and which have been sent in one form or another, will reach Ottawa, that we can have a quick and a positive response, because I believe that the program could be a model for other provinces; indeed it could be a model for the national government as well.
As I said, I'm sure there will be comment by both sides of the House in second reading of Bill 39. It is one of the initiatives being taken by this government. The order paper will clearly indicate the others. It is just one of several that have been developed by the government in these difficult economic days.
I move second reading of Bill 39.
MR. KING: I listened to the minister's comments with great interest. I was intrigued by some of the comments he made.
MR. KING: Yes, I support the bill. I think that it's fine as far as it goes. But by the minister's own admission, the federal government, upon whom this bill depends to a great extent, is not eager to participate. The minister said that given the possibility of failure at the federal level, his ministry is exploring alternatives to the programs offered in the bill.
This places the opposition in the position of being asked to debate and vote on a highly tentative bill; it may indeed proceed as the minister hopes or it may die aborning, as it were. The minister commented on all of those things. He indicated that the federal government should not pass the blame onto the United States for the very high interest rates. I say to the minister: that is a true statement, which I support. Similarly, the provincial government cannot pass the total responsibility for the economic chaos in this province onto the federal government. There is balanced responsibility. Any fair-minded person would, I think, accept that. But there is a little bit of a ruse involved here, in my view, when a partial remedy is offered tentatively by the government, which is all highly dependent on what the federal government policy may be.
Where is the positive, unequivocal initiative of the provincial government to come to grips with unemployment, with the economic chaos in this province, with the business collapses — the bankruptcies of small businesses — and indeed the foreclosures on both private homes and small businesses that are taking effect on a daily basis at a very alarming rate? I see no decisive initiative here in the bill to put forward a positive and unequivocal program. That is the responsibility of the provincial government. I wish them luck in obtaining assistance from the federal government. But I am not prepared to let the provincial government abdicate their responsibility to deal with the economic problems that face us here in British Columbia by introducing a bill which is, in the main, contingent upon federal government approval and participation in the financial guarantees. That's not good enough.
We have hundreds — thousands, indeed — in the province of British Columbia who are now looking to this Legislature for some positive action, for some hope, for some programs that would offer them the opportunity of gaining employment through the summer, which would at least put them in a position to earn enough unemployment insurance stamps to be able to face what threatens to be a very difficult winter with some benefits earned under the Unemployment Insurance Act. Many forest workers and construction workers have now exhausted their unemployment insurance benefits. Unless they are able to find some employment over the next few months, even if it is temporary, they lack the opportunity to earn any benefits to tide them over a long, cold and difficult winter.
In my view, it's the responsibility of this government to come to grips now with this problem in British Columbia on behalf of the people you represent. The minister referred to other initiatives that have been taken. There is indeed a cabinet committee set up to deal with job creation. There is a pale initiative taken in the forest industry, and I say "pale" because I do not know of one program that has yet been approved under the program that the cabinet committee approved for the forest industry. I have been checking the different regions of the province of British Columbia to find out whether any of the bridging programs have yet been approved. This is the program where supposedly people on unemployment insurance will be hired in the forest industry
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to involve themselves in silvicultural treatment and intensive forest management so that they can get back on UIC, and not one program yet approved. Indeed, as far as I know, there is no mechanism determined at the provincial level to finalize any of the applications that are before the ministry. There has not been one job created.
A very serious thing is happening as a result of this delay and as a result of a lack of decisiveness on this government's part. Even the planting program planned for this year is not being fully engaged in, because there was no lead time with site preparation to receive all the seedlings. Some of the seedlings marked for planting this year will be returned to the nurseries because there was no pre-planning by this government to make sure the sites would be ready to receive the seedlings. That is an absolute shame and waste. There are unemployed people out there prepared to go to work.
We are talking about employment-creation programs, and I am pointing out that there is no specific program offered in this bill. Indeed it mentions employment and refers obliquely to the other program in the forest industry. This bill is purported to offer itself as a mechanism for financing the forest industry program. Even the backbenchers don't understand that. I am saying to you that this government is offering mechanisms which are highly tentative with no solid programs of employment as an underpinning. We can't accept that. This government has a responsibility to come out with some well-planned programs that can be initiated very quickly to ease the tremendous trauma that hundreds of thousands of people in the province of British Columbia are facing.
It's not just a matter of putting those unemployed people back to work; there is a multiplier effect that runs through the whole economy when people are working, however temporarily. People who are at work purchase more, will patronize their local small businesses to a greater extent, and there is a stimulus to be offered by that kind of investment by the government in priming the economic pump throughout the regions of the province. This could well have the effect of saving some of our small businesses that are going into bankruptcy at an alarming rate in British Columbia.
We all know what is happening in the forest industry. Just to review some of the headlines over the past few months concerning the need for employment in the forest industry, let's have a look at what's happening. The Times-Colonist of May 21 outlines a situation in Nelson, British Columbia: " 'Idle forest industry workers who face going on welfare because their unemployment insurance benefits have run out will not be eligible for a $40 million work scheme now being introduced, ' says Forests minister Tom Waterland. However, Employment Canada will soon begin other new programs to provide the 10 to 14 work weeks needed to qualify workers for the program." "Forest Job Plans Limited," is another headline in Nelson. Another article reads: "Crown Zellerbach to lose Newsprint Machine. Thirty-five employees will face layoff at the Elk Falls Mill in Campbell River." "Forest Industry Layoffs Could be Double," is reported in the Vancouver Sun on May 21. It goes on and on. "Macmillan Bloedel Lays Off Loggers." "Powell River — 175 Loggers Laid Off," dated May 25. The Daily Colonist headline is: "Banks Told to Back Off Sawmills by the Minister of Forests."
The only thing that's happening of a higher activity in the province of British Columbia are the activities of the receivers and sheriffs in terms of foreclosures. It is a catastrophe. The headlines go on: "Two More Mills to Lay Off;" "Temporary Plant Closures Due to Poor Market Conditions at Crown Zellerbach Canada's Elk Falls Mill;" and "Plumper Bay Now Bankrupt." The economic analysis by the B.C. Central Credit Union, which this government has criticized, notes that there are 39,000 more men and 23,000 more women unemployed at present than there were just one year ago. The surge in unemployment began during the October-November period of last year and has been climbing ever since.
The opposition warned the government last year that there was an economic downturn facing not only the economy of British Columbia but the economy of the nation. We moved to cut $81 million of the excessive spending from ministerial travel and extravagance last year. The government turned that down. We moved to introduce specific work generating programs in the small business sector, forest industry, mining sector and tourism. We have challenged the government to bring some initiative before the Legislature that we could debate in a specific way. All we get instead is a bill authorizing the government of British Columbia to establish some interest-free bonds, but it's totally contingent upon the federal government's acceptance.
It's not good enough to go cap in hand to Ottawa and say: "You solve all our problems in the province of British Columbia." This government was elected with a responsibility to manage this economy. This government was elected to offer some hope and some specific programs for the unemployed in this province. To those businesses that are facing heartbreaking failure after years of work on a total investment in their enterprise, this is an abdication of the government's responsibility. It's not good enough.
The glum details go on and on: "MacMillan Bloedel Details Further Cutbacks and Layoffs;" and "Layoffs Reach 25.7 Percent of the Organized Workforce in the Forest Industry." And the best the Minister of Finance can do is come in with a bill that says that if the federal government approves, we may do something to help you. We want more specific programs from this government. We want some specific initiatives brought before the Legislature that can be introduced quickly and offer some support and hope to those people out in our community who are suffering so seriously. That's not too much to ask. We're not even asking for a highly partisan debate in this regard. I'm sure the government members are concerned about their constituents who are facing a life on welfare unless they can obtain some work over the next few months. I'm sure the government doesn't want that.
We don't blame the government for the total economic circumstances that created this condition; we simply ask for a human response to this condition. We ask on behalf of not only our own constituents but on behalf of the people of the total province who expect the provincial government to recognize the emergency — and it is indeed an emergency — and to do something positive and specific to mount some employment programs that will ease the plight of these people now. They want something that will protect them from the sheriffs hovering over their homes with foreclosure notices, something that will allow them to pay their mortgages and retain their business enterprise, and which will give them an
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offer of employment and allow them to earn some unemployment insurance status so they can at least live with some dignity over the course of the winter months.
This bill is devoid of any specific program. It simply says: "Hey, if the federal government approves, we might make some interest-free bonds available for employment creation." We have seen what the employment creation program was in the forest industry, and I defy the Minister of Forests to outline one program under the bridging plan, which is largely funded by the federal government, that has been created by that particular initiative.
MR. SPEAKER: It wouldn't be in order under this bill, hon. member.
MR. KING: Mr. Speaker, it deals with employment. It refers to the fact that programs would be funded from the revenue generated out of this bill. and presumably that includes activity in the forest industry.
I'm pointing out that we should not be asked to buy a pig in a poke; we have a right to expect some specific programs to be put forward by the government. We are dealing with the here and now: we're not dealing with some theory that can be held out as some possible, tentative hope down the road. These are not just statistics out there; these are real people who are suffering now. Surely the government can't sit blindly insulated from the news that is coming out every day. Businessmen being interviewed on television are actually weeping that they are losing their total investment in an enterprise that they had spent a lifetime developing and working for. Young married couples with small children are being evicted from their homes because they have lost their income and they can no longer meet the mortgage payments. That is the here and now. That is the reality. These people cannot be treated like simple cold statistics. The government has an obligation to bring in not only a financing plan, tentative as it is, but we need something more positive and firm than that. It's not good enough to tell those people out there: "Somewhere down the road, if the federal government agrees, we may have some additional money to invest in housing."
HON. MR. CURTIS: That's not correct. "If the federal government agrees..." is not correct. That's not what I said.
MR. KING: Mr. Speaker, he said given the possibility of failure at the federal level — that the federal government does not appear eager to participate. What kind of a recommendation is that for the bill? In introducing the bill the minister indicated that there is a highly questionable possibility that the federal government will participate in the guarantees. It is not good enough to say to the people out there in the community: "Look, while you are suffering the day-to-day reality of eviction, of business failure, of exhausting your unemployment insurance benefits and being unable to meet your day-to-day commitments and payments, we are offering a bill that gives us some financial authority, depending on the federal government down the road, to build some more houses."
HON. MR. CURTIS: Not exclusively.
MR. KING: There is not one specific program included here. What kind of employment-creation programs will be mounted or initiated? Not one. That's what we need a debate on. We need a debate on precisely what the provincial government can do now and what kind of programs should be initiated now. I hear many of the backbenchers over there chirping away, Mr. Speaker, and very soon they are going to have an opportunity to stand up and recommend what actions should be taken by the government of the province to assist their constituents, who are suffering as much as anyone else.
I support the bill as far as it goes, but it is not nearly adequate. It fails to come to grips with the reality of a stagnant and, indeed, a depressed economy in the province of British Columbia. It seeks to transfer a major part of the responsibility to the federal government. Maybe that's well enough; certainly they are responsible for the high interest rates. But it's not good enough for the people of British Columbia for you to simply wring your hands and say that there is nothing that can be done here in the province. Something can be done and something must be done, and there is no reason why the government should not bring initiatives before the House. In terms of them failing to do so, the opposition is quite prepared to make some suggestions to the government for the kind of specific programs I am referring to. I have pointed out that it is too late in the year to mount a major planting program in the forest industry, but it is not too late in the year....
HON. MR. KEMPF: It's too late to plant.
MR. KING: The member from Omineca will have his opportunity, but the fact of the matter is that you cannot run out and drop seedlings in the ground without some site preparation, which has not been undertaken by the government. That's the problem.
MR. KEMPF: Not so! You can't plant....
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The member for Omineca will have an opportunity to speak in this debate.
MR. KING: There is much that can be done in the forest industry that is labour-intensive, that is a major investment in our future wood supply and that bears good dividends as a result. That is the need to thin our forests where we have over-thick growths of young, second-growth timber. There are thousands of jobs that can be developed very quickly without any lead time in that area. There are over two million acres of forest land in the province of British Columbia that have not been adequately restocked; consequently they have been taken over by weed species. That has to be recaptured and has to be put back into productive forest land.
We can put thousands of people to work doing those jobs now. We are paying these people in any event to stay home in idleness. We pay them either through unemployment insurance or social assistance. Does it not make more sense to give them the dignity of having a productive, worthwhile job that creates a major investment in the future timber supply of British Columbia? Is that not more desirable from a social and economic viewpoint? The additional cost of paying a fair wage would not be much higher than the cost of requiring them to stay at home in idleness on the dole. Workers don't want that. They would like the dignity of earning a living and of making a contribution to strengthening B.C.'s economy.
[ Page 8151 ]
These things can be done now. That is what I object to about this bill: the lack of any positive program, the lack of a specific initiative by the government to deal with employment opportunities for people. That is what is at fault here. On that basis I feel that the bill does not go nearly far enough. Therefore I move an amendment to the motion that is before the House, seconded by my colleague, the member for Comox (Ms. Sanford), that all the words after "that" be deleted and the following substituted: "This Legislature views the current economic crisis as completely unacceptable and calls on the government to bring to the Legislature forthwith adequate measures to deal with this crisis."
MR. SPEAKER: It will take just a moment to consider the motion itself, hon. members.
Before I proceed I think it would be wise for all members to take cognizance of the fact that the motion that is before us is one that occurs very seldom in this House. It is called a reasoned amendment. Perhaps I should acquaint the members with a couple of provisions associated with reasoned amendments. Firstly, a seconder is not required. Secondly, notice is required, according to Sir Erskine May. However a reasoned amendment has been allowed without notice in this House on previous occasions. Therefore I would like o reserve a decision on what the practice of the House should be with regard to leave. I think that we should allow debate to proceed. If, upon review, it becomes very clear that the Chair is in error in this regard, then I reserve the right to interrupt the debate at any point in time further down the road.
The amendment does appear to be in order. Members might be interested to know about things that would not be in order under a reasoned amendment. An amendment shall not deal in detail with provisions of the bill. It must not anticipate amendment which might be moved in committee. It is not permitted simply to have additions of words to the question. It is not permitted simply to have additions of words to the question. It cannot be just a direct negation of a bill; that can be done by voting against it. Matters of general or public policy are out of order.
The amendment reads: "that this Legislature views the current economic crisis as completely unacceptable and calls on the government to bring to the Legislature forthwith adequate measures to deal with this crisis." The reasoned amendment nearly encroaches upon the last prohibition; however, I will permit the amendment to proceed.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, it appears to me that the reasoned amendment, if indeed it is a reasoned amendment, infringes upon the rule of anticipation, because on the order paper, and in the hands of the hon. members, there are a number of bills introduced into first reading and awaiting second reading which certainly deal with the economy of the province.
MR. SPEAKER: Hon. member, the Chair of course has no knowledge of bills which may be anticipated to be on the order paper and can only make its ruling on the basis of bills presently on the order paper.
HON. MR. GARDOM: I'm referring to the bills that have been introduced and are on the order paper.
MR. SPEAKER: Presently on the order paper?
HON. MR. GARDOM: Yes.
HON. MR. CURTIS: On the same point of order, I believe, Mr. Speaker, I would draw Mr. Speaker's attention to Bill 26, which leaves no doubt as to its purpose: Employment Development Act. That will be called, one assumes, for second reading at a very early date.
MR. SPEAKER: I'll accept one opinion from the other side.
Mr. Speaker, with respect to the points of order raised by the
ministers, I would point out that this amendment pertains to Bill 39,
not to any other bill, and to the motion that the bill be given second
reading. As such, it bears no relevance to any other bill on the order
paper. It refers to our opinion under the motion before the House.
There is another point I would like to refer to Your Honour, in the Journals of the House, dated Friday, May 9, 1980, on page 92, where indeed the member for Shuswap–Revelstoke moved a reasoned amendment which I think would be a useful guide in reviewing the orderliness of this amendment.
MR. SPEAKER: Thank you, hon. members. Perhaps the way we can look after the matter, it being rather novel to this House, would be for me to reserve not only on the matter of whether leave is required, but on the contents of the amendment itself, without prejudice to the members who may wish to debate the matter. I will bring a decision, perhaps even before the end of today's sitting. I reserve on the decision. On a point of order not related to the decision, the member for Shuswap–Revelstoke.
MR. KING: Mr. Speaker, on matters of privilege certainly it is possible to reserve without prejudice. I submit to Your Honor that it is not possible to reserve without prejudice on a matter which is now before the House. That interrupts the flow of the business of the House and completely frustrates the right of the opposition to introduce an amendment which we submit is in order. I would suggest that the better course, without throwing out of kilter the procedure of the House, would be to recess until such time as the Speaker, in consultation with his advisers, can bring back a decision. I would make that request to Your Honour.
MR. SPEAKER: Hon. members, we don't require a debate on points of order. The Chair can, if the Chair wishes, accept an opinion from either side. He has that opinion. I would refer the members to Beauchesne's fourth edition at page 61, subsection (6).
"In all matters of doubt, the
Speaker will consider attentively the opinions of members of
experience, or sometimes, instead of expressing his opinion on either
side, may ask instructions from the House or reserve his decision on
the point in discussion, or suggest that the House may, if it think
proper, dispense with the rule in a particular case. In doubtful cases
he will be largely guided by the circumstance."
Hon. members. upon reconsideration, if the House can provide the Chair with enough authority to proceed, with the reservation on the matter of leave and the matter of the content of the motion itself, and allow the Chair at any point, even two days down the road should the debate continue that long,
[ Page 8152 ]
to interrupt the debate and declare the motion out of order, if it should be out of order at that point in time, would that be sufficient? Would the House be satisfied with that kind of delay and allow debate on the motion itself now as though it were in order? I'm talking about the amendment. Is it clear? So ordered.
HON. MRS. McCARTHY: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, please give me some help. I understand that you are now going to allow debate on the amendment to the bill.
MR. SPEAKER: Hon. member, what is happening is that the decision of the Chair is being reserved on the two matters that are doubtful. One is whether leave is required and the other is whether the motion is in order. However, precedent has been established in this House. At one point in time, debate proceeded for two days until it was determined to be out of order, and at that point in time the debate ceased. What the Chair is suggesting now is that we proceed on that precedent with the full understanding and knowledge of the House that at the point in time at which the amendment can be declared out of order, debate must cease.
HON. MRS. McCARTHY: Further to your decision, Mr. Speaker, the bill that is before us — the original bill that we are debating — addresses the very thing that the amendment is asking for a broader discussion on. It appears to me that the amendment will delay a debate on the very important considerations addressing the very economy about which the member for Shuswap–Revelstoke (Mr. King) has placed an amendment before us. So, to me, it's conflicting. In other words, we are in the midst of debating a bill which addresses the adequate measures taken and the current economic situation. This amendment simply delays the very important passage of and debate on the very bill which will address those.
MR. SPEAKER: Hon. members, the debate on the amendment itself is as broad as the debate on the bill. I would suggest that all hon. members perhaps take a few moments to review the purpose of a reasoned amendment. I will take the opinions expressed by both sides into consideration when bringing to the House a decision on the two matters that I have reserved. With that, we dispense with the matter before us. On a point of order, the member for Omineca.
MR. KEMPF: On a point of clarification, Mr. Speaker.
MR. KEMPF: As all hon. members in this House will know, I am certainly no expert on the rules of this House, but as I understand it, Mr. Speaker, you are now asking that we debate an amendment that possibly somewhere down the road is going to be out of order. I fail to see how that's possible.
MR. SPEAKER: As the Chair has already noted, it has happened before and it will happen now. Please proceed.
On the amendment.
MS. SANFORD: Mr. Speaker, in speaking to this amendment, I would like to bring to the attention of the government the fact that people throughout this province are looking to them in the vain hope that something is going to be done to improve the economy, the problems of unemployment and the despair and desolation they feel at this time as citizens of the province of British Columbia. The approach that the government has taken to this economic crisis and these high levels of unemployment is deplorable, because they have virtually ignored the problems. Even this morning they did not wish to proceed with a debate that dealt with the economic issues that are causing so many problems and so much friction in this province today.
Do the government members not realize the despair that people are feeling? Do they not realize what's happening to families out there as a result of the lack of action with respect to the economy and unemployment? Does the government not realize that when people are unemployed month after month after month they become depressed, mental health problems develop, there is a family breakdown, and wife-battering occurs? There is an increase in alcoholism, in juvenile delinquency, in drug addiction; there is even an increase in the suicide rate when unemployment levels are as high as they are today. This government is so obsessed with balancing the budget that they are unwilling to come forward with any proposals that will deal with the problems immediately. That's what people are looking for: for the government to bring something forward today that will assist them. They don't want some debate months down the road; they want solutions today for the short term. They also would like the government of the day to do some long-term planning so that this kind of situation does not develop again — families losing their homes, bankruptcies at a rate that is unprecedented in this province. A common sight in our communities today is the boarded-up windows on shops.
The front page of this morning's Times-Colonist carries an article that refers to another layoff by MacMillan Bloedel, 4,000 people, and what is this government doing? It's bringing in legislation that is completely inadequate in terms of dealing with the critical problems that are out there. People want to work, they are desperate to find jobs, and yet the government is determined it's going to balance the budget. It doesn't matter how many more people are laid off, or what the cutbacks are doing to the services to people. No matter how many bankruptcies there are or how many people lose their homes, they are determined to proceed on the course that they have set.
The inadequate programs that they are introducing to this Legislature give no hope to the people of British Columbia, who are suffering so much these days. In B.C., the last available figures show unemployment at 148,000 officially, and when you include the hidden unemployed, which is the real total, you have 220,000 people looking for work. That's before the 4,000 who are being laid off at MacMillan Bloedel. The highest unemployment rate and the greatest increase over the last three years is in the Prince George region, where they now have a rate of 19.2 percent. And that's after a lot of people have left Prince George. Some 14,000 people who were employed last year are not employed in Prince George this year. Many of those have moved away to try to find work somewhere else.
It's the young who are becoming very depressed and dismayed by what's happening. They are the ones with the highest rate of unemployment — close to 20 percent — and they are the ones who feel that our economic system has absolutely no place for them, that we don't care about them. They are turning to juvenile delinquency in some cases, drug
[ Page 8153 ]
addiction or alcoholism in other cases. Just this last week I had a phone call from a mother here in Victoria asking if she could come and see me because she was so concerned about her young son. He sits at home all day, having given up after searching for work month after month after month, and he is reaching a very serious stage of depression. She was so concerned about him that she asked if she could come and visit with me in the hope that he might somehow get a job or into a pre- apprenticeship program or an apprenticeship — something. She was pleading with me because of the despair that this young man felt.
Doesn't the government understand what its lack of action is doing to people? Doesn't it understand what it feels like to be a family about to lose a home? I know several; I've met with them The strain and stress, and the trips that the mother has had to make to the doctor's office because of the tension she's under because of the loss of their home — how do you measure that? The costs on the health-care system to treat the people who are suffering because of the lack of action of the government in the economic field means that it only creates more pressures on the finances of the province. But they're so obsessed with this balanced budget and continuing on the course they've set that the plight of people doesn't seem to register with the group that's in government right now.
[Mr. Strachan in the chair.]
In fact, any of the actions the government has taken have increased the problem significantly. The huge increases that people have faced in user charges, licences of various kinds, medicare premiums, hospitalization, Hydro, ICBC and ferry rates simply add to the problems and hardships of the unemployed and those who are losing their homes. When we make cutbacks in hospital programs, health service and education, we're going to have yet more people in the position of looking for work and not being able to find it.
It's the women of this province who are suffering particularly, because whenever there is a tight job situation, it's the women who find that they're not able to find work and that all the avenues normally open to them are not even open to them any more. This government has determined that women who are on social assistance shall be reclassified as employable if they have a child over six months. It doesn't matter that there is no work for them. They're to be put under the extra pressure of having to apply every month for their assistance in order to try to survive and feed their children. If they can find work, they can't find day care. It's the women who are hit particularly hard. They can't find work; the work they are able to find is low-paid; they can't find day care; and of course those who have been on Human Resources assistance are reclassified to ensure that their life is made a little more miserable every month by having to go and plead again for some assistance in order to survive. The unemployment totals for women in May of this year — I think they're the last available figures — were 11. 2 percent, whereas men were at 10.7 percent. Again, it's the women who always get the short end of the stick when it comes to difficult economic times.
What has the government done? First of all, they cancelled a youth employment program which was established last year at 10 million. Back in 1975 when the budget was much smaller than it is today, the youth employment program was set at $30 million. Last year it was $10 million. This year they decide to cancel it, only to reintroduce it a week later in the hope that all the announcements surrounding that youth employment program would give the impression that they're doing something new and different about the problems the young people are facing in getting work. There's nothing new or different. It's the same amount as last year. As a matter of fact, the people who are going to be on the youth employment program, in large part, are going to be receiving far less than last year in income for the same amount of time that they work.
What did the government do? It introduced seven press releases announcing the program that they had cancelled the week before. Seven times they had to tell us, in a different way through a different minister, that the youth employment program was going ahead, in the hopes that it would appear as though there were seven new programs when, in fact, it was the program that was in place last year at the same level of funding, except that those people who are working in the program this year will be earning less money, in spite of the fact that the cost of living has gone up and in spite of the fact that increases in fees and for accommodation — increases everywhere — are going to be faced by those young people.
The forestry program was referred to by my colleague, the former Minister of Labour and member for Shuswap–Revelstoke (Mr. King). He pointed out that there is still not one person who has been hired under that program that was announced with great fanfare some time ago. The government is so inefficient, so incapable of drawing up any kind of program that all this time has gone by since the program was announced and still there is not one job that has been created under that program. They don't care enough. Even if they did care, they are so inefficient that they are incapable of drawing up a program and putting it into effect.
As one of the foresters said: "The snow will fly before they ever get the program in place if they are going to continue at this rate." Even if the program does go ahead and there are jobs created, I don't know how many will be created, because I don't think the program is going to be as successful as the government would have us believe. In Ontario they have had a very difficult time with that program. The same program that has been subscribed to here in British Columbia, by the government signing a federal-provincial agreement, has not been that successful in Ontario. Ontario got in on this program months before B.C. did. Yet the Institute of Forestry says that in Ontario the program hasn't been successful. Here in British Columbia the institute is concerned about the success of the program. There is so much red tape. There have been very few takers for that program in Ontario, according to the information that's available through the Globe and Mail.
It is tragic. People are despairing. They are becoming very depressed. They want to work. They cannot feed their families. They are losing their homes. Shops are being boarded up all over this province. They look to their government for assistance, guidance and programs — at least, immediate short-term programs that will do something about the problem. What do they see? A group of wine-swilling, Broadway.... Maybe I shouldn't even get into that. It makes me too angry. That is what they see out of this government. The people are desperate in this province. They need employment. They are looking to this government, and this government is refusing to act, refusing to do anything about the serious problems that are facing British Columbians today. Mr. Speaker, I support this reasoned amendment.
[ Page 8154 ]
HON. MR. CURTIS: Speaking to the amendment, I want to comment briefly on a couple of matters which have been raised by the mover of the amendment and the member for Comox, who has just taken her seat. At a time such as this, government members and opposition members in a province such as British Columbia clearly would want to express concern. I feel it is unfortunate that, in the remarks that have been made so far on the amendment, we have a tendency to view the circumstance in British Columbia in isolation. Other government members and members of the treasury bench, I'm sure, will want to comment in due course on the amendment which is before the Chair and which will be commented on later. But let no member of this House suggest that the circumstances in British Columbia are that bad when compared with other provinces.
AN HON. MEMBER: You didn't make that speech in 1973.
HON. MR. CURTIS: I've listened quietly, Mr. Speaker.
Let no one, in a debate of this nature, ignore the desperate problems which are being postponed by deficit budgeting in other provinces. In Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario — particularly speaking of those provinces, the major population centres — we see the layoffs and business closures we have spoken of, and we have seen governments simply throwing money they don't have at a problem, hoping somehow that they can inflate their way out. So if we're going to have a debate such as this on this topic, then let us have it in the context of Canada, the United States, the free world economy and the recession in which all of us find ourselves to a lesser or greater extent.
This province would be in much worse condition if we as a government had not earlier identified the problems which were coming. We did not know the depth of the recession as it eventually developed. But if we had turned a blind eye and tried to throw money at the problem, as members opposite have advocated on more than one occasion, then we would have the reason for a very serious and protracted debate in this House.
Mr. Speaker, I want to participate further in this debate. I move adjournment of this debate until the next sitting of the House.
Motion approved on the following division:
YEAS — 28
NAYS — 16
Division ordered to be recorded in the Journals of the House.
MR. MUSSALLEM: Mr. Speaker, I again draw your attention to the problem with the bells. I understand through the grapevine that the wrong button was pressed. I want to assure you of the entire unreliability of the system, and this Whip cannot be responsible for assuming that all offices have received the signal. I want you to know that I may rise at any time and request that a division be held until such time as these matters can be assured.
HON. MR. McGEER: Mr. Speaker, would it be in order to congratulate the New Democratic Party on the relatively fine turn-out for a Friday?
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. That is not a point of order, hon. member.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Mr. Speaker, somebody said the wrong button was pushed and there are fire engines outside.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please, hon. members. Please proceed.
HON. MR. GARDOM: Second reading of Bill 46, Mr. Speaker.
HOME PURCHASE ASSISTANCE
AMENDMENT ACT, 1982
HON. MR. CHABOT: Mr. Speaker, this amendment is small but significant. What it essentially does is give flexibility to the Ministry of Lands, Parks and Housing to adjust its portfolio of second mortgages that are administered under this act. At the moment we're tied to the National Housing Act on the mortgage rate that we can apply to our portfolio, and this amendment allows us to lower our interest rates on old as well as new mortgages issued under this act.
Mr. Speaker, I move second reading.
[Mr. Strachan in the chair.]
MR., BARBER: I rise as the designated speaker on this bill. We support the bill but recognize its limitations. We support the bill but recognize that it goes nowhere near far enough to deal with the housing crisis that afflicts the people of British Columbia. We support the bill but recognize that it does not deal with the questions of economic collapse in the housing industry. Some small benefit is better than none, and on that basis we support this measure.
However, there are other measures that should be taken, and I wish to offer them now in the hope that the government
[ Page 8155 ]
may offer amendments to its own statute that would assist us and the people of British Columbia in dealing with the staggering rate of home mortgage foreclosures and the staggering rate of related personal and business bankruptcies. This bill is good as far as it goes, but it only goes a foot when it should go a mile. Let me illustrate, Mr. Speaker.
The rate of bankruptcies and mortgage foreclosures registered at the supreme court in Vancouver now sees an average of three persons a day losing their homes and their businesses; often, Mr. Speaker, the same person loses both. The reason they can no longer finance their home is because their business has failed; the reason they have to file for business bankruptcy and, for all practical purposes, have no defence against a foreclosure by a bank or a lending institution on their home mortgage, is because of the general economic collapse in the housing market of British Columbia. We support the bill because it goes a small distance; what we would rather do is support an amended bill that goes the whole distance.
Let me give a bit of background, Mr. Speaker. The New Democratic Party was the first government to introduce a Ministry of Housing in the province of British Columbia. We did so because we are committed to the principle of home ownership. We did so because we believe in the home-ownership principle as it may benefit individuals and families across British Columbia. We set up the first ever Ministry of Housing as an attempt in the early- and mid-70s to deal with a housing crisis that was created by the problems of success. From 1972 through 1975 the economy was booming in British Columbia. Employment was up, bankruptcy was down, housing was being built, and the Ministry of Housing was helping to do it.
Regrettably, when the coalition came back to power, one of their first and most foolish acts was to wipe out the Housing Corporation of British Columbia. By 1977 they had accomplished this altogether. Shortly thereafter they managed to wipe out an independent and full-time Ministry of Housing, and we are now dealing with the problems of a part-time ministry and a part-time minister. The reason this bill does not go far enough is because the minister has clearly been preoccupied with other matters.
HON. MR. CHABOT: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, the member for Victoria is straying quite substantially from the principle of this amendment. He's going into the question of HCBC. He's going into the question of whether the ministry should be the Ministry of Housing or the Ministry of Lands, Parks and Housing, which I suggest to you is not relevant to this debate. This bill addresses the question of mortgages and the question of the ability of this government to lower mortgage rates in the portfolio.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: The point of order is well taken. The minister is now clearly entering debate, which cannot be permitted.
HON. MR. CHABOT: It's either a point of order or it's not. It's either relevant or it's not. Is his debate relevant? I'm asking you that question. Can he wander into the whole gamut of housing? If you want a full-fledged debate, you'll get it, but I'm suggesting he's out of order in discussing HCBC and the Ministry of Housing.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order, please. You'll have to allow the Chair to make the decision on a point of order. The point of order from the Minister of Lands, Parks and Housing was well taken by the Chair. After a certain time of hearing the point of order, the Chair decided that the minister was entering into debate, which the minister will be clearly allowed to do when he closes debate. That is my ruling.
With respect to the point of order, and to the first member for Victoria, the Speaker must advise the House that debate in second reading is allowed some scope, but it must be relevant to the principle of the bill. The principle of this bill is to reduce interest rates on mortgages. There is much scope there, but I would advise all members of the House to maintain relevancy to the principle of this bill, which is to reduce interest rates.
The hon. first member for Victoria continues on Bill 46.
MR. BARBER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate your ruling and support it.
I am attempting to establish the history of public policy and its recent failure in such a manner as to bring us to the debate here today. I've already advised that the official opposition will support this bill: we do so because it's better than nothing. Nonetheless it's very thin soup. The collapse of the housing industry in British Columbia is a matter of public record. The reasons for that collapse are contained in some measure within this bill.
Let me tell you how, Mr. Speaker. This government has waited seven years — seven lean years for the people of British Columbia; seven fat years for members of cabinet — to make any effort at all to act on the principle which our party enunciated in 1975 when we passed, with the support of Social Credit, the B.C. Savings and Trust Act. That bill is law not yet proclaimed, although it was voted for by the Social Credit Party as well as by its authors, the New Democratic Party. It would have provided seven years ago a powerful engine to help the housing industry of British Columbia maintain its speed, purpose and success. This powerful engine — voted for in 1975 by New Democrats and Socreds — was never proclaimed into reality by Social Credit. Instead, seven years later we see this bill, which in the explanatory note permits the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council to reduce the interest rate on mortgages to secure loans, granted under section 7. In a moment I'll read section 7, so that there should be no concern about what it constitutes. The regrettable fact is that even though this bill, which we will support, takes some small step to reduce interest rates for a few people in the province of British Columbia, it will do virtually nothing for the great majority of homeowners who are faced with the triple tragedy of unemployment, high interest rates and bankruptcy. The triple tragedy of unemployment, high interest rates and bankruptcy has led the industry that built housing in this province to a period of collapse. The response of the coalition has been this small bill, as the minister himself indicated when he introduced it, and nothing else except a series of negatives. They shut down the Housing Corporation of British Columbia. They abandoned the concept of a full-time Ministry of Housing with a full-time minister and incorporated it within the fields of lands and parks as well. This is not appropriate; it's not useful and it's not timely. We need, in fact, a full-time Ministry of Housing, and we need a full-time examination of the problem of interest rates contained here in this bill. We need it because the people of British Columbia need it.
[ Page 8156 ]
The federal government has clearly betrayed the national interest. The interest rate policies of the national government are a horrendous mistake, are a human mistake and are a body of mistaken ideas that are defeating the economic interests of our own people. We need a made in British Columbia interest policy. This act is a very small step toward it, but it's a small step in a period when heroic steps are required. In that, it is disappointing. In that much, it is hardly anything at all. Of course we'll support it, because it's better than nothing, which is what we've seen for the last seven lean years. Nonetheless, it does not, for instance, have the same kind of imagination or courage that was shown by the government of the day when the B.C. Savings and Trust Act was established. It does not have the same courage shown by the government of Saskatchewan just six months ago, when they decided, in order to protect home ownership in that province, to establish a moratorium on foreclosures of home mortgages.
New Democrats believe profoundly in the social benefit of home ownership. We believe it strengthens families and neighbourhoods, and we believe it adds to the cultural integrity of our society. New Democrats believe profoundly in the human and social value of home ownership. How do we afford homes these days, Mr. Chairman? Well, very few do. Most people cannot assemble the equity necessary. If they are to do so, they have to save for years and years in a period when a market is inflating rapidly. Even if they are lucky enough to be able to put together the equity necessary to finance a mortgage, they are then stuck with today's interest rates.
What does this bill do for the people who wish to buy a home today? Precisely nothing. What does it do for people who bought a home yesterday and have to refinance at today's interest rates? Precisely nothing. What does it do for young families and young couples just getting started or for singles interested in entering the market of housing? Precisely nothing. On those counts, this bill is a failure.
However, it will deal with the lucky few who are identified under section 7 of the Home Purchase Assistance Act. Let me, if I may, read for a moment section 7.
"Subject to this Act and the regulations, a loan may be made to a person who is the owner in fee simple, or of another interest authorized by regulation, in a strata lot under the Condominium Act, or in a parcel of land, shown separately on a land tax roll, and having on it not less than one self-contained dwelling unit, the cost and size of which in either case is within the limits prescribed for the class of residence it is and for the region of the province where it is situate."
That benefits people who already have an interest in a strata title or have an interest in a bare lot title that has been used for single family or other purposes — duplex or triplex — in the past. It does not benefit persons who do not live in a geographic region of the province where the finance formula currently attached to it excludes them.
For instance, Mr. Speaker, in Victoria there are a great many people who do not come under the regulations established under the Home Purchase Assistance Act. Why? Because the home that they may wish to buy or may be required to buy is far too expensive in today's market and the limit set is far too low. I know the limit has been changed twice in the last eighteen months, and that's good. We've called for that, the government has responded, and we congratulate them for doing so. However, it needs to be changed again and, regrettably, it has to be changed upward. Why? Because the market is pushing the price of homes upward. This program is of no value if the ceiling it sets is below the current average market value of average homes in greater Victoria or any other place. Obviously, it is key and important to look at those two questions: first of all, the interest rates and, secondly, the value set on the average cost of the home in a given geographic area of the province, as is provided for under the regulations.
If the government of British Columbia had the courage, they would introduce a statute far more powerful than this one. If they had the will to listen to the opposition, they would do so by way of amendments to this act, and we would give leave to have those amendments introduced. We would vote for them if what they did was favour the principle of home ownership and, simultaneously, reduce the cost of interest — the cost of borrowing the money in order to obtain the benefit of home ownership.
Again, Mr. Speaker, it's a matter of public record that in 1975 the Barrett administration introduced the B.C. Savings and Trust Act. It's a matter of record that that act was voted for by the minister who introduced this bill. It was voted against by the Liberals of the day; nonetheless, it was voted for by the Socreds and the New Democrats. What that act said is what this legislation almost says. What that act said was that in British Columbia we believe so deeply and urgently in home ownership that we are prepared to make low-interest mortgages available in order that you, Mr. and Mrs. Citizen of British Columbia, may obtain your own home. What that act said and what the government of Mr. Barrett said was that we will defy the interest policies of Ottawa and of the United States. We will create our own here in British Columbia, in the name of home ownership and in the name of our citizens. We believed then and believe now that interest rates must be forced down in British Columbia. Preferably, they should be forced down to 8 or 10 percent today. This legislation, regrettably, does not specify a percentage. All it does is allow the government — specifically, the minister — to indicate what that percentage must be. When the minister winds up debate, I hope he indicates what percentage figure he is looking at. I hope he would be prepared to consider the endorsement of the opposition in lowering that to 8 or 10 percent.
A couple of years ago 12 or 13 percent seemed appropriate. That was the argument being advanced at that time by our side in regard to an interest rate policy. Regrettably, since that time the situation has only worsened in a predictable way. A couple of years ago an interest rate policy forcing mortgage costs for the people of British Columbia down to 12 or 13 percent was useful. Today we have to force it down further.
I note, for instance, that the chairman and chief executive officer of Macmillan Bloedel, Mr. Knudsen, was saying two days ago that 8 or 10 percent is what is necessary now in order to revive the Canadian economy. We have reached such a point of collapse and failure that without the powerful injection of 8 to 10 percent interest rates — he specified for commercial and residential purposes — our economy may not recover at all. If it does, it will take many years. Eight or 10 percent — according to the arguments advanced by the chief executive officer of Macmillan Bloedel — may be the interest rate figure that we have to apply now. We might have been able to afford 10, 12 or 13 percent a couple of years ago. Clearly, 8 or 10 percent is a more desirable target today.
When the minister winds up debate, I wonder if he will tell us, first of all, what his interest rate policy will be under this act amending section 7. Secondly, will he tell us what the
[ Page 8157 ]
cost to the taxpayers will be. It is certainly the case that when we move to force down interest rates below the commercial value of them, someone has to eat the difference. When we move, as a matter of public policy, in the name of home ownership, reduce interest rates below the commercial value of them — to, say, 8 or 10 percent — someone has to make up the difference between this policy rate and the commercial rate. Obviously that subsidy will be made by the people of British Columbia. On this side of the House we believe that is a useful investment and a worthwhile public subsidy. It is in the public interest to use the general resources of the Crown to aid the specific problems of hardship and foreclosure that the people of British Columbia face nowadays. We don't mind paying for that, asking the people to pay for that and asking everyone to have a hand in forcing down interest rates in British Columbia. I think most people would support and agree with that policy.
Regrettably, this policy will not be one of general application. Regrettably, the law we are amending today will not apply generally to all the people of British Columbia. Rather, it will only apply to those few who, under section 7 of the Home Purchase Assistance Act, meet a number of fairly strict qualifications through regulation. It is better than nothing and of course we support it, but I wish the government would consider a policy along the lines that we wish to offer, a policy that would take the principle enunciated in this bill many steps further.
The first policy that we ask them to consider is immediate proclamation of the Savings and Trust Corporation of British Columbia Act. The creation of a new financial institution, operated through the credit union movement of British Columbia, with no additional overhead, would be a practical means of advancing the principle of this bill.
MR. BARBER: Mr. Speaker, it is totally in order. Mr. Gardom did not vote for it, because he was a Liberal.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order, please. The Chair will decide on points of order, and the hon. member will not use another hon. member's name. We are referred to in this House as....
MR. BARBER: I'm sorry. The member for Point Grey. I call him Garde, actually. We get along quite well.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order, please. The Chair must intervene when personal names are mentioned. To the principle of the bill, please.
MR. BARBER: Isn't it strange, Mr. Speaker, that in the House we work in we can't call one another names because that is nasty. But we can't use one another's names because it's friendly. It is really hard to know sometimes how to carry on in this place.
The member for Vancouver–Point Grey voted against the B.C. Savings and Trust Act. The member for Columbia River (Hon. Mr. Chabot) voted for it. I wish the member for Kootenay would summon up his courage to persuade his colleagues to immediately proclaim that act. After all, he did vote for it. If it were proclaimed, we would have a means of executing this bill far more competently, rapidly and helpfully than would otherwise be allowed.
Let me illustrate how we could advance the principle of this bill by proclaiming the B.C. Savings and Trust Act. What we asked in 1975, and what the Socreds voted for but never proclaimed, was that we use the resources of the credit union movement to assist in making home ownership more available to more people in British Columbia. What this bill does is allow the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council to reduce interest rates. The way in which that will be executed is, of course, through the bureaucracy of the Ministry of Lands, Parks and Housing. The way B.C. Savings and Trust would have worked was by creating no new bureaucracy, but rather using the existing services, facilities and functions of the entire credit union movement, and, through their offices, which already exist and don't have to be paid for twice, making those reduced interest rate mortgages available. Regrettably, what will happen here is that we will continue to rely on an expensive bureaucracy in Victoria. What we should be doing here is using the authority, connectedness and history of the credit union movement to help us put this into law.
Section 1 of this bill, for instance, could be amended — I wish the government would consider it and offer it as a proposal now; as they always ask to be notified of these things in advance, I'm doing so now — to include the proclamation of the B.C. Savings and Trust Act and to use the facilities envisioned under that legislation to make reduced interest rate mortgages available to the people of British Columbia.
Secondly, we also propose that the government, when it announces what the reduced interest rates are, determine them to be in the area of 8 percent to 10 percent. I think Mr. Knudsen has a good point. When even Mac-Blo has to shut down facilities and lay off people — the mightiest forest company in this province is in a period of real cutback and in danger of partial collapse — and says that interest rates should be reduced to between 8 percent and 10 percent, obviously something is desperately wrong and powerful measures have to be taken.
We did not hear in the opening remarks of the minister what interest rates he proposes to set under this section. Again, I, for our side, ask the minister to take seriously the recommendations of leading business and trade union leaders, and to reduce these rates to between 8 percent and 10 percent. Again, it will of course require a subsidy. The minister knows that and so do we. That subsidy will be met by an appropriation in his estimates when we get to them. That's another debate. But we certainly don't try to deceive anyone, any more than he does, in regard to where the money comes from to pay for this. Of course it requires a public subsidy and appropriation and expenditure by this Legislature. We think it's worthwhile.
MR. BARBER: By who? I didn't hear what you said.
DEPUTY SPEAKER: I ask the member for Kamloops (Mr. Richmond) to come to order.
MR. BARBER: The second proposal we make, apart from the immediate proclamation of the B.C. Savings and Trust legislation, which would have allowed us to do seven years ago what this bill proposes to do in part today, is to
[ Page 8158 ]
announce an interest rate policy reducing it to between 8 percent and 10 percent.
Thirdly, we ask the minister to go to Ottawa — if only by long-distance phone call, to save travel cost — and urge his federal counterparts to initiate a policy of the forcible reduction of home interest rates in British Columbia. Why, for instance, could this province not advocate a policy which sees a two-tier system for interest rates? If the government believes that as a matter of social priority it is more useful to advance the interest of home ownership than it is, say, the interest of industrial development, and they wish to establish a two-tier policy, that's okay with us. That again is the half-loaf that's better than none.
British Columbia cannot go it alone, although we can take certain steps by ourselves, obviously. We can proclaim B.C. Savings and Trust. We can force down the interest rates to between 8 percent and 10 percent. But we can also try to persuade the national government and all the other provinces to join us in doing so simultaneously. I don't like the idea of being held hostage to Ronald Reagan's interest policies. I don't like the idea that the people of British Columbia are held in a kind of serfdom to the interest policies of the United States. That hostage position is unacceptable, I'm sure, to every member of the Legislature. At the moment, though, because we've taken no steps to the contrary, we continue to fall victim to the national interest rate policies of the Trudeau government, which, of course, powerfully set the interest rates that people in British Columbia have to face when they have to deal with the question of home ownership.
So the third positive proposal that we make to this provincial government is that they go to the other nine in Canada, and to the national government as well, and ask those other administrations to declare that we will no longer be the captives of American interest rate policies. We ask them to declare that we will free ourselves from that bondage and tyranny, and we will go it alone. If this bill, for instance, does not do that and no other bill does as well, what's the consequence? The tragic consequence in human terms is that the people continue to lose their homes.
I, together with my colleague the second member for Victoria (Mr. Hanson), run a community office. For the first time in the seven years that I've been running that office we have been forced to deal with people who are faced with foreclosures on their mortgages. These are people who have often had both partners working, and one or both of them in a couple of instances have lost their jobs. In the collapsing economy of British Columbia, when a person who is paying the mortgage loses their job, it's self-evident what that consequence will be. Unless they have a bank that's willing to abandon interest, or a credit union that's willing to do the same, they lose their homes. The fact is that for the first time in my political experience — going on now into seven years in Victoria — we are now seeing citizens coming forward and asking us to help them with their problems of foreclosure.
My community office handles about 300-plus cases a month. I would guess that between 5 percent to 10 percent of those nowadays have to deal with questions of foreclosure, personal bankruptcy and the related issues of economic crisis. I've never seen that before; I never expected I would have to. It hurts to sit in the office on Blanshard Street and deal with people who are 40 and 50 years old — 20 and 30 years older than I am — who stand there, sometimes crying, and indicate that they don't know how to tell their wife or their kids that they're going to lose their home, because they have to refinance and it is impossible to pay today's interest rate. It is humiliating for them. It is embarrassing for me. It is a tragedy for all of us. Why should people who have worked for 10 to 20 years to build up equity in their home be forced to lose that value because they cannot refinance their mortgage at today's interest rates? What have these people done wrong? Does anyone say they haven't worked hard enough on the greenchain at B.C. Forest Products on Gorge Road? I wouldn't think so. Does anyone say that they haven't saved enough to finance their home? I wouldn't think so. Canadians save a higher portion of their earned income than do the citizens of all but one other nation in the western block.
HON. MR. GARDOM: I thought it was Norway.
MR. BARBER: Apparently Norway is higher. We're very near the top.
Canadians in fact save a very high share of their income in various ways — through pensions, RRSPs, savings accounts and other matters. They use that for home ownership. Surely no one would say that Canadians don't save enough in order to benefit for home ownership. Mr. Speaker, if you cannot argue that the guy on the greenchain is lazy, and if you cannot argue that the family that has saved has not saved enough, then what can you say to these people when they come and ask you to help them deal with the problem of foreclosure? The fact is that they have worked damned hard for many years. The fact is that they have saved a great deal — proportionately more than almost any other group of citizens in the western block. So when they've worked hard enough and they've saved enough, why is it that they are losing their homes?
The evidence is that they're losing their homes for three reasons. Firstly, because interest rates are far too high because we are being held hostage to American interest rate policies. The second reason is that some of those families have the person who helped pay for the mortgage in a position of losing their job through layoff or permanent unemployment.
There are many couples today who decided two or three years ago that they could only afford a home at today's prices and today's interest rates if both partners worked. So for all practical purposes the husband is paying the mortgage and the wife is paying for the costs of running the home. That is how many young couples have to do it. Good for them that they were able to do that. Hurray for them that they were able to do that two or three years ago. So the two- or three-year mortgage is coming up for renewal this month, Mr. Speaker, and what's happening? The wife is being laid off at the retail business which is suffering a collapse in its level of activity. The wife is being laid off in the business on Fort Street that hired her because things were good three years ago and things are bad today. The husband is laid off because he works in one of British Columbia's resource-based industries that is also a victim of the economic collapse that victimizes all of us. Let's say, for instance, that he works at Victoria Plywood, which is shut down, or he worked at Sooke Forest Products, which is largely shut down, or he worked at B.C. Forest Products, which is shutting down. Let's say that he worked at MacMillan and Bloedel, which is shutting down. What are these people supposed to do? The wife is laid off, and she was paying for the cost of running the household. The husband is laid off, and he was paying for the incredible cost of the mortgage that they took a risk on three years ago. What are
[ Page 8159 ]
they supposed to do? What they do do is come to my office, Mr. Speaker — and to yours — sometimes literally with tears in their eyes. They ask us to help, they ask us to do so immediately, and they ask us to do so because they do not wish to lose the equity they built up in their homes, because they do not wish to move away, because they do not wish to admit to their children and their own parents that they have failed to provide for themselves. They are too proud to do that. Well, I would hope, Mr. Speaker, that the people of British Columbia are too proud to let it happen. I would hope that we are too proud to stand by and allow these people — hard-working and hard-saving citizens — to lose their homes and their investments.
We support this bill because it goes a tiny way toward protecting a few people under section 7 of the Home Purchase Assistance act, and that's okay. We're happy for those individuals. Good for them! But the practical consequence is that continuing the vast majority of our homeowning citizens — now and potential — are disfranchised.
What ate the human consequences of that disfranchisement, Mr. Speaker? When kids grow up in a home that's too small because the parents lost the larger and more appropriate home, when they grow up in a neighbourhood that's too crowded and when they grow up in an economic circumstance that's too poor, sometimes human values suffer, sometimes family relations suffer, sometimes families break up. We then end with a situation wherein you and I pay the costs of dealing with family collapse, as we are now surely paying the costs of economic collapse. Those costs include, of course, the human relations services, the counselling services and sometimes, when they get into trouble, the probation and penitentiary services.
We all know these things have happened in other periods of economic downturn. However, since the thirties there has not been a period of economic collapse equivalent to what we now face in this province. It just didn't exist; it wasn't found in 1975, in 1954 or in 1946, the other great periods of economic downturn.
AN HON. MEMBER: That's across the country.
MR. BARBER: Of course it is across the country too, which is why the third positive proposal that we made to the minister who introduced this bill is that he deal with the principle of interest rates across the country as well as here in British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker, I don't think we have a right to tell the people who some to your office and mine — in Prince George and Victoria — that we can't help them. I don't think it is good enough simply to blame Ottawa either. We are all responsible We all have opportunities to exercise power and imagination.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
To reiterate, the most powerful engine for economic revival in housing that has ever been designed is the B.C. Savings and Trust legislation. I think the value of restoring and recovering the housing industry is self-evident. When you lower interest rates you can build housing. When you build housing you use the forest resource of British Columbia and you put those people back to work. When you build housing you put the construction industry back to work: plumbers, carpenters, bricklayers, stonemasons, glaziers and roofers. All the people who work for local government get put back to work when you build housing: the people who lay the services, sewers and transmission lines. When you get housing moving you get the economy moving and you help human beings who should enjoy the benefits of home ownership. Housing is one of the most strategic second levels of engine for economic recovery in British Columbia.
When the Leader of the Opposition laid forth a series of 26 positive proposals for economic recovery three and a half months ago, one of the major elements of them was in the housing field. We recognize that when you build housing you employ people in forestry and in construction. We realize that when you re-establish the housing market in British Columbia you do a lot of other things on several fronts at once. It is strategically useful to get housing going again because of the many interests it serves. Obviously that is not the case in other areas. Obviously that is not equally the case when you attempt to stimulate other areas of the economy. The happy benefit of stimulating housing is that you simultaneously work on several fronts, those which I identified earlier.
The fourth positive proposal that I would like to make to this government is that they accept the principles we enunciated in our proposals for housing three and a half months ago. I would be happy to outline them again in this debate, and my colleagues will later on, I know. The New Democratic Party made a number of positive proposals for economic recovery in housing. Those proposals remain valid, timely, useful, affordable and, I think, urgently worth public consideration.
Let me ask the questions again, Mr. Speaker, so that when the minister replies, he can reply to these as well. When your constituent comes to you in Columbia River, having worked for 20 years, and says: "How can you help me deal with the problems of refinancing my mortgage?" what will you say, Mr. Minister?
MR. SPEAKER: Address the Chair, please.
MR. BARBER: Through you, Mr. Speaker, observing the formality. That constituent in Columbia River says to the minister: "I've worked hard and so has my wife. We've both saved a lot. We've tried hard to guarantee a home for our kids, and now we cannot afford the made-in-Washington interest rate policies that here in British Columbia we have to follow. What will you do for me?" that constituent asks the member for Columbia River, and I ask him as well.
HON. MR. CHABOT: I'll answer that.
MR. BARBER: I know you will when you wind up debate, but debate won't be over for a while yet. This is an urgent question for us.
The government may have felt that this was a bill of minor importance which would pass through the House in relatively short order. The opposition doesn't feel that way at all. We propose to debate this bill for some time. Why? Because this is our first opportunity during this current session to debate housing initiatives in British Columbia. It's the first chance we've had, and we don't propose to avoid or ignore it. It's the first chance we've had to debate it because the minister's estimates haven't come up, nor has any major housing initiative.
There have been other bills of lesser order. This at least, for the first time, deals with the question of interest rates. We haven't had that chance before; we take it now, and we will
[ Page 8160 ]
use it to the full. We will debate an interest rate policy here in British Columbia as long as is necessary in order to make the government aware, I think with absolute accuracy, that we speak for all the people when we say: force interest rates down. We speak for all the people when we tell you: bring down interest rates for home ownership. I don't think there is a rational person in the province who would take any position other than that which the New Democratic Party takes. We ask the government to take such steps and initiatives as this bill to a small extent recognizes and as many other bills or amendments to this bill should also recognize, which would force down interest rate policies.
What choice do we have? Currently, if I recall it correctly, in excess of 40 percent of all people in the forest industry of British Columbia are out of work. This is June, a time when ordinarily 100 percent are at work; sometimes 105 or 110 percent because they hire people over and above the complement that they would otherwise consider their ordinary workforce. Forty percent are out of work in the forest industry of a province like British Columbia. That is a terrible indictment of economic policy here and abroad. It is a terrible indictment about the way we manage that resource.
How do we put those forest workers back on the job? Clearly one of the initiatives we can take is in housing. Obviously, if we still had the Housing Corporation of British Columbia, if we still had a full-time Minister of Housing and if we had had the B.C. Savings and Trust for the last seven years, we would have ways to do it. But we don't. Social Credit didn't proclaim the one, and it shut down the others. Because we don't have them we have to look for new avenues, although we do urge the government to take a famous Socred second look and immediately proclaim the B.C. Savings and Trust legislation. How do we put the forest industry back on its feet? We do so by helping to recover the industry in British Columbia. This will not totally, but it will to some extent — at our own initiative — help restore the fortunes of that industry. Obviously it is better than nothing and more than has been done.
Let me talk about the related problems of economic collapse when interest rates are too high. In April 1981 there were 282 foreclosure writs. In April 1982 there were 979. In May 1981, 359 foreclosure writs were served by the sheriff's office in Vancouver. In May 1982 there were 1,301. As of June 8, 1981, there were 377. As of June 8, 1982, there were 1,433. I should also point out that that includes business as well as home mortgage foreclosures. Bankruptcy in business is surely no better than bankruptcy at home. No one will defend these figures on either basis. The collapse of a business is as tragic as the collapse of a home mortgage. There were 979 in April, 1301 in May and 1,433 as of June 8, this month. What will the rest of the month bring?
In the next 22 days, how many hundreds more foreclosures will be served by the sheriff in Vancouver? How many hundreds more bankruptcies in business and bankruptcies at home will be faced by the people of this province? Is there a greater social tragedy than the tragedy faced by a family which loses its home? If the family loses its home because they cannot pay the mortgage rates, you and I are also to blame, Mr. Speaker. We have the power to reduce those rates; we have that power in our hands, and we have the power to exercise it now. We can do so as a statement of public policy, public interest and public benefit.
This province can bring down interest rates. It would be better if we could do it with the other provinces. It would be better if we could do it with the national government. But even if all nine other provinces refuse, we should do it ourselves. Even if the national government refuses, we should do it ourselves. Our job is to protect the interests of the people of British Columbia first. How can those interests be protected when people are losing their homes? How can those interests be protected when we stand by and allow the costs of a mortgage to kick people out of the homes that they had earned, that they were entitled to enjoy?
Let me read from the Times-Colonist for May 8 of this year a brief article that illustrates another case why we should be, through this bill, bringing interest rates down, as I've suggested, to between 8 and 10 percent — a suggestion, again, made by the well-known New Democrat, Calvert Knudsen, who mentioned the same figures.
HON. MR. CHABOT: On a point of order, this debate is really straying far and wide from the principle of this bill. The principle of this bill, essentially, is to reduce interest rates for those people who qualify under the Home Purchase Assistance Act for mortgages or for grants — and we're talking about mortgages in this particular instance. All it does, essentially, is give the flexibility to the minister to reduce interest rates. I don't think it allows you to go into the question of foreclosures, B.C. Savings and Trust, HCBC and things of that nature. Those kinds of debates, Mr. Speaker, are more appropriate in the estimates of the Minister of Lands, Parks and Housing.
This bill is very restrictive in nature, and this debate has wandered all over the ballpark. If you're to allow — and I don't think you should — this kind of debate, which is irrelevant and beyond the scope of the bill, to press on, then I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that it's in error, and that you're going to bring on a full-fledged debate on the part of this government and the minister about B.C. Savings and Trust and all those kinds of things, because I can speak till adjournment hour about why we should never have had HCBC in this province.
HON. MR. CHABOT: My point of order is that his debate is not tedious and repetitious, but it's irrelevant to this particular bill.
MR. SPEAKER: Hon. members, I think that we're all aware of the rules of relevancy in debate. This is the first objection that has been made, and I would suggest to hon. members that while full debate on certain matters would not be in order, an occasional reference to those matters may be allowed. I think that every member should accept for himself the responsibility to be sure that he is in order according to the relevancy rule.
MR. BARBER: Mr. Speaker, I agree with your comments entirely. I know that if I tried to raise the question of interest rates during the minister's estimates he would say it was out of order because he had no interest rate policy and, therefore, we couldn't debate it then. So I'm debating it now, when we can debate interest rates. However, I'll do that on the next occasion. Because the Government House Leader indicates that there is other business, I move adjournment of this debate until the next sitting of the House.
[ Page 8161 ]
HON. MR. GARDOM: Mr. Speaker, with leave I would like to proceed to a motion moved by myself and seconded by the hon. member for Vancouver East.
NUCLEAR ARMS REDUCTION
HON. MR. GARDOM: Mr. Speaker, the motion is that this assembly, recognizing the horrors of nuclear war and holocaust, urges all world governments to increase their efforts to end the nuclear arms race and to reduce and finally eliminate all nuclear weaponry.
A resolution such as this is always timely, but particularly. As the United Nations schedules its most critical session ever on nuclear disarmament, all mankind will recall that 37 years ago, in Hiroshima, the world witnessed the beginnings of a new and terrifying era, one which perhaps could be the beginning of the end of civilization. On August 6, 1945, a nuclear device was employed, its purpose being to win and terminate a world war. It wasn't until many years after that ghastly explosion that it began to register with people what really had been done, what really had been set in motion, and just how, when, and indeed if, its frightening and frightful consequences could ever be checked.
In general terms, people of the world have divided essentially into three camps, or some combination thereof: those who are convinced that everyone eventually will be destroyed through the use of nuclear weapons; then those who believe that no one would ever be insane enough to initiate a thermonuclear conflict; finally, those who believe that every effort has to be expended to end the nuclear arms race and reduce and eventually eliminate all nuclear weaponry.
Many events over the past few years have illustrated that the danger nuclear conflict is much more real than anyone ever imagined. One has to question whether these technicians and laboratories of death are under proper control. Witness the advances in so-called conventional weaponry alone that are now all a reality and, regrettably, in active use; as recently as a decade ago they would have appeared probably only in science fiction.
Nuclear statistics must be heeded. Forty-four nations now have, as one writer says, "the mad technology." Fifty thousand nuclear weapons are estimated to be fused and ready in the countries of the world. That amounts to three tonnes of NT for every man, woman and child — enough to eliminate just about everyone and everything. Civilization could be destroyed. It's madness. It's contrary to every philosophy, every dictate, every religion and every basic concept of the dignity of man, animal or of natural justice. There can be no winners, only losers.
Mr. Speaker, there has to be an end to the proliferation of nuclear arms and an end to nuclear arms. Until all the nuclear devices of war are dismantled, there has to be a most carefully developed and meticulously monitored balance of nuclear power. Everyone must heed the cries of the men, women and children of peace, all of whom demand that entitlement for all of society. That level of dedication and good will has to be attained, for only that will ever save the day.
Man has long practised sabre-rattling, but for the first time in the history of mankind the sabre has become a potentially uncontrollable monstrosity. All this has happened in just less than half a century. That sabre has to be sheathed as soon as possible and finally eliminated forever. That is the call to, from and by all people of good will and rightness of purpose in every country across the globe. I move the resolution.
MR. MACDONALD: I am pleased to second a motion where the subject matter is of such grave import as to transcend political partisanship. We don't know it in ourselves, really, but the fact is that about one-sixth of the human family are now at war, not just in the Middle East and in the Falkland Islands, but in the Horn of Africa, Cambodia and South Africa, leaving a trail of starvation and impoverishment. People talk of peace, governments pay lip service to disarmament and yet every year the arms budgets grow. The merchants of death, who are now not private arms munitioneers but governments, are selling arms in increasing quantities to all the countries of the world, including poor Third World countries which, in this mad arms race, elect to spend their resources on guns instead of butter.
Somebody wrote to the paper the other day, and I thought it was very dramatic. He said that the two superpowers are like two men standing in a game of confrontation in a basement with gasoline up to their knees and matches ready to strike. One has seven matches and one has five matches. The discrepancy is of no account, because either can destroy themselves and the whole planet earth as we have known it.
There have been very wise men and women giving attention to how to check this race. They include people like Cyrus Vance, the former Secretary of State of the United Nations. They have a program called "Freeze." It's not pulling back, as we would like to see, but it is a start. There is protection in it for all concerned because there is the ability to check violations and to begin to turn this thing back by saying: "No further growth in this arms race." That is the kind of practical program that appeals to me as a first step. It is very logical and well thought out. I hope it wins support throughout both East and West. We in this Legislature — I hope unanimously — will send a signal to those who are walking for peace tomorrow and who have walked for peace in all the countries where that is permissible that we are unanimously supporting what they not only feel in their hearts but think in their minds.
HON. MR. GARDOM: I thank the hon. member for his moving comments. In closing debate I respectfully suggest, and if leave is required ask leave, that we all stand — or sit, as we may prefer — and observe one minute of silence for reflection, prayer and guidance, each in our own way, on this most difficult and frightening of all issues of all time.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it the wish of the House to observe this?
MR. SPEAKER: Shall we stand?
[The House observed a moment of silence.]
MR. SPEAKER: Thank you, hon. members.
The question is that this assembly, recognizing the horrors of nuclear war and holocaust, urges all world governments to increase their efforts to end the nuclear arms race and to reduce and finally eliminate all nuclear weaponry.
Hon. Mr. Gardom moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 12:57.
[ Page 8162 ]
AMENDMENTS TO BILLS
30 The Hon. H. A. Curtis to move, in Committee of the Whole on Bill (No. 30) intituled Social Service Tax Amendment Act, 1982 to amend as follows:
SECTION 4, by deleting paragraph (b) of section 4.