2000 Legislative Session: 4th Session, 36th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, MARCH 28, 2000
Volume 18, Number 6
[ Page 14561 ]
The House met at 2:07 p.m.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Hon. Speaker, I have two groups of people that I would like to introduce to the House this afternoon. In the first group of four is Judith Kumin, who is a representative in Canada for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, based in Ottawa. With her is Suzanne Duff, regional legal counsel for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, based in Vancouver. Also, from the Ministry for Children and Families is Vaughan Dowie, assistant deputy minister, and Robin Pike, who is the manager of Migrant Residential Services in the Ministry for Children and Families. Would the House please make this group welcome.
The second group
The Speaker: Another introduction?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Yes, I have another four I would like to introduce. These are representatives from the Métis Family Services society: Tom Lalonde, Rosalyn Drescher, Agda Neumann and Alisha Barbieri. Would the House please make them very welcome.
Hon. C. Evans: I have a couple of introductions. Firstly, I notice above me, across the room here, Frank Breault, a friend and grain grower from Dawson Creek who's obviously here to see what we're going to do with his money. And at the other end of the room, there are three people that I owe my job to. They would be Sandy Korman, Jane Burton and Jo Brown. They are here to talk to various ministers about the needs of Nelson-Creston. I would like to say to my colleagues: whatever those women think, that's what I believe too.
Hon. M. Farnworth: I have an introduction to make on behalf of myself and my colleague the member for Bulkley Valley-Stikine. Her name is Joan Rysavy. She is a good friend of ours, and she's all the way from Smithers. Many of you know her in her capacity from Central Mountain Air or as a board member of the Vancouver Hospital and Health Science Centre. Would the House please make her welcome.
G. Abbott: In the gallery today are Tony Toth and Rick Jeffrey, who are representatives of the Truck Loggers Association. I'll ask the House to join me in making them welcome.
J. Dalton: I would like the House to welcome some family members. Until today, I've only had one family member actually visit the House. But today I'm very pleased to introduce my wife Leah and my younger daughter Karmen.
Hon. J. Kwan: We have two special guests today from Richmond. They are Gordon and Beth Hughes. Would the House please make them welcome.
G. Campbell: I'd like to welcome to the House and introduce Kathryn Dawson, the managing director of our caucus. But more importantly, I'd like to introduce her in-laws from Alberta, the Dawsons. Welcome to British Columbia.
G. Farrell-Collins: Every year we in the opposition and on the government side are privileged to have the services of the members of the intern program. This year the Liberal caucus is very pleased to have with us four -- as usual -- amazing young people, who show us all up with their education and their intellect. We have Marc Coward, Jennifer Erickson, Simrita Johal and Jerry Muir. I would ask the House to make them welcome and thank them for all their hard effort that we're going to receive.
SUPPLY ACT (No. 1), 2000Hon. P. Ramsey presented a message from His Honour the Administrator: a bill intituled Supply Act (No. 1), 2000.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. P. Ramsey: The supply bill is introduced to provide supply for the continuation of government programs until the government's estimates for 2000-2001 have been debated and voted upon in this assembly. The bill will provide interim supply for government operating expenses for the initial three months of the 2000-2001 fiscal year. This will allow time to debate and pass the estimates. This interim supply is required because spending authority will expire on March 31, 2000.
This bill will also provide interim supply for other financing requirements. It seeks supply for 50 percent of the year's financing transaction requirements for capital expenditures, loans and investments, and 100 percent of financing transactions for revenues collected for and transferred to other entities. This will allow time to debate these requirements. This interim supply is also required because spending authority will expire on March 31, 2000.
Hon. Speaker, I move that the bill be placed on the orders of day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 4 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
LABOUR DISPUTE IMPACT ON EDUCATION
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Education of children is very, very important. As you've seen from our budget yesterday, we've
[ Page 14562 ]infused more cash into education for our young children in schools. It is also important that we are a province where free collective bargaining is respected. It's important that we recognize that yesterday provincial officials contacted both CUPE and the school board officials, and they're talking to them. I'm hoping to hear from them with respect to a process they might be able to find in the next couple of hours to resolve these issues. These are complex issues. CUPE knows that they are complex; so do the school boards. They'd better get to work -- start resolving them.
The Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition with a supplemental.
G. Campbell: There's no need to find the answer; it's there. We can declare education an essential service today. The Premier doesn't seem to understand that it's not just our children that are suffering. Parents and working families across this province are paying the price for his government's inaction.
For most parents, any tiny tax cut that they may have received in yesterday's budget was spent yesterday on day care. It will be spent again today on day care; it will be spent every single day until this government finally acts. What will it take for this Premier and this government to declare education an essential service in the province of British Columbia?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: There is obviously a huge difference of opinion across the aisle -- a huge difference of opinion.
The Speaker: Order, members.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: That difference of opinion exists whether it's about funding for education or for health care. That difference exists whether it's the direction the budget should take in terms of protecting those vital services. And that difference exists as to how important the opposition thinks the education of the children is.
We believe that the education of the children is important. That's why we're infusing cash year after year into their education. The opposition is always asking for massive cuts in spending, because they want to balance the budget yesterday rather than having a moderate budget that goes in the right direction at the end of the day.
I have said very clearly that it is important that children's lives and their families' lives be more certain than they are today. I have asked the provincial officials to meet with both CUPE and the school boards. They're meeting with them as we speak. I'm hoping to hear from them with respect to a process that might resolve the issue.
G. Campbell: Hon. Speaker, the Premier is correct in this regard: there is a huge difference between this side of the House and that side of the House. On this side of the House, we put children first. On this side of the House, we say that education should be an essential service.
Yesterday the Premier heard about Sue Elder from Kamloops. She had to spend over 100 of her hard-earned dollars to find day care for her daughter and her special needs son. She's not alone. There are thousands of single parents across this province who have had to do exactly that thing. How deeply are this Premier and this government going to demand that single parents dig into their savings so they can pay off this government's political debts to its union bosses? How long are the kids going to have to sacrifice?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Education is not measured sometimes by a day or two lost in free collective bargaining. Education is measured
The Speaker: Order, members. Members, the Chair has been listening. Questions have been listened to; answers should also be listened to.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Hon. Speaker, there has to be a balance between the needs of the children and families that are very, very important, and this government respects those rights -- between that right and the right to free collective bargaining. The commitment to education is measured when year after year we've been pouring money into education and when the opposition leader in the last election said he'd cut 15 cents out of every dollar and massacre health care and education in this province. That's how one measures the commitment to education.
I want to say to the hon. members through you, hon. Speaker, that there's a process underway. The provincial officials are talking to both sides. I'm as anxious as anyone to ensure that children's and families' lives are not disrupted. I want to find a process. I'm hoping to hear from those talks that are going on.
G. Campbell: I'd like the Premier to understand this. Declaring education an essential service does not take away the right for collective bargaining in the province of British Columbia. Declaring education an essential service ensures that our children get the education they deserve -- their educational rights are met -- while you maintain free collective bargaining. Will the Premier not at least do enough homework to understand how essential services work, protect our kids, give them their education and maintain collective bargaining in British Columbia?
Hon. J. MacPhail: We fully understand the value of our education system for our children. We fully understand, as parents whose kids actually participate in the education system, what the education system does for our children. But what I think the opposition fails to recognize is that the people who actually contribute to the well-being of the education system are exactly the people who are engaged in collective bargaining right now: school board trustees, many of whom support the opposition party -- God knows why, but they do -- and also the workers who deliver the education services. Those are the people who are engaged in collective bargaining right now. They are the ones that are going to make our education system better. They're the ones that both have complex issues that are being decided. It's not just the workers that are facing difficult issues here; it's the school board trustees as well. This opposition would interfere in that process instead of getting down and saying to whoever they know that's at the collective bargaining table: "Get on with resolving these issues, and get our kids back to school."
[ Page 14563 ]P. Nettleton: While the government side is waiting, here's one instance of what's happening in the real world. Seventy children at the Carney Hill Neighbourhood Centre in Prince George are facing the second day without day care. A quarter of these kids have special needs, including children with cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol syndrome and autism. Their child care centre is behind CUPE picket lines, because the centre happens to be on school grounds. Will the Premier tell us why he is letting the care of 70 children in Prince George be held hostage to a labour dispute?
Hon. J. MacPhail: The picket lines that exist in this province at our schools are put up with every legal right under the Labour Relations Code. I also know that there are many, many thousands of parents that are facing issues where there is after-school care on the school site as well. The day care centres are asking for and receiving assistance from the government in relocating the child care services. There's every amount of cooperation being given amongst those who are on strike and are legally picketing various school sites and the child care centres themselves. Yes, it is true. We're facing some very difficult issues here. But I'd rather be facing the issues of providing the day care, than saying day care is unnecessary, as the opposition Liberals would have you believe.
The Speaker: The member for Prince George-Omineca with a supplemental.
P. Nettleton: No schools, no day care -- and it appears that the Premier has no solutions for this problem. How much suffering do these parents and their children have to endure before the Premier will take action?
Hon. J. Pullinger: We are very concerned about the children. I am very concerned, as are all of my colleagues, about the fact that there is certainly some inconvenience to parents and difficulties for children. There's no question about that. I have instructed my staff to ensure that parents who qualify for subsidy can get that subsidy for a full day. I have instructed my staff to deal with the 34 child care resource centres we fund to try to help parents in every way possible. If we had in place the kind of system that those members over there are objecting to
C. Clark: This minister talks about her concern for parents and how inconvenient it's going to be for them. She should go and talk to a parent like Lyann Knight in Maple Ridge. She's got an eight-year-old son named Brandon. He's autistic. He's shut out of his school, and she can't go to work because she's got to stay home and care for him. So while this minister is concerned about her inconvenience, Brandon is being denied his education, and his mother is being denied her paycheque. While she expresses her concern for this terrible inconvenience, this Premier dithers away. When will he stand up and tell Lyann Knight and Brandon -- and all the rest of the parents in British Columbia -- that this isn't just an inconvenience, that kids should be back in school and that he will declare education an essential service?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The fact that this government cares about children and their education and social services is evident from all of the last eight or nine budgets that this side has introduced for children and families and education. That side, if they were in government, would cut 15 cents out of every dollar. That is the gulf that separates the commitments that we have on either side. We are concerned about the children.
We are concerned about the disruption that this particular strike is causing to their lives and to the lives of the families. That's why I asked the provincial officials yesterday to start talking to CUPE and to the school boards, and I'm hoping to hear from them in the next few hours to see if they have a process to resolve these matters. These are complex matters. I would in fact urge the opposition to use their good offices to talk to each and every school trustee in British Columbia and to talk to each and every union member that they know in British Columbia -- CUPE member. They should talk to both sides and urge both sides to get to the table to negotiate a settlement so that this matter is dealt with at the earliest possible.
The Speaker: Member for Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain on a supplemental.
C. Clark: I would ask the Premier to use his good offices. I would ask the Premier to stand up today, to stand up for students, to stand up for education and to declare education an essential service in this province. The Premier has the office to do it; he has the opportunity to do it. The only thing that's left standing between him and declaring education an essential service is his lack of leadership. That's the problem. If the Premier will stand up and show some leadership, will he say to parents like Lyann Knight, will he say to kids like Brandon, who asked his mother 17 times yesterday why he couldn't go to school
Hon. J. MacPhail: What the opposition fails to recognize and fails to admit publicly is that the issues that are being discussed at the bargaining table, between the school board trustees and the workers who deliver the education services, are about better education for our children. Somehow the Liberal opposition thinks that those that actually deliver the services, those that actually engage and love
The Speaker: Order, members.
Hon. J. MacPhail:
The Speaker: The bell ends question period.
[ Page 14564 ]Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries.
Hon. C. Evans: I rise on a ministerial statement.
The Speaker: Thank you, minister. Proceed.
FEDERAL AID FOR B.C. AGRICULTUREHon. C. Evans: Last week we in British Columbia ended a four-year crusade and a two-year battle to get B.C. farmers a fair share of federal funds -- funds from the Canadian agricultural safety net. What British Columbia did last week was to change fundamentally, and I hope forever, the way this country helps farmers survive hard times and poor markets and the way they assist them to take advantage of good times and good markets. But in order to understand what happened, I think we need some background on what's gone on in recent years.
Post-free trade and post-GATT, Canada moved faster than any other country on Earth, save New Zealand, to eliminate subsidies. And B.C. moved faster than any other province in Canada to eliminate ad hoc or cost-of-production payments. In order to make this work, we had to do two things differently. We decided to aggressively diversify our production into crops and products we never grew before, and we had to invent an insurance system that would allow the producers themselves to hedge against risk with business planning instead of handouts.
Unfortunately, our aggressive diversification made us less and less able to qualify for national programs, because Canada's safety net had been invented to reward monoculture rather than diversity. For that reason, in recent years B.C. led the fight among the provinces in Canada to reconfigure the Canadian system so that federal funding would be based on the relative size of the industry. Last year, for example, while we produced 5 percent of the national farm-gate income, Canada only gave us 3 percent of federal funding. Last week we reached an agreement on a three-year funding allocation that will give B.C. more money -- over a 50 percent increase and in excess of $8 million in additional federal funding. We did that by tying a province's share to its size of production for the first time.
Now, briefly, I know that we sometimes discuss these matters in this room and that almost nobody understands what the safety net is, so I'm going to digress for just a second. The agriculture safety net is a combination of programs that are available to farmers in times of drastic loss in income or weather disaster. It's programs like the whole-farm insurance program, which we invented and which paid out $15 million last year to farmers with income crises; crop insurance, which insures crops in times of bad weather and, in the last three years, has increased 170 percent in farm take-up; and NISA, which allows farmers to save money in good years to have money to spend in bad years.
Why do we care? Why do we care about helping this industry grow? Quite amazingly, agriculture in British Columbia has sales of over $1 billion a year, and it's growing at the second-fastest rate in Canada.
Last year B.C.'s net farm cash income was up to $459 million -- or a 24 percent increase from 1998, the highest increase on record in history. We're going to work with farmers to advise us to spend this increase wisely, but all MLAs of all parties can also help. We need you to tell citizens the story that the old days are over.
We no longer invest their money in production for production's sake or to maintain a way of life. While both those ideas may be morally correct and politically defensible and might even be the norm in Europe or the United States, our province and our country have made other decisions. Our choices will not work unless the Canadian system is changed to accommodate our interests. That has now happened. I want to stand here and congratulate the federal minister and ministers of other provinces for their willingness to change.
Lastly, I would also like to thank my staff for their help building the case for the last few years and all of Canada for listening to British Columbia, almost for the first time in my experience in this portfolio. I'd like to thank the opposition critic for joining me in Ottawa while we made the case in order to show that in British Columbia, support for the family farm supersedes partisan politics and that we all work to make it happen.
B. Barisoff: First of all, I'd like to thank the minister for the opportunity to be part of the safety net negotiations. These negotiations were of great importance to B.C. farmers, and a collective voice from B.C. was critical to reaching a favourable agreement. I believe what took place in Ottawa on March 22 and 23 should result in greater stability for all farmers in Canada. The new safety net is established for three years. I would hope that it will continue into the future and provide B.C. farmers with a fair share of federal funding, something that has been lacking in the past.
The $3.3 billion agreement is made up of programs designed to help farmers in those disaster years for both crop insurance and income stabilization. British Columbians do not want to see mass bankruptcies in our farming community. The 60-40 split between the federal and provincial government is something that I would hope the Minister of Finance and the entire government will support. It is important that this funding not be stripped from other agricultural programs, especially when both our agrifood processing sector and our tree fruit industry continue to face significant obstacles in future stability and growth.
Our farmers provide a safe food supply while creating stable jobs and diversifying both our economy and our environment. We must not forget that the farmers are the backbone of our province and the backbone of our country. The official opposition holds out some hope that this agreement will provide much-needed stability for the B.C. farmers.
J. Weisgerber: I request leave to respond to the ministerial statement.
J. Weisgerber: Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to thank the minister for providing me with copies of his speaking notes and for giving notice of this ministerial statement. The minister says that he's concluded a successful four-year crusade -- I'm not quite sure where he was crusading to -- and a two-year battle on behalf of farmers.
[ Page 14565 ]What I'd like to know is when farmers in British Columbia are going to start getting a fair share of the provincial budget. I'm quite honestly sick and tired of hearing provincial ministers talk about their concerns with the federal government. I'd like to know what the province is going to do for farmers who live in British Columbia.
A few years ago farmers in the Peace had a crisis with drought. There was no help available. A few years later, farmers couldn't get their crops off because of wet weather and an early winter. Again there was no farm assistance available from Victoria. All farmers got were vague promises about safety nets and an ever-changing set of rules with respect to crop and whole-farm insurance.
The rules change every year; the formula changes every year. I want to tell you, Mr. Speaker, that it progressively works to the disadvantage of farmers who are seeing continual crop losses or a series of bad crop years. The minister knows that at least as well as I do.
This year the international price of grain is at an all-time low. A farmer from Dawson Creek drove his combine all the way from Dawson Creek to Ottawa because he was so concerned about the crisis in the farm community; he drove it down to Victoria as well.
The fact of the matter is that this year, as a result of the cereal crop price crisis, farmers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan got millions of dollars from Ottawa. Alberta and British Columbia got nothing. Now, if that's the end of the crusade, if that's the winning of the battle, I would hate like heck to see what would have happened had the minister lost.
J. Weisgerber: Well, perhaps he would have crusaded somewhere else.
At least in the speaking notes that the minister provided to me, Mr. Speaker, he asks the question -- a rhetorical question, I guess. It says: "If farmers are doing so well, why do they need more money?" He then goes on to answer his own question and says: "So they know help's there if they need it."
Well, Mr. Speaker, I want to tell you that I've got a flash for the minister: farmers in the Peace country need help, and they need it today. Grain farmers in the Peace need the minister's help to get the same deal as farmers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba got. What they don't need is a bunch of platitudes. They don't need a bunch of rhetoric about how good things are. What farmers in the Peace want is somebody who will roll up their sleeves, forget about campaigning for the leadership and get to work on behalf of farmers.
Hon. J. Pullinger: I'm very pleased to stand in my place today and to support this budget that our government has just brought in. This budget sets a new standard for transparency and openness in Canada, and I'm very pleased with that. It responds to the needs and values of the people of British Columbia, and I'm very pleased with that. This budget also supports a modern, balanced direction for our economy in British Columbia.
The budget we've just announced signals the start of the most open, transparent process for budgeting that exists in Canada today. We have taken advice from the auditor general. We have taken advice from the Enns panel that we put in place. We have taken advice from concerned citizens -- even from the media and the opposition. And in taking that advice, we have listened to and acted on the legitimate requests and calls for more openness in the budgeting process. In doing so, we have moved beyond the other provinces. We have moved beyond what the right-wing coalition, when they were in office before us -- before '91 -- has ever done in this province. So I'm very pleased with that step forward. I'm glad B.C. is again leading the way.
In the months leading up to this budget, the minister responsible -- the Minister of Finance -- and others met with people and organizations across the province. Certainly people like me and, I know, most MLAs did that in their own ridings. This budget is a reflection of the concerns, issues and priorities that people laid out. It's a reflection of the things that British Columbians said they need and want. It's a reflection of the kinds of values that British Columbians articulated and said they want government to respond to.
After listening to British Columbians, we have acted on those priorities. We're doing so in a number of ways: by strengthening the health care system in the best way we can with little federal support; by investing in education, making sure B.C.'s kids and all British Columbians have the best access to education anywhere in Canada; and by cutting taxes -- not cutting taxes in the way the opposition would cut taxes, which is the majority going to the highest-income earners and the biggest businesses, but by cutting taxes in a way that low-income, modest-income and middle-income families get the majority of the reduction, the majority of the tax break.
We've also made small business taxes in British Columbia the lowest in the country. Given that the job growth in this country is in small business, given the importance of small business in our economy, given the fact that small businesses provide more community stability than very large businesses -- although they are an important piece of it -- given that, I think it's very significant that we have cut small business taxes to be the lowest in the country.
One of the main tasks of this budget is to support our new economy, the green economy, innovation in our economy. This budget rejects megaprojects. It also rejects the extreme approach that we hear daily from the members of the opposition. It rejects the approach that says that child care is not a priority -- which is what I heard just recently from members of the opposition -- but that cutting taxes in a way that provides the benefits to the biggest corporations and the highest-income citizens is a priority. We reject that extreme approach.
We have chosen instead to chart a balanced approach, to chart an approach that maintains our economic momentum in this province and strengthens our competitive advantage. This new approach puts money towards stimulating new
[ Page 14566 ]sectors of the economy. It puts money towards strengthening the more traditional sectors of our economy. It allows tax cuts for the low-income and middle class and small businesses that will stay in the economy, that will be spent in British Columbia and that will pump money back into creating more jobs for British Columbians.
The business community has told us that they need tax cuts to compete with other provinces and to grow the economy, and that's why we're cutting small business taxes again. Last year they were the second lowest at 5.5 percent; this year they're the lowest at 4.75 percent. To encourage investment and help businesses, both large and small, we're introducing an investment tax credit on machinery and equipment for B.C. business, and that, in my view and the view of my colleagues, is good news.
This new, modern economy, the new direction that our economy has been going in for a number of years
The Speaker: Excuse me, minister. The member for Matsqui rises on a point.
M. de Jong: Thanks, hon. Speaker. Just on a point of order and in this new spirit of non-partisanship, I know the minister doesn't want to dispense inaccurate information during the course of her speech. She clearly is not aware of the latest information regarding small business taxes in the country. I bring that to her attention today, and I know that she'll want to check that fact.
The Speaker: Thank you, member. You'll have opportunity for debate.
Hon. J. Pullinger: I'm disappointed to see that the opposition continues with its very rude behaviour and also continues to abuse the rules of this House. The member knows full well that's not a point of order. It is simply a way to inject himself, with his rhetoric, into the debate. I'm very disappointed to see that they're going to continue in that vein; that's unfortunate. I do hope that they will change their behaviour.
As I was saying, what this budget does is support the new economy. High-tech is one of those new areas; it has an incredible rate of growth in British Columbia. We are supporting high-tech in this budget by increasing the high-tech research and development tax credit. Last year this program produced over $10 million to keep B.C. firms on the leading edge of technology, and this year we forecast that figure will be increasing to $28 million, making British Columbia a logical choice for the location of high-tech corporations. We've seen that begin to happen, and I'm confident this will encourage that trend.
We're also going to create a new B.C. high-tech marketing commission to market our potential to the new wave of high-tech entrepreneurs around the globe. Using the universities as incubators for innovative technologies, the B.C. knowledge development fund invests in capital infrastructure for research at all post-secondary institutions, including the new ones in British Columbia that we have built -- despite and over the objections of the members opposite who would prefer to go to the Ontario model, where they throw it all to the marketplace and resulted in relatively inaccessible education. Rather than doing that, we have chosen to support education. We are using our excellent universities to support and to be incubators for innovative technologies. We're doing that through the B.C. knowledge development fund.
One of the stories that hasn't been told well enough in British Columbia is the story of the success of the film and TV production industry in this province. Over the past decade the growth in that sector has been phenomenal, and we now have more than a billion-dollar industry in British Columbia. It has grown to be the biggest in Canada, and it has grown to be the third-biggest in North America. It has grown to the degree that Hollywood, although it remains much bigger, is starting to get concerned about the drain of film projects and TV production to British Columbia. That's a real success story.
We are working to sustain that success with tax incentives but also, more important, with the first support for regional film offices in key locations around British Columbia. What those offices will do is provide potential productions with the kind of information that they need about the region to help them locate either part or all of their production in the regions of British Columbia. We made tax changes a couple of years ago to encourage the film industry to move beyond Vancouver, beyond the lower mainland, and to grow in the regions of British Columbia. By providing these centres across British Columbia in key locations, that will again stimulate and support the film sector, particularly in the regions.
A third new sector and one that I predict will take on increasing importance in this province and in our economy is the green economy, which, as we know, is a mixture of environmentally oriented opportunities -- businesses that not only don't do damage to the environment but in fact support the environment and enhance the environment. That part of the economy is everything from ecotourism to renewable energy initiatives. I know that in my riding we have an ecotourism initiative -- led by the community but supported by this government -- for Lake Cowichan as a gateway community, which I know will help very much in diversifying the economy of that small, traditionally resource community.
This budget provides for a range of ecotourism projects. It also will engage British Columbians in a discussion on tax shifting -- a green tax shift. Essentially, what a green tax shift means is that you start to move taxes off things that are good and worthy and onto things that are doing damage to our environment. In other words, you pay taxes based on the problems that you create for future generations and for all of us in terms of the economy.
This budget proposes to invest $5 million in new green sector businesses and community enterprises, as well as to support green technology research and demonstration projects for made-in-B.C. inventions.
But while it's very important, of course, to support the new economy and a green economy and to help it grow even faster than it has been in British Columbia, it's important for ridings like mine -- and for British Columbians across the province -- that we strengthen the more traditional sectors. They have always been the backbone of B.C.'s economy. While in the seventies and eighties they lagged behind in terms of modernizing and paying attention to the need for parks and land use planning, that wasn't the fault of the
[ Page 14567 ]industry or of the workers; that was the fault of governments. We simply didn't pay any attention to those things. We're moving forward strongly to do that. We are nearing completion of the land use planning across this province.
But we also need to do things to make sure that the move to value-added -- that we get more jobs out of every tree that's cut in this province -- continues. And we need to make sure that the traditional sectors remain strong as they modernize.
In forestry, which counts for about half of the exports from this province, we're continuing the reduced stumpage rates. We're proceeding with the results-based code pilot. Industry has said that they can maintain environmental standards, but that there are easier, better ways to do it that are less expensive, less onerous on industry. We've taken them at their word. We've introduced some pilots, and we're moving forward with that.
We're also providing protection and renewal for our forest ecosystems. Again, the opposition objects to the environmental laws. They object to the Forest Practices Code. They object to the forest land reserve. They object to Forest Renewal B.C., which has pumped millions back into our forests and millions into forest communities. They object to the parks that we've created; we're nearing 12 percent. They've rejected the protected areas. They've rejected all of those green initiatives.
Essentially, their argument has been and remains that we should simply hand it all over to the companies. In fact, their think tank, the Fraser Institute, essentially is making the argument that we should simply hand ownership of all the land over to the forest companies as well, because -- according to their argument from the other side -- that would mean it would be better managed. Unfortunately, we haven't had that experience in British Columbia historically. While I respect that they have a very different view, I doubt very much that if we were to go along that road, it would do anything but take us back a long way in terms of forest management.
So we have done land use planning. We're nearing completion of land use plans across B.C. We will continue to try to manage this resource and work with the industry and workers and communities to make sure that we have sustainable forests and that we have the most jobs that we can get out of every tree that's cut and that British Columbians, not people outside our borders, get the majority of the advantage of that.
In my riding we have created a community forest a few years ago and allocated a timber sale to a community group. Also, we've changed the legislation. We're moving towards more community forest pilots. The trees belong to the people of this province. The more control over the forests we can give communities -- in a way that doesn't disrupt the workforce, in a way that gets more jobs per tree -- the better off we'll all be. So I'm pleased to see that we continue to do that.
We all know that we've had difficulties with fisheries in British Columbia as well. In response, in order to try to stabilize fish and essentially do the same thing we did with forests by cleaning up the mistakes of the past and moving forwards, we created Fisheries Renewal B.C. That is a very grass-roots, bottom-up approach that's working well in coastal communities. We've put a significant amount of money in that. In the coming year we're going to invest another $7.5 million though Fisheries Renewal B.C. on conservation projects that will help protect and restore B.C.'s fish stocks.
We're also implementing our new aquaculture policy. It balances growth and diversification with protection for our coastal ecosystems, and that too is good news -- again, a balance between the very real environmental concerns and needs that we know about and the need to ensure that people have jobs and we have economic development.
We're also investing $1 million to further develop our freshwater fishery and to diversify seafood and shellfish sectors, and $100 million over the next five years in road projects in the northeast of this province to support the resource industry up there, the oil and gas industry.
So we recognize in this budget that B.C.'s traditional resource economy remains one of our critical strengths. It's central to our success in the global marketplace and to our identity as British Columbians. We recognize that central role. We aim to ensure that there are sustainable opportunities for the next generation of workers in forestry, fishery and other resource sectors. We can only do that if we begin on the assumption that we must protect the environment and protect the resource through a number of the initiatives that we have put in place.
This budget does support a modern, balanced economy. It moves along the new economy; it supports the green initiatives and takes us in the kind of direction -- the balanced direction -- that British Columbians have said they want.
But it also responds to the needs and values of British Columbians in another way. For example, this budget supports low- and moderate-income families with an income tax cut. It again, for the ninth straight year in a row, increases funding and support to health and education. It continues our commitment to support health and education that everybody depends on.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
This budget is there for families in health care; it has increased funding. Again, it has steps to improve continuing care for our aging parents and grandparents. There's a plan to deal with the burnout pressures and reduce the shortage of nurses, most of whom are women. It provides practical support for families who care for special needs children and adults. The budget is there for families to create a health care system that's there when they need it.
This budget is there for families and students and education. B.C. has become known as the education province in this country, and there's good reason for that. Again, we see a solid commitment to giving our young people the opportunity they need to get ahead through their own hard work at school. Again we see a tuition freeze; that's the fifth year in a row. We see more spaces and more courses in our universities and colleges.
In provinces like Ontario and Alberta particularly, we see education getting more and more expensive as they throw it to the marketplace, with budgets that reflect the values of the marketplace and the values of globalization and a global economy. What British Columbians want is the values of their community economies -- their local economies -- and they want the values of the families and the needs of their children met in a budget. This budget does that. We have continually frozen fees, so that we've gone from the second-highest to the
[ Page 14568 ]second-lowest fees in the country. More people are going to university. The numbers are increasing in British Columbia, whereas they are shrinking in other provinces.
We've also increased K-to-12 education funding for the sixth year in a row. There's no question that with the smaller class sizes that we're moving to in British Columbia we have a higher quality of education. We have excellent teachers and more of them. We have a dwindling number of portables. We are building the schools that children need. In my riding we've invested nearly $70 million, and I know that's true across the province.
Because we built nothing in the 1980s, because the only focus was the bottom line, and because there was no attention paid to the growing social deficit, we had virtually no funding for building schools or highways or hospitals throughout the entire 1980s.
It's the same kind of problem we're seeing growing in Alberta today under the same ideology. The auditor general in Alberta is starting to ring the alarm bells and say that because they're not investing, because they're playing number games with debt
In B.C. we've taken a different approach. We have tried to fill some of the backlog from that ideological time of the 1980s to try to make sure that our children have the kinds of schools, buildings and facilities they need in order to get the kind of education they need to realize their potential -- but that all of us need for us to realize our economic potential. This is an information-based society and economy that we're moving to. Unless we invest in education and invest in our children, we won't be able to continue to move forward and to build our economy. I'm very pleased that again in this budget we're focusing on our children and on the future by making sure that we are investing in education.
Education doesn't just begin when you're five and go to kindergarten in the school system. Education begins when you're born. All children, no matter what their socioeconomic income or background, benefit from access to licensed quality child care -- the kind of stimulating environment that kids enjoy so much and parents need so much.
I am extremely pleased that in this budget British Columbia is becoming the second jurisdiction in North America to start to move towards a publicly funded universal child care program. In this budget we're investing $14 million in our children. I can't think of anywhere else that is more important or anything that matters more to us today or in our future than investing in our children.
The first step we're going to take is to pull the six-to-12-year-old school-based child care into a publicly funded system and expand it. That's what we're going to do this year. I have committed, as the minister responsible, to walking arm in arm with parents and providers and school boards to make sure that we do this in a way that reflects their needs and allows for the diversity that is necessary in order to adequately provide care for our children and to make sure that we do it right.
North America is, I think, the only place left in the developed world where publicly funded child care doesn't exist as a matter of course. It's the only place left -- North America -- in the entire developed world. The only jurisdiction in North America that has taken this step to fix that problem -- and it is a huge problem -- is Quebec. But Quebec rushed into it too quickly, and Quebec has had a number
We have undertaken in B.C. to walk this road carefully. Over the years, we have expanded supports to parents, we have expanded supports to child care centres. We have worked closely and talked a lot with the child care community -- parents and providers -- to find out what we need to do. The most recent was an intense consultation, with a document my colleague the member for Esquimalt-Metchosin released last fall. You know, hon. Speaker, I think all of us were astonished. We knew there would be interest. We knew there had been response, but there were over 10,000 responses. There was a high degree of consensus about what government should do, and we're acting on what the public said.
We know that in 83 percent of families, both parents work. That's the reality. When I hear the critic for the opposition say, "We have to live in the real world," and argue against the child care system and say that we shouldn't do it because it's not a priority, I don't know what real world they're operating in. The real world is that we are in an economy where both parents need to work to live, in the majority of cases. The real world is that we have 83 percent of families where both parents work.
And the real world is that only 10 percent of kids who need it have licensed child care. This is a huge need. And even if they don't think it should be a priority -- their bigger priority is to do tax cuts for a handful of the highest-income earners and a handful of the biggest corporations -- we believe that our children are a priority. I'm very pleased with the support on this side for child care and for taking this first step into a publicly funded system.
You know, when we debated the Nisga'a agreement, I was astounded to listen to the opposition say: "You know, it's not a bad idea, but we shouldn't do it now." Good lord, after 111 years, 25 of them in negotiations, their argument was: "We shouldn't do it now." Well, guess what. What that really meant was that they don't want a Nisga'a agreement. They don't want to settle with aboriginal people.
You know what they're saying about child care? They're saying: "The timing is just not right. We shouldn't do it now." Hon. Speaker, if not now, when? We have 83 percent of families with two parents working. Because of the changes in the economy, because of globalization, we're seeing a gap between haves and have-nots. In the 1980s that gap grew faster than any other decade in our history. We have child poverty, and we have problems of latchkey kids, which is obviously untenable. Yet they're saying that they're not sure it's the right time.
I am pleased that we're taking this step. We're going to move forward as finances allow. We're going to move forward
[ Page 14569 ]over the next five or six years to implement a child care system in which every child in British Columbia has the right to licensed, regulated, safe, affordable child care. I think this is a milestone for British Columbia and a second milestone in Canada, and I am pleased that we're taking that step.
This is a budget that finds the balance between the need to maintain and control the deficit and ultimately reduce it
Hon. J. Doyle: I'm pleased to get up in support of the budget debate in the House. First of all, hon. Deputy Speaker, I'd like to congratulate you on your new position and also the Speaker on his new position. I'd also like to welcome the new member for Delta South to this House. Also, congratulations to the member for Richmond East on becoming a mother --congratulations to you.
I'd also like to say that I'm very proud of our new Premier and the job that he's doing on behalf of our province. Our new Premier generates light, not heat. He wants to run and will run an open, honest and good government on behalf of all the citizens, all four million people in our province.
The economy of our province is on the mend, is coming back. Growth is great in all sectors across our province. Since we last sat in this House, I had the honour to serve as the Minister of Municipal Affairs. I very much appreciated working with many regional directors, councillors and mayors across our province during the time that I had the honour to sit in that position. I'd also like to say a thank-you to Steve Thorlakson, the president of UBCM, for the way that he worked with me and other members of the UBCM executive during my tenure as Minister of Municipal Affairs -- which was a great challenge and a great honour, to work with these elected leaders in the communities across the province.
One month ago I was appointed by the Premier as the Minister of Forests. This is a great challenge for me and a great responsibility for me on behalf of the many communities in our province which depend on the forest sector. The forest sector, as you know, is the engine that drives our economy in the province, a very important sector across the province, including in Vancouver. There wouldn't be all those tall buildings with forestry companies having their executive offices in there if there wasn't a healthy forest sector in the province.
During the many years that I hope to serve as Minister of Forests, some of the items that I would like to work on and some of the challenges that I see are to work on the quota system. Markets are something that we must continue to develop in the world -- protect our old markets and work in new ones. For instance, at the present time we only sell about $3 million worth of forestry products to China. That would only keep China in toothpicks, no doubt, for about half a day.
The value-added sector, too, is a very important sector for us to work on to expand. A lot of work has been done on that; there's always room for more. The more we can get out of those trees, the better it is for all of us, so there's more jobs. Especially, for many years, there are communities in the province that have had a tough time. But a lot of the forest products are leaving there in the raw state and being made into value-added products elsewhere in the province, the country or the world. It's nice to see that more of those products are being made in the community which is close to where the trees grow.
While I'm speaking of forests, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the hon. member for Cariboo South and all the hard work he did in the four years that he served as the Minister of Forests. Good job to you.
I hope that I have had some experience in this task, as Minister of Forests, as an MLA for Columbia River-Revelstoke. Something I was very involved with about seven years ago was the setting up of the second community forest in the province of British Columbia; that was in Revelstoke. There's a 100,000-cubic-metre community forest in Revelstoke. Every year that it's been in place it has made money. It has been very, very good for that community. One of the concerns that community used to have before the community forest was set up -- because there was very little processing of forestry products in Revelstoke -- was that the only time that the trees stopped in Revelstoke was at the traffic light on their way out of town. Revelstoke had enough of that. I worked with the community leaders, the community, the Minister of Forests at that time and the government to set up this community forest, which has been a real success story.
In the community of Golden, the community that I live in, I've worked hard with that community on the forest sector. Three and a half years ago the major employer had financial trouble. I worked with the Premier, the Minister of Forests, the Minister of Employment and Investment, community leaders, the company in Golden through to Malakwa and workers to make sure that we got that company up and running again.
Today that company, which is Evans Forest Products in Golden -- which has recently been bought by Louisiana-Pacific -- is a great success story. They've now got a laminated veneer lumber plant -- the first one in the province, actually. They're still doing plywood and cedar products over in Malakwa. It's a great success story, and I'm pleased to have worked on that on behalf of the community. This company is one of the outstanding companies in our province at this time.
In the last couple of years, Crestbrook Forest Industries down in Cranbrook -- who operate very, very close to Golden and Canal Flats, up through to Parson and throughout the member for Kootenay's riding -- sold out to Tembec, a very large company from eastern Canada. They bought the company some time last year. Again, they're investing many, many dollars into a value-added plant in Cranbrook. Additional dollars have been invested into the pulp mill at Skookumchuck. So hopefully, I have that experience in the forestry sector, because that's what my constituency and the province depend on -- that is, the forest sector.
I'd like to spend some time speaking on different investments in the constituency that I'm honoured to represent. I feel that British Columbia
[ Page 14570 ]into the community of Golden from the Netherlands. Ballast Nedham is the name of the company. The only other investment they have in Canada is the Prince Edward Island bridge. They're a 38 percent owner in that.
This new resort is going to be very, very good news for a community like Golden, which is on the Trans-Canada Highway. It'll be a reason for many of the people who pass through that community to stop, shop, stay and invest some dollars into this community. I'm very, very excited about this new investment in Golden.
In total, there's about a $1 billion investment in the recreation services throughout the East Kootenays, starting in Fernie, in the member for Kootenay's riding. In Fernie and Kimberley, Charlie Locke bought both those resorts -- Kimberley is in my riding -- and is putting about half a billion dollars in investments into both these resorts, helping to diversify the economy of those communities.
At Panorama, Intrawest owns the resort up there. They've put massive dollars into that resort over the years. Last year they opened one of the best golf courses in the province, Greywolf Golf Course, and in the first year they exceeded all expectations of people for people using that resort. Fairmont Hot Springs has also had millions of dollars going into condominiums and the expansion of recreation services in that area. At Radium Hot Springs there's also a fine little community, and massive dollars have been invested there in golf courses and hotels.
In Revelstoke, in the west end of my constituency -- a very fine, proud city -- last year they celebrated their 100th anniversary of becoming a city. I was pleased to have cabinet and caucus up there for a caucus meeting last fall. It was great to be there with them to help them celebrate their anniversary. Geoff Battersby, who was the mayor then and has since stepped down, was a very, very fine mayor. He worked with me to set up the community forest some years ago. Geoff decided not to run last November. I'd like to wish him all the best in his retirement, but no doubt he'll keep busy, because he still continues to be the chair of the community forest.
They have a new mayor in Revelstoke, Gail Bernacki, and I look forward to working with Gail on issues that we will work on jointly, as far as me being their representative in Victoria and their voice for the community of Revelstoke.
I mentioned earlier that the community forest in Revelstoke continues to do well. In Revelstoke, too, is the value-added manufacturer Selkirk Specialty Wood, a $4 million value-added plant employing 100 people -- new jobs in the value-added sector, which is very, very exciting.
As I mentioned earlier, the community of Golden where I live
We also have a new regional director in the Golden area. That is Ron Oszust, a very fine young man who used to be a school trustee and is now the regional director. He succeeds Duane Crandall -- who was my predecessor in this building -- who was the regional director for three years following his time in this building here.
As far as Golden is concerned, just before I was appointed as Minister of Forests by the Premier, I was very pleased to announce a 300,000-cubic-metre non-renewable forest licence for the community of Golden to help it further diversify its forestry services. I'm very, very proud of that. There is another small company that has worked hard in Golden over the last few years: Interact Wood Products. I've worked closely with them. Again, they have roughly 100 people working in a value-added plant in Golden.
Also, about two weeks from now -- I think April 7, 8 and 9
In the community of Invermere -- a very proud old community in the Columbia Valley -- there is a new mayor, Mark Shmigelsky, who is a fine young fellow who had served on council for some time. I look forward to working with Mark, as I have in the past months. Retiring as mayor of Invermere is Chuck Blanchard, who served as the mayor for six years and has done a very, very good job.
Over the last year, since we last sat in this House, I was pleased to have worked with the community of Invermere and of course to announce a new college. There's a new community college up and running in Invermere, the first ever new college for that community. Before, they were renting quarters in different parts of town. I'm very pleased to have worked with government and the community of Invermere and the Columbia Valley to get that new college up and running -- a very proud moment for the community and for all of us.
Also, over the last year -- the millennium -- to have worked with government and with many, many community leaders and groups throughout my constituency to make available millennium grants for different very worthwhile causes from Revelstoke to Golden to Invermere, Radium, Kimberley and many other smaller communities around about there
Another item that I'm very pleased about, as far as being from the Kootenays, is that the four Kootenay caucus MLAs have worked over the last years to make sure that the Columbia Basin Trust was set up. As the members in this building may know, many years ago when the Columbia River was dammed, many communities suffered badly. The best timber, wildlife and other items were lost under the dams. Of course, those dams were built so that we could have lights in this building down here at the cheapest hydro rate in all of Canada. I think we owe the area that I represent and the other areas in the Kootenays a lot -- so that this government and this opposition could see some light.
An Hon. Member: Through B.C. Hydro, it's cheaper than in the United States.
Hon. J. Doyle: That's right. So I'm very, very proud of that, hon. Speaker. But because the communities in the Koote-
[ Page 14571 ]nays suffered so much from the damming of their best valleys for the Columbia River Treaty, we as government -- after listening to people for many, many years, when those people over there were in government under a different name, and the hurt that was inflicted on those communities because of the Columbia River Treaty -- worked with the communities throughout the Kootenays to set up the Columbia Basin Trust. This has been a great success story. There are 18 people -- 12 regional directors, six appointed by the provincial government and two first nations people -- that sit on the Columbia Basin Trust board. So the majority of members are regional directors or mayors or councillors from the communities.
The Columbia Basin Trust works for and invests in different services throughout the Kootenays. The hon. member for Nelson-Creston is also the chair of Columbia Power, and there are projects that are shared 50-50 with Columbia Power and the Columbia Basin Trust. It's been a great success story not just for this generation but for the generations to follow. After the damming that happened in our constituencies and in the Kootenays, we are finally getting something back for our children and their children.
I continue to be very honoured to serve as the MLA for Columbia River-Revelstoke. I know I am more often than not on the road as a minister of the Crown. I have very capable staff working in my office in Golden and in my part-time offices in Revelstoke and Kimberley, who do their best during my absences either as I sit here as a member of the Legislature or travel around the province as the Minister of Forests. I'd like to thank them.
I'd also like to thank my dear old family who put up with me while I'm gone -- and all our other members who are gone serving their constituents in the province. They put up with a lot during the absences that we have, taking care of our political needs as individuals who have been elected as 75 members of this Legislature. So I'd like to thank my family, my wife Judy and the two boys, Adam and William, for putting up with my absences during my time in Victoria or travelling through all the parts of the province.
I'd like to say that as far as the budget
Also, high-tech in British Columbia has become a very big part of our economy. I'm very proud of that. The more diversification we have, the better. I'm also very pleased to have worked with a small company in my constituency that wanted to provide wireless Internet service, which we have now across all schools in our province -- something we're very proud of. This little company was free to get the contract to provide wireless Internet service to the schools in Kimberley, Invermere and Golden, and I think they've been down as far as Cranbrook. Instead of giving the contract out to one big company across the province, it was my wish to work with this company back in my constituency so they could have a chance to provide high-tech services and have people hired and doing this kind of work in the constituency that I represent. I'm very proud of the company that's going to take on this challenge. I'm pleased that the minister I worked with -- Advanced Education -- worked with me so that we could break this contract up and have services available and high-tech growth in the communities that I represent out there.
Tourism is up to all new heights, as far as people who want to come to see our fantastic province that we live in. It's great to see the many licence plates, the different languages that we hear in the province from people who are visiting us from all over the world. People come here to our great province because of the beautiful open spaces, the mountains, the river rafting, the skiing, the golfing and many other things. So we have a lot to offer. I'm very pleased to see the growth and the further diversification in our province.
British Columbia, as has been mentioned by other speakers on the budget debate, is the education province. We have done a lot, invested many millions of dollars in education in our province. What better place to invest money than in our youth -- the greatest resource that we have as a province? The greatest resource that we have in our province is our youth.
Also, tuition fees have been frozen now for some years. It used to be that many people could get past with not having finished grade 12, or finishing grade 12 and having a couple of years in college. More and more jobs now demand that you have further education. There are people in communities like where I live who have to move from many, many miles away to go to university. So it makes it a bit easier for those students to attain university education and get a well-paying job at the end of the day if tuition fees or the debt at the end of the day is not going to break them. Again, it's a very, very good investment in our students.
Other work that we've done as government over the last years is that we have allowed the chief forester of the province to do his job. Every five years, in all areas in the province, there's a cut determination made, independent of government, to make sure that we have sustainable forests -- which is very good for the many communities throughout our province, and not just for us today -- and to make sure that there is a forest there for our youth and their children to harvest or do other activities or recreation in. It's a very important thing that this government has done -- to ensure that the chief forester is allowed to do their job independent of government.
Another item that we've done as government is put in place the Forest Practices Code. I know the opposition have said they would scrap it. Do they not realize, if they were to get into office, the harm that scrapping or racking around with the Forest Practices Code would do to the land and also to the markets we have in the world for forest products? The work that was done is very, very important. A lot of work was done by the former minister, working with many people throughout the province to make some changes to the Forest Practices Code; that was to do with red tape and things like that. But the Forest Practices Code is in place. It's doing a good job. It's making sure that we're good stewards of the land in the province. This is all I have to say at this time. I'm pleased to have had the opportunity to stand up and debate here today.
J. Dalton: I'm pleased that my family members are still in the audience. Aren't they patient? It wasn't of course planned
[ Page 14572 ]that I might be on my feet and able to address the budget while they were still here. I know they do have to rush off to a ferry, and I'm going to talk about the ferry in a moment. Again, I hope they will be patient for at least a few more moments, and I can get started on my response to this rather dreadful news that we got yesterday called the budget. However, yesterday my wife, younger daughter and I rode the fast cat. And of course, yesterday over 30 school districts and 350,000 students were strike-bound. Then, to top it off -- and if this wasn't a bad day, I don't know what was -- we had the budget. So it's three very bad experiences that I had personally in one day.
I found -- and I'm sure my family members would agree with me -- that the ferry rocks, the schools are closed and the deficit and debt are out of control. Now, what else can go wrong, I wonder. Hopefully this government won't last too much longer, because God knows where the next trouble will come from. Hon. Speaker, we know the impact of the fast ferries. A waste of $463 million -- that's the impact. And we know the impact of the closed schools. Yet the Finance minister spoke yesterday in his remarks in presenting the budget of cutting class sizes -- rather ironic on the day when many classes were at zero.
We know the impact of deficit and debt. But of course all of my colleagues either have been or will be addressing the very significant financial burden that our children, whether they be in school or otherwise, will be facing -- thanks to this government. The minister yesterday in his comments admitted that 9 cents of every dollar goes to service the provincial debt. He sort of dismissed that as not being a significant figure. Well, let's examine what 9 cents on the dollar translates into. That works out to approximately the cost of the SkyTrain expansion, in fact. That works out to approximately the cost of the SkyTrain expansion -- in fact more, although we fear that SkyTrain will probably go well over budget.
It translates into interest costs at $2.8 billion -- annual interest payments of $2.8 billion. That's a jump of $300 million over last year. That's a daily rate of approximately $7.5 million, which, if you like, is an elementary school every day. So instead of being able to build that elementary school or perhaps reduce waiting lists or improve the ferry system -- and God knows it needs it, because we're going to now be without these three beer cans, as I call them, that are on the block -- we face this horrendous interest payment on the public debt.
The NDP have mortgaged their children's future and at the same time deprived them of access to education. I've heard members opposite -- even today, on their feet -- saying: "Isn't it proud for British Columbia that they've increased funding to education?" And the schools are closed. It's shameful, hon. Speaker. Of course, the Premier has no answer, as we've seen both yesterday and today.
In the meantime, his government continues to run up deficit after deficit. The projected deficit in this 2000-2001 budget is $1.278 billion. We throw these billions around. Somebody many years ago, we'll all remember, said: "What's a million?" Now, of course, things have escalated a bit, and it's: "What's a billion?" We can't comprehend that until we break it down into daily rates or things that actually hit home in people's pocketbooks, in their lives.
Last year's deficit was $1.145 billion. So of course, typical of this government, we're going in the wrong direction. Many years ago they were claiming they would be wiping out deficit over the business cycle. Well, nine years of NDP -- and all the deficit does is escalate. Typically, we're going the wrong way.
What else did the Finance minister offer us yesterday? He said there would be no more megaprojects. The member for Vancouver-Kingsway missed that announcement, I believe.
The Finance minister admitted that revenue for last year was up $1.1 billion. That means that they actually had some unforeseen revenue last year. But of course, again typical of the NDP, once they get a chunk of change in their pockets, what do they do with it? They spend it. Their spending was up $1.25 billion. So they took the $1.1 billion extra revenue, and they said: "Great -- we'll spend all of that and more so."
The previous Finance minister, who is now the Deputy Premier, defended one of her budgets by saying that the public demanded budget overruns to protect health and education. Of course that is not the case; that is not what the public demands. Just as in its own household, the public expects the government to live within its means. The public counts on a strong economy and jobs to fund its personal endeavours; the government should do the same to fund its. This government doesn't get it. I and some of my colleagues have been here for coming on nine years, watching this province decline. Every year they bring in a budget, and every year it's the same story.
Then the minister, to comment further on his remarks of yesterday
Then the minister introduced the Budget Transparency and Accountability Act. Firstly, I would have to ask: why did it take nine years of NDP government to get around to introducing an act that shouldn't really be needed in the first place? Why do we need a law to identify accountability? I'm just referring to this government now. But should not any government -- federally, provincially, regionally, municipally -- be accountable to the taxpayer that funds it? I certainly hope so.
Another comment from yesterday's speech by the Finance minister was that the reduction in class sizes continues. Well, that one keeps jumping off the page, hon. Speaker -- a very strange statement on the day that class sizes in many school districts were zero. I don't think the government, when it wrote this speech, had in mind that they were going to reduce class sizes to that level, but that is the reality. This government can't even grasp the fact that it is vital that school students be in class and not out in the street or at home or elsewhere, and they really don't get anything.
Our previous Education minister
Well, the previous Education minister -- he used to be the leader and member of other parties, just to let you know who I'm talking of -- said that he would leave class sizes as is. He actually was on record, when he took over that portfolio -- and he wasn't there very long -- as saying that he wouldn't touch class sizes. So I'm wondering: does the new Education minister support the old view of that minister, or does she support the new view of what the Finance minister said yesterday? I guess we'll have to stay tuned for that one.
[ Page 14573 ]
Now, what else did we see in yesterday's exercise? Well, the Minister of Finance cavalierly wiped out a $1.08 billion B.C. Ferry debt. Of course, it isn't wiped out, but he just summarily dismissed it as not being important. So what they've really done is just shifted the figure away from the B.C. Ferry Corporation books onto the taxpayer-supported side of the ledger. Again, who's going to end up paying for it? Well, our children, of course.
I would invite members opposite to check very closely in the estimates book and in the budget reports where that over $1 billion ferry debt has gone and reflect upon the fact that if they can't run a corporation of that importance properly, then in fact what can they do?
This is what the Minister Responsible for Ferries, who again is the Deputy Premier -- these people wear several hats, depending on which day it is -- announced on March 13 that the removal of B.C. Ferry's debt of $1.1 billion will occur. Well, she was true to her word -- it has occurred. But it's not the removal of the debt. The people of this province, the taxpayers, still have to discharge that obligation. But what they want to do, of course, is clean the Ferry Corporation books to make it look good as we head into who knows what disasters ahead.
I might say as an aside that we have a very serious issue with the Ferry Corporation. The fleet is aging; the terminals are wearing out. In fact, as an example, there's talk that they may have to close the Snug Cove terminal on Bowen Island for up to two months for repairs to the terminal. Well, how are the people of Bowen Island going to accept that? Are we just going to dismiss that as nothing of importance?
Maybe that's enough of yesterday and the horror story that the minister introduced. Let's go back in time. In fact, it was funny. When I arrived on Monday, in my mail package that I presume all other members received as well, there were two annual reports of the Ministry of Human Resources. But the dates were curious. One of the reports was for '97-98; the other was for '96-97. So you have to ask: why are we receiving ministry reports that are four years old? Not only can this government not get the budget correct, but it can't even do a timely thing such as filing reports within the required time lines.
I also came across another annual report of some interest. It was the B.C. Ferry Corporation report of 1993-94, and I have it in my hand. It was rather intriguing to look through that report, firstly because the minister responsible at the time was the MLA for Vancouver-Kingsway. Have we heard of him before in my comments? Yes, we have. Of course, he's another one of these former somethings -- in his case a former Finance minister, a former Investment and something-else minister and a former Premier.
What does the '93-94 annual report of the B.C. Ferry Corporation tell us? Some interesting comments. Whether we can directly attribute them to the minister of the time or not doesn't matter. We are told under "Business Practices" -- I think for the NDP it's a bit of an oxymoron to talk about business practices -- that they "foster integrity." The report goes on: "And fiscal responsibility is especially vital, in light of rising costs and successive subsidy reductions since 1992." Now, this is the B.C. Ferry Corporation 1993-1994 report. Of course, that was before the fast cats came on the scene -- probably then not even a gleam in anyone's eye. We know about the whole question of fiscal responsibility and integrity that has come out of the fast cat mess.
The report goes on to say: "
Also looking back
An Hon. Member: What does it say?
J. Dalton: Stay tuned, my friend, because we will see some of the things that are contained in "Budget '93: Choices and Challenges." The Premier of the day was Mike Harcourt. This is the rejuvenated Mike Harcourt we all read about in the Vancouver Sun the other day.
Highlights from the '93 budget -- these are direct quotes; I'm not making this up. I've got the document in my files, if anyone wants to borrow it. "Holding the line on spending" -- seven years ago. "Continuing to reduce the deficit" -- seven years ago. The deficit, by the way, for that year was projected to be $1.5 billion. What was it -- two or three years later? Suddenly that deficit supposedly disappeared. But we know that David Stockell and his lawyers have another version of that particular story.
Another quote: "The need for new taxes must be faced." Oh boy, there's a dangerous thought. "Cut waste and spend smarter" -- another direct quote from 1993. Then they went on to say that they're going to have a 5 percent cut in the Premier's and cabinet ministers' pay. That's a token gesture at best. Maybe if we could just cut the Premier and the cabinet ministers, period, then there would be some savings. And again: "Get spending under control." These are all comments right out of the 1993 summary document.
Then the summary goes on to talk about a legacy of deficits. We know the legacy of the NDP. What it was referring to in '93 was those nasty old Socreds and the deficits that they left behind -- and also taking a swipe at Ottawa, which this government is always doing anyways. We've had nine consecutive NDP deficits. That's the legacy. Forget what 1993 said. The budget of 2000 is the damning legacy of nine consecutive deficits. Heaven forbid, if this government hangs around for another year, even, we'll never see a balanced budget. There is no way that they could balance the books. Of course, they won't be around to be in a position to do that.
The '93 summary also had some questions and answers that I thought the members might be interested in. The question asked was, "Why deficits?" and the answer was: "It's Ottawa's fault, and it's the previous administration's fault."
[ Page 14574 ]They just dismissed that. "Is the deficit going up or down?" was a question. The answer: "Not as quickly as desired." "Will you balance the budget over the business cycle?" the document asks. Answer: "We're working hard on it."
Now, hon. Speaker, lessons learned? Of course not. We've learned nothing from '93 or any year since -- or even '92, which of course is the first year that this government took over.
What should be done? We in the opposition have put forward a package of economic and legislative reform. I'm not going to go through all of it. Certainly there should be balanced-budget legislation. There should be personal income tax cuts that make sense -- not the token gesture, the one movie that this government gave us yesterday. You must cut red tape -- no question. On that subject we learned recently that the government study looking at red tape reduction is both late and over budget. Isn't that a surprise for the NDP.
I wonder why we cannot run this province in a businesslike manner and not as an exercise in social engineering. Why can we not do that? If we don't, it will only get worse, and the few people that are left in this province will be driven to Alberta or Washington State. Or the couple that some of you may have read about recently in the paper
The Finance minister, of course, was invited to comment after he'd given his budget speech yesterday. Here's one quote from the Finance minister's remarks, post-budget. "We have chosen not to make any extreme or reckless decisions that would undermine the steady and stable economic progress now going on in our province." I'm wondering if the Finance minister truly believes that there is economic progress in this province.
We must admit -- and of course on the opposition side we never cloud the issues; we present things in a straightforward manner -- that the economy of this province has actually moved out of the negative into the positive. Don't get too excited, government members, because it's a very marginal positive side, and the rest of this country -- including Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island -- is well ahead of us. We are still number ten on the list of provinces and their economic activity. That's nothing to be proud of in this province. We should, without question, be number one, not number ten.
J. Dalton: Well, of course, some of the tax cuts my colleagues are commenting on are token, at best. In the case of small business tax, the minister said yesterday that that meant we were the most improved in the country. But I believe it was New Brunswick that today tabled its budget. Guess what. Someone else caught on to the true tax cuts that this government doesn't understand.
Now, before I wind up, I want to make reference to "Budget 2000 Reports." I would be remiss if I didn't make at least a passing reference to a project in my own riding. That's the rehabilitation of the Lions Gate Bridge. It is mentioned as a capital expenditure, a major project for the upcoming year.
I see that the MLA for Vancouver-Kingsway has kindly joined the House, and it's certainly nice of him to do so. I don't know whether that member ever has the opportunity to travel over the Lions Gate Bridge, but I think we all have to be alerted to the fact that very soon we won't be able to travel over that bridge, because the project which is at least happily going ahead is well behind schedule. We're very worried on the North Shore, in tourism in particular, about the summer impact of these pending closures. At least I will give credit to the government. They've listed it as a major project, and it will be going forward in this current year.
However, let's not just talk about the Lions Gate Bridge, because there are other projects listed here. Here's one that we in the opposition continually call on, particularly my colleague from Richmond Centre, our critic and one of the cabinet ministers way back when
Just to wind up, this budget is not good news. There's very little, if anything, in it that we could even give any positive comment on. We will, of course, be going through the estimates process to drag out the detail from each minister as to why he or she has fallen short in their expectations. The real damning feature of the budget is the legacy that this government is leaving for our children and grandchildren -- the tax burden, the debt, the interest, the $2.8 billion in interest payments just to service the debt, the lost opportunities, wait-lists that get longer, schools that get older, ferries that no longer operate properly. Why? It's because they wasted the taxpayers' money. Yesterday's budget is just another example of government waste, government mismanagement, incompetence, and failure to grasp the serious economics and the serious fiscal issues that we face in this province.
A. Sanders: Hon. Chair, I rise to address the budget on behalf of the constituents of Okanagan-Vernon. Yesterday Budget 2000 brought with it the history of NDP tradition that we've seen after nine years. In that nine-year history there are six basic principles that this government follows in formulating a budget.
One is to spend more than you get in revenue. The second is to pretend that, in some way, budgeting and the honesty of budgeting is a privilege that government bestows on the public rather than a right of the taxpayer. The third is ownership of tax cuts from the federal government provided in the B.C. budget, and for the provincial government to therefore take credit for those that have come from the federal government budget. Fourth is to brag about additional dollars in health care when they're actually federal moneys and not provincial moneys that you are taking credit for. Fifth is to rack up debt with credit-card spending on megaprojects -- the third ferry continuing, SkyTrain continuing without a business plan in sight. Finally, to wrap it all up with a ribbon, blame others for the mistakes of the past if you can get away with it. I even remember the present Minister of Finance
[ Page 14575 ]blaming the Socreds for something. I mean, goodness gracious, we haven't had a Socred around for the last ten years, let alone one in this House.
Let's look at the history of the NDP budgets. I think it's important for everyone to remember that there is no dress rehearsal for government. What this government has done over the last decade, we're stuck with. It's here; it's part of the Velcro nature of B.C. We can't get rid of it, and it has set the stage for what's going on now.
This government has a proven track record. It's one that demonstrates beyond a doubt financial incompetence in the present administration. The record up to date and up to Budget 2000 demonstrates little about the differences in ideology of right and left and a whole lot about right and wrong in terms of decision-making.
There was a young MLA in opposition a number of years ago who now sits in the government benches who said: "There's no magic in balancing the budget in British Columbia
An Hon. Member: Who was that?
A. Sanders: Who was that? Was that the MLA for Vancouver-Kingsway? Was that a previous Finance minister or a retreaded Premier? Someone from that side said that comment, and here we sit a decade later without a single, balanced budget to show.
What is the history? Let's look at the promise of 1992, in the Speech from the Throne, March 17: "
What happened in '93? Surely there must have been a change in direction, '92 having not been a profitable year for the province. In 1993 this government made the following promise in the Speech from the Throne, March 18:
"First and foremost, this government is making the difficult decisions necessary to control spending growth and cap the deficit. At the same time, with a carefully balanced and fiscally responsible approach to the budgetary process, this government has reaffirmed its commitment to vital services, especially health care and educationThe result in 1993: net debt, $23.4 billion; deficit, $1.5 billion; tax increases, $600 million; increased government spending, 5.7 percent; concern from the New York-based Moody Investors about the deficit and the resulting downgrade in British Columbia's credit rating.
. . . .The second is to build our economy for the long term. This government will lead a coordinated effort to build British Columbia by investing in our people and in our regions . . . .This government will ensure that we remain among the lowest-taxed jurisdictions in Canada and that our tax dollars are spent wisely and efficiently."
Well, what about '94? Here's the chance, after two years of bad luck, to make a difference. What was brought to us from the former MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, who used to sit over in the Finance chair? Speech from the Throne: "By pursuing a fair, progressive and responsible fiscal policy, this government has brought spending under control and lowered the deficit by $1 billion, while maintaining vital public services. In addition, this government will balance the budget by 1996, and will soon put in place a plan to manage provincial debt." The result? Third year in a row: net debt: $25.9 billion; deficit, $4.46 million, and an attempt by the former member for Oak Bay-Gordon Head to sue the bond agencies by placing a 2 percent cap on government spending to try to stop the disgruntled agencies from further downgrading our credit rating.
So what happened? Here's '95, another chance in the budget speech to make a difference. Budget speech, March 28, 1995:
"With this year's budget, we have completed a key part of the job we started when we took office. There will be no budget deficit for the government of British Columbia this year. With this 1995 budget, we balance the budget a full year ahead of our promise to the people of British Columbia, and we have done it while maintaining our commitment to freeze taxesThe result? Net debt now up to $27 billion; deficit that year, $356 million. This was the year that a $16 million surplus was claimed in the Speech from the Throne and the budget speech. Spending grew by 3 percent, well above the cap of 2 percent put on by the same Finance minister one year earlier. Private sector investment was down a negative 4.6 percent. A debt management plan was instituted again to try and get rid of the grumpy bond-rating agencies, who were looking at British Columbia with a jaundiced eye.
. . . .To ensure a strong fiscal foundation we must do three things. First, we must eliminate the deficit and begin to pay down the debt created by previous deficits . . . .Second, we must ensure that our debt levels remains affordable over the long term . . . .Third, we must reduce the cost of government and make it more efficient by eliminating waste and duplication."
So, here's the '96 budget, another chance to do it right. We've had '92, '93, '94 and '95 deficit budgets. Let's change it in '96. The Finance minister at that time, again Oak Bay-Gordon Head, in the budget speech April 30: "In 1995 the surplus was $16 million
The Speech from the Throne: "
The rest is history. An election was called. This NDP government was returned to government by the people of British Columbia, and a budget address with the new government in tow, and the MLA for Saanich South now in the Finance chair -- the previous minister Elizabeth Cull defeated
[ Page 14576 ]Columbia was starting the inevitable spiral down that started in '92 with this government, and it continued through the entire decade and culminated -- well, it probably hasn't culminated but continued -- in Budget 2000.
In 1997 the MLA for Saanich South, the now Attorney General -- promoted for his efforts, I suppose -- delivered, in the 1997 Speech from the Throne:
"The Finance minister's budget will show significant progress toward my government's goals. It will continue to reduce overall spending growth through cuts in the size of government, cuts to administration, cuts to overhead, and the elimination of some programs, grants and subsidies. And the budget will deliver on my government's commitment to continue to provide tax relief to B.C. families and small businesses."The result: $29.2 billion net debt; deficit, $152 million. Private sector investment down again, minus 2.8 percent. The '95 debt management plan -- now discredited, obviously -- was replaced with the new financial management plan and replaced the plan with a budget balanced, hopefully, in '97-98. There was a promise of 21,000 new jobs in forestry by the year 2001. The record will show that none of those things have come to fruition.
The 1998 budget speech, the MLA for Vancouver-Hastings:
"I have decided to set the deficit target for 1998-99 at $95 million, close to half the level of last year's deficit and less than half of 1 percent of the overall budget
. . . .If our economy performs at the levels presently forecast, it is our plan to have a balanced budget in 1999-2000 and to have a small surplus the year after."
The result: net debt, $30.1 billion; deficit, $544 million. The Vancouver-Hastings Finance minister and now Deputy Premier said at that time: "Based on our consultations, we have developed a plan to stimulate the economy [and] encourage investment
Now we're into 1999. We've gone through '92, '93, '94, '95, '96, '97, '98 -- every year promised, every year failed, every year deficit financing, every year the debt rising. In 1999 the MLA for Vancouver-Hastings, now Deputy Premier, said: "This is a budget of choices." This was followed by a platitude of choices that were sweet enough to make your teeth ache. "We intend to grow our way out, not cut our way out," she said, then announced plans to borrow and spend with off-budget capital spending on around $2 billion worth of projects.
The result of that wonderful financial wizardry: net debt, $32 billion, up from $20 billion in 1992, when these financial gurus took office; deficit, $890 million. Private sector investment in this government, which was going to stimulate the economy and stimulate investment, is down 31.4 percent since they took office -- 31.4 percent of the people getting out of B.C. and investing somewhere else, where they could actually do business under some rules that business might understand. And $7.23 million a day in debt servicing last year -- congratulations, NDP government.
In 1999 there was a new five-year fiscal planning framework to replace the other budget deficit planning programs that had failed -- and now a balanced budget by the year 2003. Along with that whole budget of choices -- NDP choices, job-killing choices -- we got a number of booby prizes. We got the Ferrari ferries instead of hip replacements. We got a loan of $25 million to develop Burns Bog into a theme park, for goodness' sake. We got $350 million to Skeena Cellulose instead of more intermediate care beds. We got lawyers' fees to deal with government members' scandals instead of legal aid for battered women. We got a whole lot of choices. But they weren't the choices British Columbia wanted, and they certainly weren't the choices that were going to make British Columbia a better place to live.
So what did we get, after all those years, when we came to the House for Budget 2000? We got a decade of decline. That will be the legacy of this NDP government to our province: a decade of decline, an administration that brought in, with Budget 2000, not very much.
Did we get a new day for economic hope in B.C. yesterday? Did we get a new, modern direction of the new government, as the Finance minister said? Did we get a change in direction? Did we get an invigorated British Columbia? Did you feel the electricity in the air in British Columbia yesterday, when people were so happy to see what great news was in the budget for them? Did you feel unbridled excitement in the streets when we were talking about Budget 2000 yesterday? These guys even missed their own clap lines. Nobody on that side was even awake when Budget 2000 was delivered; they were so bored with the content.
What did we get in that sonorous mantra, hon. Speaker? What did we get after a past decade of financial ruin? We got the same old lines about protection of health care and education, stimulation of investment and jobs -- and then everything to do exactly the opposite.
The present Premier, the appointed Premier -- Vancouver-Kensington -- when he announced his candidacy, said: "We will balance the budget as quickly as we can." That was November 1999. Well, it looks like we aren't going to have a balanced budget till 2005. That will be 14 years after the NDP came in, if we grant him the grace to continue this performance.
What will we get as a result of Budget 2000? We're going to get our ninth consecutive deficit budget. We're going to have a deficit this year, as of April 1, of $1.2 billion. That is the second-largest deficit that even this government has brought into British Columbia. The last person to bring in a deficit that big was Premier Harcourt. I'd like to know who is advising this new Premier, because the last time we got a budget with a deficit that big, it was Mr. Harcourt sitting in the Premier's chair.
We got a $2 billion jump in spending on projects, without a business plan to be seen. This is a government that says we're going to have open, transparent government, even though they were forced into it. Where's the business plan for SkyTrain or any of the other projects?
And where are those documents that we are supposed to get? Now, we've been told we'll get them for next year's budget; we need them for this year. This is the second-largest deficit since 1992. Where are the plans? How did we arrive at that deficit, and what are the plans for subsidizing the projects that have been put in place?
The now Premier, the MLA for Vancouver-Kensington, said: "We also need to make sure that all big and small projects are well managed and backed by solid business plans,
[ Page 14577 ]so we don't spend or waste money unnecessarily." Well, bring those business plans forward. We'd love to see them on this side of the House.
[The Speaker in the chair.]
This budget has brought in a $3 billion increase in taxpayer-supported debt, bringing us to $36.5 billion from the $20 billion that the NDP inherited in 1991. That is double the figure in terms of debt that has come with this government to the province of British Columbia. We've got interest on total provincial debt of $2.8 billion a year. That's more than every other ministry's budget, except for health care and education.
If you look at what you could buy with $2.8 billion for one year
The government talked a lot yesterday about tax cuts. As was pointed out by my colleague, those tax cuts can be consumed at the movie theatre. They're consumed in one day of the child care that will be necessitated for parents whose kids are off school Monday and Tuesday. And who knows about Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and next week? They'll be gone long before the end of the week is out.
An Hon. Member: Remember what Anita Hagen said? They're probably learning more at home than they do in school anyhow. Remember when she used to be Minister of Education? And the next day she was gone.
A. Sanders: That's right.
We've got $454 million in one-time revenue from the federal transfer payments. This government, in their press releases, had the nerve to claim responsibility. They were actually going to pass on those transfer payments to us, as if that should be a privilege that they have bestowed on us.
There is a $14 million child care initiative -- again, without a business plan. It won't be implemented until January 2001. I'll stand in this House today and say that this government will never bring that plan in, because in January 2001 they'll be planning their own election, and there will be a reason for those dollars to go somewhere else. How many spaces will $14 million provide? I would say that it won't go anywhere near what's necessary for child care in this province.
There is a tiny cut to the small business income tax rate. Now New Brunswick can claim the lowest at 4.5 percent with their budget being tabled -- again, a balanced budget in that province, one that we've never seen in this province.
There's a 3 percent manufacturing tax credit which again, in a $114 billion economy, only amounts to about $20 million.
There's nothing from 1992 to the year 2000 that would make this government stand up and feel proud. There's nothing they've done there that shows they have any idea of fiscal responsibility or any protection of health care and education -- something that is dear to the hearts of all British Columbians. What should have been in Budget 2000? Well, there are seven or eight or nine things that should have been there. I'd like to tell the government what they are, so that some time in the future, when we're in power, we can have these things in place.
The first is a dramatic personal income tax cut. The second is balanced-budget legislation, something that all other provinces are capable of doing. The third is full disclosure of all capital projects and how much money should be spent. The fourth is no subsidies to business. The fifth is long-term planning for health care. The sixth is long-term planning for education. No. 7 is full disclosure of all public sector settlements. Tell the people what we're giving the public sector. They have the right to know. Let them be the judge. Let your record stand on what the public thinks, instead of trying to hide it under zero-zero-and-2. You're not even in the ballpark; you're $600 million out.
We need to reduce business costs, and we need to have merit employment. When we have a British Columbia government that is a B.C. Liberal government, we will bring in all those things, and this will be a better province for it.
Hon. Speaker, until we have a dramatic personal income tax cut, you will not be able to stimulate this province into spending and getting prosperity. The only tax relief we got in this minister's budget was from the federal Liberals. It wasn't from the provincial NDP.
We need balanced-budget legislation. We will not have a balanced budget under this government until the year 2005, and that's way too late. We need full disclosure on the fast ferries so that we can never have it happen again. We need a comprehensive plan for all of the capital projects that are in Budget 2000, so that we know that this group has even thought about how they're going to plan and arrange those projects.
We are suffering under the mantle of poor government from last year: $463 million lost in the ferries; $73 million lost to the Vancouver Convention Centre; $1 billion in business subsidies, including Skeena; $125 million lost in federal revenues to Nanoose Bay; $310 million lost for fixed wages; and maybe as high as $500 million that we haven't even accounted for yet in Carrier Lumber, when that decision comes through.
We've got a big problem. The big problem is to get long-term planning for health care, long-term planning for education, leadership in those ministries, leadership in this government and full disclosure of public sector wages -- and we need truth. If this government does not have the courage to stand up for the changes they've made in Budget 2000 and take those to the people, then they should think again. If they truly feel that this is a budget to stand on, then let's go to the public. Let's have an election, and let's see what the public truly feels.
L. Boone: Well, I will be kind and gentle to my colleague, the Minister of Finance, from Prince George.
I am very pleased to stand here today and rise to support this budget, a budget that rejects the traditional -- and you've
[ Page 14578 ]heard the stuff that came across from the other side there -- radical Liberal philosophy that says that when times are tough, we should be giving tax breaks so that the wealthier can become more wealthy, and that those who have little should actually tighten their belts, so that the wealthy can save more money so they can invest, so that they can make more money. That is the type of philosophy that we've heard from this side the whole day.
L. Boone: Yes, the budget rejects that. Therefore I'm not surprised at all that the Liberals over there and their friends -- their big business, big money friends -- do not support this. This is a budget that is targeted to the low- and middle-income families and to those who need the dollars the most -- the small businesses as well. This budget does contain tax cuts. Those tax cuts are targeted, and they're targeted not to the friends of those on the opposite side, who want more money so that they can invest outside Canada, but to low- and middle-income families so that they can spend those dollars here in British Columbia.
We've also targeted tax cuts to small business. Let me remind you that these tax cuts follow four years of previous income tax cuts. You'd think that we'd never been cutting taxes, but in fact we have -- four years of previous income tax cuts. Last year we also had a massive tax cut for small business, and that was brought in by the previous Finance minister. In fact, this year we have furthered those tax cuts to small business so that small business now has a reduction from 5.5 percent to 4.75 percent, which makes it the lowest in Canada for small business. I think that's something that we should be very proud of, and I and all of my colleagues certainly are doing that.
You know, hon. Speaker, I've read some criticisms from some who say that tax cuts aren't enough. They say that the deficit is too large. Have they realized that if you give more tax cuts, in fact that would make the deficit larger? Do they realize that we have lost revenue in tax cuts for the past four years and that if we had that revenue, we would almost have a balanced budget? That's what my colleague tells me. My colleague tells me that if we did not give the tax breaks that we did in the previous four years, we'd be very close to a balanced budget this year.
So what do they want? I'm not quite sure myself. Do they want more tax cuts and an even larger deficit? Is that what they want? Or perhaps they want to reduce the deficit and then have more taxes so that they can have more revenue. No, that doesn't make sense either, because they've said they want more tax cuts and want to reduce revenue. So that doesn't add up either. Or maybe what they have to do then is do tax cuts, reduce the deficit and then do massive cuts in delivery of services. Well, hon. Speaker, that's a scenario we're facing right here, and those guys can live in Lalaland all they want, but there is no other alternative to this. If you're not going to reduce services, you are not going to be able to reduce taxes, nor are you going to be able to reduce the deficit.
This budget recognizes that government revenue is collected to deliver services to taxpayers. It is not something bad; it is not something awful. It is revenue that is taken in to deliver services such as health care services: physicians -- paying doctors; hospitals; home care; care for the elderly and disabled; preventive services; Pharmacare services. It goes on and on.
In fact, this budget has $549 million more, a 7 percent increase in health care, to deliver those services that I talked about. In fact, since 1991 we've had an increase of $2.9 billion in health care. That's a huge amount of money, a lot of money. You know, I still have people coming into our offices saying that they want more. They don't want less services; they don't want less health care. They want more. They want more money put into health care, and that's what we're doing.
We've also got more money in the budget for the hiring and training of nurses, the hiring of new licensed practical nurses, continuing care, chemotherapy, cardiac procedures, funding for the shortages of doctors in the rural areas -- something that I'm sure will gain support from every member on the other side that lives in the rural areas. We've got new money in here for doctors, new capital projects. We're going to start the hospital in Prince George -- aren't we, hon. friends? Yes, we are actually going to see this hospital starting to be built in Prince George. There's the Children's and Women's Health Centre of B.C., plus numerous other places throughout the province that have projects starting.
Hon. Speaker, I am really surprised, and I am shocked and dismayed to hear the Liberal opposition criticizing the new money that's going into wages for those that deliver the above services. You heard the member that spoke just before us. In fact, they are saying that we are doing wage increases, and yes, we make no apologies for that at all -- wage increases for nurses, for health care workers, for those in the community sector. I make no apologies whatsoever. I think the opposite side should be apologizing for their behaviour. In fact, they should be applauding the fact that we are paying these individuals who are committing to deliver services to our families -- to our parents, to our children. All of those people out there that are delivering those services are finally getting some wage increases.
The Liberals shamefully criticize us and claim that it is a payoff to the unions -- can you believe that? -- to give wage increases to those people who deliver worthwhile services to all our families. They say that it's a payoff to the unions and that these people ought not to get those pay increases. Interesting, though -- they've made no such claims about the $2 billion in the budget earmarked for doctors' services. No, that's not a payoff to our union friends, eh? It's interesting.
How would the Liberals deal with this if they had an opportunity? No wage increases for health care workers, even those that are paid less than their value. No wage increases, even when we're struggling to recruit certain professionals. No wage increases to anybody out there. No wage increases for any of those in those sectors, because they want to give tax breaks to their rich friends and their business partners out there. That's ridiculous. Shame on you! Shame on you for even suggesting it!
This budget does not only deal with health care and tax cuts. It also continues to invest in strengthening education and giving our children a good start in life. There's nothing that any of us believe in more strongly than giving our children a better start in life. We have $445 million going into building and expanding the school system and $85 million for colleges and universities -- new dollars for that. Those universities
[ Page 14579 ]and colleges are absolutely thrilled to have this money so that they can continue to do the good work to make sure that our kids who are going to these institutions have the ability to compete out there in the new world.
We have extended the tuition freeze for the fifth year in a row -- the fifth year in a row -- making B.C. one of the best places to go to school for post-secondary education. It's absolutely incredible that we are doing this and that those over there are saying that we shouldn't do this, because we should be giving tax breaks to their parents. Where is this? What's up with that?
In this budget we also have new support for child care before and after school. We have other measures to promote economic growth. High-tech research and development tax credit has tripled to $28 million. There's $100 million in resource roads to spur on the oil and gas industry activity in the northeast. But I know that my Liberal colleague from up there will reject that and say: "Take back that money and reduce the deficit. We don't want any of that money being spent in the northeast. We do not want any of those things done there." I'm sure he'll also say the same thing about the Fair Share money that was going out to his communities out there: "Take that back and put it to reduce the deficit, because we don't want any of those moneys being spent in our communities."
The film tax credit continues. And for the first time -- and this is very exciting -- we will be having a regional film commission. That is really tremendous. I say that very excitedly, because we have a commissioner in Prince George, but it has not been funded by the province. It has been funded through other sources. That commissioner has in fact been doing work on behalf of the whole north of the province and has actually managed to bring some dollars into our communities. We've had two major films done in Prince George recently, and we look forward to more coming in. Having a regional film commissioner is something that I know we will look forward to.
We will also be having $5 million to support green technology, $10 million for new agricultural initiatives, $2 million to support tourism and ecotourism, and $459 million for roads and bridges. These are all things that taxpayers out there have said that they want. They're all things that taxpayers say that they need for their families.
In the consultation that took place before the budget -- and I know that my colleague did have extensive consultation -- there was a considerable amount of pressure from individuals out there saying that they wanted tax cuts. There was pressure from individuals saying that they wanted to reduce the deficit. But they also said that they wanted to maintain services and that they wanted to expand services, in many cases. We have chosen, on this side of the House, to listen and to act on what they are talking about and to make sure that we support those that are in need of our support.
I think back to 20, 25 years ago. I was just a kid then, you know. I was paying very little income tax at that time, if I did pay income tax, because I was low income. I was subsidized for child care, and I appreciated all of those subsidies. I recently did my income tax, and I paid a lot. I paid a lot of income tax. I pointed this out to someone a while ago -- a couple of years ago, I think it was. I said: "Look how much income tax I pay." They said: "You know, you're lucky that you make enough that you can pay that kind of income tax." I said: "You're right. I am glad. I am lucky."
I do not begrudge one cent of the income tax that I pay right now, because I have been making good money to do the job that I am doing. I do not begrudge one cent of that going towards supporting single moms and child care. I do not begrudge one cent of that going towards supporting the disabled in our communities. I do not begrudge one cent of that going towards reducing fees for those who attend university. I do not begrudge one cent of that making it so that elderly people can receive services and continuing care and extended care, that families out there are getting the health care they need, that families can still get their education and that children are being educated.
I do not begrudge one cent of that, and I don't think that most British Columbians who earn a fair wage do. They recognize that we live in a good province, a wonderful province, and that we as a society have a responsibility to support those who are less able to earn than us, and we must continue to do so.
This budget backs up everything that I believe in as a social democrat. This budget backs up what we, as this government, have stood for: supporting health care, supporting education and making sure that services are there for those of us in families that need it. Working families, middle-income families -- all of those individuals are being serviced by this budget.
Hon. H. Lali: I rise here today to speak in favour of the budget. I know that all of the folks across the way who were cheering and clapping will also stand up when the final vote is counted to support the budget. It has a lot of good things in the budget for people on that side of the House as well, in terms of capital projects -- some of which have already started, some which need to be completed and others that groundbreaking will take place on in every one of their ridings. Whether they're hospitals or schools or bridges or highways or community centres -- you name it, we're building it. And we're building it all across British Columbia not only in the constituencies of the members on this side of the House but also in the constituencies of the members on the opposite side of the House. I know for sure that they'll stand up at the end of the day and vote in favour of this budget because of all the good things that this Legislature is delivering on behalf of everybody in this House, including those hon. members across the way who are standing there heckling right now. One of them is making some sort of rude gestures there.
In any case, I'm going to talk about some of the details in the budget that will benefit the member for Shuswap over there immensely, as people will be visiting his riding and commenting on all the good things that'll take place in terms of new highway construction and all the buildings and jobs that'll be created. At the end of the day, he'll be giving credit to this side of the House.
I want to talk about the targeted tax cuts to fuel British Columbia's economic growth, hon. Speaker. Over the next two years, B.C. will put more than half a billion dollars back into the pockets of British Columbians with provincial income tax cuts that are targeted at middle-class and low-income
[ Page 14580 ]earners. I also want to point out that the total British Columbia personal income tax will be reduced by $225 million this year and $354 million next year, for a total of half a billion dollars.
On July 1, British Columbia's small business tax rate will be reduced to 4.75 percent. That will be the lowest rate in Canada. I just want to point out that in last year's budget, we lowered the small business tax rate to lower than Alberta's. We also said that if Alberta decides that in any upcoming budgets they would lower theirs, we would automatically lower ours to keep it below Alberta.
I know the hon. members across the way like to talk about Alberta as some sort of a nirvana when it comes to economic growth or tax structures. Well, hon. Speaker and my friends across the way, I want to point out to you that what we have done is lower our small business tax rate. It is now the lowest in Canada. And I know the hon. members across the way can't stand that.
I'd also like to point out that a new 3 percent investment tax credit will reduce the costs of new manufacturing and processing assets. It'll go from 7 percent now to 4 percent, with a reduction of 3 percent.
The second major aspect of this budget is investing in the top priorities of today's family. One of them obviously is education. Tuition fees have now been frozen for colleges and universities for the fifth straight year. When we took office in 1991, British Columbia had the second-highest tuition fee rates in the entire country. Now we have the second-lowest. That's a record that we can be proud of.
We'll also have an increase of $85 million to universities and colleges to restore core funding, help with the tuition freeze and create 5,025 new student spaces, including 800 new high-tech spaces in our colleges and universities.
There will be 300 new teachers hired to further reduce class sizes in grades K-to-12. School districts will receive an additional $455 million towards the construction of over 100 new schools, additions and expansions to schools. By the spring of the year 2001, there will be 1,900 portables. That will be down from the 3,091 that we had in 1998. Also, the third priority of the government, in terms of helping today's families, is with health care and child care. This budget increases health care spending, for the ninth straight year, by $549 million. It's now up to $8.27 billion a year.
I remember in the last election when the Leader of the Opposition, their leader across the way, said that he was going to reduce funding for health care. When asked how much would be enough, he said $6 billion ought to be enough. Here they are, the members now, out of one side of the mouth saying they would cut health care. They would actually go to Alberta-style health care. Mr. Klein in Alberta is going to a two-tiered health care system and is actually privatizing health care. The Leader of the Opposition sent his A-team on a visit to the Legislature of Alberta, and they came back all enthusiastic last year and said: "We're going to fashion our health care and our government" -- heaven help us if they ever get elected -- "after the model that was set forward by Mr. Klein in Alberta." That's what they wanted to do. Here they sit in this House, and out of one side of their mouths they talk about making massive cuts to health care; on the other side, when we bring down our budget, they say: "That's not enough." They can't have it both ways.
There is $24.8 million provided to hire up to 600 new nurses and create 400 new spaces in nursing programs at B.C.'s colleges and universities. There is also $8.4 million provided to open new continuing care beds, for a total of $34.4 million.
I also want to point out that there's $14 million for before- and after-school child care that will be provided, effective January 1, 2001. You know what, hon. Speaker? The Liberals across the way say that they would cut child care -- that that's not something that is needed. They'll say that when they're sitting here in the Legislature, but when they're out there talking to people, they say exactly the opposite. Depending on what time of the day it is or what day of the week it is, you don't know which side of their mouths they're speaking out of -- you really don't.
Finally, the fourth priority in the budget that the hon. member for Prince George North has brought down, the Minister of Finance, is strengthening British Columbia's competitive position. There is a $7.5 million investment in Fisheries Renewal B.C., which will help to restore and protect the fish stocks in this great province of ours. There is also a $10 million increase for agricultural producers and communities, which will help boost the rural economy in parts of the province and will help with the agricultural community in the Fraser Valley, the Okanagan Valley, in my area of the province and also in the Peace River country. We're also establishing a new B.C. high-technology commission to promote our high-tech advantage around the world.
I want to talk a little bit about the Highways budget, and I'd like to take a moment to look across the province at the government's highway program, which is part of our plan to get B.C.'s economy moving and provide long-term support for local communities. Last year's investment of $490 million -- which was actually $110 million capital investment more than the year before -- created, along with our maintenance budget, over 9,500 jobs all across the province. In the coming year we intend to maintain our capital funding for transportation at a high level once again.
The critic from across the way, at the time I made that half-a-billion-dollar announcement, said that they would not make that kind of an investment. They said they would do that on a year-to-year basis, which means they would eliminate all of those projects that we announced last year. On the one side you get members opposite who lobby me consistently that we should build this bridge or this highway in their riding, and at the same time their critic stands up and says that if they were to form government -- and heaven help us if they do form government -- they would not be spending that kind of money. They would actually lower the capital plan and let our highways and bridges go to waste.
These capital investments by the B.C. Transportation Financing Authority will create direct and indirect private sector jobs in communities across British Columbia like Logan Lake, Merritt, Hope, Dawson Creek, Fort St. John and Fort Nelson -- up in the member opposite's riding as well.
On the operations side, the ministry's betterments budget this year is almost $30 million, creating an estimated 340 to 500 direct private sector jobs. The road and bridge maintenance budget this year is close to $314 million, creating almost more than 5,000 direct and indirect private sector jobs. The B.C. Transportation Financing Authority and the ministry continue to look for innovative ways to get the best value for our highway construction dollars. We have a number of notewor-
[ Page 14581 ]thy projects underway this year. I'm going to start off by talking about my riding. If I have some time afterward, I'll talk about the other parts of the province as well.
Turning my focus to my own constituency, I want to talk about Logan Lake and the area first -- not just in highways but also in some of the other things that I've been working on, on behalf of the community. Last year, as you know, the job protection commissioner brought in a plan to save the Highland Valley Copper Mine with its 1,000 workers who are employed there. It's the largest employer in the interior. That was something that took a few months to get to, but at the end of the day, the company, the government, the job protection commissioner, the community and the union all signed on to make sure that we had this job protection commissioner's plan in action to keep workers working.
We also made a $1.1 million investment at the Tugwell Lake and park area for campsite improvement and also for safe road access, whereby tours from the lower mainland and the interior will be able to come and spend their hard-earned dollars in the area.
As recently as about ten days ago, I did a ribbon-cutting for the $400,000 new ambulance station that the provincial government built in Logan Lake. There was also funding that we made available for the community pier project that they had at Logan Lake.
In the Ashcroft and Cache Creek area -- that's an area that actually will be going into another constituency after the next election -- we had the millennium park project, which is now open, as a matter of fact. There was $100,000 from the millennium grants program for that particular project. The rock quarry opening at Ashcroft recently is 50 jobs for 50 years. The ministry and the TFA are involved in building the road up to the quarry. It's a quarter of a million dollars that we spent to make sure that there will be economic stability for the people who live in the Ashcroft-Cache Creek area where the 50 jobs will be created.
Also in Cache Creek -- and I know there's been a number of projects completed there -- there was a water reservoir project a number of years ago that was completed, as well as the new fire hall that the provincial government had participated in. Most recently, it's the $60,000 that we committed -- and we just did the official opening -- on the community hall in Cache Creek, as well as the $150,000 that was made available from Municipal Affairs under the 50-50 cost share on the sewer program in Cache Creek.
In the Lillooet area
Hope and the Fraser Canyon is another busy area of my constituency. I just had the pleasure of opening my second constituency office there two weeks ago. We have completed the $2.9 million reconstruction of the Silver Creek Elementary School just outside of Hope. Municipal Affairs again provided $350,000, on a 50-50 share basis, for a sewer grant for the community as well, in the Kawkawa Lake area, a suburb of Hope.
In Yale, a community about 30 miles outside of Hope, we provided a free Crown land grant for a new fire hall in that community. As well, my constituency assistant attended the completion of the Yale first nations fish wheel project, which the government also participated in.
In Boston Bar, again with all the hard work that my constituency staff put in, as well as my ministerial staff here in my office, the staff in Employment and Investment and the Ministry of Forests office and numerous other individuals and, most importantly, the job protection commissioner
Moving on to another part of my riding, Merritt and the Nicola Valley -- that's where I live -- good things continue to happen there as well. I recently attended the groundbreaking ceremonies on the $8.9 million Nicola Valley Institute of Technology and the University College of the Cariboo joint campus, which will obviously start construction very soon on that particular project. That's been in the planning works for a number of years.
At Diamond Vale Elementary School, where I actually went to school as a child -- and my wife Rani, when she was growing up in Merritt, went there as a child as well -- there was a million-dollar renovation and also a portable reduction in that particular school. We finished the $2.3 million portable reduction and also the renovations to the Collettville Elementary School. Incidentally, I went to that school for six months when I first came to Canada, to learn English. I used to spend half my time in the mornings at Diamond Vale Elementary School and half the time at Collettville. My two children attend Collettville Elementary School. The French immersion program is actually based out of that school. So there's a bit of history there. It's nice to see that this government has provided funding to not only upgrade those schools but also get rid of the portables. Previous to that, in my first term we did a $9 million rebuild of the Merritt Secondary School, where I attended and also my brothers and sisters before that, and my wife Rani.
I just want to move to another area of Merritt, and that's the Merritt Rotary park. We provided a $60,000 millennium grant for that project as well, and it will be well served.
In the community of Lytton, construction is underway now on the $11.4 million Lytton Bridge, as well as the $4 million healing centre hospital in that particular community. There's also $343,000 that was made available under the federal-provincial municipal infrastructure grant program for downtown revitalization, under the roads and sidewalks part of that grant. That was completed earlier on in last year's budget.
In the community of Princeton, I recently announced $1.5 million for 15 extended care beds at Ridgewood Lodge. What we've done is transferred ten beds from the hospital to the extended care and added another five. So there's a net
[ Page 14582 ]increase of five beds in the community of Princeton -- and I know the people in that area are quite happy -- for their health care needs.
In Keremeos -- that's a community that will be coming into my constituency after the next election -- I know there were at least half a dozen MLAs, both NDP and Social Credit, before myself who actually made announcements on a health care facility there. It was one of those facilities that was on again and off again. I want to say that the push that was needed actually came from my office, my constituency assistants and also my executive assistant to make sure that that was going to be looked after. We made the announcement, and I made sure that the present MLA for Okanagan-Boundary was there when we made the announcement for the $6 million facility. Work is now underway -- the planning and engineering and all that -- to make sure that it will become a reality. I'd also like to give credit to the hon. member who currently represents that riding. I know he's done a fair bit of work in that particular area to make sure that would happen. But the added push to make sure that would become a reality actually came from my office.
In terms of Highways issues in my riding, Yale-Lillooet, along with Cariboo South, has the most number of road kilometres and bridges of any constituency in the province. Last year we made an investment of $15 million in Yale-Lillooet, which is actually kind of modest considering the number of lane kilometres that exist there. Some of the projects we completed were the intersection at Highway 99 and Highway 97 just north of Cache Creek and south of Clinton; it would be east of Lillooet. That route -- Highway 99 -- is now signed as the third alternate route to the coast other than the Trans-Canada Highway. Also, we have rebuilt to modern standards the intersection of Highway 8 and Mamette Lake Road at Shulus Indian Reserve, which was a very unsafe intersection. Also, in the Logan Lake area on Highway 97 on the way to Cache Creek near Highland Valley copper mine, there was a series of snake curves, as we call them, and a number of accidents and deaths had taken place there. We were able to get rid of those. Approximately $800,000 was spent to make it safer for the workers who go back and forth between the copper mine and Logan Lake, to make sure there would be no accidents, and we're looking forward to doing phase 2 this year.
We also did a $200,000 study at the Texas Creek slide near Lillooet on Highway 12. Actually, when Honda, I think it was, wanted to do a commercial, they were looking for one of the worst spots in North America to do their commercial; that was three years ago. They found that spot, where they actually did that commercial. We're actually looking at ways to make sure that it is safer for the travelling public.
On Lillooet-Pioneer Road No. 40 to Gold Bridge, and Bralorne, Seton Portage and Shalalth, last year we actually completed the second year of a five-year program to do $1 million a year to make sure that the travelling needs of the public there are looked after. Again, it's another one of those unsafe stretches of highway. Also the four-laning at Aspen Grove
Also, about $600,000 worth of resurface work was done between Merritt and Princeton on Highway 5A. As well, over $2 million -- I think it was almost $3 million -- worth of work on the Coquihalla Highway system was also done.
One final note: in my riding, hon. Speaker, it's a great place to make films, actually. Hollywood has made a number of films in that particular area of the province. There was one major film that they completed shooting in Princeton, Merritt, Lytton and the area and also at Douglas Lake, and that's the film called The Pledge. Sean Penn is the director, and Jack Nicholson and Tom Selleck are the stars in that particular film.
I now just want to turn my attention away from my riding to other parts of the province where we've done some good work. Kootenay Lake ferry was one of them, in the Minister of Agriculture's riding. It's on time and on budget. It has been assembled in the Kootenays by the people of that region. Almost 90 tradespeople are currently at work full-time on this particular project. Also, there is the $100 million Port Mann project, and I know the member from across the way who spoke earlier is happy to see that go ahead, thus making an investment in that particular part of the province as well. As well, several improvements to the nearby Cape Horn interchange are taking place, and at Mary Hill bypass. There's the Lions Gate project as well. Sorry, I apologize to the hon. member. It's the Lions Gate project in his riding; Port Mann is further south and east of that.
The airport connector, in partnership with Vancouver International Airport and also with the community of Richmond, is a $40 million project. It will help to move the goods faster to and from the airport at the YVR. We've spent, so far, a little less than $30 million already on the Trans-Canada Highway from Cache Creek to the Rockies in the last two years -- through the member for Shuswap's riding as well. I'll be looking forward to making some more announcements. So there is some good news coming in the coming days and week up there, as well.
On the northern roads initiative, we've going into year 3. Last year we did a little over $70 million; the year before it was $66 million. What we've done is more than doubled the investment from years previous to that. With the northern roads initiative and the oil and gas initiative that was announced a few months back, we're also looking forward to some more investment in the Peace, from South Peace north as well as other parts of the north up there. I know that in Prince George the John Hart Bridge is underway, and I know that two members from Prince George -- Prince George-Mount Robson as well as Prince George North -- have lobbied extensively to make sure that would become a reality.
We're also nearing the completion of the Vancouver Island Highway project. I want to point out that the Vancouver Island Highway project employed more than 3,500 skilled workers to date, and 90 percent of all workers that were hired on VIHP were hired locally, living within 100 kilometres of the jobsite. This ensures that Island communities benefit from the wages that they carry home, which have totalled more than $90 million. This year's construction program will provide hundreds more local jobs and contribute to the long-term economic development and the prosperity of Vancouver Island residents.
Also the Nisga'a Highway -- we're entering the second year of the program to make significant improvements to the Nisga'a Highway into the Nass Valley. Our goal is to construct a 70-kilometre-per-hour, two-lane road over a period of seven years. This $40 million long-term project will give Nisga'a and the non-Nisga'a residents of the Nass Valley much improved basic access to goods and services, and it will open up the Nass Valley to tourism, recreation and resource development. I know that the folks up there are quite happy about all of that.
[ Page 14583 ]
In closing, I want to state that this is a great budget for the people of British Columbia. They can look forward to not only greater economic activity but more job creation and also competitive strength in relation to other provinces and other parts of the world. We've also provided enough resources and capital there to protect our health care and education services that we provide and also all of our other social services. I'm happy to say that the budget also contains a good amount of money for highways and bridge construction in this province.
I know that the members across the way like to talk about balancing the books and balancing the budget. They keep talking about making these huge tax cuts, which would obviously drive the deficit up if they were to do that. But on the other side they also talk about putting more money into health and education. They can't have it both ways, hon. Speaker; they just can't have it both ways.
As I'm getting ready to sit down, I'm interested to see what the member for Okanagan-Penticton is going to say, because obviously there's a lot of good things in this budget, and I hope that he will be a lot more positive than his colleagues have been in their response to the budget over the last two days.
So thank you very much, hon. Speaker. It's a great day, and I stand here in support of this budget.
R. Thorpe: Today I would like to make a few comments on the March 27 budget on behalf the constituents of Okanagan-Penticton, a budget in which the Minister of Finance says his government is now going to operate differently. Apparently now they're going to tell the truth, yet another admission of their disastrous socialistic policies and deceptive practices -- mistruths, fudge-it budgets, convention centre and, of course, the crown jewel of incompetence that all members on that side, including the Premier over there, have to take credit for, and that is fast ferries.
Remember they said that they were new and that there was hope. Unfortunately, they're not new; it's the same old gang. That gang over there took $463 million of taxpayers' money and wasted it on fast ferries. It was back on February 3 that I wrote one of the members over there, who was running for the new leadership. I said: "You know, I see you've made some comments about fast ferries." As a matter of fact, it was the new Premier. Let me quote. He said: "It's my view that the public has the right to know, and it's important that their rights be protected in the most transparent way possible." That had to do with discussions on fast ferries. That's what he said before he became the Premier. What did he say after he became the Premier? He said: "No, shut it down." So much for open, transparent government.
We have a budget presented by the Finance minister the other day with a deficit of $1.3 billion -- the ninth deficit budget in a row.
An Hon. Member: How many -- nine?
R. Thorpe: Nine.
A budget that forecasts a provincial debt -- the debt that hard-working British Columbians are going to have to pay back -- of $36.5 billion, up another $2.3 billion this year
One of the most troubling aspects of this irresponsible fiscal management is that our interest costs now amount to $2.8 billion per year. That's a daily interest cost of $7,704,000 each and every day of the year. What could we do with that money in British Columbia each and every day? This government has deceived the hard-working people of British Columbia for nine straight years. Why should hard-working families give this incompetent government any more money?
What are British Columbians saying the day after the budget? They're saying: "The NDP still cannot live within B.C.'s means." They're saying: "Something old, something new, a lot borrowed to make us blue." They're saying: "A new budget, the same old NDP."
Mr. Speaker, nothing has changed. There is no vision; there is no plan. Most alarming of all, the minister responsible has already shown that his management skills are in question.
Let me give you an example. On page 43 of the budget, it notes that gas prices could go up to 92 cents a litre. When the minister was questioned about that yesterday, his comments on the radio were: "It must be a typo." Why can't people come clean with British Columbians and say that they've lost control of the finances of the province of British Columbia? Why can't they come clean?
How did we get into this unacceptable situation, this financial mess, especially when we have heard repeatedly how easy it would be for this government to balance the budget? "We didn't balance the budget," they said a year or two ago, "because you wouldn't believe us." I believe that person is now the Deputy Premier of the province of British Columbia.
The new Premier now has as a senior adviser the former Premier, Mike Harcourt. Let's see what he had to say about the finances of the province of British Columbia. Let me quote from this September 20, 1991, document called "New Democrat Fiscal Framework: The Five-Year Balanced Budget Plan." "New Democrats will not commit British Columbia to increased government debt simply to suit the short-term political needs of this election." That's what they said. Now he's a senior adviser to the Premier of the day.
They said: "One promise I have made is that my government will pursue these priorities within a balanced budget over a business cycle -- nine years." We now see -- and British Columbians see -- the error of their ways. No member over there knows what a business cycle is. They've never run a successful business.
They said that they would protect taxpayers' rights. That's what they said in 1991. Then of course, we have a couple of other quotes. Let me just give you a quote from March 29, 1994: "Perhaps for the first time in many years, we are conscious of the fact that debt has to be repaid, and a beginning has been made now." On March 29, 1994, those words came from the mouth of our new Premier.
Let's see what other little quotes we have. There are hundreds and thousands of them -- but we don't want to go into that. In the February 2000 issue of their internal documents, the new Premier says: "The government must develop strong spending management plans that ensure revenues are
[ Page 14584 ]used more effectively." This is unbelievable. This incompetent NDP government has taken our number one economy to number ten, and we continue to struggle. These are the facts. Our economy is number ten, behind everyone else in Canada. We used to be the pride of Canada. Mining has become nonexistent in British Columbia because of the policies of that government over there. Resource-based communities throughout British Columbia and the families of those communities live on the brink of collapse because of the policies of this government.
Taxes. This government talks about its approach to taxation, which is: up, up, up. You know, Mr. Speaker, the facts are that hard-working British Columbians have less in their pockets today than they had nine years ago because of the policies of that government right over there.
They have been told time and time again that debt is the silent killer, that debt will put in jeopardy our health care and education programs. Now we have the ministry of debt being the third-largest cost centre for the government and the people of British Columbia -- $2.8 billion this year.
Of course, what's happened to our investment climate? Well, you know, I happened to be in the member for Yale-Lillooet's riding not too long ago, and he's well aware of that. I was meeting with some small business people, and we were talking about things. I'm not going to name the individual organization, but there was an enterprising gentleman in that community who wanted to bring to Merritt a new international franchise. He thought that there would be an opportunity. He contacted their world headquarters about the possibility. Do you know what he was told, Mr. Speaker? And it's very good that the member for Yale-Lillooet
Small business throughout the province is hurting -- hurting big-time. They're being killed by overregulation, extremely high levels of personal taxation and inflexibility in employment standards. These are the facts. If you take the time to visit, as many members probably do, their small business constituents
The government talks
They have spent, and they say they spend, millions of dollars trying to listen to people. But they don't really listen. They're lost in their own propaganda, spending millions of dollars of taxpayers' money on advertising in an attempt to save their hides.
If this NDP government was really listening, they would have heard the following: cut personal taxes now. We must be competitive. We must be competitive so that the small businesses here in British Columbia and the individuals here in British Columbia can survive today. The other reason that you need a competitive personal income tax rate is so that investors will come. If investors come today and invest, tomorrow we create jobs. When we have jobs, we have more people paying taxes, and that is how we're going to make sure that we have a strong health care system and a strong education system.
They should have heard that they need a plan to eliminate the capital tax and reduce other taxes which are holding us back from being competitive in the global marketplace. They should be hearing -- and not resting on their laurels -- that they have to aggressively cut red tape, not hold up a couple of symbolic examples. They have to walk the talk each and every day.
But one of the things that members over there say is: "Well, this is political rhetoric." So what are people and professional organizations throughout British Columbia saying the day after the budget? What are they saying?
What is the Institute of Chartered Accountants of British Columbia, a very respected organization, saying? "B.C.'s economy is being left behind
What are the Certified Management Accountants saying? I'm pleased and proud to be a member of that organization. What did they say?
Hon. J. MacPhail: How do they feel about you being a member?
R. Thorpe: It's too bad the former Premier, deputy minister or whatever -- what are you? Deputy Premier? Finance minister? -- didn't tell the truth, because nobody would believe you. I got you -- okay. That's you.
The Speaker: Order, member.
R. Thorpe: What did the CMA say? "The government must also focus on fostering economic growth in order to maximize revenue generation." That's what the CMA says. They go on to say: "British Columbia needs sustainable permanent jobs to ensure our quality of life. We cannot afford to continue to borrow to prop up our public health and education systems. We need to ensure that we are getting full value for our tax dollar." That's what the CMAs are saying.
I mean, these are very reputable professional organizations that go across all political stripes. What are the CGAs saying? Let me just quote: "Today's budget will not send a clear and powerful message to potential investors that British Columbia is a good place to invest in to create jobs. The
[ Page 14585 ]budget will simply prolong the investment chill that hangs over this province's potential for prosperity and economic growth." It just comes out everywhere you go.
What did the Canadian Taxpayers Federation say, a great friend of the current Finance minister's? They said: "Cut personal income taxes. Reduce government spending. End business and special interest subsidies." That's what they said. Were they listened to? No, they weren't. But you know what? I wish the government members would just understand that it's not their money. It belongs to all British Columbians. Give it back to them.
Why can a government's revenues go up $1.2 billion, yet they can only come up, on their own, with $50 million in tax cuts -- 4 percent? There is $1.2 billion that comes in; they give $50 million back to hard-working British Columbians -- 4 percent. They keep 96 percent for themselves.
Those are the facts. I notice that some members are just joining us, and that's great. The tax, spend and debt policies of this NDP government are really putting our critical and vital services of health and education and those truly in need in our communities at severe risk. That's what's happening.
The citizens of Peachland, Naramata, Penticton and Summerland tell me that they want a fiscally responsible government. They want a government that lives within its means while protecting health care and education and providing those services to those truly in need.
Let us take a minute here and see what this government says it's going to do with health care. Quite frankly, I was saddened by the lack of seriousness that this government is putting into health care. All of a sudden they've now come to the realization that there's a shortage of nurses. Where have they been for nine years? They've just come to the realization that we have a problem with long term care facilities. Mr. Speaker, where have they been?
I know for a fact that for the last three years in this House, I have questioned and raised the issue of long term care facilities in the South Okanagan repeatedly, and I will not give up. But to date this government has not recognized the problem and has not addressed the problem seriously.
The shortage of nurses -- what they're now suggesting they're going to fix
People are very, very upset. In fact -- I've got it here somewhere -- there are great concerns about health care in the Okanagan. And I want to applaud the board of the Okanagan-Similkameen health district. Today they came out and said that they are concerned that the funding is not there. Whatever increases this government is talking about are being eaten up by hidden agreements, under-the-table deals and a less-than-straightforward government.
What is really, really, really missing from this budget
No. 2, there is absolutely no real personal income tax relief, other than the flow-through of the federal income tax cuts, and absolutely no plan to make B.C.'s income tax system competitive with other provinces. It's absolutely not there, and I don't care what rhetoric comes out of that Finance minister's mouth over there.
No. 3, there is no plan whatsoever to control expenditures or to reduce skyrocketing debt and no hope of balancing the budget until 2004-2005. That is a 15- or 16-year NDP business cycle. They talk
Mr. Speaker, I'm sure you noticed it yesterday, as I did. When they started talking about those costs, the Premier -- right over there -- turned to the Deputy Premier and said: "Do you know the cost?" I could hear this conversation. They then talked to the Attorney General, asked him if he knew, and a note came down to the Finance minister to say: "What are the costs? They're not in here. We said there'd be transparency."
They promised us full, open transparency. They didn't deliver on that. So what is it -- pick a number? The latest estimate is $600 million. When will the taxpayers of British Columbia get a full and clear accounting?
Then, of course, there's the very troubling $29 million less in funding for the B.C. family bonus program, due to improvements of the federal national child benefits system. This government made a choice to take $29 million away from children. They talk about their commitment to day care, and they're going to put $14 million in that? Come clean. This putting our children at risk
This government continues to hide or attempt to hide on the backs of working folks and use the scare tactics that the health care and education systems will be taken away from them when there is a change in government. Mr. Speaker, you know and I know and they know that that is simply not the truth.
British Columbians want an alternative; British Columbians deserve it. The members on this side have that positive alternative. We believe that this budget should have said
There should have been, as I said earlier, a dramatic cut in the basic personal income tax rates. All British Columbians
[ Page 14586 ]deserve a dramatic cut in taxes. There should have been the elimination of business subsidies. Rather than cherry-picking winners and losers, the government should be correcting its policies to make British Columbia is attractive for all businesses.
There should be full disclosure on all costs of capital projects, and put all contracts up to open tender. I wonder, if we did that, how many additional roads we could bring up to an acceptable level.
There should be a full public inquiry into the fast ferry fiasco. Taxpayers have had to assume $1.1 billion in debt because of the incompetence of that government over there.
R. Thorpe: Mr. Speaker, I'm surprised that that knowledgable member over there would say that taxpayers don't have to pay. Obviously he does not understand how the finances of this province work. He knows that there's only one person that pays all the bills in British Columbia, and that's the taxpayers of British Columbia. For him to say they don't is not acceptable.
There should be a redirection of tax dollars to patients and students. All of our money in health care and education should be directed to the patients and the students. That must be our priority. We need reliable, long-term funding for health care and education. Government should have implemented multi-year budget envelopes for health and school districts to ensure stability in long-term planning. They should come clean on the phony wage guidelines, with honest restraint -- zero-zero-and-2. Sadly, time will tell of another fiasco and how the money of taxpayers was spent in British Columbia under the guise of zero-zero-and-2 -- $600 million and climbing. It will be a billion dollars before that gang over there gets finished.
We have to reduce the costs of doing business here in British Columbia by rebalancing labour laws, increasing flex- ibility under the Employment Standards Act and cutting red tape by one third within the next three years. That is how we're going to restore our ability to compete and stimulate investment in British Columbia. We have to stop the brain drain. These are the things we have to do.
I note that time is ticking away here. We are the only province, other than Ontario, that continues to pursue the debt buildup. That is not acceptable -- $36.5 billion. But as I close, Mr. Speaker, let's not forget the crown jewel of this government's incompetency: the fast ferry. Yes, Mr. Premier, you and every member of your caucus did support this project. You are all part of the $500 million ripoff of the people of British Columbia. We need a public inquiry; the taxpayers are demanding it. I ask, Mr. Speaker, as I close up here
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to address this House.
The Speaker: Do you want to move the motion?
R. Thorpe: Noting the hour, I would like to make the motion to adjourn the House -- adjourn the debate.
The Speaker: The motion you mean is to adjourn the debate, yes.
Hon. H. Lali: I now move that we adjourn the House until 2 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:42 p.m.
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