2000 Legislative Session: 4th Session, 36th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, APRIL 4, 2000
Volume 18, Number 13
[ Page 14767 ]
The House met at 2:08 p.m.
M. Coell: I have a number of people I'd like to introduce to the House today: Stephanie Obara and 15 grade 11 social studies students and their teacher, Mr. Goodman, from Claremont Secondary School; also Tony Brogan, as a representative of the Victoria Real Estate Board. Would the House please make them all welcome.
Hon. P. Priddy: Today in the members' gallery we have special guests from the Primorsk region of the Russian Federation. They're here to meet with a number of people, but particularly around the issue of adoption. They've been meeting, I know, with the Ministry for Children and Families and with adoption agencies here in British Columbia. If you could, please join me in welcoming Mr. Konsantin Mezhonou, who's the chief of the Department of Education in the Primorsk region, and Mrs. Galina Nazdratenko.
L. Reid: I would ask the House to please join me today in welcoming Mr. Gerber and 44 grade 11 students from Richmond Christian School in the riding of Richmond East.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: It gives me a great deal of pleasure today to be able to introduce some very special people to the House. They are the provincial table on consultation for the Ministry for Children and Families, and I believe they're above me here. This table is composed of a broad community sector representation, in terms of both geographic and service areas, and members of the ministry's executive council. These individuals are long-serving, committed members of their organizations and their communities, and they're instrumental in shaping the policy and program development in the community social services area. Would all sides of the House please join me in giving them a very warm welcome to this chamber.
D. Streifel: It's a pleasure for me today to stand up and once more introduce my wife Linda to the House.
D. Streifel: It never fails. I get heckled, but that's okay. It's an important day for us today. Thirty years ago at this time, I was whistling "Get Me to the Church on Time." We've lasted 30; I'm looking for another 30 or 40 more. Would the House please welcome my wife.
R. Kasper: Today we have visiting Mr. Douglas Eddy from the Juan de Fuca Community Futures Development Corporation. Could the House please make him welcome.
The Speaker: Members, the Chair would also like to extend a welcome to our guests from the Vladivostok area. We enjoyed a lunch with the member for Prince George-Mount Robson and the member for Vancouver-Langara today. The guests are Mr. Konsantin Mezhonou, the chief of the Department of Education; Mrs. Galina Nazdratenko, the spouse of the governor of the Primorsk region; Ludmilla Popova, the CIS coordinator in the Primorsk region; Olga McQueen, the interpreter; and Dr. David Rempel, who is a school trustee in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows and the president of the CIS Friendship Exchange. Could I add my words of welcome, and would members please welcome them again.
CHILDREN AND FAMILIES MINISTRY AND
DELIVERY OF SERVICES TO CHILDREN
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: Thank you to my colleague across the floor for the question and for putting the advocate's report on the floor. I want to offer my thanks to the advocate at this time for her fifth report. I recognize very fully the important role that she plays in being a voice for the children and families across British Columbia. It's a very important role. It is important, too, to note that we in the ministry work very closely with the advocate. On much of the information, we work together in a cooperative way.
I want to point this out: while there have been substantial improvements in the ministry over the years -- clearly quite a lot of them -- a number of points that the advocate raised are indeed valid. We will be working together with her and in the ministry to continue to address those issues, to ensure the well-being and healthy development of the children of this province.
The Speaker: The member for Richmond East with a supplemental.
L. Reid: In 1996 the NDP minister ignored their children's advocate. A year later the next minister promised to make things better, and frankly, they only got worse. Then the next Children and Families minister said that the advocate's report was completely wrong. Minister after minister, report after report, things are getting worse for the children in this government's care. Will the current Minister for Children and Families tell us why we should believe anything will change -- frankly, anything will change -- under this government? The report does say that services have eroded -- not improved, frankly, but simply eroded.
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I want to respond by saying again that in cooperation with the advocate, we have acknowledged over the years the issues that she has raised. We very much appreciate the points she has made. The ministry is working very, very hard in all the areas that she has pointed out to improve the situation, as we continue to work toward building healthy children, healthy families and healthy communities in British Columbia.
[ Page 14768 ]
CHILD, YOUTH AND FAMILY ADVOCATE
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: The advocate has presented 17 recommendations. Some of them are huge in scope and reflect directly on budgetary issues that require an enormous amount of analysis. All sides, given any honest look at it, will acknowledge that point. So we will be looking
B. McKinnon: The title of the 1999 annual report from the child advocate says it all: "Not Good Enough." Essential services to children are not being given priority -- not good enough. Front-line staff have not been given adequate support -- not good enough. Early intervention services have been reduced -- not good enough.
CHILDREN AND FAMILIES MINISTRY AND
DELIVERY OF SERVICES TO CHILDREN
Will the minister tell us why, after half a decade of child advocate reports pointing out the mistakes, this government still doesn't get it?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: There are -- and I'm sure the hon. member would acknowledge this -- a number of enormously complex issues around Children and Families. This ministry is three and a half years old. It has had a restructuring about a year and a half ago. It is in a much more stable situation now, and that is what we wish to encourage to continue to happen.
I'm sure the members opposite would agree with that, as we work again towards providing the right and the adequate staffing, and well-supervised, well-resourced communities across this province for our children and their families.
B. McKinnon: This ministry was designed for the children of British Columbia, but since it was created in 1996, nothing has changed. The best interests of our children are not being served. Look at the Draayers. Were the best interests of those two girls served? No. It doesn't seem to matter who the minister is; nothing gets done. Why should we believe that this minister will be any better than her NDP predecessors?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: This is great fun; there's no question that this is great fun. But I want to say that I think there's been a tremendous amount of exaggeration, a tremendous amount of taking a role that really isn't taking it all seriously. I want to encourage all the members in this House who would like to know some of the background information to come and have a conversation with me about it all. I think we have major challenges before us, as we always have.
This government is committed to children and families in this province, as we noted in the budget, and I know all members have seen it and looked at it carefully. There is a 14.4 percent increase in this ministry's budget this year. A lot of that is going to go to services. A lot of that is going to go to low-wage redress in these communities, so that our children and our families will be served by committed people who are there to serve and are there as a career opportunity.
C. Clark: This isn't fun. This isn't fun for the kids that are described in these reports. It's not fun for the kid who got turned away by the ministry because being suicidal wasn't enough to qualify her for care. It's not fun for her. She goes out and tries to commit suicide three more times, and she still doesn't qualify for care. That's not fun.
CHILD, YOUTH AND FAMILY ADVOCATE
We've been through five years of reports. We've been through 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998, and now we've got 1999 -- appropriately coloured black. How many more recommendations does this minister have to see before she acts? She stands up today in the face of what must be hundreds of recommendations and says that she will consult. She'll analyze. She'll monitor the situation.
So I'll ask her today not about the hundreds of recommendations that have come forward, but about the 17 recommendations in this report. If she's only going to do a few of them, which ones does she accept, and which ones does she reject?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I appreciate the question. The issues of the 17 recommendations
The Speaker: Member for Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain with a supplemental.
C. Clark: Hon. Speaker, it has been five years. We have had five reports that have detailed failure after failure by this ministry. The minister still stands up and says: "Just trust me. I'm going to fix it. Don't worry; things are getting better." Well, the fact is that in these reports, things aren't getting better. They're getting worse in this ministry. When she stands up and says, "It's been three and a half years of reorganizations," that's three and a half years in children's lives. They pay a price for the empty words that she offers us today.
I'll ask her again: if she is committed, indeed, to doing something to improve the lives of children in the care of this government, will she tell us which of the recommendations she will act on immediately?
Hon. G. Mann Brewin: I would like to say to the hon. member and to the others that I wish there were perhaps a little less rhetoric and a little more straightforwardness about all of this. But I want to say through her, to the community
DISARMING OF AUXILIARY POLICEG. Plant: A new subject. In the gallery today there are two former members of the RCMP auxiliary police force in
[ Page 14769 ]British Columbia. These are individuals who collectively have given hundreds of hours of their own time as volunteers to help the police of British Columbia protect our communities from crime. Unfortunately, the former Attorney General, now the Premier
My question for the current Attorney General is: why has his government allowed this destruction of the auxiliary program to continue at a time when British Columbians continue to believe that keeping their communities safe is a number one priority?
Hon. A. Petter: Clearly the community and this government and all people in this province should appreciate the service that is provided by auxiliary police officers, and we certainly do. But as the member opposite well knows, the reason that the decision was taken was on the recommendation of police chiefs and the RCMP that it was not appropriate that those auxiliary police officers remain in possession of those arms. I think it's appropriate that we listen to the police and take the advice that the police provides us on these important issues of public safety. I would hope that the member opposite would support the leaders in the police community and the advice that they provide government, and not seek to undermine that advice.
The Speaker: Member for Richmond-Steveston with a supplemental.
G. Plant: Mr. Speaker, there is actually at least one member of the current NDP cabinet who doesn't in fact support the position just taken by the current Attorney General. To quote the current Minister of Employment during his recent leadership campaign: "I am on record as being strongly opposed to the disarming of the auxiliary police, as I was very critical of the Attorney General's decision at the time." Well, my question again to the current Attorney General is this: who's right -- the former Attorney General or the now Minister of Employment and Investment?
Hon. A. Petter: I'm more familiar with the Minister of Employment and Investment's disarming remarks than I am with any remarks he made to arm anyone.
Clearly the appropriate thing to do here is to leave these kinds of operational decisions to the police, who are charged with that responsibility. I think that is something that we can all support. It is a matter of seeking the confidence of the police in the ability to manage these issues. Certainly I intend to support the police in their efforts.
B. Penner: You know, almost every community in B.C. has been hurt by this government's crusade to disarm and destroy the auxiliary police program. There have been mass resignations around the province. In Terrace they've gone from having 18 active volunteers to just two. In Chilliwack we've gone from 52 excellent and committed volunteers to 13 today.
Will the Attorney General at least have the decency to admit to the auxiliaries who are here with us today that his government's policy has decimated the ranks of this once-proud program? And will he take steps today to restore it?
Hon. A. Petter: I really regret the sense from the member opposite that somehow the contribution and value of auxiliary police officers is measured by whether they carry arms or don't carry arms. The contribution that's made by auxiliary officers is considerable, but it's a contribution that has to be made in a way that is consistent with the operational decisions that the police themselves make. And these judgments are not ones that I think we in this Legislature are in the best position to make. That's why we have a police force. That's why that police force is there -- to make these operational decisions. Rather than politicizing this issue, I think we should indicate support for the police and the value that we place on auxiliary officers and encourage them in their fine work as well.
The Speaker: The member for Chilliwack on a supplemental.
B. Penner: Well, if the minister is concerned about politicizing this issue, perhaps he should speak with the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast. However, in the meantime, do you know what this government's response has been to the crisis in the auxiliary program? It's been to strip the auxiliary police of their civil rights by attempting to ban any kind of independent advocacy group from standing up and speaking out for auxiliary police in this province.
Will the Attorney General tell us why, instead of working to fix this program and get these crime fighters back on our streets and in our communities, he's working overtime to gag these dedicated volunteers?
Hon. A. Petter: I can assure the hon. member that while I have indeed been working overtime, it has not been in pursuit of the objective that he suggests. I have noticed no reluctance on the part of auxiliary police and others to raise this issue and make it known to the public. But as much as the member wants to make a political issue out of this, I think it is regrettable that he would seek to do so in the face of operational decisions and recommendations from the police themselves as to what is best. If he doubts the police's view on this, I wonder what else he doubts about the police's view.
I think that's where we start to see the system unravel, and I'm not prepared to do that. I'm not prepared to call into question the judgments of the senior officials in the police force as to what is best under these circumstances. I'm prepared to support them in this matter, and I think we would all do well to support them, in no way undermining the value we place on the auxiliary police and those volunteers who contribute so valuably through the auxiliary police.
Hon. D. Lovick: I now call continuing debate on the budget.
[ Page 14770 ]
E. Walsh: Hon. Speaker, I'm really pleased to be back this afternoon after lunch to finish what I know is very important and very good news not only for all members of this House but for all the people of British Columbia.
I want to talk a little bit about what I heard this morning, when the member for Okanagan-Boundary spoke about visiting my riding, specifically Cranbrook.
E. Walsh: They're so excited to hear what I'm saying, hon. Speaker. I know they can't hear me. They've asked me to speak louder, so I'll comply.
As I've said, obviously he was probably very bored in his own riding. Maybe he has a lack of things to do, or maybe it's because he's losing it. I'm not sure. But as I said, in my riding everybody's always welcome.
Listening to the member for Okanagan-Boundary talk this morning, he didn't understand and had no idea of many of the issues that affect Kootenay residents, specifically in the east. That's a bit of a disappointment, because I know the importance of that riding. I heard that during his conversations, he didn't even know what many of the projects were, what many of the issues were, what some of the challenges were. But you know what? I do know what they are; the people of Kootenay know what they are. They know exactly what's important for the residents. Those issues are important to the Kootenay residents. They're not important to the Okanagan-Boundary residents, but they're important to me; they're important to the residents of my riding.
He also spoke about the talk, and he spoke about mortgaging our children's future. Well, let's talk about that just for a minute. Let's talk about what this means, because this makes me assume that of the opposition members opposite, none of them hold a mortgage to a house; none of them have ever had to take a loan out for a car; none of them have ever taken a business loan out; that none of them have ever taken a loan out for anything. You know what? Anytime you invest in anything, that's exactly what you're doing. You're investing. You're investing in your future; you're investing in your children's future. These investments are in our future, and they're in our children's future.
For instance, let's just talk about a few little things that we as our government have invested in our future in my riding, which I'm sure the member for Okanagan-Boundary probably just forgot about. Or maybe he doesn't care.
Cranbrook, in the past
There's highways resurfacing -- Highway 3, east of Sparwood to the Alberta border; Highway 43 from Elkford to Sparwood; resurfacing of the St. Mary's Mission road. There's FRBC funding of $100,000 for new campsites at Kikomun in the provincial parks. Bridges -- the West Fernie Bridge, the North Fernie Bridge and the Michel Mouth Bridge
We speak of safety projects. All of these cost money -- Highway 3, Cranbrook; Victoria Avenue intersection, the signal upgrade. There's Highway 3 in Fernie -- full signalization at 7th Street -- and $20,000 now for Steeples Elementary for the Altogether Now program, keeping our children safe.
In health there's $194,742 for a lab information system; $400,000 for one-time debt-reduction funding for our hospital.
I can go down lists and lists of funding that my riding has in fact received. And why? It's because it's an investment in my riding, an investment in my communities. It's because this government cares about the people that live in my constituency, as it cares about people living in all constituencies in the province of British Columbia.
I could talk about the $110,000 that we received for youth treatment programs. I could talk about the $15,000 as a first instalment for Sparwood for a B.C. Housing project -- all of these very, very worthwhile projects.
But I'm hearing the opposition speak too. Further from those projects that are so very important to those residents that live in my riding, the other part that he was speaking about was truth. I agree with this. There must be truth. But you know, truth doesn't exempt anyone, and that includes the official opposition. That truth applies to everyone. I have a news flash for anybody that's interested. The member for Shuswap -- I'm sure he's really interested in it. It doesn't exempt anyone. Why don't they tell the truth? Why don't they tell us where they would cut? Why don't they tell us how they would cut? Why don't they tell us which programs and which services they would have cut in my riding -- which the member from Okanagan-Boundary came to visit -- and stand there and talk about what they would do? But there was no mention of what he would cut. Would it be the hospital lab? Would it be the radiographic unit? Would it have been the $17 million Fernie school? What would he have cut? What would they have cut?
Well, I want to know how they're going to keep their promises. Our promise is in the budget. I want to know how they're going to keep their promises. They say that they're going to balance the budget. They've made all these great and wonderful promises, but I want them to be honest. I want them to tell the residents in my riding how they are going to
[ Page 14771 ]do this and make all the cuts -- and all the lack of program service delivery in my area. I want to know which ones they're going to attack to do this.
I want to know -- and I know many of the residents that I represent want to know: what does "flexible labour laws" mean? I'm having a hard time understanding what flexible labour laws mean. I don't know. Maybe somebody can come and see me after and tell me what flexible labour laws mean, because I'm having a hard time.
My next question is: for who? Who are these flexible labour laws going to benefit? I invite you to come and let me know. I think it's a bunch of fluff. Unfortunately, you know what happens to fluff: it blows away in the wind. If the members opposite -- and I particularly speak about the member for Okanagan-Boundary -- paid any attention, they would have heard that the East Kootenay, in the riding that I represent, is booming. The economy is booming, and it's continuing to boom.
We have large investments. In fact, within a month Cranbrook is going to be seeing the development of a new $20 million development -- 139,600 square feet of new development. This is new retail space which is going to employ 200-plus people when they're finished. That's not including the people that are going to be building this project. Crestbrook Forest Industries will have their new $10.8 million value-added plant started up this month. Once it's in full production, they will re-employ the 1,000 employees that they had. They will be back to their full-time numbers of employment.
Fernie Alpine Resort -- over $200 million investment. St. Eugene Mission -- over $25 million investment. The recreational complex, plans to expand the Cranbrook Airport, over $20 million on road, highway and bridge work done just in the past year. Does this sound like an economy on the decline? I think not. In fact, to me -- and anybody who has watched and seen the work that has been done in the East Kootenay riding will know and understand -- this is an economy, a constituency, that is on an incline. It is on the way to recovery, and the economy is booming.
There's an old expression that people always use: "the grass is always greener on the other side." The meaning of this expression always comes from people that aren't very happy, and they're not very satisfied with where they are in that particular time of life. Unfortunately, what many of these people do is tend to romanticize any alternatives. This sort of romantic idealization of someone else's grass -- and I've heard it many times -- has often been referred to by the opposition.
But you know what they don't tell you? They do not tell you that their ideal of a leader, their ideal of a province -- right next door to us in Alberta
They don't tell you of the working homeless -- that was just on CBC radio -- and the challenges and the issues that those working people who are low- or middle-income face in Calgary and Edmonton. Do we hear about that? No, we don't, because that doesn't follow the message that they want people in B.C. to hear. It doesn't fit with their agenda. By Klein's own admission in his letter, the grass in Alberta is in fact no greener than the grass in British Columbia. In fact, if you add this to the higher costs that they have in Alberta, services and programs like post-secondary education
Those ranchers who moved to Alberta initially have now come back. I'm really happy about that. They found that it wasn't the land of mecca; it wasn't this land of Eden as they were led to believe. They may think that Alberta is the new land of Eden, but I'm afraid that many people who live there don't feel that. "I could no longer trust the Alberta education system to educate my son," says Ross Harvey, who left the province of his birth and lifelong residency. Then he goes on to say: "Portable classrooms now dot the grounds of underfunded public schools, while private schools now receive greater funding increases than the public system." Then he goes on to say: "These guys are a Chicago school from start to finish."
I see that my time is up, and I know that the opposition would like to hear all the great news that I have. I thank you for the time.
C. Hansen: Hon. Speaker, I want to start by congratulating you on your election as Speaker. We certainly look forward to your service to this House.
February 22 was the tenth anniversary of the establishment of a royal commission in this province. That was the royal commission that was established to look at health care and costs. It was set up under Justice Seaton. The report that was produced in the fall of 1991 we know today as the Seaton report. In one of the early pages of the report, it starts out by stating: "We are unanimous in our opinion that the system of health care in this province is one of the best, and quite possibly the best, in the world."
We've had nine years of NDP government since that report was produced, and I don't think there are very many British Columbians today who would say that we have one of the best and possibly the best health care system in the world.
We have had six Health ministers in that period of time. We've had six deputy ministers in that period of time. We have seen increasing havoc and deterioration of our health care system during that time. We see a lack of continuity. We see a lack of leadership from whoever is the Minister of Health at the time. We see a lack of priority-setting in health care programs. We see the lack of a provincial strategic plan for health care that will get us out of this mess in the future.
I believe that what we need in health care is strong political leadership from our provincial government. Then we need strong professional management of our health care system. Instead, what we have is the exact opposite. In British Columbia we have manipulative political management of our health care system, and we have a total void of leadership. We see lots of hand-wringing coming from NDP politicians --
[ Page 14772 ]individuals who stand up and say: "The status quo is not enough. The status quo is not good enough; we can't just add more money into health care." Yet we don't see any solutions. All we see is the hand-wringing.
If you ask any New Democrat MLA about health care, they would come back with two things. In fact, about a year ago they would have all stood up and said: "We're so proud of the fact that British Columbia has the highest per-capita spending on health care of any province in Canada." That was part of the rhetoric. Every NDP MLA used that line. They can't use that line anymore, because we are not number one in terms of health care spending per capita anymore. The numbers that have come out of the Canadian Institute for Health Information now show that British Columbia ranks number four out of ten provinces when it comes to health care spending per capita.
The other thing that every New Democrat MLA will brag about is the claim that health care spending in British Columbia has increased every single year that the NDP have been in office. And that's true; that has in fact been the case. The problem is where we have seen those increased dollars going. We certainly have not seen them going towards patient care in British Columbia. It's so typical of what we often hear from the NDP MLAs. The one thing that they can brag about is their ability to spend more taxpayers' money. But what they can't brag about is better patient care in British Columbia, because it doesn't exist; those increased dollars haven't gone to better patient care.
What the NDP government is very good at is knee-jerk reactions to problems in health care. As we have the latest crisis arise, you can count on the Minister of Health to come up with a knee-jerk response within a matter of 24 or 48 hours. I recall an evening last week when BCTV did an exposé on the six o'clock evening news about the number of patients that were lined up in the hallways of Surrey Memorial Hospital. The response that came from the then Minister of Health was to find, somewhere out of the pot of money, the dollars necessary to open 30 new beds at Surrey Memorial Hospital. That was the big announcement to respond to this newscast of two nights prior.
But you know what? On the same day that the minister was announcing that there would be 30 new beds opening at Surrey Memorial Hospital, the next closest hospital, Royal Columbian, was in the process of closing 30 acute care beds.
We saw another example of a newscast that portrayed the growing wait-list for MRI scans in British Columbia. We had patients who were waiting months and months to find out, as a result of the scan, that they were in need of urgent brain surgery. The wait-lists were unacceptably long, and they still are today. The response from the minister, within days, was to find $2.7 million to lengthen the wait-list. So where is the long-term plan? Where does this fit into the overall health planning in this province? It's a mystery; it's a mystery to all of us. It's a mystery to those who follow and watch health care in this province.
The CEOs at the health regions are expected to deliver health services in their areas around British Columbia. And yet we have seen in the last years that they're not even told what their budgets are until weeks -- and in some cases months -- after the start of the fiscal year. Here we are: it is now April 4. And the CEOs who are responsible for the delivery of health care in their regions should know today, and they should have known for some time, what kind of budgets they will be working with. I had one CEO tell me that he estimated that if we had three-year planning for a health budget, they could save 3 percent out of their budget. Think about it: 3 percent of our health budget. Do you know what that would be if you look at last year's health care spending? It would amount to just under a quarter of a billion dollars that could be saved if that CEO's estimate of a 3 percent saving is accurate.
We have been promised for some time that there would be a long-term strategy to come out of this ministry. I recall reading a document -- I believe it's called the accountability framework -- that is sent out to health authorities around the province. On page 8 of that document there is a section on what they call the accountability cycle. The accountability cycle starts with the Minister of Health explaining the strategic directions for health care in British Columbia, and then from there in this cycle it flows to the responsibility of our health authorities who have to come up with their three-to-five-year strategic plans. Then from there, that flows into the operational plans and the budgeting, and it flows into the accountability so that the public can hold those regional health authorities accountable, and we get good health care delivery in those regions. It's great on paper, but that's not what has happened. In reality, what happened is that the health authorities around this province were told that they had to deliver their three-to-five-year strategic plans by last June, and the ministry had not even produced its strategic directions document. The ramifications of this, hon. Speaker
Let me just read a line from a document that was prepared for the Vancouver-Richmond health board. It says, talking about the strategic planning process for the health authority: "Of course the ministry's direction arrived after most of the work had been done on the Vancouver-Richmond health board directions for the years 2000-2003." So here we have, all around the province, individual health authorities that were required by the Ministry of Health to produce their strategic planning documents for a three-year period, and yet the ministry itself had not set strategic directions. So what we have developing from region to region around British Columbia is a patchwork of health care. If you look at the way that health care is delivered in one part of the province, and we see the plans and directions that we're going in in another part of the province, they are not consistent. We are at risk of having this patchwork of health care developing around British Columbia.
This government will complain loudly about the cutbacks in federal funding on health care. We certainly join them in that criticism. Truly, that was a body blow to the delivery of health care all across Canada, and every province has been going through that. But let's look at what has happened to federal funding dollars in the last two years. A little over a year ago the federal government indicated that they were going to put a one-time infusion of cash into health care in Canada of $3.5 billion. British Columbia's per-capita share of that money was $471 million. It sat in a bank account in Toronto -- literally in a bank account -- waiting for this provincial government to draw down that money. In last year's budget they proposed that they were going to draw out $350 million of that $475 million, even though that $475 million was meant to be spread over a three-year period. Right at the end of the fiscal year -- I believe it was probably within
[ Page 14773 ]the last two weeks -- they drew out that $350 million, leaving only $121 million of that supplement to be carried forward for the next two years.
In this federal budget the federal government announced an additional $2.5 billion that was to be put into health care in Canada. British Columbia's share of that was $333 million, and again it was allocated for a three-year period. What we have seen in this budget is that this government has made a choice to draw all of the remaining $454 million out of that account for one year. So what we have is a program that is intended to last, to provide stable funding to health care in British Columbia over the coming three years. This government is taking all $454 million of that in this year alone.
Yet we look at the budget, and we see that health care spending in this province hasn't increased by $454 million. In fact, it's only up by $333 million -- $333 million of increased spending in health, when the federal transfers alone have increased this year by $454 million.
If we look at the $333 million in health care, where has it gone? It certainly has not gone into better patient care. We are slowly starting to learn more and more about how this government is going to be paying significant amounts of money for the settlement of the collective agreements in health care that were settled over the past two years.
Again, to quote from a document of the Vancouver-Richmond health board
The most significant change pertains to amounts required to be paid to these unionized staff when they retire and leave the workforce." So we're not even talking about the increase in benefits. We're not talking about the zero-zero-and-2 uptick, which of course wasn't zero-zero-and-2. We're not talking about the reclassifications that were done to allow people to increase their salaries through reclassifications. This is just for retirement and leave in the workforce.
It goes on to say: "The immediate impact of these changes requires an additional [$2.248 million] of expenses to reflect the increased liability as at April 1, 1999. This expense and the increased liability are not reflected in these financial statements, as the extent of funding from the Ministry of Health for this matter is still unknown."
That was more than halfway through the fiscal year. What the health authorities around this province are trying to deal with are the sweetheart deals for the trade unions and their collective agreements, who have no idea as to what the costs are. Health authorities are expected to manage the delivery of health care, yet they are not given this kind of information. Quite frankly, I don't believe this government has that information, because they are still trying to figure it out as they go along, long after the agreements are passed.
I want to move on to capital spending, because I think it is an area that is really an indictment of this government's commitment to health care. If we go back to the previous fiscal year, they had actually budgeted for $225 million to be spent on health care capital. It is interesting that by the time we got to the end of the fiscal year and the budget reports that came down 12 months ago, what they showed was that the capital spending for health care would be underspent by $72 million in British Columbia.
Hon. Speaker, what is interesting is that if you look at that same set of numbers, the B.C. Ferries capital budget for that period of time was overspent by $72 million. Does that sound like a government that is protecting health care? I don't think so. That is a government that is protecting its pet projects like the fast ferry program as a higher priority than spending on needed health care capital needs in this province.
The story doesn't end there. If you look at the budget reports that came down with this budget, what we see is that in this previous fiscal year they had budgeted for $359 million in capital spending. These are necessary projects all around the province that are in desperate need -- hospitals that are falling apart, equipment that is decades old and should be phased out and replaced with new equipment. Yet what we see in this year-end just ended is that this government underspent that capital budget by another $129 million. Over the space of two years we see the capital budget being underspent by in excess of $200 million. Look at the other priorities they have. Do you think the rapid transit project suffered? No, it was funded. All of the budgeted capital expenditures, and then some, went to the SkyTrain project.
Let's look at the B.C. Ferry Corporation. Again, their capital needs for this last fiscal year were met. Let's look at the needs for the B.C. Transportation Financing Authority -- the blacktop, the paving of roads. We've got capital dollars for that, thank you very much. But health care is being shortchanged year after year after year.
I asked the Minister of Finance about this the other night when we had our supply bill debate, and he made an astonishing admission. I'll quote him. "The Ministry of Health has had a problem, over several years, in actually getting the projects that they are authorized and funded to build, in process and under construction." We are talking about projects that have gone back years and years and years. There has been planning done on dozens of projects, yet this government can't get its act together to make sure that the dollars are allocated, so that the projects can be built so that patients can be served in British Columbia. I also found it interesting that the Minister of Finance, who was actually acting as the Minister of Health that night because the Minister of Health was absent, chose to blame the Ministry of Health for this inability to get projects rolling. In reality, capital spending in health is the responsibility of the Minister of Finance, and it's his own department that can't get its act together to ensure that patient needs are met around British Columbia.
In this budget, hon. Speaker, you look at some of the capital priorities. In here we have yet another list of promises of capital projects which may or may not happen, given their track record. We've got the Royal Jubilee expansion, a project that has been cut back because of lack of funding. Is that a lack of process, a delay in process? I don't think so. It's a lack of putting priority where it belongs. Now we're going to get a hospital expansion that everyone agrees is going to be totally inadequate and inappropriate for patient care.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
We look at the cancer clinic in Victoria, which is under construction. I found it amusing to be at the sod-turning
[ Page 14774 ]ceremony for that last year, when the MLA for Victoria-Hillside was bragging about the fact that this project was being fast-tracked. That project was promised long before the last election, and in the last election this member was going around Victoria bragging about the fact that the new cancer clinic was going to built. And like so many other health care projects in the months immediately following the election, it was frozen - zap! They were frozen solid by this government, because they made those promises in the election, and then they didn't have the dollars to finance them. It was a misleading of the voters in this province, and the voters are not going to forget that when it comes time for the next election.
If you look at the West Coast General Hospital, Port Alberni
The tertiary psychiatric facility at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops
I was in Campbell River recently, learning about the Yuculta Lodge That's a project that now finds its way into this year's budget but was promised long before the last election and then was frozen in the capital spending freeze. But you know what's interesting in these budget reports? If you look down onto the next page under "Roads and Transportation," the one item that will get the capital dollars is the continued construction of the third fast ferry. That shows you where this government's priorities are.
Yesterday in question period we talked about the mental health plan. Mental health is an area
Here we are in year 3, and what have we seen to date? We have seen $10 million spent towards fulfilling that plan. That is simply not enough, and it is simply a betrayal of those who are working so hard in the mental health field to help those who desperately need help from this government. It is simply not happening. It's a shame, hon. Speaker, because it's an area that this government should be doing much better on.
We had the astonishing admission from the previous Minister of Health when she said: "One of the challenges of this is, while it was announced, it was never in a budget." That is something that I think the NDP government should be totally ashamed of in this province.
I want to move on to community care beds. It's interesting that in this budget today, we have a commitment -- at least they say it is -- that funds are going to be provided for the opening of 194 new continuing-care beds in this fiscal year. Hon. Speaker, depending on whose numbers you look at, we need anywhere from 3,700 to 4,200 beds today to meet our needs. We have patients sitting in acute care beds in virtually every major hospital in this province who should not be in an acute care hospital. They should be in some kind of community care facility, but the community care beds simply do not exist. In the last five years we have seen only 500 new beds open. It is simply not enough to meet this need.
If you go back a few years, we saw a vibrant, active not-for-profit sector in this province that was working to provide those beds for communities. All around this province, we have to salute the work that has been done by the Lions Club, the Rotarians, the Elks -- the various community organizations. There's a lot of dedicated, single-purpose not-for-profit organizations, like the Glacier View Lodge Society in the Comox Valley, whose sole purpose is to provide for long-term care in those communities. Yet what we have seen from the actions of this government is that that not-for-profit sector has been gutted. We saw an amendment that was brought in recently -- actually, I guess it was about five years ago -- to the Health Authorities Act to give this government the authority to expropriate, without compensation, the assets of not-for-profit health care facilities in this province. We saw them move against the Glacier View Lodge Society. It is only as a result of the outcry of dedicated volunteers in the Comox Valley that the government decided to back off.
If the government wants to do something constructive towards meeting the needs of long-term care in this province, they could amend that legislation, remove the provision for that expropriation, as we have proposed, and allow the volunteer sector to once again be revitalized and energized towards helping to meet some of our health care needs in British Columbia.
I mentioned earlier Yuculta Lodge. It's interesting that that facility, which they are waiting for and have been waiting for, for some time
I want to move on to human resource planning. We've heard a lot about the shortage of nurses in British Columbia. Again, we see an area where the problem is getting worse instead of better. This government knew three and a half years ago that we were facing a nursing shortage. This government, three and a half years ago, did nothing to help meet that need. So now we are in a crisis. If you look at the number of nursing graduates who are coming into the profession in British Columbia
[ Page 14775 ]
We need 1,200 new nurses every year just to meet our existing levels, just to meet with attrition, just to replace those nurses that are leaving the profession -- never mind the growing need we're going to have in the future. Yet the number of nursing graduates is actually declining. Last year this government made a commitment that they were going to hire 400 new nurses in this past year. Yet when we see the number of new registrants, we see that that number, too, is declining. We see that it has gone from 1,271 new registrants in 1996 down to 1,229 new registrants in 1997. We see 1,135 in 1998, and now it's dropped to 1,103 in 1999. Those numbers are going the wrong way. It's because of this government's inability to forecast that need and to make sure that B.C. students have opportunities in our colleges and universities to train for those professions.
But nursing is only one aspect of health care. We are also seeing a growing and critical shortage of doctors. We certainly see it in northern remote communities, and we're seeing it increasingly in all parts of the province. I am told that the average age of an anaesthetist in British Columbia is 57 years old. Think about that. As they start to retire and leave the profession, how do we replace them? We've been relying -- whether it's nurses, doctors or any of the other health care professions -- on our ability to steal trained professionals from other jurisdictions. That doesn't work anymore. We have to make sure that we have those training spaces in British Columbia. We have to make sure that those training opportunities are there for British Columbia students to train to become our nurses, our doctors, our physiotherapists.
There's a survey that was recently done. It was forecasting the fastest-growing professions in Canada by the year 2006. Sixteen of those 20 professions are in the health care field. This government has done virtually nothing when it comes to planning for those human resource needs in the future.
We often hear this government brag that it is there to protect health care and education. It's part of the mantra; it's part of the rhetoric that we hear from the NDP MLAs. But what we have seen in the years that this government has been in office is a steady deterioration of health care. The actions that they take are not protecting health care. The actions that they take are, in fact, eroding and destroying health care in British Columbia.
There is one thing I would like to end on. It is the area where I think they are doing more than in any area to destroy health care in British Columbia. That's what they have done to destroy the economy of British Columbia. They are destroying our means to pay for the health care system that we need in the future.
David Baxter, who is a noted demographer, noted that in the year 2020, we are going to need $8 billion just for the health care of those British Columbians over the age of 65 -- and that's in 1999 constant dollars. He says that we can actually afford that as a province, providing we have annual economic growth rates of 1.9 percent a year for the next ten years and 2.5 percent a year for the years after that. He notes that in the 1960s, this province had growth rates of economic growth of 6.4 percent a year. In the 1970s we had economic growth of 4.8 percent a year. In the 1980s -- which many people think was a recession -- we had growth rates of 3.7 percent in British Columbia. But while the NDP have been in office in this province, we have had annual average growth rates in our economy of 1.6 percent.
Hon. Speaker, that kind of economic growth will not allow us to afford the health care system we need in the future. That, probably more than anything else that this NDP government is doing, is destroying health care in this province.
Hon. A. Petter: I ask leave to make an introduction.
Hon. A. Petter: In the Speaker's gallery today are some visitors from my constituency of Saanich South. It's my great pleasure to welcome about ten students -- grade 11 students -- from Claremont Secondary School. They are social studies students, and they are here to see how the Legislature functions. Of course, they have the experience of the Legislature having had a major impact on their lives in just the last few days, so they are perhaps more persuaded today of the relevance of this institution than ever before. I would like the other members of the House who are here with me today to join me in welcoming them and their teacher, Tony Goodman, to be with us today.
K. Whittred: It is my pleasure to rise at this time and speak in response to the amendment to the motion for the budget. I would like to note that the two things I think are the key issues in this amendment are the words "debt" and "long-term strategy."
However, before I get to those, I would like to take this opportunity -- as it has been my first opportunity to speak since the election -- to congratulate the Speaker on his position and to wish him well.
Also, this being my first opportunity to speak, at this time I would like to pay tribute to a member of the North Vancouver community and the Squamish nation who we lost recently. That, of course, is Joe Mathias, hereditary chief of the Squamish nation. He was a noted leader of his people and a most valued member of the North Vancouver community.
Today I would like to offer the members of the assembly a view from the Lonsdale Quay. From the Lonsdale Quay, which is the heart of my riding, we see a microcosm of the province. We can sit on the quay, and we can see the richness of this province go by us. To the east we see the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge. This is Highway 1. It shows that this is a link to the province and a link to the rest of Canada.
We have in front of us the port, which is our link to the world and B.C.'s link to the rest of the world. In that port we see the lumber, we see the products, and we see the coal from the Crow's Nest. We see the potash, the canola and the wheat from our neighbouring provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. We see the drydocks where today, unhappily, they maintain only the fishing fleet. And, of course, we also see behind us B.C. Rail, which is another connection to the interior.
Juxtaposed against this panorama of the vast richness of this province is also the image of this province's folly. To the direct east, if we glance down the harbour, we see the magnificent-looking Pacificat -- indeed a handsome vessel, but a vessel that is representative of the folly of this government, which has cost nearly half a billion dollars for the three of them together. Of course, we will speak about the effects of that in more detail a little later on.
As we think of this panorama, I am reminded of the province where I lived as a child, and that province is
[ Page 14776 ]Saskatchewan. I would like to point out that in Saskatchewan, we have a province that is nowhere near as rich in resources as this province is. It is landlocked; it is very cold in the winter; it has areas of desert. It's basically a province that has a not-very-diversified economy. It has fewer than a million people, and yet it has managed to achieve something that British Columbia has not.
Saskatchewan -- this little province without very many riches -- has recently balanced its budget for the seventh consecutive time. It has at the same time increased its health care spending. It has reduced its interest costs on debt by more than $200 million. And there is the key to British Columbia's problem. In B.C. this budget has added a debt of more than $3 billion, to bring the total provincial debt to $3.5 billion.
To go back to my little analogy of the view from the quay, we see three of those things right in front of us. In this budget, B.C. Rail was written down to the tune of $617 million and the fast ferries by $240 million. And across the water, you see what might have been the trade and convention centre, at $70 million. This accumulation of debt has added an additional $300 million in interest costs -- more than double what it was in 1991.
It is like a family that has maxed out its credit cards. Debt cripples. It takes away a government's ability to do what governments are supposed to do. And like a family that has maxed out its credit cards, who can't afford the new car, even though they may need one
This failure has led to mismanagement in a whole bunch of areas, and I would like to snapshot just a few of those areas today. My colleague has already alluded to one, and that is the area of mental health. It is quite astounding that this government did say three years ago that they had a mental health plan and then acknowledged: "Yeah, we had a plan, but we had no funding for it. This was never in the budget."
Similarly, the continuing-care plan
I would like to give you a more specific example of how the absence of strategy affects specific services to people. This is in the area of addictions treatment. It is a program that exists in my riding. I met with these people recently. This is a program that is highly renowned. It is quite successful, as addiction treatments go. It is well thought of throughout the medical community and communities that are in need of that service. But you know what? They are in serious difficulty. The reason that they are in serious difficulty is because they simply are not getting funding for their service. The main reason they're not getting funding for their service is that they have had their workers unionize. The costs of the service have gone up, but the funding has not gone up.
You know what, hon. Speaker? The great irony of this is
I would like to talk a little bit at this time about Lions Gate Hospital. Lions Gate Hospital, of course, is the hospital that serves the North Shore. It serves all of the North Shore well up to the area of Howe Sound, well into my colleague the member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi's riding. Lions Gate Hospital is classified as a tertiary hospital. It is classified as a trauma hospital and as a major neurological centre.
Now, time does not permit me to go into all of the intricacies of what those represent, but what it means is that Lions Gate Hospital, without an MRI, cannot perform the services which it is mandated by the Health ministry to do. I would like to just show you how this one instance reflects on a whole web of problems that exist in the health system. One of the things that the ministry did was commission a report by the Hay group on the needs of a department that offers a neurological service. The group reported back -- and I have to say that this was commissioned by the government; the government paid for this -- that any hospital that has a neurological service ought to have an MRI. There seems to be no question about that. However, the hospital still does not have an MRI. At present at Lions Gate I think there are four neurosurgeons, two of whom have been offered positions in the States. They are simply waiting to see whether or not they will have the tools to do their job. What we have right there is an example of the kind of brain drain that is being suffered by our health community.
Another problem within the health system that this one problem illustrates is the problem of health standards. The standard of health delivery says that if you have neurological services, you should have an MRI. Once again the ministry is contradicting itself in terms of its expectation.
We have other examples of the folly of not giving hospitals the equipment they need. I have an example of a person who was suffering seizures. This person was given all sorts of tests. The end result was that this person was subjected to unnecessary tests when an MRI scan would have revealed that the patient was in fact suffering from nothing terribly serious. Yet the patient had been put through a whole lot of trauma and in fact nearly died from the invasive treatment that was involved. Further to that, at Lions Gate the neurosurgeons are involved in a study which is one of the major studies in North America involving strokes and the treatment of people who have had strokes. Once again their position is jeopardized by the lack of an MRI.
This illustration, I think, exemplifies a kind of misguided spending in the health care system. We have a hospital that is designed as a neurosurgery centre. It is asked to take on the responsibilities for all of the North Shore, including the ski areas, as a trauma hospital, yet it is not given the tools to do
[ Page 14777 ]the job. As one of the doctors said to me: "It borders on malpractice, and it puts Lions Gate Hospital, in the area of neurosurgery, in almost the same category as a Third World country."
I would like to move on and for a few moments snapshot services to children. Services to children are the most fundamental of all services, and I believe this is where this government has betrayed the public the most. Services to children are where parents feel desperate, and this member knows the feeling of desperation. When you wake up in the morning and your child has a temperature, and it's a day that you could not possibly miss work, and you don't know how you're going to get child care
Let's look at what we have in this province, not what this government says they have. They claim to be the party that cares about children. What we have, in a nutshell, are some of the following. We have a ministry for children that is in crisis. Today we got a report in which the child, youth and family advocate simply said that it's not good enough, and she came down with a number of recommendations that have not been acted upon.
In addition to that, I am told by experts in the field that we have a crisis in infant and toddler care. The children's advocate has pointed out, as have many, many others in this professional field, that early development services are simply inadequate. They have not been expanded, despite compelling research. There is an abundance of compelling research that points out the importance and the value of early childhood education. The children's advocate goes on to point out that early intervention services have in fact been reduced under this government -- not expanded. Those are but a few of the things that I'm going to focus on.
What has this government done to try to address those very, very serious issues? Well, they took $29 million in funding from the B.C. family bonus, which came from improvements to the national child tax credit. That's a choice that this government made. They took $29 million that could have gone to children and families. I don't know where it's going to go. They have $35 million that they saved this last week from the strike in education. Where has it gone? If you take those two amounts, you come up with $64 million -- $64 million you might actually be able to do something with.
What have they done? They have in fact said that they're going to introduce a child care program. They've got $14 million in the budget for before- and after-school care. Nowhere in the child, youth and family advocate's report, nowhere in any report that I have seen, is that listed as a priority.
Am I saying it's not important? No. I'm saying that if we have some money to put into child care, let's have a strategic plan. Let's decide where that money is going to be spent. Let's decide where our priorities are. A cynical person might think that that $14 million for before- and after-school care is really something of a ploy in an election year.
I would like to mention just a few examples. Recently I had the pleasure of touring many, many areas of this province and consulting with people who run child care centres and who are in the business. You know something? Several of them are in danger of closing their doors. Why in heaven's name is this government talking about a new program when, on the other hand, we are closing existing programs? This is all related to funding measures and block funding vis-à-vis supported child care funding. It really doesn't matter how it's funded. What matters is that these child care resources are disappearing from the communities.
We have the example of Granny Y's in Vancouver. As someone in the child care business said to me: "If the Y can't keep a child care centre open, then who can? Nobody knows the business better than them."
In my own community I have a situation where there is a program for teen moms and their infant babies. It is in danger of closing. You know what I am told? I am told over and over again that they have just a terrible time trying to get funding for these particular children. I'm told that there is a retinue of regulations and that this child doesn't fit and that child doesn't fit the criteria. The end result is of course that teen moms are not in school and the babies aren't being looked after. Once again, hon. Speaker, I have to ask you: what is the point of offering something new when we're closing another program down? I have to ask where the government has set its priorities.
I know governments have difficult choices to make. We saw an example yesterday where some government members made difficult choices. They made a difficult choice about whether in fact they were going to vote and support their own government. They made that choice. Governments dealing with these issues
You have to say: "All right, we've got this much money, and this is where we're going to put it." It doesn't make sense to close down one program that may in fact have a whole lot of long-term repercussions, such as the case of teen moms. If teen moms can't go to school, they don't graduate. They can't get an education to get a proper job, and they will never support their family. The cycle just goes round and round. That is the place where you have to break that cycle.
Another example from my riding is from a very well established social service agency that offers a number of programs in the child care field. This agency, as well, said to me that they are simply in a position where they can no longer offer the programs because they simply can't fund them. This, again, is a result of the unionization of the community social services sector. The agencies have not been funded. The government is not funding these contracts.
As one said to me: "If someone goes out and hires a maintenance contractor to fix the highway, that contract is funded. If the government hires an agency to provide child care programs, they don't fund them to the full amount. It's very difficult to go out and fundraise to pay union wages." You know, it's easy to go out and fundraise. Well, I shouldn't say that; it's never easy to fundraise. But it's not easy to fundraise if you don't have the cause at the end of the rainbow.
I think that this government is ultimately going to have to decide where its priorities are. We talk about services to children; we talk about education. They talk about all of these things, but we don't see the evidence. We don't see the pro-
[ Page 14778 ]grams in place. What we would like to see the government come up with -- and we would be more than happy to talk to them about it -- is a full strategic plan about what they have in mind for a child care program. Then we can talk.
I would like to conclude today with just a couple of thoughts about the budget. One of the statements that the minister made which really caught my eye -- and it's almost my favourite statement from the budget -- is: "British Columbians have told me they do not want reckless promises that are impossible to achieve." That is a perfect example of what I have been talking about. Child care is absolutely the most fundamental service, along with other services to children, that society offers. I would like to see the government come up with a real plan, something that is possible to achieve, because at this time the financial management of this government simply does not make it even worthy of conversation to talk about universal child care.
I will conclude with my absolutely favourite line from the budget. It's on an entirely different subject. He said: "By July of this year, every single public school in this province will be wired to the Internet through the provincial learning network, and every student will have access to the World Wide Web of information and ideas." I do not know how many times that promise has been made. I know it was made in 1995; I know it was made in 1996. And I suggest that right there we see an example that a leopard doesn't change its spots and neither does this government.
Deputy Speaker: I recognize the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.
Hon. D. Lovick: Mr. Speaker, I'm not accustomed these days to being recognized as anything but Government House Leader, so I am glad you noticed that I'm in a different incarnation.
I want to do something a little different in my "response to budget" today, but I want to start, however, with the old-fashioned way -- if I can put it that way -- and respond ever so briefly to the comments just made by the member opposite. I do so in the best spirit of partisan difference, which I think this House ought to embrace.
I find it positively amazing that the member opposite will end her speech by drawing attention to the importance of child care in this province when, less than two weeks ago, I heard her say on CBC radio that child care is not a priority. I have difficulty with that. I also have difficulty with the fact that the member laments union wages, as if that is some kind of a blight on the landscape, when she worked most of her teaching career in a good, union shop with decent wages. Does she mean, then, that those who don't earn as much as her are the villains of the piece? I have trouble with that. I realize I could get testy, and I will therefore try to change my ways into a more civil and understanding response-tone demeanour. But I struggle when I listen to that kind of cant, that kind of hypocrisy, if I may be so bold.
I want to start by saying that I think what we require in this chamber is, indeed, a change in approach. I believe that very strongly. One of the things it seems to me we would be well served to do is to heed the model of our government Whip, who I see is in the chamber at this moment. The government Whip has on his door a little sign. It's one of those things with a word and a red line through it. The word in this case is "whining," and the line is a red line through it. In other words, "no whining." That is his message to our caucus, and I think that's a good message for this chamber. I for one am tired of listening to the whining. Have different criticisms, to be sure; have differences of opinion, to be sure. But don't rant and complain and cry as if nothing good has ever occurred. It seems to me that we in this chamber, clearly, and indeed we in this province should try to get beyond the ritualistic and predictable parts that we play all too often -- me included. We're all guilty of that. I'm not suggesting for a moment that we on this side are somehow pure and that the fault lies entirely with the other side.
Let me illustrate the point. I've been participating in budget debates for about 14 years now. Man, that makes me feel old, I admit. This isn't a plea for sympathy; it's just a statement of fact. But in talking in all those years, I think I know a little bit about what the drill is. The drill is that what government does, of course, is suggest that whatever the budget contains is the solution to all one's problems and that all will be happiness and that milk and honey will flow, etc. Opposition, for its part, says: "Ah, the sky is falling; it's a disaster; nothing good is happening, etc." I don't need to bore you with the details. Suffice to say that's the way the game is traditionally played.
The other piece, however, of that traditional approach to budgets and budget debate is that people don't talk about the budget. They talk about everything else but the budget. They talk about their wish list; they talk about their ridings; they talk about their families, their friends -- and on and on it goes. That, again, is perhaps okay, but it seems to me that a somewhat better and more ingenuous approach would be to actually look at the reality of budget-making and budgets -- not what we wish might be, but the reality and the difficulty of budget-making.
I want to submit -- I'll put this argument forward in all seriousness -- that this budget and the statements contained therein, not to mention the financial allocation spelled out in that budget
The first is that the budget actually says mea culpa. It's says: "We've made mistakes." That doesn't happen normally. The reason it doesn't happen is because in the culture which we inhabit, if you admit a mistake, suddenly your opponents feel they have a huge advantage over you; they can laugh and point a finger at you. The result of that, of course, is that we don't admit mistakes, because there's a price to pay for admitting mistakes. So I commend the government and I commend the Finance minister for carrying out that mea culpa; it's appropriate.
The second thing the budget does, which I think is absolutely appropriate again, is that it acknowledges the crucially important point that budgets are about balancing interests -- an admission, thereby, of not having all the answers. That's not to suggest that the government can just do this, could spend some money here and there, and everything will be solved. It says that that's not the truth. It says, rather, that money and more money will seldom be the solution to the problem. Indeed, it challenges us to do something beyond that.
[ Page 14779 ]The third reason is that what the budget does -- again under the heading of the balancing of interests, if I can put it that way -- is recognize the reality of budget-making. Let me, if I may, suggest what that reality involves.
I'll do it by posing a riddle: what do the science and the discipline of economics and the nature of politics and budget-making have in common? The answer to the riddle isn't terribly complicated for anybody with any experience in any of those fields. They are all about the allocation of scarce resources. That's what they're about: scarce resources.
By scarcity, I mean not that we don't have enough ground to plow and not that we don't have enough trees in the province or minerals in the ground. I mean, rather, the scarcity of resources to satisfy all the demands that humankind is capable of. The simple truth, if you reflect on it, of course, is that we will never have sufficient resources to satisfy all of our demands.
Budgets, like economics and like politics, also have to grapple with -- let's be blunt about it -- the difficult process of balancing and reconciling competing interests. And let's be clear: there are competing interests. The forest industry's interests are not entirely consonant and compatible with environmentalists' interests. The first nations interests are not entirely compatible with the provincial government's interests in terms of development and use of Crown land. Those are competing interests; they're different interests.
What this budget does is say: "We will endeavour to balance those interests." We will stake out the territory that we, the government, wish to occupy -- what we believe is important. Others may disagree; so be it. That's legitimate; that's appropriate; that's what it should be about. But we will acknowledge that there are two sides to the coin, at least.
The point in talking about the difficulty of that budget-making process, of allocating scarce resources, is that the solution will always be imperfect. It will always be a compromise. Philosophers have been known to argue theorem, a kind of philosopher's stone that says something like this: "You don't dismiss the good by demanding the perfect."
I think that's the problem on both sides of this House that we fall into. We have a budget debate that seems to be predicated on the notion that you can do anything; that you can indeed solve all the problems; that the money is just there; that all you have to do is re-jig it a little bit, and there'll be everything there. Of course, the fact is: that's not true.
An Hon. Member: That's what I said.
Hon. D. Lovick: Well, except the member opposite says
Members opposite have a different solution to the one that we on this side have, and the solution essentially is to give a tax break. Give a tax break to the most privileged and wealthy within our society, and that will solve the problem.
Now, that's a perfectly legitimate point of view. It's good, old-fashioned, orthodox eighteenth-century economics. Good for them. Let them believe it if they want to. That's fine; that's their right. But don't for a moment try to suggest to me that a simple matter of a tax cut to the wealthiest in our society will solve all the problems. We have a few hundred years of history to demonstrate that demonstrably does not work.
My point again, I guess, is to simply suggest that what we need to do is acknowledge the reality of budget-making. I will be blunt -- blunter. There will always be waiting lists in this province. There will always -- God help us -- be poverty in the midst of plenty. There will always be children who finish school who don't read as well as they should. There will -- again, God help us, and God forgive us -- also likely always be bigotry and discrimination and violence and all of those things.
I believe that a person's reach should indeed exceed her grasp, but by the same token, I also believe we have an obligation to the people of this province and to taxpayers to be realistic and to be candid with what we say is doable and not doable in a budget. I for one -- after 14 years of watching the dance, of watching the pas de deux -- have had enough of the pretence, the pretending that all the solutions are simple. All you have to do in this instance today, in the year 2000, is to give a tax break to the rich, and everything will be solved. I've had enough of listening to that.
Mr. Speaker, I want to suggest to the opposition that I would listen much more carefully to their rendition of events if they would at least acknowledge three realities in British Columbia. The three realities are:
1. There was something called an Asian flu. I've never yet heard a speech in this chamber by any member on that side of the House who acknowledges that there was a horrible economic crisis in this province called the Asian flu.
2. Similarly, I have never heard those people acknowledge something called the collapse -- the worldwide collapse -- of commodity prices. Never heard it.
3. I have never heard word one from those people about the horrendous and devastating impact we in this province face because of federal transfer payment cuts.
Now, they don't have to agree with what we say about all of those things. Nobody is asking that. They are, after all, opposition; we're government. We have disagreements. That's fair; that's as it should be. But to talk about budget-making in B.C. and to suggest -- by silence, if nothing else -- that those three phenomena have had nothing to do with our financial circumstance or the B.C. economy is ludicrous in the extreme, and that bothers me hugely.
I'm happy to note that, even though one would never conclude that from listening to the opposition, things have indeed begun to turn much for the better in this province -- not nearly as much as any of us would like. Good Lord, I'm not happy with any significant factor of unemployment. None of us is, I suspect. But I do know that the trends in this province now are very healthy indeed. I note, for instance, that the senior economist for the Toronto-Dominion Bank -- hardly what I would call an unabashed leftie or something -- has made the point that we have seen very competing evi-
[ Page 14780 ]dence that B.C.'s economy has been recovering since the early part of last year. Recently, over the past four to five months, we have seen B.C. consumers jump on the bandwagon. That of course is the last missing piece, because unless there's consumer confidence and some enthusiasm on the part of people who actually spend money in an economy, nothing else is really going to matter.
I note also that we now have in this province -- but nobody wants to admit it, at least on the other side -- the lowest unemployment rate in the last 18 years. Now, don't you think that should at least be acknowledged? I mean, criticize us for what we're guilty of, to be sure, but don't you think that one ought to
An Hon. Member: You're taking credit for that?
Hon. D. Lovick: Ah, you heard the giveaway line. They've revealed themselves -- on cue, I might add. The giveaway line is: "You're taking credit for that?" The member for Shuswap, when somebody else mentioned that particular statistic, said: "No thanks to you." Isn't it interesting? Let's put our minds to this intellectual conundrum; let's put our minds to this one. If in fact the British Columbia government is absolutely to blame for everything that's wrong in an economy -- which is the point I made a moment ago -- doesn't it logically follow that the British Columbia government should get full credit for everything that's right in an economy? I would submit that that is probably the short answer to the question from the member opposite. I hope he is still listening.
So far all I've been attempting to do is create a context for this budget. I want to be a little bit specific in the time remaining for me. I want to just highlight, if I might, what I think are, if not themes, at least fundamental pieces of the budget. The first is the area of tax cuts. In general and in particular, I want to refer to those. A few minutes ago I alluded to the fact that tax cuts seem to be the nostrum for people of a more conservative bent when it comes to economic matters. The belief essentially is that the solution to all economic problems is a tax cut, usually to those who are at the top -- because, it is argued, they will invest the money.
We take a somewhat different view. We believe that tax cuts are important but that they ought to be targeted. They ought to be targeted pre-eminently to middle- and lower-income-earning people, so those individuals will indeed spend that money -- because they don't, frankly, have a lot of options to do otherwise. That in turn will stimulate consumer demand. That's the position we take. Accordingly, we are, I'm happy to note, cutting provincial taxes $50 million more this year and $70 million more next year. What appeals to me most is the fact that some 100,000 British Columbians will be freed from paying any tax at all -- obviously the lower end of the income spectrum. That seems to me absolutely appropriate.
Another broad heading
I want to make a point, though, before I speak further about the particulars of that investment strategy. I want to just draw attention to a fact that I think is often forgotten. That is that investments in education are also one of the biggest subsidies to business in this province. It's one of those things that the business community is reluctant, it seems -- too often reluctant -- to admit. The reality is that most public spending is of huge benefit to, huge advantage to, the business community particularly. I don't mean not to the general public as well, because that's also true. But for most of what we do in education, the principal beneficiaries are employers. They're the people who get the trained workforce. They're the people who most benefit from our -- the people's -- investment in education.
Arguably, one can say the same about transportation. You can argue that transportation, given that it's absolutely central to any kind of economic activity, is also an area in which government's investments are of primary benefit to business and to industry.
That's just a given. I don't say that to be contentious -- I don't think that it is contentious -- but just to make the point that I think it's forgotten. So when we talk about investing in education, I think we also need to recognize that that is a clear recognition and acceptance of the legitimacy of the business agenda. And note that I say the "legitimacy" of the business agenda.
On this side of the House, we believe that a well-educated and highly trained workforce is absolutely crucial to the continuing prosperity of this society and indeed to our ability to compete and participate fully in a global economy. We don't think you can do that without a well-educated workforce.
Accordingly, tuition fees for post-secondary education in this province have been frozen for the fifth straight year. An increase of $85 million to universities and colleges to restore core funding, to help with the tuition fees and to create new courses
The third area in the budget that seems to me to stand out hugely and clearly is the need to balance our social priorities with our ability and our willingness to pay. It's not a matter of simply writing a blank cheque and saying: "We're going to do everything that everybody wants to be done in health care or education or post-secondary education." Rather, it says that it's about making choices. It's back again to the point I made earlier about the allocation of relatively scarce resources.
What we've done is clearly decide again that health care is our principal priority -- I think most Canadians would agree with that -- and therefore for five years in a row now, or nine years in a row, we have indeed increased spending on health care. We note, however -- and I appreciate very much the Minister of Finance's candour and his directness with the people -- that based, obviously, on our experience in nine
[ Page 14781 ]years, we know that putting in that much money doesn't solve all the problems. Indeed, some would argue that perhaps it creates some.
We are therefore talking about exploring some new options. Looking at some innovations, let us
Some of that's happened, but we're talking about doing it now in a bigger way. We've come to an agreement with doctors. Obviously doctors are an absolutely crucial part of the system, but they're not the only part of the system. Nor are hospitals the only part of the system, but they are certainly absolutely crucial. I believe that this budget addresses all of those needs. We're talking about new spaces and training for nurses; we're talking about an agreement with the doctors. We're talking in the budget about child care programs for working parents. I think we're doing the best that we can do, given the constraints under which we must labour.
The budget also addresses
There has been a huge shift in terms of the amount of GNP produced by various sectors and in terms of the employment in various sectors. One of the things that's been absolutely clear for at least ten or 15 years is the importance of high-tech and innovation. Government, to its credit I think, has recognized that we need to invest in that. Therefore things like a new high-tech research and development tax credit to provide $28 million to people who are innovators in business is, I think, an absolutely appropriate way to provide support to business. Note again that it's the same principle we talked about with tax cuts, however. It's not just a cut across the board hoping that something will happen; it's targeted. It's a planned, deliberately intended incentive, and I think it's a good one.
[The Speaker in the chair.]
We did the same with film. We're obviously targeting film because it has huge growth and employment potential. I think the results of our investments there speak very well for ourselves; similarly with things like fisheries. We recognize that our fisheries industry has indeed taken a beating in the last few years, and it's not good enough simply to say that it's a federal responsibility. Rather, we in B.C. believe we should get into the game in a big way -- therefore Fisheries Renewal B.C.
I would be remiss if I didn't, in the last moment or two that I have, draw attention to one other part of the budget, one that is of course near and dear to me -- namely, my ministry responsibility. I was pleased that the budget noted that we are working to achieve certainty on the land base through negotiating treaties with first nations. That particular problem has been around for a long time, despite the fact that B.C. was in denial for most of our history, pretending that first nations didn't really exist and that there wasn't a problem. There is a problem, and everybody who pauses to reflect or learn anything about the subject soon comes to that conclusion. We need to do something to resolve the uncertainty on the land base, let alone deal more justly with first nations people in this province than, alas, we have for most of our history.
I'm happy to note -- I'm pleased that the Minister of Finance has come in, because I can give him some kudos here -- that this budget, albeit pretty tight for a number of different ministries, was indeed generous to my ministry. Last year the total amount of money spent on this ministry was some $35.35 million. This year we have a significant increase; we're up to $43 million. We're still a small ministry. Relative to Education or something, it's not a great deal and perhaps doesn't sound that impressive. But for me and with what we're trying to do in the Aboriginal Affairs ministry to resolve those hugely important questions, it's tremendously significant. We have an $8 million increase, and I can assure everybody that it will be put to very good use.
Mr. Speaker, I see that I am probably pushing the envelope in terms of time allotted to me, so let me
Hon. D. Lovick: I didn't mean the envelope in terms of acceptance by the opposition. I hasten to point out that wasn't my plan. What I do want to say, though, if I may, again about the Aboriginal file is that I am hugely frustrated by the fact that there are still people among us who like to talk the talk in terms of saying: "Yeah, we've got to settle treaties." But the moment we actually get down to the business of trying to negotiate a treaty, they find a million reasons why we can't do so.
I would just like to share with this House, if I might, what I said to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs when they were here to talk about the Nisga'a treaty and what I said, via somebody else but quoting my words, to the Senate committee on the Nisga'a treaty. I simply made this point. Nobody, surely, believes that we can look at our history with first nations in this province or in this country with any pride. Obviously what we've done has not worked. Assign the blame where you want; the fact is that it hasn't worked. We need to do something different. In my considered opinion, what we need to do above all is empower first nations people to take control of their own destiny -- and to get out of the way.
That's what I think settling treaties is ultimately about. I think it's about saying to first nations: "We will work with you, and we will assist you, but we will get out of the way so that you can take control of your own destiny. All the indicators are that self-determination, that control over one's resources, economy, health system, education system, one's culture
G. Janssen: Hon. Speaker, I'll try and be as eloquent as the member for Nanaimo and former learned professor from Malaspina College, now Malaspina University College.
[ Page 14782 ]The budget we have just announced signals the start of a new kind of government in British Columbia. Taking advice from the auditor general -- not from the opposition, but from the auditor general, the Enns panel, the media, concerned citizens -- this government has listened to and acted on their calls for new openness in the budget process. The opposition did say that they wanted new openness, and we announced that we were doing it. They said, as they often do: "It doesn't go far enough -- not enough. More money, more programs -- and, by the way, control the budget." We'll get to that.
In the months leading up to the budget, the Minister of Finance and others met with private citizens and organizations across this province, listened to their concerns and noted their priorities. This budget reflects those concerns. British Columbians have told this government that they want us to strengthen the health care system and invest in education. In this budget we have done that. In Alberni we are nearing completion of a new $42 million hospital. In the last year we have inaugurated a walk-in mammography clinic, and we continue to build on programs for British Columbians.
They also told us that they want to lower taxes so that they'll have more money in their own pockets. We agree, and that's why we're taking this new approach. We believe that the way to build economic momentum today is not through megaprojects but with tax cuts focused on middle- and low-income families -- not high-income families, not high-rollers, as the opposition suggests, but people who need tax relief most. Take a dollar and put it in the pocket of a working person, and that dollar goes to work. It's spent in communities -- on their homes, their families, themselves -- and those dollars continue to put more people to work and keep the economy growing.
Recently we have seen the tremendous expansion that's taking place in British Columbia. Whistler is virtually overbooked. I planned a holiday there, a small holiday with my wife, and we couldn't get in. We had to stay in Squamish. In the riding of the Minister of Forests, in Golden we're seeing a Dutch company -- where there are no ski hills, no mountains -- making a massive investment to create yet another Whistler in British Columbia. They see the opportunity, and they don't complain about taxes. But they want to invest here, because they know that British Columbia has a bright economic future.
The recent federal tax cuts mean an automatic reduction in provincial taxes. Our taxes will fall by $175 million, and we are delivering that tax cut to British Columbians in full. In addition, B.C. is cutting $50 million more this fiscal year and another $70 million next year. This means a total provincial personal income tax reduction of $225 million this year and $354 million next year. And the opposition says: "It's not enough; it's piddling. It doesn't mean any more than a cup of coffee." But 90 percent of this tax cut will go to middle-class and low-income British Columbians.
We're able to do this because we are changing to a made-in-British Columbia tax policy, where our tax is calculated on income -- not on the federal tax, but on your own income. This change allows us to shape this and future provincial tax cuts and not rely on the whim of federal ministers. I can't remember when we last had a federal tax minister from British Columbia or from the west. They always seem to come from the east, and they always seem to be those high-income earners who have no understanding of how low-income or middle-income people survive. The tax structure in British Columbia will also be indexed to inflation, protecting tax breaks from what is known as bracket creep.
All told, over two years this government will put more than half a billion dollars back into the pockets of British Columbians. We've all heard of rich hockey players and their owners who say they need a tax break in order to survive. I know Pavel Bure makes a few more dollars than I do and you do, folks, and how he could stand there and say: "I have to move to America because I can't afford to pay the taxes
I don't know what you need to live on, but $6 million, $7 million, $10 million dollars? I mean, I could get by. I know my constituents could get by, even if they had to pay half of it in taxes. But they're at the door of the federal government and provincial governments and municipal governments saying: "We need a tax break, or we're going somewhere else where taxes are lower, because it's real tough to get by on that kind of income."
Those tax breaks for average British Columbians making $60,000 a year will see the provincial tax bill drop by 9 percent. A single-income family earning $45,000 will have a 9.9 percent tax cut. Over 100,000 -- and this is the important part, where we have to differentiate between the Pavel Bures and the rest of us -- low-income earners will be free from paying any provincial income taxes at all. Yet we hear not just from the opposition but from others in our economy that it's not enough.
B.C.'s new income tax direction balances new personal tax cuts with new business tax. We have known the opposition and the business community that they represent to be calling for tax cuts year after year after year. Every time we have, over the last number of years, reduced taxes on business, they've said: "Not enough -- more."
Do they want to go to those economies that exist south of the border, where there's no minimum wage, where taxes are virtually eliminated if you invest and where people need two or three jobs to get by? We know it must be done to foster innovation and reward entrepreneurship, but tax cuts for business must be realistic, and they must be balanced.
Small business in B.C. is where jobs are being created. The budget will give small business the lowest income tax rate in Canada -- the lowest. It's something the opposition has been calling for, something business has been calling for. And now that we've done it, they say: "It doesn't mean much; it should be even lower." If it were zero, if there were no income tax on business in this province, I am assured -- and I believe totally -- that business and the opposition would still say: "Taxes are too high; they're way too high. We should be giving them money back."
My family started a business called Janssen's Jewellers and operated it for 40 years. We paid taxes. We were proud to pay taxes, because we lived in a country where those taxes created great benefit for my family -- a family of immigrants from Holland who came here and developed businesses.
The opposition and business may not know it, but in Europe, where there are lots of millionaires, taxes are much higher for business and personally than they are in Canada, in the United States -- generally in North America. Yet business survives. Benefits are higher.
We are creating a low income tax that is balanced for business, that says to business: "We are giving you some room
[ Page 14783 ]to expand." As I said earlier, the Dutch company is coming to Golden to invest because they know that those low tax rates will see them making a profit.
Again, high technology is one of those new areas, an area with an incredible rate of growth. Jobs are begging in Vancouver in the high-technology field. It is having an enormous impact on a global scale. The budget proposal this second year is for a high-technology research and development tax credit -- yes, another tax credit. Last year this program provided over $10 million to keep B.C. firms on the leading edge of technology. This year we forecast that that figure will be increased to $28 million, making B.C. a logical choice for the location of high-tech companies.
I want to talk about a high-tech company in the Alberni riding. Very few people know about Coulson Aircrane. It's one of largest air-crane logging companies -- helicopter loggers -- in North America, where 72 people are employed rebuilding and servicing industrial helicopters. Recently Coulson's bought a helicopter wreck -- from Namibia, of all places. They brought it to their facility in Alberni, and rebuilt it from front to finish, and in another week or two that will be joining their fleet.
Technology is at work in British Columbia in small communities like Port Alberni -- and why? Because we have facilities in British Columbia that train people. People from Port Alberni go to BCIT and other colleges where they learn the skills, so that that company can exist here in British Columbia. No longer do we have to go back east or down to the United States to get those services done.
A third new sector that will take on even more importance in B.C.'s new economy is the so-called green economy -- a mixture of environmentally oriented opportunities that cut across all areas of the economy from ecotourism to renewable energy initiatives. Ecotourism is one of the greatest and fastest-growing areas of tourism in the world, and certainly British Columbia has its share.
All of you have been to the Pacific Rim, to Tofino and Ucluelet. I want to invite you all there, because on May 5, when the Clayoquot biosphere is announced by UNESCO -- the arm of the United Nations -- there will be a celebration that will highlight one of the most significant ecological areas in the world. I want to invite every member of the House and everyone in British Columbia to come and celebrate the first biosphere in British Columbia.
There have been difficulties for communities that rely on fishing and forestry, and certainly the west coast and my riding is one of those. This budget intends to encourage the recent signs of recovery.
I've talked in the past about the hake industry and the largest fishing port in Canada, Ucluelet. I'm glad to announce the rebirth of a new industry there over the last number of months: the red snow crab. It's a large crab, very colourful. It lives at about 700 to 1,000 feet of water. It hasn't been fished for many years and now is being harvested. It does tremendously well. This new industry that we've just started
In B.C. forestry still accounts for about half of our exports. We're continuing the reduction of stumpage rate -- yes, you heard it: a reduction in stumpage rate. More tax relief, proceeding with a results-based code pilot project, and providing protection and renewal of our forest ecosystems
Twelve years ago, when I was first elected, tree farm licence 44 was virtually the size of the Alberni riding. That was controlled by MacMillan Bloedel. Today we are seeing diversification. MacMillan Bloedel, of course, has been sold to Weyerhaeuser. They still operate the majority of forestry in the Alberni area. They still have two of the most highly scientific and technological plants in British Columbia, with the Somass-Hival mill and the APD mill. But we have also diversified. Coulson's has a plant there now -- Naagard, Timbermil, Toquart forest products. We've diversified into value-added. We have diversified in the harvesting with Iisaak -- the conglomerate between, originally, MacMillan Bloedel and the west coast native tribes, which have now created Iisaak. They will be going to work to harvest on the west coast of the Clayoquot Sound area. We have community forests, we have wood lots, and we have partnerships. So the diversification that we talked about when we were first elected is taking place and has taken place.
We'll also invest over $100 million over the next five years in road projects in the northeast of the province to continue to spur oil and gas activity. Although many people are unaware, there is a massive amount of discovered oil and gas off the west coast of British Columbia. It is a very sensitive area to discover and develop. It is off the west coast. It means that many ecological studies will have to be carried out to ensure that it's harvested and developed in a very sensitive and protected manner. But we've done it in Hibernia; we've done it off the North Sea. It's been done in other parts of the world. I want to encourage our government and British Columbia to look seriously at developing those oil and gas reserves off our coast.
Education is another area where we have admitted to having a priority. We continue to invest heavily in the education system. This year we're providing school districts with $445 million in funding to build 100 -- yes, you heard it, 100 -- new schools, renovate and expand more existing schools and retire 387 portables. Just in the Qualicum riding, Qualicum school district 69 has, in the last nine years, seen a 33.3 percent growth in school population -- listen carefully -- and a 48.4 percent increase in funding. That's more funding than growth. Students are doing better -- an opposition riding.
Two new elementary schools have already been opened. Qualicum middle school is on the drawing board, and expansions to Qualicum and Ballenas Secondary are also on the drawing board. Plans are being developed. It is tremendous faith that we have in ensuring that British Columbians, our young people, receive the education they require to meet the challenges of the year 2000 and beyond.
[ Page 14784 ]This budget also invests $133 million to build and modernize B.C. colleges and institutions. I can tell you that North Island College in Alberni, which was built shortly after I was elected in the early nineties
I could go on and on with health care spending and the amount of investment that we have made. But I can tell you that no budget can be all things to all people. In my 121/2 years as an MLA, I know that the hardest thing to do is say no. There are many individual groups, local governments, senior governments who have many good ideas -- all that cost money. When you ask if they are prepared to cut dollars out of other areas, other services -- health and education, for instance -- to fulfil those needs, they hesitate and say that there should be more money.
The opposition, of course, goes back to its communities and says that the government is not spending enough money -- spend, spend, spend. And then, of course, they come into this chamber and say that we're spending too much.
A budget cannot be all things to all people. We have to be able to say to British Columbians that we will be doing what we believe they think is necessary in order to make this province a province that we can all be proud of. I think this budget moves in that direction. I hope we continue to do that -- that we continue to have one of the lowest debt-to-GDP ratios in the country. I hope that British Columbians and especially their children -- my children and your children -- will be able to benefit from the investments that are outlined in this budget.
J. Reid: Everyone who rises to speak to the budget and speak to the amendment certainly has a different approach. I have found, listening to members, that certain themes reappear. Repeatedly I hear from the government side that we just don't understand, that the budget is all about allocation of scarce resources. The issues are very complex -- in fact, probably too complex for us to actually grasp.
There is a suggestion that there are not simple solutions, and in fact there is a suggestion that a rational person could only agree with the job that the government has done. I have to say that I completely disagree with that approach. Perhaps I have a different approach because I don't see the problem as being a matter of a few numbers here or a few numbers there; I see the problem in terms of fundamentals.
Behind any document, behind any decision -- including this budget -- are always the concepts and principles that have directed the approach. I have taken a look at this budget, and I look at it from the point of view of what those principles are and how they differ, because from those principles would obviously come different decisions. Before I talk about the principles, I would like to review some of the facts of this budget.
It is the ninth consecutive deficit budget under this government. There is another $3 billion in taxpayer-supported debt, and another $300 million a year in higher interest costs. The taxpayer-supported debt will rise from $24.9 billion to $27.9 billion, and the total provincial debt will increase from $34.3 billion to $36.5 billion -- more than double what it was in 1991. There is $1.3 billion in higher expenditures, including hikes for 16 of the 21 ministries and another 359 bureaucrats. We also see with this budget the load that this places on the taxpayer, and because of the rise in the debt, the annual debt-servicing costs have increased over 60 percent since 1991, despite having the lowest interest rates in 40 years.
This has to be put in terms where people can understand what this is doing to the province and why it is a serious matter. There is $7.7 million a day every day, day after day, that goes towards servicing this debt. We can all think of many ways we would like to see that money spent, but as long as we are not able to get out from underneath this debt, as long as we can't address the deficit, that number is only going to get worse year by year.
We also know that the B.C. government record is that B.C. is last in job creation. There hasn't been the investment in British Columbia that would promote job creation. We are the last in private sector employment growth since 1996.
The other fact about B.C. is that the B.C. government record is last in economic growth. B.C. ranks last in real per-capita and GDP growth since 1992. It is the only province where the real per-capita GDP has decreased.
If we're going to look at the principles behind the budget -- if I'm going to examine what these principles are and why these numbers upset me -- then we have to understand that the principles are understandable. We have to accept that this isn't too complex, or else we insult everyone in British Columbia by saying: "This isn't for you people." I believe that it is for the people of British Columbia. They can grasp these concepts just as easily as I can and as easily as this government should be able to.
The first principle I'd like to address here is a principle that government, like people, should learn to live within their means. It doesn't mean that no borrowing can be done, but just as a household has to be careful about those borrowing costs
The government members do seem to be confused about this notion. I find this so hard to understand, because year after year they have supported the concept of balanced budgets. Perhaps I need to remind the people that the government indeed has made statements to support balanced budgets. Some of the quotes from Budget 2000, when the Finance minister was saying that the budget balances the top priorities of today's families with the need to control the deficit -- understanding that obviously, then, there's a concern there
On March 29, 1994, the current Premier said: "Perhaps for the first time in many years, we are conscious of the fact that debt has to be repaid, and the beginning has been made now." Obviously that beginning wasn't made.
Speech from the Throne, March 17, 1992. "When this government sought its mandate from the people of British Columbia, it promised no miracles. It committed that it would do no more than British Columbians could afford and would manage our province's finances openly and responsibly."
[ Page 14785 ]Once more, from the current Premier on November 7, 1999: "We must balance the budget, and we must keep it balanced."
I understand from those remarks that this is not a new concept, that the government indeed accepts that this is actually a principle that they endorse. Unfortunately, what we have seen is just the opposite, because we have a huge deficit budget.
In listening to the different members of government respond to this budget, I have to ask a few questions. I know we come from different experiences into this House, but I also know we share a common experience as members of the Legislature. We have constituency offices to run, and we all have a fixed budget to work with. With that budget we get to hire our office staff, and we have to make decisions. We have to live within that budget. We have some choices within that. We can pay our staff a higher salary, but then we would have to give them less hours -- or we can pay them less and give them more hours. But we have a fixed budget. We all share that, and we all live within that. We're forced to -- we manage and we make due. I know the members of this House understand that concept: they've just decided that it doesn't apply to the provincial budget.
There are choices. We know that this government has a very large staff. We know that this government is prepared to hire more people. I understand, from some of the comments from members of the government, that they feel very kind hearted towards these people. They want to provide the very best they can for the staff they have, a good standard of living. Nobody would argue with that, but I want to explain to government members how this would look if they were actually running a business.
If I was running a business and I wanted to pay my staff more, I would have to base it on one of three conditions. If the income had increased, then I could afford to pay more; if the worker was saving me money by their ideas, then I could afford to pay more; or the worker might be so efficient that that worker could do the work of two people -- in which case, I could pay that worker more. Without those conditions there isn't the rationale to be able to constantly increase wages, no matter how kind hearted I feel.
Unfortunately, the government doesn't look at any of those things, which really is cause for concern in the province. Everyone who deals with government agencies is concerned. I look at the wonderful people employed in the civil service. I've dealt with many of them over the years. It's very frustrating for them. It's very frustrating for anyone dealing with the bureaucracy that these people are not encouraged to generate ideas that might save the government money. They're not allowed to generate ideas that would actually reduce staff and therefore save government money. They aren't given any incentive for cost-saving ideas. Although the government pays lip service to balanced budgets, it doesn't really agree with the principle, or else it would act instead of just talking.
Some of the other principles behind this budget. It's very obvious that this government does not believe in the concept of working with human nature. Somehow I get the impression that they believe their role is to change it. I believe, as a principle, that people will be people and that we have to do the best we can to bring out the best in people.
An example of this is that this government doesn't seem to believe in the necessity of incentives. Bringing it down to the most simple level, for many years we've come to understand, with child rearing how important incentives are -- how important and powerful positive reinforcement is. If a child does something right, we praise them, we encourage them, we reward them, and this encourages them to go on. It encourages them to develop a greater sense of confidence to try new things. It encourages them to expand their horizons, all because we reward them. We accept that this is a good principle in dealing with our children, and we endorse this as a society.
When we take that principle to a higher level and apply it to the broad base of society, we find that this government no longer believes that it's necessary to reward people. By an individual's own hard work -- by their perseverance, by their sacrifice -- this government believes that they don't deserve the reward that they're working towards -- maybe a portion of it, maybe a bit of it, maybe less every year, but certainly not the full reward. So the question is: what happens in a society where people are not free to seek rewards? Unfortunately, we do have examples around the world; we do have many historic examples where societies have discouraged rewards. We have seen the results, and quite frankly the results have been dismal. Creativity is stunted. Hard work is replaced by a lack of caring. People gradually lose their ability to think out solutions and to develop new approaches to problems. The result of this is that the economy suffers, the standard of living is low and their ability to embrace change is reduced. Often their laws and even their personal safety are compromised. Those examples exist. We can look around and see them. And we don't want to go there.
It's unfortunate, then, that this government persists in discouraging people who are trying to make creative solutions. Actually, I see a problem and a struggle within members of the government, because on the one hand, they do understand the concept, but on the other hand, they really don't want to embrace it.
We have seen what has happened with the high-tech sector, the high-tech sector being very creative. It's also a sector of the economy where the rewards are great. The government understands that if they don't allow these people to reap the rewards of their work, then they will not stay in B.C. We have seen the government trying to give concessions to this industry, because they do understand that that principle works. Unfortunately, they are not willing to apply it to the whole of society.
I suppose another part of this would be the idea that people are actually different in society. That probably sounds like: "Isn't that obvious?" Everybody knows that it's obvious, but sometimes I actually have to wonder what the ideas are that this government proposes. Now, people are not born all the same. They are born equal as far as their humanity goes, but they are not born equal with regards to their talents and abilities. We are all different. We have different strengths, we have different weaknesses, and that will create differences in society. In fact, through life and in our current society, we actually celebrate differences; we say: "Isn't this great that we actually are different."
But until we recognize that when differences lead to the possibility of people being able to advance themselves and to obtain a reward, then we are going to be losing out on something in society. It's one thing to look at supporting people in society and making sure that people are treated equally, with
[ Page 14786 ]regards to their humanity, but it's another thing to think that everyone should live equally, should have the same pay, should have the same work conditions -- because we are different.
When I think about the people who do obtain success and I look at their lives -- the people who do have these financial rewards -- I see that these are often the people who create the very employment that we say we want. These are the employers of our society. They are the business generators; they are the idea generators. If we want these people to be creative, we have to allow them to have rewards.
Today I returned a phone call to a gentleman in my constituency by the name of Andrew, who was exceedingly frustrated. It tied in very well with what I want to say. He told me his story. He had just received a modest raise in pay and realized that with that modest raise in pay, he no longer received the child tax credit that he was receiving previously. He calculated out his income, and then he phoned Human Resources and asked what the income would be for someone who was receiving benefits, a family of three -- the husband and wife. He found out that he would actually be better off if he wasn't working.
When he found that out, I think he was devastated. He was certainly upset. He could be sitting home with his family; he could be enjoying his children. He could be participating in family life more than he is right now, but he's working. What's the reward for him to work? He's actually rewarded if he doesn't work. This is a very sad commentary on our society. This is a real-life example; it's not something I'm making up. This fellow is discouraged. He's wondering: "What's the point?" He has to look at his options. I believe that that's wrong. If we want people to work, then we have to encourage them, and they have to be rewarded.
The other concern that he had was
This government understands that we need these employers; we need these business people. This government understands, I'm sure, the concept that if we're going to educate and train our young people, there have to be jobs for them to go to. I'm sure that this government understands the concept that people who are in business can't be in business unless they're employing other people. We have to encourage initiative, not kill it.
There is the waste that goes on in people's lives when they try to deal with government and bureaucracy. I've mentioned this before; perhaps because it's such a very real example to me. Every time a person who's in business is involved in government and spends days, weeks, months and years dealing with process without results, it is a huge cost to the province. It's a huge cost to those businesses, and that's another way of killing initiative.
When the government side is speaking, I often hear this frustration, "Well, what would you do?" as though there are no answers to this, as though there are no possibilities. They've run dry, and they have no creative solutions. There are some very creative solutions. There are some practices that are well known and that should certainly be put in place in government. One of these practices, one of these concepts, is looking at the way we reward people for efficiency within the public service. I don't see that that is working in the present government structure. Again, I've got experience -- way too much experience -- and understand that the bureaucratic circles go around and around.
Let's go on to some other principles. Another principle -- actually, an example I'm going to use to express this principle
There's a principle there -- accepting responsibility for our actions today. While this government understands the principle of leaving an environmental mess, they can't seem to understand or grasp that leaving a mess of the economy is exactly the same thing. We are supposedly the responsible adults here. We are taking something from the future generation. We are spending it now, and we are suggesting that somehow, someday in the future, we will let them clean it up. That's just wrong and irresponsible.
I would wonder: does this government think that it can pay down the debt that it has accumulated in the last nine years in the rest of their earning lifetimes? Well, obviously not. When we look at the amount of debt that they've added to B.C. -- $19 billion since 1991 -- we have to look at it and ask: "What does that mean? All right for us; we can ignore it." They can explain it away and say it's just a small piece in the big picture, but it's irresponsible because we're leaving that to our children. That cannot be paid off by this next generation. Just as we won't leave them a polluted world, I don't believe we can leave this financial mess.
Another principle I believe in, and I suppose I am bringing these down to a very simple level, because I think they're simple principles
The concept of tough love is the idea that parents sometimes have to use strict measures with their children -- because they love them, not because they're being cruel. A very simple example, in the simplest terms: a small child reaches for a hot drink, and the parent has to prevent the child or else the child is going to get hurt. The parent has to say no for the child's own good. We understand that discipline teaches discipline; discipline teaches self-discipline. Saying no and sticking with it is sometimes the best action a parent can take.
[ Page 14787 ]Sometimes a government has to make hard decisions. That doesn't mean the people are uncaring; it means that constantly giving in is not going to bring the best result for the whole of society. Sometimes the government has to say no to the unions. The unions' job is to constantly ask for more. It has to be. Just because the government members might have kind, generous hearts, it's not kind or generous when we're living beyond our means. The government needs to set an example, and the government isn't doing that.
Different principles create different results. One might think that the parent who never says no is a preferable parent, but common sense tells us that isn't true. Nine consecutive deficits, $3 billion more in taxpayer-supported debt
In my constituency of Parksville-Qualicum and the north Nanaimo area, we have several major areas of concern. Of course a common one is health care, but in my constituency, because of the demographics, it's perhaps even more pressing than in other constituencies in this province. We are anxiously awaiting a long-term plan, because working from year to year is not going to solve the problem. We're not addressing the problems we have with health care. In my area, my constituency, we are greatly affected by B.C. Ferries. We are very tourism-dependent. It's well established in the area.
Even though we have heard from this government that they've apologized for what happened with the fast ferries -- they recognize the mistake of the fast ferries -- there's still no plan for what we're going to do for this tourist season. The people in my constituency need to hear from the government. They need to hear about plans, about long-term thinking, about how we're going to get through this next summer. And what about the year after and the year after?
This budget certainly does admit failures. It talks about no more megaprojects, but I don't believe it offers solutions. It's certainly not good enough for the people of my constituency. In my constituency, dealing with the people of the constituency and explaining budget matters and talking to business people
L. Stephens: It's a pleasure for me to rise this afternoon in support of our amendment -- the opposition's amendment -- to this budget. But since this is the first opportunity that I've had to speak since the session has begun, I would like to offer my congratulations to you, hon. Speaker, on your election, and to the Deputy Speaker. I would also like to welcome to the House one of the members: the new member for the Liberal opposition from Delta South. As I think all members will agree, what this House needs is another good woman, and the more good women that we can have in this House, the better off we're all going to be.
An Hon. Member: All right.
L. Stephens: I see the members opposite do agree to that.
I describe this Budget 2000 as the good, the bad and the downright ugly. The good that has come to this budget is that there has been more information provided in the budget documents and the legislation to provide more transparency -- and also the adoption of the Enns report, which the government insists it will in fact implement. Now, the bad news is that the government still doesn't get it; there is still more spending and a failure to understand the basics of economics 101. This budget will prolong the investment chill that is robbing this province's prosperity and economic growth.
I'm going to tell the members opposite a little bit about how this happened. I want to go back to some of the speeches that were made by government members as far back as 1992.
This is in a budget address by the former Premier when he was Finance minister and, still, the member for Vancouver-Kingsway: "This government is committed to sound and prudent management of the province's finances
Again, in 1993, in the Speech from the Throne, they said: "First and foremost, this government is making the difficult decisions necessary to control spending growth and cap the deficit." That didn't happen. And in 1994, the former Minister of Finance, who was the member for Oak Bay-Gordon Head at that time, said: "We as a government have two key goals. One is to eliminate the deficit and ensure that British Columbia remains on a sound financial footing." That didn't happen.
Again, in 1996 the same minister said: "
The Premier, on November 7, said: "To get our financial house in order and keep it that way, I will make sure British Columbia has a solid financial plan built on openness and public consultation, and I will put in place strong management of government spending." Again, on January 12 of this year, he said: "We need to put strong spending management plans in place." I think that anyone who has looked at this Budget 2000 will agree that has not happened. I think anyone who has looked at the track record of this NDP government will realize that it will never happen. There will never be a balanced budget in this province as long as members opposite -- government members, NDP members -- are the government of the day.
I think the one area that boggles my mind is the fast ferries. In March of this year -- March 13, to be exact -- there was an announcement for the refinancing of B.C. Ferries. I think anybody that looks at the whole issue of B.C. Ferries -- the fast cats -- will agree that this has been the epitome of fiscal incompetence and mismanagement -- anyone that looks at the debacle there.
This announcement went on to say that they are going to remove B.C. Ferries' debt of $1.1 billion. But the debt restruc-
[ Page 14788 ]turing does not affect provincial taxpayer-supported debt, they say. They say: "We're not adding to the debt load. We are simply moving debt from one of our taxpayer-supported Crowns to central government." Who supports central government, if it isn't the taxpayer? This is the most ridiculous statement I think I've ever seen come from this NDP government -- totally bogus.
The result of all of this -- the result of the nine years of fiscal mismanagement of this government -- has meant that British Columbia is now a have-not province. That is something that I think most British Columbians never, ever thought would happen in their lifetime -- that British Columbia would be a have-not province and go from the first in Canada to the worst in Canada. But that is exactly what has happened.
Budget 2000 is a lost opportunity that will do nothing to stimulate private sector job creation, investment or confidence in our economy. There's another $3 billion in taxpayer-supported debt and another $300 million a year in higher interest costs, which works out to over $7 million a day. Taxpayer-supported debt will rise from just about $25 billion to about $28 billion. The total provincial debt will increase from $34 billion to $36.5 billion -- more than double what it was in 1991.
There is another record increase in the total debt-to-GDP ratio, and this is the one where the government likes to say: "We're doing okay, because our total debt-to-GDP ratio is low." Well, the fact of the matter is that it's not low, and it will increase to 30 percent. There's also $1.3 billion in higher expenditures, including hikes for 16 of 21 ministries. Of the funds that will be spent there, most of that spending is for negotiated wage settlements.
British Columbia's tiny tax cut for B.C. families is $50 million this year, about $25 per person. It's a personal income tax cut that for most people equals the price of a couple of movie tickets and some popcorn. Those tax cuts are not enough. Every single province in Canada has reduced its personal income tax rate, and every province has experienced an increase in revenue since 1995, except British Columbia. Every single province, since 1995, has reduced the provincial personal tax rates, and their revenues have increased. Since 1995, Ontario has reduced the personal income tax rate by 20 points. Their revenue increased by $2 billion.
In Budget 2000 there is a $454 million one-time revenue windfall from the federal government for health care. That will pay for this year's $341.7 million increase in health spending over last year's revised budget forecast. So really, what these numbers say is that the amount of money that this government is putting into health care is coming from the federal government, with $100-and-some-odd million left over.
There's also $14 million for an undefined child care initiative that has no long-term strategic plan and that will not be implemented until January 2001. That's just in time for this government to go out and make some more promises about what they're going to do -- not stand on the record of what they've done, because they know they can't do that.
There's a tiny cut in the small business income tax rate from 5.5 percent to 4.75 percent -- which is not the lowest, hon. Finance minister. It is not the lowest. And there's a 3 percent manufacturing and processing investment tax credit that will only be providing some $20 million in tax relief on our total $114 billion economy.
This is what I find particularly distressing from an NDP government that purports to care about the people who cannot care for themselves. This government is spending $29 million less for the B.C. family bonus program. This is due to the fact that the federal government increased their contribution to the national child benefit program. This provincial government used that to reduce the province's contribution to working poor families by $29 million. That's not looking after the poor; that's not looking after working families in British Columbia. This government is effectively stealing from the poor, and they should be ashamed of themselves.
Under this NDP government, the total provincial debt has more than doubled, from $17.3 billion to an estimated $36.5 billion. That's if they stay on budget; they've never been able to do that. I'm sure that those of us on the opposition benches have no confidence that government members are able to stay on a budget for anything, let alone the ministries and the total provincial budget. The total debt per capita for every man, woman and child has gone from $5,245 to a whopping $8,900 -- almost $9,000. All of this government waste and mismanagement has dramatically increased the province's total debt.
Under this NDP government, taxpayer-supported debt has increased 184 percent. That's taxpayer-supported debt -- 184 percent increase. That represents an increase from 12.5 percent of the province's gross domestic product to 23.5 percent of the GDP today -- another missed government target. The numbers clearly demonstrate the government's complete and utter failure to control spending.
Year after year members on this side of the House have stood in their place and told the government that what they were doing was wrong, wrong, wrong. Every year we have been proven right -- every single year. Every single budget that this government has brought forward has missed its target, has overspent, has added to the debt. There has been a deficit every single year.
First they came up with their debt management plan, then a revised debt management plan, and now the government's revised 2000 fiscal planning framework is simply changing the goalposts again. It's another admission of the government's complete failure to get a handle on runaway waste and mismanagement and to properly manage tax dollars.
In terms of economic growth in British Columbia, we're dead last again. From 1992 to 1999 private sector investment growth in British Columbia grew by a humiliating and embarrassing 11 percent. Every other province in Canada did better than that, starting with Prince Edward Island. Tiny Prince Edward Island had 41.6 percent growth in private sector investment, up to New Brunswick at 118 percent. British Columbia is truly a have-not province under this NDP government.
The province is also overtaxed, overregulated and run by people who, after nine years, still don't get it. The government still doesn't understand that private investment means economic growth and job creation, and every year they've missed their budget targets. The government has not met one single objective of its financial management plans and instead has repeatedly watered down its debt-reduction targets.
In the course of nine years the NDP have brought down nine budgets with nine consecutive deficits.
[ Page 14789 ]L. Stephens: Government members opposite are protesting, but they know it's true. We all know that's true. A huge impact of these nine consecutive deficits is the rising interest costs -- the money we have to spend to service that debt -- and that's gone from under $1.8 billion in 1992 to $2.6 billion in this coming fiscal year. These rising interest payments on deadweight debt jeopardize the long-term ability to adequately fund crucial public services and represent lost revenue that could be going to health and education. Certainly those are the priorities that the government opposite continues to talk about -- that they are protecting health care and education -- when in fact, the opposite is true.
These interest costs are now over $7.5 million a day, yet they continue to overspend the operating budget and have to resort to special warrant spending. Last week we had another debate about special warrant spending. This year's amount was $377 million that had to be covered. When each of these nine consecutive socialist deficits is added up, they total $9.9 billion in accumulated deficits. If British Columbia cannot attract investment, then job creation is undermined. British Columbia ranked last in investment. We're in last place in private sector job creation, at 0.4 percent.
Guess who is the highest, at 13.6 percent. It's Nova Scotia. Who ever thought that the Atlantic provinces would outperform British Columbia in economic growth or private sector investment? The average take-home pay has been slashed by $1,800 in this province. In 1990, British Columbia's real per-capita disposable income was $678 higher than the rest of Canada; it is now $984 lower. Our standard and quality of life has eroded under this government to a tremendous degree. After the nine years of high taxes, fees and royalties, successive NDP budgets have failed to provide any meaningful relief at all -- certainly not to the working families of British Columbia. Sadly, this year's token tax reduction won't begin to offset the decline in real after-tax income that working families have suffered over this past decade.
The NDP government's record over the past nine years is the worst in investment, the worst in job creation and the worst in economic growth. British Columbia is the only province in which real per-capita GDP actually dropped over the last decade by 0.6 percent. The real per-capita gross domestic product increased in every other province in Canada, from a low of 9.8 percent in Nova Scotia to a high of 27.2 percent in Newfoundland. Again, Atlantic Canada is beating British Columbia. Who ever thought that would happen? Who ever thought that it could happen? But it has.
The government's refusal, in successive budgets, to eliminate regressive tax and regulatory policies has ultimately destroyed the economic growth in this province. On top of debt interest payments, the government has wasted billions of tax dollars on mismanaged megaprojects, costly business subsidies, labour settlements, needless red tape and bureaucratic bloat.
I want to list just a few of the many examples where taxpayers' money has been wasted since 1996. Probably the government members opposite are tired of hearing this, but they're going to hear it one more time because I don't think we can say it enough: the billion dollars in the blundering Forest Practices Code; $463 million on the fast ferry fiasco; $73 million on the failed Vancouver convention centre; $1 billion in business subsidies, including the Skeena Cellulose buyout; $65 million in the failed photo radar cash grab; $125 million in lost federal revenue from Nanoose Bay; $1 billion, without a strategic plan, for FRBC; and $310 million on the fixed-wage policy. It's not just those numbers. British Columbians could also be on the hook for many more millions of dollars in looming liabilities from litigation: the Carrier Lumber breach-of-contract case; the Western Forest Products, MacMillan Bloedel and TimberWest Forest suit against the province over its decision to hike timber royalties; and 6,300 Forest Renewal B.C. workers who face federal tax bills. These wasted dollars are not available for health care and education.
When you look at the fast ferries project, just visualize the lost opportunities and the fact that they could have built seven new rural hospitals, paid for 60 kidney transplants and 40 liver transplants, cared for 200 foster children, bought textbooks for 10,000 high school students, bought six MRI scanners, paid for 900 long term care beds, and paid for 400 nurses and 200 teachers for a year. To add insult to injury, the $463 million price tag doesn't even include the millions of dollars spent to maintain and operate these ferries. What's more, the compound interest on the fast ferry debt will cost an extra $32 million in the first year alone.
Hon. Speaker, this government has no plan to stimulate private sector job creation, investment or confidence in our economy and no plan to combat the brain drain or to increase opportunities for young British Columbians.
There's no real personal income tax relief, other than the flow-through of the federal income tax cuts, and there's no plan to make B.C.'s income tax system competitive with other provinces. There's no plan whatsoever to control expenditure or reduce the skyrocketing debt and no hope of balancing the budget until 2004-2005, if then. I doubt very much that we would ever have a balanced budget with this government.
There's been no open, transparent accounting of the full costs of the government's public sector wage and benefits agreement, despite assurances that all of those costs would be fully disclosed. We're still waiting, hon. Speaker. We don't have them yet, but we are still waiting.
This is still a tax-borrow-and-spend government, with new revenue expected to increase by $1.1 billion, no commitment to balance the budget or pay down the debt, new spending of $1.3 billion, another $3 billion in taxpayer-supported debt and another $300 million a year in higher debt-servicing costs.
That leaves only $1 out of $3 to fund improved services and population growth. The 1990s have been a decade of lost opportunity under the NDP, a decade that has witnessed a once-strong and proud province brought to its knees by a government that demonstrates on a daily basis its complete and utter incompetence. I urge all members to support this amendment.
The Speaker: Members, pursuant to standing orders, I will now call the question on the amendment.
Amendment negatived on division.
Hon. P. Ramsey moved adjournment of the debate.
Hon. P. Ramsey moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 5:31 p.m.
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