2000 Legislative Session: 4th Session, 36th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 12, 2000
Volume 18, Number 20
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The House met at 2:07 p.m.
Hon. A. Petter: There are several people in the gallery that I would like to acknowledge. They are here because of a bill I'll be introducing in the House shortly to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day in British Columbia. The legislation recognizes the millions who were killed simply for being who they were. I would first like to acknowledge the individuals who survived the Holocaust and are able to be with us today: Rita Akselrod, Susan Bluman, Lilian Boraks-Nemetz, Carl Charles, Mariette Doduck, Jack Gardner, Janushka Jakoubovitch, Rysha Kraskin, Leo Lowy, Paul Meyer, Malka Pishanitskaya, Horst Rothfels, Louise Sorenson and Peter Suedfeld.
I would also like to acknowledge the presence of representatives of several organizations in the gallery: the Canadian Jewish Congress, Pacific Region; Vancouver Holocaust Centre Society for Remembrance and Education; the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver; the Jewish Federation of Greater Victoria; the B.C. Human Rights Coalition; the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria; and the Vancouver Holocaust Symposium.
I'd also like to recognize Gillian Rosenberg, a student from Vancouver Jewish High School, and Bernie Simpson, a former MLA. They are here today. A reception is to be provided later with a commemoration of the Holocaust, to which I invite all members. I'd ask the House to join me in making all of these guests welcome today.
R. Coleman: Seated in the gallery are Geoff and Rita Squires, some people from my riding. Geoff is a pharmacist, and Rita is an administrator. Geoff and Rita are an example of one of the great benefits of public life, in that you get to meet some great people who are really committed to their community and who later become your friends. I'd like the House to please make them welcome.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I have the pleasure of introducing to the House 80 grade 11 students from my favourite high school, Sir Charles Tupper Secondary, in my riding of Vancouver-Kensington. I was there some months ago to speak to them; it's wonderful to have them here. Accompanying them are five adults: Mr. McDougall, Mr. Clark, Mr. Wilkie, Ms. Latimer and Mr. Phillips. Would the House please make them welcome.
G. Campbell: On April 12, 1980 -- 20 years ago today -- Terry Fox dipped his foot in the Atlantic Ocean as he began his Marathon of Hope across the country. There are few Canadians in recent memory who have had as much impact on the lives of every single one of us as Terry Fox. Although his run was tragically cut short, I think it's important to remember that his dream and his hope live on year in and year out. Because of his commitment and his dream, literally millions of dollars have been raised towards cancer research and have unquestionably aided literally thousands of people around the world.
Today, hon. Speaker, I'd like to just take a moment to pay tribute to Terry Fox and his memory and use the words of his mother to remind all of us in this Legislature about what we can accomplish: "We can follow our dreams and surpass what anybody ever thought we could do just by trying to do our very best." That's what Terry Fox did. It was his dream; it was the example he set. This side of the House -- and everyone in the House, I know -- would take their hats off to Terry Fox and the legacy he's left us all.
Hon. M. Farnworth: Today is Pharmacy Day, the day we recognize the work of the people who deliver pharmaceuticals and the pharmacy business in British Columbia. We have four members of the B.C. Pharmacy Association here in the gallery, and I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce them. They are Don Millward, the president; David Hill, the past president; Marshall Moleschi, the vice-president; and Bob Kucheran, the executive director. Would the House please make them most welcome.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Hon. Speaker, today in the members' gallery we have a special guest from Switzerland. I'd ask the House to join me in welcoming Peter Felix, who is the newly appointed consul general of Switzerland in Vancouver. I had the pleasure of meeting with Mr. Felix this morning. Would all members please make him welcome to our province.
Hon. I. Waddell: Another dream that we have in British Columbia is to win the 2010 Winter Olympics for Vancouver-Whistler. We are the Canadian candidate. I'm pleased to draw to the attention of the members that we have in our gallery two people from the bid committee.
The first one is a distinguished athlete, our chair, Marion Lay, a former Olympic medallist. She's currently chair of the National Sport Centre in Vancouver and currently co-chair of the B.C. Games Society. The second person is a distinguished businessman, Don Calder. He's CEO of the Vancouver-Whistler 2010 Bid Society, past president of B.C. Tel and past chair of the United Way. Would the House please make these two people very welcome.
R. Kasper: Today we have three representatives from the Island Farmers Alliance: Judy Thompson, Ian Christison and Scott Crawford. They're here for meetings this afternoon. Would you please make them welcome.
I. Chong: I see in the gallery today a friend of mine. I know the Attorney General has indicated the representative from the Inter-Cultural Association, but I would like the House to pay a special welcome to Charlayne Thornton-Joe, a very hard community worker.
H. Giesbrecht: I'd like the House to welcome a rare visitor seated in the gallery today. He's someone I've had many a political discussion with over a cup of coffee -- all in good fun and good humour, of course. Would the House please join me in welcoming Dave McClelland.
Introduction of Bills
HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY ACT
Hon. A. Petter presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Holocaust Memorial Day Act.
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Hon. A. Petter: I move that the bill be introduced and read for a first time now.
Hon. A. Petter: Today I'm proud to introduce Bill 5, the Holocaust Memorial Day Act. Last year British Columbia became one of the first jurisdictions in the world to recognize Holocaust Memorial Day, or Yom ha-Shoah, and did so by way of proclamation.
We are now introducing legislation to ensure that this day is commemorated every year and to reaffirm government's long-term commitment to fight racism, violence and hatred. Holocaust Memorial Day is determined by the Jewish calendar, and this year it will fall on May 2. The legislation provides for the official remembrance of millions of European Jews, their descendants and others who were persecuted between 1933 and 1945. The bill recognizes the singularity of the Jewish Holocaust and, at the same time, acknowledges that others were also persecuted because of their physical or mental disabilities, their race, their religion or their sexual orientation.
The bill we are introducing today is both a reminder of the terrible injustices that can occur when human rights are denied and an opportunity to demonstrate our shared commitment to upholding and protecting the human rights of all British Columbians and to ensuring that these kinds of atrocities never happen again.
G. Campbell: Due to the unique nature of this bill and the importance of this day, I ask leave of the House to make a comment.
G. Campbell: This government took the step last year of declaring Holocaust Memorial Day, and this year, as we bring in legislation, I think the government is to be applauded for that initiative. Yom ha-Shoah is a very important time for everyone of the Jewish faith and indeed for all of us who must remember the impacts of the Holocaust on lives of people around the world -- 1.5 million children lost their lives as a result of the Holocaust. Those were children who had taken away from them the ability to laugh, to smile and to enjoy their lives. Our obligation to them, I believe, is to remember and to not ever forget the lessons that are learned from that tragic experience in human history. As Moshe Ronen has commented -- Moshe is the president of the Canadian Jewish Congress: "The Shoah, the systematic attempt to annihilate our people, is a unique event in history with enduring universal lessons for all humanity. These lessons must be learned and remembered if we are to prevent similar atrocities from occurring in the next century."
Today is a day for us all to remember, and I look forward to the reception at three to meet with members of the community to share their experiences and their remembrance.
Hon. A. Petter: I move that the bill be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 5 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
UPPER PITT RIVER GRAVEL PIT PROJECT
AND PROTECTION OF FISH
G. Campbell: The upper Pitt River produces the largest population of threatened coho salmon in the entire Fraser basin and possibly the entire southern part of the province. Last week the Outdoor Recreation Council nominated the upper Pitt River as the most endangered river in British Columbia. Everyone in this House knows that our salmon stocks are at risk, and it's time to put fish first. My question is to the minister responsible for fisheries. Will he agree to protect the salmon of the upper Pitt River and prohibit the development of a gravel mine on that river for good?
Hon. D. Miller: The permitting falls under my ministry, so I think it's appropriate that I respond so that the members are aware that the proposal is a use that was permitted in 1990 by the then government. A right was granted at that time to mine the gravel. We were advised by the Attorney General ministry that because of that, there is a legal barrier to using the Environmental Assessment Act to review the project. Notwithstanding that, we have been working with the Ministry of Environment to define a process that would review this. I want to assure all members that fish are really the prime concern. We have not yet announced the process, but I would hope that we will get there shortly.
The Speaker: Leader of the Official Opposition with a supplemental.
G. Campbell: There are a number of things that have changed since 1990. One of them is that everyone is now aware that our salmon stocks are endangered in the province of British Columbia. The list of those opposed to the gravel pit is extensive. All local councils are opposed to it. The B.C. Wildlife Federation is opposed to it. The B.C. Federation of Fly Fishers is opposed to it. At least four members of the government caucus are opposed to it. All the members of the opposition are opposed to it.
My question, again, to the Minister of Fisheries is: will the Minister of Fisheries assure us that he will protect the salmon, the sturgeon, the Dolly Varden trout and the fish on the upper Pitt River from a gravel pit taking away their habitat and in fact endangering them?
Hon. D. Miller: Well, it's true that things change, Mr. Speaker, but the law doesn't change. I suppose all of us in this House would agree that in trying to tackle the issue, we ought to respect the rights of the company that has the right to mine. It's something that I think all members would agree on, including members of the opposition. We shouldn't, without regard, trample on those rights.
I think all members of the opposition would also agree that in any situation that's contentious, whether or not that's a legal situation involving individuals, due process is very much an important aspect of reaching a conclusion. If the Leader of the Opposition is advising us to ignore due process, I'll take that under advisement. But it seems to me that to be responsible, one ought to try to develop a process that has
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integrity, that allows full consultation on the issue and, at the end of the day, that assures every British Columbian -- particularly those with a strong interest -- that fisheries values will not be impacted if this project proceeds.
The Speaker: Leader of the Official Opposition with a further supplemental.
G. Campbell: What I want to hear from the minister responsible for fisheries is that he is going to stand up and protect the salmon, the trout, the sturgeon, the Dolly Varden -- all of those species -- from this gravel pit. At a time when we're told that we're closing fisheries because there's not enough
When will the minister stand up and say: "Enough is enough; there will be no gravel pit on the upper Pitt River"?
Hon. D. Miller: Again, with respect, Mr. Speaker, as I indicated in the answer to the first question, the project had received approval by both the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the provincial government in 1990. The project entails not only an assessment of the mining of the gravel but also an assessment of a barge load-out facility. The DFO is fully involved. In fact, I'm advised that the barge load-out facility may trigger the federal CEA process. But DFO, which has responsibility for these issues, is fully in the picture.
As I said, I do believe that all governments ought to respect the rights of individuals. We had some conversation about that a few days ago. What the Leader of the Opposition seems to be suggesting is that we not respect the rights of the people who hold the permit, that we ought not to engage in any due process to make an informed decision. Rather, the Leader of the Opposition seems to be suggesting -- because he has now read in the newspapers that a number of people are opposed to this -- that he has conveniently climbed on that bandwagon.
I would prefer to try to have some integrity in the process, to try to respect the law, to try to respect the rights of individuals and, at the end of the day, to make sure that we protect fisheries values.
The Speaker: Members, come to order.
R. Neufeld: My question is to the Minister of Energy, so maybe the Minister of Fisheries will stand up and answer this one. I'm not really sure.
It's interesting to hear that government talk about infringing on people's rights. My goodness. I'll tell you, it's a little bit hard to take. We know and you know -- the minister knows -- that the conflict on the upper Pitt has been going on for a long time. The government of the day -- this government -- has no long-term plan for protecting fish and the gravel requirements in the province of British Columbia. This is nothing new to the minister; he has known about it for a long time.
Can the minister give me a plan or at least a step towards a plan for the removal of gravel and the protection of fish in the province of British Columbia?
Hon. D. Miller: Mr. Speaker, that seems to invite a lengthy response, but I'll try to limit my remarks. Gravel removal is undertaken in a variety of ways, but all of that is subject to process. In some cases, where it's a new application and the threshold is sufficient to trigger environmental assessment, then the environmental assessment office reviews the project and makes a recommendation to the ministers involved. In other cases, the process is handled through the mine development process at the regional level, led by my ministry.
I think it's fair to say that gravel pits and gravel mining are contentious in various parts of the province. But I think it's also important to note that British Columbians do consume a significant amount of gravel, and therefore there have to be sources for the ongoing work, whether that's provincial, municipal or even individual. Those assessments are based on individual applications. If the member would like a more comprehensive briefing, I would be happy to provide that through my officials.
The Speaker: The member for Peace River North with a supplemental question.
R. Neufeld: The minister has known about this issue since 1990; obviously it's been on his desk. They've known about other conflicts. Whether it's on Englishman River, the upper Pitt, the Muskwa, the Fraser or Sumas Mountain, this government has known that there have been conflicts about fish and the removal of gravel. You can no longer point your finger at everyone else. You should have some plan in place by now.
Can the minister tell us, if he has no plan -- which doesn't surprise me -- when he will start putting together a plan for the protection of fish and the removal of gravel within the province?
Hon. D. Miller: Well, again, the question is somewhat rhetorical. I did explain that individual applications to mine gravel go through one of a couple of processes, and in those processes -- very much in those processes -- is a requirement that there be no detrimental impact on fish. That's both at the provincial level and at the federal level. The member knows that, I suspect, and is kind of huffing and puffing, because they think they're on to a hot issue.
FUNDING FOR LOVAAS TREATMENT
FOR AUTISTIC CHILDREN
J. Weisgerber: My question is to the Minister of Health. The parents of autistic children in this province are faced with some very difficult choices. They can keep their kids at home and look to the community services, if they're fortunate to live in a large community. They could pay for private treatment -- proven treatment -- which would cost them $40,000 to $60,000 a year. They can move to Alberta, or they can put their children into care and cause enormous disruptions in their family.
Can the minister explain to me why the province of Alberta, that backwater of health care, pays for Lovaas treatment and therapy, and British Columbia does not?
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Hon. M. Farnworth: Hon. Speaker, to the member, I appreciate his question. That's one of the reasons why there is a court case right now that is looking at this issue.
Hon. M. Farnworth: It is dealing with the issues that the member raised. There is a series of procedures in this province in terms of assessing treatments that are covered by MSP and are paid for by the government. They, in turn, include the input by and the requirement for physicians to assist in making those decisions.
The situation in Alberta is somewhat different. It's not quite as straightforward as the member says. The situation in Alberta is that it pays up to $60,000 to be spent anywhere, and different provinces have different approaches in terms of what treatments are recognized. In this province we rely on the system that's in place to deal with approvals for new treatments, for new drugs, and that should be best left in the hands of those who are most able to make that decision -- which are physicians, for example. But I am watching the court case closely, and we will wait until it's finished.
The Speaker: The member for Peace River South with a supplemental.
J. Weisgerber: Well, the fact of the matter is that about 150 families in British Columbia today are bankrupting themselves to pay for the Lovaas therapy. It seems to me that they, at least, have been convinced that this is the right treatment for their children, and I expect that their doctors have been convinced that this is the right treatment. But people can either pay for it and bankrupt themselves, or they can move to Alberta. It seems to me that this government, which takes great pride in its commitment to universal health care, is letting down those children, is abandoning those autistic children.
Would the minister undertake to advise the Attorney General to abandon his court case, quit fighting these families in court and start standing up for autistic children and their families in this province?
Hon. M. Farnworth: Hon. Speaker, the
Hon. M. Farnworth: I'm responding to that member's question. When you ask a question, I'll respond to you.
The Speaker: Through the Chair, please.
Hon. M. Farnworth: Hon. Speaker, the member's question is a good one. The Ministry of Health is willing to sit down and work out what the most appropriate response is. But there's a case before the courts right now, and that has to work its way through.
The province is almost alone, of all the provinces in this country, in providing one of the widest variety of treatments available across a wide spectrum of services in this country. We supply a whole host of supplemental practices and services that aren't covered in other provinces. If we're going to make changes, then it should be done on the advice of the medical community, the people who know the issue best, and not decided on the basis of what a particular minister thinks. I recognize the problems that the families face, and I'm willing to work with them on looking at the issue. But it should be decided on the basis of what is appropriate medical treatment, at the same time recognizing that currently there is a court case underway. I can't comment until that's completed.
The Speaker: The bell ends question period.
The Speaker: The member for Matsqui will come to order.
The Speaker: Order, members.
Point of Privilege
Hon. G. Wilson: Hon. Speaker, yesterday in the House the member for Okanagan-Penticton rose under standing order 42(1) to demand that I withdraw comments which he said I attributed to him. That was taken on notice, I believe, by the Deputy Premier. These comments that were attributed to me were suggesting that I had attributed to that member that he was talking about privatizing health care.
I have reviewed Hansard, and indeed the exchange took place in a rather lively set of interjections, when the Minister of Small Business and Tourism was delivering his remarks, in which the member for Okanagan-Penticton was clearly talking about private-public partnership. Perhaps I might be forgiven for being confused, because I note that in the case of the government of Ontario, after which the members so often model their case, public-private partnership came under the responsibility of the Minister for Privatization. Nevertheless, if I have in any way offended or misrepresented the member opposite, I unreservedly apologize.
The Speaker: Thank you, minister. That ends that matter.
E. Gillespie: I have the honour to present a petition signed by over 2,000 people demanding that the preserve-and-protect mandate of the Islands Trust be upheld with respect to clearcut logging on Saltspring Island.
Orders of the Day
Hon. D. Lovick: I call continued debate on the throne speech.
Throne Speech Debate
L. Stephens: It's a privilege for me to rise today to speak to the throne speech, because it gives me a wonderful opportunity to talk about my constituency and some of the important issues that we are concerned about. It also gives me an
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opportunity to talk about what this government has proposed for this coming fiscal year in their very sad and sorry document here.
Some of the things that I want to talk about today are the services that people of Langley have received over the past year and, more specifically, those that they have not, and what the throne speech of the government talks about this year and what some of those services may or may not be.
I've listened to the government members over the last couple of days, with their many Pollyanna speeches about how wonderful government policies have been and will be. What I want to do is talk a little bit about what government policies in the past have meant to the people of British Columbia -- some of them people in my riding -- and look a little bit at what the government's reality is or what they perceive the reality to be. I would suggest, Mr. Speaker, that the government's reality and the reality of the people in British Columbia are far different.
If we look at the throne speech, we have here a very slim document that runs to 18 pages, with the first five having nothing whatsoever to do with a throne speech. The very first item in the throne speech that has any significance whatsoever is the new budget transparency law. This has been tabled in the House, and that's something that members of the opposition are looking forward to debating at some length. This is something that we have urged the government to bring in for quite some time, so I am very pleased -- as all members of the opposition are -- that that in fact is going to happen.
When we look at or listen to a throne speech, what we expect it to say is what the government is proposing to do for the people of British Columbia in the coming year. Because we are going into the new millennium, I expected and my constituents expected that this particular throne speech would be bold, that it would be creative and that it would be innovative. And you know, Mr. Speaker, I found none of that in this document -- absolutely nothing in this document that could be considered bold, innovative or creative. As a matter of fact, there is no vision, there is no plan, and there is nothing new in this document at all. It is probably the worst throne speech I have ever seen in this House in the nine years that I have been here.
There are the same old policies, from the same old group of people, that we have seen regurgitated year after year. What we really have to do is ask ourselves: are we better off this year? Will we be better off this year because of government policies that they have talked about, particularly during the budget and somewhat during the throne speech? We have to ask ourselves: is our standard of living higher? Do British Columbians enjoy more access to government services? Is the province being run in an efficient, effective and economic way? Are our taxes lower? These are some of the questions that citizens ask themselves each and every year, when they hear a throne speech and when they hear a budget.
I think what we have to do is take a really good look at that. First of all, I'm going to have a look at the economic indicators, because for me there are really two. There are the economic indicators of the province, and then there are the indicators of services to people: health care, education and services to children. Those are the things that I think are important as we go through government policy and look at what is and what is not working.
First of all, I want to make a little comment. I believe it was yesterday -- it could have been the day before -- that the Minister of Employment and Investment was replying to the throne speech. There was one remark that he made. I am reading from the Blues of that day; it was on Monday. He said: "The fact that we are second-lowest in Canada with respect to the proportion of taxpayer-supported debt to GDP is a real measure that has value."
I think that for the Minister of Employment and Investment to make such a statement is quite telling of this government and how it understands the economics of the province. The real per-capita GDP is the measure that has value; that is what has value. The debt to GDP is important for this government, precisely because it is going in the wrong way. It is going up instead of down, which it has in every other province in this country. So the prime measure of economic growth is the real per-capita GDP, and that is a measure of productivity. That's what is important; that's what has value. In British Columbia that has dropped over the last decade, and it has increased in every other province in Canada. So for the Minister of Employment and Investment to make that kind of statement, I think is telling. I think it shows quite clearly why the province is in the kind of difficulty that it is in, simply because members on the other side obviously have no idea of what kind of economic growth or what kind of economic indicators are important to the well-being of British Columbia and the citizens in it.
So I want to talk a little bit about what some of those economic indicators are and compare a little bit between British Columbia and the rest of Canada. I'm going to be using StatsCan figures and numbers, because this isn't the opposition that is making these statements. These are quantifiable; these are authentic. These are not fudged in any way, which I don't think you can say for the government opposite.
According to Statistics Canada, British Columbia placed last in Canada in terms of private sector investment growth. This is another key indicator; it's absolutely key. Private sector investment growth -- again, something that the Minister of Employment and Investment doesn't seem to understand, nor other members opposite. If they did, they would certainly take steps to address that. I think that with a province like British Columbia, which has been so vital and so strong up until the nineties, that has been a humiliating experience for all of us who value the standard of living that we used to enjoy in this province.
From 1996, British Columbia's debt to GDP has grown faster than that of any other province. I mentioned that earlier, Mr. Speaker. It's grown faster. So we are going in the wrong direction, and that's something that members opposite have to have pointed out to them time after time. British Columbia is the only province that has not balanced its budget this decade. Seven of the provinces have balanced their budget. We're expecting two to balance theirs this spring; that's Ontario and Newfoundland. British Columbia will be the only province that has not balanced its budget in the year 2000 -- the only one.
One other fact that I find disturbing, too, is that the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says that poverty has increased at a faster rate in British Columbia than in the rest of Canada. That's an issue that I want to talk about a little bit later. Again, this is the Canadian Centre for Policy Alterna
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tives, usually an organization that favours the government and certainly has much in common with the philosophies and direction of an NDP government.
Just in the area of finance, in the economy, under this government the total debt has doubled 101 percent since 1990-91. The total debt per person has risen by $3,000 -- works out to 63.6 percent. The interest costs on the debt have risen by 50 percent. The taxpayer-supported debt has risen by $16 billion, or 165 percent. These are big numbers, Mr. Speaker. They're huge numbers, and they mean tremendous difficulty for this province to dig themselves out of the hole of debt that this government has taken us into.
Since 1997, B.C.'s credit rating has been downgraded each and every year by the major bond-rating agencies. One of the first and most highly symbolic legislative changes that this government made when they came to government in 1991 was to axe the Taxpayer Protection Act. Mr. Speaker, when you look back over this past nine years and you look at that first act that the government opposite did when they assumed power, it is very telling. If you had hindsight, that alarm bell would ring quite alarmingly. It's been absolutely clear that this government, over the past nine years, has no consideration for the taxpayers of British Columbia at all -- absolutely none. There is no commitment from that government to control spending or to control taxes or to control debt.
The real per-capita after-tax income has fallen by $1,800 in this decade. It's the biggest drop in after-tax income in Canada -- another indicator. British Columbia was the only province in Canada where the real per-capita GDP actually decreased -- again, another first and another record for British Columbia. We've also had a pathetic 11 percent growth in private sector investment. That's all -- 11 percent. Alberta was 107 percent, Saskatchewan was 89 percent and Manitoba was 73 percent. Those are big numbers too, and they're certainly a lot better than ours.
The other area that I think the government needs to pay attention to
If you look at businesses and look at business bankruptcies in British Columbia, the dollar value of business bankruptcies in 1992 accounted for 6 percent of the Canadian total. By 1998 the dollar value of business bankruptcies accounted for 34 percent of the Canadian total -- another statistic that is to the detriment of British Columbia. If you look at British Columbia companies that have been moving out of the province, there were 131 that moved to Alberta in 1999 alone. There are over 618 that have headed to Alberta since 1992 -- another record that is something the government should hang their heads in shame about.
I know that opposition members who have been travelling around the province to different communities can tell you that each time they meet with community members in various parts of the province, they'll tell you that the stories of families and businesses moving to Alberta or other parts of Canada or even across the line are growing alarmingly. So something that the government must pay attention to is how to make sure that British Columbia remains competitive. With the kind of policies that the government has brought forward, that's not likely to happen.
The throne speech really has been a bitter disappointment for families. It has certainly been a bitter disappointment for businesses. When you look at nine years of high taxes, nine years of high fees and royalties and successive deficit NDP budgets, they've really failed to provide any kind of meaningful relief at all. Really, this year's token tax reductions won't even begin to offset the decline in the real after-tax income that working families have suffered from over this past decade. When you look at all the policies of this government, you'll find that we're the worst in investment, the worst in job creation and the worst in economic growth. Because of the government's refusal in successive budgets to eliminate these regressive tax and regulatory polices, it has ultimately destroyed the economic growth of the province.
On top of all of these failed economic policies, the government has wasted billions and billions of dollars on these mismanaged megaprojects, costly business subsidies, labour settlements, the needless red tape and the bureaucratic bloat that we find in this government that is increasingly top-heavy with administration and bureaucracy. It doesn't matter which ministry you look at; it doesn't matter which area of the government you look at. You find, time after time, endless bureaucratic reorganization and endless bureaucratic red tape that mean less service to people.
When we talk about services to families and what those should look like and we talk about the lack of services -- certainly in health and education and services to children -- the members opposite say: "What would you do? What would you cut? Which schools would you cut? Which hospitals would you cut? Which services wouldn't you provide? What wouldn't you deliver?"
When you look at the government's record on how they spend the money, that tells the tale. There was a billion dollars in the Forest Practices Code, which was just bureaucratic bungling. There was $463 million in the fast ferry fiasco. There was $73 million in the failed Vancouver convention centre. There was a billion dollars in business subsidies to the Skeena Cellulose buyout. There was $65 million in the failed photo radar cash grab. There was $125 million in lost federal revenue from Nanoose Bay, when the former Premier tried to pick a fight with the federal government and lost. There was a billion dollars without a strategic plan for FRBC, and there was $310 million on the fixed-wage policy.
So there's the money; there's where the money is. That's what the government could have used to provide those kinds of services for health, education and children that all of us in the province want and that we're not getting. This is where the government continually misspends money, continually mismanages the affairs of the province. It's all documented, and it's all there for the world to see.
There are other areas that the government is spending money where it doesn't need to, and that's in some of the liabilities from litigation. I don't know how many lawsuits this government has faced, but it's significant. There are some
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looming liabilities there. One of them is the Carrier Lumber breach of contract. Another one is the suit by Western Forest Products, MacMillan Bloedel and TimberWest Forest that was brought against the province over its decision to hike timber royalties.
Then, of course, there's the 6,300 forest workers in forestry renewal who are facing the federal tax cuts. This was after the government members told them that in fact they would be tax-exempt from both the provincial and the federal. These poor workers, these poor people, who were trying very desperately to retrain
These are all wasted tax dollars. Every cent of those tax dollars has not been available for these health services, education services and services for families. When you add all that up, it's a huge amount of money, and you can see the lost opportunities for people in this province.
Some of them are that they could have built seven new rural hospitals. All members of the House -- certainly members on the opposition side here who travel, who visit some of these rural communities -- can tell you that the health care services in many of them leave much to be desired. The constant refrain that members of the opposition hear as they travel around is that they don't have the hospital services, the technological services, the physician services, the nursing services or the obstetrical services that the people of British Columbia need and desire.
They could have paid for 60 kidney transplants and 40 liver transplants. They could have cared for 200 foster children. They could have bought textbooks for 10,000 high school students. Mr. Speaker, I think that's a travesty. In a province the size of British Columbia, one that has historically been as rich as British Columbia, the fact that our high school students don't have textbooks is nothing short of criminal. We say that children are the future; we say that education is important. The government says that it is protecting education, and yet we know that the textbooks for high school students in British Columbia are virtually nonexistent. That shouldn't be happening.
They could also have bought six MRI scanners. They could have paid for 900 long term care beds. In my riding alone, in the South Fraser health region, that's what we need to have. That's just our health region -- 900 long term care beds. That's just what we need. That's not what the rest of the province needs.
Again, the government has talked about this at length and has made a number of announcements. It's never happened. These beds are still nonexistent; these beds still haven't happened. And to hear government minister after government minister stand up and talk about how many beds they're going to supply and how many nurses they're going to supply and announce the dollars that go with it, and then to find out -- three months, six months, a year later -- that certainly in regards to the mental health plan, those dollars were never allocated to the budget
To add insult to all of this injury, the fast ferries price tag -- money that's just gone -- is $463 million. What adds insult to injury is the $32 million a year, in the first year, to service that debt. That's more money that is not available to provide health care, education and services.
When we look at the government's plan either in the budget or in the throne speech, there really isn't a plan. There's certainly no plan to stimulate private sector job creation or investment or confidence in our economy. And there's no plan to combat the brain drain or increase opportunities for young British Columbians.
I can tell you, Mr. Speaker
If you look at the education system there, you'll find that the school district is looking at closing six schools because the enrolment has dropped so drastically -- because the families aren't there anymore, because the children aren't there anymore, because people have left the Cariboo. That's just one example of how badly off many parts of this province are.
There's also been no real personal income tax relief, other than the flow-through from the federal government, and for a while it didn't look like we going to get that. I think it's only because people were watching to make sure that the amount of tax relief that the federal government provided in its budget actually came to the people of British Columbia.
There's been no plan whatsoever to control the expenditures or reduce skyrocketing debt, and there's no hope of balancing the budget until 2004-2005. And, Mr. Speaker, based on the track record of this government, it will be never. With this government, there will never, ever be a balanced budget. What that means to families, again, is catastrophic.
I want to talk a little bit about poverty, because I don't think we've had enough discussion around the issue of poverty. The Minister of Social Development and Economic Security talked a little bit about it yesterday. She talked a little bit about how wonderful the government was, how they were providing all kinds of services for low-income families, how this government was prepared to make sure that children had the kinds of services they needed and that single moms had the services they required and that low-income families were in fact made better by the policies of this government. Again, Mr. Speaker, you only have to look at the reality. You only have to look at the truth and at what is actually happening in the province.
I'm going to read into the record a little bit of this particular article from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives,
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B.C. office. It is in the "B.C. Commentary." This particular one is entitled "Falling Through the Cracks: Poverty in British Columbia." It says:
We talked about that a little earlier, Mr. Speaker. The anecdotal evidence that all of us on the opposition side have gathered as we have gone around the province, as we have met with communities, is verified in reports like this.
"The 1990s were a difficult decade for British Columbians, particularly for the poorest in the province
. . . .
"In real, per-capita terms, wages and salaries in B.C. declined by 7.3 percent from 1990 to 1998. However, those closest to the bottom of the income ladder felt the most pain -- due to more flexible labour markets, matched by cuts in income supports by governments. As a result, there was an increase in poverty in B.C. by any measure. The depth of poverty was also higher and more visible on the street in the rise of homelessness, panhandling and food banks. Life for the poor is more difficult and precarious than it has been in several decades
. . . .The vast increase in jobs in the 1990s has come in the form of part-time work or self employment, neither of which pay as well or have the security associated with full-time paid work."
I know the government members opposite are going to talk about the Canada health and social transfer. Every time there is an issue about whether or not the government is making the right priorities, they always come back and say: "Well, it's those awful federal people. It's that federal government that never gives us the amount of money that we require or that we deserve. It's their fault; they're the ones that make the cuts. There's nothing we can do about it." Well, what this document says is that British Columbia had the opportunity to make the right choices and chose not to.
Mr. Speaker, I see my time is running out, and that's unfortunate. I had a lot more to say, but just let me conclude. This government, over the past ten years since 1991, has in fact driven this province into the ground -- done nothing for the people of British Columbia. Members opposite are going to make sure that this government is held to account and that every single individual in this province understands the damage that has been done to this province.
S. Hawkins: Hon. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to reply to the Speech from the Throne. In my mind and for my constituents, the Speech from the Throne is supposed to be a vision. As other members have mentioned, it should be a new vision, and it should be something that people in British Columbia can look forward to. It's the plan that the government puts out for the year, and the budget is the implementation of that plan.
You know, I've had a chance to look at both over the last couple of weeks, and what I'm finding is that it's not a new vision. It's a bunch of old promises that were never delivered. When I look back over the last few years at throne speeches and budgets that have been delivered in this Legislature, there really isn't anything new. I've got the 1996 throne speech, the one that promised the two balanced budgets and promised a reduction in debt. They said that British Columbians were very, very concerned about debt, and this government opposite was going to reduce our debt. It also talks about tax cuts and job creation and investment opportunities.
Do you know what? The throne speech this year talks about the same kind of stuff, but that's four years of old promises that were never delivered. In the last four years we've had more debt. In fact, debt under this NDP government has doubled since they took office in 1991. We went, I believe, from a $17 billion debt to about a $35 billion debt now. That is absolutely astounding.
Ten years ago we were number one in Canada. We were the envy of every other province in Canada. We had the highest credit rating of any province; we had the lowest debt service costs, the smallest debt relative to our size. And we had the fastest-growing economy. Do you know where we are today? Because of incompetence, mismanagement, mistakes, miscalculations and missed opportunities, we are number ten. I would say that's perhaps because of -- as the auditor general mentioned in his report on the fudge-it budget of 1996 -- the inflation of optimism. So $800 million of optimism was added to the '96-97 budget. What did that result in? I believe it was about an $800 million deficit in those budgets. So there was a little bit of dishonesty in those years too.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
We have gone from number one to number ten, and in the last four years I haven't seen this government change. I haven't seen a balanced budget since I was elected, and I was elected to this House in 1996. Every year there's a promise of balancing the budget, but every year that promise moves forward to other years. This government promised a balanced budget in '96-97, which was never delivered, and in '97 they said it was going to be balanced in 2000-2001. Well, here we are. Do we have a balanced budget? No, we have a deficit of about $1.5 billion. Unbelievable. Do we foresee a balanced budget in the future? Under those guys, not until 2003-2004. We will never see a balanced budget, because they won't be in power in 2003-2004. We will see a balanced budget because this side of the House, this opposition, plans to balance the budget.
We have a promise of new budget transparency laws here in this throne speech. You know what? It's not because they wanted to; it's because they have to. It's because people are sick and tired of having the wool pulled over their eyes. It's because the auditor general put out a report, and it's because -- the NDP are before the courts on this very issue -- the public are sick and tired of being lied to. Because they have to define themselves as a new government
S. Hawkins: The member says 1991; I guess so.
It's really interesting, because the auditor general has been talking about transparency and accountability for the last 12 years. It's kind of hard to take when a throne speech says that they have finally heeded the concerns of British Columbians, and they've been heard. British Columbians have been trying to speak out for the last four years, and what they've been saying is that they want an election. They want to have a chance to vote on this government. We have voted down the throne speech and budget every year, because nothing has changed; it's more of the same. What British Columbians are asking this government to do is have the courage to call an election on one of their budgets and let British Columbians
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have the right to show what they really feel about this government. That means that they would vote this government out of office faster than you could say go.
I'm going to take my seat, because I understand one of the members has an introduction to make.
B. Penner: I seek leave to make an introduction.
B. Penner: I'd like to thank my colleague the member for Okanagan West for allowing me to make this introduction.
In the gallery are more than 45 members of the Chilliwack and District Seniors Resources Society, who have travelled to Victoria today to take in the sights and take in the sounds of debate here in the Legislature. I ask that the House please make them welcome.
S. Hawkins: I was talking about the new budget transparency and accountability law that's going to come into place. It's interesting, because the government says that this new law will hold the government to a higher standard on transparency as it uses special warrants. Well, isn't it nice that we're going to get this law after they have overspent last year's budget by $400 million? We don't know how that law would apply for the last nine years that they've been overspending and using special warrants. It will kick in next year, but it's too bad we had to wait this long to get a process that will limit the government's spending by special warrants and will actually show us what they're doing.
With this law, will they learn their lesson? I don't know. And you know what? Call me a cynic, but I don't think they will. I always look at past behaviour to predict future performance. I think most people do. The past behaviour of this government and what they have done with their reckless spending and their megaprojects, which the Finance minister admitted himself
What an astounding admission to make! And the megaprojects were astounding. It's $470 million and counting, I guess, on the fast ferries, $73 million wasted on the convention centre and a billion dollars in business subsidies. Why should the government pick winners and losers? Why can't the market -- the competitiveness of the market -- decide? They spent $310 million on fixed-wage policies and lost $125 million in federal revenue from Nanoose Bay. I could go on and on. The members on that side are always asking: "Where are you going to find the money for health care and education? You're going to have to cut." No, we won't, because you know what? If we saved half of what they wasted, we'd be able to have a better health and education program for this province. They have been very irresponsible with their spending.
In the throne speech, I read that they're going to strengthen and modernize health care. You know, they talk about health care being a top priority of today's families. Obviously it is. They talk about how in the coming weeks they'll set out an agenda to relieve the pressure on our hospitals, the heart of our health care system. Well, I'm waiting with bated breath. They talk about addressing the shortage of nurses today and expanding the training for tomorrow. They talk about it like it's a new issue, like these problems just happened yesterday, and they recognized it and are going to solve it now.
The problem with nurses, the problem with congestion in hospitals, the problem with long-term wait-lists, the problem with surgical wait-lists didn't happen yesterday. We've known those problems have been coming for ten years. The problem is that this government hasn't been able to plan for it -- not at all.
I was pretty amazed to see the Minister of Energy and Mines stand up the other day, when he was giving one of his replies -- it was either to the budget or to the throne speech -- and say that the nurses and the doctors raised issues and horror stories around contract talks only because they wanted more money. I think that was his premise. That is absolutely astounding to me. I just can't believe that a minister of the Crown would stand up and make that kind of allegation. The nurses don't necessarily raise those issues around contract talks; they're raising them all year round. They've raised them every year for the last nine years, and I know that, because I was one of them. I moved to this province in 1991 as a nurse, ready for work. I was a specialized nurse -- in fact, I specialized in neuroscience, in brain surgery -- and I couldn't find a job here.
An Hon. Member: And now you can't find a brain over there.
S. Hawkins: The member says: "Now you can't find a brain over there." I'm looking awfully hard, but it is hard to find one, let me tell you.
Nurses have a very significant issue with workload. We're burning out our nurses. The average age of a nurse now is around 45, 46 or 47. They're going to be retiring soon. You know what? The average work life of a nurse is around five years. The thing is that we can't keep them in the workforce, not with the working conditions we've imposed on them, not with the workload we've imposed on them, not with
Those are the kinds of issues that they have been speaking to for the last ten years. In fact, the Canadian Nurses Association, every nursing association across Canada and the nursing unions have been speaking about the nursing shortage for at least the last ten or 12 years. This government, in the throne speech presented on March 15, 2000, says that it's going to address the shortage of nurses today. Well, they should have started ten years ago. They should have started the first year they got into power. That's when they should have started, because that's when the issue was raised.
Now the rest of the world is competing for nurses -- everywhere around the world. We have the best-trained nurses in the world here in Canada. You know what? They're all leaving. I know that, because nurses who worked for me were going to the States, were going to other countries, because they can. Ontario talks about recruiting 10,000 nurses; Alberta talks about hiring another few thousand nurses. This government talks about hiring so many nurses. Well, I want to know: where are you going to find them now? You cut out the training spots. In fact, a couple of years ago
The member for Skeena might remember that the northern nursing program at UNBC was threatened. The govern-
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ment was going to cut positions there. Well, how farsighted is that, when they knew when they were making that decision that we were going to be short of nurses? Do you know where we're the shortest of nurses and health care personnel? In the rural areas, where that member over there is from, and he's heckling. Perhaps he should visit his hospitals, visit his rural nurses and find out what pressures there are on them working in those areas. It is very stressful and very hard to find personnel to go out to those rural places.
If health care is the top priority of this government, then we should all be afraid. Frankly, the polling shows it, and anecdotal stories show it. The government might not want to hear it. They keep talking about the health horror stories that don't exist. But they're out there, because we hear them. We hear them day in and day out. They're not pretty. In fact, I think the capital region had a meeting the other night, and it was a very poignant moment when a gentleman stood up, holding his baby, and said: "This is not a number." Patients are not numbers. The government treats them like numbers. They say they care, but actions speak louder than words. What we've seen is a decimation of our health care services across the province.
The government doesn't act until it has to react. We've seen that time and time again in the last nine years. They don't respond to a problem until it becomes of such crisis proportions and such a media nightmare for them that they have to act on health care problems. We saw that with rural health care. We saw that during the nurses' strike. We see that over and over again. They talk about surgical wait-lists -- that they've improved them. They haven't. The statistics show that they've gotten worse. In my area we have the longest waiting list for surgery in the province.
S. Hawkins: The minister over there asks me what I'm doing about it. What are you doing about it? That's what we're asking: what are you doing about it? You're spending money. The government is spending money on fast ferry projects that do absolutely nothing except suck up money. They post a deficit every year that increases our debt-servicing costs. They've doubled the debt. They've wasted money on Skeena Cellulose. It's $73 million that they've wasted on the convention centre. Couldn't that have been spent on health care? Couldn't that have been spent on surgical wait-lists?
When the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast sat on this side of the House, he had a lot to say about it. He had a lot to say about what the government was doing about health care. In fact, he was a huge advocate. Now he seems to be a co-conspirator over there. He was a huge advocate for health care issues. In fact, he had a lot to say.
Let's just go back through some of the nightmares that people in the province had to face with health care. One of them happens to be Glacier View Lodge. If I recall correctly, when the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast sat on this side of the House, he had a lot to say about what the government was doing with Glacier View Lodge and the expropriation of Glacier View Lodge. That poor community fought awfully hard to save their lodge from expropriation, and I didn't hear any of those members over there speaking out for their community. In fact, the member for Comox Valley was very silent on the issue.
I remember going there two or three times and trying to engage the government in a dialogue on saving Glacier View Lodge. It finally went to a court case, and I even have a quote here from the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast -- what he said at that time when he was sitting on this side of the House with respect to the expropriation provisions in the Health Statutes Amendment Act that came before the House. He said that there are two breaches of trust that have occurred in this process.
The first is that there was a real promise -- an absolute promise -- to have elected boards, and that promise was broken. It's gone. No more will we have elected boards. The second breach of that trust has to do with a much more important issue in the minds of some people who are directly involved in running the society. That has to do with where the assets are going to rest in terms of ownership after the amalgamation occurs. Let's be clear that where those societies have gone out over the year and raised money for various machines that provide health care services -- they're owned by that society -- the government can't simply come in and decide that it's going to take those assets and seize them. That's what the member said when he sat on this side of the House. Now he's wondering what we're doing about health care. The member now sits as a minister of the Crown on that side of the House. What is he doing to protect those patients? What is he doing to protect those assets? You know what? He says it didn't happen.
Madam Justice Southin said in her decision of April 5, 2000: "
I'm wondering if that minister is going to do that. We'll just wait; that's fine. We have been waiting. We've been waiting months and months and years and years for this government to act and do the right thing for a change. We'll just keep waiting. We only have a year to wait, and then we won't have to, because they will be off those benches. The public will make sure that they don't get elected again.
The throne speech talks about further upgrades to hospital equipment. I had toured about a hundred hospitals across the province. We're in a pretty sad and sorry state; we really are. I don't know if we're alone in that across the country, but in British Columbia
This government has not planned for putting technology into hospitals. They have not planned for putting information technology into hospitals. They have not planned to take the duplication out of transferring information and tests in hospitals across the province. In fact, what they've done is not planned, basically. In the last ten years what we've seen is a real downgrade of services across the province, because this government decided, I guess, to engage in other priorities.
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Those were their pet projects, their megaprojects. Instead of looking after the day-to-day needs of people and what they depend on as far as health care, they decided to embark on their own projects that perhaps benefited their friends and themselves rather than the people of B.C.
One of the biggest places where we haven't planned -- and again it's nothing new; again I'm sure the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast is going to ask me what I'm going to do about it -- is long-term care. We've got the longest wait-list for long-term care in my constituency. What have I done about it? I've spoken out about it in every session. It's not like this government just learned about it yesterday or two weeks ago when they read their throne speech. They have heard it every year from this member and other members on this side of the House. I'm sure the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast, when he was sitting on this side, also spoke about it.
The government hasn't planned for long-term care. We know there is an aging population; we know there is a great need. We know that health care services are mostly utilized in our last years. We know that there are care and support services needed by the elderly. Did we plan for that? Did we have a plan in place? All the demographics were done. We knew that certain areas of the province were going to be impacted. I believe the central Island, around the Nanaimo area, has the second-longest surgical wait-list in the province.
There are certain factors that make them that way. They happen to be a desirable place for retirees, and they just happen to have a larger elderly population. Why didn't we use those areas as pilot projects and try something new and innovative -- try and set up services or fund long-term beds in those areas to see if something worked there so that we could plan for the rest of the province? But you know what? We have got such a backlog now, and it doesn't help that we don't have the nurses, we don't have the physicians, and we don't have the personnel to work in those areas. We are short all over the province; we haven't planned. I think that, again, is something that the government has fallen down on. It's a shame.
Let me think of something else. The government does try to plan; I'm not saying that they don't try to plan. They plan a lot of announcements; they plan those really well. They plan the photo opportunities really well.
The mental health announcement -- a $125 million seven-year plan. You know, there was big fanfare. I think it was announced two or three times, actually, just so everybody got it right that there was going to be a seven-year plan for $125 million pumped into mental health care programs for our most vulnerable. We were going to take our mentally ill off the streets. You know what I read? It was the Minister of Health who now sits in the Minister of Education chair; she sits on Treasury Board. She said: "The expenditure was never approved by Treasury Board." So they made a $125 million promise that was never approved by Treasury Board. They made a $10 million promise last year to spend some of that money on mental health; that money wasn't spent.
We are wondering where that plan is, where the money is. What's happening to those people? There was a plan. They've never kept to a plan. They've never kept to a plan of promising a balanced budget, they've never kept to a plan of reducing the deficit or eliminating it, and they've never kept to a plan of reducing our debt. They've never been able to deliver. They set all these lofty goals, but they never seem to hit them. They set all these targets; they never seem to meet them. They look great on paper, but there are never any business plans. It's really quite disturbing.
We met with a group from Vancouver yesterday to talk about AIDS services in this province. I recall
The AIDS strategy. We have a epidemic in this province. I'm sure that every member in this House knows that. It is something that we were renowned for around the world. We are the developed and industrialized country with the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS -- in downtown east side Vancouver. That's not anything to be proud of, I have to say. It is nothing to be proud of. The government said they had a plan. Did I believe them? Not really. Four years later there's no plan. Two years ago we saw a framework, and the government tried to pass that on as the plan. But that wasn't the AIDS strategy. Then I remember that the Minister of Health who is now the Minister of Education appointed an advisory committee that was supposed to come up with an AIDS strategy. It hasn't happened.
Yesterday, when we met with the AIDS group, we heard that they're very concerned because the funding for HIV/AIDS is going to be regionalized. I don't know if the government understands the impact of that. It's a not a regional problem; it's a provincial problem. It makes sense that we attack it in a provincial way and have a strategy that deals with AIDS and HIV incidence across the province, not just talk about it and break up the funding and give it to regions. It's more than a regional problem. I hope against hope that the new minister will consider developing a plan, bringing in those groups, bringing in those agencies and developing an AIDS strategy. I'm afraid it's probably going to be too little too late. There are other agencies that pick up the slack. They're doing the best they can, but we still have an epidemic. So I'm hoping against hope that they will listen. I don't see any hope for that in the throne speech, but we hope they will anyway.
There have been so many projects in health care that have been promised, and they either haven't come through or have been delayed. That's not helpful either. Projects like the cancer centre in Kelowna, the Southern Interior Cancer Centre
S. Hawkins: You know, the member for Skeena says: "What about the debt?" Of course we're worried about the debt. If the priorities in their spending were really health and education, we'd see the funding going there instead of the megaprojects and waste -- millions upon millions, billions of dollars of waste that they've racked up over the last few years.
Five years ago, I believe, we were promised a new ICU at Kelowna General Hospital. Now, the Okanagan region has grown considerably. In my riding, Kelowna General Hospital
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serves as a regional centre for the valley and has lots of specialized services. I've worked in old hospitals and in old ICUs. But I'm telling you, the one there was pretty archaic. Every year the government promised that they were going to build a new ICU, and very year it got delayed. I remember
We have a cardiac program and an angiography program, a cardiac cath program, at Kelowna General Hospital. Guess what. This government is making announcements saying that we're going to have cardiac surgery at Kelowna General Hospital, but we don't have cardiac care beds. We don't have CCU beds.
How can they make promises like that without having services already in place? I don't understand that, the health care people don't understand that, and my constituents don't understand that -- hollow words, hollow promises again.
If the government's going to make plans, if they're going to make announcements, if they're going to build units, if they're going to carry those things through, then the money should follow. They should put their money where their mouth is. But unfortunately, they put their foot where their mouth is a lot of times, because when they've built projects, when they've carried through
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, member. Thank you very much.
S. Hawkins: Can I just conclude my remarks?
Deputy Speaker: Continue, please -- quickly.
S. Hawkins: Well, I just want to say, hon. Speaker, that I don't see anything new in this throne speech, and I will not be supporting the throne speech. The government's past performance doesn't merit it.
C. Clark: Well, hon. Speaker, you will forgive me if I have a look of astonishment on my face after having sat through all these throne speeches and all these budgets since 1996, when I was first elected. I am still astonished to sit here in this House when my colleagues talk about what the government's not doing and hear the members of the government shout across to the opposition: "Well, what are you doing about it?"
Guess what, folks. I've got a news flash. You're in government; we're in opposition. If you'd call an election, we might be able to change that around. But until then, you're the folks with your hands on the levers of power. The government side are the people who, with a stroke of a pen, can make things happen. It's not the opposition. Guess what, folks. You're on the government benches.
We have a Premier who today might like nothing better than to call reviews and have a second look at things and take some time to decide and never really make a decision. But guess what. When you're the Premier of the province or you're a cabinet minister in the province or you're on the government benches, you're the people with the power to make the decisions. Look what's happened over the last nine years of decisions. The decisions that the government has made have led us down to the path where we have gone from being the best province economically in this country to the worst.
So guess what, folks on the government benches. You're the people with the opportunity to decide to turn things around. When a throne speech gets presented to this House, it's the members of the government whose will is expressed in that document. That document outlines for us the vision that the government presents about the province. It's supposed to tell British Columbians what the government wants to do to fix the problems that it's created. That's what a throne speech is for.
When cabinet members sit across and heckle to the opposition, "Well, what are you doing about it?" it's not surprising that some of us will respond with astonishment. It's as though, after ten years in government, no one on that side of the House understands that they're in a position to be able to do something to fix the problems. It's like the people over there on that side still somehow believe that after ten years, their only role is to be like an opposition -- to just sit there and criticize everybody else and point their fingers and try to shift the blame and shuffle it off. Well, that's not leadership, and that's not what you're supposed to do in government.
Government is about making decisions. It's about charting the future, offering vision and leadership for British Columbians about where you want to take us. That's what government's about. It's not about planning for the next headline in the newspaper the day after. It's not about planning some photo opportunity that you never intend to carry through on. It's not about going out and putting in your best efforts to try and deceive the public into something so that you might be able to make it past the next election.
That's not leadership; that's not what government's about. That's not why British Columbians go to the polls every four or five years to elect people. They elect members in this Legislature to lead, to make decisions, to do things, to make the province a little bit better than the way they found it. It's so that after four or five years, they can look back on the government they elected and the leaders they chose and say: "You know what? I'm proud of those people." It's so that they can look at those people, and they can say: "You know what? Maybe I didn't agree with every decision they ever made, but at least they did what they said they were going to do." That's what government's about. That's why people go to the polls.
Is it any wonder that British Columbians are feeling so cynical about government that when you ask them in the polls today, many of them will say they don't even feel like voting anymore? It doesn't matter to them. It's particularly acute for people who are under 35 who, for every election they've voted in, have been faced with a government saying to them: "We're going to do things differently. We're going to be honest; just trust us." Every single time every one of those governments has ended with the Premier going out in disgrace. That is not the kind of tradition that British Columbia was founded on. We have to start doing better than that.
This throne speech that was presented to us was an opportunity, I thought, for the government to do better than that. The government benches elected a new leader -- a new quarterback for the football team -- and everyone thought
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that this might be an opportunity to present a new face, a new plan, a new vision, a new hope for British Columbia. Everyone thought there was a chance that they might do something differently, that this new Premier might look at the error of his ways and the error of the ways of all those who had preceded him and say: "I am going to do something differently. I'm going to take this task, and I am going to take this opportunity, and I'm not going to miss it."
Instead, what do we get? We get a throne speech that charts exactly the same path. It might as well be from the same playbook as his predecessor -- the same old rhetoric, empty words from a government that said it was going to do things differently, from a new leader who said he was going to do things differently.
When you step back and think about it, you realize that perhaps that was too much to hope for. In our desperation for a government that was going to act in the best interests of British Columbians, perhaps we did get our expectations too high. Perhaps we did invest too much hope in the possibility that a new leader might chart a new way. Perhaps we did. Now, when we've had the opportunity to look at the way this government operates, we realize it is the same people populating this government that populated the last. It's a new quarterback, but it's the same players in the field. Is it any wonder they're using the same playbook? Is it any wonder that they're charting exactly the same course?
Not only is it the same people, but this new Premier, who was going to do things differently
Where is the new, different way that this Premier promised us? It's certainly not in the throne speech. In the throne speech we heard about
Instead, we see an empty, vapid throne speech -- perhaps the thinnest I've seen since I've come into this Legislature -- promising more of the same old thing. Instead, we got a statement from a government that includes a deficit that is going to cost us $7.5 million a day in interest alone -- wasted money. This is a government that's a captive of the big banks -- the big banks they like to complain about. If there was ever a government that had become captive of the big banks, it's this government. While they sit there and decry the opposition for going out and being pro-business, supporting all these people who want profits, they're the ones that are, I dare say, the biggest contributors in this province to the big banks' bottom lines. That's the hypocrisy we see every single day from this government. Do we see any plan to fix the economy, to get people back to work? No, we don't.
What do we see instead? Well, the government did talk about some new changes that they offered in their throne speech. They talked about transparency in government. That promise became transparent pretty quickly, because it wasn't long before the new Premier, with his new promise of transparency, was asked what he was going to do about the fast ferries. Was he going to live up to his commitment to allow a full public inquiry into what happened with the fast ferries? Was he going to live up to the commitment he made when he was running for leader of his party? Was he going to allow people to go in and have a look at exactly what happened so that we can make sure that it never happens again in British Columbia?
We had the scandal with the Coquihalla Highway, and this government, when they sat in the opposition benches, yelled and screamed about it. They said that there had to be a public inquiry. You know what the government of the day did? It took them six days, but they called a public inquiry. We all hoped when that happened that the mistakes with the Coquihalla Highway would never happen again. Well, guess what, folks. It did, and it happened worse with the fast ferry fiasco. Does the Premier who's committed to transparency, who made the promise that he would look into this, do anything to look into it? No. He rejects an inquiry. In fact, he promotes the person who shut down the only thing that we had, the only tool the public had to actually look into that, through the Public Accounts Committee. The woman who shut that down got promoted to Deputy Premier for her efforts. Well, thanks a lot. Thanks a lot for all that transparency.
What about all the transparency the Premier is showing today? You know, with the stroke of a pen -- he wouldn't even have to pick up his pen -- the Premier could tell us how much the government's spending in legal fees to defend his predecessor in court. But he won't tell us that. It's the public's money, but he won't tell us. How much money is the public spending to defend this latest in the long string of disgraced former Premiers? Our new Premier, who's supposed to be committed to transparency, won't tell us. He won't tell us how many either. How many legal teams does the former Premier have looking after his interests? Our current Premier doesn't even see fit to share that information with us or share that information with the public that's footing the bill.
I got a fax from someone today saying: "I have a limit on how much I can go for in legal aid. I have a limit on how much I can demand of the government because that's public money. It's carefully controlled. They want to know where every dollar is spent when I go out and I ask for that kind of help from government for my legal costs." The Premier won't tell us how much money we're spending to defend the former Premier? For goodness' sake, that's public money too. It's supposed to be carefully controlled. Where is the accountability when they won't even give us that information? Where's the transparency from this government?
Then the Premier says that he won't give us an inquiry into the fast ferries. He won't tell us how much we're going to be paying in legal fees for the former Premier. But you know what he will do? He will appoint the truth police to make sure that if he or any member of his government is overcome by an urge to mislead the public about the budget again, there will be someone there to make sure they can stop them before it
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gets out of hand. Well, thanks a lot. That's the best that this government can offer the public in terms of honesty and transparency?
How bad has it gotten in British Columbia where, after ten years in government, rather than just introducing honest budgets, rather than just changing the way government does business, rather than just making a genuine commitment to transparency and honesty in government, the Premier has to come up with an elaborate scheme to ensure that he tells the truth? He has to come up with a referee who's going to tap him on the shoulder if he's overcome with the urge not to -- someone who can sign off on every one of his budget statements, giving them the certificate of authenticity.
Isn't that supposed to come with leadership anyway? Isn't that the way government is supposed to work anyway? But the government benches have been reduced to having to bring in an outsider to certify the authenticity of their statements, because nobody believes them anymore. Nobody believes them. We've got an Attorney General who used to publicly say that no one would believe him. Is that any surprise, after what we've seen with budget after budget, throne speech after throne speech, promise after promise that this government has made and hasn't lived up to?
You know, the throne speech also promised us a new child care plan for British Columbia. No, no. Actually, that's going way, way too far. The government promised us $14 million for child care. There's no plan. Oh no, that would be asking way too much. Anyway, I'm sure that in this government's view, $14 million is just a drop in the bucket anyway. It's just chump change, as far as this government's concerned. So why would they need a plan?
For goodness' sake, they didn't have a plan for the fast ferries, and that was half a billion dollars. For goodness' sake, they don't have a plan for the SkyTrain, and that's a billion and a half dollars. Why would they bother with a plan for something as measly as $14 million? Anyway, child care doesn't count as a megaproject, does it? Why would the government bother coming out with a plan for that?
Well, you know why they should come out with a plan for that? It's because child care is important in British Columbia. Child care is one of the most important services that government can provide. It's important for government, if they are going to provide child care, to make sure that every single penny that's spent on it actually goes to delivering the highest-quality, most efficient service to as many children as humanly possible. That's important work. That's what government should be spending its time doing. But government can't do that effectively if they don't come out with a plan to deliver it. Saying $14 million for after-school care isn't enough. That's not enough.
An Hon. Member: It's an announcement -- come on.
C. Clark: It's just an announcement. The government needs to be able to say: "Here's how much money we have. Here's where we're going to spend it. Here's the limits on how you can access those funds, and here's what we expect to get out of it. At the end of the day, when we've spent the money, here's how we're going to measure whether it was spent effectively." That's the way to provide child care in British Columbia, not just to come up with some announcement that you've cooked up on the eve of budget day and that somebody's written on the back of a napkin, so that you can produce an announcement out of your throne speech the day after, because otherwise you're concerned that someone might notice that you haven't balanced your budget again. That's not the way to provide effective child care in British Columbia.
Yes, we should be providing child care. Yes, that's an important service. But if we believe it's important, then let's do it right. Let's make sure it's done properly. Let's be honest about it and up front. Let's make sure that every dollar that's invested in it is invested well.
That money comes from people who work hard, pay their taxes, go to work every day and take home half of what they earn because the other half comes to government. We owe it to those people to take the half of their paycheques that government takes away every day and spend it properly, judiciously, prudently, honestly and fairly. We owe it to those people to do better than this. We owe it to all those single moms depending on child care in British Columbia, who hear an announcement in the throne speech that there's going to be child care. We owe it to them to come up with a plan that's going to work -- that is going to actually improve their lives, not just raise their hopes and expectations so that we can dash them again. We owe them more than that. They work hard every day for that 50 cents they take home and that 50 cents they give to government.
When I look at this throne speech, I see a government that's failed in its duty to work hard, that hasn't rolled up its sleeves and thought creatively about what we can do to deliver better lives for people in British Columbia.
You know, it is time for a government that cares more about the people that it represents than it does about getting re-elected. It's time we had a government in British Columbia that cared more about its citizens than it does about the next day's headline. It's time we had a government that was prepared to be honest and bold and make tough decisions and stick with them, because that's what people expect of government. It is time -- and I'll borrow a phrase here -- that we had a government that worked as hard as the people who paid for it.
Does anybody remember that line? That was the line that the then Premier used in 1991 to get elected. He said that we should elect the NDP, because we deserved a government that worked as hard as the people who paid for it. Instead, we have a government that comes out with a throne speech that was probably written up on the back of a napkin and that offers a child care program that no one has really thought about. That's not a government that's working very hard. That's not a government that cares more about the services it delivers than it does about getting re-elected.
This government promised $125 million for mental health, and it never even went through Treasury Board. The NDP told us they were going to get all those people that live on the downtown east side -- who are shuffling from corner to corner with nowhere to go; who are suffering from severe mental illness -- off the streets. In 1991 they made that promise. They ran those ads; everyone will remember. They said they were going to do something about that problem, and they never delivered. Those people are not just still there; there are more people down there -- hungry and lost and alone, suffering from mental illness, turfed out of the places where they were receiving care, with nowhere to go in the community.
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Then the government has the gall to announce $125 million to care for people who have mental illness, and they don't even bother to deliver on it. Not only do they announce it once; they announce it three times. Three times they went out and told people that their expectations would finally be met and that they would finally be cared for; and three times they didn't tell the truth. Now we know that there was never any intention of delivering on that promise either.
When British Columbians look to this government and say, "You know, we just don't think we can trust them anymore," is it any wonder? It's a government that doesn't care -- doesn't care nearly as much as it does about getting re-elected -- when it should be thinking about its citizens, when it should be thinking about delivering services.
British Columbia is founded on the idea that if people come here and work hard, they will get ahead and will be provided for by a government that cares. That's what British Columbia is about. That's the ethos of this province. This last ten years of the NDP seem to have been some kind of determined effort to deter us from that path.
We have a government that not only knows they can do something better than we can with our money but knows they can be better parents than we are. They know what's better for us. We've seen ten years of a government that has, first, deprived people of jobs through its terrible economic management; second, deprived people of the desperately needed services that they're obligated to provide, because they don't make it a priority; and third, been determined to insinuate itself into every single aspect of our lives.
That's not what British Columbia is about. That's not where our province came from. That's not what people left places like Scotland, the Ukraine, Africa, India and Asia to come to Canada for. That's not why people came to British Columbia. When my great-great-grandparents came here, they left everything in Scotland. They came here with absolutely nothing, because they believed that this place would be better than the place they left. And they were right about that. But over the last ten years, this government seems to have done everything it could to deter us from that path, to make British Columbia a different place than it traditionally has been.
All those immigrants who came here with my great-great-grandparents in the 1800s kept coming. They came here all through the last century. They were coming here all through the seventies and eighties. But do you know what's happening in British Columbia now? People are leaving. People are leaving British Columbia because they can't make it here anymore. That's what the NDP have done to British Columbia. They've turned this from one of the most desirable places on earth to live into a place where people can't even make a living anymore. They have to go somewhere else to have their children cared for, because the government won't provide those services anymore.
That's what the NDP have done to this province. They've changed it. They've changed it dramatically from the tradition that this place is founded on. It is shameful. Ten years of NDP government have diverted us from the path that has made this the greatest place in the world to live. Ten years of terrible economic mismanagement have made this a place where not only can you not get ahead; you can't even work hard, because there aren't jobs to find. Ten years of economic mismanagement have meant that our shrinking economy no longer provides the revenues to government that government needs to provide services for people.
That's the tragedy of this -- that the NDP
There is one group in British Columbia that they do know how to take care of, and that's themselves. The NDP have spent ten years taking care of themselves. You know, we've got a former Premier who's being defended with taxpayers' money. We've got former members of the bureaucracy that the government told us were gone who are still sitting there on the government payroll. We've got ministers who promoted the fast ferry project -- the fiasco -- who get promoted. In fact, we've got a whole crew over there who were complicit in the last ten years of the worst economic bungling we've seen in the history of British Columbia, and every single one of them has been promoted.
Well, it is time for a change. It is time to elect a government that is going to do things differently, that's going to show some courage, that's going to put British Columbia back on the path to prosperity, that is going to put British Columbians back to work and honour the sacrifices that generations of people have made to make this province great. It's time for an election. It's time to get rid of the NDP, and it's time to elect a government in British Columbia that's going to put us back on track and get British Columbia moving again.
Hon. J. Doyle: I'm pleased to get up and speak on the throne speech, which was delivered a month or so ago. This throne speech is about people and services. This throne speech is about people making choices. It's about government making choices. Past governments didn't make investments in health and advanced education in our province. This government has done that. We're catching up for the mistakes and the investments that that party over there didn't make when they were in government under a different name than they use today. That's what we're doing. This government, I am proud to say, has changed that. We are investing. For instance, in my constituency of Columbia River-Revelstoke, I've stood in the fine, proud city of Kimberley
In the community of Kimberley, for instance, the Cominco mine is closing down in two years because they're running out of ore. For many, many years the water system, because it has been a company town in the past, was totally owned by Cominco. It was a company town, and the company didn't want to be responsible for the infrastructure of the water system any more. As the MLA, I worked with the city to build a completely new dam to hold adequate water to provide the community with services for today and for many, many years to come -- and also a new pipeline. That's a total of $10 million in investment for that community. They now have a very fine water system, one of the finest water systems
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in the province, thanks to investments by this government in a community like Kimberley to see it through to the future.
This investment in infrastructure meant that this community, for instance, could attract Charlie Locke from Alberta with a new resort that's been built in Kimberley -- again, one of the finest in the province. Charlie Locke is very, very pleased to be in British Columbia, along with many, many other companies that are investing up to $1 billion in the Kootenays in the recreation field.
This government, which I am very proud to be part of, invested in the new skills training centre in the community of Kimberley. When that party was in government some years ago -- back in the eighties -- they closed down the college in Kimberley out of spite. The main reason was that Kimberley had a tradition of not voting for that party under their old name. So they closed down the college service to that community. I was proud to bring investments from this government back to Kimberley -- some of the moneys that they had sent here over the years. They were ignored by that party under their former name. So they now have a skills centre in Kimberley.
Last year I was pleased to announce in Kimberley a brand new middle school, an elementary middle school for the community of Kimberley -- again, catching up on investments that weren't made over many years by this opposition, when they used their old name. As part of that school announcement, we also announced that there is a $1.3 million theatre being built in the community of Kimberley. This theatre is funded by the provincial government to assist this community in its transition to the new economy. It is going to be very, very important for the local community and for the many, many people that will come and visit Kimberley, visiting this beautiful area in our province.
Over the years that I have been a MLA, there were many other parts of the infrastructure that had to be caught up in Kimberley. I worked with the community, for instance, to get a new downtown revitalization program done in the southern part of Kimberley. It used to be a separate municipality some years ago called Marysville. It still is, but it is within the boundaries of the city of Kimberley. There is also major investment in the hospital to upgrade the facilities. It has been a pleasure for me to have worked with Jim Ogilvie, one of the most senior mayors and most capable mayors in the whole province, on projects that I have just mentioned for the city of Kimberley.
In the Columbia Valley, in the community of Invermere
We built, I am very proud to say, a new multicare facility in Invermere that is attached to the hospital. The community worked hard. I think it was the Lions Club that led the fundraising over many, many years, and they had money in place when this government had the moneys to invest back into the community of Invermere for this multicare facility. I have also worked with the local government on other infrastructure in Invermere -- a major new bridge replacing a wooden structure that was long past its useful life. It was over $2 million for that bridge.
Other schools in Invermere have had major upgrades under this government. This is some of the work that was left by previous governments, and we have caught up on this. The infrastructure across our province is in good shape, thanks to investments that this government has made in communities -- and of course, that is in people.
In the village of Radium Hot Springs, I have worked with the mayor and council in some downtown revitalization work. While Radium has got only about 700 people, it's a growing, beautiful place. I've also worked to get moneys for them for a new water system in Radium.
Just north of the village of Radium, there's the rural community of Edgewater. Over the last year I've worked to get money for a new sewer system. The community just had a referendum as to their portion of this system, and it passed easily. I think over 80 percent of the people voted in favour. So that's going to go ahead. That's investments in communities in the province, large and small, and I'm very, very proud to have worked to make those investments in infrastructure.
Just south of the community of Golden, we built a brand-new elementary school in the small community of Parson, again investing in people and in our province -- and in this case, of course, investing in our youth, the biggest and most important resource we have in our province. In the budget of a week ago there was an announcement that there will be continued upgrades to the hospital in Golden and also in Kimberley; I think I forgot to mention that a few minutes ago. In Golden over the years we've also made major infrastructure investments in the airport. I think it is roughly a million dollars in the community airport in Golden -- again, important investments for a community that is growing, major investments in water, sewers, roads.
Another major investment that this government made was, through Canada-British Columbia Infrastructure Works, in the small community of Field about 35 miles east of Golden in my constituency. That's up in the federal park, in Yoho National Park. We worked with that community because for years and years the electricity in that community was generated by diesel power. Commercial people in the community of Field, for instance, were paying 35 cents per kilowatt-hour for power. It was pretty hard for them to make a dollar up there. For residential people there was some small subsidy from B.C. Hydro or from government, but that was unfair to a small community like Field. Even though they're isolated, they're still part of our province.
As I said in a speech a couple of weeks ago, the area that I represent has been well dammed by the Columbia River Treaty, so it's only right that the people in my constituency have hydro. So I've worked with that small community, with the federal government and with B.C. Hydro and made sure that they now do have hydro service available, the same as the people in this building. So they have power available for their community. The pollution from the diesel engines has gone. Commercial enterprise can thrive, because they have the same chance to compete as other people in the province of British Columbia.
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In the fine city of Revelstoke, I was proud to have worked over the years, again investing in the community in the new skills training centre, and with major school upgrades over the years to gyms, to schools, to service that proud community. During the time just before I was appointed Municipal Affairs minister, I was able to work with the community to get a completely new water system, because there had been problems with their old water supply. A new $6.6 million water system is being built which will serve that proud community of Revelstoke for many, many years. Other major investments have also been made in road and sewer systems in the community.
Something that I mentioned some weeks ago but must mention again is the community forest. This government worked with the community of Revelstoke to set it up at the same time the opposition said that we shouldn't set it up -- that we should quit fooling around in Revelstoke and not set up the community forest. It has been very, very good for the province and is something I'm very proud, as is the community of Revelstoke, to have worked on. People do remember that opposition to setting up that community forest for the city of Revelstoke.
In the province in general this government, over the years since we were elected in 1991, has invested billions of dollars in infrastructure. That is very, very important. Without the infrastructure in place, no matter where it is -- in health care facilities, schools or colleges
Looking at the provincial governments across the country that they always cheer about, I have no doubt that the opposition believe in a two-tier health care system, and that's what they would do if they ever moved over to this side of the floor. That's what they would do; we'd have a two-tier health care system. One of the things I think that we as Canadians should be very proud of and are very proud of
Their real political ally, of course, is not the federal government in Ottawa. It's the Reform Alliance party that is their political alliance today on the federal level. That's who their friends in Ottawa are. That's who they're asking to run as candidates to fill seats over there as they continue to be opposition. We all know the people that are running for the leadership of the Alliance at the present time, including an MP from the Victoria area, and that the stand of the Reform Alliance party is a two-tier health care system. So whenever they stand up and say that they care about health care for the average person of British Columbia, they don't. They are talking about health care for the people that wear the $2,000 suits in the tall buildings in Vancouver. They don't care about the average family.
I'm very pleased to be a member of this government and a member of this cabinet, and I'm very pleased to stand up in support of this throne speech.
Hon. J. MacPhail: It is the first time that I have risen in the Legislature to speak during this session, so it gives me great pleasure to congratulate you, hon. Speaker, on your appointment as Deputy Speaker -- and of course the Speaker on his election to this illustrious chamber.
I have not had the opportunity to speak to either the budget or the throne speech before now, so I'm really going to take a wide-ranging approach to the good news that's come about through the budget and the Speech from the Throne. Of course, it will all be very much focused on the government agenda.
I would like to start by introducing into the record some good news around the economy. One of the dilemmas that we as a government often face is misinformation about the economy being spread by the opposition. So for the benefit of British Columbians, I'd like to read into the record what is really happening in our economy.
In February the B.C. economy created another 14,500 jobs, and that was the largest monthly increase among all provinces. Our province had solid growth of employment throughout 1999 and really is off to a very good start in employment growth in the year 2000. In addition to the gains in employment, B.C. also saw the unemployment rate decline to 7 percent. That's the lowest we've seen since August of 1981.
Since October employment in B.C. has increased by 2.4 percent. That's second only to P.E.I.'s 4.7 percent and, of course, well above Alberta's 1.7 percent job growth. In February of this year there were 32,000 more employed youth compared to February of 1999. That's such a wonderful indicator of economic growth. The B.C. youth unemployment rate actually dropped by 2.7 percent year over year, and in the past two years youth unemployment has gone down by a full 7.5 percent.
Just a couple of other economic indicators put in perspective the economic recovery that B.C. is experiencing right now. Auto sales and retail sales were up in the fourth quarter of 1999. Of course, that's alongside the rising labour income. Since the fourth quarter of 1999 and indeed in the first quarter of 2000, there has been even greater improvement in that area. If you actually compare January 2000 retail sales to January 1999 retail sales, there was a 4.6 percent increase. The help-wanted index, which is a measure of demand for workers, has been rising since May of 1999 and was up by almost 20 percent in the first two months of the year 2000 from the same period last year. Of course, we all know that exports were up by a full 10.2 percent in the year 1999. The strength of commodity prices and the pickup in the economy are showing up in government revenues.
Those are just a few of the good economic indicators that B.C. is experiencing right now. I know that in future, when the Liberal opposition is describing our economy, they will refer to this good economic news. Is it all good economic news? No. There are still fragile parts of the economy, and the Minister of Finance has been very forthright in his budget -- the most open and transparent budget ever, I think, in any jurisdiction in Canada. I would like to congratulate the Minister of Finance for bringing forth such a budget.
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Let's talk about some of the issues that are on the agenda of the new government in British Columbia under the leadership of the new Premier. Some of these new initiatives have been highlighted in the government's Speech from the Throne. Many of these are particularly significant to my constituents in Vancouver-Hastings, the riding that I've had the pleasure to represent since 1991. This budget, which arose from the Speech from the Throne, really does invest in a healthy, well-educated and productive workforce that strengthens British Columbia's competitive position in the global economy in the long run.
We all know -- both my colleagues on this side of the House and the Liberal opposition -- that a well-educated, highly trained workforce strengthens B.C.'s competitive position in a global economy. That's why we froze tuition fees for the fifth straight year. That's why we made a major investment to increase funding for our universities and colleges. We restored core funding, and that will help with the tuition freeze and will help to create new courses.
Many of the new dollars go to create over 5,000 new student spaces, including 800 high-tech spaces and 400 to educate new nurses. The wonderful message that I would say British Columbia alone is sending to our young people is, firstly, that we believe in a highly trained, highly skilled workforce, and secondly, that we're actually going to create the spaces available for them to get an education. I was also very pleased to see that there is a sound foundation being created in the early years for post-secondary success.
Also, and very important in my riding amongst our inner-city schools, there are 300 more teachers to continue reducing class sizes in our early grades. As the parent of a young child, I know how important the early years of education are, and reducing class size is key to our children getting a solid education in the primary grades. We're building over 100 new schools, additions and expansions, and there will be 387 fewer portables this year than last year.
[The Speaker in the chair.]
That's particularly good news for the riding of Vancouver-Hastings, of course, because earlier this week the Ministers of Finance and of Education announced good news for Hastings Community School, one of the largest schools at the elementary level in all of British Columbia. We announced a multimillion-dollar expansion to Hastings school, which was welcomed by the parents, the teachers and the students at Hastings. I was fortunate enough to be there personally to make that announcement.
Both the throne speech and the budget balance the top priorities of today's families: education, health care, child care, tax cuts and a clean environment -- with, of course, the overriding concern of the need to control the deficit. There's more funding for health care for the ninth straight year, and that will help deal with the problems in our health care system. That's an increase of $549 million more, and that's more than double the federal health care increase to British Columbia. While there was more money flowing from the federal government, which is always welcome news, it's certainly not enough in any way to take care of all of the health care needs that we need, to look after our constituents in British Columbia.
It is clear from this budget that health care is our government's top priority. We're taking steps to educate new nurses; we're creating 400 new spaces for nurses in colleges and universities; we're hiring new nurses -- a full 600 new nurses this year. We're going to recruit and retain nurses by having the best compensation packages in Canada for nurses.
Last week, when the Minister of Finance, under the direction of the Premier, revealed in a comprehensive way everything that our government has done to work with the broader public sector workforce -- to pay fair wages, to recruit nurses and teachers, to train nurses and teachers, to make sure that there's adequate staff protecting our forests and our environment
I must say that I do agree with the Premier that funding, alone, of our health care system is not the answer. In the very near future our Premier will bring together the leaders in B.C.'s health care system to map out how health care providers, administrators and other experts can provide new ideas for delivering better health care. Again, a vision from this side of the House about what needs to be done to health care. We don't just take the pat answer, which is throw money at it. It is interesting to note, though, in keeping track of the speeches of the members that rise on the opposite side of the House, that every single MLA who sits on the opposite side of the House has asked for more money -- more money for health care, more money for education.
I don't recall
Particularly close to the hearts of my constituents is the fact that we are putting forward a major new initiative for support for working parents. In the throne speech there was an announcement that we would be moving toward a universal child care system. I was extremely proud to be part of the government that brought forward that announcement.
As a parent who's actually moving out of the child care system this year, I along with my child's extended family have been very fortunate to always have access to quality, affordable child care. But I do know that there are hundreds of thousands of parents throughout our province who don't have that same access to either affordable child care or quality child care. There is nothing more pressing on a parent than to worry daily about the welfare of your child for that particular day. It was wonderful news that our government announced that we would be moving toward a universal, affordable child care system. We made a commitment; we put our money where our mouth is.
In this budget there's going to be $14 million for new before- and after-school care for working parents who have to
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juggle jobs and family responsibilities, and that will be the beginning step -- moving toward expanding our child care system at a very affordable rate. I must say I look forward to the day that the Minister of Social Development and Economic Security rises in this House to announce the plan that she has assembled after wide consultation amongst all of those people in British Columbia who are part of the child care system. I look forward to that day, because I hope that it will be one time that in the spirit of cooperation, no longer confrontation, the Liberal opposition can join with us and say: "It's good for the parents of British Columbia." I was particularly disheartened -- quite disheartened, actually, hon. Speaker -- to see that their initial reaction was to say that child care is something that we can't afford. I actually am trying very hard to understand how that could possibly be said in the context of understanding that investing in our children is the most important investment we will make.
I do hope that they will have had time to revisit that. I think that that probably was a knee-jerk reaction to our wonderful news. I'm sure that they'll revisit that and change their view.
I was proud to be the Minister of Finance for 18 months in this province. So I am particularly glad that our government has made sure that both our Speech from the Throne and the budget show the new government's respect for small and large businesses and our readiness to work with both. We're supporting the communities and businesses poised for growth, and we're creating new opportunities. There is the high-tech, R and D tax credit that will provide $28 million to business innovators this year. With the federal government, our deferral of income benefits from stock options and the reduction of capital gains tax will be worth more than $33 million in B.C. tax, and it will attract and retain even more knowledge workers. We're cutting taxes for business to foster innovation and to reward entrepreneurship. At 4.75 percent, B.C. will have the second-lowest small business income tax rate in Canada. For a few days we had the lowest small business tax rate. There's a new 3 percent tax credit on the cost of buying new manufacturing and processing assets that will engage new investment.
The new rural development initiative will build on $10 million in new support for agricultural producers and their communities. There's a $7.5 million investment in Fisheries Renewal B.C. to help restore and protect fish stocks. There's $5 million to support green technology research and demonstrations of B.C. innovations.
All of that is really wonderful news. Our modern economic direction focuses on new initiatives and innovations in our resource industries as well. There are continuing reduced stumpage rates to reduce the forest industry costs. There will be new, results-based Forest Practices Code pilot projects that will reduce red tape. There's a new certification initiative to retain and build our markets. There's expanded community tenure pilot projects to help forest communities better benefit from the resource. There's a good working relationship
Really, hon. Speaker, I know that we often have to take a partisan approach depending on what party we come from, but surely those days are gone, and we should set aside our partisan differences on the basis of the region that we come from. I know that the MLAs from the Peace area must be celebrating that $100 million investment in road construction, because the oil and gas industry is flourishing in this province -- in a way that is doing everything we possibly can to protect the environment in that area. I know that both members from the Peace area want to celebrate along with our government in that area.
I also note that we want to bring about certainty in treaty negotiations, and therefore our government is investing $5 million for faster treaty negotiations and for more interim measures to bring investment certainty to British Columbia.
That's a range of good news from both the throne speech and the budget. I would just say that the constituents of my riding, who are from a range of very important neighbourhoods and are of diverse multicultural backgrounds, celebrate the creation of the new Ministry of Multiculturalism and laud our government for being the first to do so.
We also welcome the child care initiatives, the increase in welfare rates -- which was overlooked, I think, in all of the rest of the news in the budget -- and, of course, the good news around earnings exemptions for people who are moving from welfare to work. I welcome those initiatives on behalf of my constituents.
I have a couple of points before I take my place and hope that the tenor of the discussion comes together in a more cooperative fashion from the members opposite -- a couple of comments about my responsibility as Minister of Labour. There is no question that the Ministry of Labour has been working very hard with modest funding in the last few years, but we have put forward initiatives to eliminate the backlog in the area of employment standards cases. There's $1 million more that the Ministry of Labour has in order to eliminate that backlog. I must say that both the business community and the labour community have identified the elimination of the backlog of employment standards cases as a priority.
The ministry's budget also includes funding for host municipalities where charitable casinos are located. That arises out of an agreement reached between our government and the Union of B.C. Municipalities. Millions of dollars are now flowing to individual municipalities out of that agreement. We'll also see an expansion this year of the workers and employers advisory services in the Okanagan Valley. Again, those services are much needed and will be welcomed.
I have a long history in the labour movement. I'm very proud to have come out of a strong trade union family, and I have spent many of my adult years working in the labour movement. I am proud of having done that, proud of the cooperative working relationship I had with many of the employers I worked with as a union representative and of all of the work and training that I received from the labour movement.
I fully expect that as we move forward, we will face very difficult issues -- soul-searching issues -- in the area of labour relations. I want to do everything that I can to foster a cooperative relationship between employers and workers in this province and to work with the B.C. Federation of Labour, the independent Coalition of B.C. Businesses and also the Business Council of B.C. to bring about and continue that relationship of cooperation.
Labour organizations that represent working people and organizations that represent small- and medium-size business
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know that economic growth that is shared through entrepreneurship, shared through business growth and shared with the workers of this province -- with decent incomes, good wages and benefits and well-funded social programs in the areas of health, education and child care -- makes for a better province and a better workforce. That's essential to continue our economic growth. I hope, as Minister of Labour, that I'll be able to foster that cooperation.
It gives me great pleasure, as part of the new government, to recommend the Speech from the Throne and to say to British Columbia that we have a new government and a new way of doing business, and that's reflected in this excellent Speech from the Throne.
M. de Jong: It is that time of year again where we add our comments to the government's presentation in the Speech from the Throne. I am actually going to offer some positive commentary about a couple of things that are happening in my riding. I have to say that positive news really precludes any reference to the Speech from the Throne or the budget that was tabled earlier in this session. The former speaker, the Minister of Labour, will not be surprised to learn that members on this side of the House don't share this phony and contrived optimism and enthusiasm for the documents that she purports to present with an admittedly brave face. In that respect, she is every bit the actress that she has gained a reputation as.
However, some good news in Abbotsford. Well, in a week when we celebrated the accomplishments of curlers from British Columbia -- men's, women's and junior world champions -- I want to also acknowledge the sporting accomplishments of the Abbotsford Pilots, the junior B hockey club that has won the British Columbia championships. They are a franchise with a storied past, and they will continue in pursuit of the Keystone Cup, which signifies
M. de Jong: It's the Keystone Cup, which, as the member for Chilliwack correctly points out, is different from the Keystone Cops -- but more about that later.
A bit of bad news, though, and I do want to say this. They will be proceeding to Alberta for a competition for the Keystone Cup perhaps without their coach, Mr. Gary Douville. Unfortunately, he is not well. So on behalf of all members of the House, we wish him well. We congratulate the club and Mr. Jack Goeson, who has worked tirelessly for years on a volunteer basis to ensure that these young men represent their community well in this sporting competition, our national game. So good luck to the Abbotsford Pilots.
There's another event that, amidst all that goes on in the eastern and Central Fraser Valley area of Abbotsford, doesn't often get a lot of attention. The Bradner Flower Show occurred just several days ago. It gets bigger and better, and I want to acknowledge the people associated with that event and the wonderful job they do -- the beautiful floral presentation that they present -- that is increasingly attracting attention to that end of the valley. I think it is now going to carve its own reputation and become an attraction that will draw people internationally as well as nationally. Well done, to the people associated with the flower festival.
And of course, in this past year the Abbotsford Air Show made its return to the stage as a venue for aerial display. It is the pre-eminent air show in the world and is largely responsible for putting the community that I and the member for Abbotsford call home on the map. Anywhere you go in the world, people have heard of and know about the Abbotsford Air Show. This year's show, coming up in August -- I think the first or second weekend in August -- promises to be every bit as good as those that have predated it.
Lastly, before I get into a more detailed analysis of what this government purports to do and where it presumes to be going with the Speech from the Throne, let me just say a word to the volunteers in my community. They continue in all their various endeavours to do the best they can in a climate that is far from easy. Whether it is air cadets, who are besieged by overregulation on the part of government with respect to their access to charitable gaming dollars, or whether it is parents attempting to raise money to make up the shortfall that their children suffer in any one of the public or even private schools in my community, they continue to slug it out -- but, sadly, with very little help and, in many cases, against obstacles erected by a government that has shown very little regard for the efforts that they make on behalf of children in my community.
So keep it up, I say to them. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light shines through the door that we call an election. That day is not far off, though the government, I am certain, will try to put it off for as long as they can. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and keep up the good work. Do not be disheartened; your perseverance will yet be rewarded. In the meantime, your children -- the children in my community -- continue to reap the rewards of the hard work of so many volunteers in so many different walks of life.
It's about three weeks into the session. I was thinking the other night that if we were to write a commentary today on the Speech from the Throne and what has transpired over the last three weeks, what would it be? What kind of reviews does the government get? You'll notice I reject any of this talk of
G. Plant: Two thumbs down.
M. de Jong: My colleague for Richmond-Steveston says: "Two thumbs down." I am struggling to be objective. I am struggling to think of something positive to say about what has transpired here over the past three weeks. We began with a throne speech -- which we're talking about -- which is, sadly, entirely bereft of anything approaching a new idea or a new direction, in spite of the spin that the government will try to put on it. It is a shallow, hollow document that is attempting to do nothing more than paper over the deep divisions that exist within the government caucus itself.
We got a budget. Now, the budget is an interesting document. It was hinted at in the Speech from the Throne. This is puzzling for me, and it's a bit fascinating, because the marquee, the headline, for this budget is: "Get this, British Columbia. Now we're telling the truth. We've got something new for you." They're starting to run these ads again: "This just in: government announces intention to tell the truth." They've
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started to run the ads; it's the same old NDP thing. It took them a little longer this time. They were a little slow off the mark, but they started to run those spin ads. Everyone probably got their little piece of propaganda, which they paid for with their tax dollars, in the newspaper.
It's the radio ads that I like this time. I love the radio ads. It's: "Hey, out there in radio land, have we got news for you. It's the all-new, it's the exciting, it's the new NDP approach to budgeting. We're going to tell you the truth." The previous speaker, the now Minister of Labour, said it last year, and she said it the year before that. But somehow this is different. We're supposed to believe that this is different. "Wait. There's more, you people out in radio land listening to our ads that you're paying for with your tax dollars. Not only are we going to tell you the truth, not only is it new, not only is it exciting, not only is it different by NDP standards, but get this -- no megaprojects."
M. de Jong: If you call now, says my colleague
We moved from that budget -- in fact, we moved very quickly from that budget -- to watch the government's sterling defence of its position that kids don't need to be in school. In fact, we spent over a week on that. We spent over a week of this three-week session watching government members defend the fact that kids weren't in school. The logic of what government members were saying still eludes me, but there you have it. That was, I think, week one and a half.
But the government decided: "We're going to bounce back, and we are going to do something novel, by NDP standards. We're actually going to tell taxpayers -- we say we're actually going to tell taxpayers -- how much the labour deals we've signed are costing them." Can you imagine, Mr. Speaker, a government actually deciding that they were going to tell the people who are paying the bills how much the deals are costing in the first place? "It's new; it's different; it's the NDP." Remarkable. Who'd have thunk it? Who'd have thunk that the people who are left footing the bill for this government's incompetence would actually be told what the price tag is? And you know what? Not surprisingly, we still didn't get the whole story. What we got was a Premier who, for day after day after day, promised the release of a complete set of documentation
I think that on one day, the Finance minister had to come running out of his office to explain, "Well, no, actually, it won't be today. It might be tomorrow. It won't be tomorrow morning; it might be tomorrow afternoon" -- all because the document had to go to the NDP's spinmeister. Don't ask me why. I'm told that it required having some context built into it.
In spite of what they say in this throne speech and what they would have people believe, by virtue of their words in this House, the thing that the NDP don't understand or are incapable of doing, it seems, is just providing the truth, just the facts. There is a nine-year legacy of deception, and now the jig is up. We're coming to the end of the road. They are under siege on all fronts. They are under attack, and they are beginning to crumble. Most particularly, they are beginning to crumble from within.
I was amazed at what we heard two months ago and what we haven't heard in this debate. British Columbians watch this debate, and they think to themselves: "I wonder if there'll be a little bit of contrition. I wonder if some of the things we heard during that leadership campaign will surface in the House. I wonder if any members of that NDP government caucus will have the courage to say what they were mumbling and muttering about during that very divisive leadership campaign."
Let's take the Minister of Agriculture, because he actually stood up the other day and was quite irate that someone would have the audacity to quote his own words back to him. Here's the Minister of Agriculture. It was a dark and stormy night, back on November 16, 1999, when the Minister of Agriculture said -- getting back to the megaprojects theme: "It didn't work with aluminum smelters. It didn't work with the jobs and timber accord. It didn't work with the fast ferries that we thought we could sell to the world. It didn't work with the amusement park on Burns Bog. It didn't work with the trade and convention centre." No -- he admitted it -- it didn't work at all.
And you know, Mr. Speaker, as he said it -- and I wasn't there -- folks cheered wildly. There would have been folks there. NDP folks cheered wildly.
An Hon. Member: They didn't vote; they just cheered.
M. de Jong: They didn't vote for him. But they cheered wildly.
I thought that Minister of Agriculture, who fancies himself something of a man of the people, would come into this chamber and have the courage, during the course of this throne speech debate, to repeat those words, to acknowledge them.
Instead, let's see what else he said. He was asked about the truth. He was asked about the economy. He was asked about the books. He said: "We got clobbered." Here are the words that he took great offence to the other day, Mr. Speaker: "So why didn't we admit it?" "Because," he says: "we were afraid to tell the truth." The Minister of Agriculture said that they "were afraid to tell the truth about how we were bleeding."
My question remains: if the Minister of Agriculture was right and he and his colleagues were afraid to tell the truth, what did they tell? What did they say? Suddenly the self-styled man of the people is speechless. He didn't tell the truth, so what did he tell?
As each one of those NDP members sat there nodding their heads in those earlier years, supporting the former Premier, the member for Vancouver-Kingsway, supporting one another, supporting deficits, supporting budget deception
G. Plant: Voting for all those megaprojects.
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M. de Jong:
We didn't have policies on the social side of government so much as we had reactionary spending. I thought the Minister of Agriculture would get up and tell us what reactionary spending was. He said one thing to the NDP faithful when he was vying desperately for their support in the leadership campaign -- said that they were guilty of reactionary spending. Well, what did he mean? What reactionary spending? Give us the details.
It's a sad legacy, really, when you think about it. It's a sad legacy when you think that after nine years a government and a group of individuals would, in an attempt to curry favour amongst their shrinking supporters, say one thing and not have the courage to come in and repeat it and make a similar confession in this Legislative Assembly. It is sad indeed.
Yes, they're divided -- horribly divided. I thought I would hear the Minister of Labour expound during this debate on what she meant when she said on a radio show on January 10 of this year: "One of the reasons I resigned as Finance minister was because of my disagreement with the way the member for Vancouver-Kingsway's team was cavalier about spending." What did she mean? As I heard her say those words on January 10, 2000, I thought to myself: my goodness, it must have been difficult for her, shut out of that previous government the way she was -- having no ability to influence the decisions they were making, cast in the political wilderness, shunted, her opinions cast aside
An Hon. Member: No, really? I thought she was a backbencher.
M. de Jong: You'd have thought she was a backbencher, because she disagreed with her government's cavalier spending. Except you know what, Mr. Speaker? She stood in this House as the Finance minister and said over and over and over again: "This is the truth. I support this. I'm in favour of this. This is prudent. This is good judgment." She was proud of what she now characterizes and dismisses as cavalier, irresponsible spending.
Shame on her. And shame on her and her colleagues who said this, only a few months ago, for not having the courage to make that admission and acknowledgment and expound upon what they were saying here in this House for all British Columbians to hear. She said at the same time: "Spending has gone awry; spending has gone out of control, led by people who are of the mind of the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast." Spending has gone awry. That's her admission -- the Labour minister, the now Deputy Premier. And if that doesn't boggle the mind, hon. Speaker, here is the former Finance minister, who by her own admission is responsible for spending that's gone awry -- cavalier spending, irresponsible spending -- and she gets promoted to Deputy Premier. They've got an interesting way of rewarding incompetence within the NDP. They've got a very interesting way of rewarding incompetence.
G. Plant: That's accountability. Or maybe that's transparency.
M. de Jong: Yeah. Accountability, transparency -- I don't know.
So what are people to make of it? What are they to make of a party that is now so desperately clinging to power -- the last months of power before it will be forced, constitutionally, to call an election? What are people to make of a group of people who now seemingly will say anything -- say anything, do anything -- and who have been dragged kicking and screaming to the altar of tax reform yet still haven't twigged to the fact that if you genuinely leave some money in the pockets of British Columbians, they can make better decisions about how to spend that money than anyone in this House on either side could make? After doing this for six or seven years, I am resolved to conclude -- I am forced to conclude -- that members of that government are incapable of putting their trust in the people. They will go to the grave convinced that they can make better decisions about people than people can themselves.
I guess that's where we are different. That is where my colleagues and I have a fundamental difference from these members of the New Democratic Party, insofar as we believe that it is the private sector that drives the economy in British Columbia -- always has, always will. What we can do as a government -- as a legislature -- is try to create those circumstances in which people can prosper, in which people can put their own energies to work. They can invest their money; they can take the chances; they can employ the people. And you know what? They can reap the rewards. They can make a few bucks and do with it what they want. It is a notion that at the end of the day, Mr. Speaker, is foreign to these members of the NDP.
I want to take advantage of this opportunity to speak to a couple of issues that are of particular importance to people in my riding. One is an emergent issue involving the construction of a power plant on the U.S. side of the border in Sumas, Washington. It is something that I'm sorry to say has been ignored for far too long by this government. The proposal -- and I need not get into all of the details -- would see the construction of a facility on the Sumas
I'm not an environmental engineer; I can't tell you what that impact would be. But I can tell you this: I don't think there is proper environmental data available that is impartially created, unbiased environmental data by which people can come to their own conclusion.
So what are we going to do about it? Well, we in this Legislature
We are told that the viability of the project is tied to that. We do have control over that in this province -- at least I thought we did. I thought we had a role to play. I thought the
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minister responsible for B.C. Hydro had a role to play in that respect, yet we have heard nothing. We've heard nothing from the Environment minister; we've heard nothing from the minister responsible for B.C. Hydro. In fact, members on this side of the House raised this issue over a year and a half ago, warning the government of what was taking place. I don't think they needed the warning, because I think they knew full well -- and they laughed. They laughed and ridiculed members and said there was nothing to worry about. They were wrong. Now an entire town is up in arms because they haven't got the information they need to make a proper decision -- and that's wrong.
I say to members on the government side, particularly the Environment minister and the minister responsible for B.C. Hydro, that it's time they took a lead in helping people in the central and eastern Fraser Valley protect their environment. It's the air. The impact of these high voltage transmission lines needs to be properly studied so that a decision can be made about whether or not this should proceed. That information isn't available.
I want to offer this observation as well, and I think it's also applicable to the next issue that I want to deal with today. It isn't time
The other day, kind of a rarity, he got up -- I think it was the first time in his nine or ten years here -- to ask a question in question period. He had an opportunity to ask about this issue that he purports to say is important. He could have asked about health care in his community; he chose not to. No, he chose to ask a very political question, because he's worried about someone taking him on in an election. Well, shame on him. All this talk about stability, about working together, about a new way of doing business
I was angry when the Minister of Labour talked about health care. The good news is that Nancy Younger finally got her operation today. The bad news is that her surgery was cancelled on at least two previous occasions -- emergency surgery. Don't tell me that members of this government have responded positively or done a good job in delivering health care to British Columbians. I have only to say three words: MSA. That's the hospital that this government's been promising as priority No. 1 for the past eight years. Where is it?
Don't mislead people. If you're not going to build a facility, don't lead them on. That's what this government has been doing for eight years. We're all big people -- tell us the truth. Tell us the truth about the dollars. Tell us the truth about the facilities that are or aren't going to be built. Tell us the truth so that people can plan accordingly. Every year I have stood in this House with the member for Abbotsford, and we have asked straight up: "What's the story?" And every year we are told by the reigning Minister of Health that it is priority No. 1. Well, I'd hate to be priority No. 2, Mr. Speaker.
My time is up. Sadly, my enthusiasm for this throne speech is also exhausted to the extent that I had any in the first place, but I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate.
J. van Dongen: I'm pleased to take this opportunity to make some comments on the throne speech. First of all, hon. Speaker, I want to congratulate you on your election to your position. I hope that your tenure as Speaker is an enjoyable one. I also want to congratulate the member for Vancouver-Kensington on his election as leader of his party.
The following comment in the throne speech caught my attention, and I want to spend some time responding to it: "The past year and a half has seen many changes in British Columbia -- changes in political leadership and changes in the political landscape."
That's a nice, polite way, if ever there was one, to describe the fallout from the debacle of the past four years of NDP provincial government -- four years under the NDP of misdirected and truly incompetent decision-making and management; four years of gross abuse of the public trust; four years of dictatorship; four years of completely out-of-control, short-term, politically driven gamesmanship; four years of squandering the public's hard-earned dollars for ego-driven megaprojects; and four years of endless fast ferry horror stories, each horror story worse than the one before.
Fast ferries -- the tip of the iceberg, the unmistakable symbol of government mismanagement, a government that didn't care, a government unwilling to face the truth, a government that dismissed knowledgable experts and replaced them with political cronies.
We've had four years of escalating waiting lists in our health care system, four years of pretending that everything was still okay and four years of juggling waiting lists to try and make it look like everything was still okay.
We've had four years of catering to union bosses but ignoring the plight and views of taxpayers, patients, parents, students, children and front-line workers; four years of self-righteously pointing fingers at Alberta and Ontario and patting themselves on the back, saying: "Thank God we're not like them."
We've had four years of watching cancer patients go to Bellingham -- the ones who could afford it -- or WCB clients being moved ahead in the queue or rural patients in high-population-growth areas being shortchanged on health care dollars, all the while proclaiming that they don't believe in two-tier medicine and that they will do everything they can to stop any right-wing attack on the sacred trust which is medicare.
Yes, Mr. Speaker, to hear the NDP tell it, they are the only ones who can save our health care system. But tell that to the people of British Columbia. Tell it to Alice in my constituency who waited too long for the surgery she needed. Tell that to her husband, who is blind and who she has to take care of. Yes, the NDP say that they will save the health care system. But tell that to Bert, one of my constituents, who is in the queue for cancer treatment and who cannot afford the cost of the treatment in Bellingham. Or tell that to the veterinarian from Lindell Beach who is in the same situation. Or tell that to Joan Hisdal's daughter, who had to wait far too long for the specialized surgery that she needed.
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Again the NDP have convinced themselves that they and only they will save health care. But tell that to Reg and Patrick in Surrey, who are a father-and-son team who both enjoy sport fishing in their spare time. Both their wives have breast cancer and are waiting to get critical treatment. They were told by the Ministry of Health to get regular, timely tests for breast cancer, and now that the problem is identified, they have to sit and wait in fear every day. And they have no options either. Tell them that the NDP are the only true guardians of the health care system and that the NDP wants their vote to protect our precious health care system from those right-wing extremists like the ones in Alberta and Ontario.
Four years of crisis and confusion in the Ministry for Children and Families. Four years of stress on social workers, who often find their only route is to play it safe and remove the child. That's why our children in care have gone from about 6,000 to 11,000 in the last four years. Four years of high turnover of new front-line workers who did not learn from the hardened veterans how to survive within a difficult ministry. We read in the paper that the ministry is conducting nationwide searches for more social workers.
Four years of restructuring and reorganization, rather than focusing on personal empowerment and accountability for front-line social workers. Four years of inequitable ministry funding in high population-growth areas like the Fraser Valley. We have two-year waiting lists for services such as speech therapy at the Fraser Valley Child Development Centre, which has virtually not seen a funding increase in over ten years, despite a huge increase in the number of children needing help. We have various marginalized groups of children and adults who struggle for reasonable and cost-effective assistance -- groups like deaf-blind children, of whom there are about 50 in the province.
Take an honest look at what regionalization has done for them or people who suffer from permanent brain injury, eating disorders or mental illness. Many of these people feel marginalized and ignored by this government. A lot of them, like those with mental illness, have been further victimized by false promises from the government, like a promise made a number of times over of $125 million in new funding for mental illness which was never budgeted for or funded.
I've noticed a disturbing pattern in recent months. The government, by its own admission, is conducting searches all over Canada to hire social workers for the Ministry for Children and Families. Why is that? Why is there so much turnover of social workers, especially new hires? Similarly, the government admits that there are not enough nurses. Why then is there a limit or cap on the number of students that can enter nursing programs at institutions like the University College of the Fraser Valley? The government has said that it is the champion of access to education. Yet there is a fixed limit at UCFV for nurses. Why is that?
I made reference earlier to the absolutely unacceptable waiting times for cancer treatment in the Fraser Valley. The former Minister of Health claimed in her letters to me that there is "a worldwide shortage of radiation oncologists." This was recently confirmed by the new minister in a subsequent letter. What is incredible is that I know of at least three people who were trained as radiation therapists but took time off from their careers to have children. After five years, based on current rules, they need a refresher course and need to be recertified. The government says it is not possible or viable to run a refresher course or a recertification program for these three trained radiation therapists, who already live in B.C. Meanwhile, the so-called worldwide shortage of these specialists continues.
If we look at cabinet appointments over the last four years, constant reorganization and changing of the guard has resulted in huge amounts of misdirected energy, focus and attention. Civil servants have had to become psychic to understand the direction of the ministry on any given day, depending on who was the minister for that week. If you take a look at some of the major ministries, you will see massive turnover of ministers and deputy ministers. There is absolutely no question about how negative these rates of turnover are on employee morale, focus and productivity.
I have a list here of a number of ministries. I'll just give you some examples. The Ministry of Education has had eight ministers since 1991, five of them since 1996; the Ministry of Environment, seven ministers since 1991, three of them since 1996; the Ministry of Finance, six ministers in nine years; the Ministry of Health, six ministers in nine years; the Ministry of Labour, nine ministers in nine years, six of them in the last four; Municipal Affairs, eight ministers in the last nine years. You can't have an effective government operation with that kind of turnover at the cabinet level.
To summarize the leadership of the NDP government for the last four years, it was a very ideologically driven, big labour-dominated, impulsive, partisan, centralized and media-focused government. The central style of governance was to manage media rather than to manage government.
What new brand of leadership do we see demonstrated in the throne speech of March 15 under a new Premier? Let me start by looking at the highlights -- first of all, a budget transparency law. The government now feels the need to legislate honest disclosure of government finances.
"New culture of openness, cooperation and balance." This initiative has good potential, but a lot of its potential rests on the level of commitment by the government, especially to the openness aspects of the announcement.
"Strengthening and modernizing health care." The NDP has been in government for nine years. So why is access to health care in such great difficulty? There are no politically expedient answers left, as the government is starting to find out. From now on, addressing the problems in health care will require honest discussion with the public, competent leadership and effective management.
"Quality education from K to J." This section of the throne speech repeats some of the same promises of the former Premier -- initiatives that are having significant consequences for education, and many of them are not positive for students or parents.
"Safe, affordable child care." The throne speech promises to embark on a plan to develop a publicly funded child care system at a time when we have seen nothing but deficits and debt escalation for ten years.
"Tax cuts to fuel economic growth." The government announced a tiny tax cut in the budget recently, so that they can be a me-too player with the other provinces and the federal government in the tax-cutting game. The talk of a tax cut is not backed up, however, with a serious effort -- or really any effort -- to deal with our deficit and debt situation.
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"Consolidating our strong competitive position." It's an interesting choice of words, which is based on what, I believe, is a mistaken notion about how competitive B.C. really is. B.C. has been losing talented people and businesses at unprecedented rates.
The final highlight is entitled "Reconnecting to the hopes and values of B.C. families." It talks about trust, credibility, cooperation and balance -- all of those nice things that the average B.C. voter no longer associates with the NDP. This new NDP dreams that it can salvage the trust of the public before calling an election, which is as far away as possible in the hope that the public will forget what has really happened for the past nine years. This summarizes what is in the throne speech: a short throne speech and a number of the same old recycled promises.
My concern is very simple, but very important. The biggest failure, and it is a big failure, is that the throne speech makes absolutely no mention whatsoever of the debt issue that the province is facing and how the government intends to deal with it -- makes no mention whatsoever of the total provincial debt, which is the cause of the highest increases ever in interest spending by this government. On interest costs, there's not a mention of the issue, not a hint of a concern, not the slightest effort to explain what this new NDP is going to do about this old NDP problem, the problem of our escalating debt.
I submit to you that the government has failed its first test of openness, and it has failed big-time. Clearly the new Premier and his old government made a decision to design the throne speech to be simply a feel-good exercise, to talk only about nice, comfortable things. But let's make it very clear. This throne speech is fundamentally dishonest in that it is intended to mislead the people about the total provincial picture, in particular the financial picture. The throne speech deliberately avoids any comment on the provincial debt, even though it is the single biggest issue impacting every ministry, every service, every program for B.C. citizens -- every aspect of government. The throne speech makes not one reference to the debt problem.
It makes only one mention of the deficit when it talks about the need to control the deficit -- control the deficit, not eliminate the deficit, not even reduce the deficit. This government thinks it's okay to just control the deficit. The government is saying in this throne speech that the deficit is not a priority; it is not a concern. It is only important to control it.
We have seen in the recent budget that this new government was true to its word, but I've got my tongue in my cheek. It did control the deficit at $1.278 billion. That's up from the revised forecast for last year of $1.145 billion. I guess what this means in the eyes of this government is that the deficit can go up by $133 million but still be under control. I have to admit that I must have missed that lesson in my UBC finance class -- how you control the deficit by running a bigger revenue-to-spending shortfall than the year before.
There was absolutely no mention in the throne speech about a balanced budget, not a single reference -- lots of talk about balance, but nothing, absolutely nothing, about a balanced budget either now, next year or anytime in the future. I sense conscious avoidance of any mention of a balanced budget, but this is not consistent with statements made by the current Premier. Last November 7 he said: "We must balance the budget, and we must keep it balanced. I won't insult British Columbians by standing here today to say I will guarantee you a balanced budget by a specific day, in a specific month, in a specific year."
On an open-line show, the question was asked of the current Premier: "Give me a sense of what kind of government you will lead in terms of fiscal policy. Will we ever see a balanced budget by this government?" And the Premier said: "You will see a balanced budget over time." The talk show host responded appropriately: "Mike Harcourt said that nine years ago."
Again, on November 7 the now Premier announces: "To get our financial house in order and to 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." I saw no reference anywhere in the throne speech to a solid financial plan -- none whatsoever. All we saw was more reckless spending with no plan -- or no commitment -- to produce a balanced budget.
The throne speech says that the aim of the government is "to give British Columbians the facts, all the facts and nothing but the facts." Well, these are the facts: the $460 million of debt on the failed fast ferry project becomes $1.5 billion of debt compounded at 6 percent over 20 years. That's what happens if we have a government that doesn't start managing taxpayer money properly.
If you do the same calculation with respect to the deficit to date -- this is a deficit, to date, of $17 billion, compounded at 6 percent over the next 20 years -- it becomes an accumulated deficit of an astounding $54 billion. That's $54 billion, if this government doesn't start generating at least a balanced budget every year and also starts generating significant financial surpluses to start paying down the debt, paying off these accumulated deficits.
I remain extremely concerned on behalf of all British Columbians that this so-called new government has learned nothing from its nine years of stumbling around in financial darkness, throwing around taxpayers' money with reckless abandon.
Debt is the silent killer of jobs. Debt is the silent killer of government programs and services. Debt-servicing costs are the first call on new revenue coming in. As debt goes up -- as it has for nine years running -- so do interest costs. Debt costs money, and more debt costs more money.
Interest payments are the first call on operating revenues. Every dollar that goes into interest payments is not available for program spending. It is not available for health care, not available for education, not available for children and families; it is not available for any government programs. It has gone to feed the addiction; it has gone to feed the big banks.
So what is the result of this massive, increasing debt? It is an ongoing increase in provincial interest payments at a time when interest rates have been at historic low levels. We are paying out $2.8 billion every year to the big banks.
How much is the $2.8 billion that we're paying out in interest costs? This $2.8 billion is a huge amount of money. It is one half of the total Education budget of $4.5 billion; it is over one-third of the Health budget of $8.3 billion; it is twice as much as the Ministry for Children and Families budget of $1.5
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billion. Our debt is so high that the interest payment of $2.8 billion is more money than the total budgets combined for: Aboriginal Affairs, at $43 million; Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, at $100 million; the Attorney General ministry -- the justice ministry -- at $941 million; Environment, Lands and Parks, $189 million; the Ministry of Forests, $512 million; Small Business, Tourism and Culture, $86 million; Finance and Corporate Relations, $113 million; Municipal Affairs, $141 million; Transportation and Highways, $464 million; Energy and Mines, $42 million; Employment and Investment, $37 million; and Labour, $30 million.
Yes, the $2.8 billion that we're paying out in interest this coming year is more than the province is spending in the next year on all 12 of these ministries combined. The government, in every year that goes by, sends the banks more money in the form of these huge interest payments, so there's less money less left for these services to people. This is not a sustainable approach to provincial finances. This approach cannot and will not continue.
This is a government that in the last four years has had at least two credit-rating downgrades and a downgrade in economic outlook from stable to negative. After the recent event of another NDP deficit budget, there can be no doubt of further credit-rating downgrades down the road. This event will cause further increases in our borrowing costs.
It is abundantly clear to the bond-rating agencies -- as it is to everyone else -- that the NDP government has abandoned all hope of trying to achieve a balanced budget. They don't even talk about it anymore, because they know, politically, that they can't talk about it and appear to be honest at the same time.
The government has clearly not shown any willingness whatsoever to come to grips with this debt problem -- never has, never will. The provincial debt is up to $35 billion, double what it was in 1991. The government used to be fond of saying that there was good debt and bad debt but that the debt that was used for building schools, hospitals and roads was good debt and the NDP were proud of it. So there we were: the NDP said that here was good debt and there was bad debt. But isn't it interesting? The government is not talking even about the good debt anymore. They're afraid to talk about it at all, because they know that B.C. taxpayers have been left with a decade of broken promises on financial matters.
I want to express my disbelief and my major disappointment that the throne speech fails to address the number one failure of the government of the past nine years -- the practice of spending $2 billion more each year than it took in as revenue. Every public service and every government program takes money to deliver to the public. But this government has completely avoided any reference whatsoever to the need to balance the budget -- the need for government to live within its means. This throne speech fails to put into context the critical need for a balanced budget in order to continue to deliver health care, education and all the government services the public needs.
Once again, the government has avoided the truth. The throne speech has a big, glaring hole in it, and as a result, I will be voting against it.
The Speaker: Thank you, members. I will now put the question on the motion that was moved by the member for Kootenay and seconded by the member for North Island -- the throne speech.
Motion approved on the following division:
|YEAS -- 38|
|NAYS -- 33|
Hon. D. Lovick: I now call private members' statements.
The Speaker: As soon as members have attended to their various duties, I'll recognize the first speaker.
Private Members' Statements
VOLUNTEERS -- VITAL TO LIFE
J. Reid: I am most pleased to speak this evening on the subject of volunteers. It's not a surprise -- it's National Volunteer Week. Just as we have Father's Day and Mother's Day as a way of acknowledging special people in our lives, we want to give thanks to people and express some feelings that normally, as the days go by, we don't get the chance to really say. To honour volunteers, I'll probably lavish excessive praise and show incredible enthusiasm, because truly we have wonderful volunteers. I'd have to say that volunteers are absolutely essential. It's been my privilege to meet many of these volunteers, not only in my community but in the province. I'm constantly overwhelmed by their acts of generosity and the incredible caring that I get to witness day after day.
I was trying to think of a way of portraying my feelings towards volunteers, and I realized that to me, volunteers are just like the air we breathe. They're vital to life. Just as the air we breathe is invisible, so often the work of volunteers is also
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invisible. We have programs that run continually. The service clubs donate equipment; children and the elderly laugh and smile, and we just accept that it's there. Just as the air we breathe is priceless, I believe that what volunteers do in our society is also beyond price, beyond value, beyond a way of even calculating the value of the services they perform for society.
Just as the air we breathe is a source of our health, volunteers also create health in our society. It's a society where love is encouraged, where caring is valued. It's a society that desires the best for all mankind. I don't have to give everyone the history of volunteers, because again, like the air that we breathe, you know about it. You understand that it's just a part of us. We talk about the busy lives we have. We talk about people spending too much time in front of the television or people who are isolated in their own homes. But by talking with people and asking them, I found that by far the majority of people in our society do volunteer in one way or another. I am amazed at not only the great diversity of volunteers and the services they perform but the number of hours that volunteers contribute. Whether it be in small ways or large ways, volunteers give of their time, their money and of themselves.
We don't want to take volunteers for granted, but just like our breath, we can't go around thinking about them constantly. We do have a responsibility to preserve and to protect something that is so vital to our society. I've taken some time with volunteers to talk with them, asking them about what their problems are, what their concerns are. And I've asked them what encourages them and what discourages them, because I need to know what's important to them. I want to encourage the work that they do as, I am sure, everyone here wants to encourage them.
We know that there are the large volunteer organizations, charitable organizations, both national and international. Often these organizations have paid executive directors and, frequently, paid staff. They achieve a tremendous amount not just in our province but in our country and around the world. They also have needs and concerns, but for the most part, they are very professional in addressing those needs and concerns. They work with government on an ongoing basis and usually communicate quite well with the authorities.
I went to the smaller groups, the community groups, and asked them what encourages them and discourages them. I predicted some of their answers, but others were a little bit surprising. I found that one of the concerns of the people in the communities is a general shift in society. I'd call that a shift toward zero risk in society.
By their very nature, volunteers are not usually professionals in the area in which they volunteer. They are people who are using their goodwill and their experience to improve the lives of others. It's reasonable to expect that volunteers should not and must not intentionally harm or neglect those in their care and must be held accountable if they do. But there is concern whether volunteers will be held responsible for the kinds of mistakes that are part of everyday life. We might refer to that as the ambient level of risk that's part of just being human. Societies have to have insurance to cover their directors, but we have to ask whether the pendulum in society has swung too far and whether we are discouraging volunteers because of unrealistic expectations.
By far the most common complaint I heard from volunteers was over the issue of money -- not necessarily funding. Volunteers who try and raise money have been frustrated by ever-increasing rules and decisions of government to supposedly impose safeguards for the public. But they don't always see the benefits of that, whereas their own lives become complicated. Volunteers generally don't volunteer to work with bureaucracy and red tape. I've been told by volunteers: "I didn't put my time forward so that I would spend it filling out forms or writing proposals."
Other volunteers have told me that there's less and less money in the communities as people are expecting that they should get their money from government. There are many concerns that volunteers have, but just as we protect the air we breathe, we need to protect our volunteers.
The Speaker: Thank you, member. Your time is up. And in response, the member for Cariboo South.
D. Zirnhelt: I thank the member for raising some very profound issues that are affecting volunteers. On the latter point of accepting some risk and dealing with a more and more complicated environment, including the business environment of volunteer organizations
I would like start by acknowledging those concerns and saying that I think we can work on them. British Columbia is seeking to be a leader and is recognized by the United Nations for its work with the ministry committed to volunteers, the extensive funding of volunteer efforts to train boards and so on. We all recognize the work of volunteers that enhances the lives of individuals and families in British Columbia, because everybody reaps the benefits, particularly the most vulnerable.
We call volunteers the single most important part of the third sector of our economy -- that is, along with public and private sectors, who are partners in developing what we call the civil society. There are the three aspects of society; volunteers are critical.
In the last year that we have some statistics on it, 1997, more than 32 percent of British Columbians 15 years of age and older -- that is, over a million people -- volunteered 169 million hours of their time. If you were to put a price tag, that's worth nearly $2.7 billion on the labour market. So they contribute generally to the economy. But we don't want to categorize it solely as an economic issue and solely put economic value on the labour, because obviously there is spirit and enthusiasm. I think the member used the word "love." There is real concern, and people are motivated by a genuine love of their neighbour.
One example of the tremendous involvement was the B.C. firefighters with the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Canada. They put in hundreds of hours across the province and garnered tremendous community support. Last year their
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boot drive campaign, special events and raffles raised over $600,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association in B.C. That's one example of them contributing to the health of our society.
The government recognizes that the public and volunteer sector need to work together; it's absolutely essential. In the Ministry of Health, for example, we have the senior citizen counsellors program. Over the past 30 years senior citizens have provided information, advice and support to older British Columbians about government programs and services that are available in their community. Located across the province, some 175 volunteer counsellors, themselves older adults, answer more than 6,000 requests from seniors who need assistance with housing, transportation, health, elder abuse and financial issues. The government provides the counsellors with office space, a telephone and some regular training to ensure that they are up to date on government policies and programs.
Perhaps the single most important area of volunteers is the health field. We appreciate those many volunteers who make a three-year commitment -- it's a long commitment -- to sit on health authority boards and help us manage the health care system in the local and regional interest. We appreciate the work of the pre-med students who volunteer in emergency wards and the psychology students who volunteer in stress management clinics.
We also appreciate the many volunteers at the community level. This last year was the International Year of the Older Person. Hundreds of volunteers got engaged in projects there, and the Ministry of Health facilitated some of those programs to publicize this event and to focus on an ever-increasing sector of our society in which volunteer services are going to be increasingly needed.
Some of the examples of the projects in communities
The Speaker: To reply, the hon. member for Parksville-Qualicum.
J. Reid: We know that volunteers specialize in outcomes. We know that they work best in an atmosphere of creativity and flexibility. In closing, I would like to encourage people to encourage volunteers. As much as our volunteers are working from the heart, recognition of their importance and value also helps them to continue their work.
This year in my area our volunteer bureau got the names of volunteers from the different organizations, put them together and drew five names to represent the volunteers. From those five names, the level of activity they represent is just incredible -- from working in a thrift store to a young woman volunteering with youth activities to someone bringing pets to visit seniors to visioning an outreach at a local church to bike rodeos and community policing. Those are just some of the activities from just five people in the community.
Another form of recognition was having volunteers in the area wear badges showing the agency that they worked with or represented. That was like making the air visible, because for once you got to see how many people actually were involved in volunteer activities. It is indeed impressive. I know that it's going to be the volunteers who will organize recognition for volunteers, but we salute them and congratulate them and wish them well this week and every week. We don't want them to be trying to operate in a stifling atmosphere or environment. We want them to be well and healthy, because their efforts contribute so much to our society.
Instead of working on process, we need to look at results. We need to let the volunteers do what they do best, which is very creative work, very loving and caring work. It is to all our benefit. So we salute the volunteers, and we look forward to working with them and being part of that group for the rest of the year.
REELIN' THEM IN
D. Streifel: It's the first time in a long time I've had the opportunity to speak in the House as a private member, after moving from there to here. I think it's kind of fun.
My topic today is "Reelin' Them In," hon. Speaker. I'm really speaking about the importance and the success of the film industry in our province. I'll apologize to the opposition later for giving them such short notice on what it is.
Film and television production has grown dramatically in British Columbia over the last decade to become one of the province's most important industries, employing some 35,000 people and providing widespread economic benefits. Twenty years ago local people made up only 40 percent of those who worked on B.C. film production; today local people fill 97 percent of the jobs.
Most of us know when we go to a movie who the star is; we know what a star is; we know what directors, extras, producers, the stunt people are. But how many of us ever stop to think: what is a gaffer? What's a grip? What's a key grip? What's a best boy? Those are all the people who bring us the films that we enjoy, and some of us enjoy many more films than others.
British Columbia's film and television production industry exceeded an unprecedented billion dollars in economic activity in 1999. That's an increase of 32 percent over 1998. When we compare that with the $12 million that the film and television industry spent on production in British Columbia in 1978
However, B.C. has long been active in producing fine actors and fine film. We all remember Yvonne De Carlo, a well-known Vancouver actress who became famous in Hollywood through the late forties and fifties. She starred in the Munster movies.
Michael J. Fox -- Back to the Future
And who could ever ignore the enhancements that Pamela Anderson has brought to the silver screen? That's supposed to be funny, folks -- come on. [Laughter.]
You know, I remember the pride and excitement of British Columbians when they recognized scenes out of films.
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We've all watched "The Beachcombers" -- Jesse, Relic and Nick and those folks -- Chief Dan George in Little Big Man, early movies like The Trap with Oliver Reed and Rita Tushingham. You'll see the canoe come into English Bay. We say: "We know where that is." At one time those kinds of scenes were fantasies mixed with realism in somebody else's city. But as the film industry develops around British Columbia, we recognize places around our own back yard.
Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces, Carnal Knowledge, A Cold Day in the Park -- areas where we lived and grew in our communities
Foreign activity accounted for $664 million of spending in British Columbia in 1999. That's up 50 percent, from $444 million a year earlier. Eighty-two productions were filmed here in 1999, compared with 54 productions a year earlier. That included 22 feature films, 50 television movies, miniseries, pilots and ten television series. I wonder if anybody's watching this. Maybe I'll get discovered yet tonight. Who knows?
British Columbia works hard to attract film production and has introduced a number of programs to ensure the province remains a key player in this dynamic industry both domestically and abroad. The British Columbia Film Commission is an agency which has achieved a world-class reputation for helping producers and finding locations. It also works closely with industry representatives and government to identify and help resolve issues affecting the industry.
As of April 5, 2000, so far, the B.C. Film Commission's film list had 13 films, ten TV movies and miniseries, 12 TV series and four animation shows scheduled for this year and into 2001. That was a space odyssey. They must have been watching the House here or something during question period.
The British Columbia Film Development Society supports film production by administering two tax credit programs on behalf of the province -- Film Incentive B.C. for domestic production and the production services tax credit program for foreign production.
Effective April 1, 1998, Film Incentive B.C. is a tax credit based on an eligible B.C. labour cost incurred during the production of B.C.-owned and -controlled film and television projects. In addition, FIBC has a regional incentive to stimulate production outside the lower mainland and training incentives for companies providing hands-on learning opportunities for emerging film-makers.
The B.C. Film Society also provides support to film and television initiatives having significant B.C. components that will be of economic and cultural benefit to the province. Assistance is provided in the areas of development, production, marketing, distribution, industry and skills development.
In 1999, 11 television series received production support from British Columbia Film, including the Gemini Award-winning drama series "Da Vinci's Inquest," "Cold Squad" and "Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy." "Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy" is filmed in my community at Danny Virtue's studios in Mission. Of course, it's based on the Richmond P. Hobson books, depicting early life in the Chilcotin area. It's rather an interesting series.
In the past we've seen series like "Bordertown" and "Neon Rider." I had my taste of being an extra on a "Neon Rider" segment. I thought it was rather interesting. Unfortunately, I found myself on the cutting-room floor in time for that segment to air. But I tell you, during the shoot it was great grub.
The B.C. Film Society sponsors individuals via producer, writer and marketing and distribution internship programs and provides financial assistance to non-profit organizations working in support of the B.C. motion picture industry. It sponsors workshops, seminars and other professional and industry development initiatives.
I'll conclude after the response from the opposition member.
I. Chong: I want to thank the minister for providing a copy of his text for today. If you would like, I could probably finish his speech for him, because I do have it here. Perhaps he'd like to do that, since he went to all the trouble of preparing it.
I do want to thank you for bringing this very important industry to private members' statements this evening, because the film industry is indeed one of the new industries of the new economy. It's a clean industry, and it is one that affords job starts for many young people. That is a good thing, because not everyone can enter the high-tech field or biotechnology, biomedical and aerospace industries -- all of which are new industries as well. So this still allows our young people to gain entry-level jobs, to learn about a new industry and then to become leaders in that industry.
The film industry did not always have an easy go of it, hon. Speaker. Years ago -- in fact, back in 1971 -- here in Victoria the chamber of commerce was trying to get more of the film industry to come to our beautiful location here and to have more production here. But it was not an easy task. At that time we had a general manager of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce who was known as Mr. Film here in Victoria, and that was Brian Small, who also happens to be a constituent of mine. He used to go out and try to solicit as many opportunities as possible for this area. He did a good job, based on the fact that he was the manager of the chamber of commerce. At that time he did not come knocking on the doors of government asking for help, thinking that it's up to free enterprise -- it's up to private industry -- to go out and create those opportunities for our local region.
It took some time. Unfortunately, there were some difficulties encountered, not the least of which was the problem that we encounter here on the Island, which is B.C. Ferries. Because we live on an island, it is so much more difficult for film crews to arrive here to film and therefore to be competitive.
That is one of the reasons why we very much need to have a reliable ferry service here, a transportation link to the mainland: so that we can allow more film production to occur
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throughout our Island. One of the reasons that government has a role is to ensure that we have that vital link to the Island from the mainland and to not concentrate heavily on the fast ferries, which are not going to be the assured transportation mode for those film crews.
What we also need is the recognition that regions want to encourage economic development in their areas. I know there are several film commissions now established throughout this province. At one time it was only the B.C. Film Commission in Vancouver. Now we have several regions -- in Prince George, Kamloops, the Okanagan, Thompson-Nicola Valley, here in Victoria and up-Island in Campbell River -- where they've recently had some film production as well. Also, I might add, I know how the film industry is doing in Penticton, because the member for Okanagan-Penticton has a daughter who is very involved in this industry. His daughter is currently working on a movie, I understand, called The Pledge. It's a Sean Penn movie starring Jack Nicholson. Hopefully that will be out soon, and we will see just how well advertised the area of Penticton will be in that film.
But the industry here needs to grow. We need to help this industry to grow. This government can do so by ensuring that it does not get in the way of the film industry and by listening to those who are members of the film commission, because they know better than government how best to have economic opportunities in that industry. They know their infrastructure needs; they know their regulation needs -- or not-needs, as I should perhaps say. They realize that in a region such as Victoria, for example, where there are so many municipalities and where every time you drive 15 or 20 minutes you have to take out a new permit, it makes it very difficult.
Recognizing that, we were very fortunate to have people here in Victoria who advocated to reduce that regulation. That was an initiative started by another relation of the member for Saanich North and the Islands. His wife, while working at the municipality of Saanich, undertook a task force to take a look at those kinds of barriers, and indeed has moved that along so that the film industry here in Victoria can thrive and grow that much better. The Island has produced various stars, hon. Speaker, and I'm very glad that the member will continue with his remarks on a subject that we're both very fond of.
D. Streifel: I thank the member for her comments, even if she did get a little bit of a political shot in there. That's fine; I've got pretty thick skin.
My recollection of the ferry system in movies was a Sidney Poitier movie filmed a great deal on B.C. Ferries when they
D. Streifel: And Double Jeopardy was just called out as well. I think that might have been a shot at me, but I'm not quite sure. Two hulls, right?
Anyway, I'd really like to emphasize that the film industry is not only benefiting the lower mainland. As the member for Oak Bay pointed out, it's active and growing all over the province: from Fort Steele to the north part of Vancouver Island to the central part of the province
D. Streifel: And Campbell River. I actually have that in my notes. Members behind me are heckling me -- from my own folks.
Some more recent evidence of this are movies such as Bird on a Wire, which was filmed in and around Vancouver and over here in Fan Tan Alley. You know the motorcycle ride through Fan Tan Alley -- what a hoot; I've never ridden a motorcycle. With Little Women, locals saw a heritage house in Cobble Hill transformed into a snowy mansion in the heat of the summer. I had that experience at the end of my road, actually, in Whonnock, almost bumping into Reba McIntyre in the middle of winter one August day. It was actually a good TV movie as well. There was The Scarlet Letter in 1995, and The 13th Warrior -- that's the one filmed at Campbell River.
I wish some of the folks well. I can remember the experiences we had in our neighbourhood with a Sean Penn movie called We're No Angels filmed right on the dam at Ruskin. The whole town was built there. That was the theme song from the Liberal opposition caucus -- "We're No Angels" -- but it didn't quite work that way.
Through The 13th Warrior, the Ministry of Forests at Campbell River -- the forest district -- aided location scouts by finding appropriate natural settings for scenes, issuing the permits on provincial forests and Crown land and ensuring that special environmental bonds were issued and upheld. The Campbell River Film Commission promoted the location initially and provided further support and assistance. The project employed 1,200 locals over two years, 400 to 500 actors, and injected $35 million directly into the economy.
We've seen the growth and expansion of the film industry in British Columbia, aided by government policy -- forward-looking, forward-thinking government policy, which has encouraged the growth in the industry of 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent year over year. I think we have the correct formula here on how to grow and attract this business and keep it growing by better than 10 percent a year. It provides steady, family-supporting income for the workers. It's almost entirely a unionized workforce in film, as well, where the unions have come together outside the jurisdictional battles and figured out how to represent the workers and promote film at the same time. Some tax incentives helped develop more than $20 million worth of film in the Fraser Valley. The members opposite have benefited.
I thank you, hon. Speaker, and I thank the members for supporting the government on this initiative to support film.
EQUIPPING BRITISH COLUMBIA
FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
C. Clark: The title of my talk tonight is "Equipping British Columbia for the Twenty-First Century." It's appropriate that I would get up and speak on this topic just after this discussion has occurred about the film industry. When I talk about equipping B.C. for this century, I'm talking about training and education and ensuring that we have the best-trained, best-educated citizenry in the world. The film industry is a great example of that because the film industry is a new and growing industry that's entirely dependent on highly skilled, highly trained, knowledgable workers.
There is no greater assurance of success that we can give future generations than ensuring that we provide them with
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the best training, education and skills possible. That's how we're going to measure success in the twenty-first century. It's whether we have a citizenry that's trained and equipped and ready to take on the global challenge that's going to be required of them in this changing economy. In this new information economy we are going to need a new kind of worker, a new kind of workforce.
It's even true in the forest industry, for example. We think of forestry and some of those resource industries in very traditional ways. But even they have changed dramatically. In order to work in the forest industry in British Columbia now, you often need to know how to operate a very sophisticated set of computers and machinery that was unheard of 50 years ago, 20 years ago, ten years ago. It's an entirely different kind of environment that workers are going into, not just in the film industry, which is a new and high-tech industry, but also in the old, traditional industries that have been the staple of British Columbia's economy for a long time.
If we want to make sure that we are among the most productive in the world, that we are as competitive as we can be and that our workforce is turning out the best kind of product that we can at the lowest possible price, then we need to make sure that they are properly trained. Government owes that to our citizenry, because education is clearly one of those areas where government has to play the leading role. The public in Canada and in British Columbia, I think, agrees unanimously that this is a legitimate role for government to play: to ensure that education is provided to everyone.
Now, in my community we have a number of post-secondary training institutions -- Simon Fraser University, one of the best in the world. We also have one of the campuses of Douglas College: the David Lam campus. This is a brand-new facility. It costs $35 million a year, a brand-new, fabulous facility which provides some of the best training out there. It is deluged by students wanting to get in. In fact, they are so busy that only one in three students is able to get the courses that they want. Only 53 percent of the students that apply get in. That means that 47 percent of the people that apply don't get in. And this is at the community college level. This is how highly sought-after an education at the David Lam campus is for people in my community.
They have very significant demand for all their programs. There's a two-year wait-list for programs like dental assistants, youth care counselling, general nursing. Those are all professions where we really want to be able to turn out graduates, because we need workers in those areas. And you know what's happening? As fast as we can turn out talent, other jurisdictions are raiding them from us. We need to turn out more talent, home-grown talent in British Columbia, if we are going to be able to make sure that we can meet our citizenry's needs in areas like nursing and child care and dentistry.
The thing about the David Lam campus is that it's only open two-thirds of the year. A $35 million-a-year facility, and it can't stay open all year. They are operating at 58 percent of their capacity because they can't afford to stay open for the summer. What the David Lam campus is asking for, hoping for -- what everyone in our communities in the tri-cities is hoping for -- is that we can somehow find $1 million from some source to keep the David Lam campus open for the summer, so that we can get them from 58 percent capacity to 100 percent capacity. We're already investing $35 million in that facility. It doesn't make any sense to shut the doors to it for a third of the year when there's such a huge demand.
What it's going to cost is $1 million. I'd like to make the point to the House tonight that if we cannot find $1 million on our priority list for education, then education must not be very high on our priority list. I want to argue tonight that, as people who are leading the province and deciding how taxpayers' money should be spent, education should be number one on our priority list. Let's make education a number one priority. Let's not just talk the talk; let's walk the walk. Let's put our money where our mouth is, and let's take that $35 million investment and make it go just a little bit further.
So I will await the response from the members of the government, and I'll look forward to finishing my remarks in just a few moments.
G. Robertson: I would first like to thank the member for Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain for her comments. I agree with many of them. I would like to begin by reaffirming our government's commitment to equipping British Columbians for the twenty-first century. The government recognizes the importance of high technology to British Columbians in its economic growth and opportunity. Our province is poised to lead the country in the high-technology sector, and this government is committed to supporting the growth of this very important industry.
One of the key components of this commitment is to support our post-secondary education systems and institutions. This government has frozen tuition fees for the fifth straight year in this province. That's something that I'm very proud of and that students appreciate, from one end of our province to another. We have also increased the core funding of our universities, including the University of British Columbia and Tech B.C. -- our newest universities and the only universities built in this country in the last quarter of a century. I'm very proud of that. A high-tech university is a university that's dedicated to, obviously, high-tech programs. We want to provide the high-tech industry with an educated and skilled, made-in-B.C. workforce.
This province has come from the second-lowest participation rate in post-secondary education only eight or nine years ago to the second-highest in this country. That's something that we should all be very proud of.
Another component of our commitment to the high-tech sector is employment standards and regulations that are tailored for high-tech workers. An example of that is that British Columbia is the first province in this country to create employment standards that meet the specific needs of the high-tech sector. We have adapted our employment standards for high-tech workers, and we recognize that this industry is driven by short-term, intensive projects that do not fit the framework of traditional nine-to-five jobs. We continue to provide a flexible but fair workplace for high-tech workers throughout the province.
I would like to highlight a recent KPMG report released just yesterday, which is entitled "An Analysis of Competitiveness Issued for High-tech Firms." This report shows that our high-tech industry is just starting to take off in British Columbia. I quote Stuart MacKay of KPMG: "British Columbia cannot just compete. It's more cost-effective than the other jurisdictions we looked at. From the point of view of a business locating in North America, British Columbia is a very attractive jurisdiction."
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This report goes on to highlight several strategic advantages for high-tech firms that set up in British Columbia: low business costs; a high-quality, low-cost labour force; an advanced education system that offers a large number of high-technology courses; highly active research and development organizations that encourage the development of commercialism of new technologies; strong industry organizations that promote the ongoing growth of their respective industries; a geographic location that is the gateway between Asia-Pacific and North America; an outstanding quality of life; and finally, two conclusions that the members of this House will appreciate, a 6 percent after-tax advantage over the lowest-cost United States centre and a wide variety of government and other programs designed to help foster the high-tech sector."
Our government has worked hard to promote B.C.'s high-tech sector, with a commitment of over $90 million over three years to new high-technology strategies. Included are a 10 percent research and development tax credit for B.C. corporations, 2,000 new high-tech post-secondary education spaces and 4,800 more high-tech co-op placements, which are really important in this industry.
High technology is one of the fastest-growing sectors in this province, and it's contributing revenues of over $5 billion per year and employing more than 50,000 people in this province. Over the past nine years the sector has grown more than twice as fast in British Columbia as in the rest of our country. Hon. Speaker, we're very proud of that commitment to high-tech. I think our education system certainly speaks to that. We'll continue to work and support the high-technology sector with jobs and education and skills and training.
C. Clark: I appreciated my colleague's comments. I'd like to offer these observations, though, if I could. The approach with the David Lam campus seems to have been: "Build it, and they will come. But don't expect the doors to be open when you get there." There's $35 million invested in this facility, but it's closed a third of the time. If we are going to make the most of taxpayers' investment in that facility, surely we should keep it open all year. At that, we're talking about a thousand spaces, new spaces, for full- and part-time students at that facility, if we are able to keep it open. Yes, build it. Let them come, and when they get there, let's offer them some education.
What's happening at David Lam campus reminds me very much of the way previous governments used to
There are some high-tech companies in my community that are literally begging governments at all levels to provide some opportunity for more high-tech education in the country. We are not providing enough high-tech education in British Columbia to provide the homegrown talent that we need here -- that we can employ even in this recession economy, even in the economy while it's going down the way it is. We still aren't providing enough talent out there to be able to do that. They are literally begging for more educated workers, and our system hasn't been able to respond. It's not just the number of workers, though; it's also the quality of the education that those workers get.
At Simon Fraser University, for example, you can go into the computing department or the engineering department, and you will find bright, dedicated students with great faculty working with totally outdated tools to try and learn their trade -- tools that no one will use in the private sector when they get there.
We also have to think about the quality of the education that we are providing them, and we are missing on that mark as well. Providing a world-class, top-quality, accessible education is my number one priority. I believe that with a little bit of effort, a little bit of foresight, we can get there. Peter Drucker once said: "You can't predict the future, but if you just look around, you can probably see it coming." It's time for everyone in this government to look around, because guess what's coming.
The Speaker: The final private member's statement will be from the member for Malahat-Juan de Fuca.
FRESH FROM THE ISLAND
R. Kasper: Today I'd like to speak about the farming community on Vancouver Island, the people who every day give us food and produce fresh from the Island. British Columbia's agrifood industry is one of our province's most dynamic growth sectors. Foods grown and processed in British Columbia and right here on the Island are among the freshest, highest-quality foods found anywhere in the world. As an Islander, I'm proud of our farming community, a community that is often forgotten when we shop the aisles of our local grocery stores. When we go to the grocery store, we have an abundance of foods to choose from -- foods that come from across the world and foods that come from the farm just down the road. I believe that we should choose the food that comes from the local farm, supporting and strengthening our local economy.
Before I talk more about buying locally produced foods, I would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm the importance of the agricultural land reserve to farming on Vancouver Island. The government's newly created Land Commission, which unifies the Agricultural Land Commission and the Forest Land Reserve Commission, is responsible for Island ALR lands located mostly on the east coast of the Island and around the Port Alberni area. These are the most populated areas of the Island, which would have been converted to housing or parking lots if it were not for the agricultural land reserve.
Less than 5 percent of our province is suitable for farming, and protecting this land from development means that the agrifood industry will continue to grow and contribute more than $2.2 billion to the B.C. economy each year. As I said earlier, I think it's really important -- and I have to stress this -- for all of us to buy food from the farm down the road rather than the food that comes from abroad and has to be brought over to the Island, either by ferry or on a barge, every night. If we support our local farmers, we support our community, protect the environment and help the Island to become agriculturally self-sufficient. This Island only produces 10 percent
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of what we consume. There's ample opportunity for our agricultural community to fill the remaining 90 percent.
While the agricultural land reserve has protected Island farmland from development, it has not ensured that Island farmers will receive the competition of large multinational agribusinesses in California and Mexico. I think the commission can do more in making creative deliberations to ensure that our agricultural lands can find creative options in surviving in this economic climate.
What we need to do, though, is convince Islanders to buy food fresh from the Island. We need to remind Islanders that we can buy Island vegetables and fruit, including berries, grapes and kiwi fruit. We need to remind Islanders that we can buy Island sheep, beef and dairy products as well as ostrich and fowl and deer meat. To do this, however, we need an organization that will direct marketing of Island food.
In 1998 the member for Nelson-Creston, the Minister of Agriculture, challenged Island members to create such an organization -- an organization that would oversee the promotion of Island foods into the future. Island farmers quickly met this challenge, founding the Island Farmers Alliance in October of that year. In June of 1999 the government made a financial contribution of some $50,000 to the alliance to help the alliance build memberships and raise its profile at farmers' markets, exhibitions and special events. The government also declared August of last year as Island Agricultural Month to help the alliance raise consumer awareness of Island farmers and Island foods. Consumers want to know more of where their food is coming from and how it is grown, and by supporting Island farmers the government is helping to show the consumer that the choice in quality is available right here on the Island.
This afternoon I was pleased to announce another commitment by the government to the Island Farmers Alliance. We made a $50,000 financial contribution for the alliance to continue their good work. This alliance in its first year has heightened the awareness of consumers and has actually brought a little more accountability for those large retail operations to start asking the serious question: "How can we enhance our market share?" And the consumers are clearly saying to them: "You can enhance your market share by making sure that local produce is available in the retail stores." The money will also be used to enhance their membership drive -- they have some 200 members now -- promote continued agricultural awareness and strengthen the ties to other agricultural organizations throughout the Island. Hon. Speaker, I'll take my seat and allow the member opposite to respond.
M. Coell: I'm pleased to respond to the member's comments, Fresh From the Island. I think that one of the most important parts of my constituency is the farming community, and I'd like to use my constituency as an example of how important farming is to the Island and to the people.
Firstly, most of the farms on Vancouver Island are family farms. There are very few companies that aren't started from families. In my riding I've got families like the Vantreights, who have been farming daffodils and vegetables for 100 years in Central Saanich. I've got families like the Galeys, the Jacks and the Volks -- the Volks being in the member's riding -- who have all been in the poultry and egg business for many, many generations.
The nursery business is thriving on the lower Island. On the way home tonight I'll probably drive by at least three or four thriving nurseries. One of the things that I think has been important for the agriculture industry in the lower Island has been the introduction of ostriches and kiwi fruit. On Saltspring Island we have grapes growing. On Saturna Island, which has approximately 300 people, we now have a winery and grapes growing into their second year. So there's been a number of new and innovative ideas in this area.
Organic foods. In my riding alone there are 50 acres this year -- increased -- growing organic foods that are being sold in places like Thrifty Foods, whose corporate headquarters is also in my riding.
The idea of fresh fish in my riding is another "Fresh from the Island
It's an exciting riding to represent because of the farming community. I look at the families
One of the growing concerns in my riding is Butchart Gardens, which started out as a gravel pit. It produces seeds and helps promote the flower industry throughout the world.
I'm absolutely thrilled tonight that the member would bring up "Fresh from the Island," because it is an important part of my riding, and it is also an important part of the entire Island. The hope for the industry, I believe, in the future are things like a little deregulation, a little break in taxes, a little break in water rates -- those things that would help the industry grow. As I said, the farming industry is for the most part a family industry, and it's a tough industry. These people put in long hours; they work from early morning to late at night. I look at Pendray Farms in my riding; it's the largest dairy farm. I know John Pendray, Sr., and his two sons. Actually, his granddaughter probably does some farm chores before she comes to work for me in my constituency office. The Pendrays have been a big part of the Saanich Peninsula and the Saanich area for many years.
I could go on naming farmers in my community that have contributed to the community. I would probably miss out some, because there have been so many. My hat is off to the farmers of Vancouver Island. They do a fantastic job in bringing us fresh vegetables, poultry, meat, fish -- you name it. They've done a good job in the last 150 years. It's our duty as members of this Legislature to ensure that they have the right taxes and regulations and costs to do a good job in the next hundred years, so maybe the Pendrays and the Galeys and the Jacks and the Vantreights and the Volks will have six generations of people working on their family farms. I'm sure they'd be proud to do that. I wish them well and thank the member for his comments.
The Speaker: In reply, the hon. member for Malahat-Juan de Fuca.
R. Kasper: Our colleague across the way should be proud of the agricultural community in his riding, as I am of
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the agricultural community in my riding. I visited a number of those facilities and sites, and I know that the member has done a lot of work in fighting for the interests of the agricultural community.
In my riding I have some five wineries. We have B.C.'s only licensed cidery operation. We also have bed-and-breakfasts that are directly related to farms. What they're promoting is the agri-lifestyle and showing those people from the urban communities that this is what life is really like on a farm.
I would also like to take the opportunity to talk about the future, and that is the youth on the Island. As the hon. member mentioned, these are family-run operations, and traditions have been maintained. But we have to do more to encourage the youth. On March 10 the government announced a five-year partnership agreement with the British Columbia 4-H program to help them grow and evolve to meet the needs of 4-H youth and volunteers and to help promote the self-reliance of that program. There are more than 3,500 4-H participants in the province and the Yukon, involving some 950 volunteers and some 225 clubs. The participants range from the age of nine to 19 and, through their participation, achieve personal development, leadership skills, citizenship and a sense of community.
As many of the members of the House know, the 4-H program follows the motto: "Learn to do by doing." The 4-H project work not only promotes knowledge, skill development and self-confidence but also instils a sense of pride and cooperation among British Columbia youth and adult volunteers. That is very important to the Island agri-community, to the Island farmers who are out there doing their due diligence. But more importantly, it's incumbent on all of us to look for the rooster -- that's their symbol -- and to choose Island products. That's what's going to make the agricultural community even stronger.
Hon. D. Lovick: I move the House do now adjourn.
The House adjourned at 6:54 p.m.
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