2000 Legislative Session: 4th Session, 36th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
MONDAY, APRIL 17, 2000
Volume 18, Number 23
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The House met at 2:08 p.m.
Hon. J. Kwan: I would like to welcome some special guests who are in the gallery here today for the first reading of Bill 9, Cooperative Association Amendment Act, 2000. Here are David Lach, chair of the Canadian Cooperative Association, B.C. Region, and the regional manager, John Restakis. Also visiting the House are Mike Ballard, who is chair of the Cowichan Regional Fishers Cooperative, and his wife Pamela. Finally, the last guest is Van Williams, who is with PSC Natural Foods workers cooperative. Would the House please make them feel very welcome.
R. Coleman: I see in the gallery a couple of constituents of mine who are visiting Victoria: Gordon and Jill Hamilton. Would the House please make them welcome.
E. Walsh: I am please to introduce to the House Philip Jones, who is the government liaison representative for the Kootenay Real Estate Board, who also happens to live in the city of Cranbrook in the Kootenay riding. I would ask the House to please make Philip Jones welcome.
G. Abbott: It's my pleasure to make a couple of introductions today. The first is Michael Muir, a young man from Armstrong in the constituency of Shuswap. He's been studying history at the University of Victoria for the past three years. It's his first visit to the House. Interestingly, he is the brother of Jerry Muir, who is one of the very hard-working legislative interns that we're fortunate to have in this chamber.
The second is also very much a pleasure. My brother Bob Abbott is here. Bob is an economic refugee -- as I call them -- from British Columbia, who is now rooted in Airdrie, Alberta. I'd like the House to make them both welcome.
M. Coell: I wish the House to make welcome Tony Brogan, who is a member of the B.C. Real Estate Association, and he is here for meetings. Would the House please make him welcome.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I'd like the House to join me in welcoming my daughter Natalie. Natalie doesn't often get over to Victoria, what with her busy schedule of work and school, so it's a real pleasure to have her join us today.
J. Dalton: I'm pleased to welcome to the precincts today 74 grade 10 students and their teacher from the high school from which two of my children graduated. Would the House please welcome Mr. MacKenzie and the students from Handsworth Secondary.
Hon. J. Kwan presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Cooperative Association Amendment Act, 2000.
Hon. J. Kwan: I'm pleased to introduce the Cooperative Association Amendment Act, which will amend the Cooperative Association Act, 1999. The Cooperative Association Act was passed by the Legislative Assembly in July 1999 but has yet to be brought into force. The act modernizes the legislation governing the creation and operation of cooperatives to reflect new, international cooperative principles and to support the growing sophistication and development of the cooperative sector.
The Cooperative Association Amendment Act makes primarily technical changes and clarifies ambiguities in the new Cooperative Association Act. As well, the amending bill addresses stakeholder concerns with the new act's appeal process related to termination of membership in a housing cooperative. The cooperative sector is expanding rapidly in both traditional and emerging markets and is proving to be a key player in economic development and community diversification. Presently there are almost 700 cooperatives in British Columbia, with over 13,000 members.
There's great anticipation within the cooperative association community for the new Cooperative Association Act to be brought into force. The changes proposed in this amendment will help ensure that the new Cooperative Association Act is fair and effective. I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Bill 9 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.
AMENDMENT ACT, 2000
Hon. A. Petter presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2000.
Hon. A. Petter: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. A. Petter: I'm pleased to introduce Bill 8, Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2000. The bill amends a number of different statutes, which I know will be of interest to members within the Legislature. They include the College and Institute Act; the Commercial River Rafting Safety Act; the Coroners Act; the Credit Union Incorporation Act; the Employee Investment Act; the Estate Administration Act; the Financial Institutions Act; the Forest Land Reserve Act; the Heritage Conservation Act; the Highway Act; the Independent School Act; the Institute of Technology Act; the Islands Trust Act; the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 1999 -- so it's an internally consistent bill, Mr. Speaker; the Motor Vehicle Act; the Notaries Act; the Opening Learning Agency Act; the Pension Benefits Standards Act; the Petroleum and Natural Gas Act; the Provincial Court Act; the Public Guardian and Trustee Act; the Public Sector Pension Plans Act; the School Act; the South Moresby Implementation Account Act; the Teaching Profession Act; the Unclaimed Property Act; the University Act; and the Waste Management Act.
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I'll be happy to elaborate on the nature of these amendments during second reading of this bill. 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 8 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.
SHOOTING OF BIRDS
AT VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
M. Coell: On Friday we learned that the Vancouver airport shot over 3,000 birds last year. We also learned that the Ministry of Environment has raised some concerns about the shooting and will review the issue. Will the Minister of Environment tell us whether or not she agrees with the way these birds were killed and if shootings of birds have occurred at other locations?
Hon. J. Sawicki: As the hon. member has mentioned, my staff is concerned about the shooting of birds at the international airport. Clearly, however, the first concern must be public safety, as all of us who may take airplanes out of that airport, I'm sure, would appreciate. But I have asked my staff to be working with the federal authorities and the airports to review the procedures and the processes that are used to take into account birds and airplanes, which really don't mix very well, hon. Speaker.
SHOOTING OF BIRDS
AT SWARTZ BAY FERRY TERMINAL
M. Coell: Mr. Speaker, with regard to other locations, I have a Ministry of Environment memo congratulating B.C. Ferries on their program to control bird and pigeon populations at the Swartz Bay terminal. On the night of October 21 last year, B.C. Ferry employees actually went out and shot up to 400 pigeons with rifles at the terminal.
Will the Minister of Environment explain why it was necessary to have B.C. Ferries employees exterminate up to 400 birds and whether or not this ministry approved of the act?
Hon. J. Sawicki: I think the member will have to address the minister responsible for Ferries regarding Ferries' actions. In terms of birds and habitat, I think the member will also recognize that under the migratory bird act, there are shared responsibilities here. From my perspective, I would have to talk with my staff and their colleagues in the federal departments to see what the policy would be around that.
M. de Jong: I wasn't aware that the pigeons involved were migratory. I thought that was the problem -- they weren't leaving.
I actually got a letter from a B.C. Ferries employee who was working at Swartz Bay on the night when these birds were shot. She was actually pretty sickened by what took place. She wrote and said: "I also feel that knocking these birds down and stepping on their heads to finish them off is cruel beyond words." I wonder if the Minister of Environment or the minister responsible for Ferries could confirm how many birds were killed in what, according to this B.C. Ferries employee, was an exceptionally inhumane manner.
Hon. J. MacPhail: The allegations are serious, and I'll look into them. I'll take the question on notice and report back.
The Speaker: Do you have another question, member for Matsqui?
M. de Jong: A new question, Mr. Speaker.
We also learn, from a Ferries employee who witnessed what took place on that night of October 21, that the manner in which this kill took place was exceptionally dangerous to other employees. Apparently ministry employees -- other ministry employees, B.C. Ferries employees -- were brought in, given a couple of guns and told to have at her.
According to this employee, there was a real risk that someone might get hurt; there might be a ricochet. I'm just wondering -- if they thought this action was necessary in the first place -- why they entrusted the task to individuals who, it seems, had a very poor notion of how to conduct the exercise in a proper way.
Hon. J. MacPhail: It's information-seeking on the same incident, hon. Speaker. I've taken it on notice.
OF CAPITAL PROJECTS
G. Farrell-Collins: Last week Deloitte and Touche released a report -- a scathing indictment into the way this government has managed its capital planning over the last number of years.
Hon. Speaker, it's not like there haven't been other warnings in the past. In 1992, Treasury Board staff reviewed the capital program in detail. There was another Treasury Board review in 1995, followed by a review by the Ministry of Employment and Investment that same year. Then there was the capital expenditure review working group in 1997, the Enns report in 1999 and of course countless auditor general reports that were tabled in this House.
So my question is to the Premier. Will the Premier explain how, after countless reports and reviews by Treasury Board -- many from the time he served on Treasury Board -- his government is still blatantly inadequate, is still blatantly mismanaging the capital projects of this province and putting the taxpayers of this province at risk for hundreds of millions of dollars?
Hon. D. Lovick: Mr. Speaker, I rise to take that question on notice for the Minister of Finance.
The Speaker: Thank you, minister.
You have a new question, Opposition House Leader?
G. Farrell-Collins: Hon. Speaker, it's amazing. There's one cabinet minister not here, and we've already had two or three questions taken on notice. If they weren't ready to come into the House and defend their record, they shouldn't be here.
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It's not like the Minister of Finance is the only one who sat on Treasury Board -- and continues to sit on Treasury Board as this goes on. I want to quote from the report. It says: "Treasury Board is the decision and approval authority for government expenditures
My question is to the Premier. Will the Premier tell us why -- after years and years, report after report, damning indictment after damning indictment -- he refuses to stand up and defend his government's handling of capital projects?
Hon. D. Lovick: The same question was asked. The minister responsible for Treasury Board is the Minister of Finance. He has taken the question on notice -- enough said.
C. Clark: There is a time-honoured tradition in this Legislature. It's called ministerial responsibility. If the minister isn't here, the Premier is responsible to answer those questions. The Premier is responsible to stand up and answer for his government. You know, he's not the Attorney General anymore. He can't just say that it's under review; he's not going to answer the question; he doesn't feel like it; he'll get back to you.
The Speaker: Member, excuse me.
C. Clark: The Premier was elected to lead this party and lead this government, and he should stand up, show some leadership
The Speaker: Order, member.
Hon. D. Lovick: Mr. Speaker, the time-honoured tradition is ministerial responsibility. The minister responsible for Treasury Board is the Minister of Finance. Accordingly, we have taken it on notice on his behalf.
The Speaker: Order, members. The questions in this line have been taken on notice. I would suggest that we
The Speaker: Member, order, please. I'd suggest that we go on with a different line of questioning.
C. Clark: Hon. Speaker, on a different question. You know, there is an issue of responsibility here. I would like to see one person on that side of the House stand up and take responsibility for this government's record. That is what I'm asking today.
In another section of the report, it goes on to say that there was limited evidence of proper risk assessment
The Speaker: Member, will you take your seat, please.
The Chair will recognize a question on a new line of questioning, if some member wishes to stand and do so. The member for Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain with a different line of questioning.
C. Clark: Well, I'm interested to know from the Premier -- it's a question of credibility for the Premier
The Speaker: Members
The member for Richmond-Steveston with a new question.
SALE OF FAST FERRIES
G. Plant: Yes -- new question; same old government.
When the government announced back in March that they were going to try to sell the fast ferries, there was a press release that said that the ferries had a conservative value of $40 million each. While I have a request for proposal here, the government is now trying to find someone who will take on the onerous task of selling the ferries. What we know from this request for proposal is that the eligibility requirement for the person who will take on the job is that "you have had experience selling assets valued at more than $25 million." The challenge, it seems to me, is to find someone in the government who will actually admit that they have some idea about what these vessels are worth. So that'll be the question I ask the Minister responsible for B.C. Ferries: what are the fast ferries worth?
Hon. J. MacPhail: It's unfortunate that the opposition does its research from the classifieds, because there is lots more information available if they had actually called and asked what that advertisement was about. The request for proposal for a management consultant
The Speaker: Order, members.
Hon. J. MacPhail: The request for proposal to which the member refers sets a threshold for which people will be eligible to apply to be the person who manages the sale of the ferries. In the business of selling vessels of that size, the threshold that's been established has been greater than $25 million. Those who have sold vessels or ships less than $25 million will not, unless under very unusual circumstances, be eligible to manage this sale. That's what this advertisement is about -- full stop.
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The Speaker: Member for Richmond-Steveston with a supplemental question.
G. Plant: I didn't get an answer to the question, Mr. Speaker. I'm looking at the request for proposal. The government is looking for someone who's had experience selling assets collectively valued at a minimum of $25 million. That's about $8 million per ferry. Right around the same time, they're trying to encourage the public to believe that these things are conservatively worth at least $40 million.
The question is: given that the minister says she's in possession of all the facts
Hon. J. MacPhail: Once again, it's unfortunate that the Liberal opposition reads the classifieds and leaps to a conclusion that may damage the future sale of this fast ferry by assuming that the figure $25 million is anything other than a threshold for the size of the firm that will be eligible to manage the sale.
When the Minister of Finance and I made the announcement that we were putting these fast ferries on the market, there were two facts that were presented: (1) the accountants had done a very conservative accounting of the book value of the ferries in terms of their present use in the corporation, and (2) the book value is about $40 million per vessel. Therefore we wrote down any cost over and above $40 million.
The market will determine the value of the fast ferries. We are doing everything possible in a professional way, an independent way, to remove all of the vested interests around the sale, and we will get the best value possible on the market.
The Speaker: Member for Richmond-Steveston on a supplemental.
G. Plant: No doubt interested British Columbians will be scouring the dollar stores any day now, looking for the deal of the century. Mr. Speaker, they built 'em, they own 'em, they manage 'em, and now they're trying to sell 'em. It's a simple question: how much does the government think they're worth?
Hon. J. MacPhail: The ferries are going to be put on the market very soon. The management of the sale will be done with a reputable firm that has been thoroughly canvassed. We have done an RFP to get the best firm possible that's not captured by the vested interests of the corporation or CFI or even those detractors from the opposite benches. We will get the best value we possibly can.
I do know that the Liberal opposition could play a very effective role here. Instead of playing silly games about taking some information from an ad and presupposing that it has anything to do with what value they hold on the market, they could actually get behind this sale and work to get the most value possible.
The Speaker: The bell ends question period.
The Speaker: Order, members.
Hon. S. Hammell: I ask leave to table a report.
Hon. S. Hammell: It's my pleasure today to table the sixth annual report on multiculturalism, government of British Columbia, 1998-99. The report documents the activities of the Ministry of Multiculturalism and Immigration, 19 government of British Columbia ministries, 13 Crown corporations and the Advisory Council on Multiculturalism in support of the Multiculturalism Act.
Hon. J. Smallwood: Today, April 17, is a very important day in the lives of all Canadians who value fairness and justice. Today is Equality Day. Equality Day marks the day in 1985 when the equality provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into force. The provision of section 15 declared that every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law. This means that we are equal under the law whether we are immigrants or not and despite our physical or mental abilities, regardless of our sex, age, race, sexual orientation, religion or the colour of our skin. We are all equal before the law.
It was women who dreamed that the Canadian law could develop and expand to include equality for all women. Today I acknowledge and thank them for their efforts. Without a doubt, the equality guarantees of the Canadian Charter have altered the landscape and resulted in profound changes not just in the courts but throughout society.
From the earliest cases, like the 1987 spouse-in-the-house case -- which successfully challenged an Ontario ruling that had denied a woman social assistance for simply having a close relationship with a man -- and landmark cases like the 1992 Supreme Court of Canada provision to uphold the rape shield provision of the Criminal Code, ensuring that rape trials would have to continue to focus on the violent acts of the accused rather than the behaviour of the women and children who had been raped, to important economic equality cases like the one brought against the Ontario government in 1997, which found that their attempts to amend the Pay Equity Act were unconstitutional
Yes, the Charter provisions have had an impact on women's lives. We have made steps towards equality because of them. The courtroom, however, is not the only place where we push for equality. The push continues in our homes, in our communities and in our workplaces. We have to make our voices heard.
Right here, right now, women make up 49 percent of the government's cabinet. Earlier this year, for the first time ever, a woman was appointed as Canadian Chief Justice. This decade heralded other firsts for Canadian women: the first woman astronaut, the first woman of colour to be appointed as Gover-
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nor General, the first aboriginal woman to be appointed to the superior court. We've made progress on ending discrimination towards women and others. At the same time, there is much more that needs to be done.
Despite several years of activism, women still do not enjoy many of the economic benefits that accrue to men. True equality won't be ours until women have achieved economic equality, but inequality persists. Women do two-thirds of the world's paid and unpaid work, receive 5 percent of the world's income and own less than 1 percent of the wealth. Women earn less than men. The wage gap in British Columbia for women working full-time year-round is 73 cents. For women with a university education, the gap closes to about 84 cents on the dollar.
Women head 83 percent of single-parent families in B.C., and more than half of them live below the poverty line. Only when women achieve economic equality can we deal fully with issues like violence, improve our health care or our own health and participate fully in the social and economic life of this province.
Our government is making economic security for women a priority. It is a priority for my ministry. Our grandmothers, mothers, sisters and friends have fought for change. It is through their efforts that we became persons in the eyes of the law and won the right to vote. To be truly equal as full citizens, we must use these accomplishments to obtain economic equality as well. I ask today that we renew our commitment to end discrimination and to ensure that all British Columbians are treated equally not only under the law but in our hearts, in our minds and in our actions.
The Speaker: In response, the hon. member for Langley.
L. Stephens: I am pleased, as the critic for Women's Equality, to respond to the minister's statement today. It is important that we continue to recognize and promote the equality provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In spite of those rights that the Charter guarantees, social attitudes and behaviours continue to reflect the fact that many women and other groups in British Columbia continue to receive unequal treatment. We have recently learned that the unequal treatment is present in the Women's Equality ministry. The minister's words today ring hollow, when her own ministry is guilty of the worst excesses that her ministry is supposed to be fighting to eliminate.
So in celebration of Equality Day, the official opposition would like to recognize and voice our appreciation of the many individuals and organizations who work so hard so that women may be free from poverty, violence, discrimination and harassment.
Hon. D. Lovick: I call continued debate on the budget.
R. Neufeld: Mr. Speaker, I continue my remarks from last week. Actually, my remarks are very close to what was talked about in question period. That was the fact of the cost of the fast ferries and where this government puts its priorities -- whether it is really with health care and education, as they tend to talk about, or whether it is with failed megaprojects like fast ferries or Vancouver convention centres. The question was well put, and there should be an answer.
I wonder just what that minister would have for an answer to people in my constituency when they cannot access health care, when children cannot access good dental programs and when we have to send people to Vancouver for extended care at their own cost. Just where are this government's priorities? Is it really with fast ferries? Is it with wasting taxpayers' money on failed projects that were put together by this group, by this caucus and by this executive council? It's actually pretty sad.
It brings back a thought about last year. The now Minister of Education, the member for Surrey-Newton -- who was the Minister of Health last year or a number of years ago -- talked about how difficult it was to get from Surrey all the way to Vancouver to go to a hospital to see their child. I thought at that time that it was just a slip of the tongue, but again last week I listened intently, and I could not believe that those same words were coming forward.
I have asked: how do you deal with people who live in Atlin? How do you deal with people who live in Dease Lake when they have to travel to Vancouver for specialty care? Surrey is only about an hour away from Vancouver. People from Atlin have to go to Whitehorse and then fly to Vancouver or drive for untold hours -- or people from Fort St. John or Fort Nelson -- to bring their children down to Vancouver for health care.
Yet we see in this caucus a move that seems to be centred around the lower mainland, around Vancouver and around megaprojects. It reminds me that last year
Put in perspective, that's about a 500- to 600-mile round trip. It involves a number of days away from home. That was what the government of the day thought that they should do. It took question period and it took embarrassment, until we finally got the unit up as far as Fort Nelson. But that left all the other people between Fort Nelson and the border, and on down through Highway 37, without that service. One has to wonder what goes on in people's minds in that caucus when we think about those things.
R. Neufeld: The member for Prince George-Mount Robson, who was a minister, says: "Who brought it in there?" Actually, it was the minister responsible who, after embarrassment, finally got the unit up there. Guess what the people who came to have a screening were asked to do. They were asked to sign a thank-you note to the minister of the day: "Thank you, minister, for sending this unit all the way to Fort Nelson to look after me."
How disgusting! Do they do that down here? Is there going to be a thank-you note on the fast ferries: "Thank you, NDP, for the fast ferries"?
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That is a terrible way to handle people who require and should get that service, the same as they do in Prince George, in Vancouver or in Williams Lake. It just goes to demonstrate that this government's priorities have never been looking after health care, specifically in the rural regions. But they are very good at looking after the failed megaprojects. If you want to spend $600 million on a fast ferry -- a failed fast ferry -- give it to this group, because this group of financial wizards will look after it every time. They will waste their money.
I thank you very much, hon. Speaker, for allowing me to say my final words.
The Speaker: Members, order. The Deputy Premier is on her feet.
Hon. J. MacPhail: I am pleased to rise and speak very briefly to Budget 2000 -- a budget that is a modern, balanced approach that cuts taxes and balances the priorities that face families in education and health care. I did make remarks that would be of particular note to the members of my riding during the Speech from the Throne.
I am going to try and concentrate specifically on the budget today, and I have just a few things to say. The province's budget for the year 2000 will cut B.C.'s personal income taxes by more than half a billion dollars over two years. It gives small businesses the lowest tax rate in Canada. Well, that was until the province of New Brunswick, I think, decided to lower it even further.
At the same time, it funds 300 more teachers and 600 more nurses and extends the tuition freeze for a fifth straight year. This budget really shows that our new government is taking a new, modern direction. It balances the top priorities of today's families -- education, health care, child care and tax cuts -- with the need to control the deficit.
Our government has listened. We've learned, and we've changed. This budget is open and transparent and really presents a complete picture. It says yes to tax cuts and no to megaprojects. It invests in a healthy, well-educated and productive workforce, and it shows respect for the business community and our readiness to work with them.
Yes, there is a need to restore public confidence in today's budget process. There is no question about that. The day we tabled this budget, we began that process of ensuring public confidence. We tabled the new Budget Transparency and Accountability Act. The government listened to and accepted the advice of the auditor general, the independent Enns panel, the opposition and many other British Columbians. The new law set the highest standards for budget transparency in all of Canada. The books are open, the numbers are sound, the process is public, and megaprojects have been reined in. These changes will assure citizens that they can be confident about the completeness and transparency of the budget.
Let me just review some of the highlights, if I may. Provincial personal income tax cuts are targeted to the middle-class and lower-income families to fuel our economic momentum. They'll total $225 million in cuts this year and another $354 million in tax cuts next year.
Health spending increases for the ninth straight year will address pressures in B.C.'s hospitals, including funds to hire 600 more nurses and new spaces to educate 400 more.
The freeze on post-secondary tuition continues for a fifth year. Funding to universities and colleges climbs $85 million this year alone to restore core funding, help with the tuition freeze and create 5,025 more student spaces.
The budget increases support for education by 300 new teachers. It reduces class sizes in early grades, and it replaces 387 portables by 100 new schools, replacements and expansions.
The targeted tax cuts are there to fuel our economic momentum. The tax cuts will total more than half a billion dollars over two years. The cuts include the full $175 million reduction in provincial taxes that accompanies federal personal income taxes but are in addition to the federal income taxes. On top of that, there will be $50 million more and $70 million next year. Ninety percent of our additional tax cuts will go to middle-class and low-income B.C. families. The tax cut is realistic, and it's moving in the right direction, putting money where it will do the most good -- into local economies. As a result -- and this is a statistic often overlooked by the Liberal opposition -- 100,000 low-income British Columbians will no longer pay any provincial income taxes. In addition, the average B.C. family making $60,000 a year will pay virtually the same income taxes as it would in that mecca of good news for the Liberal opposition -- Alberta.
The budget also opens the door wider to post-secondary education. There are students graduating from B.C. institutions who have never seen a tuition increase. Imagine that; they've never seen a tuition increase. Would that happen if the Liberal opposition were elected to government? Absolutely not. I can guarantee that the day after -- if that Liberal opposition were ever to move anywhere but those benches -- tuition fees would go up in this province. I guarantee it.
A tuition freeze alone under a B.C. New Democrat government cannot guarantee access if our post-secondary institutions can't afford to offer it. So B.C.'s post-secondary students will continue to enjoy the second most affordable tuition in Canada. However, the fifth year of the tuition freeze will be accompanied by $133 million to build and modernize colleges, universities and institutes. And on top of that, there will be another $39 million to support 5,025 more student spaces, 400 of which are for nursing and 800 of which are in high-tech programs. Another $1 million on top of that $39 million will create 1,000 new co-op spaces for high-tech students. And to offer more students a direct link between education and jobs, the budget funds 300 more spaces for secondary school students in apprenticeships and in industry training programs. The budget also supports the opening of five more career technical centres, where students can finish high school while gaining hands-on experience in a trade and can get credit for the first year of a post-secondary program.
Hon. Speaker, I had the fortune of attending a skills trade forum with hundreds of people on Friday in Vancouver, where our career technical centres were highlighted, where apprenticeship was highlighted. There was a wealth of energy from young people in the room who were just buzzing with the new enthusiasm around careers, technical trades and the more traditional apprenticeships as well as the modernizing of the entire apprenticeship program. Our government is fully committed not only to enhancing the apprenticeship program but also to doing it in a way that opens up a world of accessibility to well-paying jobs for our young people, particularly young women.
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There are efforts to improve learning conditions this year as well, which will include investing $445 million to build and expand schools at the K-to-12 level, plus funding to reduce class sizes in the early grades and to link every single school to the Internet. We believe that our kids deserve the best learning environment possible, and by the spring of the year 2001 we will have reduced the number of portables in British Columbia to fewer than 1,900 from the nearly 3,100 in 1998.
Let me speak just for a few minutes about strengthening health care. We've raised health spending in every budget since we were elected, yet the system remains under serious stress. What does the Liberal opposition do? All they do is highlight and hand-wring around the serious stress. There is no question that the health care system is under serious stress. But we on this side, besides providing adequate funding, are also looking for solutions to the serious stress. We know how important our health care system is to British Columbians.
So instead of just suggesting that tax cuts will help the health care system, we're putting real money into our health care system and moving ahead in two critical areas to strengthen health care. First, we're taking the pressure off hospitals, which are the heart of our system. Second, we're working together with our health partners to meet patients' needs more effectively. The government is investing nearly $2 billion in doctors' services as part of a multi-year agreement that was reached a few weeks ago. The agreement will end service disruptions, expand necessary medical services and promote cooperation between doctors and governments.
We call on the federal government to accept its share of financial responsibility to make health care work. Ottawa's share of health funding for B.C. has slipped to 15 percent. That's 15 percent, hon. Speaker. That means that British Columbians are carrying 85 percent of the health care system on our shoulders. Was that what was contemplated when we got into universal, accessible medicare? No, hon. Speaker. It was supposed to be an equal partnership between the federal government and the provincial government. Our commitment to universal health care in B.C. is resolute. Today's families need to know that the care they need will be there when they need it. We cannot and must not and will not accept American-style for-profit health care.
The budget also contains new support for working families -- a must in today's society where the family of the year 2000 doesn't in any way resemble the family of even ten years ago, let alone 20 years ago. We've committed $14 million to before- and after-school child care beginning January 1. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to the needs of working parents, and our child care programs will ensure that parents have the choices they need for their kids. It's a start -- that's true. The $14 million is a start, but it's an important step in the right direction, helping parents meet family responsibilities and participate fully in the economic opportunities that B.C. offers.
Other assistance for our families includes $8 million to reduce wait-lists for services for children, including those with special needs, and $149 million to increase the wages and benefits of front-line community service workers, who have been some of B.C.'s lowest-paid workers. The budget also provides for a modest increase in income assistance rates and lets recipients keep more of what they earn to help them move from welfare to work.
I know that the Liberal opposition thinks it's a waste of money to pay those who look after our most vulnerable a decent wage. I know the Liberal opposition doesn't believe that women should be paid equal pay for work of equal value. I know that they don't support the hiring of more nurses and teachers. Last week when, in an open and transparent way, we revealed all of the money that our government has invested in services for health care, education and community services -- the money that we've invested in paying women a fair wage, a wage that's equal and comparable to their value -- this Liberal opposition stood up and said that it was a scam, that it was wrong to invest this money.
Well, I say that those of us on this side of the House will continue to invest not only in those services but also in the good people, the well-trained people -- mostly women -- who provide those services.
Let's talk about what we're doing to support the traditional sectors. B.C.'s traditional resource economy remains one of our crucial strengths, and this budget aims to ensure that there are sustainable opportunities for the next generation of workers in our forests, at sea and underground. Let me just go over some of the measures in the budget that foster growth in traditional sectors.
To ensure a competitive, sustainable forest industry, the government will maintain reduced stumpage rates, introduce more flexible regulations, and provide the protection and renewal of forest ecosystems. A new certification initiative will help producers retain and expand the markets.
There are projects that will help restore and conserve fish stocks. We'll provide $7.5 million of funding for that, and $1 million in new funds will develop a freshwater fishery to diversify the seafood and shellfish sector.
To spur oil and gas activity, B.C. will invest more than $100 million in resource loads over five years. The budget also, for the first time ever, provides $10 million to help agricultural producers meet high environmental standards while expanding their markets. We're working in partnership with the farmers of this province.
Reflecting the importance of land use certainty to economic stability, the budget sets aside $5 million, plus Crown land and resources, for the purpose of reaching interim measures agreements as part of the land claims treaty process.
Just to conclude, I'll highlight one other aspect of our budget that is about building our innovation economy. While tax cuts will stimulate our economy in the short run, we must also build on our economic strengths. Those economic strengths must ensure long-term success in the innovation economy.
Other measures to promote growth in the emerging sectors are things such as the high-technology research and development tax credit that was introduced last year. It is forecast to nearly triple, to $28 million, to keep B.C. firms on the leading edge of the technological revolution. The government will invest directly in research partnerships in fuel-cell and clean-energy technologies, information technology, biotechnology, aerospace and new media such as DVD-ROMs and the Internet.
We'll also join with the federal government in allowing employees to defer income benefits from stock options and reduce the taxation of capital gains. This $33 million measure
[ Page 15016 ]
will allow employees to share more fully in the success of companies that employ them. The B.C. knowledge development fund, which invests in capital infrastructure for research at B.C.'s post-secondary institutions, will receive an additional $117 million over its six-year term.
A new marketing commission will promote B.C.'s high-tech sector at home and abroad. Finally, existing tax credits for B.C.'s billion-dollar film and TV production industry will continue, and the budget will support new regional film offices in key locations across the country.
Yes, it is true that the Liberal opposition has fallen silent during this good news, hon. Speaker, because the fact of the matter is that this budget actually delivers on commitments to grow our economy -- a commitment not only to our traditional economic base but also to our innovative economic base. We do it while protecting health care, while expanding education.
Hon. J. MacPhail: It's true. We are much different than the Liberal opposition. The Liberal opposition would give massive tax cuts to the richest, to the best-off, to the largest companies. They would do it by taking money out of the health and education systems.
We have a different agenda. Our new government has a new agenda that says that we can make the economy grow. We can bring about economic stability in British Columbia, and at the same time we can have a health care system that works for all and an education system that delivers for all children and young people, regardless of how much money their parents have in their pockets. I'm very proud to stand up on this final day of debate on the budget and support the budget. I truly hope that the Liberal opposition will take this opportunity to join with us to help British Columbia's economy grow and will stop their naysaying.
T. Stevenson: It's a privilege for me to join the debate on Budget 2000 on this last day of debate on the budget. Before I do so, I'd like to ask leave to make an introduction.
T. Stevenson: In the gallery today are approximately 26 visitors from Davis High School in Davis, California. They're visiting us with their teacher, Mr. Slinkard. We hope that they enjoy our capital and the budget debate today. Would all members please make them welcome.
This budget is indeed a modern, balanced budget for this new government under the leadership of a new Premier. It is a budget that is right for British Columbia and right for my own riding of Vancouver-Burrard, as I'll show throughout my speech.
This budget gives a new, modern direction for the economy of British Columbia. It does so, first and foremost, because the government introduced just three weeks ago the Budget Transparency and Accountability Act, which is the first of its kind not just here in B.C. but, I think, across the country. I think this law will give complete transparency to the budget process, which is long overdue. For as far as I can remember, since the Socred days under W.A.C. Bennett, legislators have been arguing about the budget process as well as the budget figures. This was certainly the case, as well, with Premier Bill Bennett, Premier Vander Zalm, Premier Harcourt and, of course, Premier Clark.
Now with a new government, we have a new way of thinking and a new way of doing things. This new Premier has promised openness, transparency and accountability. At the very first opportunity he has brought in such an act. He has delivered with this new Budget Transparency and Accountability Act. This law will affect all future budgets profoundly. People will finally be able to clearly see where there hard-earned tax dollars are being spent. This transparency law will mean that government will indeed, as the title states, be accountable -- accountable in ways no government has had to be before in the history of our province. That, I believe, is good.
Also, a number of budgetary practices that have been far less transparent will finally stop. The government has listened and has accepted the advice of the auditor general; that's why we are bringing this law in. Not only the auditor general, but also the opposition and an independent panel on the budget have been seeking this new law. So indeed, we have listened to all of them before bringing this law before the House.
These changes include an all-party budget consultation committee of the Legislature; a fixed budget deadline -- the budget debate will now be completed prior to March 31 each year; a complete disclosure of material assumptions supporting the forecasts, including the advice of the Economic Forecast Council; the secretary of Treasury Board, a senior public servant, will certify the disclosure in writing; and a single bottom line for government finances. Government will now report its bottom line on a summary account basis, which combines Crown corporation results with those of government ministries. This particular action puts B.C. at the forefront of budget disclosure in Canada and dramatically increases the transparency of government finances. Also this includes opening the books on all major capital projects. Finally, it will hold government to a higher standard when additional spending must be authorized. The tabling and open debate of supplementary estimates will be the rule.
This new law sets the overall tone of the budget, hon. Speaker, not only for budgets but indeed for this new government: transparency and accountability.
So now on to the actual budget. To begin with, the province's budget for the year 2000 will cut British Columbia's personal income taxes by more than a half billion dollars in the next two years. These tax cuts are targeted, of course, specifically to the middle-class and to the lower-income families. In fact, 90 percent of the cuts are directed to middle-class and lower-income families. The reason for these tax cuts is so that the middle- and lower-income families will have more disposable income in their pockets -- thus, of course, stimulating consumer spending to fuel our economic momentum.
These tax cuts will be very good news to people in Vancouver-Burrard. Vancouver-Burrard is made up primarily of middle-class and lower-income individuals, couples and families who need a break and who will no doubt spend any extra money they receive in the shops and restaurants in our riding.
As a result of these tax cuts, 100,000 low-income British Columbians will no longer pay any provincial income tax at
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all. No provincial income tax whatsoever for 100,000 in this province -- this is very, very important for many in my riding. Remember, hon. Speaker, 85 percent of the residents rent in Vancouver-Burrard. Surely it is made up of middle-class folks, but also many, many lower-income residents. Many seniors, of course, will benefit by these tax cuts and will pay no provincial income tax for the first time -- and many on social assistance, particularly those on medical assistance. Those middle-class wage earners will also benefit from these tax cuts. Now a $60,000-a-year family will pay virtually the same amount of tax as they do in Alberta.
Actually, I'd like to discuss how we fare here in British Columbia when it comes to taxation. If you were to listen to the opposition, of course, you'd think that here in B.C. we were taxed to death in comparison to the rest of the country. That's simply not true. Let me just take a moment to read some figures into the record. This shows quite a different tale than you'll hear from the opposition.
A two-income family of four earning $90,000 will pay a total tax in British Columbia of $23,586. When I say total tax, this includes the provincial income tax, net child benefits, property tax -- both gross and net -- sales tax, fuel tax, provincial direct taxes, health care premiums, payroll tax, total provincial tax, federal income tax and net federal GST. All of those go together to make a family of four earning $90,000 pay $23,586 in B.C. In Quebec you would pay $31,687; in Ontario you'd pay $25,364; in Newfoundland you'd pay $26,597; and in Alberta you would pay $22,588 -- very close to here in British Columbia.
Now, a two-income family of four receiving $55,000 in British Columbia will pay a total tax of $12,889. That compares right across the country as lower taxation, except for Alberta, which is about $300 less. Look at a senior couple with equal pension incomes of, say, $30,000. In B.C. they will pay $4,778; in Ontario $5,274; in Quebec $5,737. In fact, again, right across the country, we are the lowest except for Alberta, and that is by about $400. So you can see that here in British Columbia, our taxes are lower than almost every other province in the country.
Of course, that's good news, and that's in fact why so many people are moving to British Columbia. Obviously we're doing quite well, thanks very much. To boot we're living in the most beautiful province in the most beautiful country -- even though I know there are some Americans here, let me say that we're biased about this -- in the world.
I also want to talk about taxation as it applies to business, because here again, this is very good news for my riding of Vancouver-Burrard. On July 1, British Columbia's small business tax will be reduced from 5.5 percent to 4.75 percent. This is the second-lowest rate in Canada. When we introduced the budget, it was the lowest rate; but since then New Brunswick has decided to dip under us. Still, we have the second-lowest small business tax rate in the country. That's very good news in Vancouver-Burrard, because we have hundreds of small businesses and very few large multinational corporations in that riding.
If there are two things that the business owners have been speaking to me about, it has been to clear the red tape, to let them have some more freedom to make money, and to lower the taxes. As you know, of course, last year we brought together a group -- a business and government committee -- that indeed looked at the red tape and will continue to. We've brought some laws in already, and now we've brought the tax down to 4.75 percent.
In addition to this small business tax relief, there's a new 3 percent investment tax credit that will reduce the cost of new manufacturing and process assets, which will reduce capital costs and thereby encourage investment. We all know that's important -- very important -- to encourage investment. As the economy is moving upwards, of course, investment is coming back to B.C. So it's out of respect for the crucial role of business that these and other initiatives have been taken by the government.
For instance, the high-tech industry is becoming more and more important to British Columbia and more and more important to Vancouver-Burrard, because we have quite a number of high-tech companies in Vancouver-Burrard. As a result of this burgeoning industry, a new B.C. high technology commission is being established to promote our high-tech advantage around the world. Also, to make the industry more competitive, we are going to defer income tax on stock options and lower the tax on capital gains, reducing provincial taxes for the high-tech entrepreneurs. These initiatives, it is hoped, will help keep British Columbia's high-tech firms on the leading edge of the technology revolution.
Another business of great importance to Vancouver-Burrard, of course, is the film industry. It's obviously very important to British Columbia, in that it is a $1-billion-a-year industry. Hardly a day goes by without some kind of film shooting or television shooting in my riding. There is a huge spinoff factor in my riding in catering, restaurants and other small businesses, which comes about by these film crews filming in the riding. This budget continues the existing credits for both the film and the TV production industry to continue. The budget is going to support new regional film offices to ensure that the industry continues to grow.
The budget also provides for expanding ecotourism, one of the fastest-growing areas of our already booming tourist industry. The government is also going to invest $5 million to support green technology research. All of these initiatives are good for the province but very good for Vancouver-Burrard, as we are so directly affected by them.
Now I'd like to shift to health care. Health care is the top priority for most people in Vancouver-Burrard, as it is, of course, for most people in the province. Health care is certainly the number one priority of this government. But people are worried, quite worried, about their health care. Most people have known nothing different than the universal health care system that we are so fortunate to have in this country. Some seniors, though, still remember the for-profit health care prior to Tommy Douglas first initiating what we have now. They don't want to go back to that for-profit health care system.
People are worried, and I believe they should be. There are many in this province who would like nothing better than for for-profit health care to return. We're obviously getting a taste of that in Alberta at the present time, even though hundreds of people are trying to resist it. This government vows that so long as we're in power, there will never be a for-profit health care scheme. But we obviously must find ways of doing things better. Health care costs continue to rise, and yet there always seems more to do.
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This budget increases health care spending for the ninth straight year in a row, even with the federal cuts to the transfer payments. This ninth straight year is going to add $549 million to health care; $24.8 million will be provided to hire up to 600 new nurses, which will be very good for St. Paul's Hospital in my riding of Vancouver-Burrard. And 400 new spaces will create nursing programs at B.C.'s colleges and universities. This will help a great deal with the shortages of nurses that St. Paul's and other hospitals throughout the province are feeling. And $8.4 million will be provided to new continuing-care beds. There will be a total increase of $34.4 million for continuing-care services.
As well, there is a very important new agreement with B.C. doctors of almost $2 billion this year for doctors' services, which means better patient care and an end to the disruption of doctors' services we've had in this province. That will be a great relief to everyone in the riding of Vancouver-Burrard and of course elsewhere.
The budget, I believe, goes a long way to solving some of the problems that we face in health care. We have a way to go, of course, but we are convinced that cutting back like Ontario and Alberta is not the way to go. We are suspicious of their ultimate agenda. They seem set on bringing in for-profit services, which will be the first step in allowing American corporations into this country and into the system. Once established, no doubt under all the free trade agreements we have, they will argue and rule that they must stay no matter what we say about them. Now, the opposition constantly holds up these promises as the ones to emulate. I wonder if they might go the same route, given the chance.
Education is another area in the budget that, once again, gets special attention -- very good news for all college and university students in Vancouver-Burrard, and there are hundreds. Tuition fees for all colleges and universities are frozen for the fifth straight year. What a huge difference that makes to so many students. I've had many of them speak to me about the fact that they would probably not be able to go to university if it had not been for these five years of tuition freezes.
I was thinking about some of the tax cuts that Mr. Harris has so proudly proclaimed and given back. But after his slashing and burning of services, he gives only a few dollars back. That's all gone quickly if you have one or two kids in university. Here in B.C. we have the second-lowest tuition fees in the country. But the universities have been telling us that they've been having some problems in that there hasn't been enough funding for more professors, class sizes, equipment and that sort of thing. So we have put in an additional $85 million to restore core funding. The colleges and the presidents have been making statements of how helpful this item in our budget has been.
There are also going to be 5,025 post-secondary student spaces added -- over 5,000 -- including 800 of those to high-tech spaces. We are increasing the number of students that can go, and we are also increasing the number of teachers; 300 new teachers are to be hired to further reduce the class sizes in K-to-12.
Hon. Speaker, this is the primary thrust of the budget, along with our establishing a day care system. This is brand new; we are just starting on this road. We are putting in $14 million to begin the day care system. Hopefully over the next few years that will expand, and at some point, we will have a day care system where all parents are able to put their child in day care if they need to and not have to pay an arm and a leg as they do now. This obviously affects single parents -- single moms and single fathers -- to a great degree but also many other parents who are on low income. So this is a significant start.
This budget is intended to be a balance. We're not going too far with tax cuts. We're trying to maintain the important social services -- health care, education -- and not slash that. But I have heard opposition members say that we should be balancing this budget immediately: "Balance the budget." Well, I suppose if we wanted to cut out Women's Equality, cut out the Ministry of Environment, cut back in health -- in AIDS funding, maybe protease inhibitors, maybe the Pharmacare plan -- maybe that would balance the budget. Then the opposition wants massive tax cuts. It's almost impossible to do the two things.
We could go down that route and have chosen not to. That's the Klein and Harris route. We've chosen to try to find a balance, because we think -- we know -- that the economy is on the rebound. We have, of course, suffered from the Asian flu for too long, and finally the Asian economies have turned around. Japan and Korea, which we depend so heavily upon, have turned about, and now our economy is turning about. The forest industry is making huge profits again. The high-tech industry is doing very, very well.
We are the most competitive of any city on the west coast, including San Jose, Portland and Seattle. So the economy is turning about -- the film industry, the tourist industry. As that happens, obviously we'll have more and more growth, and this year it's anticipated at 2.5 percent.
Our unemployment is the lowest it's been in over 20 years. That's a pretty good indicator. We're coming about again; all economies are cyclical. We've been through a trough, and we're coming up. As the economy expands, then, I believe we have to deal with deficit and debt. We can't be owned by big banks. We have to move to balancing the budget. We then have to work on the debt; there is no doubt.
But I submit that we would be a lot further down that road today if we had gone for wide-open gambling, as every other province has in this country. Alberta received $650 million from gambling -- and in Ontario, from gambling, over a billion. If we had anything near that, we'd be balancing the budget. Obviously Alberta is dependent on it. There's more money coming in from gambling than from the oil industry.
T. Stevenson: You think it's just losers. I don't think it's just losers. Hon. member, we shouldn't be living off the backs of those people that have these addictions. Talk to your member for Vancouver-Langara; he knows.
We could have gone that route. We could have gone for wide-open gambling, and we would be looking at balanced budgets. But we've chosen not to. From what I hear from most of the opposition, they didn't want wide-open gambling. That's what I heard. They know that's not the route to go, either. But if we don't have those kinds of revenues, then obviously it's going to take longer, particularly when our
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economy was in a trough, to turn this issue of deficits and debt around. But we'll do it, and we'll do it now, because we're coming back and there will be more and more income.
But don't take my word for the fact that the economy is turning around. I see that the Toronto-Dominion Bank senior economist said: "We've seen very compelling evidence that B.C.'s economy has been recovering since the early part of last year. Recently, over the past four to five months, we have seen B.C. consumers jump on the bandwagon. Retail sales have been rising and job markets have been improving."
I certainly know that in my riding of Vancouver-Burrard, the retail sales are definitely up. It is tough for some stores to get employees. You'll see signs out in their shops trying to get employees, and they're tough to find, because there are more and more jobs for people to choose from now.
He goes on to say, "Looking ahead to this year as a whole, we are looking at 3 percent growth, which will be the best growth performance in B.C. since 1994" -- 3 percent growth. Well, I just mentioned 2.5 percent, because I was trying to be conservative. If we have a 3 percent growth, that's going to make a huge difference to our bottom line. I think that we can then turn and look at the deficit situation and turn that about, which is indeed something that this government wants to do and must do in the next few years.
Hon. Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to speak briefly on the budget, and I am very pleased to be able to support the budget.
G. Plant: We are here at the closing hours of the response to the government's budget speech -- the response to the government's budget in a general, broad-brush sense. We're going to, as a Legislature, move soon to the opportunity to debate the particular ministry-by-ministry spending estimates. I think that will provide the opposition with an opportunity to scrutinize the spending plans of each ministry of the Crown. When the government comes into the Legislature with a budget speech, it's really the moment when the government sets out its plan for the coming year and says, in general terms: "Here's the money that we are going to raise from the taxpayers of British Columbia, and here's how we're going to spend it. Here are our priorities as a government." The budget speech is the statement, if you will, of those priorities.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
I want to respond today to two aspects of that statement -- the priorities, if you will. I want to talk a little bit about the emphasis that the government has placed on the fact that the budget is accompanied by a new approach to openness and transparency. That's a point that was emphasized in the budget speech, and it has certainly been a major part of the government's approach to selling this budget to the public.
I also want to talk a little bit about the justice system in British Columbia. I am the opposition critic for the Ministry of Attorney General, and in that capacity I have an opportunity to look at the government's programs and spending in the justice system and to think about that. I want to talk a little about those things.
I represent a constituency which has a large, suburban middle-class population -- people who work hard to feed their families, in a variety of professions and occupations. There's also a wonderful village in the heart of the constituency that I represent called Steveston, which has a commercial component to it in the form of tourism attractions. It is also, of course, the home of a very important fishing industry -- a fishing industry that has sustained a lot of negative pressure, if you will, over the past number of years as the resource becomes scarce and fishermen look increasingly at the question of whether or not they can continue to pursue the way of life that in many cases they were raised to pursue. They begin, in many cases, to move -- to experience transition out of the fishing industry into other industries.
It's a tough time for some of the families in my constituency. It's not really a situation that has any easy answers to it. I did have the opportunity a week or so ago of paying a repeat visit to a seafood auction that now operates on the docks in Steveston. It's a group of folks who have gotten together to see whether there are still different ranges of fish and related species that can be harvested in a way that returns an income to the fishing vessel owners and the workers who work on them. It also supplies a market in the lower mainland and, actually, all up and down the west coast for products that we still can gather from the sea in a way that's economically viable as well as, I hope, environmentally sustainable.
It was actually really exciting to see a group of people who are committed to working to try to keep that industry focused on the future. I think that their project is proving to have some success. I'm sure they have a lot of work ahead of them. But when I left that meeting, I realized they've got two things about them, I suppose, that are not unique to them.
One is that they're operating within constraints that are not of their own making. In this case, it's constraints having to do with the decline in the availability of the resource, but it's also constraints in terms of the cost of doing business. Those constraints arise from the regulatory climate we in this Legislature create when we pass the bills this government has brought into force over the last eight or nine years. The regulatory climate is also created by other governments in other ways, but they have to struggle to find a way to make that business profitable in the face of the adversity, if you will, of those constraints.
Yet they're prepared to do it, because they've got energy and they've got enthusiasm. They have a real commitment to the industry that has sustained their families for generations, in many cases, and a real commitment to the future of that industry. I think that spirit of commitment, that spirit of entrepreneurialism, that desire to create something positive in the future for them and for their families is something many British Columbians -- all British Columbians, I think -- carry with them.
It's not really a spirit that has been given much opportunity to flower over the past eight or nine years of NDP government in British Columbia. In a way, when you see the spirit still at work, when you see the energy of entrepreneurialism still at work, you have to stand back and applaud the willingness of people to still take risks, to still invest, to still commit their time, their energy and their resources to this economy. I know that commitment exists not just in my riding but all over British Columbia.
Those are people -- business people, ordinary families, people who in many cases are on the receiving end of important public services -- who look to their provincial govern-
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ment every year to set out some sort of plan that takes a direction toward the future and will give them an increased sense of hope and optimism that there is something they can look forward to -- that there will be new rules they can work within that will encourage their entrepreneurialism, will encourage their inventiveness and will encourage their commitment. They look to government to set a road map, if you will, that they all can enthusiastically join and participate in.
This year British Columbians were perhaps encouraged to look at this year's budget, as they were encouraged to look at this year's throne speech, with an additional new measure of hope -- because, after all, we have a new Premier. The new Premier has promised a new way of doing the business of government in British Columbia and speaks about change and about charting new directions. When we hear that language, and certainly when we simply experience the change of leadership that we've experienced, some British Columbians probably feel a large sense of hope that just maybe this time there is a government under a new leader that will in fact take this province from where it is to some exciting new place -- or at least show the map for how we're going to get there.
I sat here in this chamber, along with other members on both sides of the House, listening to the budget speech when the Finance minister delivered it -- waiting, hoping, listening for the claim that there was a new direction to be manifested in actual commitments in an actual concrete expression of plans and objectives for new programs that might give those who are hopeful for change some reason to sustain their hope. I didn't really hear anything that gave me the evidence I would need to go to my constituents and say: "Yes, not only do we have a new government, but we have a new government with a new vision -- a real vision, a good vision -- for delivering better government to British Columbia."
What I heard instead -- and this was subtext as well as text -- was a government that's sort of limping its way into the new millennium. I heard a government that is trying to band-aid the bleeding carcass of its public policies and programs with little bits of stickies here and there, which don't do much to change the basic direction -- and, in fact, in some of the most negative ways actually encourage a continuation of a direction that has done nothing but contribute to economic malaise in British Columbia throughout the 1990s and, sadly, a deterioration and decline in the delivery of public services by the provincial government in British Columbia.
[P. Calendino in the chair.]
Not only have we had a government that has taxed us excessively, has regulated business into a position where business people leave the province rather than make their fortunes here
In fact, one of the tragedies of the last decade is that the delivery of public programs and services across a whole range of areas in the provincial government has actually not got better but rather, at best, has maintained a kind of uneasy status quo and in many, many cases has been eroded. It's kind of a peculiar situation. I think part of it has to do with the fairly limited public dialogue that sometimes exists around provincial budgets. We are, I think, as citizens encouraged to sit and listen to a budget speech and to wait for the Minister of Finance of the day to stand up and make promises along the way -- promises about tax cuts or tax increases; promises about revenue measures, to be sure. But when we get to the expenditures side of the ledger, we're conditioned to expect and listen carefully for promises that there will be more spending in particular areas. Sometimes I think that's pretty much the end of the discussion.
Somehow or other, a Minister of Finance can stand up and think that he or she has done their job in terms of improving public service delivery in British Columbia simply by being able to announce that there is more money being spent on a particular program. There was quite a bit of that in this budget speech -- little bits of promises of more money across a wide variety of programs. It occurred to me when I was listening that, really, it is kind of a tired old way -- a pretty ineffective way -- of actually improving the way public services are delivered in British Columbia.
If you were listening to that budget speech and waiting to see if there was in fact a significant change in direction, all you heard about was little bits of money added to a variety of different pots without any sense of commitment to improvement across the board in the way in which services are provided -- without any meaningful commitment, for example, in the budget speech to reinventing and reorienting the way government does business so that we think about a government's programs in terms of objectives and how they achieve or don't achieve their objectives. We can ask whether this particular program, whatever that program is, is a program that government should be delivering, what its objectives should be and whether it is measuring those objectives and achieving them.
When we say, for example, that British Columbia spends more per capita on education than any other jurisdiction wherever, can we then say in the next breath that the result we achieve from that expenditure of funds is better than every other jurisdiction? Or do we find that in fact that's not the case? Or, more alarmingly, do we find that governments and forces within government are actually even resistant to the notion that we should be asking those tough questions about objectives and outcomes?
What I've found is that many people in this government think that the dialogue begins and ends with the statement: "We are spending more than everybody else." They don't actually spend enough time talking about how we spend the money and what we expect to achieve with the money, determining how we're going to measure that achievement and then evaluating that achievement. Are we in fact getting value for money in terms of the enormous dollars that we spend delivering public services to British Columbians?
I think that's a disappointment. It's a disappointment in terms of what this budget delivers. But this budget does include, as I said earlier, a commitment to a new way of reporting the finances of British Columbia. I think the basic commitment is that for once, this government says, it's going to now start telling British Columbians the truth about how it spends its money. This, I'm told, is supposed to be a brave new direction. This is evidence that we have a new government with a wholly new approach to governing. It's going to do something truly startling. It's going to set out on a truly
[ Page 15021 ]
new adventure, a brave new adventure. It's going to actually start to tell British Columbians the truth about how their money is being spent.
After eight or nine years of being in power and apparently not having delivered on that commitment, it's probably a good thing at some level that this government has decided at long last that it will tell the truth to the people of B.C. about how it spends our money. I can't really get all that excited about it. Generally speaking, it seems to me to be one of those things that we shouldn't even have to worry about, but the government thinks it's a big deal. I don't know. Maybe if they're lucky, someone will award the government a hero cookie or give all the members of the NDP caucus a special badge or something for having made this tremendous step forward in public policy of having decided to tell the truth to the people of B.C. about how it's spending our money.
But there's also something kind of depressing when you listen to that message in the context of the whole budget speech. It's sort of like: "Well, gee, we don't really have much good news for the people of B.C. in terms of the condition of the economy or how we as a government are working hard to improve it. We certainly don't have much that's exciting or new or different in terms of how we're spending the taxpayers' money. What we're going to do is deliver a lot of really bad news about how we've spent your money. But give us credit at least for not hiding from that stern reality anymore." If that's the brave new direction that this government has for British Columbians, then I suppose the people of B.C. will have a chance in due course to judge the government on that brave new direction.
It doesn't sound like much of a direction to me. It's sort of a limp-along budget. It's sort of: "Gosh, we're really sorry we've done such a bad job for the last eight or nine years, but please give us credit. We don't have any good ideas for how to make things better. But at least we're going to start telling you the truth about what a bad job we've been doing. Private sector investment may be fleeing the province; the public sector may be the only area where significant in employment is occurring; we may be constantly caught making side deals with public sector unions in order to buy a little peace." These are all the bad-news things. "But please at least give us credit for having decided that we'll tell a little bit more of the truth to the people of B.C. about how we're spending their money."
You know, we do still find that the fight for truth hasn't actually concluded. It's not as though the battle has been won and we can all relax and realize that the government has in fact changed its ways. It seems to me that over the past couple of weeks, we on this side of the House continue to have to ask tough questions about how the government spends money providing legal services to members of the government who require legal advice and in requiring disclosure of the public sector wage accords -- the side deals that this government has made over the past few years with its public sector union friends. I'm sure there's more to come in terms of the need to keep pushing to ensure that we really do start to get the truth, as opposed to a promise of it and a budget that was delivered in a slightly different format than budgets of years past.
When I think about the need for budget transparency and accountability -- a truth-in-budgeting approach -- it seems to me it really speaks to two general credibility problems for this government: one, there's a failure of integrity, and two, there's a failure of accountability. I think British Columbians have been conditioned not to believe what government says about how it's spending their money. But I also think that the people of B.C., sadly, have become conditioned to not expecting any real accountability, in terms of results, for how the government spends our money. If we could make some progress on both those fronts, I think that would be progress in the right direction.
As it happens, I'm a member of a political party that has been urging truth in budgeting for a number of years. I do congratulate the government for having seen the wisdom of this initiative put forward by the members of this side of the House. I wish the government would seek and obtain a bit of wisdom from some of the other ideas we have on this side of the House. If I get a chance, I'll talk about some of those in a minute or two.
I want to talk for a minute or two about my critic area, which is the justice system. As you know, Mr. Speaker, not only is the government's plan for the year found in its budget speech and its budget documents, it's also found in the throne speech delivered at the beginning of every session. Really, it's those two documents together that comprise this sort of complete statement of what the government intends to do over the course of the next year -- the road map, if you will, for the future.
I listened to both the throne speech and the budget speech, and I read the budget documents in search of the government's vision around the justice system. I hasten to admit that I think there is about $20 million in new spending in the Ministry of Attorney General for the fiscal year that we are now embarked upon. In a budget of a billion dollars, that represents a not insignificant increase, but in the scheme of things, it's not a heck of a lot of money, either.
What I think is striking is that in neither the throne speech nor the budget speech nor anywhere, really, in the descriptive budget documents was there any mention of any public policy initiative in the justice system. The justice system as a priority of this government, as an opportunity for showing and stating its priorities, seems to have fallen off the map. It seems to have disappeared from view.
[T. Stevenson in the chair.]
Yes, there are a billion dollars being spent. It's a huge amount of money. But there is no sense from the reading of either the throne speech or the budget speech that the government has any new ideas about the justice system, any new ways of solving the problems that afflict the justice system. They are many and not insignificant. There are problems of access to the courts in the civil justice system, as the price of access has gone up because of court fees. There are problems in terms of the efficiency with which the criminal justice system operates because of delays in the provincial court -- backlogs -- which I submit are still in need of addressing. When there are delays and backlogs in the criminal justice system, people who are brought before that system as persons accused of crimes may find that they get the get-out-of-jail-free card before there is even a trial, because it takes too long and their constitutional right to trial within a reasonable time has been denied.
There are problems of access to justice in relation to legal services for the economically disadvantaged. The Legal Ser-
[ Page 15022 ]
vices Society, the legal aid program, exists to supply answers to those problems, but they have wrestled with funding cutbacks over the last number of years. The government has, by virtue of the taxes it collects, collected more money dedicated for legal aid services than it spends on those services. The government in effect profits from the legal aid system, and the impact of that can be felt all the way through the justice system. People who don't get counsel appointed for them in criminal cases now find they're defending themselves in the criminal justice system or they're looking to criminal court caseworkers. We've been told lately that there are funding issues around criminal court caseworker programs. Families are having difficulty getting access to legal aid in cases where they need to go to court to adjust their maintenance payments.
These problems, I suspect, will always be with us. I don't know that there is ever a perfect system in which you could supply all of the funding you need for everyone who needs legal advice or representation. We've been in the same old box for half a dozen years, most of that time under the lack of leadership of the man who's now Premier, who was the Attorney General. I think it might be reasonable to hear a sense of a new direction from the government on that front. I didn't hear anything. I really didn't hear anything at all about the justice system in this budget. There's money for a few more police officers and a little bit of money for the Organized Crime Agency, and that's it.
There's a long list of program demands, and the answer is not just more. I want to be clear about this: the answer isn't just more. The answer involves looking at the way in which those programs are delivered, asking what it is we hope to achieve by them, setting objectives for them, measuring their achievement in relation to those objectives and then determining whether we're doing the right thing. None of that, it seems to me, was present in front of the government in relation to the justice system as a matter of priority in this budget.
So as a critic of a ministry, I don't find anything in this budget that I can support. As a member of the public of this province looking for new vision, looking for a new way forward, I don't find anything in this budget that I can support. As a resident of Richmond-Steveston, a community that needs the opportunity to set its entrepreneurialism, its ideas and its vision free, I don't see anything in this budget that I can support. It's just the same old, same old: band-aids, limping and, really, a terribly wasted opportunity for the people of British Columbia.
G. Hogg: It is always an honour to rise in this House to represent the people of Surrey-White Rock. That honour is tempered somewhat by the task at hand, tempered by the fact that British Columbians are again facing yet another budget which lacks the hope and vision I believe is necessary to build the confidence and opportunity the people of this province want and indeed need.
Albert Einstein once said that the operational definition of insanity is the practice of doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. We have, in this province through this government, for nine years in a row tried the same solutions, expecting somewhat different results. Nine successive years with the same solutions and the same results: a stagnant economy, deficits and increasing debt. The practices of the nine budgets serve well as operational examples of Einstein's definition of a failure to learn from experience.
This government has not learned from this experience, nor from the experience of other governments all across the free world. For nine years in a row our economic problems have worsened -- from first to worst in GDP per capita in Canada, the lowest investment capital per capita in Canada and the lowest economic forecasts. This government has not learned from experience.
I doubt that the chief financial officers of a company or a non-profit society would have presented such a budget to their board of directors once, let alone nine times. Corporations in the private sector and certain non-profit service providers have managed to continue, and they could not continue with deficits for nine consecutive years. There isn't one which would have continued in that fashion, because corporations and societies in the private sector have to be financially and fiscally responsible, or they in fact don't survive. The province of British Columbia should not be dramatically different.
It is only that a government can delay the time of reckoning for so much longer. That delay means that this government has to increase the deficit to help pay the bills it has racked up for the last number of years. The problems of this province cannot be solved with the same kind of thinking which created them, yet we are applying the failed vestiges of a tax-and-spend dogma again.
Tax and spend your way out of deficits and subsidized failures. This is a model that has failed for nine innings, and the game is coming to an end. The bottom of the ninth, two out, nobody on, behind in the score, and the count is zero and two.
Mr. Speaker, this government's method has a new name, but there is nothing new about the technique or policies or practices. Let me remind this House of the names used in past budgets -- names that were used to describe the process of getting control of the budget, names which resulted only in more of the same, deficit and debt.
There was the debt management plan of 1995. This scheme promised to deliver budget surpluses, to pay down debt, to maintain a good credit rating and to reduce taxpayer-supported debt. There was the financial management plan of 1997. It promised to balance the budget in '97-98, and to reduce taxpayer debt. Then there was the modified financial plan of 1998. The blueprint called for a balanced budget in '99-2000 and a limiting of taxpayer-supported debt. In 1999 the five-year fiscal planning framework promised to balance the budget by 2002-2003 and again to limit taxpayer-supported debt.
S. Hawkins: Did they meet any of those goals?
G. Hogg: They did not meet those goals.
I know it isn't 2002 yet, but the record of the past does not engendered confidence in the future. A rose by any other name still smells as sweet, yet it seems that with this government a debt plan by any other name still creates red ink. Ultimately, the successful implementation of any plan hinges on personal integrity and a commitment to the governing principles that they apply, and how those applications fit in every situation. The past plans of this government have lacked the necessary commitment to such principles.
[ Page 15023 ]
Michelangelo warned us that we should not fear setting our goals too high and failing to attain them but that we should fear setting our goals too low and reaching them. This government has set its goals too low and has still failed to meet them.
I'd like to take a look at what the government refers to in this budget as the new law -- the opening up of the books. It's a wonderful title, and it describes groundbreaking legislation to provide British Columbians with accountability and transparency in financial matters concerning the province. The Finance minister, in his speech of March 27, said that this new law "means big changes for budget-making in B.C., and it sets the highest standard for budget openness in Canada." It makes explicit that which should go unwritten -- the issue of honesty and truth.
We all know it's not laws that make people honest. If they did, crime and security wouldn't be an issue. No, it's the integrity, substance and moral fibre of people that ensures honesty. The Minister of Finance outlined in his budget the fiscal record of his government.
I have played a lot of sports. I have made reference to baseball. One thing that successful athletes do is play toward their strengths and away from their weaknesses. Playing to your weaknesses and away from your strengths is a recipe for failure. It is also, ironically, the recipe which this budget employs.
Fiscal record. You would think the minister would have wanted to slip this one in a little later than on page 3. The fiscal record of this government is a weakness, and a weakness which I would have thought it would have wanted to play away from. The Finance minister also says: "The buck stops here." The buck has been stopped here in B.C. for quite some time, and that is not a source of pride. One of the few movements of our buck of late has been out of British Columbia. Budget 2000 is a lost opportunity for B.C., and it won't stop the buck from leaving.
Opportunities are abundant all over the world, and we have to compete in a global economy that takes no prisoners and a world with fewer and fewer boundaries. Many Canadian provinces are relishing in economic and social good times because their governments have the right kind of competitive business sense combined with a sense of compassion for their citizens. We must learn from experience. We must retool and get ready to compete at a high level with the rest of Canada and indeed, with the world.
We just have to look around to find that there are lots of examples. We can look at the opportunities that are on our doorstep and recognize that those opportunities often refuse to cross into our province, because they know from the experience of others that they will not be treated as welcome contributors to our employment, our economy and our general well-being.
Opportunities in the high-tech industry could be made much greater. Opportunities in small enterprise and in all sizes of businesses would flock to the west coast of Canada if it were not for the practices and policies of this government. Business, technology and industry would flood the B.C. market because of B.C.'s people and their expertise. Instead, many stay away, or they leave this province for regions that have more welcoming environments -- environments that assist and support people and progress. This budget does little to change that, little to spawn hope, prosperity or optimism in our future.
Budget 2000 unfortunately sustains the status quo in this province. People and businesses will continue to leave. Established businesses will continue to stay away, and potential businesses that could be developed from within British Columbia will remain dormant in their current state of hibernation.
The people and businesses of B.C. were looking to this government for a strategy, a stimulus -- for growth. They were looking for a shimmer of hope, an opportunity to grow, maybe even to thrive. Instead, they received more deficits and more debt and have suffered more scandals and more mismanagement of an economy that has the potential to lead the world. Sadly, we have an economy that seems to struggle and have trouble keeping up.
We must breathe life back into our expiring economy. The government had this opportunity. They could have dramatically cut taxes and facilitated economic growth. They did some tinkering, but B.C. needs an overhaul. Tinkering is an ineffective attempt at contemporary economic management -- $20 million of relief in a $114 billion economy. The aphorism "a drop in the bucket" may be hyperbole.
The Minister of Finance actually said it himself. He said that the direction of government should be to cut taxes to fuel our economic momentum and to control the deficit. He said it, but he did not implement it. Instead, we have Budget 2000. The tax cuts that provide most families with $50 to $100 are not the cuts necessary to stimulate our economy. Certainly the $3 billion that has been added to taxpayer-supported debt can't be the government's idea of controlling the deficit.
British Columbia's economy needs repair. This government and its policies have continued to stifle the economy with a series of poor decisions, irresponsible public spending incentives and business ventures. Now this government would have British Columbia believe that this budget sets a new, modern direction for the economy. This budget is old news. It's the same bus on the same road, with a new driver, the same passengers and the same destination. This budget failed to take the opportunity it had to modernize, to adapt and to learn.
Labour governments all over the world have seen the light, while the economy in B.C. has only seen red -- a red light caused by red ink. Governments in Great Britain and Germany have now realized that their old approaches -- approaches of increased debt and deficit -- have tended to create a stagnant economy. Those governments have changed and moved toward more progressive economic philosophies that work for today -- and it does work. The evidence is overwhelming. Tax cuts, followed by the implementation of a philosophy of free enterprise, allow an economy to operate at full capacity. We must create wealth before we can distribute it, before we have the resources necessary to provide for and expand our social programs.
Instead, we in B.C. have an underachieving economy. Instead, we wallow in redundant attempts to effect change. Instead, we wallow while people suffer. I'm sure this government has had more than one explanation of the impact of a significant tax cut. They have chosen not to apply the principles of those explanations. A significant tax cut is one that will allow an individual to make significant investment in their own future. A significant tax break would allow people to save for their children's education, to invest in a small busi-
[ Page 15024 ]
ness or improve their living conditions. That's what we can offer to British Columbians through tax cuts. This government's ideas of tax cuts, the extra fill-up at the gas station or maybe a dinner out to ease some of the pain of the economic doldrums, are not sufficient to generate the change. This government has not given the tax breaks or, at least, will not make the tax breaks that would make the essential difference, which our economy and our residents require.
One of my areas of concern is education. Along with most British Columbians, I am deeply saddened by the deteriorating state of affairs which occurs as we centralize decision-making. The Minister of Finance has said that the quality of education we offer our children and our youth is not just an investment in our future, it's the surest sign of our faith in that future. We believe that our kids deserve the best learning environment possible.
I trust that that is not what this government had in mind when our children were held ransom to the labour dispute between BCPSEA and CUPE. The best learning environment was not found outside of our schools, in shopping malls and temporary day care facilities, but that was what was offered to our children for a week. What we have witnessed truly emphasizes the government's priority with regard to education. The government, time after time, refused to agree that education is an essential service. The children and their parents suffered educationally and economically. In the one agreement that the government must live up to, the agreement with our children and our future, they blinked. The rhetoric regarding children and their education seems hollow in light of this experience.
The government insists that Budget 2000 is a new and innovative direction for this government. I couldn't help but overhear the Minister of Employment and Investment the other day. He talked about how we on this side of the House have nothing to say but doom and gloom, year after year after year. I believe there's some truth in what he says. We have complained year after year, and we have complained with what we believe are justifiable reasons. We have debt, deficit, a pathetic credit rating and no specific plan to turn that around. So yes, I stand on this side of the House and disagree with the government's policy once again.
There's not a lot to cheer about. During Harry Truman's tenure, a citizen yelled, "Give 'em hell, Harry," and Harry responded that he just had to tell the truth, and they thought that it was hell. The Minister of Investment and Employment says all we on this side of the House espouse is doom and gloom. Well, to paraphrase Truman's famous words, we're just telling the truth, and he thinks it's doom and gloom.
People of Surrey-White Rock continue to face many pressing issues which are not dealt with or referred to in this budget. Non-profit societies such as the Peace Arch Community Services feel as though they have been under attack. Legislation and policy have forced them to reduce many much-needed services and to examine their viability in an environment which has at times seemed hostile to volunteers and non-profit service providers. For them, no solace was found in this budget.
Many residents of Surrey-White Rock have suffered the personal and financial hardships of leaky condominiums. They have watched and waited through two inquiries. They have begged for leadership and direction. For them, no solace was found in this budget.
Many residents of Surrey-White Rock were excited by the directions announced in the mental health plan two short years ago. The plan was to come to life with a new budget of $150 million, but only $10 million of those dollars have come forward. For them, no solace was found in this budget.
We have been told that food bank usage is an indicator of the performance of our economy and our social safety net. If that is true, then the numbers using the food bank, which have risen in Surrey-White Rock from 1,671 in February of last year to 2,085 this February, provide a sad commentary on our economy and our social safety net. For these people, the budget provides little solace.
The increasing waiting lists for surgery at Peace Arch District Hospital and its crowded hallways are a barometer of ill weather. We need change. We need leadership. We need specific hope. This budget has provided little of these.
Independent schools, which have since 1997 always received the same operating percentage increase in their budget as the public schools, this year receive less than half the public school percentage increase. For them, this budget signals change, a change in principle which they believe could lead to their demise. For them, this budget forebodes doom and gloom.
I hope this government has not lapsed into a quixotic denial of facts. One of my favourite vignettes is a Cervantes vignette from Man of La Mancha. Don Quixote is in a tavern with Dulcinea and Sancho Panza. The tavern owner approaches him, and he says to Don Quixote: "You know, Don, you're deluded. The fact is, Dulcinea is not a fair princess; she's just a barmaid. And the fact is that Sancho Panza is not a squire; he's just a silly drunk. And the fact is, those are not dragons that you tilt after. Those are just windmills." And Don Quixote, in romantic denial, responds by saying: "Facts, facts. They always get in the way of the truth." I fear that this government has not learned from the facts, has not learned from the experience here or abroad and thus this year has once again fallen victim to quixotic folly.
The government insists that this budget is transparent. The government is correct on one point: the budget is largely transparent. The transparency of this budget allows the public to see that this government has been unable or unwilling to develop a vision and a comprehensive strategy to improve the conditions for British Columbians. This plan is not new. It's not terribly innovative. It is instead very much of the same.
British Columbians don't want more of the same. British Columbians want better schools and better jobs. They want increased spending powers. They want better lives. Most importantly, they want responsible, accountable government. This budget does not go far enough to addressing these wants and these needs.
With this budget it seems that this government has done perhaps the unthinkable: it seems to have given up on British Columbians. Now it seems that British Columbians have in some ways given up on this government. This government seems to have realized that they do not have the answers to offer British Columbians. They don't have the plan, the hope or the vision. This government has tabled a budget that shows little faith in the power and ability of British Columbians -- their ability to develop a better way for themselves. This budget shows that the government has run out of options and is now running out of time. British Columbians want oppor-
[ Page 15025 ]
tunities to realize their dreams. They want opportunities to live in a province which understands and supports them with contemporary and beneficial ideas -- ideas which will give them the opportunity to create a progressive environment, a chance to work hard and to get ahead, and a chance to be supported for their interests and their efforts. This budget does not provide this province with what it really needs: a chance to heal.
This province needs a chance to heal in economic ways, in emotional ways, in social ways. It needs a chance to feel good about itself and to grow. That chance, that day, will come. But it is not found within this budget.
Hon. M. Farnworth: I've listened with interest to the statements of the opposition. You know what's interesting?
K. Krueger: It's $3 billion in interest.
Hon. M. Farnworth: The member for Kamloops-North Thompson's booming voice echoes across the chamber to perpetuate the big lie of the opposition: the denial they talk about, the denial that exists in the province, as they call it, the denial of the government. Well, really, the denial is on that side of the House -- on an opposition side of the House -- that chooses to deny every day the true state of taxation in this province, which they like to rail against. You know, they constantly harp that in British Columbia the taxes have gone up and that we have increased spending. Well, taxes have not gone up; taxes have been cut.
Hon. M. Farnworth: Thank you, hon. Speaker, and thank you, hon. member, for those comments. I'd like to draw his attention
I'd like to draw their attention to what would be a typical family in my constituency, earning about $58,000 a year. I'll draw on tax tables that have been compiled and look at exactly what you do pay in British Columbia in terms of total provincial tax. A two-income family of four typical of my constituency, Port Coquitlam, earning $55,000 a year will pay $5,829 in provincial tax. In Alberta, they'll pay $5,291, a little lower; in Saskatchewan, $7,211; in Manitoba, $8,065; in Ontario, $7,474. Now, let's just remember that B.C. is at $5,800; it's what you pay. In Ontario you're paying $7,400, a significantly higher rate than what you're paying here in British Columbia; in Quebec, $9,952; in New Brunswick, $6,196; in Nova Scotia, $6,453.
The member can shake his head all he wants, but those are the facts -- the truth and only the facts. The fact of the matter is that a typical family in this province pays the second-lowest taxes of any province in the country. You may not like it, hon. member, but that's the way it is.
Hon. M. Farnworth: The member says: "Only if they've got a job." Well, we've got the lowest unemployment in this province in the last 18 years. They don't want to acknowledge that.
Hon. M. Farnworth: Hon. Speaker, that member never ceases to amaze me. He doesn't want to talk about Canada or other provinces and how British Columbia has got the lowest unemployment in 18 years. He wants to look at the United States. But that doesn't surprise me, because his whole agenda -- his party's whole agenda -- is basically importing what you do in the United States to here. So I guess what it means is that he wants U.S. economic policies. And you'd like U.S. health care policies here, wouldn't you? You'd like U.S.-style health care policies, wouldn't you?
Deputy Speaker: Through the Speaker, please.
Hon. M. Farnworth: Hon. Speaker, we reject a U.S.-style economic system that sees 25 or 15 percent of its population not covered by health care. We see a rejection of a U.S.-style economic system that restricts the rights of workers to organize or that results in areas of jurisdiction where there is no minimum wage.
Hon. M. Farnworth: Oh, he wants to talk about debt. You know, the state of Massachusetts is doing a public works project -- think of that, hon. members, a public works project -- that means government expenditure of some $10 billion (U.S.) to deal with the transportation problems in the city of Boston -- $10 billion. They recognize in a number of jurisdictions the importance of investing in infrastructure; so does this side of the House.
It never ceases to amaze me that they stand up and they criticize taxes, when the truth is that we've got the second-lowest taxes in the country. They stand up and they criticize the increase in debt, but when it comes to spending in their own ridings, when it comes to their handout and the "Gimme, gimme, gimme; spend, spend, spend. I want more money in my constituency," that member and every other member on that side of the House are first up to the trough.
Hon. M. Farnworth: Oh, and the member raises Skeena Cellulose. My God, hon. Speaker, can you believe this? They wanted us to dump Skeena Cellulose. They wanted us to penalize the entire northwest region of British Columbia -- for what? Because they couldn't see beyond the end of their noses -- the shortsighted politics that somehow Skeena Cellulose should be shut down and closed, an entire community thrown out of work, just so they can make some cheap political points down here.
You know, at their own convention the Liberal riding associations from northwestern British Columbia who work in those communities were saying: "The government should save Skeena Cellulose. It needs to step in." And what's the situation with Skeena Cellulose today? It's making money. My God, imagine the unique thing of going in, stabilizing a mill and putting it on a sound financial footing so that it starts to make money, and the lifeblood of a community is protected. They don't want to do that.
Instead, what they want to say is: "Balance the budget, and eliminate the debt." But at the same time, they don't want
[ Page 15026 ]
to recognize that there's a cost to that. They don't want to recognize that in order to balance the budget there have to be choices made in areas of spending. Unfortunately, every time we get past the budget, what do they want to do? They want to know why the government isn't spending more on health care. Why isn't the government spending more on education? Why isn't the government spending more on social services? Yet they say: "Oh, we've got to balance the budget." Well, those three areas account for over 75 percent of provincial government expenditures.
Hon. M. Farnworth: And the hon. member says: "We'd balance the budget." We're moving to balancing the budget, and we are getting there in a responsible manner.
You know what, hon. Speaker? What's really interesting about the hon. members opposite is that they're calling here to balance the budget, and they criticize the government for not balancing the budget. But when pressed, when their leader is pressed in a scrum, when they're questioned and when they're put under the gun -- "Where would you cut? How would you balance the budget?" -- they go: "Oh, wait a second. We couldn't balance it if we were in government either." They go: "It would take us at least three years to balance the budget." So you know what, hon. Speaker? They talk a good game, but when push comes to shove, they don't have the jam.
I'd like to go back to the tax tables a minute, because there's something else we need to look at. We need to look at other income rates in the province, because they like to dwell on the fact that high taxes are driving British Columbians out of the province. Well, let's look at some other income levels in the province. Let's say you're a two-income family earning $90,000.
An Hon. Member: Who wrote that?
Hon. M. Farnworth: Let's see. These are the tax tables combined by the Ministry of Finance, and they're prepared independently through the bureaucracy. They combine; they look at everything, hon. member. They look at every component of your tax bill. And guess what. Let's go to a two-income family of $90,000. The total provincial tax bill in British Columbia is $9,415. In Alberta it's $8,309; in Saskatchewan it's $11,712; in Manitoba it's $13,602; in Ontario it's $11,126, compared to $9,400 in B.C. Imagine that! In Ontario under Mike Harris, after all the tax cuts they've done, it's still $11,126 compared to $9,400 here in British Columbia.
Now, in Quebec it's $17,645; my God, that's $8,000 more. In New Brunswick it's $10,635. In Nova Scotia it's $10,732. I know this is painful for the hon. members, but I'll continue. In Prince Edward Island it's $10,649, and in Newfoundland it's $12,475. Once again, a two-income family, $90,000 of income -- the second lowest taxes in the country.
Who is in denial? Is it this side of the House, which recognizes a responsible approach by cutting taxes gradually so that we can maintain health care and education spending, or is it that side of the House, which perpetuates the myth and misleads the people about the true state of taxation in this province? Or is it that their only concern about taxation is for the wealthy in the province? Let's go and look there, because one would expect there might be some challenges there.
We've seen how regular families pay the second-lowest taxes in the country, and I have given a couple of examples. Let's go to an unattached individual that has no family deductions, a single person making $80,000 a year. Let's look at the provincial tax rates across the country. That person in B.C. would pay $10,659; in Alberta, $8,852 -- yes, they are slightly lower there; in Saskatchewan, $13,372; in Manitoba, $14,667. In Ontario, oh, you know, I thought that's where Mike Harris's tax cuts have been geared to the rich, so you would expect maybe they might be paying slightly less than they do here in B.C., because we are such a high-taxed jurisdiction, but no, it's $12,558. Even the wealthy in Ontario pay $1,900 more on average than they do here in British Columbia.
My God, what is going on? There is something wrong here. B.C. is lower than Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario. Gee, let's see what's happening in Quebec. Maybe they're higher in Quebec. Gosh, no, we're lower than Quebec too. In Quebec they pay $19,046; in New Brunswick, $11,826; in Nova Scotia, $11,871; in Prince Edward Island, $12,305; and in Newfoundland, $14,030 -- compared to $10,650 here in B.C. There's something wrong. We're paying the second lowest taxes again.
My God, they haven't got it right -- and I thought the opposition always had it right. You've been caught up in your own myth; you've been caught up in your own rhetoric. Check the facts -- the second-lowest taxes of any province in Canada. Wake up and smell the coffee.
The message of the government is a responsible approach to tax reduction. We have the second-lowest small business tax in the country. We've cut it from where it was up around 9 percent to 43/4 percent, and that's been on the go for the last number of years. We've cut it each year and have made significant efforts in the budget to help small business.
[The Speaker in the chair.]
At the same time, we've recognized the importance that people place on health care, education and social services. In health care in the budget there's funding for more than 400 new nurses, which is one of the key areas of concern. We've increased health care spending by 7.1 percent, for a total of $8.3 billion. We have the second-highest funding of health care per capita of any province in the country. Education and tuition fees are frozen. We've watched the participation rate in this province go from the second lowest in Canada to the second highest. That's because post-secondary education is now accessible, it is more affordable, and we've created more spaces than ever before. In terms of education, we've reduced class size in the K-to-3 section so that more teachers have been hired, and a smaller class size means that more time can be spent by teachers with students. Those have been the priorities of government.
We've done it in the face of cutbacks, in particular with health care, where the partnership of 50-50 that medicare was founded upon has been reduced to 85 percent being borne by the province and 15 percent being picked up by the federal government. We can't continue at that level. We need help from the federal government, and we're willing to work with them to make that happen. But until that happens -- and I'm
[ Page 15027 ]
optimistic that it will -- we're ensuring that we fund health care in this province, that we can deliver the type and quality of health care that the people of British Columbia expect. That's what this budget is about; it's about a balanced approach.
The opposition can stand up, as oppositions do -- it doesn't matter whether it's this province or any province -- and say: "The government's priorities are wrong; we will do it much better." But the fact of the matter is: if you cut taxes and say you're going to balance the budget, then you have to cut expenditures and services. It's that simple. And you have to say where those cuts are going to come. When over 70 percent of the budget is spent on health care and education, you are misleading yourselves and misleading the public if you are saying that those cuts will come from anywhere but health care and education. You could eliminate a half-dozen ministries, and that wouldn't even amount to the increase that ministries such as Health or Education get on an annual basis.
The opposition has a duty to come clean and say where it would cut. What programs in education would they eliminate? What hospitals would they close? What cuts would they make to health care? Or is their agenda to follow Ralph Klein on Bill 11 and have private health care in the province of British Columbia -- privatize the health care system?
We've heard one side of their platform, and that is that they want to sell off the Crown corporations to give significant tax cuts to big business and to the wealthy. If you're selling off your Crown corporations to pay for that tax break, that tax break isn't going to balance the budget, and it isn't going to reduce the deficit. According to them, the sale of the Crown corporations will pay for tax cuts to big business and the wealthy.
We've already seen how we've got the second-lowest tax rates of any province in the country, so my question becomes
That still leaves us with: "Where's the deficit?" If they're not going to reduce it, say so. But if they are going to reduce it, then tell us where the cuts are going to come -- because there will be cuts, and you know it. Every other jurisdiction in this country faces the same challenge, in terms of meeting the deficit challenge, and it's done on cuts to services. It's been that way in every province. If they want to balance the budget in the way they're saying, come clean and tell British Columbians how you're going to do it, because they deserve to have the answer.
When you do that, hon. member -- and I won't hold my breath -- I will be ready and more than happy to go to the polls with you on a platform that shows exactly what the truth is in terms of what tax rates really are, what your constituents really are paying in terms of taxes and what my constituents are paying in terms of taxes. The rhetoric and the information coming from the opposition bear no relation to what the reality is, which, as I said a moment ago, is what the tax tables really say.
Just before I wind up my remarks, hon. Speaker, I want to go back and have another look, just to once more instil in the opposition, if I can, exactly the situation in terms of taxes. Let's go to seniors. Let's look at a typical family of seniors in my riding that exists on, let's say, equal pension incomes of $30,000. Let's see what they will pay in provincial taxes -- and I think, again, it will be quite enlightening.
In British Columbia seniors with a pension of $30,000 will pay $2,874 in provincial income tax; that's total provincial tax. In Alberta they will pay $2,357. So for the privilege of living in Calgary in minus-20-degree weather and having snow from October till July, you will pay $500 more than you will in British Columbia. In Saskatchewan you will pay $3,835; in Manitoba you will pay $3,106. In Ontario -- the land of tax cuts, according to Mike Harris -- you will pay $3,386, compared to $2,874 in British Columbia. In Quebec you will pay $3,855, compared to $2,874 here in British Columbia. In New Brunswick you will pay $3,114. In Nova Scotia you will pay $3,459; in Prince Edward Island, $3,264; in Newfoundland, $3,107. In every single case but one -- remember that, hon. members -- the provincial taxes are higher in nine out of ten provinces than they are here in British Columbia. That's been the record of this government, and that's why this budget is worth supporting. That's why we will continue to deliver the services that British Columbians expect in health care and education and why we will continue to maintain the second-lowest rate of personal taxes in the country.
The Speaker: Thank you, minister.
I want to remind all members to put their comments through the Chair.
M. Sihota: With that comment in mind, hon. Chair, let me make a few comments. You know, this is one speech in the Legislature that I always enjoy making. After all, it's one where you can speak your mind and speak to the things that you think are important, without the sort of constraints that exist under our rules with regard to legislation and some of the parameters that are placed when we're dealing with bills before the House.
So I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk a little bit about change and some of the changes which I think we ought to, as members of this Legislature
In all fairness, at this time we have before the Legislature some bills that hope to do that. But we can't forget that, of course, we have to balance our economic capacity with the social needs of British Columbians. It seems to me that if members opposite and on this side of the House want to talk about some of the changes we want to bring forward in the way in which we report our activity from a fiscal point of view, perhaps we should not only give some thought to just providing some economic parameters for reporting the activities of the Legislature and the business of British Colum-
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bia but also talk a little bit about the social parameters that have to come into play and perhaps about legislating some of those social parameters.
One the debates that got lost during the constitutional negotiations that were taking place in this country some time ago was an idea that came from former Premier Rae in Ontario with regards to the establishment of a social bill of rights. It seems to me that it might be opportune for this House to talk a little bit about a bill, legislation, that guarantees certain social rights to British Columbians and provides them with a range of social protection so that no matter who's in power, economic and budget policy must take into account a range of social objectives on the part of government.
It would seem to me that a social bill of rights in this province could do a number of things in terms of achieving and protecting the social rights of British Columbians. For example, in my mind it would be interesting to have a social bill of rights which mandates government year in and year out to increase the minimum wage, at the minimum rate of inflation. I know the members opposite don't pay much homage or express much interest in issues relating to the minimum wage. But I know that in my riding, working people, working families, know that they need increases in the minimum wage from time to time to help them deal with the financial hardships that they experience -- to help them make it, as I often put it, from paycheque to paycheque. I think that as a matter of law, there should be a social bill of rights in this province that says that the minimum wage should, at the minimum, be increased at the rate of inflation.
Welfare rates in this province have not increased since 1992. I think that's wrong. I think there should be a legislative requirement for government to increase welfare rates, at the minimum, at the rate of inflation year in and year out. If you want to have, on one hand, legislation -- as the opposition would suggest -- relating to economic parameters, certainly that should be a social parameter, an indication of a society and a legislature that cares for people and the provision of a legal requirement to have a minimum increase in welfare rates.
Perhaps there should be a social guarantee in this province that education funding, at the minimum, should be in the neighbourhood of $6,300 per student -- that a baseline be established by law against which no government could fund at a lower rate than that base. Think what that would mean, hon. Speaker. That would oblige all future governments in this Legislature to provide a level of funding for education that is equal to what is being provided by this government today in perpetuity. Certainly there is some merit in terms of moving in that regard to ensure that British Columbians will always have a level of funding for education that meets the needs of children.
Perhaps there should be a commitment through a social bill of rights in this province to provide housing at a guaranteed level to certain British Columbians -- in other words, a commitment to provide 600 units of social housing every year, year in and year out, so that those British Columbians who are looking for affordable and safe housing know that there will be a continuous flow of about 600 units of housing per year coming into the marketplace and know that their interests will be protected and that form of social protection will be provided through provisions in legislation.
Perhaps a social bill of rights in this province should mandate governments to maintain a certain level of per-capita funding for health care such that the province must maintain -- to use an example -- on a per-capita basis, as a minimum, the average of the provinces of Ontario, Alberta and Quebec -- to use the three provinces that are next in size to British Columbia -- so that at no point can British Columbians see a diminishment in funding that is below that average.
Similarly, it would make sense, in my view, to do the same with regards to tuition fees and use that averaging of funding in the same way. All I'm trying to get is that I think there is not a sufficient debate in this province with regard to protecting the social rights of British Columbians. We talk about the economic challenges that are faced by government, but we seldom talk about legislating social rights. It seems to me that perhaps it's opportune at this point to throw out the idea of establishing a social bill of rights for this province.
Of course, legislation is but one vehicle for government to bring forward change that improves the quality of life of British Columbians. There are other ways in which we can make sure that things that are important to the people of British Columbia are, by law, mandated and acted upon by government.
We have in this province a referendum act which has been seldom used. It seems to me that it's an underutilized vehicle to bring about certain types of changes in society. For example, it seems to me that it would be appropriate for government to consider, in the upcoming provincial election -- which is, I guess, at the most a year away -- looking at a referendum on a wide range of issues that in many ways have the ability to pit British Columbians against one another but perhaps, if put to referendum, through the utilization of that vehicle, could help bring some finality to the kinds of debates that would otherwise occur both in this chamber and outside.
For example, I've suggested to some that we should take a look at pay equity and the imposition of pay equity in the private sector, through a referendum process, so that all citizens of British Columbia in the run-up to the next provincial election can have a say in the establishment of a pay equity policy and decide whether or not indeed it should be extended to the private sector -- a very controversial issue in Ontario some time ago. The Premier has indicated no desire to move on this front at this time. But certainly through a referendum process I think it would be welcome to hear the views of British Columbians and let them decide on whether or not we should attend, on a very complex issue, to providing pay equity in the private sector.
What about the issue of proportional representation? Perhaps it's an issue whose time has come. Perhaps one way to test whether or not the structure of this chamber should be changed to move to a system of proportional representation should be through a referendum process. Why not consider the prospect of placing before British Columbians an opportunity for them to decide whether or not they think the system that is in place now ought to be replaced with a different system? My view is, based on my experience in this chamber the last 14 years, that perhaps it's an idea whose time has come.
Perhaps when I listen to members of the opposition, who often talk about some changes in terms of labour legislation
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tion towards the public. But perhaps certain basic issues should be sent to referendum so as to bring about finality once and for all. The issue of replacement workers
Perhaps the issue of parks and the allocation of percentages, whether it's 12 percent, 14 percent, 16 percent -- whatever the number in terms of what society would like to achieve
There are some changes in terms of how work is conducted in this chamber that ought to be considered as well. In that regard, I'm sure the opposition would welcome a longer question period. It seems to me that it would make sense to move towards a longer question period in this province. Perhaps we should take a look at the way in which we deal with the estimates process. I know there are some discussions underway in that regard, but I think they are tedious and often meaningless. A better approach would be perhaps to allow estimates to be conducted over the course of a year through legislative committees, but with the opportunity for those committees to call witnesses -- particularly, as once was discussed, through deputy ministers or the financial ADMs for a particular ministry coming forward.
Of course, it seems to me that, given some of the commentary we hear around increases in debt, it would be worthwhile for a change to occur in the way this chamber functions and to deal with issues of debt by vote, so that all members of the House pass judgment on questions of debt and so the members opposite can't have their cake and eat it too -- be critical of government's efforts to increase debt on the one hand and on the other hand ask for their favourite project in their constituency to be funded. Perhaps each school, each hospital, each road project being funded by government should be put to a vote here. All members, both on this side and the other, could take responsibility for the incurring of debt and the size of it and be able to explain why it is that they support or oppose particular projects, whether it's in their constituency or in their neighbouring constituencies or the constituencies of their colleagues.
My point in raising these options is to say that perhaps it's time to consider looking at some of these types of changes -- better use of referendum legislation, changes in the way in which the Legislature is elected, changes in the way in which the Legislature functions, a social bill of rights -- together with the economic-transparency legislation that is currently before the Legislature.
In the few minutes I have left, I also want to take a few minutes to talk a bit about our government and some of the things we've been able to accomplish for the people of British Columbia. It is interesting that day in and day out, we hear a whole range of criticisms directed towards this government. I think that all too often, some of the things we've been able to achieve as a government are lost both on the public and on members of the Legislature. I know that just last Thursday in the House of Commons, the Nisga'a legislation was passed and proclaimed. It made its way through the House of Commons to the Senate -- a historic occasion. I know that many of us in this chamber celebrated the passage of that legislation. Many of us take pride in being associated with a government that brought forward that initiative.
It must have felt awkward for the members opposite to feel as isolated as I think they appeared, when indeed the whole province took some pleasure in the passage of that legislation. Representing a minority group in society, the members opposite are proceeding now with their legal challenge against that. When we go to the hustings, I think it's important for us to remind the people of British Columbia what we've been able to accomplish in that regard, in terms of the Nisga'a legislation and the way in which we ushered in a new era at the beginning of the new millennium -- a new relationship with aboriginal people. I think that people will be able to work off that precedent and acknowledge that there are ways in which we can resolve those issues without the confrontation that we see in other parts of the province.
As a government, we have brought forward a freeze in tuition fees. You know, there are different ways to measure the success of a particular government. Some have focused in on economic parameters of success, and I'll come to that in a few minutes. But I also think that one way to measure the progress of a government is to see what kind of social gains have been provided for the people of British Columbia. In the time that we've had the opportunity to serve in this Legislature since the last election, we have moved from the second-worst participation rate for post-secondary education to the second-highest in the country. That's something to be proud of. It's a measurement of a government's commitment. It is our way of showing our commitment to the future of this province, building a foundation that gives our young people in this province the skills necessary to meet the market niches of tomorrow.
I don't often see members opposite clapping and supporting the government's initiatives in terms of the tuition freeze. In fact, I often hear them being critical of it. But the fact remains that we have now moved to the second-highest participation rate. I think that's a reflection of how far we've been able to move society, and it's a different form of measuring the success of government.
One of the ways in which people achieve success on the educational side is by upgrading their skills. Again in that regard, the initiative we brought forward as a government to make tuition free for people who require adult basic education in order to advance in terms of their career choices
As a government, over the last four years we have reduced class size for kindergarten-to-grade-12 -- again, an
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accomplishment that isn't found anywhere else in this country with any other government. Those on the Right may want to criticize our government for some of the fiscal decisions that we've made, but I'd far rather run a deficit and defend it on the basis that we have reduced class size than try to balance the books on the backs of children and our education system. We hired an additional 1,000 teachers, started to eliminate portables in schools and provided more facilities. But most importantly, we reduced the class-size ratio in kindergarten-to-grade-3 so that those children in the formative years of their educational experience get the attention they require to build the foundation they need to be both successful and confident in the future.
But it isn't just in education or aboriginal affairs that we've done well as a government. Take, for example, the work that we've done in the environment. Members opposite and many members of the public seldom comment on the kinds of initiatives that we've taken to create more parks in British Columbia. Take, for example, that one park alone, the size of the entire province of Nova Scotia, was created during the course of the mandate of this administration.
All of these social initiatives came at a time when our province went through a period of remarkable economic turbulence. We saw an unprecedented fall in the markets in Asia, which had a consequent effect on this province. After all, about a third of all our trade as a province is with Asia. When Asia gets the flu, we feel the chill over here in British Columbia. We saw it in the reduction of revenues, and our economy went through a period of turbulence. Take a look at what we've been able to do over the last four years in terms of turning around the economic performance of this province. We recognize that in order to deal with the downturn in our economy, we had to take proactive steps both to diversify our economy and to keep whole those sectors of our economy that have traditionally been the basis of our economic strength.
We reduced stumpage rates by about $600 million to give the forest industry the breathing room that it required. We made changes to the Forest Practices Code in order to streamline activity to give the industry the ability to digest the changes without sacrificing the environmental standards that we so passionately hold as a government. Through these and other initiatives on the forest side, we saw the forest industry, which still contributes about 50 cents for every dollar of economic activity generated in this province, go through a period where it was on the verge of collapse to where we're now seeing a healthy return in terms of profits and stability in that industry.
We also recognized the importance of diversifying our economy as we went through this period of turbulence. We invested heavily in small business, and we came forward with an initiative to reduce tax rates for small business to the lowest level -- initially in western Canada and now, through the passage of this budget, to the lowest level in Canada. That's one way for government to reach out to small business, which is the engine that generates most jobs in this province, to see growth and nurture that sector along.
That initiative, of course, was not the only initiative we brought forward in nurturing and assisting sectors of our economy that required it. We made a conscious decision to diversify and nurture along our tourism sector. We have seen now that sector booming in this province -- close to about $10 billion annually. That's up from about $4.5 billion when we took office in 1991. Here in Victoria alone, for the first time ever, we crossed the billion-dollar mark in tourism revenue.
We also made it a priority of our government to diversify the economy and make this a centre for film production. I note that in today's newspaper, the headline indicates that the city of Vancouver can't keep up with the applications in terms of the film industry wanting to come here. We've made changes to the tax structure that put us on a better competitive footing than Ontario and, as a consequence, have started to attract that industry from California to Vancouver, which is of course known as Hollywood North. We diversified that sector and made it an integral part of our economy, particularly in the lower mainland, and we are now taking steps to generate more regional activity in film production, whether it's in Victoria or in other parts of this province.
We recognized that the future is in the high-tech sector, and as a consequence, we wanted to make sure that as a province, we were well positioned through this period of economic turbulence to take advantage of the growth in the high-tech sector. We brought forward a $100 million knowledge development fund that created new jobs and opportunities and attracted companies from around the world to British Columbia. Just take a look at our back yard, here in Victoria, where companies like IBM, ISM-BC, DMR and EDS -- Ross Perot's company -- are establishing themselves to help create a new, burgeoning sector in terms of high-tech.
We have taken this economy and helped see it through a period of turbulence, and we have seen it turn around. We are now poised to become the strongest economic growth area in this country, having seen our way through this period of turbulence. As a government, we have a story to tell when we go to the electorate. We have a story to tell not only in terms of the social goals and objectives that we've met -- be it Nisga'a, class size or adult basic education
This is good news. This is a good news story that all of us in this province ought to be proud of and that all of us on this side of the House want to tell as we move toward the hustings.
I know that those people sitting opposite -- sort of trying to figure out what the colour of the carpet is going to be when they assume office, or the kinds of drapes they're going to be putting in their new offices -- should not get so ambitious. I'll tell you one thing: they felt, on the eve of the last election, that they were ready to take office and they were wrong. They feel the same way now, and they are wrong. I said last year and the year before that the fundamental reason for them being wrong is because they don't understand that their leader is not well liked.
I look forward to the next election, when all this good news will hit the doorsteps across British Columbia. People will see what we've been able to accomplish and will compare
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it to the sort of vacuous leadership we have on the side opposite. Inevitably, my colleagues and myself will be returned to this Legislature as the government in power.
V. Anderson: We're once again into the discussion of the budget of this government. It reminds me of the cat that has nine lives. We've had nine budgets now, and they've used up the nine lives.
The last two speakers here, the Minister of Health and the member for Esquimalt-Metchosin, have tried hard to cover over the reality of what's in the province. They've tried hard to use their rose-coloured glasses to give their picture of how they see this province. But what they have failed to do is to talk on behalf of the people of the province. The spin will not work. The people of the province are speaking out more and more because of the hardship and the hurt in which they find themselves.
Hon. Speaker, with the items that they have attempted to put forward in this government, what they have done is sold out the future of the province, for if this is to continue any longer, with the increased debt load that they have provided for us, then we will be in a sorry mess -- even greater than we are at the moment.
They've talked about the tax reductions that have come as a result of the budget. But I'd like to explain a little bit for the viewers out there across the province what has really happened. Let me share a little article in that regard, which says that the average benefit in tax reduction provided by this provincial government will be $22.63 per taxpayer. The average saving in this coming year for this taxpayer in British Columbia, provided by the provincial government, will be $22.63.
Now, how does that come about? It comes about here; simply, here's the breakdown. The government of British Columbia has offered in the budget $193 million in personal income tax reductions. But about $150 million of that $193 million would have happened anyway, because it comes as a result of the recent federal budget. Under the new tax system, the B.C. Finance minister has simply recycled federal cuts and added another $43 million. You divide that $43 million by 1.9 million B.C. taxpayers, and the average in the provincial contribution to the taxpayer is $22.63. That's the reality.
They talk about 4.5 percent being the new tax rate for small businesses. As of last week their claim of it being the smallest tax for small businesses in the country no longer exists. I think it existed for about nine days.
An Hon. Member: Nineteen hours.
V. Anderson: Nineteen hours, in fact. So they continue to go on that undertaking.
But they have increased our debt to approximately $36 billion. They have increased the expenditures on the debt, in taxes alone, to approximately $2.5 billion a year -- money that is being spent on the debt for interest, which if they had been balancing the budget over these times could have been spent on health and education and social responsibility.
On this side we talk about social responsibility -- that the actions that you engage in, whether they be financial or non-financial actions, have to be socially responsible both for the present and for the future. So, hon. Speaker, they talk about the things they have done. But they're not prepared to confess the things that they have not done -- the kind of things that were presented by the child and youth ombudsperson. Joyce Preston, in her report -- pardon me, the office of the child and youth advocate -- goes through the five years in which she has had this role as an advocate on behalf of the children and youth of this province. And over that time, year by year, as she has assessed the social responsibility of this government to the children of the province, she has found them wanting again and again -- and each year more so. She lists at least 17 recommendations over that period of time that, if the government had implemented them, would begin to solve at least some of the problems that she has highlighted.
As you go through her report, four of those 17 recommendations have been partially or perhaps wholly implemented. For 13 of them she simply states, as she discusses them again, that there has been no implementation of these recommendations. So year by year the situation has become worse. The spin that they would make is not accessible to the people in our community.
We have a letter that was sent to the government. It was addressed: "To the members of my government." It comes from a person who is working in Children's Hospital in Vancouver, who is concerned with, as she highlights in her report, the difficulties that they are having because of understaffing within that hospital and how they are on the verge of not being able to provide the services that are required for the children of the hospital. They're still providing those services, but they're providing them on the basis that the dedicated staff they have at the moment are having to work overtime and double time and come in on their holiday time and on the weekends to fill in for the trained nurses that are not available.
At the same time, we're aware that in Victoria, there is the threatened closure of the pediatric unit in the Victoria hospital, with the suggestion that with the closure of that unit -- which, along with Vancouver, is one of two centres equipped to meet the most serious needs of our children -- they will in turn then add the burden to the Children's Hospital by transporting the children from the Island, as well as from the rest of the province, to Vancouver.
That's not something this government likes to talk about in public. They want to give us the rosy picture. They talk about the advantages of the smaller class size in the elementary classes. There's a big discussion about whether that's good or bad of itself. But even if you acknowledge that it has some viability and some positive nature, everything else being equal, what they have not acknowledged is that they have taken -- from those same teachers, from those classrooms and from those schools -- the teaching assistants. They have taken away the psychologists; they have taken away the librarian resources; they have taken away the multicultural workers; they have taken away from the principals and vice-principals the time to be in the school and to support. They've even worked to threaten some of the volunteers who would help out and try and pitch in where there are needs.
At the time that they are bragging about increasing the ability to care for the younger members of our community, they have taken away the resources that would make that care possible and adequate for the future that is before them. When I talk to the people in community care, what they tell me is
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that one of the biggest difficulties they have is the lack of integration and communication within the government agencies and that one part of a government agency does not know what the other part is talking about. There is a lack of cohesion in the services, which leaves confusion among the people in our community.
The increase in poverty in our province, particularly amongst our children, is disgraceful. In the urban reports that have just come out, we find that 31 percent of the people who live in the Vancouver region are listed by the statistics as living in poverty. Probably when this government took over, it was about 15 percent. It has more than doubled.
The report on the urban poverty in the Victoria area says that it has grown to the point where there are over 50,000 people in this community who live in poverty. That has also increased over that period of time. Those who are attempting to work with those living in poverty in these communities are finding that over the last ten years, the number of persons who come for services and help from the agencies that work with them and help them work through the struggles of this government has doubled.
The spin that they try to give us can't be a valid spin, when they listen and talk to the people. I can't ever understand how this government, who came out of that CCF tradition -- as I have said to them ever since I came into this Legislature in 1991 -- could be so far from the needs of their people, how they could not be able to hear and speak on behalf of the people in their community. If there is any one group in our community which has been hurt more than any other, it has been those who are at an economic disadvantage. In every single case, the actions of this government have increased the economic disadvantage of the people who relied upon them in their communities over the years.
They feel cheated. They feel that they have been misled. They feel that they have been given the worst deal possible by any government in the history of this province. And they dare to talk about social justice because they have not had social responsibility for the people of British Columbia. It's time that they take their budget to the people in an election, and I challenge them to do even what the member for Esquimalt-Metchosin has said: let the people decide. Take it to the people. Take the budget to the people and let them tell this government what they really think.
Hon. D. Miller: I rise to close debate on behalf of the Minister of Finance, who was unavoidably not able to be in the House today. I know he would have liked to
The Speaker: The minister will require leave of the House.
Hon. D. Miller: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I'd like to thank all members for that.
The budget is, after all, about the economy of our province, at its heart. There have been some very strong views expressed about issues that have arisen in British Columbia and the general state -- the health, if you like -- of the economy of this wonderful province. Shortly before the new year I attempted to visit or make a determination on those questions, based on the best objective evidence that I could find. In other words, all of us in this House are driven by politics to some degree. All of us will make claims, in opposition or on the government side, as to whether the budget's a good one or a bad one -- whether the health of our economy is good or not so good.
My experience leads me to believe that the position one takes is generally guided by which side of the House you're on. Having been a member in this House on both sides, I understand that, and that's important. I also think it's important that we look, as much as possible, for objective evidence about the state of British Columbia. What are others outside of our borders, for example, saying? What weight would we give -- and I'm going to quote extensively -- to a presentation made at the University of Victoria by George Heller, who is the president and CEO of the Hudson's Bay Company? I don't think, in putting together his presentation for the CEO's millennium panel discussion, that Mr. Heller was necessarily influenced by his profound left politics. I think he was taking a dispassionate look at British Columbia -- where they have, I believe, about 120 stores between the Bay and Zellers -- and trying to talk objectively about the state of our province.
I note that in a news report in the Victoria Times Colonist of several weeks ago, he made a number of quotes. This piqued my interest, and I'll just read these for the edification of the House. He said: " 'Yes, there are some barriers. Part of the problem in British Columbia is you're too hard on yourselves,' [Mr.] Heller told a University of Victoria panel discussion."
Another quote from the news article: "The statistics show B.C. lagged behind Canada in economic growth in the 1980s, but outperformed the country in the 1990s." Finally -- and he sounds like a person after my own heart -- he said: "In a 20-year horizon, you had two crummy years. Get over it." I was struck by this, so much so that I went and obtained the slide presentation -- I'll try not to use that as a prop -- used by Mr. Heller. I want to run through that. I think it's germane to the kind of balanced approach we've taken with this budget and, in fact, the balanced approach we've taken with respect to this province of ours with, clearly, the focus on our side of the House on areas which we think will produce lasting benefits -- health care and, particularly, post-secondary education. I'm very proud of the administration in this province. I think B.C.'s commitment to post-secondary education stands out and shines amongst all the provinces in Canada.
Going through Mr. Heller's slide presentation, he notes that commodity prices are strengthening. Japan and other Asian economies are rebounding, and this bodes well for resource-rich B.C. expanding exports. Again, I don't have all the statistics with me, but if one looks at the quarterly reports now being produced by the resource companies -- the major forest products companies in B.C., for example -- you will note that they're finally reporting black ink, and some pretty good black ink.
He says, in his slide presentation: "The provincial government's recent budget has realized the need to get its 'house in order.' Modest tax cuts to stimulate growth should mean higher incomes and more take-home pay." But he does acknowledge that it takes time to turn the ship of state around.
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Looking ahead, he says there are better times ahead for B.C. Significantly higher growth in household formations is expected between the years 2001 and 2011 for B.C. In British Columbia the projection is for 23 percent versus 16 percent for the rest of Canada. B.C. is projected to grow by 36,000 households per year. The fastest-growing province for population over the next ten-plus years will be B.C., as it has been for the last ten-plus years -- 19 percent growth in British Columbia versus 12 percent for the rest of Canada. B.C. is projected to grow by 75,000 people per year. That is like adding a new city of Prince George each and every year. Therein, by the way, lies some of the conundrum with respect to the budget and particularly to the debt side of the equation. I'll deal with debt in my remarks.
The projected growth in gross domestic product -- these are in real dollars -- between the years 2001 and 2011, looking at all Canadian provinces and Canada
B.C.'s projected growth in gross domestic product is 36.9 percent, almost 37 percent, over the next decade. Let's compare that with Alberta at 27 percent or the Canadian average at 28.3 percent or indeed Ontario at 28.4 percent. In other words, people outside our province who have taken the time to assemble statistics have indicated in a panel discussion here an absolute level of confidence in this British Columbia economy. They have indicated that the growth projections for British Columbia are in fact far, far better than they are for any other Canadian province.
In the short term, B.C. will keep pace with Canada. As I indicated, B.C.'s economy is to outpace Canada's from 2001 to 2011 as the fastest-growing provincial economy over the next ten-plus years. The short-term forecast is for B.C. retail sales to grow at the same rate as the country, approximately 4 percent per annum, and this represents a big, big improvement for British Columbia.
Growth in B.C. retail sales surged ahead of Canada for the first half of the 1990s at approximately double the annual growth rate. B.C. retail sales growth lagged behind Canada for the second half. Mr. Heller notes the declining years as being '97-98, particularly 1998, a result of the Asian downturn. Sales declined by 2 percent in 1998.
Looking at issues like unemployment
More British Columbians were likely to be working during the 1990s than the average Canadian -- 9.2 percent average unemployment rate versus 9.6 percent for the rest of Canada. The number of employed in B.C. rose by 21 percent over that same period in the 1990s versus 14 percent for Canada as a whole. And as I indicated, the current unemployment rate is about 7 percent.
This slide presentation goes on to say that two bad years do not make a decade. As I indicated with his quotes in the newspaper column, two years out of 20 is not bad. "Get over it," was his advice. Yes, 1998 was a very tough year, but there are better times ahead. The short-term forecast for B.C. is to keep on track with the country's overall economy with 3.5 percent growth in 2000 and 2.9 percent in 2001. We've chosen to take a more conservative estimate of growth -- I think 2.2 percent -- but prudence dictates that we ought to.
Again, looking at a very interesting slide about growth in gross domestic product, 1981 to the present. If you look at the graph, again B.C. compared with Canada, the growth rate in B.C. in gross domestic product clearly parallels the overall growth rate in our country. And as I indicated, total growth in gross domestic product -- and these are real dollars -- between 1991 and 1999
The 1990s were actually pretty good times for British Columbia. People tend to forget that in the 1980s, when there was a more right-of-centre government in power in this province, the growth was in fact slower than it was in the 1990s. B.C. ranked ahead of seven other provinces for growth in the 1990s.
So I think I've made my point. Statistics in this case paint a far better picture than the constant critics of either our administration or the relative health of the B.C. economy would indicate. It seems to me that all of us ought to keep our minds focused on what ought to be our first priority, and that is our province, and on what ought to be our second priority, and that is our politics, when it comes to describing the province both internally and externally to others who we would like to come here and invest.
Mr. Speaker, this budget takes a very balanced approach; it's transparent. We remain the province with the third-lowest debt-to-GDP. We've introduced, again, more modest tax cuts for individuals and small business. Our debt, as I said, at 23.5 percent is the third-lowest in Canada. Only nine cents of every tax dollar go for the interest bite.
Other provinces and other Premiers who I had the pleasure of knowing in my brief time in that job are very envious of the opportunities in this province. They're very envious of the growth record over the decade, the 1990s, and are particularly envious of the potential growth -- as outlined in Mr. Heller's slides, which I've read into the record here today -- for the next decade. It is a very, very bright and prosperous future, one that I'm looking forward to. With the programs we've brought in -- particularly, again, I want to cite health care and education -- I think we'll be well equipped in this province to meet the demands of the twenty-first century.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I move the motion with respect to the budget.
The Speaker: I'll now put the motion on the budget debate -- that the Speaker now leave the chair for the House to go into Committee of Supply.
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Motion approved on the following division:
|YEAS -- 36|
|NAYS -- 33|
|de Jong||Farrell-Collins||C. Clark|
Hon. D. Lovick: I move the House do now adjourn.
The House adjourned at 5:53 p.m.
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