2004 Legislative Session: 5th Session, 37th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2004
Volume 20, Number 2
|Introductions by Members||8453|
|Introductions by Members||8453|
|Introductions by Members||8453|
|Statements (Standing Order 25B)||8454|
|Portable rent subsidies|
|B.C. Chamber of Commerce|
|B.C. Hydro electricity plan|
|Taxation of tobacco products|
|Hon. G. Collins|
|Trades training in B.C. and Red Seal program|
|Hon. S. Bond|
|Government aid for B.C. cattle industry|
|Hon. J. van Dongen|
|Hon. G. Plant|
|National public health agency|
|Hon. C. Hansen|
|Point of Privilege||8458|
|Hon. G. Collins|
|Throne Speech Debate||8459|
|Winnifred Ariel Weir|
|Throne Speech Debate (continued)||8462|
|Hon. G. Abbott|
|Hon. B. Barisoff|
|Hon. P. Bell|
[ Page 8453 ]
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2004
The House met at 2:03 p.m.
Introductions by Members
Hon. G. Campbell: Today we're joined in the House by 35 Special Olympians and their coaches. They're part of a 129-member team from British Columbia whose coaches and mission will be leaving on Sunday for the Special Olympics Canada National Winter Games in Prince Edward Island. It will start on February 16. The athletes at these national games will compete for spots on Team Canada in the eighth Special Olympics World Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, in 2005.
The athletes' oath is: "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt." B.C. Special Olympics programs involve 3,400 athletes of all ages and another 2,100 volunteers in communities across this province.
I want to welcome these guests and tell them that they are all true achievers. They are all representing British Columbia. We know that they will do extremely well. We're proud of their accomplishments, and we look forward to their continued accomplishments as they go to P.E.I. for the national games. They continue to make contributions and show leadership in their communities. I'd like the House to make them all welcome and wish them the best.
J. MacPhail: I want to rise today on behalf of my colleague and me to acknowledge another person making an Olympic, heroic effort. I know that the government caucus has brought greetings and prayers to the member for Kelowna-Mission, and I just want to say to the member for Kelowna-Mission that those prayers are literally from 100 percent of us. If indeed you are watching, first of all, get a life. But I think, actually, the member will be watching. She has maintained her sense of humour. She has maintained a sense of compassion that is quite overwhelming in this situation of adversity that she finds herself in, and she has maintained a sense of inclusiveness, also, in her time of adversity. I want to make sure she understands, along with everybody in the Legislature, that the opposition is bringing our prayers on her behalf as well.
Introductions by Members
J. Bray: I have two introductions. The first, joining us today in the chambers, is somebody who is no stranger to this House, Terry Colburn, whose native name is Iskaital. Terry has become a very active mental health advocate in Victoria. I'd ask that the House again please make him very welcome.
My second introduction is not of constituents but of two people without whom I certainly would not be here. It's my pleasure again to introduce to this House my parents, Evelyn and Marshall Bray, QC. I'd ask that the House please make them very welcome.
B. Kerr: In conjunction with my colleague from Esquimalt-Metchosin — who I think should be at home in bed, by the way — it's my honour to introduce a number of people visiting the Legislature. In this group we have 22 people who are from the Juan de Fuca seniors centre. They have joined us today to see firsthand how the legislative process works in B.C. and to take in the beauty and grandeur of the parliament buildings. I'd ask the House to please make them feel very welcome.
B. Lekstrom: Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to inform you and all members of a recent addition to our extended family here at the Legislative Assembly. Mary Newell of the office of the Clerk of Committees gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Beckham Joshua Aspinall, on Thursday, February 5. Please join me in sending Mary and her husband, Tony, our best wishes on this very happy occasion.
B. Penner: I am pleased today to introduce one of the people who helps to keep things running smoothly for myself and my caucus colleagues. Martina Kapac is experiencing her first live question period ever today. I hope she finds it as enjoyable as we always certainly do. Martina is one of our legislative assistants working with us since August of 2003. Would the House please make her welcome.
R. Hawes: I'd like to ask the House to acknowledge one of my constituents, Lori Wikdahl, who probably many of you know has just finished a walk across Canada for multiple sclerosis. Lori suffers from the disease, and every day that she walked across Canada, I know she suffered with incredible pain and showed incredible fortitude in completing this over a one-year trek across the country. I would like to ask all the members of this House to join me in congratulating Lori and assuring her that she has raised the profile of those that suffer from multiple sclerosis.
Introductions by Members
B. Suffredine: It's not very often that a member of my constituency ends up viewing us in the Legislature. This week I have a young man from grade 12 in New Denver who actually asked, as part of his job participation program, to follow a Member of the Legislative
[ Page 8454 ]
Assembly around for this week. He's in the gallery today watching his first question period. He's also on the Youth Advisory Committee to the Columbia Basin Trust. Would the House please make him welcome — Alex Besinque.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. members, it is indeed a pleasure for me to read a message from the Minister of State for Intergovernmental Relations.
"Since my sudden diagnosis of leukemia, I have been overwhelmed by the kindness, the support and the prayers I have received from friends, constituents and people from across the province and beyond. In fact, I have been quite pleasantly surprised by the kindness shown by the media, something I've not experienced too frequently in my eight years at the Legislature.
"The fact that there are so many of you wishing me well, thinking of me and praying for me has truly lifted me. It has made my journey so much easier. I can't tell you how much it means to me that I am not in this fight alone. I want to thank the Premier, who has been a rock for me and my family. Your small acts of kindness, like hooking up my hospital phone, to larger acts like covering my responsibilities while I'm temporarily away mean the world to me and my family. I'll never forget what you have done for me.
"Finally, I'd like to say how incredibly wonderful my family has been. My sisters from Toronto, Regina, Calgary and Vancouver, and my brother from Kelowna have made sure I'm never alone. It's hard to imagine how we've spent so much time apart in the past, because we just love being together. My parents give me strength and hope that carry me through every single day. I am thankful for my wonderful family.
"Mr. Speaker, they say laughter is the best medicine, and believe me, I'm getting heaping spoonfuls of it. On the first day my sisters flew in, they presented me with the top ten reasons why they love me. I want to share the top three with you. The No. 3 reason refers to the golf tournament my interior colleagues and I do every summer for cancer care. So here goes. The No. 3 reason they love me is: 'Only you would help raise $200,000 for cancer care and then spend it on yourself.' The No. 2 reason they love me: 'You're so selfish. We only asked to borrow your cashmere sweater, and you want our bone marrow.' And the No. 1 reason they love me: 'You'll do anything to stay the slimmest sister in the family.'
"As you can see, they're pretty warped, but they keep me in stitches and I love it. Well, I must start my closing comments. I can almost hear the cries of 'Order, order,' and 'Time, Mr. Speaker, time,' coming from both sides of the House.
"I want you all to know I am doing very well. I am strong in spirit and feeling great. I am getting exceptional care at Vancouver General, as I did at Kelowna General. People are writing and calling and asking me if there's anything they can do. There is. Please consider being a blood or platelet donor. These days, I know I am relying on the kindness and unselfishness of those people who take the time to donate blood. I am so thankful for this life-saving treatment. If anything good can come out of publicizing my leukemia, I would hope it would be that there would be a profound increase in the number of available blood donors. As hard as it is for me to accept, B.C. is a net importer of blood from other provinces — provinces that have half or a quarter of our population. I'm told that the leukemia unit I am in uses 80 percent of all the platelets in our province and frequently has to call Winnipeg for more. It is my hope that people will take the time to be a blood and platelet donor.
"Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I hope to join you all as quickly as I can. I will tune in regularly because, as I said, laughter is the best medicine. I know you will all keep me entertained. See you soon, my friends. Please keep me in your prayers.
Sindi Hawkins, your colleague from Kelowna-Mission"
Thank you on behalf of Sindi. I know she and her family are watching today. That's very heartwarming.
(Standing Order 25b)
PORTABLE RENT SUBSIDIES
J. Bray: Today I wish to raise an idea that some members in my community are exploring — that of portable rent supplements. In most cases, subsidized housing consists of rental units that are built, and the rents are assessed at market rates. Then a subsidy is assessed to ensure that only a limited percentage of one's income goes to cover that rent. In this model, the subsidy rests with the housing unit, and the occupant receives the benefit. However, should the occupant move, they lose the benefit of the subsidy.
This creates several issues. First, because one must build the unit before the subsidy is available, demand for low-income housing will always outpace supply. Second, it creates the need for people needing low-income housing to move to where it is available, in some cases moving from one community to another and kids from one school to another. Third, it creates a disincentive to move once in a subsidized unit. This can deter moving to another community for employment for fear of losing the subsidy should the employment cease, thus having to go back on a wait-list.
I would like to see us explore a new option, which is having rent subsidies be portable — in other words, attached to eligible families as opposed to the rental units. There are some examples now, including Independent Living B.C. rent supplements. However, they are still attached to units in private assisted-living facilities. The concept I raise is where low-income families who would qualify for a subsidy if they were in a subsidized unit can qualify for the subsidy but apply it to any apartment in the community.
I would like to explore whether the capital currently raised by non-profits, CMHC and others that goes into building new subsidized housing could be shifted to the subsidies themselves. I believe it could provide for many more low-income families to qualify and receive subsidies, thus relieving some of the issues I identified earlier. As cities like Victoria, Vancouver and Kelowna deal with higher and higher housing costs, we need to look outside the box for solutions.
[ Page 8455 ]
B.C. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
D. Hayer: Today I want to honour the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce and its 147 member chambers as they celebrate their annual Chamber Week. The British Columbia chamber, the voice of business in B.C., began almost 140 years ago right at the formation of this province in 1867. It is a guiding organization for businesses large and small throughout British Columbia.
Chamber members include people from every walk of life and virtually every ethnic group and represent businesses from tiny one-person operations to huge corporations employing thousands of people. More than 25,000 individual businesses are members of B.C.'s chamber and are truly representative of the way our communities develop.
As the success of business is the lifeblood of society, a strong economic climate funds those services that we expect in this province, such as health care, education, transportation and social programs. It is the members of these chambers of commerce who employ the people who pay taxes that provide benefits for all of us.
Surrey is well represented by the Cloverdale, South Surrey and White Rock, and Surrey chambers of commerce. For many years I was on the Surrey Chamber of Commerce board of directors. During 1997-98, I was its president.
As our province's chambers celebrate this year's theme, "British Columbia celebrates the best," I would ask this House to join me in thanking all those who volunteer to serve on these boards. These volunteers are dedicated to ensuring our economy thrives, our businesses are successful and our economy provides the lifestyles we so appreciate in this province.
B.C. HYDRO ELECTRICITY PLAN
B. Penner: Most of us take electricity for granted except on those rare occasions when it isn't available. That's when we realize how utterly and completely our society depends upon this remarkable form of energy. There are some folks, however, who don't take electricity for granted and whose job it is to plan ahead. B.C. Hydro is currently developing its 2004 integrated electricity plan. A better working title might be "comprehensive electricity plan," because the task is to forecast demand for electricity over the next 20 years and recommend how to meet future needs in a cost-effective and sustainable way. B.C. Hydro's last plan, completed in 2000, was an update to the 1995 integrated electricity plan.
As you know, under B.C.'s new energy policy, B.C. Hydro remains publicly owned and continues to have a legal obligation to serve its customers. B.C. Hydro does not have the luxury of being unprepared. The newly reinvigorated B.C. Utilities Commission and other agencies will use the integrated electricity plan to assess new power project proposals. The new energy policy requires all of this planning to be done in the context of keeping electricity rates low, providing reliable and environmentally responsible sources of electricity, and encouraging the private sector to bring forward creative, innovative proposals.
Specifically, B.C. Hydro has been given a target of acquiring 50 percent of all new electricity from clean sources. Already since the 2001 election, B.C. Hydro signed contracts to acquire electricity from more than 30 new made-in-B.C. projects. Thirty-two are small hydroelectric run-of-the-river projects. Two involve capturing landfill gas, which would otherwise escape into the atmosphere, and one is B.C.'s first-ever commercial wind power project.
This is a good start, but there's more to be done. The last major project, the Revelstoke Dam, was completed in 1984, and in recent years B.C. Hydro has been a net importer of electricity. Regional information meetings in recent weeks have been held in 12 communities across B.C. seeking feedback on the draft plan, which is posted on B.C. Hydro's website. In fact, I encourage all members of this House to look at the draft plan, especially the section that examines potential new sources of electricity.
Doing nothing is not a responsible option, as the California crisis of a few years ago aptly demonstrated. We are blessed in British Columbia to have many good options to choose from, and I look forward to many more positive projects in the near future.
Mr. Speaker: That concludes member statements.
TAXATION OF TOBACCO PRODUCTS
J. Kwan: Since this House last met, a lot has happened. The RCMP raided offices, raided the Legislature, and no one — at least no one in this caucus — seems to know why. A minister has resigned. A deputy has been fired, and a high-level Liberal official with connections to the Premier is under investigation related to untendered government contracts. Other contributors to the B.C. Liberals have been found to have benefited from government write-offs on fines and fees.
However, I want to focus today on a matter that I know the Finance minister tried to bury before Christmas, a matter that he was no doubt pleased was overshadowed by the news of the police sifting through his staff offices. Can the Minister of Finance please tell us how much his government has collected on the cigarette tax he announced in December?
Hon. G. Collins: If the member means to date, I don't know that amount. I know that on an annualized basis, it's anticipated it will bring in about an additional $40 million.
Mr. Speaker: Member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant has a supplementary question?
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J. Kwan: The tax grab, as the Minister of Finance has said, I don't believe is enough to get rid of the '03-04 deficit, but it certainly was worth the risk of offending the Legislature if it meant that he could table his budget next week without any new taxes being the focus. Can the minister tell this House what statutory authority he relied upon to support his decision to increase the tax without first bringing it to the Legislature for debate and approval?
Hon. G. Collins: As I said on the date that this announcement was made, it was the government's intention to introduce legislation to raise the tax on tobacco, and it was anticipated that the legislation would take effect December 19, 2003. That is what we've said. That is the basis upon which we used that. We did speak to legislative counsel before making the announcement and were assured that it was in order. However, if in some way I've offended the member opposite or any member of the House, it was certainly not my intention to do that.
Mr. Speaker: Member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant has a further supplementary?
J. Kwan: It's no surprise, really, that this minister would bring in a tax without first debating the matter in this House, and I think it just shows the level of contempt that he has for British Columbians. Just in case the Government Leader and Finance minister has not yet grasped the significance of his actions, let me quote from a section of the Constitution Act, section 92: "In each Province, the Legislature may exclusively make Laws in relation to…Direct Taxation within the Province in order to the raising of a Revenue for Provincial Purposes."
It's a simple question. What statutory authority did the Minister of Finance rely on to override the Constitution Act and tax British Columbians without debate and without the approval of the Legislature?
Hon. G. Collins: The fact of the matter is that the tax is not a new tax. It is a tax that's been existing previously. It continues to exist. What we stated in December was that it was the government's intention to introduce legislation in this session this spring that would amend the rate for the tobacco tax, and that it would be retroactive to December 19. Governments frequently raise taxes retroactively.
J. MacPhail: We have a Minister of Finance that's sort of like the Prime Minister. He doesn't know how much he's collected so far. Well, let me do the math: $40 million annually for two months means this government has collected illegally $6 million from the public. He cites as his source legislative counsel. This minister could have introduced legislation on December 16. We were sitting in this chamber, and yet he snuck through an illegal tax grab on December 19 with no legal authority.
Let me remind the minister again that the Constitution Act says that the Legislature may exclusively make laws in relation to direct taxation. The Constitution Act doesn't say: "An arrogant and desperate government bent on hiding its taxation agenda on budget day can make laws in relation to taxes." It says the Legislature exclusively. Does the minister have a learned authority that trumps the Constitution Act? If not, will he apologize to this House today and return the collected taxes that he's already got in his pocket — and that he's done so without authority?
Hon. G. Collins: The people of British Columbia let that member do the math for ten years, and look where it got us.
The fact of the matter is that the House will have the final say on the tax. That is the way it goes. That's what I said the day the announcement was made. This Legislature is the final body, according to the Constitution Act, that makes those determinations. What I said was that it was the government's intention to introduce legislation this session. We'll be doing that. I said that it would be retroactive to December 19. It's not uncommon for government to levy taxes retroactively. They do it all the time. Her government did it numerous times. That is what's going to happen. We're not going to hide it either. It will be fully presented in the budget next week, and I'm sure the member will be anxious to see the balanced budget.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplementary question?
J. MacPhail: The reason why the Finance minister cites no authority is because he has no authority, and despite his protestations he is the first Finance minister to do this. No previous government has done what he has done. In Ottawa the Finance minister's….
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
J. MacPhail: No previous government has done it.
In Ottawa the Finance minister's Liberal cousins have been caught handing tax dollars to their friends. At least they collected those taxes legally before they handed them over to their friends. The Finance minister won't even provide that courtesy. With no authority, with no debate and with no precedent, the Finance minister picked the pockets of British Columbians, and now he refuses to even offer an explanation that's credible. Again to the Minister of Finance: will he return every dime — $6 million and more — that he collected illegally from British Columbians?
Hon. G. Collins: As I've said, the final arbiter in this matter is always the House. It is always the Legislature. I said that on the day; I say it again today. Certainly, if the members of this House wish to defeat that legislation, then of course the government would re-
[ Page 8457 ]
turn the money. The reality is that it will be up to the House, and I expect that member to vote according to her conscience. If she wants to lower tobacco taxes, I'll be anxious to see how she votes.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order.
TRADES TRAINING IN B.C.
AND RED SEAL PROGRAM
M. Hunter: My question is to the Minister of Advanced Education. Over the past days I have had communication from employers and contractors in Nanaimo who are concerned about what they're hearing about exam marks and the Red Seal certification program and the program itself being at risk in British Columbia as a result of that. They've also asked me about the continuation of apprenticeship programs in British Columbia, because somebody seems to be telling them that we're doing away with apprenticeship. Can the minister please explain what we're doing to make sure we have a trades training program that's sustainable?
Hon. S. Bond: The integrity of the Red Seal process in this province is important to this government. That's why, when there was an indication several weeks ago that there may be issues with the exam process related to Red Seal, we moved immediately to do something about that. The review has taken place over the last number of weeks. I expect to have more specific information presented to me through my deputy on Friday. But it is clear that some exams were adjusted.
The good news, if there is any, is that the number of exams that were adjusted is a small number. Most often the significance, in terms of the exam adjustment, was 1 percent. But during the course of that review, I asked the reviewer to look back, using the databases that were available to us. We went back as far as we were able to — as far as 1995 — and, in fact, we found that exams have been adjusted in the province of British Columbia since 1995. Again, that information will be provided in more detail by Friday, and I hope to make that information much more public by Monday.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
GOVERNMENT AID FOR
B.C. CATTLE INDUSTRY
P. Nettleton: You never know who you'll run into the hallways here in the Legislature. I was fortunate enough to bump into a senior staffer from the Ministry of Agriculture earlier today, and I queried him as to the $16.8 million that had been announced yesterday in the Speech from the Throne with respect to moneys designated for ranchers hard hit by BSE. It's an issue with which I think we're all somewhat familiar.
He indicated, in fact, that the $16.8 million is not new money. This is in contrast to a plain reading of the Speech from the Throne — I'll make reference to that, if I may — which clearly conveys a different meaning entirely. The Speech from the Throne, in fact, indicates that more will be done to help B.C.'s ranchers recover from the BSE crisis. It goes on to state that in addition to the $10.5 million in assistance already committed to the BSE program, a further $16.8 million will be contributed to help farmers with respect to this crisis. Now I'm wondering why it is the Premier chose to communicate this funding in this way, with the resulting confusion with respect to this funding.
Hon. J. van Dongen: Our ministry and our government are working with the federal government and other provinces to provide substantial support to our producers. We had estimates last fall of the additional cost to the government of all of the BSE programs that we are doing, and we are confirming in the throne speech that we have added an additional $16.8 million to the budget of our ministry for the purposes of supporting our hard-hit cattle industry in British Columbia.
J. Kwan: The Minister of Finance cites legislative counsel as a source who reports to the Attorney General. Does the Attorney General agree with the Minister of Finance's legal opinion that he, the Minister of Finance, has statutory authority that trumps the Constitution Act?
Hon. G. Plant: Actually, I was sitting listening to those questions, remembering when the members opposite sat in a cabinet room one day and imposed the death tax on British Columbians — had to be taken to the Supreme Court of Canada to establish that probate fees were really taxes — and then were dragged kicking and screaming back into the Legislature finally to have the very debate which the Minister of Finance has said we will have in this chamber when the time is right, where it belongs, on the issue that has been addressed here.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order, please.
NATIONAL PUBLIC HEALTH AGENCY
K. Manhas: My question is to the Minister of Health Services.
[ Page 8458 ]
Mr. Speaker: Order, please, hon. member. We'll wait until we can hear the question.
K. Manhas: My question is to the Minister of Health Services. The federal government has committed to establish a national public health agency similar to the U.S. national centres for disease control. British Columbia would be an ideal location for that. We are an international gateway and a leader in pathology research. We are already home to the highly successful and world-renowned B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
Can the minister tell me what steps are being taken to ensure that British Columbia has a lead role in establishing our Canadian national centre for disease control?
Hon. C. Hansen: Actually, at the Health ministers' conference that was held in September in Halifax, there was unanimous agreement and support by all health ministers and federal, provincial and territorial governments to support the initiative towards a national public health agency.
Subsequently, there was a report that was done by Dr. David Naylor, who is the dean of medicine at the University of Toronto, on the whole SARS crisis in Canada. He proposed this national agency and set out the components that would be desirable. Of the 20 components that he felt were desirable, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control — the only centre of its kind in Canada — had 12 of those 20 components.
We had the best record in Canada when it came to managing the SARS crisis. We read the science in this province that produced the first gene-sequencing of the coronavirus. The vaccine initiative that was triggered by our Premier following on that is now leading the world in developing a vaccine for SARS. We have a lot to offer in terms of the national public health agency, and I fully expect that B.C. will play the pivotal role in that new national enterprise.
[End of question period.]
Point of Privilege
J. MacPhail: Mr. Speaker, you will recall that yesterday I rose and reserved the right to raise three matters of privilege. I would like to address the first one now.
Mr. Speaker: Please proceed.
J. MacPhail: I would like to present to you what I believe to be a prima facie case for the argument that the Minister of Finance has acted in contempt of this Legislature and its primacy by violating the fundamental principle that a tax cannot be increased or implemented before it has been presented to the House.
I would like to first refer you to a press release dated December 19, 2003, that was issued by the Minister of Finance. It is titled Province Increases Tobacco Tax. Within this news release the Minister of Finance announced that the tax would increase by 1.9 cents per cigarette. The increase went into effect at midnight that evening, and to date this government has collected about $6 million in that tax — that new tax.
I want to make it clear that I am not raising issue with the merit of the tax or the increase, so the heckling of other members can stop on that issue. Instead, I would argue that the minister…
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order.
J. MacPhail: …violated the primacy of this House by unilaterally enacting such a change without legislative authority. The tax increase was simply announced. There was no legislation, no cabinet order, no motion to the Public Accounts Committee. The minister acted without any authority.
For your consideration, I would refer you to the Tobacco Tax Act itself, an act that establishes that this is a tax. Section 2 of the statute clearly sets out the tax rate for cigarettes and tobacco. The rate of tax is not set by regulation. It exists as law in the Tobacco Tax Act.
To date, the Minister of Finance has not brought this change before the House. Indeed, yesterday he didn't do it. Today he didn't do it, and he's collecting millions of dollars. He has changed a statute without support from the Legislature.
Secondly, I would like to highlight section 92 of the Constitution Act of Canada. Section 92 defines the exclusive powers of provincial legislatures. It states: "In each Province the Legislature may exclusively make Laws in relation to Matters coming within the Classes of Subjects next hereinafter enumerated; that is to say, Direct Taxation within the Province in order to the raising of a Revenue for Provincial Purposes." I would argue that the Minister of Finance has violated this section by not bringing the tax increase before the Legislature for debate or approval.
Finally, I would like to draw your attention to three sections of Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice. On page 734 it states: "A charge, whether upon public funds or upon the people, has to be authorized by legislation, and it must originate in the House of Commons." Furthermore, on page 777 it states that charges upon the people include: "…the imposition of a new tax, the continuation of an expiring tax, an increase in the rate of an existing tax or an extension of the incidence of a tax so as to include persons not already payers." The Minister of Finance's feeble defence that this was not a new tax is swept away by Erskine May.
Lastly, I would like to cite page 778 of Erskine May, which states, "The increase in the rate of a permanent tax must be initiated by a ways-and-means resolution for that purpose" — not brought in six, eight, ten weeks
[ Page 8459 ]
after the tax has been collected, but initiated by a ways-and-means resolution for that purpose.
Mr. Speaker, the tax increase was announced on December 19. The Legislature sat on December 16. It is beyond belief that between December 16 in the afternoon and the morning of December 19, the government dreamed up this tax and said: "Oh, let's grab another $6 million from the public of British Columbia before the next budget is tabled." I know that's the defence of the Prime Minister, the federal Liberal Prime Minister, and I hope it's not what this provincial government is using as a defence as well.
The Minister of Finance had every opportunity to bring this change before the Legislature. In subsequent media reports he made it clear that this action was not the actions of previous B.C. Legislatures. I have that news article with the direct quote of the Minister of Finance saying this is not what's done in B.C. He made such comments in the Vancouver Sun on December 20 of last year. He also argued that Quebec did the same thing a few weeks earlier.
The article, and the article merely reflecting the Minister of Finance's comments, failed to mention that the Quebec National Assembly was sitting at the time they raised the tax, and they actually introduced legislation. It slipped the mind of the Minister of Finance to make that comparison.
Mr. Speaker, I believe the material I have cited clearly illustrates there is a prima facie case of contempt of parliament. It is clear that the Minister of Finance acted unilaterally in increasing a tax that is defined by statute — doesn't delegate it to a regulation by OIC. The actual tax rate is defined by statute. In circumventing the Legislature, the minister has violated the supremacy of the Legislature and our rights as MLAs to vote and represent our constituents before the tax is announced and collected.
I have before me a motion to present to the Legislature should you find a prima facie case. I also table the documents which I referenced: the news release from the Minister of Finance dated December 19, the Tobacco Tax Act that shows the section in which the tax rate is clearly specified, the Constitution Act and the Vancouver Sun article to which I referred in which the Minister of Finance is quoted.
Hon. G. Collins: I understand the member has three motions of privilege that she wishes to make today. I'd like to make it clear that I'll reserve the right of the government to respond to them at a later date.
Mr. Speaker: So noted. The Chair will take into consideration all the comments made and bring back a ruling in due course.
Orders of the Day
Hon. G. Collins: I call Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne.
Throne Speech Debate
J. Bray: I move, seconded by the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke, that:
[We, Her Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia in session assembled, beg leave to thank Your Honour for the gracious speech which Your Honour has addressed to us at the opening of the present session.]
It is an honour to again rise on behalf of the residents of my community, Victoria–Beacon Hill, and respond to the throne speech. The Lieutenant-Governor has laid out a comprehensive vision for British Columbia. It is a vision that deals not only with the present but also with the future for our children and grandchildren.
Bringing out our best. That was the theme we heard from the throne speech. It is an attitude that will drive this province and its people to new levels of excellence. William James once said: "The greatest discovery of our generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. As you think, so shall you be." I am proud of the revitalized attitude this Premier and this government have brought to the people of British Columbia.
This throne speech lays out an exciting world of opportunity for all regions and all peoples to share in the wealth and potential of this great land. As government, we are offering new structures and programs that will create hope and prosperity for our children and the next generation. New programs that will promote athleticism, art, music and culture to flourish in our young people in the spirit of 2010 are examples of what a progressive government with sound fiscal discipline can deliver to the public.
Goals of adding 25,000 new post-secondary spaces by 2010 are the benefits of sound government incorporating progressive social policy. The best preventative health care measure is a top-notch education system for all. However, such positive initiatives do not happen on their own. They require long-term planning and execution of those plans.
Balancing the budget is not the end goal but rather the foundation from which progressive measures can be implemented. It is the predictable, stable surpluses that allow government to meet the priority of British Columbians in a sustainable fashion.
This throne speech was the fourth since the general election of 2001. To understand the significance of this throne speech, I think it instructive to review what we have heard in previous throne speeches and what this government has achieved.
H.G. Wells once said: "In politics, strangely enough, the best way to play your cards is to lay them face upward on the table." In the time leading up to the general election of 2001, we did just that. We published our New Era document. It laid out over 220 specific proposals for creating a prosperous and exciting future for British Columbians.
The political pundits thought us too specific — too many commitments. How could we accomplish this? Well, the answer is simple. We followed our plan.
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In 2001 we heard the following commitments and saw the following actions. To transform the public policy process in British Columbia, we created government caucus committees to ensure every MLA was directly involved in decision-making. We brought in free votes so MLAs could effectively represent their constituents. You know, in ten years of NDP government, I never remember one MLA once exercising a free vote.
We re-engaged the select standing committees of this Legislature to ensure more access for the public to directly engage their elected officials. To ensure public confidence in their government, we introduced real balanced-budget legislation and real truth-in-budgeting legislation so the public could feel confident that we are keeping the government's financial records the same way as they would. In fact, this year ours will be the first government in Canada to fully adopt generally accepted accounting principles in its financial records system.
We also provided a dramatic personal income tax cut and that year provided over 17 additional tax cuts, including eliminating the much-hated corporate capital tax and the tax on new machinery and equipment. We worked to eliminate backlogs and delays in Crown land applications, and we started to encourage mineral exploration. Previously, the NDP raised taxes continuously, and who did this hurt the most, Mr. Speaker? Working families. Those earning $60,000 or less paid the highest taxes in Canada. Under our tax relief, they now pay the lowest.
Mining and the high-wage jobs that come with it were chased out of the province by the NDP. Again, who was hurt the most? Working families in our smaller resource-dependent communities.
In the throne speech of 2002 we heard about the need to reduce the regulatory burden faced by many in this province, so government continued with its goal of reducing unnecessary red tape by one-third before May of 2005. We streamlined and modernized the Labour Code to fit the current work world.
We continued to focus on health care, including revising the Medical Services Plan to bring lower premiums to over 230,000 low-income British Columbians. We fully funded the mental health plan. We combined both mental health services and addiction services into one envelope, and then placed that appropriately where it belonged — in health care. We established the goal and method for doubling the number of medical students graduating in this province.
In 2003 we heard about several additional initiatives. One of the most progressive was the Citizens' Assembly, which is currently looking at how British Columbians may want to choose their elected representatives in the future. This initiative is being watched around the world and is the most comprehensive form of consultative democracy we have ever seen.
We also heard a great deal about reconciliation with first nations and have seen several agreements-in-principle signed with first nations, as well as numerous economic initiatives to allow first nations communities to share in the wealth of this province.
We also saw a major integrated transportation strategy to deal with the need to improve our infrastructure without unduly burdening future generations, who would otherwise have to pay for it.
We embarked on the most significant forestry reforms in 40 years to revitalize and stabilize the number one sector of our economy.
Of course, we also won the right to host the 2010 Olympics, which is already reaping huge benefits for communities right across this province. These were bold initiatives, ones the NDP never took on. Certainly Carole James, the absentee leader of the NDP, has never evoked even a glimmer of what vision she has for our province. In fact, all Carole James says again and again is that she plans to have a plan. I say to her: "We have a plan, and it's working."
What does a review of our actions as government mean? Well, Theodore Hesburgh said: "The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision." In 2001 the Premier and this government had a vision for hope and prosperity for this province. At this time every year the throne speech lays out the specifics of how we will achieve this new era, and we have delivered.
With 131,000 new jobs, British Columbia has led the nation in job creation since December 2001. More than 53,000 of those jobs came last year, 30,000 of them — an amazing number — in the month of October alone.
Tax cuts, deregulation and putting balance in the Labour Code have all helped bring investors back to B.C. For the first time in six years, more people are moving to B.C. from other provinces than are leaving.
B.C. is in the top three provinces for investment intention, a key sign that the rest of the world is again excited about the potential of this province. B.C. is creating new businesses faster than it has in a decade. Business incorporations were up 9.3 percent in the first nine months of 2003, following a 7.7 percent increase the previous year. It is the best performance since 1994.
New housing starts are up in B.C. They're up 25 percent this year, more than triple the national average. B.C. is experiencing double the national average in capital investment. More than 20,000 people on income assistance have joined the workforce since 2001, and an additional 65,000 people are independent from income assistance.
This year we increased our housing budget to $153 million, the largest in B.C. history. Since June 2001, we've committed funding to build 3,380 additional subsidized units. Independent Living B.C. will help provide more than 3,500 units over the next four years for seniors and people with disabilities who require assistance with daily living.
Our budget and fiscal plan is on track, with spending under control and revenues rising. We will balance the budget for 2004-05. What does this mean for B.C.
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families? As of this year, we will no longer be spending the tax dollars of our children and grandchildren, because we will be balancing the budget. We are seeing the rewards of laying out a comprehensive plan and following through on the new-era commitments, even though they required tough decisions.
Now, hearing opponents of this government, including Carole James of the NDP, all we get is the tired rhetoric of failure. Carole James advocates for the policies that would have restrained 80,000 people on welfare, preventing them from becoming full participants in our communities. Carole James advocates for policies that would have denied 6,000 British Columbia citizens increased disability benefits. Carole James has told working families of this province: "I don't want you to prosper from a revitalized forest industry. I don't want you to prosper from the potential for offshore oil and gas, regardless of what the science may say." Carole James does not even have the propriety to advise British Columbians how much of their efforts she wants to tax. Carole James, I suspect, cannot endorse this throne speech, because it is all about success.
The NDP know they cannot attract voters who are healthy, working and confident, and whose children have a future in their own community. This vision scares the NDP, because they depend on failure and fear to attract support. In the end the NDP are more comfortable with old problems rather than new solutions.
This throne speech offers evidence of existing success and a path for all citizens to achieve their best. I see many positive elements of this throne speech for my constituents of Victoria–Beacon Hill. Bringing out the best in our economy is what Victorians have been doing for a while. We have a robust economy, with unemployment around 5 percent, in part because the government is reducing the regulatory impediment to investment. Just last night on TV, though, I saw Carole James claiming that Victoria had "really high unemployment." Does she even understand numbers? If she is this out of touch with the community she wants to represent as an opposition MLA, just how out of touch is she with the rest of the province?
Now, our tourism sector will continue to benefit from bold initiatives, including the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre, to bring more people to our region here in the southwest.
Bringing out the best in student achievement. One of the issues my constituents frequently raise with me is their desire for a strong public education system. The throne speech addresses this issue head-on. The budget for education will grow by $313 million over the next three years. New graduation requirements starting in September will raise our standards and provide more flexibility and choice for students. Early learning and child care agreements with the federal government will inject more than $70 million into programs for B.C.'s youngsters over the next three years, giving our most precious resource — our children — the best start they can have.
I am proud that this government will launch a major new initiative to address literacy, beginning with the creation of the Premier's advisory board on literacy. We will also provide new funding for literacy initiatives and double the annual contribution to the adult literacy cost-shared program. I encourage, and I'm sure all other members encourage, the federal government to do the same.
Bringing out the best in higher education. As a member of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, post-secondary education was a major theme of our most recent report as a result of the prebudget consultations. In fact, one of the main recommendations that we made to this House read: "…that the government provide additional funds in future years for post-secondary education as they become available." The people of B.C. spoke to our committee, and this government has responded.
This province will provide and add an additional 25,000 new student spaces to B.C.'s colleges, universities and institutes by 2010. A comprehensive new strategy to increase access to advanced education will be outlined. In addition, Advanced Education's budget will be increased by $105 million by the year 2006-07. This positive result in response to British Columbians' priorities was a direct result of our re-engaging the select standing committees of this House, truly accommodating the reports and providing the fiscal framework and the surpluses to act on our citizens' priorities.
Another recommendation in our Finance Committee report was "that the government complete its plan to bridge the digital divide and stay focused on technological innovation," so I am pleased that the throne speech identifies that the government will act to bridge the digital divide by providing broadband access to 171 communities over the next two years through the provincial learning network.
As an MLA who continually meets with constituents in town hall meetings, I know the value of this type of open dialogue. This is why I'm so eager to hear the outcomes from the series of round tables, hosted by the Premier, engaging B.C. families in discussions about their hopes and aspirations for the future, sharing their views and their challenges and opportunities for both themselves and their communities. I believe we as a government will hear many creative ideas and solutions, and with a firm fiscal platform now established through a balanced budget, we can act on those solutions, bringing out the best in the spirit of British Columbia.
The 161-member Citizens' Assembly is deliberating on how best to elect members to this chamber. It is a groundbreaking initiative of which British Columbians are rightly proud, giving us an unprecedented opportunity to bring out the best in our parliamentary system.
Now, I want to spend a moment on the Citizens' Assembly. I believe it would be an enlightening example of the difference between our government and the
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NDP. For ten long, arduous, inept years the NDP could have engaged British Columbians in the concepts of electoral reform, but they did not. Once defeated, they miraculously became enamoured of proportional representation — long after the Green Party did, by the way — perhaps as the only method they felt they might get some seats in this Legislature. On the other hand, as opposition we committed to a new and unique form of electoral reform, and once elected, we carried it through.
The Citizens' Assembly does not just give consultative powers to 161 randomly selected citizens. It gives them full power to suggest an alternative method of electing MLAs. If they approve this change, it goes directly to all British Columbians in the form of a referendum ballot on May 17, 2005. This is the first time in the history of the Commonwealth that a government has empowered the people to make historical change to the very foundation of our political structure. In short, the NDP feared democracy, and this government truly delivered democracy.
The Spirit of 2010 and the theme of bringing out our best are not just catchphrases. They represent the attitude that we as British Columbians can possess and that will propel us to be the best we can be. I am proud of our Premier and of our government for making the tough decisions now for the long-term benefit of our communities, our children and our future. Our first three years in office have laid the foundation. Now, with a positive and revitalized attitude, we must work together to build the best B.C. possible. The throne speech lays out the next phase in this plan, and together we will succeed.
Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.
W. McMahon: It is indeed my privilege today to second the motion made by the member for Victoria–Beacon Hill. It is an honour to rise on behalf of the residents of Columbia River–Revelstoke and respond to the throne speech.
WINNIFRED ARIEL WEIR
W. McMahon: The Lieutenant-Governor has laid out a comprehensive vision for British Columbia, but before I comment on this year's throne speech, I would like to pay tribute to a very special Invermere woman who passed away on February 3 at the age of 95. Winnifred Ariel Weir was a prominent resident, community activist and contributor to the very fabric of our community. Born and raised in Cranbrook, she moved to Invermere in 1929 to teach school.
[H. Long in the chair.]
She married in 1932. At that time she was no longer able to teach, because a married woman couldn't teach, so she raised her children and devoted herself to her community. She was a founding member of the Columbia Valley Writers Guild, the Rocky Mountain Toastmasters Club, the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Invermere Businessmen's Association, the Invermere Public Library, the historical society…. The list goes on and on.
She loved to write and in 1980 published Tales of Windermere, a historical novel depicting the life and times of early settlers in the upper Columbia Valley. She was the first editor of the Valley Echo in Invermere many years ago. She wrote and directed plays for the community, and most recently she wrote a weekly column for the paper, "Echoes by the Way." She received the Queen's Silver and Golden Jubilee medals. She was a recipient of the Order of British Columbia in 1999 and the B.C. and Yukon Community Newspaper Association's life achievement award that same year. The recognitions truly go on and on.
Winn's life has been a tapestry woven with vision and determination. We are fortunate to be left with the results of her hard work. She has left a special footprint on Invermere and the Columbia Valley, and for that we are extremely grateful. She will be missed.
W. McMahon: I want to begin today by commenting on the driving force behind our economy — our natural resources. Resource-based industries are the economic backbone of this province, and although they waned at times due to poor public policy and the economic climate, they are still an integral part of the economic force. This is particularly true for the Kootenay, where communities and families depend on the forest and mining industries for their livelihood. One need only look to history to see the widespread contribution of the East Kootenay resources to the local and provincial economy. The Sullivan mine in Kimberley pumped nearly $20 million into the provincial economy. The Elk Valley has historically been a hotbed for coal mining activity and continues to be an enormous mining hub, contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the region and the entire province. But that's not all. Today we know the Kootenay region has tremendous coalbed methane potential. This resource will offer new opportunities for growth and jobs in that region.
Last fall I stood up and spoke in support of a motion calling on the House to recognize the immense contribution of resource development to the health and education infrastructure of all communities. Without our resource-based communities and industries, we would not have our prized services such as health care, education, social services and services for families. These services exist because we have strong and sustainable industries in this province that make it possible.
We are going to continue to implement our forestry revitalization plan and explore new secondary industries, such as manufacturing and value-added products. Although traditional resource industries have
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been the backbone of the Kootenay region, we also recognize that it is necessary to diversify. That is why the Premier travelled to China and India to seek new trade partners and explore new opportunities. We need to think outside the box, and that's what this government is doing.
One industry that has often been overlooked and now has great potential to be an economic powerhouse is tourism. Tourism is a vital industry to British Columbia, one that contributes nearly $10 billion to the provincial economy and offers a host of employment opportunities to British Columbians throughout our province. In the past we have not always recognized the full tourism potential of our heartlands and back-country regions. However, this is changing rapidly. Most tourists don't simply come to B.C. to enjoy the city life of Vancouver and Victoria. They come to experience the natural beauty and outdoors that our province has to offer. Tourists and travellers alike come to B.C. to experience our back-country adventures, our mountains and ski hills, our word-class resorts and our multitude of golf courses, and we have most of these sought-after destinations right here in my own back yard in the Kootenay.
Even Microsoft has recognized the incredibly high quality of golf resorts in our region. The Microsoft Xbox Links 2004 golf series now includes Greywolf at Panorama, one of only ten golf courses in the world that can be played on Xbox, the most realistic computer game system on the market. Other courses include a course in Hawaii and the course at St. Andrews.
We have tremendous potential to develop tourism in B.C., particularly in the Kootenay region, to make it one of the leading industries of this province, particularly with the Olympics coming to Vancouver and Whistler in 2010. This truly is our opportunity to shine, and I think it is an opportunity for the Kootenay to show its colours. Last year Fernie was home to the world freestyle event, which hosted world-class athletes. An opportunity as a training destination for athletes is Panorama Mountain resort where the Canadian alpine ski team has been training. Earlier this summer they were up at Farnham Glacier, just outside of Panorama, where they trained for the very first time during the summer here — right here in British Columbia.
Through the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games, Kootenay Knitting became a world-known company overnight with its contract to supply CBC with vests and sweaters. Now our small and medium businesses have an opportunity to market their own products through the Olympic Games right here. Earlier today the Premier introduced our Paralympians as they were on their way back east. Usually I have the privilege of extending greetings to them in Kimberley, where they do a lot of training at the ski hill there.
During the 2010 Olympic Games, all eyes are going to be on us. This is a marketing opportunity in and of itself. In order to see our resources such as tourism, forestry and mining thrive, we have put in motion an economic plan that is beginning to see real results. We're seeing results throughout the province and right at home. Communities in my constituency of Columbia River–Revelstoke are making great strides and beginning to experience economic revitalization. Invermere on the Lake and the entire upper Columbia Valley have continued to prosper economically.
Local resorts are continuing to attract investment through recreational property buyers. Invermere has seen $19.5 million in new home construction over the past two years, and property values have increased 11 percent on average in the last year alone. In 2003, Invermere on the Lake's boundary was further expanded by over 400 acres to allow a new resort-residential neighbourhood with over 10,000 new homesites.
The town of Golden is continuing to develop its capacity as a provincial gateway community and world-class tourism and quality-of-life destination. Last December the provincial government, Golden and area economic development society, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort and Tourism B.C. signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a visitor information centre in Golden. Local financing partnerships and land acquisition are nearing completion.
The MOU brings the community one step closer to becoming a tourism hub in the East Kootenay and will provide between six and ten direct jobs within the centre, plus construction jobs. The Kicking Horse Mountain Resort has topped $100 million in investment in less than four years. A call for proposals to potential developers by Land and Water B.C. is anticipated shortly and will result in the planned development of approximately 102 additional homes in the community.
The 2003 year ended on a high note for Revelstoke and its economy. Positive indicators included an increase in hotel room revenues by 14 percent between 2000 and the end of 2003, an increase in housing sales by almost 100 percent from 2001 to 2003 — this trend is continuing into 2004 — increased local hiring by CP Rail due to an improved business climate and increased investment encouraged by the completion of the Mount MacKenzie resort master plan.
In the coming years Revelstoke looks forward to several major economic development initiatives, including the development of a major four-season resort at the local ski hill, Mount MacKenzie, which will have a major impact on the local and regional economy — Revelstoke looks forward to the provincial government fast-tracking this project — the reopening of the Coldstream mine operated by Orphan Boy Resources, and the marketing of lakeshore properties on both Lake Revelstoke and the Arrow Lakes, which will have a positive impact on the local economy. These are strong indicators that the economy is turning around and that we're on track for a prosperous 2004.
When talking about the economy, we often talk in figures and dollars and lose sight of how these figures and dollars translate into the real world. A strong economy isn't simply about investment figures, business and trade, balanced budgets, responsible spending. It's about what that economy supports. We rely on a strong economy and adaptable fiscal policies to sup-
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port and invest in services for people — services such as health care, education and social programs for those who are less fortunate.
Striving for a balanced budget and encouraging investment is not about slashing social services and letting people fall between the cracks. It's about bringing in revenue to pay for these very services that help prevent people from falling through the cracks. We're investing in our services, and that's what we're doing with health care throughout the province. The East Kootenay has seen a tremendous amount of reorganization of health care over the last two and a half years. At times it was a process riddled with growing pains.
However, I'm proud to stand here today and tell you that for the first time ever, we truly have a regional hospital. East Kootenay Regional Hospital is now equipped with nearly two dozen specialists. The interior health authority is currently awaiting the arrival of four more specialists, and that's good news for our area. This means that people can get the care they need when they need it, right at home. In the past, Kootenay residents have travelled to as far away as Vancouver or Calgary, which is much closer for us in the eastern side of the province. But we now have specialists here, locally, to provide the services.
The hospital has state-of-the-art equipment ranging from a variety of diagnostic equipment to a telehealth video conferencing system. Telehealth video conferencing, the latest in health technology, allowed almost two dozen patients in the East and West Kootenays to avoid a costly trip to Kelowna to see a specialist last month. This is ideal for people who are unable to travel, lack transportation or are unable to afford travel to another health centre.
On another note, the community of Kimberley is in the process of setting up a primary care centre which will operate as a holistic health centre in this community. The interior health authority is also working on the renovation of old facilities and development of new facilities for seniors throughout the region.
The throne speech highlighted some key initiatives that were undertaken in education, and I'm excited about our investment in education. I assisted the Rocky Mountain superintendent of schools for many years, and therefore education is a subject close to my heart and one that I feel is integral to a strong and dynamic society. As government, we recognize the importance of investing in the education of our children, which is why we're committing $313 million over the next three years to education. That's why we're adding 25,000 new student spaces to B.C.'s colleges, universities and institutes by 2010. My constituency is home to the College of the Rockies and Okanagan University College campuses — interdisciplinary colleges that offer a wide range and variety of programs and allow students to study closer to home. This is so important in rural British Columbia.
Last fall the Minister of Advanced Education committed $60,950 to the East Kootenay trades pilot project in order to bridge the gap on skilled trades shortages. Our government will continue to implement the new industry training model and work toward offering flexibility and choice in all educational paths, whether they are academic in nature or trades-related.
Not only are we working to provide flexibility and choice in traditional educational institutions, we're also working to bridge the digital divide. This is another untapped educational resource and linked to the global community. However, many communities across B.C. still don't have the broadband access to the Internet. For example, the community of Parson, located in my constituency and close to Golden, is one of the 171 communities without broadband access. That's 251 people who could benefit from technology. Kootenay caucus recognizes that this is a regional issue and has met with a number of groups interested in seeing broadband expanded to all parts of the Kootenay.
Lastly, we are also investing in transportation infrastructure throughout the province. Those of us who reside in the Kootenay understand the need for safe highways and accessible routes across the province but also to our back-country destinations. For this reason, I'm pleased that we're maintaining funding for the maintenance of recreational sites access roads.
We're also working hard to see the Trans-Canada Highway upgraded around Kicking Horse Canyon. Upgrades to this highway have been a long time coming. We're investing $60.5 million in the replacement of the Yoho Bridge, which began in July of 2002. The next phase of this project will be the $130 million replacement of the Park Bridge. These projects, along with many other upgrades taking place on the Trans-Canada Highway, will not only ensure safety but encourage efficiency.
It's vital that we invest in resource-based communities and services like health care, education, technology and transportation, but it's equally important that we invest in our citizens. The people of this province are our greatest asset. This year's throne speech identifies the strengths that we share as citizens and areas that we need to work on as a community. We've been developing a variety of partnerships with first nations, addressing treaty-related issues, economic development and social issues such as child protection strategies and education.
In my constituency, the Shuswap first nation recently received $600,000 through the provincial economic measures fund to support building a water reservoir and delivery system for on- and off-reserve real estate developments. The first nation will be working with the private sector by providing water services to off-reserve real estate development that will provide approximately $150,000 in annual revenue to the Shuswap band.
In a joint venture with the government of Canada, the provincial government is funding two economic development projects which will benefit the Ktunaxa-Kinbasket tribal council and the Kootenay region. These projects involve greater participation by the
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tribal council in forestry and tourism-related businesses, strategic land use planning and coalbed methane exploration. Local first nations will benefit from the economic stimulus of these projects, allowing them to better care for their communities and families. This is what I call investing in people.
On another front, we're investing in the futures of both young and old. Thanks to the recommendations of the safe schools task force on which I sat, new provincial standards for codes of conduct will be put in place to increase student safety and reduce bullying in our schools. It's an important issue to students, parents and teachers throughout this province. Every student should have the right to a public education without fear of bullying, harassment or intimidation.
Young people and adults alike should also have the opportunity to read and write. Statistics on literacy in British Columbia are staggering and appalling. For this reason I'm pleased that the Premier has announced a Premier's advisory panel on literacy. This panel will serve to evaluate the key issues surrounding literacy and, hopefully, provide suggestions for improvement. The more literate our citizens, the more opportunities are available to them and their families.
Last fall the provincial government awarded $35,000 to the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy in the East Kootenay to continue support of literacy programs in the region. They do a fantastic job on a small amount of money, so I'm extremely proud of the work they do. It is through initiatives such as this one that we can empower individuals and give them the tools to fulfil their potential. After all, isn't that what we're all trying to achieve?
We're all trying to fulfil our potential, whether it is as parents, educators, physicians, nurses, tradespeople, lawyers. We're trying to do the best we can with what we have. We're trying to support our families and offer our children brighter futures and more opportunities than we had.
Isn't that what we're trying to achieve with the bold vision set out in the throne speech and the legislation we debate here in the Legislature? As elected officials, we're here to make a difference not only to the economic and social fabric of British Columbia but also to our communities and our constituents.
We are committed to revitalizing the provincial economy and making British Columbia a better place to live for all. The throne speech outlined the importance of social responsibility. I think this is crucial to building a strong and democratic society. As government, we are working hard to ensure that services for families, women and society's most needy are available when needed.
I support our efforts to address outstanding social issues such as drug addiction, mental health and crime, but we can't do this alone. I look forward to working with community groups and other organizations in an effort to address social issues in our communities. I look forward to building on the partnerships that we have already established. Most of all, I look forward to creating a brighter future for our children.
In closing, I would like to leave you with this quote by Henry Ford: "Coming together is a beginning. Staying together is progress. Working together is success." We must continue working together to find creative solutions to the issues that bind us as British Columbians.
R. Hawes: I'd like to start by sending my best wishes to our colleague the member for Kelowna-Mission. If she's watching, I wish she had something better to do, because, frankly, there's probably something better on another channel. However, get well and get back to us.
This is a response to the Speech from the Throne, and first I want to ask the rhetorical question: what is the Speech from the Throne? What is that all about?
The Speech from the Throne is the way the government tells the world — it tells the investment community, it tells the taxpayers and service users, it tells the country — that this is our plan. This is how we intend to advance programs. This is our overall plan for new services, for the delivery of services, for advancing our province on behalf of the people who live here. It covers the economy. It covers how we deal with first nations. In this throne speech it covers B.C. Rail, forestry and mining, oil and gas. It covers the arts, the Olympics. It's a broad-ranging document that covers pretty much everything the government plans to do.
The old saying is: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." When we took office some years ago, we knew and everybody in the province knew it was broken. Our system was broken. We could see that from all of the statistical evidence, where we had slid to being in last place in almost every economic indicator in this country. We were in last place, our debt was skyrocketing, and we had deficits in spite of what the previous government claimed to be a balanced budget. Anyone with any sense looking at it knew that the balanced budget the previous government had was based on unsustainable factors like high energy prices — inordinately high energy prices; who can forget what we were paying for natural gas at that time? — unusual transfers of money, high interest rates. There were a lot of unsustainable factors, and in fact we were in what we called a structural deficit that was fairly substantial and required immediate attention.
We began a plan of change, of restructuring, in this province when we were elected several years ago. That restructuring plan is well underway, and it is working. The throne speech now continues to lay out the plan and how we are on track and going to progress both through this legislative session and into the future.
There are, according to our opposition, a number of impediments, a number of reasons why we can't get on with our plan, why we can't deliver what's promised in the throne speech. The first thing they like now, at this point, to talk about is scandal. Scandals impede the government's means of moving ahead. In fact, everything we do now is to try to divert attention away from the scandals.
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I want to start by asking: what is a scandal? I'm thinking about what is now purported by the opposition and some in the media to be scandals. These are things that happened with employees of the government and that will happen in companies, in free enterprise. It will happen at the local level; it happens in school boards. People do things sometimes that are against the rules. A scandal becomes a scandal in government when an elected official learns of something and tries to cover it up or is directly involved in that.
In what are now being called scandals by the opposition here, there isn't any of that present. There isn't anything like what happened, say, with Bingogate with the previous NDP government. There wasn't anything here like Casinogate, where in the last government they tried — within government, elected officials — to withhold things and had to have information pulled out like hens' teeth. In the case here that the opposition likes to refer to now as scandals, we have some employees that may or may not have done something wrong. No one really knows. They impugn the reputation of these employees and everyone else, when everything around it has said — including the police — that there is no government or elected official involvement.
We don't have scandals in this government. We have got things that we have dealt with in a most appropriate way, and I'm thinking particularly of the Children and Family Development ministry. The member for Surrey–White Rock, the Minister of Children and Family Development, determined something was wrong in his ministry, got the information, immediately brought it forward, brought in an audit team, did exactly the appropriate things. This is not a scandal. In fact, this is dealing with a problem within government with the highest degree of integrity.
I really am offended, deeply offended, when I hear the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Vancouver-Hastings, refer to what's going on in this government as scandals. I am even more deeply offended when I think of the integrity of the individual members of this government, the business people and the people who have spent careers serving in police and serving at the local level in governments, working in churches and working with the poor, people who are parents and grandparents. These are people of high integrity whose reputations, I think, are being impugned by the opposition every time they make these comments.
[J. Weisbeck in the chair.]
I find it deeply offensive, and I think most of the people in the province and particularly in my riding understand where this is coming from. It's frankly disgusting.
Within our throne speech the first and foremost thing of importance, as far as I'm concerned, is that we're balancing the budget. We said right from the start, when we got elected, that our plan was to balance the budget. We said this was a huge priority. In fact, we've made it law that it must be balanced.
I'm getting questions quite often at town hall meetings and such that…. People are saying: "Why do you have to balance the budget? Why do you have to do it so fast? What's the importance of a balanced budget anyway?" In fact, a couple of school teachers two weeks ago somehow said that wanting to balance the budget is just a banker's outlook and that there is something wrong with that. Well, living within your means is a tenet that almost everybody in this province understands. I can tell you that the seniors get it and have always gotten it. Living within your budget is critical to ongoing survival both in your household and, frankly, in government.
I can tell you there is a mortgage plan — and I like to think of that as an analogy — available for seniors, the reverse equity mortgage, where at retirement age or whenever, if you have a home that has lots of equity and your income is down because you retired, you can top up your income by pulling money out of your house every month to live on. It's not very popular. Almost every senior I know that I have ever talked to — and I was in banking for a number of years, and that was one of the services that were offered…. I never had anybody take it up. The seniors would say: "This is horrible. Why would I use the equity in my house and spend my kids' inheritance so that I can live? I can't do that." They couldn't bring themselves to do that.
That's what we've been doing as a province for quite a number of years. We've been spending our kids' inheritance. We've been living on our credit cards to buy our groceries. That's what we've been doing. We've got $40 billion in debt, and I'd like to challenge people to think of when that previous government came into power. We had a debt of something like $17 billion, and they exited with over $37 billion in debt.
I'd like to challenge people to ask: "What did we get for that money? Where did $20 billion go over a decade? That's $2 billion a year on average. Did we get a lot of new highways?" I'm looking at some of the members here from the north part of the province, and I don't see them nodding their heads and saying they saw some improvement in the roads. I'm not seeing anybody standing up, waving their arms and saying: "Well, we got a lot of really good capital investment for the $20 billion." That's mostly money that was spent on our groceries. It's critical that we stop leveraging our future in this province and leaving a huge debt for our children.
The second part of that is that interest costs eat away such a huge amount of the flexibility that government has to provide services. I think anybody can figure that out. Once you get so far into debt that you're spending all of your money servicing the debt, you can't pay your mortgage payment. You can't buy your groceries. You can't buy shoes for your kids. You know, in this province, when you get so high in debt that all of your money is going to service that debt, you can't buy hospital services, and you can't provide services for the poor and affordable housing and all the
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programs we all want. You can't fix highways when you don't have any money.
The last one for balancing the budget, in my view, is the bond-rating agencies. We are at the mercy of the people we owe money to. If we're not doing the right thing and if we're not acting appropriately, our credit rating will be downgraded, much like what happens in people's individual lives. If they step out of line with their bank, either they get their loan called or often they'll see an interest rate adjustment — up, because the banks set your interest rate based on your risk.
Gosh, we owe a lot of money, and if we don't get our budget under control, we are going to see an interest rate increase because we will see a credit-rating decrease. It's very simple. Today, because of what this government is doing, the bond-rating agencies are holding our credit rating as stable. They are intensely interested in what we're doing. They're watching very closely, but they're very satisfied that we are moving on track to a balanced budget — and we are, and we've done it with diligence in spite of a huge amount of opposition from some quarters.
How do you balance the budget? That's pretty well reflected too, I think, in the throne speech. You can get bigger revenues, build your economy, and you can reduce your costs. I want to talk a little bit about those aspects of the throne speech.
Let's start with the economy. Very clearly, this throne speech and some recent moves, in fact, within cabinet in this government…. A very clear agenda is available for anyone to see, and that is we're heavily, heavily committed to improving our resource sector. We're going to bring British Columbia back to the leadership role it traditionally had before that last bunch, for ten years, destroyed mining and forestry. They have no interest in oil and gas, and clearly they also had no interest in power and in the electrification of this province, because there was no investment made there either and no commitment to investment.
The throne speech talks, to start with, a lot about mining — what we're planning to do with the mining sector, the work we're doing with the mining sector and the commitments we're making to the mining sector. One of the things the mining sector, like the forestry sector, is looking for is certainty on the land base.
It wasn't that many years ago that the Windy Craggy mine people found a very large deposit in the northern part of this province, invested millions — perhaps hundreds of millions — of dollars, were ready to put a big mine in production that actually would have paid this province a huge amount of royalties and would have provided big employment at high, high incomes. The previous government decided that it would become a park, so they just basically cut those people off. They just informed them they were out — no mine and no compensation. To the mining industry, it sent a signal that we were worse than a Third World country where a coup from government at any time could just wipe you out. Well, that's what happened here in this province. The signal went out around the world: this is not a place to invest in mining.
Well, I'm really proud to say that our Minister of Energy and Mines has worked very hard to bring back the mining sector, to show them. Through the work of the Premier, the cabinet and this government, we have demonstrated to the mining sector that we are very serious about providing them with certainty on the land, with stability, with a deregulation process in this province that will allow them to get back to work and yet sustain the environment. I know of no mining company or forestry company that wants to go out and destroy the environment, as some would have you believe or have all of us believe, so I'm quite proud of what we're doing around mining.
Where my constituents need to look at is not to those who would say that we're destroying the environment or that mining is terrible. They need to listen to what the mining industry is saying. The mining industry is saying it's very happy with the policies of this government. Finally they find a way to come back, and hundreds of millions of dollars are now starting to come back into this province in research and development, and jobs are returning in that sector.
Forestry has been devastated for quite a number of years, but the same sorts of things were happening for forestry under the previous government as was happening with mining. We were taking tenured forests, where forestry companies had gone out and invested money, and just pulling away their tenure and turning it into parks with no compensation.
Sometimes that was done, again going back to…. Earlier I was talking about scandals — the Carrier Lumber scandal, which I think was a scandal, where the government made some decisions that were clearly not legal decisions. They took away a right from a family in Prince George to some tenure, and after many years and a new government we have settled that. The previous government acted, I think, in a way that showed the forestry industry that we in this province couldn't be trusted.
The forestry revitalization that's underway in this province is going to put the forest back to work. The declaration of a working forest in this province gives some certainty on the land base to those who want to invest in forestry. It's a tremendous step forward. On the coast, where my constituents are most affected, we're moving to market-based stumpage system that's going to improve their lot in life. The companies that provide jobs — and for me the most important thing is the jobs and the people that live and pay for their groceries and support their families on those jobs — need to have certainty.
I can tell you I'm really pleased that there was a working group that looked at the salvage industry in this province and came up with a number of regulations. I'm really pleased to see in this throne speech that there is a commitment not just to a salvage regime but to increasing the amount of salvage wood that can be held under a permit on a direct sale to those who
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work in the salvage industry. There are quite a few of those in my riding, and I'm hoping they have received that news already. I know they're going to be extremely pleased.
The oil and gas sector. The Minister of Energy and Mines has been successful in attracting the biggest sale we ever had at one time of rights to oil in this province. The oil industry is very excited about their future here under this government. To me and to many in this province, the possibility of offshore oil and gas exploration is just…. I mean, that's where a big, big part of our economic future will lie.
The NDP government has absolutely committed that it will never allow that to happen. There is no point in even discussing it. I not only find that, for many in this province, to be completely unacceptable, but I'm not hearing from the leader of the opposition, Carole James, where the money is going to come from, then, to pay for the programs she is promising. I'm still interested in hearing, but I doubt if there will ever be an answer.
If we want to build an economy here, we have to be able to power the province. We have to be able to supply electricity at an affordable rate. We have been blessed in this province to have B.C. Hydro, a legacy left by W.A.C. Bennett — a tremendous, tremendous power supply that for over 30 years has not really seen any significant investment. In fact, it has been used by previous governments as a real cash cow, stripped of everything they could take out of it so that B.C. Hydro was unable to reinvest in itself. Its transmission facilities are aging and badly in need of investment, but that investment capital simply isn't there.
We have now at times become a net importer of power in this province, especially when we have low water years. There hasn't been any move to increase our capacity to produce power here, because B.C. Hydro, frankly, hadn't the money. It was being used again as a cash cow by particularly the previous government, so there was no money left for Hydro to reinvest in itself.
We have not just developed an energy policy for this province that will allow some reinvestment by Hydro in itself, but we have invited the independent power producers of the world to come to British Columbia and supply us with green power to augment the power that we already produce for ourselves. They will help invest in our transmission facilities, which have been segregated and are now all fully protected. Although the opposition and many out there who have special interests like to point to what's going on in Hydro and say somehow we're selling it off, it is exactly the contrary.
In terms of hydro rates, we have re-regulated Hydro so that the likes of a Glen Clark could never again hold hydro rates and things like that to his personal pleasure to be set in his office. Completely wrong — politicians should not be setting the rates for things like hydro. We have re-regulated under the B.C. Utilities Commission, a completely independent body, the way it should always have been left.
I can tell you this. As a government, we know you can't freeze things like hydro rates or insurance rates or university tuitions and not put more money in to subsidize the inflation rate that these companies run under and not suffer serious consequences. It doesn't make sense. The previous government politically froze rates, trying to buy votes, and they ran us into huge difficulties. So we won't be doing that.
Our energy policy and our method of building the economy through rebuilding our resource sector are going to work, particularly when you combine it with the reduction in regulation that we have implemented — over 90,000 regulations. We removed many of them — huge, huge impediments to investment in this province.
Another huge impediment — the previous government didn't get it — was the corporate capital tax and income tax. I often hear those who have special interests say: "You gave a tax cut to the rich. That's why we can't have services." If we're not competitive with our neighbours…. We have lots of evidence. We saw for ten years how those who have money to invest in this province flee when they can go to a friendlier tax clime. When you have a government that continually points fingers, as though those who produce wealth are the enemy, then those who produce wealth will leave. Why would they stay? That's what was happening.
The corporate capital tax, a deadly killer…. It didn't matter whether you made money or not. If you had assets that were over a threshold, you were going to pay tax on it. Absolutely ridiculous — removed by this government, not understood at all by the previous government. That was one of the big factors that totally killed investment from the Orient. Why would anyone make large investments here and then start paying tax on their investments before they make any money? It makes no sense. We have removed it, because we understood that it was a killer.
On the cost reduction side. Cost reduction comes in many forms, including service realignment. That is one of the things that we hear the most about. That's one of the places that, in the Speech from the Throne, is highlighted. We are realigning many services, and with great improvement and over time, I think people are going to understand that much of what we're doing, when it's all put together, is part of a comprehensive restructuring plan that's going to move us ahead to the forefront of all the provinces in this country.
I like to think of what's going on here as an analogy — that this is a house under renovation. We're renovating the house, but we're still living in it. I don't know if you have ever done that, but if you have ever renovated your home while you're living in it, it is mighty uncomfortable while the renovations are underway. But when it's finished, by golly it's a pretty nice place to live. That's what's going to happen here.
One of the problems when you start a renovation job, particularly if it is a house you have taken over from someone else, is that sometimes you will open up the walls, and what's inside isn't very attractive. Sud-
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denly you've got a much bigger job on your hands than you originally thought. That's part of an analogy I like to think about too. When we took over this House from the NDP and opened up the walls, we began to see some of the things they had done — some of the highly destructive things they had done that are so difficult to bring under control, the labour contracts that they signed and the little sweetheart deals they gave out. So many things that they did were like ticking time bombs that keep cropping up and causing huge difficulties.
What we have, in fact, is more than cost cuts. You hear from the NDP all the time about cut, cut, cut. We are in cost containment, not cost cut. That's what we particularly do. If you look at what we were left with, if you look at the rising on a graph and if you look at where costs were rising versus where revenue was rising, you could see very quickly where the deficit was going to be. The secret was to bring the cost spiral back down so that it was at or below where our revenue was rising. Unfortunately, the NDP left when the cost spiral was just starting, and a lot of the things that they left…. To give some examples, they didn't invest in highways for a decade. To catch up, somebody has to make a huge investment, and you've got to make it in a big hurry. That's a place where we have some increasing costs that wouldn't be on their books because they didn't spend anything on highways for ten years.
We have ICBC, which was losing money on the insurance side and making money on the investment side. But when the investment side and interest rates subside, ICBC is actually looking at losing money, and so we've got to have increases in rates. But that was because we froze rates for so many years — nonsensically.
Hydro. A 7 percent increase has just been approved, an interim increase — has just been approved by the British Columbia Utilities Commission because they recognized that frozen rates for that many years doesn't make sense and Hydro needs a rate increase. That was a little gem left by the NDP.
Now you see tuition fees — the same thing — in university programs. No increase for years and no increase in funding to the universities means rising costs. Well, we have to stretch out the programs. Four-year degree programs become five, classes become more difficult to get into, etc., and the students now…. To catch up, we see increases, and the students are angry about it. The increases have only taken us to where the average is across the country, but they had to come all at once because there was no rational increase because of a political freezing of rates for a number of years — completely the NDP's style, but that was left for this government inside the walls.
I look at some of the specific ministries and some of the specific initiatives we're doing within government, and I want to talk for just a second about Children and Family Development. I remember in 1996 watching TV and watching Dennis Streifel, who was then the MLA for my riding. He was the Minister of Human Resources. I forget what it was called, but children and families was all mixed in, and the Matthew Vaudreuil case came up. I still remember him being questioned on that. He stood with no answers. In fact, the current member for Vancouver-Hastings spun in her chair, and you could hear her. At home watching on TV, you could hear her whispering answers to him because he was so flummoxed and knew nothing about what he was doing.
A result of that was that they split the ministry, and they took children and families away from him. The Gove report showed a direction they couldn't follow, and children and families has been a mess — everyone knows that — for years. The Minister of Children and Family Development under this government for the last several years, who has now stepped aside while there is an audit going on, worked diligently, particularly with the community living sector, to make an agreement to change governance.
You know, it's amazing. I have talked to people from the interim board: Dave Driscoll, the chair, former mayor of Port Moody; people like Heidi Gletchko from Abbotsford or Brice Shuffleberger from my own riding, who is a self-advocate and is very excited about the direction this is moving. These people live this every day. They understand people with developmental difficulties. They work with it every single day. They are extremely excited about where we are going in Children and Family Development. That initiative is going to continue.
The unfortunate thing is that when you listen to people like Carole James or the Leader of the Opposition talk about what's happening there, they're diverting attention away from the move to community living. They talk about Doug Walls. Doug Walls was hired by the interim board to do a job, and he did it very competently, I'm told by the members of the board. The difficulties he has himself in, frankly, have nothing to do with the transfer of services to the community living sector, and they're anxious to get on with this transfer. Any delay that's caused by people like Carole James, frankly, is a disservice to the people in this province who have developmental difficulties, and they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they're conducting what they say.
I see my time is up, and I have a number of other things that I wanted to talk about. I know there are others who are going to talk about the many good things that are in the Speech from the Throne. I'll just leave by saying that the direction the government is taking has been set. We are not changing our course, and the people who tell us to "hold the line and keep going" need not fear, because that's entirely what we're going to do.
Hon. G. Abbott: It's a pleasure to rise and join in the debate in response to the Speech from the Throne. The first thing I'd like to do, Mr. Speaker, is congratulate you on your continuing appointment as the Deputy Speaker for this House. It is quite an honour. Congratulations on that.
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Also, I think one of the first things I want to do is thank the electors of the constituency of Shuswap again for the honour I have had of representing them in the Legislature since 1996. The Shuswap is a wonderful part of the world. As well, it is a part of the world that I think is benefiting from some of the important changes that we have brought about as a government and some of the important improvements in economic and social life that we have tried to bring about through the progressive policies we've undertaken.
There is much good news in the throne speech both for citizens in the Shuswap and, indeed, for citizens right across the province. If I was to attempt to identify a dominant theme which emerges from the throne speech, in my opinion it would be the importance of strengthening the economic and social fabric of British Columbia. It is not enough to deal only with one side of the equation — the social or the economic. It is important that we be strong in both areas. I believe, in fact, that as a government we have achieved much in both of those areas, and I think there is much that can be said and has been said in the throne speech which will remind us of important changes that we've undertaken and certainly important changes that are proposed and will be undertaken in the months ahead.
Among those ways in which we have attempted to strengthen the economic and social fabric in the province, one important area is land use certainty. The Premier asked me a couple of weeks ago now to undertake the leadership in the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management. That's a great honour for me and a challenge that I'm very much looking forward to because, as the lead ministry with respect to Crown lands in this province, sustainable resource management also has very much a lead role in securing greater land use certainty across the province as well.
What we will be attempting to do is achieve, through working extensively with the many and varied stakeholders in this province, an appropriate balance between the need for economic development and the need for environmental sustainability in the province. The goal in achieving that balance is to ensure that people who live in communities all across this province — whether it is my home community of Sicamous, Tahsis on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Smithers in the north or Cranbrook in the southeast — have an opportunity to work in and around the communities in which they live.
We have at times seen, particularly after the legacy of the government we had in the 1990s and challenges to our resource industries across this province…. We want to work as hard as we possibly can to ensure that people in communities everywhere in British Columbia have an opportunity to work in the forests of British Columbia, in mines across British Columbia, in the tourism industry and many other occupations that are such an important part of the economic backbone of communities across this province.
One of the very important elements in achieving land use certainty is to work very closely with the first nations of British Columbia to ensure that they are included as part of the solution to our needs in communities across the province. We want to see first nations be full partners and participants in the economy, whether it is in the resource extraction area, in manufacturing or in high-tech. In all of those areas we want to see first nations assume a greater role. I'm very proud to be part of a government that has worked steadily, studiously and vigorously with first nations to ensure that, in fact, we can see them taking a stronger role in the economic life of this province.
I know my friend and colleague the Attorney General, the Minister Responsible for Treaty Negotiations, has made unprecedented progress in resolving some treaty issues after a long period of inactivity in that area. He should be rightly proud of what he has achieved to date there. We have great expectations that he will be able to achieve more in the weeks, months and years ahead. He has also had the lead on an economic measures fund, which I know has been used very strategically and appropriately to try to strengthen aboriginal participation in our economy.
In my former ministry, the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services, we undertook a number of programs including a doubling of the First Citizens Fund to $72 million, so that we could provide loans to aboriginal entrepreneurs to create new businesses, to provide student bursaries for young aboriginal students so that they could be students in the post-secondary system across B.C. and to support the aboriginal friendship centres which are an important part of strengthening the social lives of aboriginals, particularly off-reserve, in this province.
We also had the Aboriginal Employment Partnership Initiative, which again provides a bridge between private and public sector employers in this province and the aboriginal training programs that exist in this province, and I think we're looking forward to great success in that area as well. On the issue of first nations and their participation in the economy, I salute the Minister of Forests for the work he has undertaken. Some of the early successes we've seen earlier with the Cowichan tribes — just about a week ago now — where we are going to see not only greater participation of first nations in the forest economy but also some of the first revenue-sharing agreements in that area.
Finally — certainly not finally in terms of the exhaustive list but a final one that I'll note here today — there's the work that's being undertaken and has been undertaken in the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management in respect to ensuring that first nations are a part of the land and resource management plan development that has been undertaken and to ensure that they are very much cognizant of and a part of the economic activities that are growing every day, whether it's on the land or on the water in aquaculture operations and that sort of thing. So first nations are a very key element in what we're undertaking here in British Columbia, and certainly that's very much reflected in the comments in the throne speech as well.
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There are a host of other ways in which this government aims to strengthen the economic and social fabric of this province. Among them is transportation, and I see the former Minister of Transportation, who did a splendid job in that area. [Applause.] We miss her over in this corner of the House, but she's certainly still here. She did a great job.
Transportation is, as she many times noted, a critical part of economic development in this province. You can't develop strong, vibrant, world-class, world-competitive industries unless you have a world-class infrastructure to deliver those things to the markets, get people to their employment and get the resources out of there and into places where they're transformed into higher-value products. We've taken some very aggressive and bold steps as a government to ensure that we do have that excellent infrastructure right across the province.
It's important in all areas of the province. I'm certainly gratified we have had some early and excellent projects undertaken in the constituency of Shuswap — the Swan Lake project, which both the member from North Okanagan, now the Minister of Education, and I were both very keen to see undertaken. It's the Swan Lake interchange, which will modernize and improve the efficiency and safety of a very busy intersection which is actually the border between the Shuswap and North Okanagan constituencies. The Swan Lake project, about a $23 million project, is going to be a great addition to our constituencies and certainly to our communities.
As well, we have a $13 million project at Carlin Hill, which is for the first time going to be providing safe access to Carlin School. For many years it's been very difficult for parents driving their kids to school and for school buses, and so on, to safely get their kids into Carlin School, and this very important project is a great way to resolve some of those longstanding safety issues associated with that area.
In the area of forestry reforms, and others have mentioned those…. Forestry remains, notwithstanding some of the challenges we have had in the forest sector over the past few years, a great industry in British Columbia, a major employer in the province. I salute the Minister of Forests for the revitalization that he has committed to and undertaken with great vigour. I know that in communities — whether it's Armstrong or Malakwa or Salmon Arm — as long as we have the softwood lumber dispute hanging over our heads, there is always a sense of a bit of a wet blanket on the forest industry in the province. Again, I know the minister has worked very hard to try to resolve that dispute. Hopefully, we are making some progress towards the resolution of that dispute, but obviously it's a difficult negotiation and one that is not simply or easily resolved. I do know that forestry has a great future in this province. Our forest industry is a great employer, a great source of revenue, and it has a great future in this province, I think, with some of the enlightened reforms and revitalization that have been undertaken.
As well, among the pieces of great news that were contained in the Speech from the Throne yesterday was the announcement of three-year funding for K-to-12 education in this province — $313 million. I am delighted to hear about that. I have the opportunity to meet on a regular basis with the school board of school district 83, North Okanagan–Shuswap, and they've been very good about getting together with me on a quarterly basis, telling me about the work they're doing and the challenges they face, and so on. I think they are among the school boards in this province that actually do an excellent job, but I know that extra resources will be welcome. I salute the government for committing 313 million additional dollars to ensure that our kids right across this province, regardless of whether they live in a big city or the smallest town, have the opportunity to access quality education from kindergarten to grade 12.
Another great piece of news. I know my colleague the Minister of Advanced Education, who is also here, will be looking forward to rolling out further information in the weeks ahead about the 25,000 spaces that the throne speech talks about, which will be brought into this province by the year 2010.
I'm currently the father of two university students. Probably next year, as my son graduates from grade 12, I'm going to be the father of three university students. I do know that it takes pretty high marks these days to get into post-secondary education. Hopefully, with these 25,000 new spaces, every kid who is working hard and paying attention to their school work will have an opportunity to access post-secondary education at any number of the many excellent post-secondary educational institutions we have in this province. So that's great news. The 25,000 new spaces is a very, very aggressive, very substantial goal to try to achieve, and I salute the province, the government and the minister for undertaking a bold measure like that and trying to ensure that all young people in British Columbia have an opportunity to get the education that they would like.
The Premier noted yesterday, in response to the Speech from the Throne — not in here, but I read it in one of the newspapers — that education is in fact the best economic development program that one could construct, and I certainly agree with him. There are such strong, powerful and positive links between the kind of education that people secure and their prospects for economic and social well-being that there's really no dispute around it. I think by showing such strong leadership in both the K-to-12 and post-secondary areas, the Premier and our government are really leading the way in this country toward ensuring that every young British Columbian has the opportunity to be the very best they can. I think that's what we all, as parents, want to do for our kids, and I'm proud to be part of a government that is working very hard to do precisely that.
There is already, I would suggest or submit, some excellent news coming in, in terms of results from the
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initiatives we have undertaken in our first two and a half years — going on three years — in government in British Columbia. We are seeing, for example, some spectacular job creation performance in this province. British Columbia was, in fact, the number one job creation province in the nation in the year 2003, and we should all be proud of that — over 77,000 jobs created just in 2003. When you combine the jobs created both in 2002 and in 2003, we are now at over 154,000 new jobs. We know that across this nation and across North America and around the world, job creation numbers are not positive things. Yet somehow I think we have helped to turn a corner here with some policies that have seen new investment and new job creation, and obviously that's critical for our future. Again, I think these numbers bode well for the economic turnaround which we promised and which we are delivering for British Columbians.
Other positive signs. One that particularly gratified me as a former Minister of Housing in the province was the housing starts that were recorded in the year 2003 — over 26,000 housing starts, which is a great turnaround in that industry. It wasn't a one-off or a fluke. We expect that the number will grow even larger in 2004. We expect at least 27,000 new housing starts in the province in 2004. That's excellent news. Housing, obviously, is a critical element in people's lives. If we hope to have affordable housing in this province, we need to have new housing starts. Again, we are delivering on that.
We're not only delivering on market housing; we're delivering on non-market housing as well, with $153 million that was invested last year. I expect a comparable figure in the coming fiscal year as well. Housing starts are up 22 percent overall from 2002. Our housing starts in British Columbia are three times the national average. That gives you a good indication of what we're doing. When I first was Housing minister back in 2001, people told me that if you see housing starts turn around, it always leads to a broader economic turnaround. I think that's true, and I think that is precisely what we are seeing.
We had, as well, a record in real estate sales last year: $24.2 billion in residential real estate sales — up 22.6 percent and an all-time record in this province for real estate sales. Again, that's something we can be proud of.
One of the things often noted during that dark decade of the 1990s, when we were going in the other direction economically and, I think, socially as well in British Columbia, was that we had the exodus of people looking for better jobs — or even a job, period — or economic opportunities in other parts of Canada. We saw that trend reverse in 2003. We saw B.C. enjoy a net inflow of 2,600 residents from other provinces. That was the first time, actually, since 1997 that we were seeing a net inflow of people back to British Columbia.
There are a number of reasons for that. With all those new jobs that have been created — those 154,000 jobs — we've got opportunities that simply didn't exist through much of the 1990s. As well, I think there is a sense of optimism, and that's reflected, actually, in some of the work that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has done. There's great optimism that British Columbia has a booming economy, that this is a place where you can come and invest and it's welcome, where you can come and work hard and get ahead — because we brought in some tax cuts and a tax regime that actually encourages people to work and try to get ahead. It's seen very much as a favourable investment climate, where people want to be here. They want to live here; they want to enjoy the health and education systems we have here. I guess, when the time comes, it's a great place to retire as well. We see a lot of British Columbians feeling very good about their future.
We want to do more. I don't think there is anyone — and certainly I wouldn't be among them — in this government who would say we're yet where we want to be. When one looks at the resources we have in British Columbia — both natural resources and human resources — when one looks at all the things that we have been blessed with, I think we all want to see even greater success. I don't think that I or any of my colleagues will be resting on our laurels until we are once again the number one economy in Canada. I think we can be that. We have lots of advantages, both human and natural. If we can get a combination of those human and natural advantages with progressive policies we have adopted as a government, I think we can see a long-term and sustainable growth of our economy here that will, I hope, in the years ahead make us once again the number one economy in this nation.
I do, before I conclude, want to make a couple of comments about the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management and what we will be aiming for in that ministry. What we certainly want to do is bring certainty to our great land base in British Columbia, and we've got a huge area of Crown land. Through the work of the various land and resource management tables and other land use initiatives that have been undertaken, we are beginning to see some dividends being paid as we move towards certainty on the land. Four coastal land use plans have been completed, which are delivering shellfish and finfish aquaculture investment to the coast and creating jobs for first nations and communities along with spinoff employment in other areas in those communities.
We are also working vigorously — and the throne speech certainly highlighted this — toward more resort development across this great province, particularly in the heartlands of British Columbia. Among the recent successes is a master development agreement signed for Crystal Mountain near Kelowna, which is opening the door to $130 million. I suspect, Mr. Speaker, that you're particularly happy about that one — $130 million in investment in a world-class vacation destination and up to 700 new jobs for that thriving area of the central Okanagan.
A similar agreement — and again I know that the Minister of Advanced Education is really happy about
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this one — is with Canoe Mountain near Valemount. Do you say Valemont or Valemount?
Hon. S. Bond: Valemount.
Hon. G. Abbott: Valemount. I've always said Valemont. I know we have a difference of opinion on that point, and I suspect it's one that I'm going to lose on by the sound of things.
In any event, there's a further $100 million investment in Canoe Mountain, 165 full-time jobs. Again, I think it demonstrates for resource communities that in expanding the opportunities that are available there, in diversifying and offering new tourism products — and Canoe Mountain would obviously be a fabulous example of that — we can ensure and we can strengthen and we can support the long-term viability of small rural communities all across the great province of British Columbia.
We've now completed land use plans which cover 85 percent of the province — with the central coast, north coast, Sea to Sky, Queen Charlotte Islands, or Haida Gwaii. Morice and Lillooet plans will be completed this year, and that will bring us to 85 percent of the province covered by land use plans.
These plans will improve and foster access to Crown land and resources, to tenure security for investors, and include government-to-government negotiations with first nations. All of this is part of building that culture and climate of respect and understanding between government and first nations to ensure, as I noted earlier, that they are very much an equal partner in B.C.'s growing economy.
As well, in sustainable resource management we're going to continue to build on land information B.C., which is an initiative ensuring effective delivery of integrated science-based land, resource and geographic information — a very important initiative for the future of the province as well.
All of this is aimed, as I noted at the outset, at balancing the need for new economic development with sustainable environmental goals as well. We need to have dynamic communities all across British Columbia, and I believe that in a whole range of areas, which are outlined in the Speech from the Throne, our government is going to achieve that.
I believe we have a great future in this province and all the communities in this province. I believe that as we move forward, we will be seeing British Columbia once again the envy of this great nation and the envy of the world as a great place to be. We're going to be celebrating every year until 2010 — that spectacular opportunity we heard about on July 2, 2003, the opportunity to host the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games. That in itself is a great opportunity, and I think it is symbolic of a province that is moving forward to meet its great potential for the people that live in this province.
Deputy Speaker: Continuing response to the throne speech is the member for Prince George–Omineca.
P. Nettleton: Thank you and thanks for this opportunity to respond to the throne speech of yesterday. The unprecedented new years' events of 2003 and 2004 caused the B.C. Liberal government to produce two subtly crafted throne scripts — rather, speeches. Both of them were sentimental and touching descriptions of what makes B.C. a wonderful place to live, from a government many previously considered to have had no heart.
Last year's speech, as some of you may recall, was humble and conciliatory. Not surprisingly, after the first Maui experience, this year's speech was a glossary of all that is British Columbia. Every natural resource was applauded and every human need was reflected. It described a province and a people that have overcome fire, flood and record drought; a people who prevailed in times of trial — whether it be mad cow, the lost lumber trade or the pine beetle scourge, to name but a few. Implied is that the Premier and the government have felt our pain in British Columbia, and it was not without rebuke for those the government considers to be greedily gobbling up too much of the province's assets.
Could it be that such sentiments were developed on the far-off beaches of Maui, reinforced by the sudden rains that the Premier had said interfered with his island paradise getaway? It is said that certain locations have a mellowing effect on the human condition — Rome, with its Trevi Fountain and romantic air softening even the hardest hearts; Maui, with its intoxicating ambience and cosy, warm evenings in which all cares and concerns virtually melt away. At least until the next day, when reality sets in with a frantic phone call from Maui: "I'm in jail. Get me out."
The Premier's brush with reality began with "Maui I" and has now been upstaged by "Maui II," this time a phone call to Maui: "The Legislature has been raided by the RCMP. What will we do?" It could be rightfully referred to as "Maui, the Sequel." Some say that sequels never match up to the original. Maybe this sequel put the lie to that adage. There are those who will never go to sequels because they are often a rehash of an old thing — but not this one, because it just keeps rolling out. Someone said to me that they're expecting it to be added to in weekly instalments, a made-in-Victoria soap opera. Who would have thunk it? Maybe there's movie magic here, after all, in Hollywood North.
The Premier's annual Maui saga and consequent fallout has almost all the requisites of a good movie, even while awaiting the rest of the story — except for the romantic element. Who knows what's next? Only in Victoria, they say. The plot thickens.
Last year's Premier crime story was just a trailer, a mere prologue, a tease on what was to come. The news-breaker that overshadowed the 2003 throne speech was a high-profiled DUI in paradise. Now it has escalated to allegations of organized crime, money laundering, drug smuggling, police corruption and political intrigue, leading right into the corridors of
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power here in Victoria. When is enough enough? It isn't over till the diva sings. We can hear her off-stage practising already.
Meanwhile the government reassures us that it is business as usual, the sky isn't falling and the chickens haven't come home to roost. It's all just a bad Hawaiian dream, and tomorrow's another lovely day back in Lotusland. The government has circled the wagons and has put the word out: "No unauthorized comments from the back bench. Continue to get the sanctioned message out that all is well, and stick with it. No division in the ranks." This is the good-news government.
This throne speech attempted to deliver a mixed message of belt-tightening and belt-loosening, which only served to reveal a government which has lost its direction. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and now we're back at the sugar bowl with only a hint of the larger, empty bowl and the rhetoric. Most British Columbians are faced with an empty bowl for years ahead, despite the promised budget-balancing magic act from King Campbell's bean-counting wizards. This is a throne speech that is a developer's prospectus, a smoke-and-mirrors enticement to as yet unseen and unidentified investors. Any more calamities and scandals, and British Columbians will be awash in sugary syrup.
What does that do to the continuity of the original government hard-line, fix-all-the-problems agenda? It's already in shambles. Demands and protests are coming in from every front — labour, teachers, doctors, ranchers, forest workers, nurses, environmentalists, first nations, seniors and students — and all of them getting an honourable mention in the throne speech. No British Columbian left behind — on paper, at least. Why? Because they are all demanding a piece of this government. Who would have thunk it in 2001, when we all believed that it was out with the bad and in with the good?
A new day and a new era of prosperity was the Liberal promise, and that's what it remains almost three years into the mandate — a remote and seemingly unattainable promise. But wait. There is hope, both past and future hope — the glorious past, the day B.C. was awarded the Olympic Games. In 2010, "British Columbia's moment in the sun," to quote from the throne speech — our future hope. Let's forget what lies between but just dream the dream. Let the games continue.
Hon. B. Barisoff: I kind of wonder where the member was for the last couple of years, listening to that speech.
I'm pleased to get up and speak to the throne speech on behalf of the constituents of Penticton–Okanagan Valley. In British Columbia there's been a thousand new jobs created just in January alone — 83,400 jobs last year in total in British Columbia. I really do wonder where the last member was for the last year. In the Thompson-Okanagan we've, of course, had the biggest rise of all, with a 9.4 percent increase. This is the area you come from too, Mr. Speaker — 20,000 new jobs in the Thompson-Okanagan.
In my riding, Penticton–Okanagan Valley, the economy is very, very strong. The riding starts right at the border in Osoyoos. Last year alone there was $23 million worth of building permits taken out. That's an unbelievable amount. We opened up a $31 million Osoyoos-Oroville border crossing facility on October 9 to allow the free flow of goods between our partners in the U.S. and Canada.
On October 11 the Attorney General announced a $100,000 economic measures fund to create jobs with aboriginal tourism with the Osoyoos Indian band. Chief Clarence Louie is doing one of the most marvellous jobs of anybody across Canada in what he's doing with the aboriginal people in the South Okanagan. His goal, actually, is to be completely self-sufficient by the year 2010.
We've had a grand opening of the new community centre. It's just about getting ready to go in Osoyoos. They're having a winter carnival down there on February 26 and 27.
As we move farther up the valley, we arrive at Oliver, the wine capital of Canada. I know a number of members in this room have had the opportunity to indulge in the fine wines that we have, particularly coming out of the entire Okanagan Valley with the wine capital of Oliver.
The Festival of the Grape was held in the fall. With the forest fires and everything else, we wondered what kind of a response they would get. The town of Oliver has about 5,000 people; 4,000 people showed up for the wine festival. You can just imagine the tourism draw that has taken place. Forty different wineries took part in the event. It was just a glorious day.
Also, there's a $77 million development plan. They're calling it Villaggio D'Asolo. It's a village that's going to be replicated from a town in Italy, and they're looking to build this on the Covert property just north of Oliver. They're hoping for a completion date of 2008, just prior to the Olympics for British Columbia.
The old fire hall has been converted into a marvellous little restaurant, which is doing just great business — just another thing that's happening in the South Okanagan. The town of Oliver has invested $150,000 in new street signs coming in from north and south.
Real estate. There's $3 million worth of new housing and development underway. A hotel-tourist-commercial development is proposed for 93rd Street along the Okanagan River.
As we move farther south, we just touch on McAlpine Bridge, which is newly built. I notice that my colleague from the Shuswap mentioned the former Minister of Transportation, who did a marvellous job of getting this new bridge built for the South Okanagan.
We keep moving north into the Okanagan Falls area. If you've had the opportunity to drive through
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there, there's a huge apartment block being developed right on the Okanagan River, and this is a community of 1,500 people. I wonder where people have been if they think that we're not seeing a lot of economic development taking place in the province, when we see communities of 1,500 getting 100 units being built in their little community alone.
In Kaleden, just north of OK Falls…. It's just a booming little area that's got nice little vineyards growing up there, a little bit of a bedroom community of Penticton, but just a marvellous little area that looks over Skaha Lake.
Then we move into Penticton. Penticton is just on the verge of exploding — $42 million in building permits, $30 million of commercial permits, a new apartment block that Greyback Construction is building, and 50 percent of the units are already sold. I think they've only got up to the third floor, and it's an 11-storey building that they're building.
Construction is underway for a mixed residential and commercial space along Okanagan Lake — Lakeview Terrace, the promenade going along the boardwalk, condo-style residences, nine levels built on the hillside. It's just unbelievable what's taking place in all of the Okanagan, but also here in Penticton.
The new Minister of Provincial Revenue and myself had the opportunity, along with city council, with a call centre group from Pennsylvania…. They announced the other day that Telerex has chosen Penticton out of all the communities across Canada. When they first came to Penticton, they were very hesitant about whether it was going to be Penticton or Vernon, but they were really leaning back east. They thought that's where they were going to build this call centre. Just the other day they announced that they're going to actually have it in Penticton. They're starting with 50 jobs, and they figure that's going to expand into 400 new jobs for the area. That's really something.
Also in Penticton is a newly located information centre and wine centre — 8,700 square feet. Ninety nine new jobs and 157 part-time jobs will be created. Existing plans are for a new $15 million hotel complex to be built next to the convention centre on the site of the Travelodge. These are going to be additional high-end rooms for the convention centre that's bringing in a lot of new people. As we all know, the convention centre just got another $1.5 million uplift for it. We will be able to complete that, we hope, in the next few months.
The city and the province are working together to acquire the funding to build a multiplex centre. This multiplex centre, we're hoping, will get started probably in the next two or three years. We hope to have it ready so that we can attract some of the people for the 2010 games that will come into the South Okanagan.
Speaking of the Olympics, I think that from my perspective, the entire province is going to be a huge benefit for this. I know that when I get the opportunity to listen to the Premier speak…. We all know how enthusiastic the Premier is about the 2010 Olympics and what's going to happen in the entire province. For the South Okanagan…. We're going to be a huge beneficiary of that, and we want to be on the leading edge of what's going to take place.
Last week we were very fortunate. Jim Henderson, the chair of the Olympic committee for our area, was able to get Marion Lay to come and look at a couple of our facilities. She got to visit Nickel Plate cross-country ski area and Apex. I had the opportunity to speak with Marion after that, and she said both the Nickel Plate cross-country ski area and Apex are probably jewels within all of Canada, let alone what we think for the Okanagan. She thinks the high altitude will serve very, very well for cross-country skiers who will come from all over the world to actually train there. So I was quite excited, and I know that city council in Penticton was extremely excited in the hope that some of these things will happen at Apex and the cross-country skiing at Nickel Plate.
Also, the city of Penticton is going to be the host of the 2004 B.C. Seniors Games. Also, turning to education, the Education minister — our new Education minister; the old Education minister brought it forward, but the other one was here just a while ago — was looking at renovating the Penticton Secondary school. This is a very, very old building, but they're actually looking at how they're going to incorporate the facade of what used to be there from the 1920s and build a completely new building, which I know that the school board in Penticton and area are just truly ecstatic about, because it's going to be around a $20 million project.
In the last few years we've seen a lot of things happen in the Okanagan. I think in the throne speech, when we look at what's happening with the university college and what's happening in the Okanagan…. I see the Minister of Advanced Education here, and the fact that she's looking to have 25,000 new spaces in the province by the year 2010…. I know the Minister of Advanced Education very well, and she should truly be commended for an excellent job and the fact that she can look to the future and what's going to happen in all of British Columbia.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
The Penticton–Okanagan Valley school districts — Okanagan-Similkameen — got $883,000 last year. The Okanagan-Skaha school district got $2.5 million. We're also going to add, according to the throne speech, $313 million over the next three years. As a former school board chair and trustee, I know that all the school boards in the province, when they hear that throne speech, are just simply going to be ecstatic, because education, as we've always said and the Premier's always spoken about, is one of our number one choices in British Columbia. It was brought up in the throne speech also, about literacy. The Premier is so focused on these kinds of things. We're going to see marvellous things happen in the province.
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Also, we have the campus-of-care facility for independent living. The project is just about complete, and if you ever get a chance to drive through Penticton and have an opportunity to look at that, you'll truly be amazed at this campus of care. It's one of the new models that have come out, and I know that everybody is just ecstatic about what is going to take place. It truly is a great thing for the seniors of the South Okanagan.
In 2001, $48,000 was given for three different first nations residences; $174,000 went to the Southview Housing Society for construction of a 31-unit housing complex for low-income individuals in Penticton. In addition, our government has provided a $1.2 million annual subsidy to 26 provincially funded housing complexes in my entire riding. That is really something. Since 2002 the unconditional grants in municipalities were given both to Oliver and to Osoyoos, totalling $574,000. So when I think about what's happening in the south Okanagan, I know that this government has done an awful lot of work.
The government also gave $482,000 for the South Okanagan Women in Need Society and $1.8 million to expand the reclaimed water irrigation system in Oliver — the provincial portion being $600,000 — which I understand is probably going to start some time this spring.
Another regional accomplishment: 15.6 million of your tax dollars have been used to improve the highways. We're going to have new passing lanes on Highway 97 between Oliver and Osoyoos, passing lanes on Highway 97 between Okanagan Falls and Vaseux Lake, a left-hand turn lane on the channel parkway in Penticton. The Eastside Road is going to be widened and dedicated for cycling, walking and running. One thing about that is we have the triathlon there, and a lot of the runners and bikers actually use that Eastside Road, which will be a huge asset. We bring in thousands and thousands of people. I think there's close to 2,000 participants who take part in that event alone. As I mentioned earlier, the McAlpine Bridge has already been going.
Also, we had probably one of the worst forest fire seasons we've ever seen in the South Okanagan. Whether it was up in the Kamloops area, the Kelowna area or the Vaseux Lake area, we had some major, major fires. The Myra Canyon trestles, where the Premier has appointed a task force to look at what we can do to rebuild these heritage sites of the trestles that took place…. I know the Premier is committed to making this happen, and I'm committed, along with the other MLAs in the Okanagan, to make sure that we can get this happening.
Mr. Speaker, $65,000 went to the South Okanagan–Similkameen conservation program, habitat stewardship, and $12,000 to implement management plans to two biodiversity ranches near Okanagan Falls. For people who don't know this, this would be part of the Thomas Ranches. They have actually sold their ranches for heritage trusts so that they could make things happen with the biodiversity of what takes place in the Okanagan.
Our government will also work to create a new national park in the South Okanagan. Along with creating this new national park, we have to look at the impacts it has and create the balance between the economics of the ranchers, the Okanagan Canadian helicopters, the sportsmen associations, and what we can do. When we look at this national park, we want to create a balance in how we can address their concerns on what's going to happen.
In the fiscal year 2002 our government spent $325,000 towards other environmental projects that took place in the riding. We look forward to many, many positive changes in what's going to take place.
Mr. Speaker, I'm really fortunate to come from an area of the province that I think, when we look at it, is so diverse, whether you're in Osoyoos, Oliver, OK Falls, Kaleden, Penticton, Naramata…. I forgot to mention Naramata. It's another one of the jewels we have in the South Okanagan — many great, great wineries in the Naramata area and the Naramata bench. Again, if you have an opportunity to go and visit some of them…. I try to make a point of touring them and make sure my colleagues here in Victoria are blessed with some of the finest wines we have in the South Okanagan. Naramata is another one of the areas that just excels with some of the great wines.
When I look at what's taking place…. Listening to the former speaker, I really wonder where he has been. When you think about what's happened in this province, it's just unbelievable. The Premier and government of this province have done just marvellous jobs. Whether you're in the Peace River and you see the development in the oil and gas industry that's just going unbelievably well or whether you're in the central part of the province where things are just booming along, it's unbelievable what's happening. In the Kootenays the tourism industry is just exploding. On Vancouver Island it's the tourism industry, and things are exploding there.
Of course, we get to the lower mainland, which is always exploding. You've got so many things happening in the lower mainland. It's a beehive of activity, and I think a lot of it is due to the fact that when the Premier and Wayne Gretzky and others had the opportunity to be in Prague and announce 2010, you knew that Vancouver, Whistler and particularly the lower mainland area were just going to go. Mr. Speaker, you look at the hotels and things that are happening, you watch the news last night, and you understand the expansion that's taking place and the indication of what's going to take place over the next few years just to accommodate the people that want to come to British Columbia as a whole.
We live in the most beautiful province in Canada. We probably live in the most beautiful spot in all of the world. I happen to come from even the most beautiful spot in the Okanagan. I know that the constituents of Penticton–Okanagan Valley are extremely pleased with
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what's taking place. I know that with the throne speech that was given yesterday, it makes me feel proud of being a British Columbian, being a member of this government, being able to work for this Premier and knowing full well that the province is in good hands and that we're moving in a direction that — bar none — will be the best in North America.
Hon. P. Bell: You know, the Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection was suggesting that the wine capital of British Columbia was located in his riding. Well, I'd suggest that the whine capital of British Columbia is occupied by the two seats on the other side of this House, because all I hear from those two members is constant whining about the great opportunities that have been created in the province of British Columbia.
I want to say that the current leader of the opposition, Carole James — who sees it as unfitting to join us in this House despite the fact that we've made what I believe is a very generous offer to allow her to run uncontested, at least from our party, if she would like to take the place of one of those two members over there — said this morning that we've gone back in time in British Columbia. I say thank goodness for that, because the 1990s were devastating. We needed to turn the clock back to when business was actually welcome to participate in the province, and that day is here today.
I would say to Carole: "Thanks a lot, Carole. Why don't you come join us? You've got a member there who's clearly indicated she has no intention of running again." I think it would be appropriate for Ms. James to come join us in the House and debate the opportunities that we have, such as today when we're given the opportunity to talk about the throne speech. There are many opportunities for her to be here in the House, and I'm disappointed that she has made the decision not to do that at this point.
Enough of the negatives. I want to move to the positives, because there are so many that we can talk about here — particularly in Prince George, Mackenzie, Valemount, McBride, Vanderhoof, Fort St. James and all of those communities in the north. There has been a tremendous amount of positive things that have occurred in the last year since we last had the opportunity to address the Speech from the Throne. You know, when I look around Prince George, I see incredible things that have occurred particularly in the last six or eight months. In a period of four months this last fall, the unemployment rate dropped from 15.3 percent in Prince George to 9.3 percent, and people moved back to Prince George. So you couldn't use the argument that population decreased. It did not decrease; it actually increased for the first time since the early 1990s. We've seen some very, very productive growth in our economy in Prince George.
The forest industry has certainly led the way, but there have been strong moves in transportation, in mining, in oil and gas exploration, and in post-secondary education. I want to talk a little bit about all of those various things that have occurred.
Last year about this time, the Minister of Forests introduced a varying package of legislation that really reformed the way our forest industry works in the province. The results have been nothing less than phenomenally successful, I must say. All you have to do is look around the communities in the north central interior, and you'll see the results — something as simple as the Prince George sort yard that a few years ago was actually not operating at all and in fact is operating now on a site that Canfor closed under the previous regime. I believe it was 1998 that Canfor closed that mill at the old Netherlands Overseas site. It went dark for quite some time. Under the new regime that the Minister of Forests has put in place, that mill now employs pushing 150 people just on the mill site — not on the logging, silviculture or the planning end of the business. That mill has probably created 300-plus jobs in the community — high-paying, family-supporting jobs. They've done that through a number of innovative approaches, but the opportunity to access increased timber through the 20 percent timber reallocation certainly has been one of the key things that has occurred in terms of the forest policy reforms.
There's much more than that. I use the Prince George sort yard. You can refer to John Brink, who has seen fit to purchase a mill that was not operating efficiently and is in the process of rejigging that mill and putting it together. You can look at the mill that he has just built across the street from his old mill — an investment, I understand, of perhaps somewhere in the $6 million range. There's already wood starting to flow through that particular operation. I know John is very proud of that, and he's looking forward to about 90 employees in that particular operation.
There's more than that. There's the Slocan Valemount mill, which was closed down a number of years ago and has reopened under this new policy regime because we actually allow them to purchase the log that makes the most sense to them instead of only allocating them a certain volume that they're required to take. That's another good example.
You could also use the Cheslatta Forest Products mill located on Ootsa Lake, or you can look at the Pas mill in Prince George, which has doubled its size over the last year and a bit. You can look at Northern Capital Wood Products, who are expanding their facility.
All of these different operations have something in common. With the exception of Slocan, they're all individually family-owned operations. The notion that is often talked about by the opposition — that this is only benefiting large companies — is absolutely dead wrong. The forest policies that have been brought forward by this minister are actually benefiting a large number of people.
But enough about forestry, because there is much more that we need to talk about. Certainly, the transportation hub that is being created in Prince George as a result of the reinvestment plan with B.C. Rail has
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made a tremendous amount of sense. I'm often asked about B.C. Rail and the notion, which some people seem to try and advocate, that B.C. Rail has made money over the years. Well, it just takes a quick analysis of the books to know that is simply not accurate, and once the various people have been given the opportunity to do that analysis, they have to agree with you. It's simply the fact.
We're able to take the risk away from the public in this case and put it back on the private sector. I say: what better way to invest in our transportation infrastructure than to have the private sector bring its dollars forward and put those dollars to work, rather than to take the hard-earned taxpayers' dollars that would better be spent in health care and education? It makes a tremendous amount of sense.
We've been able to create a northern development initiative — $135 million to be located in Prince George. We're able to invest $15 million in the port of Prince Rupert — or CN will be investing $15 million along with the $17.2 million we'll be investing.
Don't underestimate the potential of the port of Prince Rupert. I know the member for North Coast will have something to say about this shortly, but I am very excited about that potential. I think that will spread throughout northern British Columbia, because it will give us access to a containerized facility to move our forest products, our mining products and our energy products offshore to that rapidly growing Chinese marketplace. I think there are huge opportunities in terms of what we see with the transportation hub.
Don't underestimate the Prince George Airport either. There is a huge opportunity in that particular facility. A $4 million runway expansion will allow 747s and large cargo aircraft to land and take off from Prince George, and Prince George is uniquely located as a perfect location for transcontinental flights between Asia and North America. What we envisage is for Prince George to become a hub of activity for a major cargo carrier that would bring their shipments in from Asia, re-sort them in Prince George, move them into the North American marketplace, and vice versa, on a night-by-night basis. We're very excited about that opportunity and where that might grow as we move to international status at the Prince George Airport.
There's much, much more. There are the announcements that were made last year around transportation infrastructure in Prince George. We're finally starting to look after some of the roads in the heartlands. We're reinvesting heavily, upgrading heavily. I know many of my constituents have seen the benefits of this upgrading process and are very, very excited about it. The notion that Prince George is a transportation hub for the north central interior I think is a real benefit to us.
These are all some of the steps we've taken over the last year that have really moved us forward, but there are other significant ones. The Premier held a mountain pine beetle symposium in Quesnel a few months ago. We will be bringing forward an action plan around that. He has committed in the throne speech to actually develop even further strategies beyond the ones we have at this point.
The pine beetle, although devastating on one hand, can be a tremendous opportunity for us on the other hand. It's interesting. In the first two weeks that I was back in my office this January after the mountain pine beetle symposium, I had six different companies come forward with substantial ideas that would employ between about 40 and 400 people at their given manufacturing facilities. Now, not all of these are going to be developed, but these are all credible individuals that have come forward with strategies, with business plans. I believe that prior to the end of the year, we're going to see a couple of these operations actually announced and under construction.
That is incredibly exciting, because aside from the ones that I identified earlier — the Prince George sort yard, John Brink, Carrier Cheslatta and so on — there was no development of the forest industry through the 1990s. In fact, from '96 on, I believe, there was something in the order of 25 or 27 mills that actually closed in the province. We're seeing that growth. I mentioned earlier that the unemployment rate in Prince George had dropped significantly, but it's actually at a time when we're seeing increased population in British Columbia. In the third quarter of last year, we had over 2,600 new residents in the province, and that's the first time that has happened in a long, long time — in over a decade. We've just been going backwards, so very, very positive things are occurring there.
One of the real achievements that I feel has been made this past year under the leadership of our Premier is the headway we've made in the aboriginal community. There has just been a fabulous number of AIPs. We had three agreements-in-principle that have been developed in the last year, but there have been other really significant things — 124 economic measures with first nations, 150 other treaty-related measures. Do you know what we're seeing for the first time, instead of confrontation? First nations actually want to come and work with us to develop our economy, work with us to develop our natural resources, work with us to develop our transportation infrastructure systems.
That's really key, because we've been able to turn it around from a confrontational environment to an environment where we can all work together. When that occurs, that's great news for business, great news for the mining industry, great news for the oil and gas industry, and great news for the forest industry, because you're no longer dealing in a confrontational environment. I feel very, very positive about the direction that has been taken with our first nations.
I have to say that we have a chief in Prince George that has taken a real lead role in the first nations community, and that's Barry Seymour of the Lheidli-T'enneh. The Lheidli-T'enneh was the first AIP signed in the province, and that was not easy for Barry to do. He was under a tremendous amount of pressure to hold off on signing that AIP, but now that he's accepted that leadership role, he's being looked to by
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other first nations members throughout British Columbia to help work with them in terms of developing their economies and growing and moving forward.
I can tell you that the member for Prince George–Mount Robson, the Minister of Advanced Education, and I meet with the Lheidli-T'enneh on a regular basis. They are working on some very, very exciting projects that will help reduce the unemployment rate in their community, refocus them on education and get their kids graduating at an acceptable rate from high school and moving on to post-secondary education. I think Barry really deserves a lot of credit for the work that has been done there.
Education is not just about post-secondary education. It's also about K-to-12, and there have been some really significant announcements made in the Speech from the Throne. Earlier I had the opportunity to listen to the member for Prince George–Omineca, and someone asked a question. I heard a kind of rumbling through the House. They wondered where the member for Prince George–Omineca was, because he obviously didn't hear that there's going to be an investment of an additional $313 million in our K-to-12 education system over the next three years. At least, he didn't mention that in his speech.
He seemed to be so focused on other issues in his speech that he neglected to think of all the positive things. You know, I often feel bad about that, because once that member sat on the same side of the House as I did. We supported the goals and the objectives of our government, and we supported the goals and the objectives of our leader, the Premier. I'm just not sure where he's gone either, because the values that we once shared he seems to have left behind, and that's sad, I think. It's sad for the people from Prince George–Omineca because, really, he is not representing those individuals adequately anymore, and I think that's a real shame.
We'd love to actually see him look at this stuff a little more critically and understand that it's benefited our community in Prince George. It's benefited Vanderhoof. It's benefited Fort St. James, a community that looked like it might lose a mill just a few years ago but, through the reforms that we've implemented, now has a secure employer in the area. It's a real shame, and I'd like to see him rethink his position on some of the these things and rejoin our government, because clearly we've made significant headway.
I'm not sure what he would be against. Would he be against the fact that our unemployment rate in Prince George went from 15.3 to 9.3 percent? I don't think that's what he'd be against. Let me ask this question: would he be against the fact that the Minister of Advanced Education, the member for Prince George–Mount Robson, has now implemented a physician training program where 24 doctors will start training this year in Prince George? Would he be against the fact that the number of operations that were performed in Prince George Regional Hospital actually increased by 33 percent so far this year, and by the end of the year we think it's going to be about 36 percent? I don't think he'd be against that either. I think we actually probably agree more than we disagree, and I think it's time for that member to think a bit more about his strategy and perhaps rejoin the government that he was once part of and that he campaigned hard to get elected with.
Moving on, though, there's much, much more to say. As I indicated, there's $313 million in this Speech from the Throne for education. As well as that, the Minister of Advanced Education has been able to create an additional 25,000 new post-secondary seats between now and 2010. What's the benefit of that going to be? While 25,000 sounds like a great number, what's the benefit of that going to be? Well, it's going to elevate our entire society in terms of capacity and our ability to function.
She will be able to outpace the growth of the age cohort by double the existing pace of the cohort, so there will be more spots available for more students to enter the post-secondary education system. We anticipate that will actually mean that if you want to enter a university or college in British Columbia, you'll be able to do it with a B. I can tell you that from my perspective, that wouldn't have been quite enough to have gotten me in when I went to school. In fact, I was able to get into UBC on a C-plus average — not that that's something I'm particularly proud of — and my kids tend to remind me of that on an ongoing basis. I hear that quite regularly. So I would urge the Minister of Advanced Education to work just a little bit harder so perhaps one day I can get back into a post-secondary institution. But 25,000 new spaces is a huge, significant move — something that's very, very important from our perspective.
Before I close, I want to move on and talk about something that is a real passion for me — that is, the opportunities we have in British Columbia around mining. I believe there are significant opportunities for us to rebuild this industry.
I have some numbers I want to share with the members in the House, because I think these are significant numbers to think about. The first number I want to start out with is 16,622. That was the number of jobs in mining in 1990 — 16,622. Another number I'll share with you: 7,800. That's the number of people working in the mining industry after the NDP left government — half of what we had in the 1990s. Another number I'd like to share with you: 30. It's the number of operating mines in the province in 1990. The next number won't be a big surprise. It's 12, the number of mines left when the NDP left. It was a very, very sad state of affairs through that devastating decade.
But you know what? There is a lot of good news in the mining industry. I'd like to share some of that with you, as well, because I think it's important. The average salary in the mining industry: $89,900 per year — the highest-paying industry in British Columbia and, in fact, in Canada. The number of jobs created in the service sector for every job created in the mining sector:
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5.8. When you reduced the number of jobs by 8,000 through the 1990s, you actually reduced it by 48,000 provincewide. We can rebuild that. The number of dollars that were spent in exploration in 2000: $32 million. The number of dollars we think may be spent this year in exploration: $100 million.
There's a lot more good news. The amount that copper has increased in value in the last 15 months: 59 percent. Now, I'm sure everyone would have liked to have known that 15 months ago, because they could have run out and bought some copper and got a 59 percent return on their money. The amount gold has increased in just the last year: 31 percent — from $322 an ounce to $422 an ounce.
There are huge opportunities for us, and I think we are going to see significant things happen. In front of us we've got some challenges and we've got some opportunities. We've got Gibraltar and Mount Polley, two mines that were closed down a number of years ago that we believe may have an opportunity to reopen somewhere in the future. We've got Tulsequah Chief, which was permitted last year. We've got Western Canadian Coal, which has entered the process now in Tumbler Ridge. We have Afton and Elk Gold, which are finding new deposits on their existing properties already that will probably be able to extend their mine life significantly.
Far from least in the importance ranking is Kemess North, a mine that's actually located in my riding and that I've had the opportunity to look at. There are significant opportunities there — the better part of 400 jobs at the mine site, $89,900 per year. Over a hundred of those folks live in Prince George. Spent in Prince George on an annual basis: $36 million.
Smithers is another community that is one of the major beneficiaries of mining — very, very significant in terms of that community. I met, at the Cordilleran Roundup two weeks ago, with the gentleman that is the owner-manager of the major hotel in Smithers. Last year he had one of the best summers he's ever had on record, and it wasn't because of the tourism industry. It wasn't because people were driving by his door to see the beautiful Highway 16 corridor, which is well worth the visit.
It was because his hotel was filled up with people exploring for gold and copper and other precious metals in the area around and north of Smithers — huge benefits to him last year. We think we're going to see that occur again this year. In fact, when I was at the Cordilleran Roundup, one of the comments made to me was that one of the biggest concerns of the exploration companies this coming year is that there won't be enough drills in the community to actually do all the exploration they want to do.
It is a very, very exciting time in the mining industry. The Premier, in the Speech from the Throne, has committed to a piece of legislation that will be reinvigorating the coal industry. I know that Western Canadian Coal is excited about that opportunity. There are huge, huge advantages there. I'm going to be spending most of this spring and summer touring the various mine sites throughout the province. I am confident that under the leadership of our Premier and the direction he's been able to provide us, we're going to be able to bring the mining industry back to where it was.
I'm going to leave off with this note, Mr. Speaker. You know, the Leader of the Opposition said in Prince George earlier today: "We've gone back in time, Prince George." I say thank goodness.
V. Anderson: It's a privilege to stand up and speak in response to the Speech from the Throne, particularly when I have listened to the excitement there is around the province, as the MLAs have told what new is happening in their communities right across this land. I hope those who are out in the listening audience are very much aware of the kind of new excitement that is there. That kind of excitement, unfortunately, doesn't appear in our newspapers or in our news on radio or television, so it's exciting to have the people who live there and know what's going on to be able to tell about it.
I'd like to take a little different tack today in my response to the Speech from the Throne. I'd like to express the belief that all of us have here that the most important resource we have in British Columbia is the people of British Columbia. So often when we're talking about resources, we're talking about mines, forestry, fish, water and all of the other great things we have here, which are important. But they're only relevant to us because they can be used by the people of British Columbia to have a full and meaningful life, so they can sustain themselves, so they can bring up their families and so they can enjoy the beauty of the world that's around them.
Also, I want to say I think it's important that we stress more often the nature of our family life because, after all, it's the family life that all of us find most important. We work for them. We use the resources for them. Everyone takes real pride in being able to help young people to grow up so that they feel they have an important life in place in their own families and in the community. When I was thinking about this, I wanted to paraphrase, if you like, a parable. It's a parable that's come down to us throughout history, and I'll put it in my own kind of little words, although some of the references you may recognize.
In the beginning, the Creator, the parable says, caused the Earth to be created and the sun and the moon and the stars and the water and all of those streamed about it, and on the Earth he caused to be animals and plants and organisms, and had a beautiful spot there, which was described sometimes as Paradise. Then the Creator went a step further and placed people upon that Earth and charged them with the opportunity and the responsibility of using that which he had offered to them.
The Creator said to the people, "You shall have dominion over all living things," and as male and female he made them into families. The Creator blessed those families and charged them to be fruitful
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and multiply, to replenish the Earth and use it well. The Creator said to the people, "I have given you abundance and the ability to prosper in this place," and it is reported the Creator was pleased with what was begun.
Then, as the saying goes, the rest is history. Every new generation from that beginning had the privilege and the responsibility to live and work together, to use the resources of the Earth for the well-being of the people of the Earth. So began the struggle, though, of how to use those resources — how to care and share, or is it how to share and care? For the generations of history, the people of the Earth had struggled with that command that they were given. How would they share and care?
This, in our time, is what the throne speech is about and what the budget speech is about. How do some four million people living in B.C. in 2004 undertake to share the resources of this province in a way that cares for each and every one? Whether it is a family of two or a community of four million, they have decisions to make that are difficult in sharing and caring, for as human beings we do have some limitations and do not always, if ever, understand the full implications of the decisions we make.
We try our best, and in a democracy we strive to help receive input from as many as possible so the actions will be the best possible for all. Believe me, it is not easy.
To oversimplify the history, what does it show us? What lessons does it give us? It shows us that historically, there have been two ways of responding to or coping with the richness of the world which is around us. One is to fight with each other over these riches, so the strongest, the cleverest, the most numerous or the sneakiest sometimes take the majority of the spoils, and others are left with the crumbs, perhaps. Another way is to seek to cooperate, to work together, to balance out the needs and wishes of each person so that the given resources might be available and shared at any given time.
This is one, indeed, of the first lessons that any child learns. One is to say, "This toy is mine, and I will not share it," or to say: "This toy is ours, and we'll share it and play with it together." Adults sometimes act like children. In a democracy, a throne speech or budget acknowledges that our resources are a collective responsibility and seeks to find a means of sharing this equally or equitably.
A complication, though, that makes it difficult for us is that we do not always agree what is equity or who is to be included in it. For instance, in our family — three girls plus my wife and I — when the girls were one and four and seven, and our ages were unstated, how did we treat each other equitably? If we sat down at the dinner table and gave each person exactly the same amount of food on their plate, we have treated them equally but not with equity. If we give them each according to their need, then we are able to treat them equitably.
Taking another simple illustration, the circumstance which we must take account of…. If we go for a walk with those same children and I set a pace — since I've been out running every day — that is comfortable with me, the one who is crawling has difficulty keeping up. Even the youngster who has short legs has difficulty keeping up. The daughter that has a sore foot can't keep up at all. I must adjust myself in order to work equitably with them, and we can all be happy together.
According to the individual's circumstance, it is necessary to adjust. A throne speech or budget must take into account both equity and circumstance and disagreements as to how and when and where. It's not surprising that when there is a special need, there are many interpretations about its fit.
We have a throne speech with all these perplexities to consider. I am often asked: "What did the throne speech say?" Honestly I must say that it depends who is reading it and from what perspective they are interpreting it, what it says to them. It is like a sunrise on a windy day. Each person who experiences it will describe it differently, depending on their age, on their health, on their previous experience. The throne speech means many things to different people, and part of our difficulty is to sort that out and work with it together.
I come to share my perspective, which is coloured first of all by what I would have expected to be said or would have liked to have said if I had written that speech myself. My first reaction sometimes is likely to be, "What is not said?" and to concentrate on this rather than what is said. But why would I expect somebody else to write their speech in this particular way? That would really be egotistical of me — which at times I have been accused of being, I must admit. I have so many things I want that no one speech is able to deal with all of them at the same time. I'm sure this is exactly true for most others. Oftentimes they're criticizing the speech that wasn't written, rather than understanding the one that was written.
A very important point I want to make about the throne speech is that to understand and appreciate it, one must first understand the perspective from which one is reading it. Otherwise, one cannot be objective. In brief, then, the focus of this throne speech is to focus on improving the economy of B.C. so that as many people as possible will be able to be sustained and live a fulfilling life with the opportunities which are available to us. At one point the focus is on a much-neglected section of our population — namely, the first nations people — and promises to them of new opportunities, of respect and cooperation and opportunity, a process that is already underway.
The throne speech focuses on new opportunities in transportation improvements — especially in the north and the interior, which has got behind in these developments — in new rail transportation and in seaport-airport development, connecting us as a new hub with the world — the U.S. on one hand and the Asia-Pacific on the other.
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The throne speech focuses on developing a new way of protecting and benefiting from our forest resources, bringing hope again to the forest communities in an area of great world competition. The throne speech focuses on renewed support for the ranching and farming sector of British Columbia, from which most of our food supply comes and also much of which is in our national trade. The throne speech focuses on renewed environmental responsibility and the development of mining enterprises, which in the early years brought the first major influx of new settlers to our country.
It focuses on the newest economic and job creations that come through tourism, using the 2010 Olympics as a focal point to stress the year-round beauty and opportunities of our communities. The world has been invited to our doorstep, and of course, we invite them to pay when they come.
It focuses on the expansion of educational systems and quality and standards — from cradle to grave — for lifelong opportunities in learning and relearning in a very changing electronic world. It focuses on literary development, again for the young and the old — early childhood to senior years. It focuses on physical health, emotional health and social health, along with reading, writing, mathematics and computer savvy — all related to the work of opportunities and skills that are now before us. It focuses on lifelong education in university and college and on specialized skill training programs demanded for a changing and developing community.
It focuses on the world of digital technology — of cell phones, PalmPilots and high-speed Internet — available across the province in our schools and in our communities, enabling a new opportunity of communication for health and education and work-related activities. It focuses on increasing the revitalization of our health care across the province, at every corner a major concern for childhood and old age. It puts a new focus on sports, on music and on culture, for unless we have these, we are very dull in our life in a community together. We see these bringing a new area of cooperation and job opportunities and a new excitement to our communities.
It focuses on social responsibility to the families of B.C., to the enrichment of family members in childhood, youth, working years and retirement. It stresses the importance of safe and nurturing communities and especially the encouragement and support of all those who face personal, emotional and physical challenges in a modern society. Support is important for "persons with disabilities and those who have multiple barriers…." It recognizes the high importance of volunteerism in our communities. It recognizes how working together, we can find our own solutions and share the messages that by cooperation the future is more richly ours.
As I understand the throne speech, it focuses on people and on people's opportunities to develop and use the abundant resources of our province to develop our family life, our community life. For me that first objective and final objective, whatever else it may be, is the development of our families and of the persons within it.
I began my reflection, hon. Speaker, with a concern about families. I end with a concern about families, for that is the goal. Happy, healthy families — all else is for that purpose. We have the words. Now we look forward to the actions.
B. Belsey: The people of British Columbia have had the opportunity to listen to this government's third throne speech, a speech that once again confirms our unwavering commitment to effect positive change for all British Columbians — a positive change that is designed for bringing out the best change, as we are across my riding. I sincerely believe this government's commitment to economic development, first nations participation, transportation and infrastructure development, forestry, mining, energy, education and northern development. All are positive for my region.
I want to share with you, Mr. Speaker, and all British Columbians, but more importantly all those that live in my riding, just how committed this government is to helping people through these tough economic times. First, let me share with you the most common concern I hear when I travel around my riding, and that is high unemployment.
Unemployment in my riding is among the highest in the province, estimated to exceed 16 percent. This can be attributed, for the most part, to this region's dependence on the forest industry. The closure of the Skeena Cellulose pulp mill and five sawmills in my riding has had a devastating impact on the region. The lack of commitment on behalf of the U.S. lumber industry to negotiate a settlement to the softwood lumber dispute continues to adversely impact the people in the North Coast riding.
The throne speech addresses some forestry issues that will alleviate some of the economic suffering that has devastated the region. For example, a market-based timber pricing system will be introduced on the coast. This brings our stumpage system into line with the system the U.S. negotiators have been looking for. We are the only province in Canada that has in fact addressed this trade issue by bringing in market-based timber pricing. Market-based stumpage will place local log buyers on a more even or level playing field with buyers from outside the region. Now stumpage prices are calculated fibre on the stump and not at a marketing point in some other part of British Columbia.
Twenty percent of the allowable cut will be reallocated to smaller operators, to local communities and to first nations. This is great news for many of the small communities across my riding, because they are looking at community forest licences. This is great news for first nations communities in the areas that want to create opportunity in their villages and opportunities for their people.
Forest dependency has not proven to be in the best interest of any of the communities I represent. Eco-
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nomic diversification is needed to soften the impact of economic downturns experienced routinely in this industry.
The throne speech made reference to energy and mining and, even more specifically, to offshore oil and gas development. It clearly states that B.C. will encourage the government of Canada to complete its scientific review and join in responding to offshore oil and gas opportunities in a scientifically sound, environmentally safe and socially responsible manner. Offshore exploration and development creates jobs. This cannot be denied. All we have to do is look at the east coast of Canada, look at the North Sea, look at Norway. Hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect jobs are created by this industry.
Another throne speech commitment we heard that will be a huge economic generator for this riding is in the area of transportation and northern development. The CN and BCR partnership agreement could quite conceivably be the greatest single economic booster for my riding. Every opportunity I had, I championed my community's concerns regarding the proposed container facilities in the port of Prince Rupert, the CN right-of-way, the tracks and the modification of three tunnels between Prince Rupert and Prince George. These were all very important issues, if we were going to get an agreement for B.C. Rail and bring containers to the west coast and Prince Rupert.
It paid dividends in the throne speech, because the throne speech clearly references the billion dollars the B.C. Rail investment partnership with CN will create and the economic boom in the north and in the interior that will happen as a result of the B.C. Rail–CN agreement. Simply, that agreement will provide in excess of half a billion dollars — pay the debt for B.C. Rail that has cost the people of this province approximately $30 million per year in interest costs. In addition, CN will contribute $15 million to help open up the port of Prince Rupert, and the province will invest another $17.2 million in this container port project. We are destined, in my riding, to become the preferred gate to the Asian continent.
There is more good news about the CN–B.C. Rail agreement. Legislation will be introduced this year to create a new $15 million B.C. Rail–first nations national benefits trust.
Before I leave the topic of unemployment and the job creation opportunities mentioned in the throne speech, I would just like to point out one very important fact — two facts, as a matter of fact. B.C. leads the nation in provincewide job creation. Unemployment is now below the national average. However, the greatest challenge I face is bringing these statistics home to my riding. I know I can do this, because I know and believe in economic diversification, and that's what we're going to do on the North Coast.
We happen to have had many great successes in my riding: two new heliskiing tenures, a new college under construction, new cruise ship facilities and upland infrastructure improvements. We have finfish and shellfish aquaculture projects slated for our region. The mining industry has been rejuvenated as a result of some of the new regulations and reduction in red tape. Deregulation accomplishments have streamlined much of the regulatory and red tape that has stymied development.
This throne speech outlined many other issues that are often discussed in my riding, issues like education funding. My government funds education at a level greater than ever before. Funding on a per-capita basis exceeds that of the previous government, and it is set to increase by over $300 million over the next three years — all this at a time when student enrolment is declining across this great province.
We are committed to continue creating more spaces for students in the post-secondary institutions. Since our election in 2001 we have created over 5,000 new positions for students in colleges, universities and institutions. These new spaces include 825 new seats for computer science and electrical and computer engineering and more than 1,800 new seats for nursing. Northwest Community College will be graduating new practical nurses in the Pacific Northwest this year. Our new commitment is for the province to add 25,000 new student spaces to British Columbia colleges and universities by 2010.
This throne speech brought even more good news in the area of patient care. The new rural health travel assistance plan will be launched this year to help rural families who must travel to health centres for special care. Those of us who live in the north know just how important this issue really is. Thousands of dollars are spent annually by people in my riding to attend special medical treatment in some of the major centres around British Columbia. This was an issue ignored by the previous government.
Approximately 50 percent of my constituents are of aboriginal descent, and this government is committed to working with first nations communities. For example, we are committed to building on the foundation that has been established to date. This includes three agreements-in-principle in the past year, 124 economic measures and over 150 treaty-related measures and other agreements involving first nations management. This throne speech reaffirms our commitment to continue working with first nations to develop new child protection strategies that effectively address the unique needs of first nations children.
A renewed economy is fundamental to a prosperous British Columbia. Without a strong economy there is no money to pay for health care, for education and for the socioeconomic programs that we need and we want. In fact, without a strong economy many of the services across this province will suffer.
The throne speech lays out a clear path and direction that our government intends to follow. We are making strong statements, setting high goals, because we believe in British Columbia and British Columbians. We believe all British Columbians need are the
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tools to succeed, and this government is committed to providing them.
For too long British Columbia was mired in a policy that seemed to be designed to drag British Columbians down. Our province was once a leader in economic growth, but the last decade saw us fall to last in the country in job creation, last in investment and last in economic growth. When every other province in Canada was paying down their debt, the previous government was racking up greater debt. That was the past.
British Columbians voted for a brighter future, one where initiatives would be rewarded, not penalized; a future where our economy would be strong and able to support the programs we all feel are so vital; a future where government spends tax dollars wisely. We are on the path of economic renewal. We have left the road to rack and ruin that the previous government had led us down.
This session will see bills introduced to further eliminate unnecessary red tape. There will be changes to encourage employee investment and improve consumer protection. New legislation will be modernized — the regulatory requirements of agriculture, environmental management and real estate and resource sectors.
Resource development will fuel the economy of my riding, and it will provide the jobs and opportunities I campaigned on. As a government, we remain committed to creating a British Columbia where we can prosper, a British Columbia where patients and students and those in need come first, and a British Columbia where government sets an example by being fiscally responsible.
I got involved in politics to make a difference, to make sure the future was bright for my children and my grandchildren. I believe we are creating a British Columbia that we can all be proud of. This throne speech envisions bringing out the best in British Columbians.
H. Bloy: I'm excited to be here today. I get excited because one of the best things is what we've done in advanced education and in education in total.
Before I start in support of the throne speech, I really want to thank the voters of Burquitlam who sent me here nearly three years ago now. I want to say what an honour it has been to work on behalf of the voters and the constituents of not only Burquitlam but all of British Columbia. You know, as I've travelled this great province, I've been able to meet many great people and businesses, and I find so much enthusiasm in this province, looking forward to the future. This is our fourth throne speech, and every one just packs so much more excitement into it. What this government has done is commit to education and to health care, and a balanced budget will be introduced next week. I look forward to the details coming out in the budget.
I would like to thank the Premier for his leadership and guidance. I'm very proud to be part of the team that has improved health care and education and is bringing in a balanced budget.
Our commitment to education is extremely obvious, and I've spoken a number of times in the House about education. We've already added 6,000 new spaces in public post-secondary education in the past two years. My community is excited about the continuance of this commitment by adding more spaces to universities, colleges and institutions in British Columbia. In my riding of Burquitlam we have Simon Fraser University, which just last month received over $565,000 in the knowledge development fund. This was nearly 31 percent of the $1.8 million that was given out. Beyond the knowledge development fund, Simon Fraser University has already received $23 million in capital grants and $7 million for research projects. I can't remember the number, but I delivered over $1 million earlier this year in more research grants, and this number will be leveraged. It should produce about $24 million in total for Simon Fraser in research grants.
The prospect of more student spaces is exciting for all British Columbians. The members of my riding are very excited about the 25,000 new spaces. This will allow so many more children to go to school in British Columbia, and I believe that every child has the right to have a higher education if that's what they choose. Not everyone wants to go to university. We have the colleges, we have institutes, and we have training for skilled labour, but every child should have the opportunity for a future in British Columbia. With this government, with our Premier and with our Minister of Advanced Education, we are making that dream come true for every British Columbian here.
All British Columbians want to see more value to their education in K-to-12. The constituents are happy to see that we've not only maintained the funding, but we've actually increased it by over $500 per student since we have come to government. Students receive more than $6,700 per year on average. On top of that, we're going to increase K-to-12 funding by adding a further $313 million over the next three years to ensure that we provide the best start for every child in British Columbia.
This commitment is more than just an increase in funding. It is also a commitment to increase student safety. My constituents are calling for a safer environment for our children, and they will be pleased to see the new provincial standard for codes of conduct that will help reduce bullying in our schools. Our children will be able to go to school without fear for their safety, and this code will reduce bullying. A child who is afraid of bullying at his or her school cannot effectively learn what they need to know in their future lives.
We have already provided $8.1 million for seismic upgrading so that our communities will not need to worry about schools collapsing. One of the schools receiving earthquake protection is Lord Baden-Powell Elementary School in my riding, which they're just starting the protection construction on now. It's a really
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great, unique school. They speak 28 languages at that school, and it's so much fun to visit.
We are addressing the safety needs of our children, and we are addressing the other educational needs of our children as well. We have most of the greatest teachers right here in beautiful British Columbia, and we respect the hard work that the teachers do.
The members of my riding are going to be pleased that our government is working to provide high-speed Internet to all our children and our communities; 154 schools will get access to high-speed Internet, which will help our children study whatever subject they want to so that they can get started in the field of their choice. This will help them prepare for the post-secondary opportunities we are going to open up for them. The children and members of every community will soon be able to easily access libraries on the Internet for their research by the end of 2006.
My constituents are also excited about the savings to health care that high-speed Internet can provide. Many medical specialties cannot be found in many rural communities. A patient would need to be transported to a larger centre just to diagnose the problem. The prospect of testing a patient for an MRI or other medical procedures in their community and sending the data of the tests to a specialist 1,000 kilometres away to be diagnosed would save money for the medicare system, improve patient care and stop patients from travelling large distances to be tested. As well, this will contribute to the reduction of waiting lists, as people will not have to wait long for repetitive testing.
The constituents of Burquitlam are very excited about the grant of $120,000 being made available for health research at Simon Fraser University. I am also working with another research facility, hopefully to bring that facility into Simon Fraser University, and we are meeting with the minister of state to work on that.
Our government is also working to develop devices to improve and expand ways that we can interact with computers and is doing so through a knowledge development fund grant to SFU. This will provide new learning and research opportunities for students in my riding, and the results of the research will benefit all British Columbians.
There is a lot I would like to say today. I would like to talk about all the great opportunities that are presented in this budget and the hope that is being fulfilled for so many British Columbians.
I just want to make one quote before I close. It's in the throne speech that was presented yesterday. Copies of this are available in my office for anyone who'd like to pick it up. "This is more than an opportunity. It is our obligation to the seniors who built our province, to the families who strive to make it the best place it can be for their children and to the next generation who will carry new dreams for us all. Thank you." That was a quote read by the Lieutenant-Governor from the Premier of the province of British Columbia, the Hon. Gordon Campbell.
Mr. Speaker, noting the time, I move adjournment of debate.
H. Bloy moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. S. Bond moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: The House is adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:58 p.m.
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