2004 Legislative Session: 5th Session, 37th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2004
Volume 20, Number 4
|Introductions by Members||8503|
|Statements (Standing Order 25B)||8503|
|Winnifred Ariel Weir|
|Harvesting of underwater forests by Triton Logging|
|Relationship of Michael Holland with Human Resources minister and B.C. Liberal Party|
|Hon. S. Hagen|
|Long-term care beds in Comox Valley|
|Hon. C. Clark|
|Release of alternative budget by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives|
|Hon. G. Collins|
|Report and recommendations for settlement of renewal agreement between B.C. Public Service Agency and B.C. Crown Counsel Association; and Attorney General letter to B.C. Crown Counsel Association in response to the report and recommendations|
|Hon. G. Plant|
|Throne Speech Debate (continued)||8508|
|Hon. I. Chong|
|Hon. T. Christensen|
|Hon. G. Cheema|
|Hon. M. de Jong|
[ Page 8503 ]
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2004
The House met at 2:03 p.m.
Introductions by Members
Hon. C. Clark: I have the honour to make an introduction on behalf of the Premier, who is in Vancouver marking the fact that six days from today….
Hon. C. Clark: Six years from today. I apologize; I'm getting too excited about this. Six years from today the 2010 Olympics will be in Vancouver.
Today we are visited by 66 grade 5 students from the Premier's riding in Vancouver, west Point Grey Academy — young people who will, I'm sure, be inspired by the Olympics and the rollup to the Olympics as we get to 2010. They are accompanied by their teachers, Mr. Harley Rollins, Ms. Susie Neil and Ms. Rhonda Hubbard. I hope the House will make them all very welcome.
Hon. S. Bond: It is my pleasure today to introduce two people to the House. First of all is a friend and someone who lives in Prince George, Don Manson. He is an instructor of environmental economics at the University of Northern British Columbia, as well as a number of other jobs. Second is Mark Stephens, who is a student at the University of Victoria and someone whom I enjoy having regular discussions with about the challenges and opportunities in post-secondary education. I know the House will make them welcome today.
E. Brenzinger: Today I would like to introduce a visitor from Scotland, my second cousin Ruth Wilson. Ruth is visiting now but will return to the University of Victoria as an exchange student studying political science — what else? Would the House please help me make her welcome.
Hon. T. Christensen: It's my pleasure today to introduce two friends from Vernon, Bonnie and Kurt Latham. I do not know Bonnie well, but over the last few years I've come to know Kurt Latham very well. Kurt is a local physician, but equally and perhaps more importantly, he's been one of the driving forces behind the Vernon Airport Training Council that has been a further driving force behind bringing aerospace training to Vernon. I'm very proud that this government has responded to that drive and that we are now training students at the Vernon Airport to be involved in our growing aerospace industry. That's very much, in my community, a credit to the very hard work of Dr. Latham. Would the House please make him very welcome.
M. Hunter: It's my pleasure today to introduce to the House my constituency assistant from Nanaimo, Siona Rounis. She's accompanied by a visitor from the UK, her cousin Jenny Cornell, who is from Liverpool. Would the House please make them welcome.
Hon. G. Abbott: In the gallery today is the daughter of my administrative coordinator, Wendy King. Jennifer Thomas has just returned from a long trip overseas, and I'd like the House to make her welcome.
H. Bloy: It's my privilege to introduce three new friends I met last night, who are in the gallery. They're visiting here from out of town. They're attending the Security and Privacy: Friends, Foes or Partners? conference in Victoria. They are Ed Rebane, senior director, e-security and privacy solutions, product manager to marketing for BCE Emergis from Ottawa; Jeannette Jarvis, security systems product manager, infrastructure protection systems, shared security services, from the Boeing company in Seattle; and Curtis Blais from Telus, senior network consultant and security specialist, professional services. I also had the opportunity to introduce them to fine B.C. wines last night from the VQA label. Would the House please make them welcome.
(Standing Order 25b)
WINNIFRED ARIEL WEIR
W. McMahon: While we focus this week on looking forward to a bright future in British Columbia, I want to take time today to look back and honour a person who was one of this province's pioneers. Winnifred Ariel Weir, a beloved resident of Invermere who helped shape our community, passed away earlier this month at the age of 95. She was a creator, a motivator, a teacher, a historian, an entertainer, a leader and a contributor to the very fabric of our community.
Born and raised in Cranbrook, Winn moved to Invermere in 1929 to teach school and instantly devoted herself to the 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 and the historical society. I have named just a few, but she certainly was involved and founded many more organizations.
She was the first editor of the Valley Echo newspaper in Invermere many years ago. It was at a time when women simply didn't have jobs like that. She wrote and directed plays for the community, and most recently she wrote a weekly column for the paper, "Echoes by the Way."
Her achievements did not go unnoticed, as she was recognized across British Columbia. One of my greatest honours as an MLA was to present Winn with the Queen's Golden Jubilee medal last year, recognizing her as an outstanding British Columbian. In 1999 she received the Order of British Columbia and was also
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honoured with the B.C. and Yukon Community Newspaper Association's life achievement award. The last award no doubt was inspired by her 1980 book Tales of Windermere, a historical novel depicting the life and times of settlers in the upper Columbia Valley, as well as her commitment to the Invermere Valley Echo.
While it is important to have vision for the future, it is also important that we don't forget our past and the people who built this great province. Winn's life has been a tapestry woven with vision and determination. Our province is a better place because of her.
D. MacKay: On November 5 last year I stood in this House and asked the question: where is the world's largest sawmill? Just to refresh your memory, the world's largest sawmill is located in Houston, British Columbia. On Monday of this week, February 9, I attended the official opening of this sawmill. The Premier was there. The Minister of Forests was there. The Minister of State for Forestry Operations was also in attendance, along with many numerous elected officials from nearby communities and a lot of people from communities in general.
Following the opening ceremonies, we were taken on a tour of the mill. The sheer size of the facility was awe-inspiring. The activity that was taking place is difficult to put into words. Seeing the movement of logs along the numerous conveyor belts and the end product as it was being wrapped for shipment is a credit to Canfor as they continue to show confidence in the forest industry in British Columbia. The workers we met in the mill during our tour appeared happy and confident that their jobs would be there for the long term.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this facility is the technology and the skilled workforce that put this large complex marvel of technology together so that it works as it was designed to. The edgers and scanners used to maximize the recovery from the logs as they were being processed were designed right here in British Columbia. To be competitive in today's marketplace in the forest industry, one needs only to look at Canfor mill in Houston.
HARVESTING OF UNDERWATER FORESTS
BY TRITON LOGGING
H. Long: After listening to the member for Bulkley Valley–Stikine on the biggest sawmill in the world, I'm impressed. But I stand here today to talk about innovation. More specifically, I want to talk about Triton Logging Company Inc. They call themselves underwater harvest specialists, and for a good reason. Triton Logging uses patented sawfish harvesting to dive underwater and reclaim trees from dam reservoirs. Triton estimates that 200 billion board feet of merchantable timber is submerged and preserved by the world's 45,000 major dams and 80,000 small reservoirs. They saw opportunity in B.C.'s dams and in B.C.'s forests, as most of us do, but they were looking at both industries for a much different perspective. They wanted the trees underneath the water, so they went and got them — a great idea and great news for Powell River–Sunshine Coast.
Triton is currently doing business at Lois Lake just south of Powell River and has established a branch office in Powell River. This is innovation in the truest sense of the word. This is a company using cutting-edge technology — no pun intended — and they were using that technology in Powell River.
People are starting to take notice. Triton took home an award for technology company of the year and earned the runner-up nod for forestry company of the year at the recent Vancouver Island business awards, but that's not all. Martha Stewart recently sent a crew to Lois Lake to do a story on Triton for her Martha Stewart Living show, a show seen by millions of people. The story of Triton Logging aired this morning on stations throughout North America, bringing attention to B.C. and the Sunshine Coast. It's a story that brings attention to my area. It's a story that says Powell River and the Sunshine Coast are open for business and full of opportunity. I look forward to more good-news stories like this coming from the community in the near future, and I'm counting on the Minister of Forests to be there for Powell River–Sunshine Coast in the future.
Mr. Speaker: That concludes members' statements.
RELATIONSHIP OF MICHAEL HOLLAND
WITH HUMAN RESOURCES MINISTER
AND B.C. LIBERAL PARTY
J. MacPhail: There's a lot for this government to worry about, given the headlines in today's paper or today's news release from the UVic Students Society entitled "Victoria MLAs Admit Throne Speech Fraud." The trouble for this government just keeps mounting, and all we have to do is look at the front page of the Vancouver Sun. We're not sure if the story involves a modern-day Judas who abandoned his scruples for 508 votes or a modern-day Peter who is denying three times his personal relationship with the highly regarded community activist, but there's a lot of intrigue to be had here.
To the Minister of Human Resources: will he today admit that he has had a very close relationship with Mr. Holland and indeed is well aware of Mr. Holland's important work on his nomination campaign and Liberal riding association?
Hon. S. Hagen: I'd like to remind this House about Mike Holland. Mike Holland is the man who virtually single-handedly, with the help of some other citizens in the Comox Valley, took on the previous NDP government.
[ Page 8505 ]
Why did he take on the NDP government? Because the NDP government brought in the most draconian piece of legislation that anybody could ever think up. What was that draconian piece of legislation? It was a piece of legislation that would allow the government to take over, to expropriate without compensation, non-profit societies that were running care homes for the elderly around the province. Why would they do that? Because it would make…. They tried to make their balance sheet look better after the horrendous effect that that government had on the economy of the province of British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: Leader of the Opposition has a supplementary question?
J. MacPhail: Well, it's probably a repeat, because I asked the minister a question based on what he said yesterday about his relationship with Mr. Holland. In asking whether he was a Liberal, the minister said: "I have no idea." Was he on your riding executive for eight years? "I don't know." So I was just wondering whether….
J. MacPhail: The Minister of Finance is always helpful.
Yesterday he didn't know that he was a Liberal or helping him out. Well, today I have an ad from Mr. Holland that appeared in the Comox Valley Echo in December of 2000. In December of 2000 Mr. Holland took out this ad in the local paper begging people to join the Liberal Party to support the minister's nomination bid. Why? Because the ad says: "Stan will get the beds." I expect the minister signed off on that ad, and there it is.
Can the minister tell this House why he tried to duck the issue yesterday, but today, when confronted with overwhelming evidence, he…? Well, actually, confronted with overwhelming evidence, he still continues to not answer the question of how well he knew Mr. Holland.
Hon. S. Hagen: This actually helps me remember the incredible occasion when a large group of people, together with the media, were gathered in a hotel in downtown Courtenay.
Hon. G. Collins: Was it a secret meeting?
Hon. S. Hagen: It was secret except for the 100 people who were there and the media that were there.
Anyway, I stood up at that meeting and explained to the crowd of people there, who were very, very happy that I was going to announce my candidacy for the nomination for the Liberal Party, and I gave them a list of reasons why I wanted to do this. The biggest reason was because of what the previous NDP government had done to the economy of the province. That was the biggest reason. One of the other reasons was that I had been told by Glacier View Lodge that they were going to need about 75 new beds to fulfil the things they want to do for the seniors in the valley, and I said: "Definitely. I support that." I still support that. I supported it then. I supported it publicly. I've supported it in every speech I've given in the Comox Valley.
Mr. Speaker: Leader of the Opposition has a further supplementary?
J. MacPhail: Well, we still don't know whether he's a modern-day Judas or a modern-day Peter, but here's what the ad says. It says: "Stan needs your help to become our candidate. Please call me, or come and see me at my office." Signed, Mike Holland. "Purchase your membership in the B.C. Liberal Party!"
An ad, an ad. Yet, the poor minister couldn't remember yesterday. Why is it that he couldn't remember that? You know, the government has a lot to be embarrassed about. It's one scandal after another, and look at them chuckling amongst themselves, chuckling with the minister about this. Police in the Legislature and a Solicitor General who shared sensitive information with the Premier and political operatives. Untendered contracts for friends and insiders like Doug Walls; Liberal memberships in exchange for hospital beds….
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order. Order, please. Would the member now please put her question.
J. MacPhail: The list is long, but surely…
Mr. Speaker: Question, please.
J. MacPhail: …this has to be one of the top embarrassments of this week, or at least for today.
Mr. Speaker: Question, please.
J. MacPhail: Will the minister admit…? Will he perhaps take the grin off his face, the smirk off his face, and will the minister admit that this kind of blatant ducking of the truth, a bald-faced denial of an association well known to the public, can't be tolerated by a public official or in a public official?
Hon. S. Hagen: I am very proud to say in this House and in my riding that I will never stop fighting for the constituents who live in my riding. That's why I won the nomination, because people knew that I could take their concerns to Victoria, which is exactly what I've done, and I will continue to do that as long as I'm the serving MLA in that riding.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order, please.
[ Page 8506 ]
J. Kwan: Clearly the minister doesn't see anything wrong with what he has done in trying to duck the truth, trying to duck and not own up to his actions and his responsibilities, about denying his relationship with Mr. Holland.
To the Deputy Premier, one who should know about the consequences of ducking the truth, given today's headlines about new education funding being faked. As the Premier's deputy, will she encourage her boss, the Premier, to take action to restore public trust in his government by asking the Minister of Human Resources to step aside, to give him some time to reflect on the responsibilities of the public official?
Hon. S. Hagen: Do you know what? I think everybody in this House really takes….
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. S. Hagen: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I think everybody who sits in this House really takes their job as MLAs very, very seriously. I would say that every MLA in this House works hard for their constituents. That's the commitment that I made in 2000. That's the commitment…
Mr. Speaker: Order.
Hon. S. Hagen: …that I made when I ran in the election of 2001. That's the commitment that I make to my constituents today…
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. S. Hagen: …and that's the commitment I will continue to make to the citizens of the Comox Valley into the future.
Mr. Speaker: Member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant has a supplementary question.
LONG-TERM CARE BEDS
IN COMOX VALLEY
J. Kwan: Mr. Holland believed the minister when he made the promise and cut the deal. So did 508 British Columbians who responded to Mr. Holland's plea and joined the Liberal Party. In fact, so did every British Columbian who voted for the Liberals on a promise to improve health care but now have been betrayed.
To the Minister of Children and Family Development, who has the big title called "Deputy Premier": will the government at least take the action to help the Minister of Human Resources keep his promise and fund the 75 long-term care beds that he promised in return for political favours?
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. C. Clark: I imagine that the reason the people of the Comox Valley believed the member when he made a commitment to them is because he has a long history in this House of keeping his promises to his constituents. Further, I would imagine the reason this member feels such a great deal of confusion about how this works is because every time she stood up to run for office, she has made promises that she has always failed to keep. When she ran for office, they said that they would respect the values of volunteers. She might have even been the minister responsible for volunteers. But what did they do instead? They tried to expropriate the assets of volunteers.
If she finds shame in a member of this House telling his constituents he is going to try and work for them, and then she finds further shame in the fact that that MLA comes to Victoria and works to deliver on his promises, well, then she's the one who should be thinking about whether she has a future in politics.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Order, please. The Leader of the Opposition, please come to order. You've had your turn in question period.
RELEASE OF ALTERNATIVE BUDGET
BY CANADIAN CENTRE FOR
R. Hawes: We all know that in the dying days of the NDP government….
R. Hawes: Well, maybe I'll wait until they're finished, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: Order.
R. Hawes: Apparently, they're not finished.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please, hon. member.
Would you please start again. We couldn't hear what you were saying.
R. Hawes: We all know that in the dying days of the NDP government, they paid hundreds of thou-
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sands of dollars over to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives to continue to spew NDP rhetoric. Now that centre has just released the Carole James NDP budget. It called for whopping tax increases on working families, a return to deficits and the old tax-and-spend policies that killed our economy through the 1990s. Apparently, for Carole James and the NDP, it's more of the same fiscal irresponsibility.
Can the Finance minister please inform this House how this NDP budget — and perhaps he could be helpful again to these NDP members — would fit within the balanced-budget legislation passed by this government?
Hon. G. Collins: Well, I don't know whether Christmas is early this year…
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. G. Collins: …or whether Christmas is late this year, but it's certainly come in February. The member is right. Right prior to the election, the NDP cabinet and the NDP Treasury Board issued a $200,000 untendered contract days before the election to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. I know I expressed dismay at that in the past, but I have to say it looks a lot better now. They've issued a new budget….
Mr. Speaker: Order. The Leader of the Opposition, please come to order.
Hon. G. Collins: It's amazing how fast they rush to disown the NDP brain trust at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Carole James's transition team has brought out a budget that wouldn't balance the budget until 2010.
But that's not the worst part of it. They are recommending not just rolling back the 25 percent tax cuts that working-class British Columbians got on the first day after the last election, but they want to give them a 30 percent tax increase in British Columbia. It doesn't stop there, because if you're a nurse or a teacher in British Columbia, under the NDP's new plan — their budget, their election campaign — they're going to see a 30 to 40 to 50 percent increase in their B.C. income tax. British Columbians voted against that, and I'm surprised the NDP haven't learned their lesson.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Victoria–Beacon Hill.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order, please.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Will the Leader of the Opposition please respect the rules of this chamber. The member for Victoria–Beacon Hill has the floor.
J. Bray: I imagine the opposition members will be rushing out now to call their leader to figure out what the heck's going on here. They're obviously in somewhat of disarray. But as my esteemed colleague mentioned earlier, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has just released Carole James's new budget plan. With recommendations such as delaying a balanced budget until the year 2010, they are intent on rejecting the principles….
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. The member for Victoria–Beacon Hill has the floor to ask a question.
J. Bray: They've obviously rejected the principles of fiscal common sense. It's truly unfortunate that Carole James has not learned from the decade of NDP mismanagement that we went through in the nineties. Can the Minister of Finance please tell the teachers and the nurses and the child care workers in my community what an NDP budget will mean to them?
Hon. G. Collins: I'll be quick and just outline for him, in fact, that if the individuals the member describes earn $30,000 or below, they'll get a 40 percent income tax increase. If they're earning between $30,000 and $60,000 approximately, it's a 41 percent increase. If they have the temerity to actually earn over $65,000, it would be a 51 percent personal income tax increase in British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition seeks the floor.
J. MacPhail: I assume question period is continuing, Mr. Speaker?
Mr. Speaker: The question period will continue until we have order in this House. When we have order and you quit prolonging question period, it will go on until we do have order.
J. MacPhail: Then I seek the floor to ask a question, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: We now have order in the House. The bell terminates question period.
[End of question period.]
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Hon. G. Plant: I rise to table….
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Mr. Speaker: On both sides of the House, order, please. The Attorney General has the floor.
Hon. G. Plant: I rise to table the report and recommendations for settlement of the parties' renewal agreement in the matter of a dispute and in the matter of a renewal agreement between the government of British Columbia Public Service Agency and the British Columbia Crown Counsel Association. I rise to table a letter that is being sent to the president of the British Columbia Crown Counsel Association, which represents my response to the report and recommendations.
Orders of the Day
Hon. G. Collins: I call continued debate on Address in Reply.
Mr. Speaker: Continued debate on Address in Reply to the throne speech.
Throne Speech Debate
Hon. I. Chong: It is my pleasure, as Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services and as the member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head, to rise in response to the Speech from the Throne.
The throne speech is about the future. It is about the government's vision for the upcoming year and for the years beyond. It is about building a province that all British Columbians can contribute to and participate in. This throne speech shows clearly that our Premier and this government are committed to building a province that will improve the quality of life for women and seniors and, indeed, for all British Columbians by fostering an economic climate and healthy, safe communities.
We intend to create a competitive and vital economy in this province. In fact, we're well on our way to doing that. B.C. families are seeing that their after-tax incomes have grown. One of the reasons is that the average income tax paid by B.C. families has decreased by over 13 percent, and it is the largest decrease in 20 years.
B.C. leads the nation in job creation, and that is vital to our economic prosperity. The province's small business sector is growing again, and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business reports that small and medium-sized businesses in B.C. are more optimistic about their businesses' prospects over the next year than anywhere else in Canada. These facts clearly show that this government's commitment to revitalize the economy is having positive results, results that will benefit women and women in business in this province.
Women are creating their own small businesses at twice the rate of men, and our province leads the country with the highest percentage of small businesses owned by women. Earlier this week the news media reported that women account for 55 percent of all university graduates. More women now have university degrees than men, and that gap is widening. More households than ever are headed up by women, and women influence 80 percent of the purchasing decisions for all products.
As women's participation in the workforce increases, so does their disposable income and spending power. Increasingly, women are finding employment in construction and technology, in firefighting, in police forces and in resource industries. We are building a solid, sustainable foundation of child care programs, making it possible for both parents to contribute to the family income.
With all of the advances women have made, challenges remain. Although our government is working to help women develop the skills they need to move into higher-paying jobs, we need to work together to help change the culture of the workplace to create opportunities for more women to move into senior management positions. We need more women to take leadership roles in the political world where they can make their influence felt at the decision-making table of government. We need to support women of all ethnic origins to find their place in the economy.
I want to talk a little bit, too, about seniors. Traditional assumptions about seniors in our society must fall by the wayside too. Seniors are the fastest-growing part of our population. Seniors are active longer, many of them well into their eighties and nineties. Seniors are keeping healthier in mind, body and spirit, and I value the many roles that seniors play in building strong communities. They represent a tremendous resource in communities throughout the province. Many seniors have already contributed hours each week to volunteer activities, and I see that they can be a resource for mentoring and for nurturing business and community leaders. By encouraging and supporting seniors, we can help them to continue to be active members of their communities.
As the MLA for Oak Bay–Gordon Head since 1996, I've had the pleasure of meeting with and volunteering alongside the many seniors in my riding. Over the years I have seen the many seniors at the Oak Bay Monterey Centre in my riding have many initiatives. I recall the launching of a book that a number of seniors had prepared and authored together. I see them providing support to other seniors who come to the centre and who just need to understand how they can still participate in their community.
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I've seen this centre bring in speakers to educate each other and, again, to contribute to each other's well-being. I've seen them encourage activities amongst each other that will ensure that they remain inclusive and participatory.
Also, I have been able to speak in this chamber often about the University of Victoria and about their Centre on Aging. This Centre on Aging at the University of Victoria is a vital part of meeting the needs of seniors in our communities. Their focus is about the aging population. Their focus is about finding out the concerns of seniors. I have no doubt in my mind that I will be able to work with them over the next few years to hear their concerns and how our government can plan for our aging population.
As well, it has been my privilege for the last number of years to have helped raise the awareness of two major illnesses that, more often than not, seem to affect seniors. Those two illnesses are Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Every September I am able to participate in the annual coffee break for Alzheimer's, where constituents can drop by my office, enjoy a cup of coffee and speak with representatives from the Alzheimer's Resource Centre here in Victoria to understand more about the effects of Alzheimer's — the effect it has on their friends, the effect it has on their families — the kinds of supports that are necessary and the resources that are available.
I know there are many other members in this chamber, other colleagues of mine, who have done that very same thing every year — that is, host this annual coffee break for Alzheimer's. Just last month I went up to the University of Victoria, where the second annual Walk for Memories was held in my riding. I want to thank all those volunteers who came out in support of that walk once again to raise awareness of Alzheimer's. I know this walk takes place in a number of communities throughout the province. I would encourage members to continue to be able to participate in that.
The other major illness that I mentioned was Parkinson's. It also is a disease that, while not confined to seniors, seems to have been one that seniors are associated with. Again, I have had the opportunity to participate in their annual walk. It was last September that I attended their walk, along with the member for Victoria-Hillside. She was very much in support of their efforts to raise awareness. She went one step forward, the member for Victoria-Hillside. She organized a team and brought them together to talk about Parkinson's disease and, again, about the supports that are available to them.
For another few moments I want to speak about the throne speech and how it affects the younger generation in my community of Oak Bay–Gordon Head. That is about bringing out the best in higher education. That's good news for my riding. That's good news for the University of Victoria, because the University of Victoria has been a leader in creating new spaces for university students, for post-secondary access.
The Premier knows that access to advanced education is important to our economy, because the jobs that will be available in the next decade are going to depend on people who have post-secondary education. While our government has already added nearly 6,000 new spaces in the last two years, we can do more, and we will do more. The province will add 25,000 new student spaces to B.C.'s colleges, universities and institutes by the year 2010.
With the University of Victoria in my riding and with the Lansdowne campus of Camosun College also in my riding, I'm excited about that prospect — the prospect of new spaces being added to the University of Victoria and Camosun College. Our government knows that making an investment in higher education is going to be a major part of a vibrant economy, a diverse economy, an economy that's going to contribute to health care, an economy that's going to continue to contribute to our public education system.
In the next few days or weeks ahead I know we will soon see and receive an outline of a comprehensive strategy that is going to achieve that initiative. This government believes in higher education, and I am very grateful that my riding is going to be a beneficiary of that. Already the University of Victoria has added spaces for the Island medical program, which is going to see doctors be able to graduate in this area and, as we all know, doctors who are going to deal with our aging population. It's important to know that they can graduate in their communities and stay in those communities they graduate from. That is going to see their first students entering this program this fall. It's a collaboration with the University of British Columbia. It was the first of its kind, and, again, under the leadership of this Premier and of this government we're able to move ahead on those initiatives.
Mr. Speaker, I have accepted my new responsibilities to the Premier, to this government and to the people of British Columbia with great anticipation of the days ahead. I will be listening, and I will be documenting all those challenges and all the opportunities of women and seniors in our society. I will look outside government as well as inside government to see where those challenges can be addressed and where the opportunities can be enhanced. We often speak about challenges, but let's never forget that with challenges comes opportunity.
At the end of this I will provide government with recommendations and strategies to help remedy the difficulties and highlight the positive programs already underway. Sometimes we do forget that there are programs and initiatives underway and that they are already benefiting women and seniors in our province. We need to talk about that, and we need to find ways to make those better and enhance those.
I will work very closely with the Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services as well as the Minister of State for Immigration and Multiculturalism Services. I will work together with them to help
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all British Columbians find comfort and prosperity in a growing economy and in safe, healthy communities.
Hon. T. Christensen: It is indeed my pleasure to rise in the House today to respond to the Speech from the Throne. It's my first opportunity to speak at some length after having taken on the responsibility as Minister of Education, and I do want to say how much I welcome this opportunity.
I think education is something…. In fact, I know education is something that every single British Columbian holds very dear to their heart. It is a portfolio that every single British Columbian is interested in and certainly wants to see succeed. Quite frankly, from my experience so far, British Columbians in every single part of this province are working very hard to ensure we have an education system that is very much meeting the needs of our children.
Our government's vision is very clear, and it's reflected in the throne speech. The vision is to bring out the best in British Columbia on a number of fronts. We want all British Columbians to realize their full potential. In particular, we must ensure that our children have the opportunities to achieve their goals and reach their dreams.
I sincerely believe, firstly, that as a parent — and as any parent will tell you — the thing they spend most of their time thinking about is their children and how they can help their children to succeed as they grow older and have to enter what is becoming a very complex world. Secondly, we all want our children and the children of the province to succeed for perhaps a more selfish reason when we look to the future, and that's because they are our future doctors. They are our future community leaders. They are our future teachers. They are the future builders and maintainers of our province. We must ensure that at all times we're setting them on a very positive course to that end. To do that, we must have an education system that is second to none.
What I'm very happy to have found — and, quite frankly, I knew this before — is that we do have an education system in this province that is second to none. When the achievements of students in British Columbia are put up against the achievements of students in other parts of Canada or in fact around the world, our students are consistently among the highest achievers.
I know that when we pick up the newspaper or turn on the television, unfortunately we often see stories that are raising concerns about our public education system. One of the true delights of being the Minister of Education is that you actually get an opportunity — and it's the same delight that MLAs can share in their own constituencies — to go out and visit our schools and see exactly what is happening.
If you get an opportunity to visit our schools, it becomes pretty clear why our students are doing so very well. It's because of the dedication of teachers, the dedication of principals and vice-principals in our schools and of the school trustees that we all elect in our communities. It's because of committed parents who are continuously being strong advocates for their children and cooperative partners in ensuring their children's success. In fact, British Columbians in every part of this province are working hard every single day to meet the needs of our children in our education system.
That's why our government has made a clear commitment to invest in our education system and to bring out the best in our children by focusing on student achievement. That includes directing what have been, and will continue to be, scarce government resources — government resources that many, many interests wish to obtain. This government is choosing to focus those towards education. Over the past two years we have worked very hard to increase education funding despite the continuing decline in student enrolment. Education funding will grow by $313 million over the next three years. That's new money going into the system starting this year. We'll be working hard to ensure that those dollars help to bring out the best in B.C. students.
The throne speech also noted that government's goal has been to free up resources for education through strong and prudent fiscal management. Just last week we announced a new video and computer software buying group that will save school districts more than $14 million a year, money that can then be directed back into the classroom to help students achieve.
From day one our government vision has been to improve student achievement, and I'm happy to report that — based on the opportunity I've had to speak with a number of school districts and parents, teachers, principals, superintendents and trustees in those districts over the last couple of weeks — the vision of student achievement has been embraced by all of the players in our education system.
Last week I toured four school districts — Prince George, Nechako Lakes, Okanagan-Skaha and my own Vernon school district — where I had the opportunity to see for myself how student achievement has become the focus of our education system. This is what I was told. Superintendents told me that school planning councils have very much helped to bring some focus to what a school is doing well and where a school might need some improvement. That focus then extends up to the accountability contracts at a district level, and it has allowed a district to recognize what its strengths are. There are very many strengths, and in some cases there are some challenges. It's allowed districts to focus on where they need to perhaps focus some of their energy moving forward.
We have also had district reviews going on around the province over the last couple of years. Those are essentially peer review processes where ministry personnel and superintendents from one district will visit another, look at the practices there, determine the best practices and report on those — make some suggestions as to what improvements can be made, but learn
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from what they see in that school district so that they can take that information and ensure that other districts are aware of what is working well around the province.
One of the first things I had the pleasure to do upon being appointed minister was to visit my old elementary school, B.X. Elementary in Vernon. The reason I was there was to congratulate them because B.X. Elementary was one of 60 schools throughout the province that received a $3,000 school improvement excellence award for its literacy program. I was happy to see that where I had started out, certainly in my public education, is still going very, very strong in meeting the needs of the students in Vernon. I saw that literacy program in action, and it's amazing. It's similar to programs around the province. Many of our schools are focusing on early literacy by identifying at-risk students in kindergarten to grade 3 and then helping parents to work with their children. Many literacy programs include one-to-one, toddler and preschool support.
Another school and district visit I've had was in Vanderhoof, where I had a firsthand look at the Nechako Lakes school district's e-bus program. This program is a leader in electronic learning in this province. In fact, the day before I was in Vanderhoof, I had an opportunity to attend the Premier's Technology Council e-learning round table out at Royal Roads University. That brought together representatives from businesses large and small, from post-secondary education and from school districts around the province to look at the concept of e-learning and what needs to be done, both in the private sector and publicly, to try and encourage further e-learning around the province and to take advantage of the opportunities that e-learning presents to improve student achievement and, in fact, to improve lifelong learning.
I was very pleased that shortly after being at that round table, I was able to be in Vanderhoof to have a firsthand look at the E-bus program. E-bus is the province's largest electronic distance education provider, and it enrols students from all over the province. In fact, my recollection is that approximately 1,000 students who live outside the Nechako Lakes school district are actually students in that district through e-learning.
I had a demonstration of what electronic learning in rural areas is all about from that district. It was incredible. It is about four classrooms each that had anywhere between four and eight teachers in them, who are spending their day on line helping students anywhere in the province — and they could be doing it for students anywhere in the world — who are enrolled in the E-bus program in the Nechako Lakes school district. It was truly a strong signal of the opportunities in e-learning and of a forward-looking school district that is looking to take advantage of those opportunities.
In Prince George I had the opportunity to visit Harwin Elementary School. I visited the school reading room, where teachers tailor their teaching to the individual needs of students. Rather than teach to the broader grade level, teachers assess the reading levels of individual students and then match books to the student's reading level. They're having great results in working with those students on an individual basis to ensure that they're getting the literacy skills they need to move forward.
In Penticton I had the opportunity to tour Skaha Lake Middle School, affectionately known as the shark tank because of the big fish tank that's inside just as you go in and a big sculpture of sharks that is right at the entrance to the school. It's truly a school that the community as a whole has embraced. The sculpture outside was donated to the school and certainly provides a very big sign of the school's theme as you first approach it.
There I had the opportunity to see grade 6 students in a middle school working in woodworking class. I saw band class practice. I must say they were marching and playing their instruments certainly on par with you, Mr. Speaker, but much better than I ever could. I also observed a teacher giving a great social studies lesson, using games to ensure that students were working together to improve their study skills by virtue of the fact they were also working against one another in a game format. My only regret at the middle school was that I was about five minutes late to the home ec class, so I missed the French toast.
So far, it's clear to me from my visits across B.C. that students are succeeding like never before. That success is showing up elsewhere, as well, like in school completion rates. Last year a record 79 percent of students completed high school, up from 74 percent four years ago. That's a remarkable increase. Overall completion rates have increased steadily over the past five years. We expect the completion rates to continue to increase, thanks to our new graduation program that will be phased in beginning next September. The new grad requirements will provide students with more flexibility and choice, encouraging students to stay in school by making school more relevant to more students. Our new graduation program allows for more innovative, locally developed courses, and we've amended the School Act so that students have the freedom to choose any school, provided there is space available. Students are moving around to ensure that they can get the program that best meets their needs in the schools they're able to get to.
In my riding, Charles Bloom Secondary School out in Lumby has a real-world forestry laboratory that attracts students from all over the district. They are able to do that by virtue of the fact they have a woodlot. Up until last week I believed they had the only woodlot in the province, but actually I found when I was up in Nechako Lakes that that district has two woodlots. They are exploiting the fact that they, too, have these woodlots to provide a wide range of opportunities for their students in a broad range of subject areas that are based on the ability to access that woodlot.
Blewett Elementary in Nelson has a grade 7 science program where students learn about the environment
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in an outdoor classroom. Schools like A.R. MacNeill in Richmond or Reynolds Secondary in Victoria are drawing students to their special science, arts and sports academies. Our new choice programs are clearly having an effect on the way boards are delivering programs and allowing students to find how they can best meet their needs.
I want to congratulate school districts, schools and the teachers and the leadership in those schools across the province for ensuring that classes are more meaningful and student-focused, because all those elements help to improve student achievement.
I think it is also important to note — critically important to note, in fact — that secondary school completion rates are also improving for our aboriginal students. Nearly 46 percent of aboriginal students completed high school last year. Now, 46 percent, you might say, Mr. Speaker, doesn't sound like a great number, but that is in fact an increase of 13 percentage points since 1996. I don't think any of us are satisfied with the 46 percent completion rate, but it is important to note that the trend is towards marked improvement and that school districts around the province are focusing very much on how they can improve the results for their aboriginal students.
In fact, British Columbia is the only jurisdiction in the world that we're aware of that tracks aboriginal achievement separate from overall student achievement. That has allowed us to focus on or identify the problem and to recognize that aboriginal student completion rates are much lower than the non-aboriginal population, but that in turn then allows us to focus resources and focus our attention on what can be done in schools in different ways around the province to ensure that we're meeting the needs of our aboriginal students.
We will continue to work with first nations and school districts to find ways to encourage aboriginal students to stay in school. Our goal is to make sure high school completion rates continue to increase so all students have the skills they need for life after high school.
It's clear from other evidence that B.C. students are excelling like never before. In the 2003 foundation skills assessment, 84 percent of grade 7 students met or exceeded expectations for math. That's up 2 percent over the previous year. In the most recent international test of 15-year-olds, only Finland scored higher in reading than British Columbia. But there is always room for improvement.
That's why last year the Premier introduced a five-point student achievement action plan to better equip parents, teachers and schools to enhance student learning. The action plan provides new resources for parents and teachers, awards to recognize excellence in teaching, and grants for early literacy and school improvements such as the one presented to B.X. Elementary that I mentioned earlier.
The throne speech also notes that schools with low-speed Internet access will be upgraded to broadband access. This is something that I certainly think most of us would agree is overdue. We live in a technological age, and it is critically important that we do all we can to ensure that our schools — the ground where we train our future citizens — have access to the Internet and all the opportunity it can provide. The expansion of broadband access will ensure that students have the opportunity to be the best they can be no matter where they live in the great province of British Columbia. That commitment to expand broadband access follows up on the rural achievement action plan that government announced last year.
As we look to the months ahead, Mr. Speaker, you will see the government will be announcing new standards for physical fitness that will help fight the epidemic of obesity that is threatening the health of young British Columbians. It's a threat that we have all read a lot about recently. There seems to be a good deal of attention being paid, and it is a threat that demands action. I'm pleased that in the throne speech this government has indicated it will be moving ahead with an action plan in that regard.
Early learning and child care agreements with the federal government are going to inject more than $70 million into programs for B.C. children over the next three years. That's critical — to recognize that learning doesn't start when all of a sudden you turn five years old and arrive at a kindergarten class in one of the many schools in the province. Learning starts pretty much from the time you arrive in this world, as any parent will tell you, and it's important that we be focusing resources and finding resources to meet the needs of those children in those early learning years.
Our government will launch a comprehensive new literacy program starting with the creation of a Premier's advisory board on literacy. You may recall that I just said a few moments ago how well we're doing among 15-year-olds in reading tests compared to the rest of the world. Well, we can't simply rest on those laurels. We must recognize that there is still a good number of British Columbians who don't have the literacy skills that allow them to be their best in today's society. We will be working hard over the next number of months and years to ensure that we're focusing on effective literacy programs to meet the needs of both children and adults and to upgrade their literacy skills, whether it is reading, writing, numeracy skills or computer skills that are so necessary moving forward in today's society. It is clear that obtaining these skills in the early years is critical to enabling our children to flourish as they succeed, as they move into later grades and on to their adult lives.
It has been my pleasure since being elected — I guess it's coming up on three years ago now — to have had many meetings with school district 22, my own district in Vernon, and to learn from them what's going on in the public education system. As a parent I have entered the public education system just this year, so I'm getting in on the ground floor.
Since becoming minister and over the last couple of years sitting on different committees for the govern-
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ment, I have learned a great deal about the public education system. I can say unequivocally that all British Columbians should be proud of the system we have. We have a strong and thriving public education system in British Columbia that is offering a broad range of opportunities to our children. We cannot ever forget that, because as we all know, educating our young people is key to the future of British Columbia. I'm very confident that we're very much on the right track.
In fact, I believe that in early March there is going to be an international conference here looking at and recognizing many of the innovative practices that have been adopted in education in British Columbia, so that others around the world can learn from our success. I certainly over the next number of weeks and months look forward to working with teachers, with parents, with principals and vice-principals and with school trustees as we confront some of the challenges that do exist in the education system. In that work we must always recognize what we're doing well. We must recognize where the challenges are and how we address them and must all keep our focus on what our common goal is, and that is to ensure that the education system in British Columbia is the one the rest of the world looks to when they, too, want to improve student achievement.
D. Chutter: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to respond to the throne speech as the representative for the people living in the riding of Yale-Lillooet. Although all the initiatives addressed in the throne speech will benefit the people of Yale-Lillooet, I want to talk about the initiatives that my constituents can directly identify with.
The people in and around Lillooet have been waiting many years for the land and resource management plan decision. They know the key to economic development and prosperity is having certainty on the land base. For activity to take place on the land — whether it be mining or forestry, tourism, back-country tourism or conservation — we need to know the guidelines and boundaries for activities. The Lillooet land use plan will be completed this year, initiating opportunities for economic activity.
Yale-Lillooet has a diversity of sport, music and culture with over two dozen small communities and in excess of 20 native bands. With the announced $30 million of funding for LegaciesNow, communities throughout my riding will have the opportunity to reach out to our youth and assist in developing sport and fitness, music and artists. We have given communities the tools that help them reach their full potential.
Yale-Lillooet is very clearly a rural riding with many small communities scattered around a large geographical area. Most communities are a distance from regional health centres. There are many people without private vehicles, and public transportation does not exist in my riding. Therefore, it is very difficult and costly for many to access the large centres that provide specialized health care services. Our government announced a rural health travel assistance plan that will help to defray costs to rural families who must travel to health centres for special care. As well, our government is expanding the capacity of regional hospitals. This is exactly what people in my riding have been asking for, and I'm happy to say we're delivering.
The ranching industry operates in most areas of my riding and is a steady economic driver in small towns and rural areas of Yale-Lillooet. Our government will expand the assistance for the BSE crisis with a $16.8 million contribution to the whole-farm trust to help farmers and ranchers. Our government is committed to helping farming and ranching through these tough times, as these activities are key to our B.C. rural economic future.
Yale-Lillooet contains over 25 aboriginal bands, making up 17 percent of the riding population — the third-highest in the province, with some communities having over 50 percent aboriginal population. The initiatives of our government to involve first nations in the resource economy are valuable to the future of Yale-Lillooet. These initiatives involve revenue-sharing agreements, allocation of timber and, for bands located along B.C. Rail, a $15 million B.C. Rail first nations benefit trust that will support economic development, educational advancement and cultural renewal. The $1 billion B.C. Rail investment partnership with CN Rail will result in a better rail service reaching out to the entire continent, including a new passenger tourism service opening up tremendous tourism opportunities throughout the interior and the north.
Forestry is the economic engine throughout the riding of Yale-Lillooet. Our government will reallocate 20 percent of the annual allowable cut to small operators and local communities, to first nations and for public auction sale. Legislation will be introduced to allow for more opportunities for small-scale salvage by quadrupling the amount of timber available for direct award. This government will make amendments to ensure that forest contractors' rights are maintained when licensees transfer, subdivide or consolidate a licence. Our government will increase efforts to develop new markets for B.C. forest products in order to achieve less dependence on the U.S. market. All of that is good news for people in my riding.
The Princeton area has coalmining and coalbed methane activity, which offers promise for future jobs in the local economy. Legislation will be introduced to reduce unnecessary and redundant regulatory requirements in coal tenure requirements by 29 percent.
We have spoken a lot about our resource industries. It's important that people know that our resource industries are the reason we have the best education and health care systems in the world. The revenues generated from our rural land base are needed to support these services across British Columbia.
Since the day we were elected, we committed to making education a priority. We have kept that commitment, and I am pleased to see we are increasing the education budget by $313 million over the next three years. There are some tremendously bright young peo-
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ple in my riding who want to enhance their education. However, space in our colleges and universities is limited.
We need to create more opportunities for our young people. The opportunities are out there. It's well known that we have a skills shortage in many industries, so we must give young people the opportunity to train, develop skills and find jobs; 25,000 more post-secondary spaces will be added to our province between now and 2010 to address that problem. Everyone should have a chance to improve their education, so I am pleased to see that we have a target of a 75 percent grade average to allow entrance into post-secondary institutions.
I represent a region that has some of the best living qualities anywhere. Yale-Lillooet communities are affordable to live in. They border the great outdoors, which lends a healthy lifestyle. We have tremendous outdoor recreation and brilliant scenery. I know professionals would love to live in this region if they could continue to work and be connected to urban centres. To address this, government will act in partnership with others to connect every community in the province to high-speed Internet access. Not only will this help students of all ages access the latest education information at home in their small town, but it will also allow professional people to live in any community in Yale-Lillooet, enjoy the outdoor activities and healthy living, and yet connect to the world of opportunities.
British Columbians have had difficult times this past year with fires, floods, drought and BSE. Yet B.C. has pulled together and prevailed. We have had our successes as well. The awarding of the 2010 Winter Olympics is our opportunity to show the world what the people and the land of our great province are all about — a tremendous opportunity for growth and achievement, truly a new era for British Columbia.
For families and their communities throughout Yale-Lillooet to have access to health care and other social services, as well as infrastructure such as roads, we need a strong economy. Our provincial government has taken many actions towards economic growth. Costs have been lowered; tax rates and red tape have been reduced.
The positive results are in. More people are working than ever before. The unemployment rate has dropped to the lowest level in many years. The number of small businesses is on the rise after years of decline. B.C. is leading the nation in job creation. Over the past two years, B.C.'s rate of growth was higher than any other province's.
A balanced budget will be tabled next week. What this means is that we will stop digging ourselves deeper in debt, a liability unfairly passed onto the backs of our children. This significant change resulting from responsible fiscal management will translate into surplus, allowing opportunities to fund new and expanded programs and benefiting families throughout the province.
Confidence and optimism are growing in communities in Yale-Lillooet. People are taking on the challenge and responsibility to make it happen. The throne speech outlines the additional work our government will do this coming year to build upon the positive results to date. The future looks bright for our children, our families and communities in Yale-Lillooet.
In closing, the plan for the future, as laid out in the throne speech, is a responsible, balanced plan to build on the progress to date in bringing prosperity and opportunity to all British Columbians.
Hon. G. Cheema: I'm very honoured, as the Minister of State for Immigration and Multiculturalism and as the member for Surrey–Panorama Ridge, to rise in response to the Speech from the Throne.
Canadian multiculturalism is fundamental to our belief that diversity and cultural harmony are indicators of a healthy, safe and prosperous community in building a successful future for all. Especially for our children, we must set an example of how to live in harmony and to freely cultivate and enhance our cultural, social and economic diversity. B.C. leads the nation in job creation, and unemployment is now below the national rate.
Our government is committed to bringing out the best in partnerships with first nations. The government will build on the foundation that has been established, which includes three agreements-in-principle in the past year, 124 economic measures and over 125 treaty-related measures and other agreements involving first nations in resource management.
Our government is committed to bringing out the best in transportation and northern development. The Premier will host a series of round tables to encourage B.C. families about their hopes and aspirations for the future, bringing out the best in the spirit of B.C. Our government believes that multiculturalism and immigration are integral components in shaping the future of our province. Cultural diversity is a way of life in British Columbia and a key element in building stronger, more vibrant and safe communities.
Our government's aim is to promote and encourage racial and cultural harmony through public education and community partnerships. Communication is the key. We intend to include all British Columbians in our common responsibility for cultural inclusion and acceptance. Through our government's commitment to multiculturalism and cultural inclusion, all British Columbians will benefit from a society where diversity, tolerance and full participation are celebrated. Canadian multiculturalism is fundamental to our belief that all citizens are equal. Acceptance gives Canadians and British Columbians a feeling of security and self-confidence and helps them to be more open and accepting of diversity.
Multiculturalism encourages racial and ethnic harmony and understanding and helps to discourage intolerance. Our government encourages all British Columbians to reach their full potential. Mutual respect helps foster a common attitude that aids all British Columbians to respect the political and legal process. Our government recognized that, and all British Columbi-
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ans are encouraged to integrate into our society and to take an active part in social, cultural, economic and political affairs.
A recent census makes clear that immigrants to Canada are and have been a significant part of social and economic fabric of this province. In the past decade, immigrants represented 70 percent of the total growth of the labour force and are a necessity for continued growth in the future.
British Columbians benefit greatly from the economic engine of immigration. Immigration is an important part of our history. The diversity of our population translates directly into economic advantage and opportunity for all British Columbians. British Columbia's diversity is increasingly recognized as an asset in the domestic and international markets and is a major contributor to Canadian economic prosperity. Business and the workplace can promote innovation, stimulate teamwork and creativity that help expand markets for goods and services.
Demographic trends point to the critical labour shortages in Canada in the next decade. We must attract and retain skilled immigrants in order to stay competitive in the global marketplace. In the past ten years 16,000 business immigrants invested over $3 billion in businesses in B.C. that realized an estimated 75,000 jobs in B.C.
Immigrants blend cultures and customs, creating an increasingly dynamic and diverse society. Through acceptance and respect, our government is creating a climate that favours progress and prosperity for all. New immigrants to British Columbia can count on our government's commitment to provide the means to become full participants in all aspects of our society. Our province has taken a leadership role by signing the agreement for Canada–British Columbia cooperation on immigration, one of the most visionary in the nation.
Given the important role immigration plays in B.C.'s social and economic engine, our government is designing settlement services that will meet B.C.'s unique needs, implementing the provincial nominee program to support employers in meeting skill requirements and to attract business investment to this province and implementing the international qualification program that supports internationally trained workers to get access to the jobs they are trained to do.
We are a province that's rich in history and ripe with opportunity. We know that during the 2010 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, we will be welcoming people from all over the world, from all backgrounds and cultural histories and traditions, and those visitors will see their reflection in the cultural and social life of this province. They will see their cultures are accepted and respected in communities throughout British Columbia.
Let's remember that diversity is our nation's most valuable asset. British Columbians who speak many languages and understand many cultures make it easier for our province to participate globally and ensure a prosperous future for our children. The province no longer lives in isolation. We are part of the global village, which is more competitive and moving at a much faster rate than anyone could have imagined. We must be open-minded and innovative to succeed in a competitive environment. The constituents of Surrey–Panorama Ridge are ready to accept the challenge and opportunities, and so are British Columbians.
Mr. Speaker: The Minister of Forests. [Applause.]
Hon. M. de Jong: That makes me feel welcome, as I know I always am in this chamber and have been — it just occurred to me a few moments ago — over the past ten years, because in a couple of days it will have been ten years since I first was elected.
It is one of the pleasures of this job, as I look around the chamber today, starting with the Chair…. I recall as a younger man becoming acquainted with you, Mr. Speaker, in your first campaign in 1981, I believe, to sit in this chamber. Then the ever-youthful member for North Vancouver–Seymour, who predated my arrival here by a couple of years; the member for Langley as well; the member from Abbotsford, who followed me just a few short months in a subsequent by-election; and of course the Minister for Human Resources, who also taught me a thing or two in advance of my election to this chamber in his capacity as a minister in a previous government…. We have the honour and the privilege to stand here and represent our constituents and also to form some lifelong friendships, and that is something for which I am grateful.
It is the tenth February that I have stood in this chamber. It is, I think, the tenth throne speech, but there may have been an extra one or two along the way, given the electoral cycle. The theme for this speech is, I think, eminently appropriate, entirely appropriate: bringing out the best in British Columbians.
I want to comment on what that means, firstly, for the community I have had the privilege to represent for a decade now. I want to observe what it means for the all-important sector of our economy that I have the honour to be involved with on an administrative front as the Minister of Forests.
I also want to say, not in passing but parenthetically, that the throne speech, as we know, pursuant to parliamentary tradition is delivered by Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor. I have to say her effort as a spokesperson for her office in travelling around this province is something that has made quite an impression on me and many British Columbians. She is tireless in meeting with British Columbians, schoolchildren, in the four corners of the province. I know the whole House appreciates those efforts that she makes on our behalf, on behalf of the Sovereign she represents.
What has occurred in the city and the valley of Abbotsford since we last stood in this chamber and debated a Speech from the Throne? There's quite a list, and I will only be able to touch on a few of those mat-
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ters and then also speculate on where those projects and others will go, thanks to the direction offered by the Premier, by Her Honour, through the Speech from the Throne we heard just a few short days ago.
We talk about the Olympic spirit. We talk about bringing out the best in the Olympic spirit. I can't for a moment forget the absolute excitement that captured the province, the country and, yes, the city of Abbotsford on that day last summer when we huddled around our television sets. The member from Abbotsford and I were with a large gathering of our neighbours and friends in Abbotsford while we watched that envelope being passed in Prague, in our hearts certain we had earned the right to sponsor and hold the Olympics in 2010 but not really certain until the moment had been confirmed by the announcement itself.
[J. Weisbeck in the chair.]
This has been said, but it bears saying again. It is something every person in that room in Abbotsford understood. The spirit that brought British Columbians together found its voice in the Premier, who said some time ago that this is a goal, this is an objective we are going to set collectively as British Columbians, and we are going to realize that goal. When the envelope was opened and that announcement made, I know everyone cheered. But everyone knew, as well, that in addition to the tremendous efforts of Mr. Poole, Mr. Furlong and the team they brought together that made that a reality, it was also very much a reflection of the efforts of the Premier of the province of British Columbia, who also made that a reality.
The work, of course, has only begun. In Abbotsford my friend the member for Abbotsford-Clayburn and I were at a meeting along with the member for Chilliwack-Sumas, the now Minister of Small Business, where we saw that excitement taking root, where the plans are underway. How do we as a community capitalize? How do we as a province and a country capitalize on bringing the world to our province, to our country, to our communities and show them what we have to offer?
I am, as I know my colleagues are, thrilled at how that spirit has remained and how now the innovativeness and the imagination of our friends and neighbours in Abbotsford are taking over — people like Christine Weibe and David Holmburg and others who are saying: "Let's get a plan together." As the Deputy Premier said earlier today, we've got six years till those games begin, and we've got six years within which to prepare ourselves and prepare our communities.
I'm absolutely confident that when those games arrive, they will be regarded as the best ever in the history of the Olympic movement and that each community around the province, including my own in Abbotsford, will have a proud place in that legacy that will extend many years out from the conclusion of the games.
The throne speech talks about bringing out the best in education. I was mindful of that day a few months ago when, in Abbotsford, we opened a new, permanent aerospace training facility to be operated in partnership with the University College of the Fraser Valley. It goes much further than just the Fraser Valley. It's yet again an example of the Minister of Advanced Education, the Premier of the province, the government and the caucus in its entirety hearing what the priorities are of the MLAs and the communities they represent.
There are countless of my colleagues who, about 18 months ago, said to the Minister of Advanced Education: "You know, there is a market out there for aerospace training, for aeronautics, for airframe mechanics, for qualified aircraft engine technicians. If we can fill that demand, we will be doing a service to the young people, and we will be creating for British Columbia a critical mass of trained personnel that in and of itself is going to attract more business here." I have to look no further than the airport that I use on a weekly basis now, in Abbotsford, to look at the work of Cascade Aerospace where they're performing service work on 737s and now wide-bodied aircraft from around the world — Aloha Airlines, Southwest Airlines out of the United States and European carriers.
It is a tremendous success story. The government, the minister and the Premier had the foresight to listen to the advice they were getting from members of this chamber and say that we can do more, and we've done more. When we opened that training centre in Abbotsford on the day that the Abbotsford air show began, it was a proud day for me. It was a day that my colleague the member for Abbotsford-Clayburn and I had been working for, for years, and now it is there. Now there are students receiving that training, and there is a base from which to expand.
I am going to make this prediction today. I suspect there are members of this chamber that will want to challenge me, but I am going to make this prediction that before the decade is out.… I'd better be careful how I end that. Before the decade is out, Abbotsford will be regarded, if not as the leader, as one of the leaders in aerospace training in North America. It is thanks to the seeds that have been planted by the Minister of Advanced Education and, again, the Premier of British Columbia.
We talk in the throne speech about the unleashing or bringing out the best in terms of transportation. Again, I look at the work that has taken place in my hometown. A project that languished for years and years, now the highway between Mission and Abbotsford is on the verge of being four-laned. Phase 1 will be complete later this year, with plans in place to finalize and complete the final phase shortly thereafter — a stretch of highway that I am eminently familiar with, having lived there for over 30 years, as has my colleague, a project that languished.
Safety concerns. We talk about safety on the highways, with terrible accidents year in and year out. Now
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people can see for themselves the work taking place within the context of a sound fiscal plan that the Minister of Finance has delivered on for three years now and in a few short days will deliver on again when he delivers a truly balanced budget to the people of British Columbia.
I remember ten years ago standing on a freeway interchange at Mount Lehman Road, saying that this interchange is inadequate. It is still inadequate, but for those many years the problem went ignored. Now I'm happy to say — and the people of my community understand — that we are a few short months away from commencing construction on an upgraded interchange at Mount Lehman Road and Highway 1.
It is, of course, necessary from the point of view of moving traffic and moving people, but if you accept — and I have made this argument time and time again — that for that part of British Columbia the largest engine that will drive economic growth in the future is the Abbotsford Airport, the fastest-growing airport in Canada, then you've got to have the capacity to get there. That's what this infrastructure upgrade is all about — ensuring that that capacity exists, that the access and egress to the airport exists.
It is exciting and of course is giving rise to other plans that people within Abbotsford are already advancing — to expand the runway itself so that there is international service, wide-bodied service. Speculation about direct air travel between Abbotsford and India, for example, to service the cultural link that already exists and is so strong. Exciting plans that will come to fruition because this government over two and a half, nearly three years, has fulfilled its obligation to actually get government out of the way of people and say to them: "Use your imagination. Realize on those dreams that you have for your community, and let not the provincial government, or the federal government for that matter, get in your way. How do we facilitate the realization of those objectives and those dreams and those aspirations?" It is beginning to bear fruit. It is beginning to see the results that we have all in this chamber worked so hard over the years to make a reality.
In health care we are only a few short months away from fulfilling a commitment that we made, that the Premier made, that I made, that the member for Abbotsford-Clayburn made — a commitment to ensure that the health care needs of people in the Fraser Valley are met by replacing an outdated hospital. When that day arrives shortly, when the final proposals are in and have been approved, and it is confirmed by the team in charge of the project that the partner with whom we will contract to complete this work has met all of the standards set out in the RFP — request for proposals — and when it has been confirmed under as-close-as-possible scrutiny that those commitments will be kept within the confines of the financial parameters that have been set, that will be a day to celebrate. It's just around the corner. It's a few months away. People are going to be excited.
I reminded myself of what this facility is going to include. I look at the additions: the medical imaging, the MRI, CT scan, the nuclear medicine, the renal dialysis program, the level 2 obstetrics in nursing, the pediatric services, the special adult medical services. In the final RFP the additions are a 25 percent larger emergency area to accommodate larger room sizes and more waiting space; more stringent infection control measures to deal with things like the most recent SARS outbreak; a focus on child and youth care; child rehabilitation capacity; children-friendly areas for physiotherapy; occupational therapy; operating rooms, two of the eight of which will have teleconferencing and video conferencing facilities to allow surgeons from around the world to participate in those surgeries.
Academic space. This will be a teaching facility, something that the fastest-growing part of our province needs in any number of ways.
Two new cancer out-patient programs — the breast health program and the hereditary cancer program — are to be located within a cancer facility that will be built from the ground up. It's the first time that has happened — a new cancer treatment and research facility that is actually being constructed and not renovated from some older existing building. I do want to say this again and put it on the record: this is a facility that the public will own. They will own the building; they will own the land. The clinical services they receive will be administered by the public health board, the health region.
I know there are people, perhaps some of them watching now, who are trying to conjure up all kinds of spectres, but I am a believer in this project, and the time has come for this project. It's being delivered, again, because of the vision of the government, the tenacity — I say humbly — of the Members of the Legislative Assembly, and the commitment of the Minister of Health and the Premier. It's exciting news.
My colleague the member for Abbotsford-Clayburn, I know…. There are some, ironically, who are critics of this project, who for ten years did nothing to fulfil a promise that previous governments had made. I find it reprehensible that they, the same people who did nothing for ten years but wax eloquent and offer hollow promises, would now — as we are on the verge of actually giving the people of the Central and eastern Fraser Valley what they need, which is a modern state-of-the-art facility — stand up and throw stones and try to fearmonger. Well, shame on them. We're getting on with the job. We're going to make sure there is a hospital facility out there that people in that part of British Columbia can be proud of, and it's going to happen soon.
Now, a portion of the speech Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor delivered focused on an area of public policy that I have some interest in and involvement with. That is forestry, bringing out the best in forestry. It is something that has made an impression upon me over the last two and a half or three years — the extent to which this truly is the engine that drives the economy, geographically at least, across the province. There is nothing that I have just spoken about as it
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relates to Abbotsford or any one of the communities represented here that isn't impacted by the performance of our forest sector. Whether you are in Nanaimo, whether you are in Burnaby, whether you are somewhere else on the north shore of the Fraser River — no matter where you are — your abilities to access and realize the services you need in health care, education and the justice branches are contingent upon the performance of our forest sector, because that's where a goodly portion of the revenue comes from that government relies upon.
When it sputters, it has an impact right across government. As we all know, it has been sputtering over the last ten to 12 years. I will be careful not to overstate this, because I think one does so at his or her peril. We are beginning to see the signs. We are beginning to see the signs of a new-found confidence, a revitalization, competitiveness. I know that perhaps sounds odd when one considers that we have not yet found a solution to a lingering problem relating to our largest trading partner, the United States of America. Yet the signs are there. I will say, again humbly, they are there because British Columbians themselves have found some solutions and have acquired that confidence. They said to the government before it was elected: "We need you to address a regulatory nightmare called the Forest Practices Code. The objective is fine, but the manner in which the government of the day, the previous NDP government, sought to pursue and achieve those objectives was flawed — overly prescriptive. We want a results-based code that will allow professionals the ability to utilize their ingenuity."
We delivered. In the year of forestry, we worked with stakeholders from all sectors and developed a legislative package and a regulatory package that — I will confess — is undoubtedly not perfect but which virtually all of the stakeholders have said is a huge step in the right direction and has eliminated thousands upon thousands of unnecessary regulations. I'm proud of that. I'm proud of the fact that in this year, as we unleash and bring out the best in forestry, that is the document and the statutory instrument people will begin working with. There will be some training over the next two and a half months for people in the Forest Service, for stakeholders themselves, but that is the new tool that will be available for them to work with in the months and years ahead.
We said we wanted to go to a market pricing system, that the people of the province own the trees on Crown land and that they deserve to know they're getting a fair price when we sell those trees. The system we have in place at a minimum didn't assure people of that in a transparent enough way. A couple of weeks ago at the truck loggers' convention in Vancouver — to a tremendous reception, I might add — the Premier stood and kept our promise. He said that in the coastal industry in a week and a half, we will make the shift to a market pricing system, one that is transparent, is completely defensible and will ensure that people purchasing the timber pay a fair market-based price and that the people who own the resource receive a fair market-based price.
For the interior the work continues. We are working with stakeholders to ensure that the data sets we rely upon in order to effect the shift are accurate and that any anomalies in that data are properly addressed and accounted for. That work will continue. But as the Premier said, our objective is to finalize the transition across the remainder of the province before the year is out. That is part of bringing out the best in forestry.
We said that in revitalizing this sector of our economy, this all-important sector of the economy, we wanted to create new opportunities. We wanted to create new opportunities for small family businesses by doubling the woodlot program. We wanted to create new opportunities for communities who see the resource around them and have been frustrated over the years with a feeling of powerlessness about how to access and exercise some jurisdiction or some ability to influence the use of that resource. I will say this, as I have in the past: we're not the first government that has actually stood in this chamber or gone around the province and said we are interested in creating those new opportunities. But we are the first government with a Premier that has the courage to actually do something about it, because realizing on those laudable objectives is not easy.
In order to be in a position to create those new opportunities, you have to deal with the fact that a vast majority of the timber resource in this province has been allocated to others. That is a difficult thing to deal with, because it involves going to those others and saying we need some of that tenure back. We are in the process of working through that in a fair and equitable way. Yes, there are impacts. There are impacts on contractors; there are potential impacts on communities. It is why we set up a transition fund. It is why in the weeks and months ahead we will be meeting with the contractors and meeting with the communities to ensure that those transition funds are used in a way that makes for a seamless transition to a new era for forestry — bringing out the best in forestry so that communities do have a role and so that woodlot licensees have an expanded role in the future of our industry.
We talked about fairness for first nations. If I may, I will take a moment to dwell on this because it is something I have tremendous pride in. I am glad he is in the chamber because, in addition to the Premier, I will tell you this. It would not have been possible to advance this agenda without the work of the Attorney General, who has managed in a relatively short time to instil — not in everyone — a general feeling of confidence within those with whom we are trying to work. He said, along with the Premier, some two and a half years ago: "The negotiation of comprehensive treaties is a challenging task, a complex task, a complicated task and one that we are going to get on with. But in the meantime we are also going to endeavour to improve the lives of people, and we are not going to ask them to put their lives on hold while the lawyers and negotia-
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tors go about their very important business. We are going to seek out those opportunities that might exist for them and provide them with an ability to improve their lives through employment, community development, and for so many of those first nations, the logical opportunity is in the realm of forestry."
For too long, first nations have been living in communities surrounded by our forestry resource and felt shut out from participation in that economy and that sector. It's changing, and it is not just changing in a little way. It's changing in a huge way. It was the Attorney General, the Premier, the members of the cabinet and the members of this caucus that said: "We are going to be the first government in the country of Canada that actually embraces the notion of revenue-sharing with first nations. We're going to allow first nations to share in the resource that surrounds their communities. We are going to provide to them licence opportunities in a meaningful way that will allow them to participate — put people to work."
The Haisla, the Heilthuk, the Kitasoo, the Wekanu, the Cowichan, the Kitselas, the Kitsumkalum, the Metlakatla, the Saik'uz, the Gitxsan, the Lax Kw'alaams…. I can go on and on, because there are 29 agreements — 29 agreements. Some of them include revenue-sharing, and all of them include timber resources.
As I bring my remarks to a close…. I began talking about forestry, about this new sense of confidence that is developing. Well, is it any wonder that new confidence is reflected in the investments that are taking place, again, for the first time in a long time in forestry? Whether it is Dunkley and Hickson — a $50 million investment in doubling the capacity of their plant…. As we heard today from the member for Bulkley Valley–Stikine, we've got the largest sawmill in the whole wide world right here in British Columbia. We're number one. Whether it is the Slocan and Louisiana-Pacific announcement in Fort St. John, a new facility…. It's the first time in over a decade that we've had an investment of $200 million — $200 million — and there are examples right across the province.
We're not there yet. The work isn't done. That is why we have a new Minister of State for Forestry Operations, because there is a heck of a lot of work to be done yet. But that new feeling of confidence is building out there. There is a sense that, yes, we have met some challenges. We have been dealt some challenges by our biggest trading partner. They have thrown their worst at us. British Columbians have shown their best, and that's what this throne speech is about: bringing out the best in British Columbians because British Columbians are the best.
G. Halsey-Brandt: It is indeed a pleasure, along with many of my colleagues, to rise in response to the Speech from the Throne and to highlight the initiatives and direction this government is embarking on for the coming legislative session.
The theme in the Speech from the Throne is bringing out the best, and that theme is a major part of what I think the service of any government is really all about. We know that this beautiful province has the people and the natural resources to be a leader in Canada and, indeed, the world. It is incumbent upon us, the legislators in this House that have been given the trust of our citizens, to build a platform that will allow British Columbians to excel and reach their potential.
As a government we have laid the groundwork in many areas: reducing personal and business taxes; reducing red tape and bureaucratic obstructions to the initiatives of individual British Columbians; providing patient-centred health care, with measurable levels of service; bringing parents back into the education system; measuring outcomes to ensure our students get the best education possible; revitalizing the forestry, mining and gas industries through regulatory changes. Government has provided a platform, and now it is our time to shine.
I want to address in my comments a number of points in the throne speech that will certainly bring out the best in my community of Richmond. The first is student achievement. Educational achievement — whether it be in school, in college, in an institute or at a university — is immensely important to all the residents of my community. Education funding from our government has increased over the past three years in spite of a decline in student enrolment. I'm very pleased that this trend of increased funding will continue and the education budget will grow by $313 million over the next three years. This increased funding will allow the quality of K-to-12 education to improve even further, as it not only is key to personal fulfilment but is the greatest economic development tool that we have in the province.
In addition to greater funding, the throne speech addresses the question of literacy in our province. It calls for a major new initiative to foster literacy throughout British Columbia. Especially relevant to my community is proficiency in the English language. We have one of the largest English-as-a-second-language programs in the province in our public school system and through private ESL schools. We also have large numbers of adults who have recently immigrated to Richmond and need our assistance in comprehending and speaking the English language. The funds we spend in helping all these individuals, young and old alike, will be returned tenfold through both their personal growth as Canadians in enjoying the benefits of a wider society and in the economic return that they can generate to our economy.
The second point in the throne speech I want to address is bringing out the best in higher education. Although this government has worked with our post-secondary institutions to add nearly 6,000 new spaces for students over the past two years, we know there are not enough spaces to meet current and expected demand. To deal with the pressure of enrolment, institutions raise their admission standards. Students either cannot get into post-secondary institutions or take five or six years to complete a degree when the normal term is four years. Right now, for instance, students may be
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required to have an 80 percent average upon high school graduation to enter an arts program, or an 85 percent average to enter a science program.
Students know that most job openings in the future, as is the case now, need some type of post-secondary education. In addition, the income levels of those individuals with post-secondary education is much higher than those with high school graduation or less, and generally the overall physical health of individuals with higher education is better than those without.
Our government believes that any student with a 75 percent average in secondary school deserves to have access to a university. To reach this goal, we need to add 25,000 new student spaces to universities, colleges and institutions by a target date of 2010. We have to set this ambitious target because we must create spaces at twice the graduation rate to not only keep up with present demand but to open up extra spaces that will allow the entrance requirements to be adjusted.
I know that my community welcomes this goal in the throne speech with great anticipation. While the provincial average for grade 12 students going on to post-secondary education is 20 percent, in Richmond 31 percent of the graduating students go on to post-secondary education. This is a reflection of a 92 percent high school graduation rate in the Richmond school district, which I believe is the second-highest of any school district in the province and of which we are proud. A good education is clearly one of the goals of the young people and parents in my community, and we welcome this initiative in the throne speech.
We know that for the 69 percent of students in my community who do not go on to a post-secondary career path, skills training is a must in today's competitive workplace. From now until 2010 the government projects that half a million new jobs will be created in British Columbia, not including those related to the Winter Olympics. To help meet this challenge, the government is increasing the Advanced Education ministry budget by $105 million by 2006-07.
Thousands of jobs remain unfilled in B.C. each year. The Winter Olympics and related capital projects will create, indeed, thousands more. Skill shortages now exist in the construction trades in our large urban areas and also in the oil and gas industry. Our young people must be equipped, through skills training initiatives, to meet this labour shortage. A human resource strategy will be launched this year to ensure that our training programs match the needs of working British Columbians.
The third point I want to highlight is the initiative to bring out the best in sport, music, culture, arts and volunteerism that we have in British Columbia. Our residents have a tremendous enthusiasm and energy to devote to the institutions in their private and, for some, professional lives. We will help them through a one-time funding program of $30 million to support their dreams.
In the field of sports we, of course, want to see our athletes compete at all levels. Some may reach the Olympic level in time for the 2010 games, but most importantly, all must be encouraged and have the opportunity to reach their personal best.
That goal is also true in the areas of music and the arts. The 2010 games will have a major cultural component, and this funding provides the opportunity for British Columbians to begin to prepare for this major event.
Our volunteer sector, as well, is ready and able to take up the challenge of playing a greater role in our society, but they require organizational funds to train and mobilize individuals. This funding will help volunteers realize their potential and instil in us all their spirit to bring out the best in British Columbia.
Mention of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games leads us to another initiative, the Spirit of 2010 tourism strategy that was mentioned in the throne speech. Communities and resorts all over the province are beginning to plan for 2010, particularly for the lead-up to the games and maintaining high tourist visibility after the games.
As was mentioned earlier today by the Premier, time is passing. The games start six years from today. To get the best exposure and long-term tourism benefits, a strategy for British Columbia is a necessity. I know that in my community, hotels, the Vancouver International Airport, Tourism Richmond and individual attractions are already excited about the possibilities and look forward to working with provincewide initiatives to maximize benefits from the games.
The Spirit of 2010 business summit this spring will bring together community leaders, investors and businesses from around the province. Each community in British Columbia has an Olympic preparation committee, and these are ready to get involved once the procurement website is up and running. Local agencies and businesses are gearing up to supply goods, services and tourism requirements for the games.
Just last fall I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of first nations leaders and entrepreneurs from across this province. They were acquiring background information, ideas for business development and marketing strategies to ensure they were front and centre in terms of business and cultural involvement in the games.
There are many other points in the Speech from the Throne that I could respond to, but time is limited. However, there is one additional area I would like to cover, because it concerns a unique perspective I gained as an MLA.
As the House is aware, our $1 billion B.C. Rail investment partnership with CN Rail will lead to significant economic benefits across much of this great province. The province will receive $1 billion from CN for the operational rights on the BCR line for the next 90 years. This will enable the province to pay off $500 million of B.C. Rail debt and invest the balance in economic development projects across the north and transportation projects around the province.
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B.C. will enjoy a new competitive rail network from our north to urban centres like Chicago, New Orleans and Halifax. Investment in the port of Prince Rupert and the city of Prince George will result. A new passenger tourism rail service is proposed for routes that include Whistler, Prince George, Jasper and Prince Rupert. Hundreds of new jobs will result from this initiative.
One of the consequences of this new rail partnership was heightened interest by the Yukon Territory and the state of Alaska in having CN link up with the Alaska state railway to provide a continuous link to the southern 48 states. With the addition of capital investment and market access available through the CN network, Alaska sees at last an opportunity to open up their state.
I had the opportunity to attend a transportation conference in Juneau, Alaska, last month attended by the Governor Murkowski of Alaska and Premier Fentie of the Yukon Territory. Both spoke of their region's desire to open up their mineral reserves, other natural resources and consumer markets.
The United States has allocated $6 million (U.S.) through their federal government for an economic feasibility study for the rail line and has asked Ottawa to do the same. I don't know whether a study will be carried out or not, but the key lesson for us is that by entering into the CN partnership we at least make possible, for the first time since the extension of B.C. Rail was terminated in the 1970s, that it again could be started north from Fort St. James, Fort Nelson or both to open up the mineral and forest resources of the northern half of our great province. Our neighbours to the north, Alaska and the Yukon, are excited about the British Columbia–CN Rail partnership and are very aware that B.C. is once again open for business.
In conclusion, the theme of this government's fourth throne speech is "Bringing out the best." We have repositioned our province in terms of our economy, our tax structure, the platform of government services, and now we are poised to make significant social and economic strides towards 2010. Setting goals and having measurable targets is often difficult for governments, but our government, led by the Premier, has always laid out our new-era commitments, our ministry service plans and our budgets for all to see.
The public will hold us to account in May of 2005. I am proud that the initiatives laid out in this throne speech will further us along our course towards prosperity and enable us to bring out the best in British Columbia.
J. Nuraney: As the member for Burnaby-Willingdon I, too, rise to respond to the throne speech.
The past two and a half years have been a time of transformation for British Columbia. It has not been an easy task being in government, trying to implement so many major changes in such a short time. The changes we have had to make were necessary and not made easier for the average British Columbian to bear by some of the recent difficulties that were beyond the government's control.
The fact that no changes in the right direction were made in the decade prior to this government made it even harder to bring about those adjustments, which needed to be made faster and seemingly more drastic. Because of this government's initiatives and hard work, today we are seeing some improvement, and that, too, is because of the resilience of British Columbians and the determination of this government to put matters right.
The changes we have made have affected every aspect of this government. We have restructured every major ministry to run more effectively and to better serve the people of British Columbia. Whether it be allowing more flexibility and choice in schools or replacing out-of-date equipment in our hospitals, we have made the changes that the province had needed for many years.
Under the previous government, health care was centralized out of the office of the minister, with over 50 ineffective local authorities. Our government has decentralized the control of regional authorities, and as promised in our New Era document, we have set provincewide standards for health care. Despite economic difficulties, we have actually increased the funding to health care. We have also made, in spite of difficult circumstances, very difficult decisions in reorganizing health care.
We have also streamlined health authorities. Before we came into office, there were 52 health authorities. Under the leadership of our Premier and the Health minister, that has now been reduced to six to eliminate waste. This government has also recruited 538 new nurses. We have expanded training and specialization for nurses already on the job. This government is taking care of health care, even though our opponents accuse us of making cuts to health care and abandoning it. In fact, we have increased funding, updated equipment and improved staffing levels like no other government in the history of British Columbia. We are promoting healthy living and wellness for a better quality of life.
When the people of British Columbia elected us, we promised to restructure the education system to provide more accountability and flexibility, and we have done that. We have given more choice to local districts, parents and students. By amending the School Act, we have improved the graduation requirements so that students have more choices and districts can plan curriculums around local needs.
Our government has also given local school boards more autonomy and flexibility in funding. Under the previous government there were 60 directed-funding categories. Now there are only six. Local boards know what the needs of their communities are, and the needs of the students are far better served by the school boards than we can do in Victoria. We also have provided three-year funding envelopes to the districts so that they can undertake long-term planning more accurately.
This government is also committed to improving post-secondary education in our province. We still
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have some of the most affordable tuition rates in Canada. We have increased spaces in nursing, doctor training and social work. We have instituted loan forgiveness for nurses who train in British Columbia and work in rural British Columbia.
Amongst many changes that took place, the Ministry of Children and Family Development has undergone the most dramatic changes — that, if I may say so, under the leadership of our Minister of Children and Family Development, who just sought to step aside to make sure that his dreams and the challenges that he took over are fulfilled.
When this government came to power, we promised to stop the endless bureaucracy that surrounded children and family services. We promised to allocate the funds to those who needed them the most. We have promised to concentrate on the prevention and early detection of factors that can lead to unhappy families, and so the measures are there to make that correction. Once again, this government had the motivation, the dedication and the social and fiscal responsibility to deliver on these promises.
We are working towards establishing five aboriginal and five non-aboriginal authorities to improve the front-line service to direct funds to the children and families and work with the communities who know best what their needs are. The community approach and involvement are especially successful, as who better to know their difficulties and to allocate the funds in the right place than those who are directly involved.
As promised, this government allocated funds to where they were needed the most. Funding for early childhood development has increased by $50 million to $348 million. The government has launched the Make Children First learning initiative in British Columbia communities, monitoring and offering educational, physical and social support to help identify any child at risk. One hundred and twenty-two family resource centres have been created or enhanced to help parents with young children. Funding has been directed towards 37 aboriginal communities for culturally relevant early childhood development. Children under six suffering from autism spectrum disorder have been able to receive early intensive therapies, increasing from 75 to 500 children being treated, with another $26 million committed to help them.
This government has done a lot more than just lip service. We have concentrated on providing services where they are needed, and more importantly, we have concentrated on the prevention of broken families and children. We promised to improve on our delivery of service, and we have done that. Making these changes has not been an easy task. Our government has had to make a lot of difficult decisions in our short mandate.
As if our challenges were not difficult enough, there have been many obstacles that we've had to overcome, and no one could have foreseen them. SARS, BSE and the worst forest fires we have ever seen were among the challenges that we had to face. It would have been very easy to abandon hope and give up our plans to revitalize British Columbia, but we didn't. The spirit of British Columbia showed through all these difficult times in the past two years and has really shown up.
British Columbia's economy is heavily dependent on the lumber industry, and that industry has also been dealt three bad hands in a row. We are suffering from a massive pine beetle infestation, a crippling tariff on our exports, and this summer we had the most destructive forest fires in the history of British Columbia. In spite of these difficulties, the industry continues to rise to the challenge.
Another of British Columbia's major industries is tourism. The SARS outbreak took a heavy toll. Again, despite incredible odds, B.C. did not give up. We went into this summer with low expectations but high hopes, and we worked together as a province and pulled through. British Columbia's medical professionals proved themselves to be heroes in the way they handled the cases we had, and the SARS threat was another example of how British Columbians pulled together and persevered through adversity.
This summer we thought the worst was over, and a case of BSE was found in Canada. Our beef industry was effectively shut down and shut out of the world market. Beef farmers in British Columbia were devastated. They, too, banded together in these difficulties and continued to fight this challenge. More funds have now been allocated to farmers to help them through these difficult times. In spite of these hardships, we are pulling through and going forward.
The leadership of our Premier and the determination of this government helped bring the 2010 Olympics to Vancouver. Under our leadership, there are more jobs in British Columbia than ever before. B.C. has led Canada in job creation for the past two years. Cutting red tape and lowering taxes has brought an unprecedented level of investment into our province, and because of that there are more jobs.
Our work here is not done. We are going to cut even more red tape. We are going to modernize regulations in agriculture, environmental protection, real estate, mining, and oil and gas exploration so that there will be more investment coming into this province.
Our $1 billion investment partnership with B.C. Rail is going to be a much-needed shot in the arm for British Columbia. It will give us the resources to pay off $500 million in debt entirely. This partnership will also connect Prince Rupert to the North American rail network. This is going to make British Columbia the point of entry for trade between Asia and North America. By bringing all this trade through B.C., we are going to help our local economy beyond belief.
The 2010 Olympics are going to bring the world to our back yard. We will get to showcase our spirit, our natural beauty and our amazing cultural diversity in British Columbia. As we know, B.C. is the best place in the world to live and work, and in six short years we
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will have the best chance to showcase it. The preparation for the games is going to create hundreds of jobs and bring millions of dollars' worth of investment.
The Spirit of 2010 Olympics is not something we are going to have to wait six years to see. Right now we are building and developing sport and cultural facilities, and not only in Vancouver but all around the province.
We are also going to take on new tourism strategies to bring people to all regions of our province. We know that B.C. is the most beautiful place in the world, and we don't need to wait six years to show it off. We are also going to use the 2010 games to bring together the private sector in this province. We are going to host a summit of businesses, investors and community leaders from every part of British Columbia. We will also be introducing an initiative called Picture B.C. to show off photography, writing and artwork from B.C. artists, writers and photographers.
Because of all these successes and better fiscal management, we can now put more money into schools. We are going to be injecting $313 million into education over the next three years. We are also going to put over $70 million into early learning to give B.C. youth a head start. We are also going to add 25,000 new seats in our institutes of higher learning. We are going to inject a further $105 million into advanced education by the end of the 2006-07 fiscal year. We are committed to educating our young people, because only with an educated and trained workforce will we continue to succeed at the same pace.
This government is also committed to patients. We are going to introduce a plan to help rural families who have to travel away from their homes for specialized care. We are also committed to finding new and innovative ways to increase the spaces in seniors' housing. We want to let our seniors live their golden years with dignity and respect, which is why we are committed to finding ways to expand independent living and home care options.
The B.C. government is also going to work with the federal government to establish a national centre of disease control right here in British Columbia. We already have the leading edge in disease research in Canada. B.C.'s spirit of innovation and forward thinking makes us the perfect home for this world leader in medical research.
B.C. also is on the leading edge of democracy. We are the only place in Canada to have brought together people from all over the province to discuss our electoral system. We want to have the best democracy possible, and we are letting the Citizens' Assembly work together to find out how to do it. This is the people's Legislature, and it is our duty to the people to let them decide how best to elect the members.
Determination through adversity has proven to be the spirit of British Columbia, and it has inspired this government. If the people of this province can persevere through the giant trials they've had to face, so can this government.
The people elected us with a clear agenda in mind. We promised British Columbians a new era, and we are going to deliver. As the Lieutenant-Governor very rightly said in the throne speech, we are bringing out the best in our economy; bringing out the best in partnership with the first nations; bringing out the best in transportation and northern development; bringing out the best in B.C.'s forest economy; bringing out the best in energy and mining; bringing out the best in the Spirit of 2010; bringing out the best in student achievement; bringing out the best in higher education; bringing out the best in digital technology; bringing out the best in patient care; bringing out the best in sport, music and culture; bringing out the best in social responsibility; and bringing out the best in the spirit of British Columbia.
We have charted our course. We will, to the best of our ability, deliver to the citizens of British Columbia the new era.
D. Jarvis: I once again rise to speak to a throne speech.
D. Jarvis: No, it's not 35; it's around 12 now. I'm very pleased to get up again, Mr. Speaker, and thank you for letting me do so.
When this government was first elected in May of 2001, not quite three years ago now, part of our platform was to fund and protect and enhance health and education. I was equally pleased to read in the throne speech that education was foremost in it. Now, I would quote that in the throne speech it says: "Education is the key to unlocking the promise of British Columbia for our children and the opportunities they will inherit." I trust that the dollars will follow. I'll be discussing, in my talk, a little later on about my own school district.
This is not an easy thing to do — what this government has taken on — in view of the global currencies, the war on terrorism, trade sanctions and the fires and floods, etc., that we've experienced over these last couple of years. On top of this, we took over an economy that was in very poor shape. Many of this province's problems we can fairly blame on the previous government, the New Democratic government, although I understand and I appreciate that we can't continue to blame them year after year for the problems that we have inherited. We all know that that government is now gone, thankfully, but the past is part of the present, and it's an important reminder to us — how they allowed this province to fall economically. They should not be allowed to forget it or, as a matter of fact, even get away with it.
At that time in 2001, when our economy was in terrible shape and we were struggling to get out of the last spot in the measures that most of Canada uses to establish your identity…. We were last in the majority
[ Page 8524 ]
of them. It was therefore necessary to make some structural changes in the way we ran our service ministries.
It was obvious that there would not be sufficient moneys to fund perpetually without more stringent checks and balances on those ministries like Health and Education. The choices were either to continue the debt spiral we were in or make some fundamental changes to reduce costs in order to continue with not only the existing services but the almost-out-of-control new demands that were being put on us, the result of the fact that we are living longer now and yet having fewer children and that the costs of healing and of educating our children are exponentially growing.
Costs were growing faster than our government could produce under the cash restraint philosophy we had taken and that we have before us. It was obvious that the increase in debt financing had failed us, and we are still left with spending millions and millions of dollars on interest, with no reduction in any principal as yet. I think it's just over about $7.2 million that we spend every day of the year, 365 days a year, to send away to the foreign banks. We have gone through a fiscal discipline that has been very difficult for all, and by next year we can expect reasonable growth for British Columbia if we stay the course.
Certainly, one reason for fiscal prudence is that we can't leave our children enormous debts while we continuously fund those services whose costs have basically gone out of control as they rise. Our whole society has changed. The demographics of our constituencies have all changed. As was mentioned earlier today, for example, 1938 to 1951 is known as the baby boom situation, and we had enormous growth patterns.
It was explained to me one time that if we took the population demographics and looked at them based on a Christmas tree, in 1951 the top 15 percent were seniors and the bottom, where the large space was, were our baby-boomers coming up. And our immigration was there. The bottom two-thirds were people that were coming up and contributing to our society, whereas our pensioners now are at the age when they're slowly passing away, unfortunately.
However, after 1951 our demographics changed somewhat. The birth rate started to decline, and the baby-boomers came of age and took over. We had great growth, but not enough babies or immigration to offset what was about to come upon us. Today, for example, 50 years later, the trend has now reversed itself. Whereas our growth of population has now narrowed to the lowest birth rate in our history, those aging baby-boomers have now joined all those old seniors. They make up the top two-thirds of that inverted tree, and our young people make up the lower one-third.
Seniors will continue to enjoy all the good health in British Columbia, aided by continual breakthroughs of medical science as they live longer. This trend will continue, with the baby-boomers and the seniors for the next 20 years consuming well over 40 percent of our health care costs, but the actual population below us, coming on stream, is not there in the numbers enough to support us.
We do not have enough growth at the bottom of our aging profile to compensate — hence the need for change in delivery of our health and human resource industries, change that we may not want to see but change that we must do, and hence the restructuring in the delivery of health care in this province. The change was necessary, or the whole system was doomed to collapse, and it may still. We in the present government are at least trying to make some effort and are doing this. We are doing something, and I think we are going to come out of this doing very well.
The same demographics are occurring in education, as costs go up and the population decreases. For example, in my own riding we are losing approximately 350 students per year. Having said all that, and with the need to tighten our belts, I do have some specific concerns of my constituents that I must relate to this government and specifically the Ministries of Education, Transportation, and Children and Family Development. North Vancouver, for example, is seeing seven schools close over the next few years starting this spring. That is due to debt or debt consolidation. Closures are inevitable, however.
Over the past 40 years North Vancouver has been a superlative education system, and the programs they've had have been wonderful, with a sterling record of achievement by the students. Our actual GPA last year was 3.04, which was quite substantial. This success is due no less to our fine teachers and the school board. Originally our trustees on the North Shore, while providing quality programs, were allowed to raise and lower their taxation accordingly, and the taxpayers were amenable to this, for in return they provided the best education system in the province.
As I said, our GPA last year was at 3.04. Most of our students meet or surpass expectations in literacy, numeracy and the writing fields, and this is due to our excellent teachers. I have special concerns, however — you know, the teachers are doing well but for one aspect — for the elementary teachers. With the reductions of aides and everything, how they have been able to concentrate and teach properly and have done the job they've done so far is absolutely amazing. I believe it is or has come to be a fact that it's wearing out a lot of them and wearing a lot of them down.
With the dramatic reduction of students over the past few years — and a further 3,500 are now clocked to go out of the system in North Vancouver over the next ten years — we find we have just too many schools on the whole North Shore. In the North Van side, many house less than 200 students each. These schools were built of a small size to compensate for the geography of many ravines and rivers that run down and separate the residential areas of North Vancouver. So when we close schools, it's like a self-fulfilling prophecy. We close schools; people move. For those coming back in, if there are no schools, they're not go-
[ Page 8525 ]
ing to move in with children, and so it's a problem. We've got to start considering what happens with the reorganization we are doing.
As I said, the reason that we built these schools on the edges of the ravines is because there's no transportation across these ravines, and so we ended up with these small communities. That is the problem. Now that we're closing some of them and they're having to move their children to other areas, it's quite upsetting to a lot of the parents. Nevertheless, as I said, there's going to be a lot of consequences occurring, and we have to give careful consideration.
As I mentioned earlier, our trustees were able to fund the schools themselves back in the seventies and eighties. But when the NDP government came in, in the early nineties, they changed the funding. Where we had, as I said, a very superior education system on the North Shore — we were funded per student and per square footage — that changed, and the NDP brought us…. Instead of bringing all the other school districts in this province up to the highest denominator, we were all brought down to the lowest denominator.
As you know, now 93 percent of the education dollar goes to either salaries for teachers or for administration. But at that time, when we were affected and we were dropped down, we lost considerable amounts of money for funding. We had all these extra services such as the community schools, which first started on the North Shore. We had outdoor schools. We had bands and strings, and on and on. We had all of these facilities for giving a better all around education system to our children. That has now been impacted considerably.
[H. Long in the chair.]
Also, I might add that as a result of real estate values increasing rapidly, there is the question that we on the North Shore may be paying a disproportionate amount of school tax in relation to what we actually receive from Victoria. I shall be discussing it with both the Ministers of Education and of Finance later. I've already brought it to their attention briefly, but I will be talking a little more seriously later on next week.
Again, when schools close, this is a very emotional situation for parents whose children now must change their schools and enter a new community. I have talked briefly with the minister again, as I said, on that aspect. We are going to be meeting next week to discuss it further.
Now, noting the time, I must move on. For many years now, I have been bringing to this House another concern of my constituents. That is the problem of access and egress at the north end of the Second Narrows Bridge and also the access of emergency vehicles into the Seymour area and the rest of North Vancouver. I will expect that as we approach the 2010 Olympics, access on the Upper Levels will have to change dramatically, and the government will be in the position to improve both off-the-bridge traffic and traffic from the Seymour area. The necessity for this, as you can imagine, would become worse when the Olympics are on, when we have 300, 400 or 500 buses all trying to come across that bridge and attempting to go up to Whistler. All of a sudden they are jammed up in an area where local traffic is already having problems at the best of times.
The GVRD has an impoverished transportation system going right at the moment, as far as we're concerned, on the North Shore. We are facing gridlock more and more. It's occurring two or three times a week now. That is, access to either of the two bridges is being denied not only to the residents of the North Shore who are either going to work or coming home from work but also to all the traffic that's coming down through the Squamish corridor and the Whistler corridor.
You know, the last government revamped the Lions Gate Bridge into a three-lane system, which was probably the stupidest decision that was ever made by the government. They had the opportunity to either put a new bridge in there on the side of it, make it six lanes — or in fact put in a tunnel, which is still not out of the question, and it should be considered as much. However, there's going to be a priority in the Olympic road to Whistler, and it starts with access and egress from the Second Narrows and the First Narrows bridges. As I say, you're not going to be throwing 500 or 600 buses a day over the Lions Gate Bridge, so you're going to have to go to the Second Narrows Bridge. That is where the conundrum is, in the sense that the local traffic…. Will they be expected to stay home for those days of the Olympics, or will they be allowed to go to work and gain access onto the bridge? At the present time, when you have all those buses and all that traffic going through, it's virtually impossible — or it will be impossible — to get access onto the bridge.
At the same time there's a question of emergency services on the North Shore and ambulances. Right now my area of North Vancouver–Seymour is serviced by ambulances from Burnaby. That is not acceptable and will only grow over time to quite a serious situation. There are more and more vehicles getting on the roads due to the population growth in the area and the rising senior population. We have a Kiwanis seniors home halfway up the Seymour Boulevard, and access to the highway for transport to Lions Gate Hospital during rush hour is virtually impossible, as those vehicles cannot cross the quadrant from one side of the Seymour River to the other side of Lynn Creek without having to enter into the traffic quadrants. It's nothing but a real problem.
The access to Deep Cove and Seymour–Indian Arm residence areas is even worse, whether in or off rush-hour traffic periods. We certainly do need facilities for an ambulance to be established on the Seymour River side, the east side in the North Vancouver area. I understand that space is being set aside by the district for
[ Page 8526 ]
it and that there's also space in the local fire hall. The ambulance services and the fire hall have somewhat of a little turf war going on, I assume, in the fact that no one can sit down and get down to the business of what is really required and who's going to do it. Any ambulance service available, as I said, comes from either Burnaby or the lower part of Lonsdale. It's an impossible situation, regardless of the time of day, and again, it's a disaster waiting to happen. Heaven forbid if a large disaster should occur in the Seymour area, because our hospital doesn't even have a helicopter pad on which to utilize that service.
The last thing I want to bring up before I close is a concern to the North Shore and is a problem in many other jurisdictions. That is what we are going to do with our children that have addictions in drugs and other problems along that line — the lack of addiction-specific programs, to be specific. I have many families faced with those concerns, from anorexia to drug problems of teenage children, and there is actually no place for them to go in British Columbia, no specific programs for these children who have these types of addictions. Most of the families that I've dealt with are just throwing up their hands, remortgaging their houses and having to send their kids down into the United States or into Alberta. Still, today there are no facilities in British Columbia.
There is a new one opened up in Alberta that's having great success, and that was started by a group of people in the Kelowna area because there was nothing available up there for their children. There are just not enough beds or services in British Columbia. Recovery houses are a necessity and will become part of the solution of getting our kids off drugs, etc. Treatment is the only hope for a solution, and yet this province has not had publicly funded, long-term treatment care for our youth, and that is a concern to me. Any youth requiring or wishing for long-term treatment, as I said, has to go out of this province for proper care, and I find that unacceptable.
Mr. Speaker, to conclude, which you'll probably be glad to hear me do, I want to say that this 2004 throne speech substantially welcomes economic development to this province, and this is good. It also shows that this government is aware that education is the primary function of this government if it is to develop young people and look after their needs in the future.
It's a difficult process for a government to amicably satisfy about four million people, but a strong economy is really the only answer to provide all citizens with the services they require. I believe this is the path to an economic recovery, and accordingly, I will be supporting this throne speech of 2004-05. I thank you for the opportunity to speak.
K. Johnston: Thanks for the opportunity to respond to the Speech from the Throne. Before I start, I'd like to thank all of the constituents and the people in Vancouver-Fraserview who have, over the last year, contributed to the issues and have given me my walking papers, so to speak, in terms of coming back to Victoria and representing their issues. So I certainly will….
K. Johnston: Yeah, I think those were the ones. But I certainly will advocate on their behalf. I look forward to the upcoming year and doing the same and getting the feedback to Victoria.
The Speech from the Throne is, in fact, a road map for government to follow and a road map that will lead to prosperity and is leading to prosperity, and it will help us fulfil our responsibility. That responsibility, at the end of the day, is helping families and communities reach their full potential.
Over the past two and a half years, it has been not the smoothest road, as we try to balance fiscal prudence and social responsibility. I believe one is dependent on the other. Over the past two and a half years, steps have been taken to pave the way for recovery for a healthy future. Investment has been welcomed back to British Columbia. Statistics have shown, also, that people are coming back to British Columbia. An economic report from just last week indicated the following: B.C. consumer confidence is leading the country. The Conference Board of Canada's monthly report on consumer confidence showed B.C. as the only province in the country where consumer confidence continued to rise in December of 2003.
More people are moving back to British Columbia, for the first time in six years. We saw a net inflow of over 2,500 people from the rest of Canada in the third quarter of 2003. Again, for the first time in six years, more people moved to B.C. from other provinces than moved out. These are good times — and good times ahead.
B.C.'s small business is the most confident in Canada. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has found that small and medium-sized businesses in B.C. are more optimistic about their business prospects over the next year than anywhere else in Canada.
B.C.'s families are also winning. B.C. family income posted the largest gain in the last 20 years. After-tax family income in B.C. has jumped. We have the largest increase in after-tax income for B.C. families in the last two decades. The average income tax paid by B.C. families decreased in the largest decrease in 20 years.
What is really critical in this current economic climate is that British Columbia continues to create jobs, and what better way for families to prosper? B.C. created a thousand new jobs in January 2004, building on 83,000 jobs created in 2003. The total job creation since December 2001 stands at over 159,000. The actions of this government have created that climate of growth, that climate of prosperity.
British Columbia is the place to work and live. The policies of change over the past two years are paying off. The evidence is before us. Reduction of costs — a reduction of personal income taxes by an average of 25 percent — was a major initiative in helping us move
[ Page 8527 ]
ahead. Reduction of almost 90,000 regulations — an unbelievable amount of change in government itself.
These policies of change will enable us to fulfil our people responsibilities, our social responsibilities, which is the true mission of everybody in this Legislature and which is the true purpose of government as well.
In a few days the Finance minister will introduce a balanced budget — the first true, balanced budget in decades. I believe this will be the final fork in our road to prosperity, the final signpost to a bright future for our children. Having a balanced budget will give government the opportunity to add more support to social programs. Health care, education and families will all benefit from the fiscal prudence of the last few years. Many organizations have said that we should stay the course on our objective of a balanced budget, and we will do that.
Last year British Columbia was entrusted with the honour of hosting the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. From the moment the word "Vancouver" was uttered by the head of the IOC, a burst of energy glowed across this province. What excitement, unbelievable excitement, was felt in GM Place when that announcement was made. I don't think, personally, that I've had that thrill, that rush of adrenaline, in a very, very long time. I know that all British Columbians — whether they were at GM Place or they were in the north or they were in Whistler or they were in the east of British Columbia — had the same feeling.
The people of British Columbia are enthused and excited about our possibilities. People often ask: "What's in it? How does this help me? How is this going to help people? How is this going to help people all over the province?" I say that it's hard to pinpoint and explain. We know about the economic benefits; we know about the benefits to the athletes; we know about the benefits to tourism. They're unlimited. What we really can't quantify is…. I heard this expression this morning on television, and it was called the human legacy — the spirit that's coming to this province, the fact that our children are going to be enthused, the impact it's going to have on all citizens of British Columbia.
The momentum is building as we head towards the Olympics. The recent award of the 2006 World Junior Hockey Championship to Vancouver, Kamloops and Kelowna is just a start of the next six years of growth and excitement in this province. I think one of the reasons — aside, obviously, from the tremendous bid that was put forward — is the fact that this is on the road to 2010 as well.
The government will be introducing a new Spirit of 2010 strategy to ensure that every region can take advantage of the Olympic opportunity. Often I'm also asked the question: "How do I get involved? How do I become a volunteer? How do I get business opportunities out of this? How do I become part of this Olympic dream?" The government is answering those questions by committing to hosting a Spirit of 2010 business summit to kick off the way to get involved, the opportunities for this particular unbelievable event. The summit will bring together business, investors and business leaders from across the province, and they will set the groundwork for getting involved in 2010.
I am still most excited about the possibilities, the opportunities for our youth, as we head towards 2010. There's no greater legacy that can be left than, as I said before, absolute benefits and opportunities for our youth in terms of jobs and in terms of attitude and in terms of everything to do with athletics as well.
Education is the cornerstone of our society, our economy and our future. In the New Era document and the platform of 2001, it states, "A B.C. Liberal government will maintain and increase education funding levels by increasing revenues through economic growth," and that's exactly what is happening. That's exactly what the throne speech commits to and promises to do. The government goal has been to free up resources for the education system through strong and prudent financial management and a prosperous, growing economy.
Mr. Speaker, as I said, that is happening. Education funding has increased, despite a decline in student enrolment. Since the year 2000, total funding is up more than $500 per student. The education budget will grow by $313 million over the next three years, from $4.8 billion to $5.2 billion in 2006-07. This is good news — great news — for our system.
In southeast Vancouver we've had recent issues of high school violence at various schools like Killarney and Tupper, and there have been some unfortunate events. I am happy that through anti-bullying initiatives by the school board, the province and the police liaison program, those issues will be addressed. We're hopeful that those types of violence and those types of horrible events will not be happening in the future.
There have been issues around inner-city schools and inner-city funding. I have always been an advocate of continuing on with that, and I will continue to advocate for that program as we move into the future. I believe that children must be afforded the opportunity of a good start, and I think that program addresses that. I will continue, as I said, to take the position that that is something I would like to see go forward and be reinstated.
This government has taken very many positive steps to date in education, restoring education as an essential service, expanding choice in schooling and increasing educational accountability. Another one, of course, is encouraging parent involvement, which is a tremendous, tremendous initiative. With this new funding commitment, there's more to come, including initiatives for physical fitness and the war — I guess you might call it — on obesity in our school children. I was very happy to see that directive coming through the words from the throne speech as well.
Over the past few years I've had the opportunity to participate in the Vancouver Sun Raise-a-Reader Day, where you go out and sell papers in order to raise
[ Page 8528 ]
funds to assist literacy programs. I was actually unaware that 40 percent of British Columbians have low literacy skills. However, witnessing the public support for the literacy day, I know the public is in full support of helping literacy. I am delighted this government is committed to tackling this serious social challenge. Through the Premier's new advisory panel that will be set up on literacy, the government will enhance reading, writing, computer literacy and proficiency in English. The government will also act to ensure that students have textbooks in schools. I know this has also been a major issue, and I'm really happy to see that in the throne speech.
Last year the Premier announced Achieve B.C., and I had the opportunity to go to the opening of that and have actually used it a fair amount. It is, in fact, an on-line source of information to access programs for everything from early childhood development to education, to how to start a business, to access to government. I think that was the start of government trying to bridge the digital divide, and it's a very good start. I would encourage everybody to look at the Achieve B.C. website.
I have over the past few years received a lot of feedback about access to higher education. A lot of kids are being blocked from university for what I think are extremely difficult high entrance requirements. I mean, having to obtain an 85 or 90 percent academic average to qualify for a spot in college or university is a difficult challenge and in many cases is unfair. Frankly, you know, it's quite a change from the dark ages when I went to university, when most of us could get in with a 68 percent or thereabouts average. I can't even relate to getting a 95 percent average.
Why this is important, I think, is that there's more to being a contributing student than just obtaining an astronomical grade average. Some students are stronger in the arts, drama, athletics and other talents. The government's commitment to adding 25,000 new student spaces to B.C.'s post-secondary institutions by 2010 is a fantastic initiative. It will go a long way to providing opportunities to students. I also believe that the watermark of 75 percent average in secondary school to get you into university or post-secondary is a realistic number.
Today we are also facing a shortage of skilled workers in the trades. I know this government is committed to promoting skills and training as a worthy alternative to university. I personally have spent a lot of time encouraging my younger family members to consider the trades as an honourable and profitable profession. There are unbelievable opportunities out there for people to get good jobs, good-paying jobs, and have a great life in the trades sector. This government is in this direction of raising the awareness and the profile of the trades as a life choice, and I'm delighted that will be happening.
The demands of our health care system continue to consume our resources. In holding community forums in Vancouver-Fraserview and talking to constituents, the perception out there is that resources to health care have been reduced. Quite frankly, nothing is further from the reality. Health care spending has increased by $2 billion over the past three years. This is a 20 percent increase in three years. Of that $2 billion, $1.2 billion has gone directly to wage increases for doctors, nurses and health care workers; 70 percent of all health care spending goes to compensation.
We must all accept the fact that throwing money at the health care system is not the answer. We must find better ways to deliver the services. The government is working vigorously to improve our public system.
In Vancouver-Fraserview we have over 717 beds for seniors care, and we have 22 seniors housing complexes. I think this is an issue that we certainly have to deal with in terms of our objectives with seniors care in the near future. I have worked, myself, with the Royal Arch Masonic Home in my riding in their efforts to expand their operation and provide quality care.
I've also had the opportunity of attending the openings of Shannon Oaks facility and the Fair Haven United Church Homes facility expansion. Seeing the demand, we must and will pursue new strategies to increase supply of seniors housing and options for independent living, and we must expand home care service. I can personally attest to this as well, recently having had the experience of trying to arrange home care services for family members.
Crime is on the minds of most British Columbians and certainly the residents of Vancouver-Fraserview. I recently met, with the member for Vancouver-Kingsway, with the inspector from the Vancouver police department that covers the area of south Vancouver to talk about the growing problems of property crime and grow ops. We're working on hopefully putting a forum together to try to address some of the issues in south Vancouver.
Last year the Solicitor General introduced Bill 12, which equipped the police forces across the province with a tool called PRIME-BC, a tool that will give police the ability to spend more time actually doing what he or she was trained for, and that is policing. The job of being a professional police officer is a tough one, and this will give them a tool that will really help them in the fight on property crime.
The throne speech states that more steps will be taken this year to increase public safety and target organized crime. Building on such initiatives as a new driver licensing program and provincial support of a soon-to-be-launched AMBER alert program, the government is showing a commitment to improving public safety.
In closing, I just want to touch on the Citizens' Assembly. I have been extremely impressed by the ongoing newspaper reports of the progress of the Citizens' Assembly. Certainly, it's great to read the diverse biographies of the participants. This is, I believe, a defining moment in the evolution of our parliamentary democracy. Putting the future of electoral reform in the hands of 161 citizens is a shining moment for British Columbia.
[ Page 8529 ]
As an MLA there is no more satisfying experience than being able to watch government support worthy projects in your own community and in your own area. A few months back I attended the announcement of the replacement of the Sunset Community Centre in south Vancouver. This is a joint Canada–B.C. city infrastructure project costing $7 million. This is a project that will benefit all residents of south Vancouver, and this is our government supporting the community.
The only way we can see more community social investment is by being in a strong fiscal position. Stronger health care, education and social services depend on it. That is why I support the direction of the throne speech and support bringing out the best in British Columbia.
Deputy Speaker: The member for Surrey–White Rock. [Applause.]
G. Hogg: Why, thank you very much. Keep the applause down, please.
It is my pleasure to respond to the Speech from the Throne, a speech which focuses on the theme of bringing out the best. Just as we try to bring out the best in ourselves, in our families and in our communities, we're talking about bringing out the best in our province. To the credit of the community of south Surrey–White Rock, to the credit of the chamber of commerce, they did just that in recognizing excellence in our community two weeks ago. I would like to highlight some of that recognition in the local area and then generalize that as it applies to our province.
In the areas of business excellence the White Rock and South Surrey Chamber of Commerce recognized White Rock Travel and its owner, Ginny Harrison, for excellence in the provision of services. They recognized Jose and Co. custom jewellers and Jose Latchinian for his wonderful contributions to business and business excellence. They recognized K&D Furniture, Allyson and Henry Chenier for a long and storied representation in that field in our community. They recognized Canadian Tire and Dan Higgins for the work he has done in terms of looking at and bringing out excellence.
Combined with that, there was a new entrepreneur of the year, and that was Caribbean Breeze Restaurant. Richard Sang and Ronnie Chin Loy are the owners and managers of the Caribbean Breeze, and they've shown excellence in coming forward. Customer service award went to Don Carr Chevrolet Oldsmobile — Don Carr, owner. They have done a tremendous job of participating in and being involved in excellence within our community. A particular allocation of interest was the visual and performing arts and culture award, and that went to Alexander Browne, who is a reporter with the Peace Arch News. He has consistently, for almost the past quarter of a century, provided excellence in terms of reporting and bringing to the fore issues around music, arts and culture, and helping our community to understand, to be involved in and to be committed to the role of arts, music and culture.
The Athena Award went to a hard-working, tireless volunteer and city councillor, Mary Wade-Anderson, for her participation across so many sectors of our community, one of them being the Peace Arch Hospital Foundation and the tremendous work she has done there. The Apollo Award went to Sandy Wightman, an individual who has also been involved in our hospital and involved in virtually every fundraising event that has taken place in our community. To them I give credit. I've also been advised that Verna Logan was awarded with the most accurate response. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but no doubt another award within that context.
There are some 12 subject areas referred to in the throne speech that talk about these areas of excellence, and while these groupings and their themes reflect topic and reflect focus areas, they're each founded on a belief in individuals, a belief in families and a belief in communities. They're founded on the belief that the people of British Columbia — when given the opportunity, the culture, the legislation and the support — will bring out their best. Collectively, we will bring out the best that British Columbia has to offer.
In this building, in this great hall, in this Legislature and indeed in a trail of legislatures leading probably all the way back to 1215 and the signing of the Magna Carta…
G. Hogg: I was there. Actually, I got there about 12:30. I missed it by about 15 minutes.
…kings, people and politicians have articulated the obligations of their legislatures and of their governments — the dreams they have held for themselves and they have held for the people they represent.
This has often been done with great thought, with great polemics, with lyrical and poetic phrases and often without the consequent actions that would be necessary to respond to the words and to deliver on what the words have demanded.
The plans have often not been executed, and this is not such a time. Necessity demands action. As Shakespeare said: "Action is eloquence." Now is a time that requires action — action which is as direct and as focused as the challenges and the opportunities which we now face; action which is as profound and as eloquent as the cause, the people of this province and their potential. The Greeks have a word, praxis, which means activity as opposed to theory. Now let our actions be our statements; let our actions be our legacy.
It is obvious, often tragically obvious, that the aboriginal people of British Columbia are a most important priority. Their greatest concern — indeed the greatest concern of all people throughout all ages, throughout all cultures — is their children. As a government we have, and governments across Canada have, for over a century, been a failure — often well intended and misguided, but nonetheless failures. We have an opportunity to respectfully, to carefully and, most importantly,
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to correctly take the steps necessary to protect aboriginal children in their families, in their cultures and with their people. All of us — all cultures, all societies, all families — want to look after and to do the right thing for their children.
Huxley said that nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come, and this idea has come and gone and come and gone again. Today the goodwill, the support and the thoughtfulness, the planning and the preparation of aboriginal leaders and service providers and families from across this great province intersect with the will of a government, a government that wants to do the right thing.
It intersects with an unprecedented profundity and clarity of purpose and will. It has come, and we are blessed to be here with agreement and with a plan. We are blessed to have had a throne speech that gives us more focus and more direction with respect to that. We have the humility and the decency to understand and to remember that all the angels seldom settle on the same side of an issue or a cause. As aboriginal Lily Walker once said: "If you come here to help me, then you're wasting my time; but if you come here because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us begin." Indeed, let us begin.
As a government we have begun. We have set forth, and we will continue to do that in a respectful coalition and relationship with aboriginal people across so many parts of and facets of our communities to bring forth the best that we have to offer as individuals, families, cultures and communities. As the throne speech states: "Your government is working with first nations to develop new child protection strategies that effectively address the unique needs of first nations children in care and foster situations."
Aboriginal children generally represent about 8 percent of our youth population in this province, yet they represent somewhere close to 48 percent of children in care. There's a real need for us to look at new and creative and imaginative ways of responding to that. We have had the great opportunity, because of the commitment of aboriginal people to work with this government around this initiative, to have the Premier, the Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services and the Minister of Children and Family Development sign an agreement with them — to want to focus on this.
It's a historic agreement. I had the privilege of representing this province in Yellowknife at a meeting of social service ministers, and there were representatives there — Phil Fontaine and Grand Chief Ed John. They stood up and said: "British Columbia is indeed leading the way of all provinces in Canada in terms of addressing the needs of aboriginal children." They said: "Why can't other provinces look at the lead, the imagination and the strategy that's been taken in British Columbia?" The reason it's been so successful in British Columbia is because of the commitment of the aboriginal people.
The aboriginal people — the Métis, the First Nations Summit, the United Native Nations, the off-reserve people and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs — have come together in an unprecedented way. They want to work with this government, to work for and develop strategies to ensure that we do the right things for aboriginal children, to ensure that we bring out the very best, that we give that opportunity and that challenge. That work is being done, and it's being done with those aboriginal leaders and with government leaders, and with aboriginal and government social workers working together to ensure that we do have a new era, a new opportunity, a new chance to address this.
That's just one example of the actions that are referred to and referenced within the context of the Speech from the Throne — actions that include the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, actions that reflect the intent of the Speech from the Throne, actions that focus on the theme of bringing out the best, actions that are evident in so many areas of the lives of British Columbians, actions that reflect confidence in ourselves, actions that reflect confidence in our actions. All of these mean more opportunities for each and every one of us.
As we talk about the economy growing, each of us has goals, dreams and aspirations. We need the economy to move, because the goals and dreams and aspirations also exist with the vulnerable and the developmentally disabled across this province. They have goals and dreams as well, and we need to ensure we have an economy that is robust enough to provide us with the supports that we can provide to them to be able to achieve their goals, their dreams and their aspirations. Our goal is not really to have a balanced budget; that's not the goal. The goal is to be able to have a balanced budget which is a means of getting to our goal, to our end. That end is the opportunity which we want to provide for every British Columbian to be their very best, to get to that.
The things we talk about in these policy initiatives are policy initiatives which allow us to give those people — all people — that opportunity to realize what they might be, what they can be, what their potential might be. That includes those of us in this room, I'm sure, as well. It means opportunity. To paraphrase Tiger Woods when he was 16 strokes ahead, I think, in one of the tournaments — it might have been the U.S. Open…. At one point they said to him: "How do you keep focused? How do you keep driving? How do you keep working at it when there's nobody anywhere near you and they're way behind?" He said: "I chase my potential. I pursue my potential. I follow my bliss." That's indeed what we're trying to do as a government. We're trying to allow people to chase their potential, to chase their best. It is through the strategies of the throne speech that are laid out there that we are hopefully laying the platform, the strategy and the culture for that to occur, and occur it will. Indeed, we look forward to having the opportunity of everyone being able to say: "I have a chance to be my best." I trust everyone will take that opportunity, and we will have a province which will be the best.
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D. MacKay: Thank you for this opportunity to respond to the Speech from the Throne.
We have to ask ourselves: what is the throne speech? What is it all about? The throne speech is a blueprint for the future. It's a continuation of the commitments we made to the people of this province when they elected us with 77 out of 79 seats in 2001. It's the commitment of our New Era document, the commitments we made when we were running for office to the people of this province as to what we would do in the years we would be in power and into the future. I suspect this government will be in power for a long time, given the hard choices we've made and the progress that has been made in just under the three years that we have been in power. It is a vision for the future.
We should learn from the past. We can't go back to what we've had in the past. We have to look to the future. That's what we're doing with this new throne speech. This is the third throne speech that this government has presented to the people of the province. We have one more to come. Following that fourth throne speech, we will be into an election, because one of the commitments we made to the people of this province was that we would have elections every four years. In May of 2005 the people of this province will once again be asked to choose another government to govern them for another four years.
Next Tuesday is going to be an exciting day in British Columbia, a day that many of us have looked forward to. Once again, it was a commitment we made to the people when they elected us, and that was that we would balance the budget in the upcoming budget speech. That is another commitment we have lived up to, a commitment that was in the New Era document that each one of us campaigned on — a balanced budget. It was contained in the first throne speech, it was legislated, and we as a government will fulfil that mandate next Tuesday.
Of the other commitments we made to the people of this province, we said we would protect health care and education. We've not only done that; we've increased health care funding by $2 billion — a 20 percent increase since we've been government. Education has been maintained. But we've had to impose some self-discipline on ourselves in the ministries, as they spent moneys that were provided to them by the people of the province. We had to impose disciplines. We couldn't continue to do what we've done in the past ten years — run deficits year after year to the point where we saw a $37 billion deficit left to us by the NDP. There is a cost associated to that. That cost is money that has to be paid back. It has to be paid back to the people we borrowed the money from.
The debt today is sitting at $40 billion. The third-largest ministry in the province today is debt servicing. We spend almost $3 billion a year servicing the interest on the debts we've incurred over the years. I'm pleased that that deficit financing is finally coming to an end.
The throne speech is full of good news. It's full of good news for the generations that are here now. It's good news for the generation that will follow us and those that follow the next generation. I'm talking about my grandchildren. We will finally stop living off the backs of our grandchildren, because if we continue down the road we were on before, our grandchildren are going to pay off the debt we incurred. I'm pleased that under the leadership of our Premier, that is going to come to an end.
I heard the member for Vancouver-Fraserview talking about jobs and how important jobs were. Well, as I get into my response, I'm going to touch on jobs. Good jobs and a good number of jobs that are coming will be available in the northern part of the province this spring and summer.
In order to get to the jobs I'm going to talk about later, some of the things we have to do are to look at what we have done as government since we've been in power, just under three years, and at some of the commitments we made in the first throne speech. We've reduced personal income tax by 25 percent. We got rid of red tape. We've removed 90,000 regulations. Impediments to investment have been removed. Competitiveness is being restored. We got rid of the corporate capital tax, a tax that was imposed by the previous government and chased those job creators out of the province for better climates.
When you look at some of the commitments we made as government, we have to ask ourselves: is what we are doing in fact working? Well, for the first time ever in the province we have over two million people working. People are actually working in this province, two million of them. The people's take-home pay is actually increasing. It's growing in this province because of the tax incentives. British Columbia led in job creation across Canada for the last two years. We've created more jobs in British Columbia than the rest of Canada.
For the first time in six years, people are moving back to the province. More people have moved into the province than have left. That's good news. They're coming back because there are jobs available, jobs that were chased out of this province by the previous government. You know, the people that are looking to invest money to create jobs are actually coming to the province as well. I'm going to talk more about that in a few moments.
One of the highlights in the throne speech was "Bringing Out the Best in B.C.'s Forest Economy." I think everybody knew that the decline and closure of sawmills was a sign of an industry that was in trouble. Competing in a world market, we have the softwood lumber dispute that's ongoing. There are a number of issues that have created a downturn in our number one industry, and that was the forest industry. As a new government we embarked on the forestry revitalization plan to restore confidence in the industry.
Will the forest industry look like it did years ago? I suspect it will not. There's no chance that the forest industry that's going to evolve is going to look like it
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did years ago. We have to be competitive. We're competing on a world market. We have to be able to compete with people around the world.
Let's just look at what's happening around the province right now. Canfor's supermill in British Columbia, in the small community of Houston, just did a major upgrade. They spent roughly $26.5 million upgrading an already efficient mill. They did that so they could be competitive. I was at the opening of that mill on Monday, and I have to tell you it's a technological marvel. It is the world's largest sawmill under one roof. It consumes two million cubic metres of wood per year. It produces 600 million board feet of lumber per year. It produces 2,300 boards per minute. When you watch that wood coming out of that mill, it's unbelievable, the speed at which it's coming out there. It's phenomenal to watch the logs go down those conveyor belts, go through that maze of electronic machinery and come out the back end ready for packaging — a great credit to the workforce in the province and those people who put that thing together.
There are 365 people employed at that sawmill, and those jobs are there for the long term. I met a large number of employees at that mill, and they were excited about the opening of the mill, because they knew their jobs would be there for a long time. Canfor has confidence in the forest industry in this province and has created a mill that is competitive. It has secure jobs for the long term for the people who live in the Houston area. It is so large that 3 percent of all the wood harvested in British Columbia is processed through that mill in Houston.
Another good example of the investment coming back into this province is Dunkley Lumber, another sawmill. They've just invested $60 million in an upgrade to their sawmill. Once again, you have to do that to be competitive in the forest industry. So there are two great examples of confidence in the forest industry.
I want to talk very briefly now about education, from K-to-12 to post-secondary. The sawmill I just spoke about would not have been possible in this province had it not been for a trained workforce — a trained workforce that got its education through the K-to-12 and then into post-secondary — because the technology that was used on that sawmill in Prince Rupert was created in British Columbia. That's where the ideas came from.
In spite of a declining enrolment in our schools, we as a government are spending more on education. I have to give credit to the school boards, those elected school boards who know what money they're getting for the next three years. They've had some tough choices like we've had to make, and they're doing a very admirable job of managing the finances and creating an education facility for our children. We've also looked at increasing funding to the education system by $313 million over the next three years. By 2006-07 we will spend $5.2 billion on education. That's $5.2 billion on education.
Since coming in as government, we have added 6,000 new seats to the public and post-secondary education institutions in this province — 6,000. As you'll recall from the throne speech, we've committed, as government, to provide an additional 25,000 new student spaces by 2010. That's to address the shortage of skilled workers we have in this province. I'm going to talk more about skilled workers in a few moments.
As the mining task force travelled around this province, we came to realize a number of issues are facing the mining industry in this province. We don't have enough trained people to fill all the jobs that are going to become available in the mining sector in the years to come, so we are looking at a mining school — a mining school, I have to say more particularly, in the community of Smithers, which a large number of the mining companies use for a base of operation. I'm working with the Minister of Advanced Education on a mining school in Smithers to address the shortfalls we're facing in the drilling industry and in mining generally. They need trained employees, and I'm hoping to be able to provide that to them from the mining school at Smithers.
I want to talk for a few moments now about energy and mining, and I want you to stop and think about this. What's critical to the energy and mining sector is infrastructure. We have two roads that travel north from this province and meet up with the Yukon Territory. We have Highway 37. Highway 37 was built in 1972 to allow the small mining town of Cassiar to move their product to market. In 1972 that road was built. There's another road that travels north — the Alaska Highway. That was first built during the Second World War. We don't have any east-west connectors other than Highway 16, which runs from McBride through to Prince Rupert in the northern part of our province, and that only goes halfway up the province.
We've got to look at building more infrastructure up there to allow the mining sector and the forest sector to create jobs for our young people. Highway 16 that I just spoke about was upgraded in the 1980s. So there we are, another 25 years ago.
Look at power production. The 1980s was the last time the province created any new hydroelectric power in this province, and since then that power-producing equipment is aging. The infrastructure is getting older, and we haven't been upgrading it. I should correct myself on that, because the province at one time did try to provide more power, but that was in India, and of course that project failed miserably. That's the only time we've seen a government try to produce any more power in this province as a government.
What we're looking at now is new power generation by independent power producers. To date, $800 million in new investments for clean, renewable power projects has been approved by B.C. Hydro. I'm fortunate, because in the riding of Bulkley Valley–Stikine I happen to have one of those power projects. It's a $200 million project. It's Coast Mountain Hydroelectric project. It's a run-of-the-river on the Iskut River. They're
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going to transfer some of the water, run it through a tunnel, put it back in the river about three kilometres downstream and produce about 120 megawatts of power. They're going to have to build a tunnel that's three kilometres long. It will create 135 construction jobs. There will be 12 to 15 seasonal people employed on that project once it's up and running and six permanent jobs once the power generation starts.
I've got to tell you, the mining sector in the north part of this province is excited about that power project because at the present time there is no hydroelectric power north of the Meziadin Junction. These new mines that I'm going to talk about in a few minutes are north of Meziadin Junction. One of the big cost factors in a mine being economical or not is the cost of power to run those mines, because they consume a great deal of power. As I said earlier, investment and confidence are once again evident.
Now I'm going to talk about my favourite subject, and that is the mining industry and the renewed interest in the province because of changes that we have made as a government. As I said earlier, I was part of the mining task force that travelled around this past summer. We also have seen the creation of a new Minister of State for Mining, the member for Prince George North.
In my part of the province I have a few operating mines. This is where the exciting part is, because I'm going to talk about operating mines and the number of jobs. At Eskay Creek, which is a goldmine north of Smithers, there are 320 people employed at that mine; 174 are contractors, and 146 are Barrick employees. They create a huge amount of wealth from that mine. It's an underground mine, and they don't leave much of an imprint.
People are always concerned about the mining industry. They should maybe get out and have a look at what the mining industry has done in the last couple of years or the last ten years. They've cleaned up their act, and they do a very admirable job, so I'm really proud of the mining industry.
Kemess mine is another mine that is just outside my boundary, and I think it actually belongs in Prince George North. I like to take credit for it, and he's not here to argue with me right now, so I'll take credit for it. Kemess mine currently has 350 direct jobs. They have 150 contractors. That's 500 people employed at Kemess mine. They're talking about opening up the new mine — the north pit at Kemess. That's 2.5 years of construction. That would also generate new jobs at Kemess.
I'm going to talk about exploration and potential for new mines in the north. Smithers, as I said earlier, has always been a jumping-off point for the mining industry. We have drilling companies in Smithers, and just last year alone a high-tech drilling company out of Smithers had 50-plus people employed servicing the mining industry, doing exploration in my part of the province.
Britton Brothers are also from Smithers. They had 40-plus people employed on their drills. I contacted Falcon Drilling out of Prince George. They had 20-plus people, and they tell me that they've got more drills down there, but they don't have a trained workforce for them. All of these people have said they expect those numbers are going to go up dramatically this year. Already, we have seen a doubling of the amount of exploration dollars being spent last year from the year previously. This year, goodness only knows where it's going to go, but I can tell you it's pretty exciting. I'm going to talk about some of those things right now.
Also in the mining sector, staking of mineral claims is going through the roof. They're having trouble keeping up with doing the paperwork because of the number of staking claims that are taking place.
Red Chris is a mine just east of Iskut. That Red Chris mine is a copper-goldmine and will be in production in the last quarter of 2006. That mine will create 200 jobs. It will also have 60 contractors at it. That's 260 jobs. They tell me they use the 3-to-1 multiplier on that one; that actually equates to 750 jobs from one mine in the northern part of this province.
Gore Creek, owned by NovaGold, is another exciting prospect. They're going to spend $8 million to $10 million this spring alone on further exploration. That's just one property. When that mine is in operation, they will have 300 direct jobs, 60 contractors. They will employ 300 to 400 people during the construction stages of that mine itself.
Tulsequah Chief is another mining prospect in the riding that I represent. It's south of Atlin. During the construction stages of that mine, we're looking at 300 jobs. We're seeing 250 direct jobs at the mine itself. They're using a 2-to-1 multiplier on that one. That equates to 500 jobs.
Klappan Coal is another mineral prospect near Iskut. I spent some time talking to the people in Vancouver during the mining show that was on there two weeks ago. They're quite exited, as well, and looking at opening up that. I haven't been able to contact them to find out the number of people, but I suspect it will be a large number as well.
There are other properties up there as well. The Morrison property, which is near the small village of Granisle, is another mine that is getting close to development stage. I suspect we'll see at least 200 jobs at that mine.
Infrastructure is critical. I spoke about the roads that run north-south, but we don't have any roads running east-west. We've talked about the Stewart-Omineca resource road, which would allow the Kemess mine to move their product to the salt water at Stewart or Prince Rupert — much more cheaply than they're presently doing by trucking it out to Mackenzie and down by rail. We've talked about that. We've attended a couple of meetings. That would create an east-west corridor.
I'm also going to the state of Alaska next Tuesday to talk about another road that is controversial to some people; that's the Bradfield Canal connector road. That road would allow the state of Alaska, the people that
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live in the city of Wrangell, access to Highway 37 near Bob Quinn. At the present time there is no road access for the people who live in the state of Alaska to the province of British Columbia. We have an artificial boundary that runs down there. They have the same concerns, the same issues, that we do. Young people are leaving the state of Alaska, like young people are leaving the northern part of our province, because we don't have any jobs. I'm going to be speaking in support of the Bradfield Canal connector road, because I think it also creates an east-west road. It allows for the movement of resources. It allows for the movement of tourism. It's opening up a part of the province that isn't open now.
In closing, the throne speech that was presented in the House on Tuesday is good news. It's good news for the people of the province. I'm proud to stand up here and support it.
L. Mayencourt: Mr. Speaker, it's very nice to be back here in the chamber and see you newly re-elected to your position. Congratulations on that. It's also nice to see some of the folks that work in the legislative buildings, in the precinct, here today and to welcome the new Pages that have come here to join us and help us with the business of British Columbians.
It was very wonderful to be here the other day for the Speech from the Throne, in particular because so many of the things that were highlighted in that speech are things that are near and dear to my heart, things that matter to me.
I especially love the overarching theme of building the best in British Columbia. There are many wonderful things in British Columbia, many wonderful people, organizations and community people that make such a huge difference. They are the people that make such a difference in my life. They are the people that inform me and bring me to this Legislature to share their views and to bring forward their ideas for making British Columbia the very best it can be.
Speaking of being the best, I note that exactly six years from today we will be lighting the torch for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, and that is an exciting thing for us. We owe a great debt to the thousands and thousands of volunteers and to the many people that worked day and night to bring that bid to Vancouver. Most particularly, we owe a debt of gratitude to our Premier for going out to Prague and putting forward the best of British Columbia on that stage so that we can bring those games here to Vancouver.
I am so proud that my hometown and my home province will be the host for the world in 2010. That's a very, very exciting thing not just for me and for my constituents because of the wonderful benefits that come from it, but also because it gives us a chance to shine. It gives us another opportunity, as we had with Expo '86, to really reach out to the world and tell them our story, tell them about the people that make up our province, tell them what we can offer the world and the many things that make us so special, so unique and so vital to this community called Canada.
I reflected a little bit on some of the folks that have been part of my life — people that really, for me, bring out the best in British Columbia — when I first sat here and listened to the Speech from the Throne. There were some names of people that have contributed greatly to our province, who are not here with us any longer.
One of them is, or was, a good friend of mine and a good friend to people in my riding and in fact a good friend to people not only in British Columbia but all across Canada. That's Mr. Glen Hillson. Glen was mentioned because he's a man that touched the hearts of so many people in this province with his activism on behalf of people living with AIDS.
Many of you know about my riding, Vancouver-Burrard. It's one of the largest urban ridings, and it's home to a large gay community, one that in the 1990s was ravaged by the effects of HIV/AIDS. Glen was one of those pioneers, one of those guys on the forefront, that went out and became an advocate and worked hard. He held my feet to the fire and the Premier's feet to the fire and the Health minister's feet to the fire. He got us to deliver good programs, excellent programs that protect people living with AIDS — things like the new disability act that protected people with schedule C, that made it possible for them to easily access disability benefits in British Columbia, something that for many years they were not able to do. I am so glad that Glen Hillson made it into the throne speech and into the history of this Legislature, as he made it into the history of all British Columbia and in fact all of Canada.
We talk about some of the other folks that are involved in that kind of work. I spent an afternoon just the other day with a very wonderful person at AIDS Vancouver. Her name is Denise, and she's someone that works with people who have to deal with disability benefits, with human resources. She's a wonderful advocate, and someone that's sort of walked me through some of the things she goes through in a day so that I would have a better appreciation of some of the challenges she faces so that we can perhaps work to smooth the way for those individuals that are fully entitled to disability benefits and those folks that are struggling to live their lives with dignity, with respect and with the necessities that they have in front of them.
Also on the theme of HIV/AIDS, this very week I'll be delivering a cheque to the AIDS memorial in Vancouver. This is a very significant contribution on the part of our government. It's a $50,000 contribution to recognize the heroes like Glen Hillson, to recognize the efforts of people like Denise Woodley, to recognize the efforts of people like Easter Armas-Mikulik, who started A Loving Spoonful. It's about stopping and acknowledging the many people that have passed through our lives, who have made immense contributions to those that live with this chronic disease and for those that continue to work in that area.
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I also had an opportunity to work a little bit over the holidays with some folks in the downtown east side, most recently with the Lookout Emergency Aid Society. I got to go down and spend a day with them at a very important project that they're working on in the downtown east side.
Many of us talk about SROs and SRAs. It's loosely defined as single-room-occupancy hotels or single-room-accommodation hotels. It's jargon. What it is, is a small room in a hotel that's eight feet by eight feet. It has a bed, it has a sink, it has a mirror, and maybe, if you're lucky, it will have a dresser. There are a lot of SROs in the downtown east side and in fact in my riding along Granville Street, and most of them have a pretty bad reputation. People don't really want to live in them, and so a lot of people have actually elected not to live in those.
I want to talk about one that's making a difference. It's supported by the Lookout Emergency Aid Society. I bring it up because it's about bringing out the best in British Columbia. This hotel is the Jubilee hotel; it's on Main Street. It was a hotel that held 70 people. Last year it was kind of a rotten place to live. A new guy, a fellow by the name of Mr. Hart, came in and bought this building, the Jubilee Rooms, and he cleaned it up. He put in some good staff, and then he took one room and set it aside for a social worker. They moved a social worker into that hotel, and they took her and said to her: "Look. We want you to help the people in this building."
They did something very remarkable. They took 35 people that would be called a very hard-to-house population — they're folks with severe mental health problems, severe addiction problems — and those people come and visit this young lady every day. They pick up their medications, they have a little chat about what they saw on the street, and they make an appointment to see a social worker or a doctor or a dentist. They tell her if their feet are sore, and she can maybe help them with that. They get the drugs they need. She helps them to find a place to get a good, decent meal. Sometimes she even helps them manage their money because that's something some of them need a little help with.
She stabilized those 35 people. I spent the day with them. They're lovely folks, but they probably wouldn't be making a very good life for themselves on the street, and so it's very important work. That's someone who's bringing out the best in British Columbia, and that's an agency that's bringing out the best in the downtown east side. They're being innovative.
I asked them how much that cost. It cost them $90,000 to do that one hotel, and for that they stabilized housing for 35 people. Not only that, there are another 35 people who live in that hotel who aren't hard to house. They're folks that are just maybe down on their luck or in between apartments or whatever. They stabilized their lives too. I think that's a triumph. That's something that's bringing out the best in an agency, bringing out the best in a city or a neighbourhood. It's bringing out the best in British Columbia.
I salute Joyce at the Lookout Emergency Aid Society. I salute the social worker that works there. I think they're doing incredible work. Those are the kind of people that speak to me, who tell me about the things that I need to do here in this Legislature. It's those things that they've told me that I see reflected in our throne speech. I think that's terrific.
Last week I spent an afternoon…. I went with the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries to the Salvation Army. We went there because it was our turn to serve meals. That's something I do every year. I really enjoy it. I love to hang out with the folks there. There's a group there of…. I think it was 13 different fishing companies. I guess it's the guys whose names you see on the all the labels of tuna and the salmon and what have you — for example, Albion Fisheries, Canada Packers, etc.
Those 13 groups come to the Salvation Army every month, once a month, and they serve meals to people on the street. They call it Fish on Friday. It's a huge success. It's wonderful. We had a great opportunity to be a part of that, and the minister was able to acknowledge those folks and present them with certificates of gratitude on behalf of our government but also on the part of Salvation Army. Those are terrific people; those are British Columbians. That's bringing out the best in our fisheries department. That's bringing out the best in British Columbians, and it's consistent with many of the themes we see in this throne speech.
I've talked many times about my neighbourhood. I've talked about some of the things that have really touched me. One of the things that really moved me this last summer…. We all know about the fires that took place in British Columbia, and that was a horrible, horrible experience for so many British Columbians. Well, I had the opportunity to work with a volunteer committee this summer that worked on a project to put together a concert for the people that were affected by the fires. I worked with a group composed of the folks from the House of Blues, Bryan Adams's agent, Wayne Hartrick of Reputations, the folks of BCTV and Global, and all of that sort of stuff. We and all of those folks worked together, and we put on a concert that went from Vancouver to Kelowna, to Kamloops and to one other place I've forgotten. Forgive me for that.
You know what's important? It raised half a million bucks. It raised half a million dollars that went to the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and the Thompson-Nicola fire relief fund, and I think that's terrific. That was my riding saying: "We're a long way from the fires, but you know what? We care about the folks that have the fires on their mountains. We care about other British Columbians." Those agencies and those folks that did all of that are bringing out the very best in British Columbia.
I've been working a little bit on a project I've mentioned in this House in the last little while, and it's one that I hope we'll be able to support and help through the initiatives that we're doing here. That's the Family Services of Greater Vancouver — champions in my
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neighbourhood, people that actually go out and help people on the street. Kids that live on the street for whatever reasons — they go out and help them.
We've been working for the last little while with a community group that's got a bunch of people that live in Yaletown and the downtown south, business people and youth service providers. Last year they tried to build an integrated youth services centre in my neighbourhood, and my neighbourhood said: "No, we don't want it." This year we have a group of stakeholders that have found a way to develop a good-neighbour agreement. They're working as a team, not to stop the development of this important service to young people in my neighbourhood but to facilitate it. I'm really proud that that's bringing out the best in Vancouver-Burrard. Those people are doing good work.
Speaking of youth services, one guy that's got to be mentioned here is a fellow by the name of Ray Peterson. He runs the Granville Street community police office. This is a really interesting guy. He makes it to the front page of the Vancouver Sun on many occasions because of his work with street kids. He doesn't just hand them five bucks so they can get to McDonald's. He works with them to help them get back home, to get them back to the place where they belong — with their families. He's a real champion of that.
Speaking of getting people home, Mr. Speaker, I note the time. I've got a bunch of members here from the north, and you've got to get back to the Sunshine Coast. So noting the time, I would like to just adjourn the debate, and maybe I can start up again on Monday. Would that be fine?
L. Mayencourt moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. R. Harris moved adjournment of the House.
Deputy Speaker: The House stands adjourned until ten Monday morning.
The House adjourned at 5:59 p.m.
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