2004 Legislative Session: 5th Session, 37th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
MONDAY, MARCH 1, 2004
Volume 21, Number 2
|Introductions by Members||8891|
|Introduction and First Reading of Bills||8891|
|Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2004 (Bill 12)|
|Hon. T. Christensen|
|Statements (Standing Order 25B)||8892|
|Business costs in Canada|
|Opening of Victoria Sobering and Assessment Centre|
|Black History Month and African immigration|
|Emergency physician staffing levels at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital|
|Hon. C. Hansen|
|Police access to Legislature for search of Finance ministry office|
|Hon. G. Plant|
|Impact of contracting-out of hospital services|
|Hon. C. Hansen|
|Mining task force report|
|Hon. P. Bell|
|Tendering of contracts for assisted-living units|
|Hon. M. Coell|
|Committee of the Whole House||8895|
|Ministerial Accountability Bases Act, 2003-2004 (Bill 10)|
|Hon. G. Collins|
|Report and Third Reading of Bills||8906|
|Ministerial Accountability Bases Act, 2003-2004 (Bill 10)|
|Throne Speech Debate (continued)||8907|
[ Page 8891 ]
MONDAY, MARCH 1, 2004
The House met at 2:04 p.m.
Mr. Speaker: Good afternoon, hon. members.
Introduction of guests?
M. Hunter: I don't want to introduce guests, but I do want to make a couple of announcements. Firstly, in my family, today is a very important day. I married into a Welsh family, and today is St. David's Day, so I'd like to say hi to all the Welsh folks in British Columbia — people with Welsh roots.
Secondly, over the weekend in Nanaimo…. I want to report that the Malaspina Mariners women's volleyball team won the provincial gold medal for the sixth straight year. This year they defeated the Capilano College Blues. The member for North Vancouver–Seymour has shed a few tears from that, but his team and mine are both going to be going to Humber College in Etobicoke to represent British Columbia at the national championships later on this month. I hope the House will congratulate the Malaspina Mariners volleyball team.
K. Stewart: It's on a sad note that I announce to the House today that, after a plane crash yesterday in Maple Ridge, Toni Onley, a very noted artist in British Columbia, was the person identified as the pilot. Unfortunately, they've yet to recover a body. I know that a great sadness will be felt not only among his family but among many of the people in the art community not only in British Columbia but across the land. Toni was very supportive of our local arts community, contributing a number of paintings over the years. I'm sure he will be sadly missed. I'm sure there will be more on this later.
Introductions by Members
J. MacPhail: We all join in grieving the loss of such an eminent painter.
We are fortunate in the opposition to be joined by three life-savers, our interns, so everybody else should be very concerned about that. It more than quadruples the talent in our bench. We are joined by Amy Hinterberger, Byron Plant and Sara Irvine. I would ask the House to please make them welcome on their first day with the opposition caucus.
Hon. C. Hansen: I think over the last number of years we have witnessed some absolutely tremendous science that is being done right here in British Columbia — work that is being done at the B.C. Cancer Agency that is truly setting standards that are being noticed worldwide.
I would like the House to welcome a couple of key people who are involved with the B.C. Cancer Agency and the B.C. Cancer Foundation. They are Dr. Victor Ling, who is the vice-president of research at the B.C. Cancer Agency and the B.C. Cancer Research Centre; also Mary McNeil, who is president and CEO of the B.C. Cancer Foundation; and Mary Erickson, office manager and the driving force behind the weekend to end breast cancer, which will be taking place on August 20 to 22.
We had an excellent briefing from them earlier today. I certainly hope that all members will encourage and support this very important event that will be taking place in August. Will the House please make the three of them welcome.
First Reading of Bills
AMENDMENT ACT, 2004
Hon. T. Christensen presented a message from Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2004.
Hon. T. Christensen: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. T. Christensen: I am pleased to introduce Bill 12, the Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2004. This act makes a number of changes to the School Act and the Independent School Act. Those changes include allowing school districts to implement generally accepted accounting principles, commonly known as GAAP, by correcting or removing terminology and practices that are inconsistent or redundant in relation to GAAP. The act will also require school districts to provide financial reports so that they can be included in the government reporting entity as required by the Budget Transparency and Accountability Act.
These changes will enhance the financial accountability of British Columbia's public education system. The province will assist school districts as they make these changes that relate to generally accepted accounting principles. School districts will receive $35 million a year to help with the implementation of generally accepted accounting principles.
This act amends both the School Act and the Independent School Act to remove and replace references to the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Revenue. These changes are of a housekeeping nature and reflect current government financial practice.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 12 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
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(Standing Order 25b)
BUSINESS COSTS IN CANADA
R. Sultan: Recently the international accounting and consulting organization KPMG commissioned a study of cost competitiveness of starting and operating businesses around the world. They looked at 121 cities in 11 countries across North America, Europe and Asia, involving 12 separate industries and 27 separate cost categories. They generated cost profiles on 2,000 individual, real live businesses in the world. This is big-time, big-dollar surveying. The result: among all these jurisdictions Canada is the overall cost leader. Canada's costs are 8 percent to 9 percent below those in the United States, and between 7 percent and 23 percent lower than costs in the European G-7 countries.
The reason Canada is so competitive is due to many cost factors, including the fact that our tax rates — corporately and individually — are not particularly high. The study even encompassed that great municipality of Chilliwack. The Minister of Economic Development was no doubt pleased to learn that Chilliwack's costs are even lower than the Canadian average and 3 percent lower than Vancouver's.
Some have stated that KPMG's findings merely illustrate low and declining wages in B.C. Nonsense. Vancouver is, in fact, one of the best-paying jurisdictions in Canada, and average wage rates have been increasing. High and rising wages notwithstanding, we maintain our significant competitive edge while, as headlines today remind us again, we enjoy just about the highest quality of life in the world.
KPMG commissioned Vancouver-based MMK Consulting Inc. to do this research. It cost over $1 million and was eight months in the making.
Thinking of locating a new business anywhere in the world? Look no further. You've found the right place.
OPENING OF VICTORIA SOBERING
AND ASSESSMENT CENTRE
S. Orr: In my opinion, every member of this House leads a fairly privileged life. We all have a roof over our head, food in our stomach, family and friends around us, and we are all relatively healthy. This is not so for many people who live every second of every day with the horrors of addiction. Addiction can rip away your health, your family, and your whole life can be ruined.
I am pleased to tell this House that as of last week, some of these people now have somewhere they can go, and maybe — just maybe — they can start on a road to recovery with the opening of the new Sobering and Assessment Centre right here in Victoria. This facility is located in a central downtown area and is open 24-7. It has 20 beds, and in addition to that, they have observation, treatment and seating areas. It has been developed to address the health and safety needs of people who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It provides short-term shelter, but most importantly, people will be treated at all times with dignity and compassion.
This new centre will offer access to a range of services and health services. This new centre is operated by the Vancouver Island health authority. It receives an operating budget from the authority of $750,000, and $1.3 million of capital funding was provided through VIHA by the Ministry of Health Services.
This is yet another piece to the picture that the government is working on when they made a commitment to treat addiction as a health issue.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH AND
H. Bloy: Thank you for allowing me to speak today about Black History Month. First I would like to thank Mr. Godwin Eni, president of the Vancouver Multicultural Society, for hosting a very entertaining evening. I recently attended the Black History gala with some of my colleagues from Vancouver-Kingsway, Coquitlam-Maillardville, Burnaby North and the Minister of State for Immigration and Multicultural Services. I'm sure that you'll recall the statements by the member for Coquitlam-Maillardville about black history in B.C. I would like to talk a little bit about some history I learned that evening.
At this event my wife and I met a young lady. Florence has been living in Canada for about two years, and she's now 20 years of age. She was so excited to tell us that she can now speak two languages. Her English was excellent, by the way. Her story is truly amazing. Her parents died when she was ten years old. She became the main caregiver to three siblings. Their home for a number of years was living in a forest with no roof over their head — seven years of living on a bare existence.
One day she met a lady from France who took a liking to her, and sometime later she was called into an office close to where they were living and told that she would go to Canada. She thought: "What is Canada? Is that a food?" "I really didn't know what Canada was," she said. But she was excited. She and her brother came to British Columbia. She is studying English in school and hopes to work in the health care profession. She also works part-time to send money back to her two siblings in Burundi.
What a great country we live in that we can allow a lady like Florence to work and to take care of her family, to go from a desperate past to a bright future. We should be proud of the province we live in where we give all our people these kinds of opportunities. It was truly an enjoyable evening.
Mr. Speaker: That concludes member statements.
[ Page 8893 ]
EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN STAFFING
LEVELS AT NANAIMO REGIONAL
J. Kwan: In June 2003, six months before the Nanaimo doctors' dispute came to a head, the Nanaimo doctors met with the Vancouver Island health authority, and everyone agreed that workload levels for emergency room physicians were similar to Victoria's. But the minister has stepped in and put huge staffing cuts on the table, putting patients at risk and creating, in the deputy Health minister's own words, "the most frightening experiences" in her career.
Can the Minister of Health explain why his government forced a dispute to the brink when the Vancouver Island health authority had already agreed that emergency workload levels in Nanaimo matched those in Victoria?
Hon. C. Hansen: Just to go back a little way, one of the problems we had that we inherited as a government was the one-off deals around the province that were signed by some health authorities and some hospitals under the previous government. Every time you had one of those little one-off deals, you had neighbouring communities saying: "Wait a second. We're not getting our fair share compared to that particular community."
We brought in a framework that said every hospital and every group of physicians in the province were going to be treated fairly. In applying that framework, it came down to differences of how you calculate that particular formula. We looked at acuity levels from three different perspectives. One of them, for example, is the fact that only Nanaimo had a growing level of very low acuity cases compared to virtually every other hospital in the province. We also looked at the doctors' own billings that they sent in to MSP where they themselves have to classify their patients as level 1, level 2 or level 3 acuity. Those also showed differences in acuity.
I'm glad it was resolved. I still do not believe that the physicians had any justification in withdrawing care from their patients in an emergency room setting. Clearly, we have to find better ways to resolve these issues.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant has a supplementary question.
J. Kwan: Despite what the minister says, every time the government came back to the negotiating table, the minister proposed big cuts to emergency care with the full knowledge that the Nanaimo emergency room was just as busy as Victoria's. How do we know this? Because it has come to light that the government has two agreements with the Nanaimo doctors. One agreement — the agreement that this minister likes to brag about — cuts staffing so that the government can save face. A second agreement is an agreement that brings staffing levels up to what was before the dispute started.
Again to the Minister of Health: can he explain why he put patients at risk by proposing big cuts to staffing levels when today, after the dust has settled, those staffing levels at the Nanaimo emergency room are virtually the same as what they were before the dispute? We have the second agreement before us, so we know there were two agreements that the government is trying to hide — the dispute and the crisis situation that was created in Nanaimo.
Hon. C. Hansen: This is actually a shift that the doctors were going from — what was a fee-for-service model to an alternate-payment model. They were going onto a salary. We did not reduce staffing levels. We never proposed to reduce staffing levels, and at the end of the day, we did not reduce staffing levels. What the physicians were putting forward was their interpretation of what they thought was in place in terms of FTEs. We can actually show you documentation that shows what was actually funded for that hospital in the past and what had been agreed to. In fact, the staffing levels that are now there are an increase. We had argued that right from the start of that dispute. There was absolutely no justification…
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. C. Hansen: …for those doctors to withdraw care from their patients. We are pursuing those very issues with the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant has a further supplementary.
J. Kwan: Let's be clear. The Nanaimo doctors had an interim agreement with the government that was in place in June 2003, when everyone agreed that the emergency room in Nanaimo was just as busy as any emergency room in Victoria. Now we've learned, after putting patients at risk, that the government has signed two contracts with doctors in Nanaimo, bringing their staffing levels back up to what was agreed to six months before the government forced the confrontation.
The government insisted that the staffing levels should be 14.6 FTEs. The doctors said that it was closer to 17 FTEs. The first agreement, the one that the minister likes to talk about, was at 14.6 FTEs. The second agreement, which I have before me, brings the staffing levels back up to 16.7 FTEs. Given that the health authority agreed to staffing levels that existed before the government tried to cut emergency care, will the minister admit that he was wrong, that he deliberately provoked a fight to inflame public opinion in the larger negotiations between the province and the BCMA, and that that was the real reason why he put patients at risk in Nanaimo?
[ Page 8894 ]
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. C. Hansen: I work very hard to make sure that patients do not get put at risk in this province. After looking at the data around Nanaimo, which we discussed thoroughly with the doctors in Nanaimo, what it showed was that there were many more low-acuity patients using the Nanaimo emergency room instead of going to see their own family doctors, other clinics or other options in the community. There was a much higher level of level 1 services being provided in Nanaimo compared to any other hospital on the Island and particularly in regard to Victoria.
What we agreed to at the end was a temporary increase in staffing levels while we transition and ensure that patients can get better access to care in other community services rather than using the emergency room in cases of low acuity for which the emergency room should not be used.
It was an extremely difficult ten days for everybody involved. I believe it is totally inappropriate for physicians to withdraw care from their patients because they are having a dispute with government over how much to put in a budget to pay doctors. We clearly need to find better ways of doing that.
We worked hard to make sure that patient safety was put foremost in that particular case, and we will continue to make that our priority throughout the province.
POLICE ACCESS TO LEGISLATURE FOR
SEARCH OF FINANCE MINISTRY OFFICE
J. MacPhail: Mr. Speaker, I ended last week questioning the Finance minister about his mentoring of the next generation of young Liberals. Today I'd like to focus on the recent raids on his offices, which media reports say involve young Liberals, marijuana, organized crime and wiretaps.
The Solicitor General involved himself in those raids. We know that he consulted with you at least once, Mr. Speaker, prior to the raids. I assume he did so because this place has certain privileges.
Maingot, an authority on parliamentary practice, has carefully written on those privileges. This House has exclusive authority over the affairs within the precinct. Maingot says, for example: "Police may not lawfully intercept private communications within the precincts without the permission of the House."
Will the Solicitor General please advise this House what standard he used to decide whether it was appropriate for the police to enter into the precincts? Will he also tell us today what argument he brought forward to the Speaker to allow the police access to the precincts on this matter?
Well, I'm not quite sure why the Solicitor General won't stand up and answer the question. He was more than forthcoming in the media at the time of the raids. I assume now the Solicitor General doesn't want to be too closely associated with the news on this raid. He has had advice to distance himself, I assume. But he did insert himself early on. He admits that he spoke to the Speaker. He spoke to the media. He admitted that he briefed the Premier and Martyn Brown. Clearly, he knows more than he is prepared to admit here today.
We have a right to expect that the Solicitor General and the Speaker didn't allow the police to raid the Finance minister's office on what Maingot cites as "fishing trips." They're specifically precluded in the Legislature. Indeed, partially based upon direct evidence of Mr. Maingot, a 1980 report on wiretapping in this precinct concluded that there must be evidence that the conduct in the precincts is "directly implicated in the commission of a crime" before the police are allowed in.
Will the Solicitor General please confirm for this House that evidence that someone was directly involved in criminal activity was the test he used to justify allowing a police raid on the Finance minister's office? If he didn't use the standard test, what test did he use to allow the police in the Finance minister's office?
Hon. G. Plant: My understanding is that the police were executing a search warrant. The matter of the search warrant is before the courts, and we'll let the courts decide.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order, please.
IMPACT OF CONTRACTING-OUT
OF HOSPITAL SERVICES
J. Bray: No issue comes before my constituency office month in, month out than health care. Last week, on several news reports, organizers for the Hospital Employees Union were on television stating that only the HEU can keep hospitals clean and keep patients safe. Subsequently, I heard from many constituents who were concerned about both the number of 1,000 hospital employees being reduced and the issues of hospital cleanliness. My question is to the Minister of Health Services — if he can tell me what impact outsourcing of these services will have on hospital employment in the southern Island area and also what impact it will have on hospital cleanliness.
Hon. C. Hansen: I certainly had discussions with HEU workers around the province, who I think do a great job of providing services to our health care sector. As I have said before in this House and elsewhere, we had a cost structure that was considerably out of line. We had to make sure we brought those costs under control so that patient dollars could be put towards patient care, which it needs to be first and foremost.
With the initiatives that are being taken by the Vancouver Island health authority, first of all, the cleanli-
[ Page 8895 ]
ness and standards for cleanliness are not being compromised and in fact in many cases are being enhanced. When it comes to employment, I recognize that that does impact on some individuals and some families. Clearly, there are new people being recruited by the contractors, so the employment base will certainly be comparable to what it was before. As I said, we will make sure that cleanliness and standards are upheld.
MINING TASK FORCE REPORT
P. Nettleton: The government wouldn't listen to me when I was requested by the Premier to bring forth a recommendation on B.C. Rail some years ago. As reported in the Vancouver Sun last week, the Premier is ignoring, as well, the findings and recommendations of a task force of 15 MLAs he appointed to study the mining situation in B.C. Why? Well, I suspect the facts don't fit the Premier's agenda, and apparently 14 of those MLAs were off message according to the Premier and the Minister of Energy and Mines. It seems that someone the Premier trusts to be on message is his new Minister of State for Mining, the member for Prince George North, the fifteenth member of that task force.
Mr. Speaker, my question is to that Minister of State for Mining. How did he get it so right while the 14 other members of that task force got it so wrong?
Hon. P. Bell: I am actually very pleased to be able to report that the mining task force report was an excellent piece of work. It's something that the Premier has asked me to take and develop into an action plan. We know that mining left this province through the 1990s. We know that one out of every two jobs through the 1990s was lost due to the policies of the previous government.
I'm excited about looking forward to mining. We're going to have a great action plan, working with the members of the task force report, to revive this industry.
TENDERING OF CONTRACTS FOR
G. Halsey-Brandt: My question is to the Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services. I understand that the Independent Living B.C. strategy is a cooperative effort between B.C. Housing and the health authorities. While a commitment of some 3,500 beds is admirable, there has been some confusion in Richmond regarding the tendering of contracts for these units.
Could the minister tell the House and interested agencies in my constituency three things: how are applications for contracts solicited, what criteria are used to evaluate them, and who has the final call on awarding these contracts?
Hon. M. Coell: It's an open process. There are ads placed in the paper. It's also posted on the B.C. Bid website. The criteria for evaluation are quite broad. They look at the capacity of the society that has put in the application, their corporate experience and governance. They also look at the housing concept. That could be everything from site and location — they try and spread that around the province — and the number of units and the amenities that are also suggested. They look at the financial — the capital budget, the operating budget — and the final selection is a joint decision by a health authority and B.C. Housing.
[End of question period.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. G. Collins: I call Committee of the Whole House for consideration of Bill 10.
Committee of the Whole House
BASES ACT, 2003-2004
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 10; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
The committee met at 2:36 p.m.
On section 1.
J. MacPhail: What was the salary for 2003 for the Minister of Agriculture?
Hon. G. Collins: I believe ministers receive an additional stipend, as members of the executive council, of $39,000. I don't think that's changed.
J. MacPhail: How many days of the $150 capital city allowance did the Minister of Agriculture claim for 2003 — and was paid?
Hon. G. Collins: I'm not aware of that. Second of all, I'm not sure how it pertains to the legislation. Perhaps the member can explain that to me.
J. MacPhail: Well, this is legislation about exempting ministers from a penalty because of expenditures. I'm just wanting to know how big the penalty would have been in relation to the overall compensation. It's matters of compensation.
Mr. Chair, I might also say that I don't have any questions for the Solicitor General in this particular legislation, so the Solicitor General can go. Sorry, I don't mean that. I don't have any questions on this legislation for the Solicitor General.
Hon. G. Collins: My understanding of the legislation, which I've just had confirmed, is that the 20 percent holdback in ministerial salary applies to the $39,000. The additional indemnity or compensation is provided to ministers of the Crown or a minister of
[ Page 8896 ]
state, which I think is $25,000. It does not apply to other expense claims, etc., that may occur during the year. It only applies to that 20 percent of the $39,000 that ministers are paid over and above their MLA pay.
J. MacPhail: Perhaps the Minister of Finance could clarify for me. When he changed the regulation…. No, I guess actually it was the law he changed to allow cabinet ministers to claim $150 every night they're overnight in the capital city outside of their constituency. Did he make that…? Is that now accounted for as a travel expense? How is it accounted for in the ministerial budgets?
Hon. G. Collins: Mr. Chairman, I believe that question is out of order. It has no relation to this section of the act whatsoever.
J. MacPhail: I understand that the Minister of Finance likes to run the House with an iron fist, but perhaps he could allow the Chair to actually be the Chair and the Speaker be the Speaker. Instead of directing his ministers to just refer questions to the Speaker, maybe he could allow those venerable offices to look after themselves.
The minister changed the legislation around the $150 per diem.
Hon. G. Collins: Mr. Chairman, I was just trying earlier to perhaps provide advice to the member opposite that that's not relevant to this section. Seeing as she didn't take that opportunity, I just raise a point of order that the line of questioning the member is pursuing has no relationship whatsoever to section 1 of this bill.
The Chair: Just to remind the Leader of the Opposition to keep her questions pertinent to section 1.
J. MacPhail: Maybe I could explain to you, Mr. Chair, how I think this is relevant. It's that this legislation is exempting three cabinet ministers — the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Forests and the Minister of Public Safety — from having a penalty awarded against them. Actually, it's the reverse — of not getting their bonus of 20 percent of what they get as a cabinet minister because their budgets will be overbudget.
I don't have any problem with expenditures related to floods, BSE, avian flu or forests. What I'm trying to find out is: what is the bonus that these ministers are obtaining? The government changed the rules so that now cabinet ministers get a benefit that they didn't previously have — prior to this government. I want to know whether that benefit is now considered, with this government, to be a benefit that's specific to cabinet ministers — whether it's included in the stipend; and why not, if not.
Hon. G. Collins: I answered the member's question with my first response to her. I'll do it again for her in case she wasn't paying attention. The 20 percent salary holdback that occurs at the beginning of each fiscal year, which is contained in the ministerial accountability act, is $39,000. It consists solely of the additional amount of money, or pay, that ministers make for being a member of the executive council. As far as ministers of state, it's $25,000. That does not include any additional expenses — expense accounts, as the member mentioned.
I've said this already. I say it again. It's the $39,000. It is strictly the additional pay a member of the Legislature receives for being a member of the executive council. It does not apply to any other items — not travel expenses, not per diems, not taxi fare, not anything. It only applies to the $39,000. That should clarify that for the member opposite. If she has any further questions on that, I'd be glad to answer them.
Perhaps while she's doing that and looking in the legislation, I can refer her to the legislation of which she was a part: Bill 28, 2000 — the Balanced Budget Act — which her government introduced back then. In fact, section 4(2) has an additional 20 percent provision that was there, and it applies to salary as well. There's not any difference, in that regard, with what's in our legislation versus what was in her legislation. It's 20 percent, and it applies to the salary as a member of the executive council.
J. MacPhail: Well, I appreciate the Minister of Finance pointing out that his government didn't do anything better than the previous government. He likes to make such great claims that, oh, we've got ministerial accountability, and now he admits it's exactly the same as what the previous government did. Hurrah. Finally the minister has to fess up that they don't have any more accountability or any more transparency than the previous government.
My only point is that this government, very early on when they arrived in office, changed the rules by legislation about what a minister gets paid — not government caucus members, not members of the opposition….
Point of Order
Hon. G. Collins: Point of order, Mr. Chair.
The Chair: The Minister of Finance on a point of order.
Hon. G. Collins: I think this is the third time I've risen on the same point of order. The member opposite keeps raising this issue. She knows full well it is not contained in this section of the bill and is out of order.
The Chair: I would just remind the member once again to keep her questions confined to section 1 of this bill.
J. MacPhail: Well, we're off to a very testy start, and I'm not quite sure why the Minister of Finance
[ Page 8897 ]
wants to limit debate when he's supposed to be so open and accountable. Well, tell me: where is salary defined in this legislation, then?
Hon. G. Collins: I'm glad to do the research for the member opposite. If she looks at the Balanced Budget and Ministerial Accountability Act, it refers to the Legislative Assembly salaries as well. She can pursue it back through those various pieces of legislation. That's normally the research a member of the opposition does before she gets to the floor of the House.
J. MacPhail: Actually, salary isn't defined in the legislation, so perhaps the minister could refer me to where it is.
Hon. G. Collins: That took me about 22 seconds. The member could have done it herself. Otherwise, if she goes to the Balanced Budget and Ministerial Accountability Act and looks at section 3(1), there's a definition of it there.
J. MacPhail: Yes, except that those sections of the legislation include the salary and the stipend of the ministers.
Hon. G. Collins: If she believes that, she can find the section and point it out.
J. MacPhail: I don't understand why the minister is so…. He's testy today. I'm not quite sure why he's so testy.
All right. Let's just say it's about the $39,000, so 20 percent…. Let me ask the minister how it's worked in '03 for the holdback on a minister who is not affected by this legislation and for one who is affected by this legislation.
Hon. G. Collins: Again, that's not part of this section, but I'm glad, for the member, to explain to her how it works. As I've said previously about four times today, members receive, if you're a member of the executive council — as she'll well remember from the time that she served — $39,000 a year over and above….
Hon. G. Collins: It's exactly the same amount. Over and….
The Chair: Please, member. Through the Chair.
Hon. G. Collins: The member can go check that fact as well, because I'm sure she'll find that she is wrong. The reality is that we receive $39,000 over and above the salary that's granted to Members of the Legislative Assembly. That is the salary for being a minister of the Crown. It has not changed, and it's 20 percent of that. I'm sure she can do the math.
J. MacPhail: Well, I'm just trying to figure out in real dollars, if the minister would like to admit how the real dollars work. It's just on the 39,000 bucks that a cabinet minister and all of these…? I don't know why we're talking about ministers of state, because these three are full ministers of cabinet — $39,000….
I recall…. I don't know. Call me crazy, but we had a 5 percent takeback on our stipend, and it was never reinstated at all. The 5 percent takeback was on the $39,000.
J. MacPhail: Yes, actually, it was. Could the minister just stand up and say in real dollars then…? Is the 20 percent held back at the very beginning, and then is half of it returned and then the next half returned? How did it operate in '03?
Hon. G. Collins: The member can check the Hansard record from the time that legislation was debated in the House.
J. MacPhail: No, I'd like the answer now, Mr. Chair.
Hon. G. Collins: Mr. Chairman, I just gave it to her.
J. MacPhail: Okay, Mr. Chair. These are legitimate questions. I'm not quite sure why the minister thinks he can introduce a piece of legislation and answer no questions on it. I'm not sure why the minister thinks it is beneath him to answer these questions. Is he nervous about…?
Oh, Mr. Chair, sorry. I'll ask the Minister of Agriculture directly. To the Minister of Agriculture: can he explain how the salary takeback has worked for him?
Hon. G. Collins: The member will know…. I don't know if she's wasting time or what. Maybe she's run out of other things to say to criticize the government. I've already explained this to the member earlier in response to her questions. There's a 20 percent holdback on the $39,000 that is normally paid to a member of the executive council, over and above their salary as an MLA. They earn that back when the public accounts are released, which she can go and look in the legislation for the Balanced Budget and Ministerial Accountability Act. They earn that back at the end of the fiscal year, once the public accounts are printed. She can go and look and read in the legislation. It's sitting right there on her desk. If it's not on her desk, it's on the cabinet behind her. Most members of the opposition do this research before they come to the floor of the House.
J. MacPhail: I don't know why the minister thinks that he doesn't have a right to answer questions just
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because the opposition has done research. It's all very well and good for the opposition to know, and I know that this Legislature operates like a private little club for the Liberal government. They don't like anybody to ask any questions about what goes on inside this chamber. But it is ridiculous for the Minister of Finance to stand up and somehow say he is not obligated to answer these questions because it's in legislation.
Well, let me ask the Minister of Agriculture directly, then. This section deals with the Minister of Agriculture. The legislation says: "The salary otherwise payable under section 4 (6) to (8) of the Legislative Assembly Allowances and Pension Act to each member of the Executive Council must be reduced by 20%."
Then section 4 goes on to say: "Half of the 20% reduction in salary under section 3, for a fiscal year, becomes due and payable to a member of the Executive Council on the next day after the public accounts for that fiscal year are made public, in the case (a) of the fiscal year 2002/2003 or 2003/2004 if, in the main estimates for that fiscal year…."
Could the Minister of Agriculture please tell us how he would have been affected if this legislation had not been passed?
Hon. G. Collins: The member just answered her own question.
J. MacPhail: I understand completely why the Minister of Finance is so rattled. He has every right to be rattled, with the state of affairs in his government. I understand why people like the Solicitor General won't reveal the rules that apply to this House. I understand why the Minister of Finance tells the Solicitor General to go to the Speaker if they want any questions answered.
The Chair: Minister of Finance on a point of order.
Point of Order
Hon. G. Collins: This is a pretty simple piece of legislation. I think it's got three sections. I'm more than happy and prepared and enthusiastic about answering any questions that are the least bit relevant to any of those three sections. So far I haven't heard very many.
The Chair: Just to remind the member once again to confine her questions to section 1 of Bill 10.
J. MacPhail: With respect, Mr. Chair, I fully am following your advice. These are all relevant to the legislation. All of them are relevant. I'm not quite sure why the Minister of Agriculture can't answer for himself. I fail to understand what the difficulty is here.
This legislation is the second time this government has exempted cabinet ministers from the Balanced Budget and Ministerial Accountability Act.
Can the minister tell us how it operated for the Minister of Forests the last time this was applied? When did the Minister of Forests get his full salary in 2003?
Hon. G. Collins: If the member re-reads the section that she just read to the House, she'll get her answer — the day after the public accounts were released.
J. MacPhail: So, if I FOI this issue, it would be what date that the Minister of Forests got his money?
Hon. G. Collins: Same answer.
J. MacPhail: Can the minister not tell us what date that was?
Hon. G. Collins: It was the day after the release of the public accounts in 2002-03.
J. MacPhail: Okay. Well, I'm sure that British Columbians are finding this debate extremely enlightening. First time the government has to debate some legislation in the House, and the Minister of Finance is cranky, obstinate, insulting and, in fact, refuses to engage in any discussion that would show how accountable his government is being.
What is the total value of the exemption in this legislation?
Hon. G. Collins: Ten percent of $39,000.
J. MacPhail: Well, there are three cabinet ministers affected, so could the minister actually give us a figure for it, please?
Hon. G. Collins: It's 10 percent of $39,000, which would be $3,900 times 3.
J. MacPhail: Does this pay that doesn't include the 150 bucks that the cabinet ministers get to claim each day they're here in the capital city, which no other government ever gave cabinet ministers…? It doesn't include that. Does this exemption, the payment of the salary, come out of which budget — contingencies?
Hon. G. Collins: It comes out of the budget for the ministers.
J. MacPhail: Mr. Chair, just if I could ask…. Am I to ask questions about the Minister of Forests and the exemptions under that of the Minister of Finance or the Minister of Agriculture? Whom am I to ask those questions of?
Hon. G. Collins: This bill is under my name. I am prepared to answer every question that I can. If I can't, then I'm glad to refer them to other ministers if perhaps they have more detail.
J. MacPhail: I was just curious, Mr. Chair, because the Minister of Finance is very reluctant to answer any
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questions and seems to be extremely defensive. I'm so nervous about going into this next area, not knowing what temper tantrum he may demonstrate against the people of British Columbia.
Oh, let me ask another question before we move on from section 1, Mr. Chair, and then we can pass section 1. In terms of the allocation of moneys for the fiscal year '04-05, how much money has been allocated to deal with the BSE crisis in order to avoid a repetition of this kind of legislation?
Hon. G. Collins: That would be an appropriate question for the estimates of the Minister of Agriculture, which will be coming up sometime later in this session.
J. MacPhail: Oh, gosh. Either I'm not doing my research, or I'm not in the right place. Whatever it is, the Minister of Finance just doesn't want to answer the questions. Well, how much money…? I already know because I had an excellent discussion with the Minister of Agriculture under the supplementary estimates about the money being paid to BSE. My question is completely appropriate. What is this government doing to avoid having to provide exemptions to ministers in the future?
Hon. G. Collins: We forecast as best we can. We try and make sure that they are conservative forecasts in estimates throughout the year. However, from time to time there are either unforeseen circumstances — natural disasters, which we saw this past year — or, in some cases, additional opportunities as we had last year with the Ministry of Forests, in an effort to restructure the forest sector.
Government sets a budget to the best of our ability. Issues may arise during the fiscal year for which we think it's appropriate to come back to the House for additional supply. In that case, we defend those supply estimates as you saw last week with the debate between the member opposite and the Minister of Agriculture that related to the year for which the supply was being asked. The debate around what supply is granted to the Minister of Agriculture for next year's budget will appropriately happen during the estimates for the Ministry of Agriculture later in this session.
J. MacPhail: Well, the Minister of Agriculture was far more forthcoming than the Minister of Finance, but I understand this is a troubling week for the Minister of Finance. I totally understand what a troubling week it is for him.
What are the forecasts, Mr. Chair? Or are we in a situation now where, in this Legislature, unless we obey the rules to the exact point, there will be no questions answered about past budgets or future budgets? Is that the rule the Minister of Finance is laying down right now?
Hon. G. Collins: Just to put it on the record, I actually had a great weekend, and I'm feeling pretty good. I'm just trying not to waste the member's time and my time, and I'm trying to make sure we stay in order.
Mr. Chairman, as I said earlier and I'll say it again, the estimates debate around the supplemental estimate for the Minister of Agriculture happened last week. I thought it was a good exchange between the members. The estimates for next year for all these three ministries that are itemized or mentioned in this bill will take place later in this spring session. That is where the estimates take place. This is not an estimates debate. This is not an estimates discussion. This is a discussion around a piece of legislation for which there are three sections. If the member has questions that are in order for those three sections, then I'm more than happy to answer them.
J. MacPhail: It's interesting how this Government House Leader likes to follow the rules when it is to his advantage, but at other times, when perhaps members are offended by the way he conducts business in the House or his government, he says: "Oh, got nothing to do with me, absolutely nothing to do with me." Doesn't reply to motions of privilege. Doesn't explain how he allows raids on the Legislature here by the police. None of that…
The Chair: Member. Member.
J. MacPhail: …has anything to do with him.
The Chair: Member, I ask you once again to keep your questions relevant to this section.
J. MacPhail: Yes, Chair, and I will.
This government tabled a three-year fiscal plan. The three-year fiscal plan has always been debated, since he bragged so much about bringing in a three-year fiscal plan. Is he now saying that there cannot be any questions about what preparation this government has done about the BSE crisis, which is an extremely serious and ongoing crisis amongst cattle ranchers in this province?
Hon. G. Collins: It sounds to me like somebody else didn't have a great weekend. I did.
The debate around what's in this year's three-year fiscal plan which starts April 1 will occur in the Ministry of Agriculture estimates as it has from time immemorial in this House. The member will have more than ample opportunity to ask any questions that are relevant to the Ministry of Agriculture estimates and the BSE. She should feel free to do that. I can't wait for that debate. I'm sure it will be scintillating. That's the appropriate place for those kinds of questions.
J. MacPhail: Well, it will be interesting to see whether this government actually wants to examine its three-year fiscal plan, something that they bragged about so much when they introduced their budgets: "We've got a plan for three years, and we're in charge, and feel good about the fact that we're planning." Now
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the Minister of Finance refuses to answer questions about it. Isn't that interesting? Not exactly the openness and accountability that the government promised.
Hon. G. Collins: The fact of the matter is that there will probably be several hundreds of hours of debate in the Legislature during this spring session with regard to the estimates, not just from the Minister of Agriculture but all the other ministries as well. That's where they're in order. They're not in order for this bill. That's just the way it is. She may not like that, but that's the fact.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
J. MacPhail: Is the Minister of Finance going to answer questions about Firestorm 2003 in this debate, or is he rejecting that as well?
Hon. G. Collins: I'm more than happy to answer any questions that are relevant to the section that's before the House.
J. MacPhail: What were the expenditures by the Ministry of Forests that have led to this legislation exempting the Minister of Forests from the ministerial accountability act?
Hon. G. Collins: I'd refer the member to page 120 of the budget and fiscal plan which was tabled, I think, two weeks ago tomorrow. Table 4.5 actually lists those.
J. MacPhail: Could the minister read it out, please?
Hon. G. Collins: If the member wants, I can do this for her, but I'm sure she has a copy of this.
For the Ministry of Forests, in the budget there was — in the third quarterly report which also came out on budget day — $375 million for direct forest fire costs and forest remediation of $15 million.
J. MacPhail: Part of the issue here is that the public gets to participate in the dialogue and the debate around here. Referring to documents is probably a little bit disrespectful of the public.
Can the minister break down the $375 million for me, please?
Hon. G. Collins: I think what's disrespectful of the public is not doing your research before you come to the floor of the House from very basic government documents that are available on the website for the public to see as well.
[H. Long in the chair.]
Hon. G. Collins: Mr. Chairman, I would assume the member hasn't done it because she's asking for information contained in a public document as well as the website.
J. MacPhail: Doesn't play well, Mr. Chair.
Please, could the minister break down the number for me?
Hon. G. Collins: I have some revised estimates for the member which are up to date and were prepared recently. For salaries and benefits it was $21.029 million; operating costs, $297.917 million; government transfers, $25 million. There were external recoveries which would offset those costs to the tune of $2.136 million. The current numbers total is $341.810 million.
J. MacPhail: Then is the $15 million separate and apart from that — the $15 million that the minister listed outside of the $375 million in his first comments?
Hon. G. Collins: It's included in there.
J. MacPhail: So on the budget day the estimated cost was $390 million total, and we now have an estimated cost of $341 million. The minister said they're more recent costs.
I'm glad I'm asking these questions. Gosh, even an update. What's the latest estimate date?
Hon. G. Collins: These questions are relevant. That's why we're actually getting good information.
That is relative to February 25 of this year. The third quarter report came out with the budget on February 17. That's the third quarterly report for the year we're in as well. Those numbers would have been locked in, in January sometime probably. This is a more recent estimate.
J. MacPhail: Can the minister explain what government transfer costs of about $25 million include?
Hon. G. Collins: I'm advised those are transfers to local government.
J. MacPhail: And what were they for?
Hon. G. Collins: Firefighting.
J. MacPhail: What aspects of firefighting, please?
Hon. G. Collins: Municipalities were heavily involved in helping to fight these fires, primarily because a great many of them were interface fires — i.e., they were right up against communities. Local governments were involved in helping to fight those fires, and I believe — and I've been advised — these are transfers to those local governments to offset their costs.
J. MacPhail: Well, it is a $25 million expenditure, and this isn't the federal Liberal government, so I assume there are more details to the cutting of those
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cheques. How much went for firefighting equipment? How much went for policing costs? How much went for municipal firefighting costs? How much went for interface firefighting costs? If the minister wouldn't mind giving me those details.
Hon. G. Collins: I have broken them out in general terms for the overall budget. I don't have the information that breaks out the $15 million for the member, but I would certainly be pleased to get that and get it over to the member. I don't have it now.
J. MacPhail: Could the minister break down the operating costs for fighting fires in terms of the nature of the operating costs? The costs for salaries are separate. I'll get to that in a moment. Over what period of time does this expenditure of $297 million occur?
Hon. G. Collins: Well, it would have taken place…. The statutory approval that the House would have given for this $297.917 million would have taken place during the firefighting season. They would have run their budget, they would have reached the end of their budget during the fire season, and at that point the statutory provision for funding kicks in. They would continue to do what they needed to do to fight those fires for the duration of the fire season. It's unlikely that there will be more fires before the end of the fiscal year, but I suppose that's possible. For the most part, these would have been fought during the summer and fall last year.
J. MacPhail: Well, I'd actually like specific dates. That's why we're here. When does the first penny of the $297 million get spent? And to what date does it get spent? I want to know how long the original allocation of funds lasted, so dates are very important here, Mr. Chair.
Hon. G. Collins: The budget for the Ministry of Forests for firefighting would have been used until such point during last year's fiscal year that they went over that amount. At that point the statutory provision — I think it's section 16 of the Forest Practices Code — would have kicked in, and they would have had statutory approval to spend additional funds. I can try and have somebody do the math and figure out what day that was, and get back to the member.
J. MacPhail: Well, I'm not quite sure why we're not prepared to have this discussion now, Mr. Chair. It's these expenditures being made in a fashion that is so necessary that is providing the impetus for exempting the Minister of Forests from the ministerial accountability budget. This is the place where we get to ask these questions.
Well, the minister did his first quarter report. How much money was spent as of June 30, 2003, by the Ministry of Forests in their fire protection budget, or whatever the…? I think the line is called fire protection.
Hon. G. Collins: My job is not to do the research for the member opposite. She can go to the first quarterly report and find that number. I believe, if I'm correct, that it was about the middle of the third week of August that the ministry actually had, at that point, fully expended its forest fire fighting budget. I believe it was about the middle of the third week of August.
J. MacPhail: Well, I'm going to assume it was the middle of the third week of August. I don't know why the minister didn't answer that question when I first asked it. At what rate did the $297 million for operating costs get expended after the third week of August?
Hon. G. Collins: I think, if the member recalls the first quarterly report discussion, the second quarterly report discussion, as well as open cabinet, as well as the public pronouncements of the various ministers, as well as the media commentary of the time…. At some point during the forest fire season, we were expending money at the rate of almost $10 million a day, I believe — at the very height of it. It was around that figure.
Of course, that would have gone up and down depending on the day and the hour, for that matter. Some days it would have been less; some days it would have been more. It would depend on the winds and the weather, how many lightning strikes there were the night before — all of those things. Throughout the season, it ranked from probably not zero but close to zero to up to $10 million a day, as I believe the figure was at about the height of it. So it would be different. It wouldn't be just a straight line up and a straight line down through the season. It would vary day by day and, indeed, hour by hour.
J. MacPhail: Well, does the minister have an accounting of that? I'm not talking about salaries here; I'm talking about operating costs.
Hon. G. Collins: I'm sure that if the member wants a day-by-day breakdown of the forest fire fighting season, we can certainly provide her with that. I expect it would take staff some time — if not some days perhaps — to gather that information and put it together in a format that was usable to the member. We'd be happy to do that. We just can't do it right this minute.
J. MacPhail: Well, the Firestorm 2003 report by the Hon. Gary Filmon, which was released to the public on Friday, talks about assignment of equipment and the pace at which equipment was assigned. I would have assumed the government, in lessons learned from the forest fire season…. In no way do I begrudge any expenditure in fighting the fire season of 2003 — or any year, for that matter — but what I'm wanting to know is, given the government's expenditure in 2003, what lessons they have learned and how they're applying these lessons to meet….
What I think the Premier said was that he was going to embrace every single recommendation of the
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Filmon report when he first appointed Mr. Filmon. What I'm trying to figure out is, given the fact that the original Forestry budget ran out in the third week of August — which would have been the beginning of the third week of the major firestorm in this province — and I think the forest fire budget was only about $55 million from '02-03 in the original estimate: how did the operating costs unfold from that time? It's so that we can learn whether the operating costs were expended in a meaningful way in challenging the forest fires.
Hon. G. Collins: The Premier said at open cabinet last Friday, as did the two ministers who were involved in this — the Minister of Forests and the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General — that government obviously will be planning a response to what we did learn from the Filmon review, which I think was very helpful and beneficial. I expect when the estimates of those two ministers come up, they'll have more to say in response to some of the recommendations of the Filmon report.
J. MacPhail: The minister is suggesting that the questions around the Firestorm 2003 report by Mr. Filmon are best answered when?
Hon. G. Collins: The report was released on Friday in open cabinet. Both ministers, I believe — and I certainly know the Premier was — were asked questions about it, as was Mr. Filmon. The ministry has only had…. I think this report was presented to government — I'm not sure — about two weeks ago or a week and a half ago or something. I'm not positive on that. I expect it will take the ministries some time to go through that report and take whatever lessons there are.
They may be able to learn some lessons virtually overnight and implement them overnight. Others may take longer. In fact, I think some of the interface challenges we face deal with building codes and zoning in local communities, which may take years perhaps. I hope it doesn't take that long, but that could happen. It's really in their hands. I'm assuming that everybody who has anything they can learn from the Filmon report will be taking that to heart and trying as best they can, in as timely a fashion as they can, to build on those recommendations and try and avert any future damage to the extent that we can.
J. MacPhail: We're also discussing this in Public Accounts, where there have been dozens of recommendations around interface forest fires as well. Now the public has the Filmon report, and I recall that the Premier said, when he appointed Mr. Filmon, that he would implement all of his recommendations. Now I'm trying to find out, in terms of money expended in '03, what money may be available to expend to meet the recommendations of Mr. Filmon. That's all I'm trying to do here.
When did Mr. Filmon meet with any cabinet member — either the Premier or cabinet committee or cabinet — over the course of his report?
Hon. G. Collins: I'm not aware of any meetings he would have or might have had. I just don't know that.
J. MacPhail: When was the first time Mr. Filmon's report was discussed by cabinet or cabinet committee?
Hon. G. Collins: I'm trying to think what my memory is on this. The issue of the Filmon report obviously was discussed shortly after the appointment was made — and the work he might do. I don't recall that discussion other than the fact of being made aware that it was occurring. As far as a discussion with regard to Mr. Filmon's actual report, to my knowledge the first time that was discussed in any big way would have been probably prior to the open cabinet discussion, but I don't recall that directly. To be honest, I haven't attended every cabinet meeting in the last while. I've sort of been busy with budget and other items.
J. MacPhail: When did Treasury Board first discuss the firestorm…? When did Treasury Board deal with Mr. Filmon's proceedings?
Hon. G. Collins: It has yet to deal with Mr. Filmon's report.
J. MacPhail: No, I said his proceedings.
Hon. G. Collins: Perhaps she could tell me what she means by his proceedings.
J. MacPhail: The actual cost of him conducting his proceedings. Who was actually monitoring — if anybody — Mr. Filmon's progress around the province? There were public servants presenting at every public hearing, practically, of Mr. Filmon's. That monitoring was going on. We had reports at the Public Accounts Committee that the bureaucracy was monitoring it. Those aren't any secrets.
When did Treasury Board deal with the bills that arose from Firestorm 2003, or have they yet? Is it that the Minister of Finance is saying he isn't personally aware of any discussions that the cabinet had around Mr. Filmon's progress and report, or is he saying it didn't occur?
Hon. G. Collins: I'm not sure to what extent I'm permitted to comment on what goes on at cabinet meetings, so I'll be a bit cautious here, other than to say that as far as Treasury Board goes, we have yet to deal with the report that was issued by Mr. Filmon.
Certainly, throughout last year Treasury Board staff worked closely with the Ministry of Forests and the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General in monitoring — as best you can in those very difficult, challenging times — the expenditures, the possible expenditures, etc. They kept us at Treasury Board and me, in
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particular, as Minister of Finance apprised of the general status of how much money was being spent. I made it clear, as did the Premier, that the fires needed to be fought and that government would do what was necessary in order to put the fires out and ensure public safety to the best of our ability.
J. MacPhail: I'm sorry. I wasn't questioning that last part. It was around the proceedings of Mr. Filmon. Is the minister aware of any meeting…?
The Chair: Member, stay relevant to section 2, please, to do with Forestry.
J. MacPhail: Yes, thank you, Mr. Chair. Perhaps just for your information, Mr. Chair, I'm trying to figure out how long the government is going to take to prepare for fighting forest fires or has taken in terms of examining the expenditures that occurred during '03.
Is the minister aware of any meeting that Mr. Filmon had with any cabinet members prior to the release of his report, including the Premier?
Hon. G. Collins: I've already answered that. I'm not aware of any. I just don't know.
The Chair: Leader of the Opposition on section 2, because….
J. MacPhail: Okay, I did ask that. I was repeating the question I asked that the minister didn't answer — whether he was aware or if he's saying they didn't occur. So it's that the minister wasn't aware of any meetings personally.
In terms of the briefing the cabinet received from Mr. Filmon and the explanation of his report….
The Chair: Member, please. This has nothing to do with the section we're dealing with now. Would you stay relevant to section 2, please.
J. MacPhail: At what point did cabinet discuss in detail the costs arising out of fighting the forest fires of 2003?
Hon. G. Collins: We certainly discussed them during last year's fiscal year as they were occurring. It was one of the items that came forward whenever it was appropriate as part of the general briefing on the status of the fires. I think it's fair to say that at cabinet, it was an item for discussion in general while they were ongoing. I can certainly recall advising cabinet at various stages throughout when those discussions were happening, in general terms, of what we thought the current expenditure was and what the likely expenditure might be at the end of the fiscal year.
J. MacPhail: Did Treasury Board and/or cabinet do its own investigation into the costs of the forest fire season of 2003 from October onward?
Hon. G. Collins: Obviously, Treasury Board staff were responsible for working with ministries to track expenditures to ensure that expenditures were made in the most cost-effective way possible, and we've been doing that on an ongoing basis. Even during the fire process, there was a certain amount of that being done, but obviously the objective there was not to get in the way of having the appropriate resources at the appropriate place at the appropriate time — a very challenging job. We did try to keep abreast of those costs as best we could throughout the year, without getting in the way of the people that were actually trying to get the resources in the right place.
J. MacPhail: Did Treasury Board come to any conclusions separate and apart from the Filmon report?
Hon. G. Collins: I'm trying to think of any. There was not an investigation done, as the member put it earlier. We obviously tracked the expenditures.
We try to make sure that expenditures are made in the most cost-effective way possible. We do that on a daily basis, and I expect that on a daily basis we find areas we can improve. If we do, we try to improve that day if possible. It's really an ongoing process.
It's not as though Treasury Board staff did an investigation or anything like that and there was a report with findings. We always viewed that as the job of the public review that was going to be done by Mr. Filmon, but Treasury Board staff, as well as the ministries, have been working right from the first day of the fires to the last day — and probably the same next year — to try to make sure we get the best value for the dollars that we spend.
J. MacPhail: Then I take it Treasury Board was relying on the work of Mr. Filmon to determine the value of the expenditures. When did Treasury Board meet with Mr. Filmon?
Hon. G. Collins: I'm not sure how that's relevant, but I'll try to answer it as best I can. Treasury Board itself…. The members of Treasury Board — myself and those cabinet members and other members who sit on Treasury Board — have never met with Mr. Filmon directly. He was conducting an independent review. He was conducting public hearings. He did that. He's made a report to government.
Obviously, Treasury Board and Treasury Board staff will be looking at that review. We will also be expecting submissions from the various ministries that are involved for how we respond to the recommendations of Mr. Filmon and how that might impact the budget next year.
J. MacPhail: Well, let me tell you how it's relevant, Mr. Chair. I just asked the minister whether Treasury Board did its own investigation of $341 million of taxpayer money being expended. He said they didn't. They were keeping track on a daily basis, but they were relying on the Filmon report.
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Well, I have read the Filmon report. I do confess that I haven't read it a second time, but I don't see anywhere here a line-by-line breakdown of the examination of the expenditures by Mr. Filmon. By the way, it's a gratuitous comment, but I think Mr. Filmon did an excellent job in his report. There's no line-by-line breakdown of the expenditures for which we are now exempting the Minister of Forests from the ministerial accountability act, so Mr. Filmon didn't do that work. I don't recall him being required to do that work.
Point of Order
The Chair: Point of order, member. What you're questioning the minister on at this time has nothing to do with section 2. The Filmon report really has nothing to do with section 2 in this area. If you'd like to carry on, Leader of the Opposition, on section 2.
J. MacPhail: This is going to be a long sitting, I can tell — a long sitting.
J. MacPhail: Well, it might be your last one or second-to-last one, member from Nelson, so I don't think you have to worry. You can relax.
I am trying to find out what lessons were learned from the expenditures around forest fire fighting that are now leading to the exemption of the Minister of Forests from the ministerial accountability act. I am trying to find out what the government itself — separate and apart from the Filmon report, which does not go into detail about expenditures — has learned. That's the link, Mr. Chair.
I'm sorry. I don't know any other way to ask the question. If Mr. Filmon doesn't deal with the expenditures that are leading to the exemption of the Minister of Forests…. I'm trying to find out from the Minister of Finance what lessons he has learned.
To the Minister of Finance: in preparing for the budget of '04-05 — I'm not asking him to reveal cabinet confidentiality or Treasury Board confidentiality — where there has actually been a reduction in the fire protection expenditures, did he do a line-by-line examination of operating costs?
Hon. G. Collins: The lesson we've learned as it applies to this piece of legislation is that last year was an exceptional year for forest fires and their associated costs. We are seeking an exemption from the members of this House to the salary holdback provision for the members as a result of those exceptional costs. The issue about what we've learned and how we're going to implement that in the years ahead obviously is going to be part of the discussion for the Ministry of Forests estimates for this year.
The Filmon report came out on Friday. It's now Monday. The ministry will be responding to that; government will be responding to that. I expect that we'll hear from the Ministry of Forests and the Solicitor General as part of this year's Treasury Board process — probably relatively soon — what they think the implied or embedded costs might be in the recommendations Mr. Filmon has put forward and how government might respond to them.
As for lessons that we've learned, I expect we probably learned lessons every hour of every day throughout the forest fire season on how to fight them, how to deal with administrative burdens, how to expedite payments and how to do all of those sorts of things. We're probably in an ongoing learning exercise from within government and within local government as well.
We would obviously, as I said earlier, be putting those lessons into play as soon as we could. There is no internal report that's been done inside government that I'm aware of, which says: "Here's what we learned from the forest fire season. Here's what we'll do differently." I expect there've already been changes implemented with regard to Mr. Filmon's report. I expect there will be additional recommendations implemented and followed through in the years ahead. But as it relates to this section of this bill, the lesson learned that requires the exemption is that last year was an exceptional year for forest fires. Under the statutes we're required and permitted by the House to flow the funds required to put those fires out. We've done that. That pushes the ministries over budget, and that's why we're asking the House for an exemption for those ministers, given the extenuating circumstances.
J. MacPhail: There's a saying that the exception proves the rule. What I'm trying to figure out from the minister is what rules he has applied to last year's budget that may be replicated or changed in this year's budget.
Let me ask through you, Mr. Chair, then. I'm very worried about this expenditure falling through the cracks of what seems to be a fairly rigorous and autocratic enforcement of the rules of the House. Is it the Minister of Finance's point of view, then, that I will be able to ask a detailed question on expenditures relating to the money that is now being exempted from the ministerial accountability of the Minister of Forests in estimates?
Hon. G. Collins: I can do a little better than that, so perhaps we can have a more informed debate around the Ministry of Forests or Solicitor General's estimates. If the member wants to put specific questions in writing to me about the breakout she'd like of those expenditures, as I said earlier, we'll try and put that together and get it to her. If she wants more detail as to how the money was spent over the last year as we fought these fires, I'd be glad to provide that to the member in written form so she can analyze it, she can look at it and she can determine her questions. Then when the ministry's estimates come up, I would expect that a question to a minister about what's changed and what they're going to try and do in the year ahead would be perfectly in order.
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J. MacPhail: Here, I'm putting it to the minister now that of the $341 million expended to February 25, 2004, I would like a detailed accounting of the expenditures. I don't want the Treasury Board or the Ministers of Forests or of Finance to have to go into more detail than they already have available, but I would like the expenditures in as small calendar portions as they have provided. That includes the salaries, the operating costs, the government transfers and the external recoveries. I would appreciate that. I will be using that in estimates to ask the Minister of Forests questions on comparisons last year to anticipation this year.
Hon. G. Collins: As I said, I think that is entirely appropriate, and we will gather the information for the member. She may get more than she wants rather than less than she wants, because there is a great deal of data. I will be glad to provide that to her, and we will try to do that as quickly as we can, knowing that estimates for those ministries will be up some time before the end of May. So, we'll try and get those to her in a timely fashion.
Section 2 approved.
On section 3.
J. MacPhail: What areas of service were provided that are listed as the cost for exempting the Solicitor General from the ministerial accountability act?
Hon. G. Collins: I think that's probably the same question she asked about Forestry, so correct me if I'm wrong. Again, on page 120, table 4.5 of the third quarterly report for government last year and the fiscal year we're in right now, the numbers for Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General were $58 million for emergency response and $5 million for related compensation. I can try and get the member an updated number. I think that's the update. It's $55 million and $5 million instead of $58 million, so it's come down by $3 million.
J. MacPhail: I recall the Squamish flooding. What other services were provided in what other areas of the province to warrant the overexpenditure?
Hon. G. Collins: Again, if the member were to go back to page 120 of the budget/third quarterly report, table 4.5…. For floods, it says prior-year floods and others, $12 million; 2003 floods, $13 million; for a total of $25 million. The amended numbers are…. Actually, they're the same. I don't believe that number has changed. Sorry. It has changed a little bit. That total has come down. Let me check for the member. I'll get an update on it.
Sorry. Those numbers are essentially unchanged.
J. MacPhail: What does "prior-year flood" mean?
Hon. G. Collins: Each year, I expect, there are floods of some kind — we hope none, but they seem to be just about every year. There are the costs you actually incur and pay for in dealing with the flood and emergency response. Once you close the books on that year and you're into the next fiscal year, there may still be diking or other things that need to be done as part of the response to the floods. Those get booked in the year you are in because the accounts would have closed for the previous year.
J. MacPhail: That was $13 million of the $55 million? As I recall, it's the $13 million of the $55 million. Is this done every year in this fashion?
Hon. G. Collins: Yes.
J. MacPhail: Perhaps the minister could just tell me…. Well, actually, I will ask for the same detail. This discussion probably is more appropriate…. If the minister, as Government House Leader, is making the same commitment to allow this discussion under the Solicitor General estimates, then I would ask for a breakdown of the costs in the detailed fashion that the minister has, with an additional factor — on a per-incident basis. Maybe he will offer this for forest fire fighting as well.
Hon. G. Collins: I will try to have it broken out on a per-incident basis. I'm not sure how big a task that might be, but I will certainly try to do that if the information is available and if we can do that.
Just for information purposes, on an annual basis we budget approximately $17 million a year for previous-year cleanup of additional floods — those types of things — going forward. Each year you have some of this that falls over from previous years. The number in the budget is about $17 million for that.
Yes, I certainly will undertake to get more detail for the member. I think that just helps to enlighten the debate in estimates when it actually happens. If the information is available on a per-incident basis, then we'll try and break that out as well — although given the member's earlier comments about not wanting to create a huge task for ministry staff, if it's not available, we'll try to do the best we can with the information. I don't think it will be a wise use of their time, but it's up to the member to ask. I will try and get her what we can.
J. MacPhail: If the government budgets for a previous-year cleanup related to provincial emergencies — the minister said that for the budget of '02-03 they budgeted $17 million, and we now have an additional $13 million being allocated for this ministerial exemption — does that mean there was a total of $30 million in previous year adjustment? Why is this $13 million included in this exemption for the Solicitor General?
Hon. G. Collins: I will try and walk the member through this as best I can. If one looks at floods for the
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Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General for this year's budget, '03-04, we started the year with a forecast of $9 million for the prior year, plus $3 million for a little bit of the stuff we thought might be coming — so for a total of about $11 million there. Sorry, 9 and 3 make 12. Then we had approximately $7 million in the budget for the current year for flooding — direct costs of flooding that would be booked this year — which gets us up to approximately $19 million.
The actual number came in…. At the second quarterly report we were forecasting about $29 million at that point in time. That number has come down to $25 million. There is about $14 million left in the budget there, because $3 million of that would have gone up because the emergency response for floods and fires is sort of together. The actual amount in the budget for this year would have been $14 million, which requires the additional burden of $11 million for fighting the floods for the emergency response this year. If you want a bigger breakout, I would love to get it for you.
J. MacPhail: Mr. Chair, I'm sorry. I do confess I didn't understand that, and it's not a criticism. I just don't understand what the minister is talking about.
Here's my question. The Solicitor General can answer this in estimates. I want to know what money is expended on previous-year adjustment for flood expenditure that was over and above the budget of '03-04 for previous-year adjustment.
Here's why, Mr. Chair. I want to know whether the Solicitor General was within or under his original budget.
Hon. G. Collins: According to our discussion here, the amount that was budgeted this year we're in right now, 2003-04, for prior years was $12 million. That's in the second quarterly report as well as the third quarterly report. It has not changed. That was what was in the budget, and that was what was expended. The prior year's stuff is on track. It's this year's expenditures that are over.
J. MacPhail: So did the minister misspeak himself when he said that about $13 million of payments was for previous-year adjustment?
Hon. G. Collins: I may have. It would have been $13 million for the current year. It was $12 million for prior years. I'm referring to page 120 of the quarterly report. It's possible I could have mixed up the two when I was reading them to the member.
Let me be clear that the prior year in "other" was $12 million. For the current year, at the second quarterly report it was up to $17 million as a forecast. It came down. The estimate of that came down by approximately $4 million between the second and the third quarterly report to the point where that number — floods — for the current year, 2003, is approximately $13 million. I may have mixed up the 12 and 13. I don't recall, but that could have happened.
J. MacPhail: I will appreciate an accounting that includes prior-year adjustments for fighting floods — prior-year adjustments for '02-03, what was estimated and then what, if any, prior-year adjustments are included in the supplementary estimate passed last week.
Hon. G. Collins: We can certainly provide that to the member. In response to the last part of her question, in the schedule to the attachment that was passed last week, which included the statutory approval, there was an additional $5 million for this fiscal year for possible and anticipated flooding between February 25 when we put that estimate, the schedule, together and the end of March — so the last five, six, seven weeks of the year. Certainly, if you had expended the money at this point…. You could still get another flood in the spring, so we wanted to make sure they had provision for that.
We hope, obviously, we don't have to draw on any of that, but just to make sure the member is aware that there is an additional…. If she were to go back and compare it with the schedule, there would be a $5 million additional amount put in there. That's for the year we're in right now. Certainly, we'll try and break this out for the member and provide a bit more detail perhaps, if she'd like, than what's on table 4.5 of the third quarterly report.
Sections 3 and 4 approved.
Hon. G. Collins: I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The committee rose at 3:54 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
Mr. Speaker: When shall the bill be read a third time?
Hon. G. Collins: By leave, now, Mr. Speaker.
Bill 10, Ministerial Accountability Bases Act, 2003-2004, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. G. Collins: I call Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne.
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Throne Speech Debate
K. Krueger: A lot of good things happened in British Columbia in February. One of the best things, the thing that got a lot of them rolling, was the Speech from the Throne on February 10. The throne speech kicked it all off for us with its tremendous message of hope and opportunity for British Columbians.
As a person flips through it, the accomplishments of the government over the past several years, particularly the incredible accomplishment of delivering on our balanced-budget pledge, have set the stage for a lot more good things that are coming down the pike. Looking at the area of bringing out the best in partnerships with first nations, we think of the four agreements-in-principle that have now been arrived at, the 124 economic measures, the 150 treaty-related measures and other agreements involving first nations in resource management. We see British Columbia finally shaking off the shackles of this problem that we have had in helping first nations people become empowered as genuine partners in the economy — having the resources to build their capacity, having the ability to deliver a better working and living environment for the people on their reserves and in their communities.
Bringing out the best in transportation and northern development. I grew up in Peace River country, and my family had the BCR run through our homestead, which was 20 miles north of Fort St. John. We had developed that farm from bushland, and it was a great day when the BCR came through our farm.
When I made my remarks in this House about the BCR partnership, the lease arrangement, I got an e-mail from a fellow who had worked for the BCR when it came through our farm. He had been involved in the conveyancing and worked with my parents on achieving the right-of-way. He was so pleased — he was a long-term, over-30-years man with BCR — with the government and the direction that it was taking, and so are the people of the north.
I still have a piece of my heart in the Peace River country — always will. I am just delighted with the benefits that are flowing to the north as a result of the BCR agreement. I'm so pleased with what the government plans to do with the proceeds and with the way that is going to revitalize places that I have been to many times and care about tremendously, like Prince George, Prince Rupert, Terrace and the Cariboo. We live in a wonderfully diverse province, and it hurt to see it brought to its economic knees the way it was in the 1990s. It's great to see these good things happening.
Bringing out the best in B.C.'s forest economy. I have worked for eight years to try and free up the salvage loggers of the North Thompson Valley to actually be able to bring the logs out of the forest to eliminate the fire hazard and the bug infestation hazard that dead logs lying in the forest bring about, and to realize the economic opportunities. I've had salvage loggers come to me in total frustration because they have the equipment, the knowledge and the abilities, but they haven't been able to get the permit to work in the bush. A group of MLAs from this government worked long and hard on the small-scale salvage logging committee. We brought forward recommendations to the Minister of Forests, and he listened to them. We worked through that whole process. Now we see the money set aside in the budget to deliver on that opportunity at last.
I have felt very badly to see our pine forests decimated by the pine bark beetle over these last years. We saw the problem coming out of Tweedsmuir Park when everything got rolling with the pine beetles. Once again, we didn't see enough of a response by the government in the nineties. Now we have a lot of dead trees to deal with, but it's a huge economic opportunity. It's a big economic opportunity for my constituents particularly, again, in the North Thompson Valley, whose economy was decimated first by the NDP in the nineties and more recently by the changes brought about by the forest fires and by the market issues that we have worldwide around dimensional lumber and the pricing of it, the rise in the Canadian dollar and all of those issues.
I was very pleased to get the commitment of the chief forester, Larry Pedersen, that the Kamloops TSA would be the first to have consideration of an uplift, and also very pleased when that uplift turned out to be 1.67 million cubic metres a year for three years. I anticipate there will be more after that, because we aren't getting ahead of the pine bark beetle. That's a real opportunity for the people of the North Thompson Valley. I've told them I will work hard and I am working hard to get community forests for Barriere and Clearwater, and also to get a non-renewable forest licence, if possible, to assure some income stream to the community and give us the ability to create more jobs, to bring value-added manufacturers and to get some things going in the North Thompson Valley to make up for the primary manufacturing which we've lost. Once again, it's a forward-thinking throne speech, an inspiring throne speech and one that gives hope for the future to people who have been caught in a time of great economic change in that valley.
Bringing out the best in energy and mining. It's been wonderful to see our energy sector pick up the way it is. I'm very pleased that the Premier created a Ministry of State for Mining in order to make sure the mining industry also has this opportunity, which the energy sector has already been prospering with, to once again be the major economic player in our province that it was, that it can be and that it will be again.
Bringing out the best in the Spirit of 2010. What a wonderful time we live in, the buildup to the Olympics. My wife and I were present at the great announcement in Vancouver on July 2. Ever since then, the ideas have been percolating throughout this province. Gradually out in the heartlands people are realizing what huge opportunities there are. They hear the stories of the Kootenay sweater-knitting company that has done so well because of its start with the Salt Lake
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City Olympics, the Cariboo log home builders who also have had their order books filled because of their experiences and their marketing at the Salt Lake City Olympics. We see just a ton of opportunity coming our way.
Best of all, really, is the inspirational aspect of the Olympics for our youth — something to really look forward to. Youth were pretty despondent in the 1990s. I know this because I would go out and talk to them in the high schools. They saw people leaving British Columbia, they didn't see much of a future, and that was very sad. I grew up in British Columbia, and all my life I felt that I could be anything I wanted to be. I could do anything I wanted to do, and whatever career I picked I could certainly pursue and succeed at. People weren't feeling that way. Young people weren't feeling that way in British Columbia in the nineties, but now I think they do again. They've got the Olympics to look forward to. They've got all sorts of opportunity. Young people who want to make a living in the trades are going to have huge opportunities — they do already — and employment prospects everywhere.
I'm proud of our government's record on education and the fact that we continue to funnel more money into education even though we have declining enrolment. We've not only kept our commitment not to reduce the budgets of health care and education, but we've put a great deal more in. I believe it's about $900 per student funding more now than it was in the middle-nineties.
I was thrilled with the announcement that we're going to create another 25,000 spaces in post-secondary education. Mr. Speaker, as you know, the University College of the Cariboo is one of the leading lights of our economy locally. It has close to a thousand foreign students at any given time. It has thousands and thousands of spaces for Canadians as well. It's an institution that's been tremendously successful, and I see a very bright future in this document for UCC.
My goodness, it was a great news day when this throne speech came down. The fact that we're going to make sure that students with a B average have access to university — that's a great plus for me. I was a young man growing up in the Peace River country on that farm. My family was not very well-off. Everything we made, we plowed back into the farm. My mother supplemented my father's income by selling World Book encyclopedias for over 30 years. They gave away two scholarships a year in Canada. She told me early on: "The only way you're ever going to make it to university is to win one of those, so make sure you get the marks." I had my nose to the grindstone from grade 8 to grade 12 to get straight As. I won one of those two scholarships the year I graduated, got down to UBC wanting to become a doctor and found out to my chagrin that the chances were pretty well zero that that would ever happen. There just weren't enough spaces, and the ones that were assigned tended to go to the offspring of alumni or the offspring of doctors.
This government has created medical schools for Victoria and Prince George and has doubled the number of spaces for doctors. Again, I'm tremendously pleased to be part of a government that has opened up the way for people from the heartlands to become doctors.
I like the emphasis on sports, music, culture, and all of our plans to bring about Olympic legacies for the people, particularly the young people of British Columbia — a great message of hope and opportunity.
Another good thing that happened, of course, in February was the balanced budget — balanced against all odds, despite all the tremendous setbacks that the world economy has had and certainly our economy has had to struggle with, be it the 9/11 horror and the way that it impacted the world and certainly our important tourism sector, BSE, SARS, avian flu or forest fires. It seems like it's been one thing after another, but this government has come through with its balanced budget.
Then, of course, another happy thing that happened in February was the kind gift of Carole James and the NDP in publishing their alternate budget — the CCPA budget, that is. This is an organization that's very much an appendage of the NDP in everyone's mind, I think. Looking at their press release the day they put that out, you read, "The solutions budget six-year plan restores the province's fiscal capacity (tax revenues)," and that's where it takes off from. Once again, it would be an attack — this Carole James NDP budget — on the people who create jobs in British Columbia, the people that have at last started coming back. Even talking about something like this or having it on the CCPA or NDP websites is probably discouraging investors from considering B.C. now, until the next election is over.
It struck me, reading it, that the socialists who create this type of economic framework must pretty much take the artful dodger point of view: you've got to pick a pocket or two. They're certainly waiting for another opportunity to pick those pockets. It's certainly not something that encourages anybody looking at British Columbia to come here.
It goes on to say that the CCPA, NDP and Carole James would like to create a meaningful plan to stimulate private investment. They have only to look at their success rate in the 1990s and how well they stimulated private investment then to know that this is a tremendous mistake. But it's clearly a mistake that they're prepared to make.
They say in their press release of February 12 that there is no boom in private sector investment on the horizon. Well, there certainly is, Mr. Speaker, and it's already here. As you know, our construction rate in Kamloops in 2003 was double what it was in 2002, and British Columbia is building — building for the Olympics and building for the future.
The CCPA-NDP budget talked about a fully funded early childhood education and child care program. Well, that's something I'd love to see too, but even the NDP, who said they were going to deliver it, never
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presumed to pretend that they had any budget for it — promised it, but never set aside any budget for it at all.
It talks about — well, my goodness — 25,000 new spaces in B.C.'s colleges and universities. That's a familiar number. We certainly agree with that, and not only have we committed to do it, but we have demonstrated that we have the capacity to fund it. We will do that.
The CCPA and NDP talk about increasing gasoline taxes $300 million. That would absolutely incense the people of the heartlands. There's no way my constituents want anything like that happening. We've got to drive to get to work, and my constituents have to drive great distances in the forest and in their various occupations. Increases in gasoline tax to that tune are certainly not welcome.
There's all sorts of talk in the CCPA budget about spending money, and clearly they're willing to increase debt. They say they would balance the budget by 2010. That's a far-off target, and it would be marching into the past to embrace the way the NDP, Carole James and the CCPA propose to go.
They talk about steeply progressive tax structures for incomes over $100,000. Well, once again, those people don't have to stay in British Columbia. They certainly don't have to come here, and they simply won't. They would leave the way that they did all through the sad decade of the nineties.
We're finally getting in-migration from across Canada again. In the last quarter of 2003 we had, I believe, 2,600 more people come to British Columbia than moved away. That's a wonderful thing to see. We're seeing an uptake in real estate. We're seeing a tremendous increase in construction. We're seeing these things because of changes this government has brought about. British Columbians, I'm confident, certainly won't want to march into the past with Carole James and the NDP.
It was generous of the NDP to fund the CCPA by giving them $200,000 of taxpayers' money just as the NDP were being booted out the door. I've always viewed that as one of the final thumbings of the NDP nose at the taxpayers of British Columbia. I think it was a reprehensible thing to do.
The Carole James–NDP–CCPA budget once again demonstrates that leopards really can't change their spots. It's crafted by the same sort of socialist theory that shipwrecked British Columbia's economy in the 1990s, and surely British Columbians would never want to go back to those approaches.
I think British Columbians got a wake-up call recently when the polls said the NDP and the B.C. Liberals are in a dead heat at 40 percent each, of those who are declaring their intentions to the pollsters. There have pretty much always been about 40 percent of the people of this province who are persuaded that the NDP has a philosophy that would work for British Columbia. The fact that there still is, after the grim experience of the 1990s, is kind of confounding. It suggests to me that a lot of those supporters live in the land of wishful thinkers — people who just do not accept that socialist economics don't work.
They didn't work in eastern Europe. They didn't work in Ontario, where the Bob Rae government ran up $60 billion in debt in five years — $1 billion a month while he was the Premier. They certainly didn't work in British Columbia when we saw an absolute boom decade for all of North America. The only place that was doing as badly as British Columbia in the 1990s was Chiapas, Mexico. It was a time when we could have had our debt paid off; when we should not have had deficits; when we should have built infrastructure and not had deficits in things like seniors beds, extended care beds, highways — all the things that were allowed to build up as hidden deficits in the nineties. None of that was necessary. We should have been making hay while the sun shone, paying off debt and preparing for a bright future for our children and grandchildren and all the generations to follow. Instead, we had the sad results we did.
I'm sure job creators are not at all interested in joining that 40 percent of people who think that the NDP are the right way to go. The job creators don't want to stay and will not stay where their pockets are going to be picked.
I don't really think that any British Columbians want to go backwards, but people who saw us forfeit that boom decade of the nineties are now saying again that they're willing to take another look at the NDP. At least, that's what 40 percent of the people are telling pollsters.
There was a Sunday school teacher who was talking to her class one time, and she said: "What is it that is red and climbs trees really well and stores nuts for the winter?" She went on with a few more hints. One little boy put his hand up and said: "Well, I'm going to say Jesus, but it sounds like a squirrel to me." He said that because quite often in Sunday school, children feel they're pretty well obliged to give an answer that relates to scripture.
It strikes me that perhaps when these people say they do support the NDP, regardless of the CCPA, the NDP and the Carole James budget…. Regardless of them saying they can balance a budget when we have their sorry record for all to see, those people are saying: "Well, I'm going to say NDP, but it sounds like a squirrel to me."
When I was three and a half years old, my mother went into hospital to have my brother, and my dad cooked for us. This was a traumatic time for me. It seemed as though my mother had left a vat of Spanish rice. I was only three and a half, so it probably wasn't as big as it is in my memory, but it seemed gigantic to me, and it seemed never-ending. It probably wasn't true, but according to my memory, all we ate the whole time my mom was in the hospital was Spanish rice and lettuce with French dressing on it. He'd take his great big carpenter-farmer's hand and take a great big head of lettuce. He'd saw off a lettuce steak about an inch and a half thick. He'd slather French dressing on that, he'd lay it on my plate, and then he would give me a big dollop of Spanish rice. By the time my mom came
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back from the hospital, I'd made up my mind that I was never, ever going to have French dressing or Spanish rice again, and I never have. I think that is how people feel in their hearts about the NDP, so I can't believe they'd ever come back, and I sure hope they never do.
We have a government that has brought British Columbia to the point of being number one in Canada in job creation and number one in housing starts — and we know there are 2.3 jobs for every house that's started — that has the most competitive tax regime in Canada, where the ratings agencies are commending us on our performance and actually telling the government: "We're surprised that you're doing it — that you're actually balancing your budget." The result of that has been that we now have the lowest borrowing percentage of any province in Canada, and that is quite a testimonial to the success of this government.
We have the first budget in British Columbia's history that is balanced according to generally accepted accounting principles. No longer can governments in British Columbia legally hide debt in Crown corporations and shuffle the books around so that it looks like there's a balanced budget or something close to it when it isn't true. During the nineties I always noticed that the NDP would admit to a certain level of deficit, but the debt was always rising at about triple the rate of the declared deficits. People would ask me: "How can it be that the debt has more than doubled when we're actually supposed to have had some balanced budgets and the deficits don't add up to that?" Well, it was because of those ways of keeping the books, and that is a bygone thing from a bygone day — unless, of course, you get a government one day that does away with our law about generally accepted accounting principles and about balancing the budget.
No family could borrow for 20 years of 25 or more and not go under financially. Families know they have to live within their means. I'm so glad we have a government that is doing so now too. It hasn't been discussed much that in the $100 million surplus for which we've budgeted, we're committed to paying down $50 million in debt. That's a great thing to finally be reducing the debt of this province, because I'm ashamed that we've left a debt for my children, who are just now established in the working world, and their children, who are on the way. I'll be a grandfather three times by the end of June. I'm ashamed that they're saddled with that debt. They should never have to pay our bills or the bills of the people who went before us.
We have a government, as I mentioned, that is opening the doors of higher education to B.C. students with a B average and better. We feel we owe that to British Columbia students, and we think governments of the past owed it to them too. This false economy that we had in the nineties, with the NDP freezing tuition without providing for the needs of the post-secondary institutions, resulted in people taking five years to get four-year degrees, people not being able to get into the classes they wanted, people not being able to meet their educational goals. That's going to be a thing of the past.
Our unemployment rate is below the national level. Our economy, which had been bombed down to last place from first place in the nineties, is on the rebound. In many of the economic measures, only Alberta is our rival. British Columbia is on the rise again. I believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. I've heard a lot of fearmongering from the dark side, from the NDP — things that have frightened some of my constituents who are vulnerable. I really resent that, because the changes we've made and the things this government has accomplished are good for all British Columbians and are causing the fortunes of those people to actually improve, but they're being told something different.
When I hear people criticize health care advertising, I say to them: "Don't you realize that all this negativity, all this false news, all this fearmongering where people are telling seniors that they're going to be turfed out of their beds and put out on the street with nowhere to go are things that are tremendously stressful to seniors? They make them sick, and it's wrong." We have to respond to that in some way. Advertising is an appropriate way to respond, because stress on seniors is a health care issue, and reassuring them of the facts is a benefit. I'm not at all uncomfortable with the health care advertising, and I want to see more of it until people have the truth about what we're doing in health care in British Columbia.
We just had the presentation today at lunchtime by the cancer research people, and the tremendous reports of B.C. being in the vanguard of cancer research as we are in many areas of medical research. I'm thrilled with that and delighted that once again in British Columbia, things are moving.
We're a government that clearly has kept its commitments, met its goals, funded the things we said we'd fund, and we're seeing these kinds of results. I think it's great that we have this very clear priority to work with first nations people and empower them. I really enjoy working with the first nations in my constituency, and I have quite a few.
The Secwepemc people — the Shuswaps, they call themselves — are very progressive. They have partnered with Sun Peaks in building the housing for the employees at Sun Peaks and in a lot of other ways. They're moving forward on a lot of different economic fronts. Recently our Forests minister signed over a million cubic metres of the burned wood from the forest fires this summer to the Shuswap nation tribal council and the Little Shuswap Indian band. Chief Nathan Matthew, who is the chair of the Shuswap nation tribal council and the chief of the North Thompson Indian band, received a large portion of that for the North Thompson Indian band. It's great to see them economically empowered by these sorts of changes.
Chief Matthew has agreed to sit on the economic development advisory commission, which I chair for the North Thompson Valley. He is a tremendous individual to work with — very intelligent, very gifted,
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highly educated. He and I drove up to Williams Lake and flew out to Anahim to have a look at the Carrier Lumber portable sawmill there, because we've been talking to Carrier about bringing one of those units to Barriere. I hope to see that come about.
I hope to have a primary manufacturing facility there again to break down the logs if we're successful in achieving the NRFL that we've applied for and also to work with the wood that's going to flow through all the new entrants that are going to come about as a result of our timber tenure takeback. We want to double the number of woodlots in the North Thompson Valley.
I have a very progressive woodlot association who have come to me and given me a map of where they'd like to see that AAC allotted. I've given that to the ministry and hope to see it come about. We will see a permanent allotment to the first nations from that takeback allocation and, as I mentioned, to the community forests in Barriere and Clearwater that I've requested. I want to see some of that timber milled in the North Thompson Valley, and I'd like to see a log sort where our value-added manufacturers and those we hope to attract actually have the opportunity to bid on the particular size, species and quality of fibre they need for their particular mills.
Mr. Speaker, I know that you, in your past, were a forestry consultant and a Forests minister at one time. You have heard, as I have, from value-added manufacturers over and over that they simply cannot get the opportunity to buy the logs they need for their particular operations. Anytime they do get that opportunity, they're willing to pay more than anybody else for that specific fibre they need. I think a log sort yard at Barriere or Louis Creek may well be the answer to that concern from my constituents.
The small business program. Of course, the allotment to that from the tenure takeback will also help in this regard. The economic development advisory commission made a decision recently to fund the process of doing everything we need to do to get to the stage of construction of a snowmobile trail the length of the North Thompson Valley from Sun Peaks to Blue River and back on the other side. I'm so pleased to have the opportunity to bring on that sort of economic activity.
In the past it's been the case with a lot of my hospitality and tourism constituents that it's a boom-and-bust cycle year in and year out. They're busy in the summer; they're quiet in the winter. Snowmobilers come in and spend their money freely, use their Visa cards and purchase the services that those people provide. It's going to be a great thing for the North Thompson Valley.
The Premier sent the Solicitor General to talk to me, and they asked how they could directly help the people of the North Thompson Valley in the aftermath of the fires. I went away with $5 million in cheques in my briefcase. Two million dollars went to the hardship fund, so that people who have had hardship as a result of the forest fires can get a grant of up to $10,000 per person or business. Another million dollars went into the North Thompson Community Skills Centre to ensure its long-term viability and the ability to retrain people for the jobs we're hoping to create in the North Thompson Valley.
Another million dollars went into the Thompson-Nicola regional district in a trust fund for the long-term employment of an economic development officer, and we have just completed a recruitment process for that. A further million dollars went into the North Thompson Relief Fund, to be matched by them in providing the seed money that's needed for some of these economic development-redevelopment projects.
This government is working very hard with me in a very cooperative way to try to secure the Tolko properties in Barriere and Louis Creek by means of a land trade for Crown land, and we want to see that bequeathed to the valley as a long-term legacy.
There's a tremendous amount of opportunity for all of us in British Columbia, and we're working hard to bring that home in Kamloops–North Thompson. I congratulate the government for the throne speech and the budget.
J. MacPhail: I am rising to the respond to the Speech from the Throne. This is the fourth Speech from the Throne in the mandate of this government — a mandate to deliver on a platform that promised much: economic renewal, health care revitalization, democratic reform and greater equality.
Despite those promises, this government has delivered little — a mandate subsumed by the Premier's faith in one big idea, big tax cuts, and his government's seeming helplessness in the face of the failure of that idea; a mandate that has been overtaken by scandal that simply won't go away, with questions swirling about special treatment for friends and insiders, loans and penalties that magically get written off, and about what led the RCMP organized crime and drug squad to raid the offices of key political staff in this very building. Swept to power on a promise of change, the Premier and his ministers put their confidence in a harsh, neoconservative, right-wing agenda that is as dated as it is tired.
Blind to the lessons of history, the Premier believed that the only step required of his government in particular was to reduce the capacity of government in general. But like most big ideas born of ideological fervour rather than reasoned analysis, once they are tested against reality, they fail, and little of substance remains.
As we approach the third anniversary of the Premier's election win, the foolishness of his plan is evident. Big tax giveaways have not paid for themselves. They have not spurred economic growth. They have not resulted in more resources for health care and education. They have not led to better, more accountable government, and they most certainly have not ushered in a new era of hope and prosperity.
From the continuing economic hardship in resource communities to overcrowded classrooms to a faltering
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health care system, the B.C. Liberal government has failed British Columbians. Indeed, today, as a result of those huge tax giveaways spent on their very first day in power, middle-income and working British Columbians have been hit again and again with big tax increases. Just to name a few: MSP premiums up, sales taxes up, property taxes up, sin taxes and gas taxes up — all under this government.
The Liberals have not cut taxes. They just changed who pays. As a result, they are making it harder and harder for British Columbians to make ends meet. Three years into the Premier's mandate, B.C. is a more polarized, less prosperous and less confident province than it has been for a long time. It's more clear every day — and again with this Speech from the Throne — that the government doesn't have a clue what to do about it, except to stick with the failing prescriptions and inflated rhetoric, hoping that someday soon they will magically cure their self-inflicted wounds.
This government has failed to address the problems that most British Columbians face — paying for the soaring costs of post-secondary education, saving for retirement, balancing work and family. The government has burdened, betrayed and abandoned middle-income and working British Columbians. Now, completely out of ideas and consumed with scandal and intrigue, the government is adrift, uncertain, unsure what is going wrong and not up to the challenge of government.
This is not what British Columbians expected of this government. This is certainly not what they voted for, and it's not what they deserve. Only a thousand and one days into this government's mandate, British Columbians are once again looking for change — for a practical, moderate and trustworthy alternative; for stability; for honesty; for a government that reaches out and builds consensus around necessary reforms.
The New Democrat opposition is ready to provide that change, to set a new course for our province, to build a new consensus for change, to meet the challenges of this young century with new ideas bringing British Columbians together in a common project to build a better, more democratic, more just and more prosperous province. We are ready to provide that alternative, to work with ideas rooted in community, not imported from right-wing American think tanks; grounded in the needs and the aspirations of ordinary working people, not designed simply as a reward for political support; and embedded in a compassionate understanding of our collective responsibility to each take for each other and in a dynamic encouragement of individual initiative and drive, not in blind adherence to trickle-down ideology where government operates in the interests of the few, not the many.
While this government and this Premier have been hunkered down in damage control, our new leader and our caucus have been travelling the province, listening and learning from British Columbians, listening and learning from your constituents — from young high-tech workers in Burnaby to students in Kamloops to small business people in Port Alberni to health providers and seniors in Kelowna to truck loggers in Smithers. In every corner of our province, we've been reaching out to build a new, modern, inclusive and progressive agenda of change, renewal and hope for British Columbia.
The Premier has said that this cabinet and this throne speech will take him to the next election. I look forward to it. I look forward to an election fought on the Premier's record of failure — an election where the old, tired ideas that the Premier subscribes to are put up against a modern New Democrat vision of change.
I look forward to the Premier's explanation for the decline in average weekly earnings, when he promised higher paycheques and a thriving private sector economy. I look forward to the Premier's explanation for the crisis in the delivery of services to children and families, when he promised that those services would improve. I look forward to the Premier's explanation for rising crime rates — and I'm not talking about inside the Legislature — when he promised safer streets and safer schools in every community. I look forward to the Premier's explanation for millions wasted on advertising, on failed pet projects like the internal portal and on untendered contracts for friends and insiders, when he promised responsible, accountable management of our public resources and tax dollars.
The Premier's record will be measured against his rhetoric, and the reckoning will be harsh. He should not assume that softer language will mask harsh, failing policies or that the high-flown rhetoric will act as an antidote to the bitterness of betrayal. It won't.
Although it's one of the Premier's few points of pride, the Olympics is not the cure-all for what ails B.C., and it was never intended to be thus. It can't now replace the Premier's failed fiscal policies as the animating idea of this government. Like tax cuts, the Olympics is not a basket in which we should put all of our eggs, and this government has had that advice. They have had the advice that the Olympics will not be the cure-all for what ails the rest of British Columbia outside of Vancouver and Whistler.
We here in British Columbia need a coherent, moderate, practical agenda to meet the challenges ahead — a new agenda that inspires and unites British Columbia around a modern vision for this new century, that builds on the spirits of British Columbia workers and entrepreneurs, that builds on our incredible natural wealth and gives hope for the future. At this critical juncture in our history, British Columbia needs a new government that supports British Columbia with pride, that British Columbians can support with pride and that speaks for them, their values and their hopes for a better future. That is what the New Democrat alternative is.
R. Nijjar: It's my pleasure to respond to the throne speech, and much like I did in the budget speech, let's go over some of the successes of the government that were highlighted in the throne speech and which we
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want to build on in the upcoming years. I know it's been said several times that the budget was the fourth or fifth balanced budget in 25 years in British Columbia. I'm not too keen on that stat. I don't see it that way, particularly. I see it as the first balanced, sustainable budget in a generation in British Columbia.
It was very easy to have a throne speech to announce some balanced budget when government, like the government in the 1990s, could transfer and hide money in Crown corporations and do other accounting adjustments that allowed them to do that. Everywhere in the real world you use generally accepted accounting principles, but not under that government, because that would have taken away their ability to come out with balanced budgets. We not only brought in legislation requiring us to report using generally accepted accounting principles, but we also then balanced a budget that is sustainable and manageable and allows us to build on the resources and the assets that we have in British Columbia. I'm very, very proud of that.
I can go on and name stat after stat after stat of economic and social development in this province. More jobs were created in this province — 159,000 jobs — than any province in Canada in the past two years. Our unemployment rate is lower than the national average. Ask the members opposite where it was when they were in office and what we had to do to get this house in order, to get this province in order, so that it would be going in the right direction. Not only are we creating jobs at a staggering rate, but the rate of average wage earnings is increasing faster for my city of Vancouver than for any city in Canada.
I'm very proud of that also, because in the end it's all about…. What is all this about? What is a throne speech about? What is a budget speech about? What is everything that we're doing in this Legislature all about? It's about creating stronger families and stronger communities. When families and communities have jobs, they have the basis to form healthy families, healthy communities, healthy streets, healthy social services, a healthy educational system and a healthy health care system.
One of the things we've done, besides create new jobs, is help those that weren't employed get into the workforce. Our attitude has been that in British Columbia you can succeed, that there is something that you can contribute, that you are an asset in this province.
We could introduce throne speeches, like we did in the 1990s, that said: "You are a victim. You are helpless. You can't accomplish things; therefore, let government take care of you." That's the choice British Columbians have. They will have that choice in 15 months. They will choose what kind of throne speech they want.
Do you want a throne speech that says that we're going to manage your resources and we're going to do it in a sustainable manner so that you will know the health care system you have, which you can rely on in your neighbourhoods, will still be there ten years from now? Do you want an educational system that says the graduation rate is going to improve and keep improving, that you're going to have a good educational system ten years from now and that the social services you rely on are going to be sustainable? Or do you want a throne speech that is going to announce provincewide day care, like a national day care system, but two weeks later in the budget speech there's no money for it? You will choose what kind of throne speech you want. The choice will be very clear, because both types of philosophies will have lived in this House — one for ten years in the 1990s and one for four years by the time the public makes their choice.
Stats are important. Telling people the direction that the province is going in is important. The fact that more investors are coming to British Columbia than any other province in Canada is important to know, and it's important to know why they are doing that. The fact that we had the most competitive tax regime in the country, for this province, is important for people to know.
More important, I believe, is to know why we were doing that. You know, in the end it's not about money. Balanced budgets are not about numbers and balancing the numbers. It's what balancing the numbers means for communities — communities like Vancouver-Kingsway, working-class communities, immigrant communities, communities that struggle and struggle to pay off their mortgages and save some money so they can put their kids through college and university and try to give them as many possible tools as they can.
One of the telling stories about British Columbia in the 1990s was that for the first time, people were leaving the province to work somewhere else in Canada. So you have a wife or a husband in east Vancouver or Kitimat or 100 Mile House or the Queen Charlotte Islands that has to separate from their spouse because the only place their spouse can find a job is Calgary, or working in the mines in Alberta or in Toronto in the service sector. It's because that is so appalling, so shameful, that we have to divide our families just so we can earn money to sustain ourselves in this great province. That is why we're doing this.
When the Premier speaks in our caucus meetings, when the Premier speaks to us, he doesn't say that we must balance the budget because numbers are important, that we must balance the budget because dollars have such great value to us. He says we must balance them so that we can create an environment where husband and wife can live together, where children growing up and going through our elementary school system can have a father at home when they come home at 3 o'clock.
In my community 50 percent of the residents classify themselves as immigrants. My parents were one of those 50 percent 40 years ago in 1961. All of us have family members — our parents or grandparents and so forth — that at some time came here for the first time. They came here because they wanted to unite their families, and the way they unite them — besides the fact that Canada is such a great country that they allow
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people to come here — is that you build your economic strength. You build your personal wealth so that you can call your family members over, so that you can put your children through school where they can learn the language, they can learn the culture and they can have a better life than you.
Why do parents toil in labour jobs, working sometimes two shifts in a day? Why do they do it? They do it for their children. Who are we in this House, then, not to do things for our children when we collectively out there as parents — and those that are listening and those that are watching — work so hard for our children? Of course it's about children. Of course it's about our families. It's not about anything else.
When we tell our children, "By the way, since we couldn't really be bothered to live within our means, you, my son, my daughter, will pay $2.6 billion in interest payments every year because I couldn't be bothered to live within my means, and the $36 billion debt you've inherited, which has doubled in ten years in the 1990s from $17 billion to $34 billion, you will pay down because I couldn't be bothered…." Well, we've already said that to a generation. I already know that I will pay for what earlier generations did, but I do not want to be sitting at home while our children are in this Legislature saying that we have to pay the price for what our parents did. Sometime the system of borrowing and borrowing because it's comfortable for us has to stop.
I'm proud that this government and this speech and the speeches before — the throne speeches of the fourth session — have said it's going to stop with this government. That means it's not easy. I agree with that; I appreciate that. It's not supposed to be easy. It means that there are going to be hardships, and different groups of people at different times are going to feel different pain, but that is something we have to go through. Either we feel the pain now, or we continue to feel it more and more and more later.
There's a gentleman in my riding who I have the utmost respect for: Bill McMichael. He teaches at the University of British Columbia. He volunteers in the community. He creates programs in drug and alcohol. He creates programs and works those programs for community groups when it comes to immigration services. He works with the children in drug awareness through our schools. He unites different social service organizations, like community centres. I have a lot of respect for him. He said to me: "Mr. Nijjar, you need to tell people why you're doing what you're doing."
In the Ministry of Children and Family Development what we are doing is groundbreaking, but it's not spoken about in this province. It's spoken about all over North America and all over Europe. The ministry converses with jurisdiction after jurisdiction throughout the United States, Canada and Europe for them to see what kind of model we're setting up. What this government said is that we are not going to tell people that we know best for their families. We are going to trust the professionals out there. We're going to trust the communities, and we are going to give the tools to the communities to build their own capacity — the way it used to be, where people took care of themselves, and they took care of their communities, their neighbourhoods, their districts and then their regions. They built out that way.
We have to get away from the mentality, which we built in British Columbia over years, of saying, if I have a problem in my home or if I have a problem in my community: "Government, what are you going to do about it? What are you going to do to solve my problem?"
Sure, government has a role. There's no doubt about it. Government has a role, but individuals in the communities and the communities as a collective are responsible for their own well-being. The reason I say that is because that creates sustainability within communities. It teaches our children something. It teaches them to give, to share. It teaches them to take social responsibility. Within that framework government works — should work — with the social service organizations, the community centres, particular families in need, children in distress, single mothers. But the mentality that when there is an ill there is no partnership necessary except government resolving the problem is something very difficult to break after it's been built up year after year after year.
The throne speeches that we heard and the budgets that were delivered in the 1990s were all geared around programs that said: "You don't need to think. If you don't have the skills to raise your children because you've had a past history of abuses, alcohol abuse or child abuse yourself, if you weren't able to go to school and now have a hard time with employment and therefore you don't necessarily have all the skills to raise your children, don't worry. We will do it for you." The number of children in care skyrocketed.
That is not a solution. The obvious solution is to work with the parents to give them those skills, to give them those tools, to try to give them as many assets as possible and to teach them and give them as many resources within that community so the community can help them, networking them with different community organizations in their neighbourhood so they can raise their child.
For that reason, the number of children in care has come down. It hasn't come down because we say: "There's a certain amount of money that we're going to spend on children in care, and therefore how many children can we have?" It's the other way around. It's saying: "How many families can we actually help in taking care of their children? And now that they're taking care of their children, how many families now do we need to help that still can't take care of their children?" Therefore, you take the last resort of the child being in the custody of the public, of the Crown.
It's interesting to note…. Actually, do I have the piece of paper? I'll tell you this. This is a sad stat. B.C. has the lowest donor rate in Canada. By "donor" I mean financial donations to charity organizations. We have the lowest donor rate in all of Canada. We have the third-lowest volunteer participation rate in Canada.
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That is not something to be proud of. It may be something to be more ashamed of, spending and borrowing money on the backs of our children. I don't know why British Columbia has such a low volunteerism rate. To be completely honest, I would suspect that some of it has to do with the fact that we have the mentality of entitlement.
This province basically has two political parties — and no disrespect for the other ones. I respect the intent of their belief in their policies and their vision, but if you just look at the popular support, we basically have two parties. Therefore, we have two different sets of throne speeches that can be delivered and two different sets of budgets that can be delivered. One says that we should live within our means, we should build our capacity as much as possible, we should believe in what the individual can do, and we should give that individual as many tools so they can succeed as an individual. The other says that we should always focus on our weakest link, that we are victims of many circumstances and that you shouldn't be responsible for that scenario, and therefore government should take care of you. The greatest thought is a collective thought, so your individual thought is not important in society. What's important is the collective thought, and government is a collective. Therefore, government will set the programs and think for you.
What happens with children with disabilities in this province is a classic example of the fallout of those two philosophies. The reason why the Ministry of Children and Family Development has moved from a Victoria model to a community model is because the former government believed that we shouldn't have community models, that families and social service organizations should not make the decisions for children with disabilities. Victoria should, because Victoria knows best because they have the bureaucracy, they have the experts and they know how to create the social programs. Therefore, parents, you will not decide how much funding your child will get. You will not decide where that funding will go. You will not decide what types of programs are going to be available for your children. You will have this program, and if you don't like it, you can go to Alberta. That was the choice.
What's happening in the Ministry of Children and Family Development is not about money; it's about creating that choice. The world is watching, and I'm proud of that. Do you know why they're watching? Because no other jurisdiction had the guts to do what we're doing. No other jurisdiction had the guts to say that we actually believe that parents care enough about their children to become educated about the needs of their children, whether it's autistic children or children of different disabilities — visual impairment. We're going to trust that they actually care enough to become informed, that they are one of the specialists. Therefore, maybe it's better that they get the money, and with the money they choose what program is best for their child instead of government sending somebody to go in for 15 minutes every three weeks for three weeks to spend a total of 45 minutes with a child and, over a nine-week period, make an assessment. I don't really care if the assessment was right because, quite frankly, it was just a coincidence — just mere coincidence — that you happened to get the assessment right of what's best for that child under those circumstances.
In my community, in East Vancouver, we have our share of, say, low-income housing. We have our share of mixed housing. We have our share of resources for those with drug addictions. Then the city will work with the province to decide where some more facilities should go.
[J. Weisbeck in the chair.]
I'll tell you, I'm very proud of the fact that in my community we don't have the NIMBY attitude — NIMBY meaning not in my back yard. Every community is responsible for their own neighbours. I had constituents come up to me and say: "We don't want another social housing development. We already have so many problems. We want you to advocate for this. Our property value is going down. Plus, how many more social housing projects can we have?" I told them: "I will not advocate for you on that." The reason is because if people in my community have a problem — whether it's drug addiction, whether it's prostitution, whether it's lack of what in their view is affordable housing where there may be services with people with mental disabilities — then we will resolve it in our community. Other communities should take note, because what's happening in the downtown eastside is that people are coming from Surrey, New West, North Van and every other city around there.
My colleague from Surrey is sitting beside me. I know that my colleague from Surrey–Green Timbers advocates very strongly for the same thing. If we love our neighbours….. I know in politics or in the House, as elected officials, we rarely use the word. We never use the word. It's kind of like a no-no. Don't bring up God. Don't bring up love. Quite frankly, that's why I'm here. You know, I care about my neighbours, but I also care about my neighbours in Surrey. I've never been to Kitimat, but I care about those children too. I have been to 100 Mile House. I drove through it. I probably never saw anybody unless I saw them through a car, but I care about them too.
We are collectively responsible for caring about the people in our communities. That means you provide the services there. It's about creating the sustainable infrastructure in your community. It's not about saying: "I have a problem, government. What are you going to do to solve it?"
With that in mind…. I have a business district called Kingsway Road. Everybody knows about it. It runs through three cities, actually. Other than that road, my riding is almost completely single-dwelling houses, house after house after house. I don't have any hospitals, I don't have any major facilities, and I don't have any major businesses other than Purdy's Choco-
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late. The rest are all ma-and-pa shops and maybe Wendy's and things like that, which are corporate.
Our Kingsway Road needs to be revitalized. It is a business district that is lacking. We have petty drug dealers in the alleys, we have prostitution after six — sometimes the business owners don't even know that there's prostitution, but there's plenty of it — and we have businesses that come and go. Of course, in that environment, what does it attract? It attracts, you know, sometimes XXX video shops and things like that, and massage parlours. In many ways it's a thriving business district, with Collingwood BIA and what they've done there. It's a great area there, but as a whole it's lacking.
I could have — as a community member, because I am — said to other people: "Look, you have to go to the city. You have to tell them: 'You have to do this. You have to do that.' And keep complaining. Whoever barks the loudest will get the most attention." You could do that. You know, the other neighbourhoods, interest groups and people with issues can all do the same thing, and you'll get nowhere.
But that's not about taking ownership; that's not about building your capacity. So what I did was start a committee. It's called Kingsway revitalization committee, and it's made up of our BIA, our neighbourhood houses, our crime prevention office, our community centre, our schools, our neighbourhood drug and alcohol committee, our co-ops — all interested people. We've come together as a partnership, everyone equal. It's no more the responsibility of the BIA than any other group. We work together to come up with a plan to speak to the city. We're meeting with them, coincidentally, this Thursday. We're not going to ask them to solve our problem. What we're saying is: "This is our problem. We want to take ownership of it."
That is our strength. We're not going to hide away from it. We're not going to ask government to solve it. This is our problem. I'm proud of it. Let me resolve it, but I want the city to tell us what the tools are that they have available for us; what the laws are that apply to these things such as cleanup, beautification, building permits and business licences; what their goals are; and what they are doing in other neighbourhoods.
Educate us. Let the city educate us. We're not there to speak to them. We want them speak to us, and we'll listen. Then we'll go back home, and we'll come up with a community plan that complements what the city does — their objectives, their policies, their laws. Then we'll send it to them and say: "We want you to approve it. We want you to see it as a partnership, but it is our responsibility, it is our community, and we will solve it."
I challenge British Columbians to view the world in that light. I challenge British Columbians from community to community to community — whether it's a business district issue, a child welfare issue, a schooling issue — to work in partnership, because British Columbia becomes stronger when we look at our history and see what built it. What built it were partnerships. What built it was us looking at our strengths.
What the Premier talks about and what the Olympics is about is not about the games of 14 days or 16 days or…. I don't know — as long as Canada wins. Right? What it is about is what it tells the world about us. It's about us being able to say: "This is who we are. This is our excellence." It gives us an opportunity to look inward and say: "Who are we, and what is our excellence? What do we want to tell the world? Who are our children going to be?"
When we re-evaluate and re-evaluate ourselves, we can make ourselves better. Our slogan for the Olympics is: "It's our time to shine." Well, you're right. Can I say "damn"? You're damn right it's our time to shine. It is our time to shine. But we've shone for years and years. Shining is not just about medals. Shining is not about how Team Canada is going to do in ice hockey. Shining is about communities coming together to build their capacities. How many communities is it? I think it's 75 or 175 across British Columbia that have their own Olympic dream — their own program for the next seven years.
It's not about the Olympics. It's about dreaming. It's about believing. That's what the throne speech encompasses. That's what it's about. It's about saying that in general we can look forward, that we can build our capacity and that communities can be stronger by working together. It's the opposite of saying that you are falling apart, that you have distress, and unless government takes care of you, you're going to keep falling apart.
In 15 months British Columbians will choose what type of throne speech they want delivered to them — what type of philosophy they want. When we talk about less government…. Often the discussion in Canada and British Columbia is always about less government, meaning technically or in the logistics of how much government is involved through regulation, through red tape and through taxation. How much is government involved? How many programs are there?
It's not just about that. It's about the vision and the mentality of a government. Is government telling you that they can solve your problems? Is government saying to you: "Let us work with you to build the tools so that in your community you can have the capacity"? That also speaks to government involvement.
In this House I know that we have question period; we have these debates and committee stage and so forth. Often, especially in question period, there's a lot of political rhetoric. That's part of the game — political rhetoric, showmanship. But in the communities, they don't care about it. In the communities, whether it is "my colleague" as in someone on the government side or "my colleague" as in someone on the opposite side, we collectively share the same issues and we collectively work on the same issues. It's not that we care differently about those issues; it's about our overall vision.
I want British Columbians to think about that, because in 15 months you will make a decision. You have two visions — ten years of the 1990s or the four most recent years. Please choose.
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B. Lekstrom: Again, it is a great privilege to stand in this Legislative Assembly to offer my response to the throne speech. When we talk about a throne speech, it's really more than the name. It's about a vision of our government. That vision of our government is a vision for the people of British Columbia.
This throne speech that we've heard put before this Legislature and out to all the people of British Columbia, I think, is a positive one — one that builds on the assets we have in British Columbia, one that builds on the hopes we have as a government, one that builds on the dreams of British Columbians right across this great province of ours.
Far too often we seem to get caught up in…. I know it's politics we're in, but sometimes we lose sight as individuals about what we're all really here to do. That's to build our province to be the greatest place it can be — not for ourselves as much as it is for our children and their children and future generations to come.
That's the main reason, I think, that each and every person in this House runs for office. They believe they have something to offer. They have something that they can offer to build this province and make it a greater place to live — to live, to do business, to retire in. All of us enjoy the benefits of the hard work put in by everybody who has worked here.
It doesn't mean we agree with everything that's been put before us in this Legislature — this year, last year or the last decade. That's why living in a democracy like we live in is the greatest feeling in the world. You only have to look around to see what many countries face. We see it on the news every day. We see people fighting and dying in the streets of their countries because they don't enjoy a democratic right to go out and cast a ballot and work with that government or oppose that government in a democratic way for the term of that government's office.
I'm going to focus my speech on the positives and what we have to offer in British Columbia — what our government has to offer, what each individual in this House has to offer and, most of all, what British Columbians have to offer each other and offer our province.
Job creation in British Columbia. We lead the nation. As a matter of fact, the statistics between December '01 and December '03…. We generated 159,900 jobs. An increase of greater than 8 percent is what our employment grew by in British Columbia. Those are significant numbers.
It's funny to me. You'll still see people that will pick those numbers apart. They'll say: "You know what? They weren't all full-time. Some of them were part-time. Some of them were lower paying, and some of them were higher paying." The fact is that they were new jobs, and that's good news.
There are two ways to look at life, and there are two ways to look at government. There are two ways to look at everything we do. One is through a negative lens, and one is through a positive lens. I can tell you that when you look at life through a negative lens every day of your life, pretty soon there's no turning back. There's no hope. There are no dreams for your future, because a negative attitude breeds negative results. A positive attitude breeds positive results, and that's what I like to bring every day of my life. Whether it works out that way is up to the day to decide, but that's how I approach it, and that's how I believe we can build a better province.
Forestry in British Columbia. We work in a global environment, and I know a lot of people I talk to aren't all as excited as many people about this globalization and this global environment we work in. The reality is that it's there. We do work in a globally competitive market for our forest products, and I think we have the greatest forest industry in the world. Our forest practices have come a long way in the last couple of decades when you look at what we're able to produce and how we produce it. The workers out in the forests, the workers in our mills and the workers in the head offices all do a first-class job for British Columbians.
We're going through some significant changes in our forest industry, as well, at this time. Change is always difficult. It is always difficult, whether it's in our personal lives or it's in government, but I can tell you that it was needed. I think all we have to do is look at what's taken place in our forest industry over the last number of years to recognize that the way we did business for decade after decade had to change if we were going to have a sustainable forest industry in our province.
We got together. We spoke with the people of B.C.; we spoke with the forest industry. We spoke with people who were concerned about what it took to change the forest industry and the direction it was headed so that we could have a sustainable future in forestry, and we've managed to do that. Does it mean we've achieved it completely? No, absolutely not. What it means is that we've shifted direction, and we're now heading in the direction we think will maintain a sustainable future for forestry in British Columbia. It's one that will put people back to work and one that will maintain our forest sector as the top revenue and job creator in the province. It has staggered in the last few years. We're going to bring that back.
I want to focus a little bit on forestry, in the sense that it's not just government policy that can make forestry work. It takes the forest executives who control their environment within the forest industry. It takes the forest workers who are out there day to day logging, hauling logs and milling those logs in the mills that are around our province. Those are the people that know the job. Those are the people we talk to as elected people to find out what works and what doesn't work.
In my history I found a lot of things, but the most important thing, when it comes to forestry, is that some of our strongest in the environmental sector are actually forestry people. They make their living from the forest. They know what it takes to cut a tree; they know what it takes to plant a tree. They know what it takes to have that industry sustainable. It's interesting when we see some of the environmental groups out there slam-
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ming our forest industry, calling for boycotts around the world, when in fact all that's doing is hurting their neighbours, hurting their neighbours' children and the future in order to be able to possibly go to university, because it takes the paycheques out of the pockets of these people. It doesn't help anybody.
I've always been amazed — and I go back to the positive lens — that environmentalists in many cases…. I think we're all environmentalists. It's the extreme element I'm concerned about. I think what we have to do is make sure people speak from a fact and a factual base, and many times that's not the case.
The red tape that we said we would cut by one-third is happening, and I can tell you it's not just to our government. I'm sure previous governments and members from previous governments heard the same thing. We have too much red tape. We have to go through too much regulation in order to get the job done.
We've made a concerted effort in order to cut that red tape, and we're making significant progress. I believe that by June of this year we will have reached the one-third reduction that we committed to, to the people of British Columbia, which I think is a great news story.
Again, you have some people talking about: "You're cutting red tape." We're a government that said we would do it. We're doing it. You have people questioning some of the red tape we're cutting. That's democracy. Can any government in history — although many have said they have, but I don't believe they can — go the full term, make changes that are needed and not make a mistake? I don't believe they can. That's my personal belief.
The sign of a good government in implementing those changes — they knew something had to change, but if their change doesn't work — is standing up and telling the people: "You know, we know we needed to change something. We changed it, but our change isn't working as effectively as we thought. We're actually going to change direction." To me, that's the sign of a government that listens to the people and a government that I'm proud to be part of.
I want to touch on offshore oil and gas. I think it is a huge opportunity. I come from the northeast part of our province, where the oil and gas sector is going strong but not without some challenges. It isn't all fun up there. There are challenges on the land base for the people that live in the rural areas where the oil and gas exploration is going on, but it's about working together. It's about people working with industry, working with government, to find a solution to any of the problems that come forward.
Knowing that's able to happen in the northeast part of our province, knowing what I know about offshore oil and gas, and seeing some of the scientific information that's out there, I am a firm supporter of offshore oil and gas development off the west coast of British Columbia — not if it's done in an unsustainable or environmentally unfriendly manner — that's done properly and that's done with the environment first and foremost, with the sustainability factor out front, working with first nations and solving some of the problems and challenges that come with that.
It's interesting. I had the opportunity to chair an offshore oil and gas task force, and we toured many of the affected areas to hear what British Columbians' views were on it. It was very early in our mandate when this took place, and mostly what we heard was people saying: "You know, we're not against it, but we're not jumping up and down for it. What we want is more information." Since we were able to go out and talk to the people of British Columbia in those areas, more information has come forward.
It's about more than just the people on the coast of British Columbia. It's about all of British Columbia and what this can do for everybody. It's going to create jobs. It's going to create opportunities through spinoff jobs, not just on the platforms out on the ocean. It's going to create revenue for the government that can build on our health care, our education, our social programs and our highways, and the list goes on and on.
It's interesting. Some of the people that are opposed to it are talking, while at the same time they're heating their homes with natural gas that traditionally comes from underneath my feet in the northeast part. I hear them talk about problems, about what could happen. What if this happens? What if that happens? There are no guarantees in life in anything we do, but if you can put your best scientific data forward, look at the sustainability and do it in an environmentally friendly manner that benefits all of British Columbia, I think it's the way to go.
I certainly don't buy the fact that — you know what? — we can't do it because we're British Columbia. That, to me, seems to be what the opponents are saying — nothing more. We do it off the east coast of Canada. We do it around the world. It also tells me they're willing to take the oil and gas that's generated in the northeast part of this province in order to heat their homes, drive their cars, put fuel in their cars, from my back yard — and as a British Columbian, it's all of our back yards — but they aren't willing to do that in theirs. That offends me as a person from northern British Columbia. It's truly offensive.
We live with it every day. We'll live with it for years to come, and you know what? It puts friends of mine to work. It puts friends of yours to work. It builds the economy of British Columbia. It builds our ability to expand health care and education. They are good jobs. It's a great industry if we do it right, and I know we will.
Mining has been incredible for our part of the province and all parts of the province. Unfortunately, they've had some down years. In Tumbler Ridge, which is a community I represent, the northeast coalmines of Bullmoose and Quintette were going strong. Both are down right now.
I'm proud to represent a community like Tumbler Ridge. When those mines closed, two things could
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have happened. One, everybody could have folded up and called it quits, and Tumbler Ridge would have died a quick death. But they took the other approach. They knew they could build on what they had. They knew they could build on a future in mining because there are huge coal reserves still there. They knew they could diversify their economy through forestry and tourism, and that's what they're working on. I can tell you that it's great to be able to represent a community that takes the positive approach and says: "You know what? We aren't throwing in the towel. We're going to build on what we have as a community."
We have two new coal developments that are looking at opening up in Tumbler Ridge or in the very close proximity, which are going to help the economic well-being of that particular community. It's also going to help the community of Chetwynd, another community I represent. It's going to help Dawson Creek as well. It's going to help Pouce Coupe, which is not far from Dawson and Taylor. As a matter of fact, it's going to help the entire northeast, and as a result of that, it's going to help the entire province.
I'm looking forward to those. Western Canadian Coal is one. Nemi is another. There's a lot of work that goes into these projects and a lot of commitment by the community of Tumbler Ridge — not just by their council but also by the people who live there. From what I've understood in my communication and discussions with people in Tumbler Ridge particularly and in Chetwynd, there's a feeling of excitement. We're going to build the coal industry again in northeastern British Columbia. We're going to build it, again, with those words I use so much, in a sustainable manner — one that's going to create jobs for the long term, one where they can build on the future of that area.
Power in the province of British Columbia — it's something that I think we've overlooked for years as far as the ability to look at some new major projects. We use a lot of power. As we talk about diversifying our economy and building new industry, that takes power. It needs power. We as a government have said that we're going to produce power in British Columbia and that we're going to utilize the private sector to do that in many cases.
What we're going to do is all power-produced. We're going to require 50 percent of all new power that's produced in British Columbia to be produced through green means. That's pretty exciting. I think that's a leader in the world. Whether it's wind or it's run-of-the-river, there are so many opportunities and so many different technologies that I'm not going to get into speaking about each one. I'll tell you, Mr. Speaker, that you could spend the whole time speaking on that.
We have the opportunities. We're fortunate to live in a province that allows us to have those, because not every jurisdiction has that opportunity. Power is something I look forward to — working with Hydro, working with the people of British Columbia. I have a group of interested people in my area. Peace Energy is the name of the organization, and they're working on wind generation right now.
There's a place in Peace River South not far from Dawson Creek called Bear Mountain. I have to smile when I say that. It's not a big mountain, but it's called Bear Mountain. It's one of the best locations for wind generation available in British Columbia today, and there's a lot of work and a lot of interest in that site right now. Again, I'm working with some groups, and hopefully, we'll see something transpire in the near future so that we can lead and possibly be world leaders again with opportunities that expand, for communities to be fully self-sufficient as far as power generation goes. You can just put your mind to it, and the thoughts are endless as to what we can achieve with that.
Some very exciting news when you listen to the throne speech. We talked about 25,000 new post-secondary seats. Those aren't all university seats. They're colleges. They're institutes and so on.
I've had the opportunity to stand in this Legislature before and talk on the importance of the trades. It's not all about a student going from grade 1 to 12 and then having to go on to university. I think we've kind of lost focus as a society. We seem to have almost pointed our children in that direction for years, and I think that's one of the reasons why, when some of our children reached grade 11 or 12, they weren't really excited about even finishing high school, because they didn't intend on going to university. They wanted to be welders. They wanted to be pipefitters. They wanted to be carpenters. The list goes on and on. We seem to be directing them towards a university education if they want to be important in society. Well, that's not the case. The important fact is that we recognize the importance of our trades sector to British Columbia, to Canada and to the world. We're building on that. We're expanding the seat capability in our colleges, in our institutes, as well as in our universities.
I want to be clear. I'm not here cutting down universities, because without them God knows where we'd be as a society. There are many students who have a focus as to what they want to do in their lives, and they go for it. Others have a focus in their lives where they want to head in a different direction, and that's the trades. I'm going to do everything I can…. I have a history. My father was a teacher at a college in Dawson Creek. My brother was a teacher of the same trade in Dawson Creek. It's interesting. The interest from our students is overwhelming in trying to look to the future and see what opportunities they have.
Now, having said all that about the trades, I also am the proud father of two daughters. My oldest is in university doing her sciences right now and wants to go into medicine. So, again, it's not all about trades; it's about recognizing the need for both paths.
I'm not going to carry on a whole lot longer, but I want to touch on a couple of key issues in this throne speech. We've often talked about health care, what takes place in health care and the ability for British Columbians to have equal access to health care. I don't want to be an alarmist here, but we don't have equal
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access to health care. We haven't had from the beginning of time.
In the north, when you have to travel out to get assistance — whether it be to the B.C. Children's Hospital in Vancouver or, in the case of the area I represent, possibly over to Edmonton — you have to endure not only the issue of the trauma of that sickness on your family but also a financial burden, because out of your own finances you're paying for travel costs, accommodation and so on.
During our campaign the Premier was up in the northeast part of this province, and he made a commitment to a $5 million travel assistance program to help offset those costs for people who had to travel outside of the areas in order to get the health care that's provided. That is great news. It is great news not just for the people of northeastern British Columbia but for everybody in British Columbia that has to travel to a centre to get the health care they need.
We don't expect — and I'm sure I can speak for the other rural and northern areas of this province — to have open-heart surgery completed in Dawson Creek or Fort St. John. What we do expect is that when we need to access the services at Children's Hospital or Vancouver General for specialty surgeries, it doesn't come out of our pocket at the expense of our financial situation for the people we represent. This travel assistance program is going to solve that problem. I'm very, very happy about that.
I'm fortunate to represent, I think, the most beautiful area of the province, Peace River South, and I know I get that discussion from all of my colleagues. I'm fortunate. We're diversified when it comes to industry. We have agriculture; we have mining; we have oil and gas; we have tourism. It's unlimited. The reason we have it is because of the vision of people before me and the ability to take that chance and go out.
In closing, I want to thank a number of people for what we've been able to accomplish in British Columbia. I want to thank governments. I want to thank provincial governments. I want to thank local governments. Most importantly, I want to thank the people of British Columbia and the volunteers who make British Columbia the place it is to live. The best government in this province — which I believe we are, or which we've ever had, and of course I'm biased toward that — wouldn't be worth a whole lot without the people they represent.
The people we represent — whether they're supporters or they're opposition to us — are, I think, good people. Most people volunteer their time to make their communities a better place. They volunteer their time to help people who are less fortunate than many people in British Columbia. If we never had those people, the best government ever could not make this province a better place.
In closing, I think the throne speech was a great vision not only of the government but for the people of British Columbia, and I want to thank each and every British Columbian for helping make this a better place to live.
J. Kwan: I rise to respond to the throne speech. I was listening to the member for Peace River South. He started off by saying that he's the kind of person who wakes up in the morning and looks on the brighter side of things rather than on the darker side of things. That, I would agree, is a good approach to life generally. I would agree insofar as to say yes, while we look at the brighter side of things, we also need to examine the darker side of things and of course compare that to what our hopes and dreams are.
What gives me hope is that I look up in the sky. I look at the stars, and I find the brightest one. Every night I do this. I look and see if there are any stars and find the brightest one. Every night I do this. I look and see if there are any stars in the sky, and I look for the brightest one. Then I think about the things that I wish that we could have in our communities and in our society, the things that I want to strive towards as an MLA, the things that I want to strive towards as a politician in the role that I am engaging in and the things that I strive towards personally, as an individual, to become a better person.
In that process, I of course don't just stay up there amongst the stars. I come back down to earth and start to realize: what are the things that we haven't got already, and what must we do now to strive towards that? That's a bit of a reality check, and that's what I do. I take what the member for Peace River South says as a goal — to not wake up and then carry on every day just to be a negative Nellie, but rather to say: how can we move forward?
In that context I compare what the throne speech says that this government is achieving for British Columbia to what really is happening in our communities. In the time that I'm allocated to make this speech, I will only focus in on two areas: health care and education. In the area of education, the throne speech says: "Bring out the best in higher education." Then in the area of health care, it says: "Bring out the best in patient care." Let me first focus around the education issue, "Bringing Out the Best in Higher Education."
The MLAs around this House that we've been hearing have been praising the government on these 25,000 new student spaces to B.C.'s colleges, universities and institutes by 2010. In the throne speech it says that the advanced education budget will increase by $105 million by 2007. I've already broken down the details of that funding in my budget speech, but let me just focus in on one area here. That is that the throne speech announcement is worth about $4,200 per space for the students, and that, compared to what is going on right now….
J. Kwan: I hear the members behind me saying: "That's good enough."
Well, in the 2002-03 budget, the government provided $7,238 per space at colleges, institutes and universities across British Columbia. Then what the
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budget speech does is provide for a reduction of $3,038 per space. Good enough for the government MLAs that are behind me, heckling me quietly, saying that that's good enough.
Well, is it good enough? When you look at the title that says, "Bringing Out the Best in Higher Education," and what this government is actually doing on the higher education side is reducing the dollars per space for students to the tune of $3,038, I don't think that's good enough. That's the post-secondary education. I have more to say about that, but I won't dwell on that, because I dealt with some of those comments in my budget speech.
Let me just look at the reality check of what's going on in our education system across British Columbia. I went to look for just general information on the lay of the land across B.C., what's happening in our education system. I found a list of close to 100 schools that are either closing or have closed in British Columbia, all throughout British Columbia.
In Alberni, five schools are being impacted — schools either closing or have closed: Beaver Creek Elementary, Cherry Creek Elementary, Mount Klitsa Elementary Junior Secondary, Redford Community School and Sproat Elementary. In Arrow Lakes: Glenbank Elementary. The Burnaby community: Canada Way Education Centre. Campbell River: Central Elementary, Maple Elementary. The Cariboo-Chilcotin community: Anne Stevenson Secondary, Chimney Creek Elementary.
In the central Okanagan community, four schools are closing or have closed: Lakeview Heights Elementary, Bellevue Creek Elementary, George Pringle Secondary, Peachland Primary. In the coast mountains area, broken down with Kitimat: Alexander Elementary and Cormorant Elementary. In the community of Terrace: Copper Mountain Elementary, Mountainview Elementary, Parkside Elementary and Stewart Elementary. In the Comox Valley: Black Creek Elementary. In Coquitlam: Burquitlam Elementary, Cedarbrook Elementary and Montgomery Elementary.
In the Cowichan Valley area we have Mount Brenton Elementary, Sahtlam Annex, Honeymoon Bay Elementary, Yount Elementary and Somenos Elementary. In the Fraser-Cascade area: North Bend Elementary. In the greater Victoria community: Blanshard Elementary, Fairburn Elementary, Uplands Elementary. In the Kamloops-Thompson area: Dutch Lake Elementary, Happyvale Elementary and Pineridge Elementary. In Nelson: Central Elementary. Creston Valley: South Creston Elementary.
In the Kootenay-Columbia community, nine schools are closing or have closed: Beaver Valley Middle School, Kinnaird Middle School, Montrose Elementary, Tarrys Elementary, Trail Middle School, Blueberry Creek Community School, Cook Avenue Elementary, Sunningdale Elementary, Valley Vista Elementary. Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows: Thornhill Primary. North Okanagan–Shuswap: Salmon Arm Elementary, South Canoe Elementary. The Nicola-Similkameen community: Tulameen Elementary. The Peace River South community: Kelly Lake Elementary Junior Secondary. Powell River: J.P. Dallos Middle School.
In Prince George 14 schools have either closed or are closing: Highland Traditional Elementary, King George V Elementary, Lakewood Elementary, McLeod Lake Elementary, Meadow Elementary, South Fort George Elementary, Wildwood Elementary, Blackburn Junior Secondary, Gladstone Elementary, Haldi Road Elementary, Hart Highway Elementary, Mountain View Elementary, Nechako North Elementary and Seymour Elementary.
Prince Rupert: Kaien Island Alternate School. Quesnel: Maple Drive Junior Secondary, Rich Bar Elementary, Wells Barkerville Elementary. Revelstoke: Big Eddy Elementary. Richmond: Alexander Kilgour Elementary, B.W. Garratt Elementary, Richmond District Incentive Program, Rideau Park Elementary. Kimberly: Chapman Camp Elementary, Meadowbrook Elementary, Wasa Elementary. Windemere: Canal Flats Junior Secondary, Radium Elementary. Golden: Columbia Valley Elementary, Edelweiss Elementary. Sooke: Metchosin Elementary. Southeast Kootenay community: C.L. Salvador Elementary, Elkford Elementary, Muriel Baxter Elementary. Vancouver: Shannon Park Annex. Vancouver Island North: Coal Harbour Elementary.
That totals close to 100 schools that have either closed or are closing under the Liberal government. I looked for that good news that the member for Peace River South says is there. Where is it in the area of education, where education is being underfunded, where schools are closing with a record high across the province under this government? I fail to see the silver lining that the members like to talk about in this House. If you actually do a reality check and do a touchdown on that, you see a completely different picture.
That's in the education sector. Let me now turn to the area of health care. What has closed under this government in terms of care facilities or hospitals? The list is long, and I don't even know if I have time to read it all onto the record. Closed: Cascades ECU, which is part of the Burnaby Hospital. The Central Park Manor in Burnaby is closed. Haney Intermediate Care Centre in Maple Ridge is closed. The Parkholm Lodge in Chilliwack is closed. The Shirley Dean Pavilion, which is part of the Surrey Memorial Hospital, is closed. Cooper Place in Vancouver in my own riding is closed.
Holy Family ECU in Vancouver. Southview Lodge in Vancouver. Royal Ascot Care Centre in Vancouver. St. Vincent's Hospital, both the Arbutus site and the Heather site. St. Mary's Hospital in New West. Berkley Pavilion, which is in White Rock. Fernie District Hospital care facility in Fernie. Tom Uphill facility in Fernie. Rocky Mountain Lodge in Cranbrook.
Kimberley and district hospital care facility in Kimberley is closed. Pioneer Villa in Creston is closed. The Golden and District Hospital care facility in Golden is closed. The Slocan Community Hospital and Health Care Centre facility in New Denver is closed. The Hal-
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cyon Home in Nakusp is closed. The Mount St. Francis facility in Nelson is closed. The Kiro Manor in Trail is closed. The Mater Misericordiae in Rossland is closed. The Penticton and district care unit in Penticton is closed. Joseph Benjamin care facility in Kelowna is closed. The May Bennett Home in Kelowna is closed. Kelly Care Centre in Summerland is closed. Summerland Lodge in Summerland is closed. Moberly Manor in Revelstoke is closed. The Fountainview in Salmon Arm is closed. Pioneer Lodge in Salmon Arm is closed. Willowdale in Armstrong is closed. Bethany Home in Vernon is closed. The Gateby in Vernon is closed. The Juniper Court in Enderby is closed. The Royal Inland Hospital care facility in Kamloops is closed. Ponderosa Lodge in Kamloops is closed. St. Bartholomew's hospital in Lytton is closed. Cariboo Lodge and Heritage Home in Williams Lake is closed. Deni House in Williams Lake is closed. Peace River Haven in Pouce Coupe is closed. The Rainbow Intermediate Care Home in Prince George is closed. The Gorge Road Hospital in Victoria is closed. The James Bay Lodge in Victoria is closed. The Olive Devaud Residence in Powell River is closed.
Then some of the partial closures or downsizing that have taken place: Canada Way Care Centre in Burnaby. The Heritage Village ECU, which is part of the Chilliwack hospital, is partly downsized. The Queen's Park Hospital in New West. The Boundary Lodge in Grand Forks — 31 beds have been reduced to two. The Columbia View Lodge in Trail. The David Lloyd Jones home in Kelowna. The Henry M. Durand Manor in Golden. Noric House in Vernon, Alexander wing, which is attached to the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, is being downsized. Willowhaven Private Hospital in Nelson. Lions Gate Hospital. The ECU in Vancouver. Mount St. Joseph Hospital. The Vancouver Hospital, the ECU. The Purdy Pavilion. The Fir Park Village in Port Alberni. The Kiwanis Village Lodge in Nanaimo. These are some of the partial closures that have taken place.
In addition to that, Kimberley and District Hospital has closed. The bed closures in Port Alberni — West Coast General Hospital has been impacted. At the Delta Hospital, the ICU has been closed. The Enderby hospital — reduced to a health care centre. Summerland General Hospital lost all the acute in-patient beds and ER. Service cuts to Richmond Hospital. The Kootenay Lake District Hospital in Nelson lost all surgical services.
This is just a partial list. I know that more community services in the health care and the education sectors would be impacted by this government under this government's leadership. So much for health care when you need it and where you need it. You know what? Looking for that silver lining for those communities that have been impacted, the children who need their schools kept open and the families and the seniors who need their health care facilities kept open…. I don't know where that silver lining is.
Of course, the role of the opposition is to raise these matters in this House, not only to say to the government that they need to deliver on their promises to the community that they campaigned on in the last election and that they need to be held accountable for those promises but also to tell the MLAs that represent their communities to stand up in this House and be their advocate. Don't just look for the bright stars of what they think the government says they must say and what the government's spin is, but also do a reality check and say that this is what's happening in our communities — how they're negatively being impacted by this government. The throne speech — I'd love to stand up and say hooray for the government. I wish that were the reality. Unfortunately, it isn't.
M. Hunter: I welcome the opportunity to be here tonight, but I do want to make a few remarks in response to the throne speech.
Before I get into the meat of what I wanted to say, I would like to correct the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant. She just referred to an alleged closure of a facility in my riding, the Kiwanis Village Lodge. I wish she'd get her facts right. That facility is actually expanding through the addition of assisted-care beds. The existing beds are being replaced. This isn't a closure; this is in fact an improvement. That's just one example of how the facts don't always get out on the floor of this House.
I think that in May 2001 the people of this province turned their backs on a decade of despair. They turned their backs on a decade of doubled debt. They turned their backs on a decade of having their children and their families leave this province to go to Alberta and Ontario and places farther afield. They turned their backs on a decade of rising taxes and falling disposable income. They said they'd had enough of revolving-door cabinets and ministers who changed so often that photographers didn't even have a chance to develop the films before they were out on another job.
People said enough to this cynical manipulation that was going on — the abuse of their money and the lack of accountability here in Victoria. I think that three years later we've come a long, long way. I agree with my colleagues that there's still a long way to go. The job of building this province will never be over. It will be up to the next people who sit in these seats to carry on the work we're doing to build this province into something it can become. There's a lot to do, but hope has started to replace despair.
The fact is that there's a lot of news. I want to read from some Statistics Canada information that's new just this week. Public and private capital investment intentions in British Columbia are forecast to increase by 5.3 percent in this year, 2004, well ahead of the forecast national average of 3.1 percent. You know, again B.C. is leading the country. The construction investment scene in B.C. is the second highest in the country with residential construction investment in British Columbia in 2003 up 18.1 percent — 60 percent stronger than the national average.
Businesses are increasing at the highest level in a decade. Credit Union Central forecasts a 10 percent
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increase in business incorporations in 2004. Last year business incorporations increased by 9.3 percent — the strongest increase in almost a decade. We all know in this House that it's small business that generates the bulk of the jobs in this province. People are being put to work — 159,000 new jobs. That is progress.
I don't have time to go through everything that's going on and how this progress is being represented in my community, but I can tell you that the business community in Nanaimo is excited about what is going on. We've got new investments. Just yesterday Baxter Aviation, which has been running Beaver seaplanes between Nanaimo and the mainland for many, many years, introduced a new service taking passengers to the Vancouver Airport's south terminal. That's competition for another airline that's already out there — Amigo. I've spoken in this House about the introduction of fast passenger ferry service between my community and downtown Vancouver. All of this is a reflection of the confidence that people in Nanaimo and investors feel about what we're doing.
We've had huge multimillion-dollar redevelopments of two retail centres in Nanaimo — Port Place Mall in downtown and the Country Club Mall not far away — and new arts and culture facilities, new galleries. Just this weekend l'Association des Francophones de Nanaimo had a very successful fourth festival du Sucre d'Érable in Nanaimo. It's getting bigger; it's getting better. Our museum is being redeveloped. We have a Vancouver Island Symphony orchestra. We have theatre groups. That growth in arts and culture reflects people's confidence in their community.
Gabriola Island had the hottest real estate market in memory in 2003. People from all over North America are moving to Gabriola Island in my riding. They have thriving arts and crafts and cottage industries. They have people who are telecommuting and people who are consulting, living in an island paradise in my riding.
There are issues to be resolved, you know, whether it's Vancouver Island or Gabriola Island, or pick your island. When you live on an island, there are issues. Certainly, on Gabriola I am working with the community to try to solve some of these issues about medical evacuation and about water supply and quality that are signs of an aging and a growing population.
The coastal forest industry, which still is important in Nanaimo, is showing signs of life again after 25 years of slow and difficult decline. They're starting to show a positive reaction to the statutory and fiscal changes we've made despite the efforts of so-called environmentalists who work to put their neighbours out of work in this province.
The city of Nanaimo's development permit revenues last year were up 33 percent over 2002. Development cost charge revenues were up by 65 percent in '03 over '02. They're big and important numbers that show that growth is happening in my community.
As I said, I can go on, but time doesn't permit me to give you all the good news that I would like to, but I can tell you that people in my community know about it. People in my community also know there are issues, as I've said, that need to be resolved. There are social problems that exist in a city of Nanaimo's size — 80,000 people — which have been there for a long time. We are working on those. The city of Nanaimo, to its great credit, is working with the community and partners, including the province and its service providers, to start to look at and expose and throw light onto those issues which for so long, like mental health in this province, were pushed to the back.
It's time, and we have the opportunity now to look forward to ensuring that all B.C. residents have the chance to seize the opportunities that are before us. There is a lot to do, but my community was treated for decades with contempt by the last government. If anybody needs any reminding, the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society was an example of that contempt.
That has ended under this government. We're bringing out the best. It means working with volunteers, not-for-profits. The NDP wants to nationalize them. That's what they tried to do. We're working with them in new partnerships.
I want to end by repeating into the record a couple of paragraphs that were read by the Lieutenant-Governor in this House some weeks ago. I think they're important words that we all need to reflect on, never mind our politics. I would like to quote them as we come to the close on this debate.
"There are moments in history that crystallize the essence of a province's nature and the promise of its people. They are the moments that bring out our best and signify our spirit to the world. They are the moments that hold within them the shape of our future. British Columbians have been through many such moments in the last year. Together we have faced fire, flood and record drought. Together we prevailed in times of trial, and together we stood in triumph."
I think they are inspiring words, and people — I know I do, and I think most people do — need that kind of inspiration. The inspiration in this throne speech, for me anyway, continued.
"We can be better still. We can lead the nation in literacy and bridge the digital divide. We can give our children the gift of music and lift ourselves higher through art, culture and volunteerism. Our economy can race to the future with new confidence and new pride of purpose in every region and in every field of endeavour.
"The Spirit of 2010 is the spirit of British Columbia. It is alive with opportunity and hope. It is the Spirit of 2010 that will bring out the best in our great province" — inspirational words for a province which is going to grow and prosper.
I'm very proud to be part of a government that is leading the way.
Deputy Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the question is the motion on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne.
Hon. members, the question before you is: "We, Her Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia in session as-
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sembled, beg leave to thank Your Honour for the gracious speech which Your Honour has addressed to us at the opening of the present session."
Motion approved on the following division:
YEAS — 55
NAYS — 2
B. Penner moved adjournment of the House.
Deputy Speaker: The House stands adjourned until 10 o'clock tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:01 p.m.
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