2007 Legislative Session: Third Session, 38th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2007
Volume 23, Number 6
|Private Members' Statements||8869|
|Langley's Gateway of Hope
| M. Polak
| H. Bains
| N. Simons
| B. Lekstrom
| R. Cantelon
| N. Simons
| D. Routley
| R. Cantelon
|Motions on Notice||8878|
|Trade and labour mobility and TILMA agreement (Motion 66)
| R. Sultan
| C. Wyse
| J. Yap
| L. Krog
| J. Rustad
| D. Routley
| B. Lekstrom
| S. Fraser
| J. McIntyre
[ Page 8869 ]
MONDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2007
The House met at 10:02 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Orders of the Day
Private Members' Statements
LANGLEY'S GATEWAY OF HOPE
M. Polak: The community of Langley is not just one community. In fact, those who live there fondly refer to Langley as the Langleys. It takes into account the city of Langley and also the township.
Many years ago, when I was a child growing up in Cloverdale, Langley was best known, and is still fairly well known, for its equestrian community. Certainly they still hold a powerful place in Langley with respect to influence in the community, with respect to their economic clout, because many of the businesses in Langley depend on the equestrian community.
There are also those who are very community-minded. They are always the ones who are at fundraisers. They're always the ones who are there contributing when there's a need in the community.
[S. Hammell in the chair.]
But that rural flavour of Langley has been gradually changing. Used to be you could drive for miles in most of the township and the city, and all you would come to was a house on, probably, a large lot, a bunch of bush around it. Even the area in which I live right now, Willoughby, for many, many years was just a big hill of large acreages, large houses.
Certainly, most of us would think that nobody would ever really choose to develop it. It just didn't seem like it would happen. Well, surprise. The most recent debate that's going on heatedly in Langley is whether or not we should allow highrises to expand within our environs.
It's an interesting question for those who live in Langley. There are many who will say: "You know, we need to do that. We need to densify. It's the responsible thing to do. It's going to allow us to have better transit." Then there are others who say: "Well, the reason I came to live in Langley is because it has that rural flavour still to it, that small-town feeling that it has retained."
For Langley, there are a lot of changes taking place. Many have already taken place, and we're adjusting to them, but certainly we see more to come. This will not be, I'm sure, the last of the heated debates in Langley about how our communities are developing.
The Langleys are facing a lot of changes. Many of those are not the kind that you see every day when you drive to work. Many of those changes are ones that are taking place, I guess, closer to the background of things. Those to first notice them were our churches, our community halls, service agencies and rotary clubs — when we started to see increasing numbers of families struggling.
Langley was always known as a place where you had very strong family ties. Those are breaking down. We're starting to see that there are people with mental health and addictions issues, and these lead to homelessness challenges. So Langley, for the first time, is waking up to the reality that many of our neighbouring communities have experienced over a number of years. The Langleys are waking up to the fact that we have a homelessness issue.
But this is not something that should leave us without hope. As the representative for Langley, I'm very pleased that in our communities in Langley we're able to work together with both councils — myself; Minister Rich Coleman, who's in the neighbouring riding — with B.C. Housing and a number of other community agencies, including the lead of the Salvation Army, to take….
Deputy Speaker: Member. Remember, you are not to name members in the House.
M. Polak: Oh, my apologies.
The lead on this has been the Salvation Army from the beginning. Envoy Gary Johnson came forward with an idea that was new. The Salvation Army usually wants to own property and won't necessarily participate in a leasing arrangement, but he had an idea. What if the communities were able to provide land that the Salvation Army could lease, where there could be a building constructed, where we could get ahead of the homelessness issue in Langley before it becomes as prevalent as it has in neighbouring communities?
It's not always easy to bring together councils from varying areas. It's not always easy to bring together all three levels of government. But from our very first meeting in my office, these people wanted to work together. We didn't know quite how we'd do it, but we knew we wanted to work together. We wanted to provide something.
We're now at the point where we have commitments from B.C. Housing for operations. We have commitments from the township of Langley. We have land provided that will be leased to the Salvation Army by the city of Langley. We have more partners on board. We have on board the Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia and the Envision Credit Union foundation. All this will work together to provide something that is even more than what we imagined.
In the past — and I'm sure it will continue — we've only had those church groups in community halls and service organizations be able to provide meals and service to these folks. Now there will be 30 emergency shelter beds for men and women; 26 supportive, independent living beds; a daily meal centre; and community and family services — all operated through the Salvation Army with this wonderful partnership.
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It goes to show that although we might face challenges as we grow, change, expand and urbanize, those challenges are also an opportunity. They're an opportunity for those of us who are leaders in our community to decide to choose to leave a legacy for our children that is one of action in response to need, that is one in which we put aside some of our governmental and regional differences in order to achieve something that will continue to maintain the heart of the Langleys in spite of a changing landscape and a more urbanized environment.
It's difficult for residents. I know they're struggling, but I want to encourage them to take hold of this idea that as we move forward, this is one way in which we can maintain the heart of our communities, reach those less fortunate and continue to grow in a positive way and to be an example for those communities around us. So I do encourage residents in Langley to embrace what the Salvation Army and this wonderful partnership will achieve, and I encourage them to participate in their daily lives as we try to help those around us to succeed and to live a better life.
H. Bains: I'm really happy to respond to the member for Langley. I think it's interesting that the member is attempting to talk about issues that are important in her community. She talked about a housing approach. She's talking about growth in that particular area, and she's talking about homelessness.
I think it is a quite disturbing trend that we have seen coming from this government's policies. What they have done, and what they have actually shown in their approach in the last seven years, is that they would like to make all kinds of announcements. Then they make another announcement to re-affirm the first announcement, but there is hardly any substance or resources that they put behind it.
Let's talk about the homelessness issue. We have seen it. It has doubled in the last four years. Why? Because this is the government who actually boasts about having the hottest economy in the country but, in the meantime, it's not being shared by everyone in this province. Certainly it's not being passed on to those people who are actually at the lower end of the spectrum.
Why do we have such a homelessness problem here? Because this government has neglected those who need help the most. They like to boast about what their policies have been. They like to spend millions and millions and millions. They like to make those announcements about the Gateway project. They like to do it on the convention centre. They're always able to find money for that. If you read the front pages of some of the newspapers last week, the amount of money that has been actually wasted on the convention centre…. They could have solved the homelessness problem three times over.
It's all about priorities. I appreciate that the member is trying to talk about her own community and what is needed in that community but, you know, there are other communities — Surrey. The homelessness issue is not only tied to Vancouver right now. It is in Surrey. It is moving to Langley. No wonder the member for Langley is all worried about homelessness now, because it is in her back yard. They've seen them. They are in Langley. They're moving to Abbotsford. It's spreading. It's spreading faster than they can manage it.
I think that is a shame. We need to get this government to come to its senses to make sure that we deal with the issues at hand — deal with the issues of homelessness. They have neglected them over and over and over.
They talk about housing. The member talked about housing and how she needs to manage the growth in Langley. But when you really look at what they're doing to manage that growth, there is hardly any component to do a proper job, to do anything about climate change, to have a proper transit system put in place to manage that growth. There is hardly anything mentioned.
When they're pushed by this side of the House, then they finally start to talk about it. "Well, you know, in 2013 we will have 20 buses going on that bridge." That's 2013 — seven years down the road. What is happening today? People in Langley, Surrey and Abbotsford are looking for some solutions now, not seven years down the road.
Seven years down the road — 20 buses. That's their answer to deal with traffic control. When you talk to those communities, four communities got together. That was Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford and Coquitlam. They are way ahead of this government. They put together a livable accord. They all signed on that dotted line. They're talking about managing their growth because in that particular area — those four cities — we would have over 500 new residences in the next 25 years.
What is their solution to manage their growth? "We build more bridges. We build more roads." No mention of transit. No mention of transit on that bridge at all. Nothing, until they were pushed. Then they said: "We'll put 20 buses on that bridge in six years." That's their answer. The Surrey mayor wants 500 buses now. She needs 500 buses now. Their answer is 20 buses in six years. That's what they're talking about.
I think it's a lot of hollow statements with no resources to back them up. It is about time that this government and those members, especially on the south side of the Fraser, start to take issues that are important to those residents in that area seriously, and they're not doing that.
M. Polak: You know, it's interesting. At the very least, I suppose the fast ferries could be used to house the homeless, but even then you'd have to take the plastic off them.
Let's talk about some real things that have happened. I was pleased to be at the opening of the N.G. Nair Place — $4 million for a 25-bed specialized mental health residential facility in Langley. Topaz Place — $1.1 million for a 12-bed specialized mental health facility in Chilliwack. Creekside Withdrawal Management Centre, opened in April 2007 and expands service from 22 to 30 beds.
[ Page 8871 ]
When I talk about the Gateway of Hope, I'm talking about something that is unique, something that's happening. You know why? Because instead of talking about who is to blame for homelessness and trying to figure out the complex needs that bring someone to a place where they are living on the street, we actually want to do something about it. We actually want to take the time to think about how we might best help these people.
It's not just a matter of going out there and saying: "We care about the homeless." It's about saying: "How can we provide jobs for these people?" I don't know. Maybe a hot economy would do it. And it does. When people come into my office now, and they need assistance, we can give it to them. We can point them in the direction of a job. We can point them in the direction of assistance to get a job.
Why, only just recently we've had a new outreach worker provided to Stepping Stone in Langley. We're seeing proactive work in communities who used to bang down the door of previous governments and would never be heard. Why? Because this government realizes you need to be looking at the entire province. You need to be providing a job for someone, not just a handout. I think we're much better off doing that — providing transition housing and providing services to these people — than leaving them such that one in every five people is on welfare as it was many years ago in this province.
Thank God we're away from that. Thank God we're at a place where we're putting the resources in to serve the needs of these people and to make sure that they have a leg up and are able to take hold of their lives themselves. The outreach worker program has been tremendously successful, and it will be in Langley as well.
It's about communities working together. It's not about assigning blame or trying to figure out how, some way or another, government is responsible for someone being homeless. You know what? People are tired of that. They want to see solutions.
When it comes to things like the Gateway of Hope, there's a solution. There's something that's going to open and serve hundreds of people, I'm sure — maybe thousands — over its lifetime. This is real tangible help that's going to have these people back on their feet, past their addictions and able to be productive in society and to live a life up to their potential.
When it comes to approaches to dealing with the social ills, there are a lot of ways in which you can get bogged down in arguments about it, and we've certainly seen that. We need to see municipalities, cities, other communities come to the plate. The province certainly has. Today we're watching on the news as there is discussion of how to have SROs work for us, so we're moving forward and providing those services.
N. Simons: It's my pleasure to stand and speak in support of rural communities and, in this particular instance, rural agency general stores that are the cornerstone of many small communities throughout rural British Columbia.
In particular, I'd like to bring up an issue that seems to be one that has caused a lot of consternation on the part of owners of these small general stores that are scattered throughout the province, and that is the viability of their business enterprise. It's not entirely related to this particular subject, but partly, and that subject is their ability to sell, on behalf of the government, liquor at liquor store prices in our rural communities.
Now, back in 2001 when the government decided that they were going to plan for the privatization of all liquor stores in the province, the planning did not include, as it happens, consultation with small businesses that at the time were selling alcoholic products to community members closer to their home, reducing the need to drive long distances.
There are some 230 of these rural agency stores, and they are the general stores of folklore and of reality in our province, with the wooden slats on the floor and the bell that rings when you enter. You can purchase bread and milk and various supplies, probably fishing tackle and the like, and you can also pick up your beer and wine and, perhaps, spirits for weekends when you're on holiday as a tourist or as a resident of some of these smaller communities.
What happened in 2001 was that the attempt at privatization hit a snag, and that snag was public opinion — not necessarily one of the considerations of this government in their attempt to privatize liquor stores. The public opinion was sufficient to indicate that our revenues and our ability to provide services in this province depend in part on tax revenue. Liquor consumption contributes to our tax base.
When the privatization of liquor stores started and then stopped, what happened was that many investors found themselves suddenly realizing they were not going to have free rein. The private market was not going to completely replace that of the public sector in the distribution of alcohol.
As I mentioned, forgotten in this whole process, in this planned privatization, were the small general stores, like the Halfmoon Bay General Store, Welcome Woods or another 14 of them in my constituency alone that suddenly were faced with dealing in a product that had a competitor that was getting an unfair advantage in the larger urban areas. Those competitors were represented by a fairly substantial lobby group, sometimes referred to as big liquor, an industry based mostly in Alberta that is, as a good business, trying to get as wide a range of distribution as possible and maximize profits.
Now, in 2002 they introduced the retail…. The cost for these private liquor stores was at 10 percent below retail price. They were able to purchase alcohol at 10 percent below the retail price from the Liquor Distribution Branch. That was an attempt, I suppose, at making up for the fact that they were not, in fact, going to complete their project and privatize all stores.
Soon that discount, that subsidy, to private stores was raised to 12 percent and quietly raised again the
[ Page 8872 ]
next year to 13 percent. Then this year, coming into effect in January, that increase was raised to 16 percent. Private liquor distributors were now able to purchase alcohol and products from the Liquor Distribution Branch at 16 percent below the retail rate, whereas rural agency stores, the mom-and-pop stores, the small businesses that dot our rural communities, were still paying the 10-percent rebate only.
You know, there are obviously reasons for government to make these changes and fine-tune them, etc. But I think what was lost from the beginning in this whole process was any discussion of the impact that this kind of policy would have on rural stores. It's not necessarily that the government would even have done anything differently, but the fact that they were left out of that discussion had 230-plus rural agency stores providing a service to community members throughout the province suddenly questioning their ability to compete.
I believe that government needs to recognize the importance of supporting the small businesses in our small, rural communities — the ones they might drive past on highways that now bypass these small towns — and realize that the impact of decision-making here in British Columbia affects and impacts these small, rural communities. They are the providers. They are the supporters of small school teams. They sponsor events. They do a number of things, including employing young people in the small communities so that they don't have to travel far away to get jobs.
These are cornerstones of our communities. They are, in fact, the place where many people come to meet and look at message boards, etc. I think that when we ignore small businesses in the rural parts of our province, we do all residents of rural British Columbia a disservice.
With that in mind, I believe that the current government needs to take account for the fact that businesses in rural B.C. need as much assistance and support as those in the larger centres. We need to have some sort of parity with the large big-box liquor stores. The needs of the small communities need to be considered in that light.
B. Lekstrom: It's a pleasure today to respond to the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast on the issue of rural support. The member spoke particularly about rural agency stores and the issue and the difference between the liquor prices — on how it is purchased, really, not the distribution as much.
The rural agency stores — and he was correct; roughly 230 in this province — are, I think, incredibly important. But it's important to note that the issue for our rural stores is not that they're there to sell liquor, primarily. Actually, only 20 percent of their business can be involved in the sale and distribution of liquor. So there is somewhat of a difference, and I want to make sure the public understands that this is not a primary liquor distribution outlet. This is a convenience that was established for rural British Columbians.
Our rural stores, I concur wholeheartedly, are a key focus of our rural areas. This is where people go not only to get what they need but as a place to talk to their neighbours, to talk about the day-to-day workings of what's taking place — if you're in an agricultural setting — with the crops, how things are going. It's a place, many times, to stand and have coffee or to sit down and talk politics, talk about what's taking place in the province. So they are extremely important.
But I want to go back to the fact that these stores and the distribution under the rural agency stores were really set up as a convenience. The prices that an individual pays, whether you're from a city or from the country, when you stop at one of these stores, are the same as what you would pay in a provincial liquor store. That is very important.
I am going to branch out a bit and talk briefly on rural support. I think that in British Columbia we should be very proud of what we're doing. Does that mean we've reached the optimum and there's nothing more to do? Absolutely not.
But we have invested incredible amounts of money in road infrastructure. I think we're making significant headway. I live in an area where the roads are a significant issue for us. We have invested roughly $35 million a year in my constituency alone. Is it enough? I'll tell you right now. I will stand here and not let a week go by that I don't meet with the Minister of Transportation to discuss what we need.
We've invested in post-secondary education in rural British Columbia. We have invested in the University of Northern British Columbia. We have invested in our health professionals to allow them to practise in northern and rural British Columbia. We have health education incentives that are actually working very well, whether it be for nurses or doctors.
I think anyone that lives in rural British Columbia has never expected to have open-heart surgery in the smallest community in British Columbia, but when the need is there, we want to make sure that that access is available to these individuals and that they're looked after. I think we continue to make progress there, and again, we'll continue to work at that.
Northern Lights College, for example, in the riding I represent. We just celebrated the opening of the industry trades training centre in Fort St. John, a wonderful facility that's going to train people for the oil and gas industry to allow them to make sure they have the tools needed to go out and do a professional job but, most importantly, a safe job so that they can go home to their families.
We have Towns for Tomorrow that we have set up for communities under 5,000. We have Spirit Squares, LocalMotion, the port expansion of Prince Rupert.
When I look at rural British Columbia, I think things are going relatively well. Do I think there are still many challenges out there? Yes, just as there are in the cities we represent on both sides of this House in this wonderful province.
In response to the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast, I understand the concerns he's raised, but certainly when I look at it and put it in context, I think that it is set up as a convenience under the distribution of
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alcohol. I think these stores are the backbone of our rural communities on a much broader scale than what they sell.
I thank the member for his information this morning and his discussion on rural support. It's all of our jobs to work for everyone in this province, whether you live in the city or in rural British Columbia. We have to work at making sure we all understand the needs of what we need. Rural British Columbia depends greatly on the larger centres, and the larger centres depend greatly on rural British Columbia. Together, I think, in gaining a better understanding of each other's needs, we're going to grow and make a better province for all.
N. Simons: I thank the member for Peace River South for his considered comments.
If I may just bring the issue right back to the ground and to the small communities that are impacted by, in particular, this government's seemingly not entirely well-thought-out liquor distribution policy. What, in fact, happened in 2002 when the rural agency stores were providing this service…. Granted, it's not intended to be their primary source of income. However, it is a convenience for people in those communities.
Originally, one of the main arguments for allowing rural distribution of alcohol was so that people wouldn't go into the city and drive back, so you could have access to alcohol closer to your community. Now, just because they weren't intended to be the primary source of income for these rural stores should not mean that the competitors or the potential business that is taken away from them should be adjusted without consultation. Surely the impact of increasing the subsidy to private liquor stores is going to have an impact on other distributors of liquor.
When you think about the reasons people go to the rural stores…. I see people in the city now buying beer which is on special in the urban community and then driving right past the rural community on their way to their boat or to their cabin. I think we need to consider the fact that it will have an impact.
I find that the most troubling part of the support that this government offers to rural communities is the lack of communication. We have some 230 rural agency stores that are not exactly big business at all. In fact, they're most often run by local community members who have kids in the school system and who rely on whatever business can come their way. It's not likely to be a huge moneymaking endeavour. When rules are changed that put their ability not in jeopardy but that certainly have a significant impact on it, I think it needs to be considered.
We have a 16-percent subsidy for the private stores and a 10-percent subsidy for the public stores. Sure, the rural agency stores can sell a few other items. But we know more and more that the private liquor stores you go into now can sell candy. They sell chips; they sell ice; they sell lottos; they sell T-shirts. They sell a lot of other things that are not primarily focused on liquor.
Ultimately, the rules seem to be evolving gradually and slowly and morphing into something that maybe they weren't intended to. However, what we're left with is rural agency stores selling alcohol and alcoholic beverages to community members at the regular government rates, which is something that we can all benefit from.
R. Cantelon: I rise today to talk in general terms about the issues surrounding people with disabilities. I appreciate and welcome these opportunities to engage both sides of the House in what I hope will be a positive dialogue and to raise awareness of the issue and move it forward to higher decision-making levels of our government.
It is a well-known fact now — and if it isn't, let me remind you — that there are 570,000 B.C. citizens who have disabilities. Of those, 34,000 are children, and 303,000 are in the working-age group of 19 to 64. I want to note that of these, many tens of thousands have university degrees, have accredited training courses, have skills that could be put to use in the community, but for various reasons, they're not being invited. They're not pursuing work, and they're not employed.
Another 233,000 are seniors that also have a variety of disabilities. A very sad fact is that 24 percent are low-income people, and 22 percent of these people with disabilities are on some form of government assistance. Now, 44 percent of the total number of adults are unemployed; 44 percent of that 303,000 people in the working-place area are unemployed.
The numbers don't really tell the story. I think you need to talk about it on a personal level, and it is improving. On Friday I was at a Serauxmen dinner, which celebrates athletes, and one of the speakers was Michelle Stillwell. At this dinner some of the principal speakers were Darcy Tucker and Daved Benefield.
It was a very, very refreshing change, I think, to see Michelle Stillwell, a person with disabilities. She had a childhood accident, a playground accident, that left her without the use of her legs, and she's now a Paralympian and a gold-medal champion in 100- and 200-metre dashes.
For her to come forward and be a featured speaker at one of these events I think shows that our attitudes towards people with disabilities definitely are changing. She told a very moving story about how she handled her struggle and how she's moving forward.
I also had an incident not long ago to come to the aid of a constituent who, until very recently, was a very able-bodied mountain biker and a very accomplished athlete, who lost the use of his legs and suddenly lost his job. The father of a six-month-old child, he had to now face the adjustment to a workplace that is completely foreign to him — that is, one where he's sitting in a chair and looking up. His company didn't know quite how to handle it. They said: "Well, we'll keep you on, but by the way, we're hiring a manager to help you with your job." The immediate presumption was that he was no longer capable of handling this retail operation. He certainly felt that he was.
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There will be help for people in these situations. There's the National Institute of Disability Management and Research, which was supported in its efforts to establish university status by both sides of this House. This will help both employers and employees.
A large part of the people, however, are not visible. They don't have visible disabilities. These are people with a variety of mental issues — bipolar disorders or who have suffered depression or other forms of mental illness — who are certainly capable and willing. It would be very constructive and positive to have them in the workforce. In Nanaimo, Ron Plecas operates a society called Open Minds Open Windows to try to change our attitude towards people with mental disabilities.
Too often our immediate tendency, when we are meeting or introduced to somebody with mental issues, is to draw back and say, "Uh-oh, is this person going to attack me?" or something else. We need to have open minds in dealing with people. I certainly came upon this problem when I was canvassing. I canvassed a person who had bipolar disorder. It began in a very friendly way, but then he became quite enthusiastic in denouncing our government's attitude towards people with disabilities.
We need to do more. I put a challenge out to the members on both sides of this House to take it upon yourselves personally. This government has a program, yes, to increase the employment of people with disabilities by 10 percent by 2010. What are we doing about it? What are you doing about it in your offices?
I intend to pursue looking at hiring a person with disabilities. I can do that with my limited constituency budget, and I can do it on a part-time basis. I intend to employ someone who is going to pursue other employers, principally, starting with municipal governments and regional district governments. I challenge other members to make presentations to these government organizations, both at open meetings and personally, and to engage them and say: "What are you doing about employing people with disabilities?"
Much is being done to make the workplace and the communities we live in more livable for people with disabilities, although I have to tell you that I was challenged to spend a morning — it turned out to be about an hour or hour and a half — in a wheelchair on what I thought was pretty level ground. You immediately become aware of the challenges that people with physical disabilities face in manoeuvring around our cities. It's a terrific challenge. Simple things like loading ramps become dangerous areas if you're in a wheelchair. The simple tasks that we take for granted are obviously magnified 100-fold if you don't have the mobility of all your limbs.
In closing, Madam Speaker, I put the challenge to the opposition, and I look forward to the comments from across the floor. Yes, there are lots of government programs. Yes, you can demand the government do this and the government do that with the public resources. But I think we need to do more than that, and I think we need to challenge ourselves individually to take the message forward.
We're seen as leaders in the community. Our voices will be heard if you take it to municipal leaders, to regional district leaders and also to business leaders that you have contact with — or perhaps union leaders, more so, in the case in the members opposite — and say: "What are you doing, and what is your group doing to advance the cause to get more people employed?"
That's specifically it. They have the skills, they have the talent, they have the aptitudes, and unfortunately, they have far, far too much time. They're willing to be trained, to step forward and work in the workplace.
Goodness knows, the social consequences are one thing, but we have a great economic opportunity as well.
N. Simons: I thank the member for Nanaimo-Parksville for his well-considered comments. I'd like, first of all, to agree that there is a definite campaign and an urging going on to enlighten community members as to the benefit of hiring people of varying abilities, people with disabilities and people with abilities — however you want to describe them. Yes, indeed, our role is to be as strongly focused on integration of community as a whole and seeing every member of our community as a valuable contributor, not just economically but socially as well.
I concur with the member's statements about how we need to do our bit to encourage people to open their minds, to recognize people for their skills and to see beyond particular disabilities.
I would like to just point out and add, because it's my role from this side of the House, how we can do that and how we can do that with the assistance of government. One of the main statistics, I suppose, that I would like to point out right off the bat is that there are 3,000 people on the waiting list for services that ultimately will contribute to their becoming more able, more capable of integrating and fully participating as the full members of society that they are.
It's my humble request that this government recognize the fact that there are people who are not being provided with services that could contribute to their level of literacy, their social integration, their work skills — to a number of factors that affect a person. Really, if we don't address promoting the abilities in people…. If we fail to address that, then, I think we're going to be left with an underrepresentation of people with disabilities in our workforce.
Of course, we would like nothing more than to have a larger percentage of people with disabilities working in various jobs around the province, and we know that that can happen. I'm proud to say that my constituency office and others that I know of are doing exactly as the member for Nanaimo-Parksville has recommended — that we consider all possible options for people to gain experience, even perhaps as volunteers to start with, whatever the level of ability allows. It's my hope that we not only consider hiring people — and that's a non-partisan issue, of course — but that we do so in light of what we can contribute to their abilities.
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I know that in my particular constituency I've met with people from the community living sector who are primarily interested in improving the quality of life for people on their caseload. There's no question about it. The intention is to provide as many opportunities to people with disabilities as possible, to encourage full participation in our community activities and to do so, at the same time, by supporting them in the programs — whether they be day programs, residential programs — to be full and active members of our communities as employees and as citizens.
R. Cantelon: I appreciate the comments from the member opposite and didn't expect less than concurrence with the goals and achievements. At the same time, I expected and heard that we as a government could do more and always can do more to support people. I won't be long in saying, though, that initiatives like 2010, Measuring Up and many of the other programs, such as developing an employment website to assist people with disabilities to make the transition to the workforce….
I salute his leadership in his community and again reiterate the challenge to all members of this assembly to take personal leadership in their communities.
It's an issue, really, of social conscience. The issue really is an issue of social disadvantage that people with disabilities have. It's a lack of hope. It's a lack of opportunity. It's a matter of being stuck at home and, in many cases, an issue of loneliness.
I pick up on the member opposite's comments about volunteerism. There are opportunities to receive at least some compensation for volunteerism. So we need to take leadership.
On this side of the House I would be remiss if I didn't also point out the huge economic opportunities that this province can benefit from. One of the aspects of people with disabilities is that they're extremely loyal employees. They want to work, and they're ready to work hard, which in some cases is a refreshing change from some of the people that come to the workplace. They're very employable. Any employer, whether municipal or business, will be very well served by hiring somebody with disabilities, whether they be visible or obvious physical disabilities.
In closing, I would reiterate a challenge. It's up to us. It's up to people on both sides of this chamber, as we go forward in this year and next year towards election, to take that message forward to business leaders and community leaders and, by our own personal leadership, to espouse and advance the cause of people with disabilities.
It's more than a worthy cause; it's a necessary cause. I appreciate the support from all members of this House in this.
D. Routley: I have the pleasure of rising today to speak about the coastal ferry system in British Columbia. I represent the riding of Cowichan-Ladysmith, which has several ferry-dependent communities — two of them completely dependent on ferries for all transportation of goods and services, those being Thetis Island and Kuper Island. Also in my riding is the ferry run from Crofton to Saltspring Island.
I want to speak about the circumstances my constituents face under a failed business plan that has abandoned public interest in the interest of ideological solutions. This is an issue of public transit. This is a service that has always been seen as part of the public transit infrastructure, and it is absolutely essential for rural, coastal, economic and social development. Abandonment of public interest to this failed business plan has resulted in the following changes which have decimated the lives of my constituents.
The people of Thetis Island, for example — that is route 20 — since April of 2003 have faced a 62-percent increase in fees in a four-year period, while at the same time, inflation over that period ran between 10 to 12 percent in total.
That's not all. By the end of this year they'll be facing a total of 68 percent; by April of '09, 80 percent. By the end of the current business plan for B.C. Ferries they will face a 107-percent increase in their fares, and that does not even include the fuel surcharges that have been downloaded onto the travelling public.
It begs the question about the wisdom of the plan that the Minister of Transportation introduced. It begs the question of what the total cost of privatization has been. In fact, the total cost of increased GST charges to the ferry corporation and the debt service charges that are being carried are more than all of the fuel surcharges put together. So are the fuel surcharges a veiled cost of privatization? Are they covering the costs of a wrong-headed privatization of a publicly essential service?
On route 6, the Crofton-to-Saltspring Island route, they are facing 44 percent as of now. By the end of the current plan they'll be at a 91-percent increase. On the major routes so far it's been 20 percent, and by the end of this five-year plan the major routes will be looking at a 45-percent increase.
At a time when tourism rates are declining because of border issues and our strong dollar, this is the worst possible time for our coastal communities and their economies to absorb these exorbitant fee increases. Small business on Saltspring Island — particularly small-scale agriculture, the small-scale farmers — is devastated by these cost increases in combination with the further abandonment of rural communities by the B.C. Liberals in the meat regulation changes that have been made. They have a double whammy that they're coping with, and many of them are left with the simple and only alternative of doing away with their herds and getting out of the business.
How can that be supporting the economic and social development of rural B.C. communities? All these people are taxpayers. All these people have something to offer to this province, as do their communities, and this government has abandoned their interests.
[ Page 8876 ]
Deborah Marshall, B.C. Ferries spokesperson, today in the paper is quoted as saying: "It's just a very expensive system to run." Well, yes, when you discount the public interest value of this service, it certainly is expensive.
Highways are something that businesses and people around this province depend on universally, and yet they are not expected to pay the full cost of maintaining, building, establishing and operating these highways. That burden is borne by all of us because it's in all our interests to have a good transportation infrastructure, just as it's in the interests of a senior with no children and no grandchildren to pay into the public education system. We all benefit.
Ms. Marshall goes on to say that fares will increase even further on high-traffic occasions like this Remembrance Day long weekend. She says that the charge for a car will go up the equivalent of 14 percent and passengers an extra 5 percent.
This is not an airline. Let's take this apart. In her statement she says: "It's similar to an airline. We do have to put on extra staff and extra sailings. It does cost a little more, so we do have to charge a little more."
It is not like an airline. There's no alternative for the people of Thetis, no alternative for the people of Kuper, no alternative for the people of Saltspring Island. Even with a tolled highway there are always alternatives offered, but not with the B.C. Ferries and not with the B.C. Liberal approach to ferry operation.
It's essential. It's vital for our small businesses. All our tourist development is dependent, in one form or another, on transportation, and who pays for this? The people in my riding.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
The worst is the increase levelled on the people of Kuper Island, who were removed against their will from their homeland in Chemainus and placed on Kuper Island and now are dependent on that ferry. This government, which claims its great commitment to reconciliation, has not embodied any of those notions in any ministry's operations, and certainly not in the operation of B.C. Ferries.
I will tell you a story about an elder from Kuper Island who had to collect pop bottles to get on the ferry recently. She came up short. The employees at the ferry terminal had the RCMP come to remove that woman from the ferry — a degrading experience as she tried to get home.
Nothing like this is happening anywhere else in B.C. Public infrastructure and public transit is subsidized. Rural transit systems are subsidized in the order of 92 or 93 percent. Yet this government has the heartlessness to damage this developing and struggling community.
The people of Kuper Island struggle with the worst demographics, equal to the impoverishment in any community. It's up to us, and it's up to this government to serve them correctly.
R. Cantelon: I'm pleased to respond to the member for Cowichan-Ladysmith. Early on in his discourse he used the word "ideological." I think that, of course, has significant political components, and that is something, certainly, that this government tried to remove itself from in the operation of B.C. Ferries.
Previously it was driven completely by a political agenda. The fares were set. The expansion was done on political motivation. The result and the culmination of that, as we know, is sitting in the harbour in North Vancouver shrink-wrapped — an expensive investment that benefited no one in this province.
It's a very unfortunate mistake, and of course, we're all paying for that. Instead of replacing ferries that needed to be upgraded to replace the capital investment in all our operations, the money was misspent and misused. Fortunately, now we see…. Certainly, for the major routes we've seen the vessels being floated and commissioned and put to sea, and by next spring we will have a very new, modern and upgraded facility built to very high new standards.
I don't think we want to ever go back. In fact, it was a colossal error, perhaps on both sides of this government, to continually meddle with the operations on a political basis.
The B.C. Ferry Commission now, acting as an independent and transparent organization, regulates the fares. Those fares are capped and have been capped, from the installation of the commission and the ferry corporation, at 2.8 percent per year, and 4.4 percent on the minor routes. Those caps are in place by legislation and will be reviewed in 2008 and are in the process of being reviewed.
It's interesting to note that on the Gulf Islands routes and the minor routes, although the fare caps are at 4.4 percent and have been for some time, the actual fare increases up until this year have been managed by the B.C. Ferry Authority to be 3 to 5 percent lower than the actual caps permit. So they have been very sensitive, as sensitive as they can, in keeping the fares lower.
The commission does not report to the Premier, does not report to cabinet, does not report to the Minister of Transportation and does not report to the B.C. Ferry Authority. They are an independent commission that sets the fares based on calculations that they come to in looking at operating costs and fairness to the consumer.
But they are open to the public. The chair, Martin Crilly, has direct communication lines open, through letter and through e-mail, where individuals can make representations to him regarding their needs. Personally, I'm very familiar with the ferries, having lived on the islands now for over 30 years. In my constituency, too, Lasqueti Island has one of the ferries service the community.
One of the interesting aspects and changes is that businesses on the islands — Gabriola Island, and the member opposite mentioned Saltspring Island — are as a result developing critical commercial masses on their own islands. We certainly see this very predominantly on Saltspring and now to a lesser extent on Gabriola.
The people, recognizing the costs of commuting and the lifestyle that they enjoy on the island, now are supporting local businesses. Rather than hurting the
[ Page 8877 ]
islands, in a very significant way it's helping to build the critical mass of goods and services being created on these islands to service the island communities. Not only does it give better service to the islanders, it gives it in a unique way that reinforces the sense of living on a smaller area bounded by water. So it's actually contributing to that.
Now, is it working on all of them? No, it's not. Is it a slow process? Yes, it is. But it is building, and it is creating and reinforcing the island identity.
In closing, I would add that it is true that some of the services may be viewed as a hardship. I do not accept the tenets of the member opposite that it should be provided at total public expense. I think most islanders — in fact, all islanders — recognize that in living where they live, they make a choice. They make a choice of isolation. They make a choice of a different lifestyle, perhaps a more laid-back lifestyle where they can appreciate nature more.
There are exceptions, and I accept that Thetis Island–Kuper Island is an exception to that. People expect less and, I think, are accepting of a lower level of service and personal responsibility.
D. Routley: The rate of spin on fact that the member has offered could only be equalled by the minister himself. Perhaps that would explain the dizzying incoherence of B.C. Liberal policies when it comes to B.C. Ferries and the interpretation of the memory.
Shipbuilding, for example — their abandonment of B.C. industry. We built the Spirit-class ferries. They carry 500 cars — 16,000 horsepower engines, 167 metres long. They abandoned that with the decision to build the ferries offshore. It's just another example of how this Liberal government has abandoned public interest. This building of ferries offshore to be used domestically would never be allowed in the United States. It's a shortsighted decision.
With the time I have left, I want to offer a short lesson on the difference between public interest and political interference. The ferries commissioner has said he doesn't protect the public interest.
Previous Transportation Minister Judith Reid said:
"If the B.C. Ferry service tried to raise a tariff beyond what would meet the test of public good, it is incumbent on government…. Government has the opportunity to step in and revise the contract, the fee-for-service, in order to meet that need. It will always be back to government to make sure that the public good is protected and there is reasonable provision of services for reasonable cost, especially for some of our more out-of-the-way and inaccessible communities."
Out of the way and inaccessible, Mr. Speaker? That is Vancouver Island. Certainly, that's the small islands.
The member has said that it is a choice for a laid-back lifestyle. Thirty percent of the B.C. economy, a history of providing raw resources — lumber and mining — to this province, and this member has denigrated that.
The Transportation Minister's definition of political interference equals the definition the B.C. public has for the protection of public interest. It is in the public interest that the economic development of our islands and our outlying communities continues and is successful, but all of that has been abandoned by repeated policies by the B.C. Liberals, be it ferries or meat inspection or small-school closure — on and on and on. Rural communities have been abandoned by the B.C. Liberal government, this Premier and particularly this Transportation Minister.
It is essential to this government keeping its promise when it talks of reconciliation, keeping its promise to the people of the Penelakut and the people of Kuper Island that they be provided public services at a reasonable cost — as every other British Columbian would expect. Unfortunately, all of that has been swept away in a spin, in an ideological attack on public services, and this government has refused to acknowledge that the business model for B.C. Ferries is a failure.
Hon. B. Penner: I call item 66 on the order paper.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, unanimous consent of the House is required to proceed with Motion 66 without disturbing the priorities of motions preceding it on the order paper.
S. Simpson: Mr. Speaker, I ask leave to make an introduction.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Introductions by Members
S. Simpson: I'm pleased today to introduce a guest to our gallery, Malalai Joya. Malalai is a 29-year-old Afghani woman.
Ms. Joya is quite a remarkable individual, a social activist who has been a longstanding champion of human rights, and most particularly women's rights, in Afghanistan. Her work has included being elected the youngest member of the Afghanistan parliament at age 28.
In addition to her parliamentary work, Ms. Joya is the head of the non-governmental group Organization for Promoting Afghan Women's Capabilities. Ms. Joya has been recognized with many awards. These include her current nomination for the prestigious European Sakharov peace award.
However, Ms. Joya's work for the rights and safety of women in her country has not been without risk. She has faced three assassination attempts on her life since 2003, and for challenging the control of the fundamentalist warlords who control much of Afghanistan, she has been suspended from parliament. She is currently challenging that in the courts.
She is presently in Canada as part of an international tour seeking support for democratic initiatives in Afghanistan, and this includes calling on our country to refocus our efforts in Afghanistan to better support those democratic and humanitarian efforts. I would ask the House to make Ms. Joya welcome.
[ Page 8878 ]
Motions on Notice
TRADE AND LABOUR MOBILITY
AND TILMA AGREEMENT
R. Sultan: Mr. Speaker, on Motion 66, I move:
[Be it resolved that this House encourages all provinces and territories to reduce barriers to trade and labour mobility by following the model set out in the B.C./Alberta Trade and Investment Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA).]
TILMA is an important step toward implementing a radical idea: free trade within Canada. What a revolutionary concept, to remove trade barriers on trade with Alberta, just as we did with the United States and Mexico 13 years ago. Well, better late than never.
The usual suspects have lined up against TILMA, with the labour sector–funded Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives leading the parade.
Here's a sampling of the outcry. "Another bad deal for Canada" — Council of Canadians. "Bad news for labour" — Saskatoon and District Labour Council. "TILMA equals bad" — a blog entry by somebody who doesn't want to sign their own name. "TILMA will quickly lead us to economic integration with the United States" — I thought it was with Alberta, but that's BCGEU. Another stalwart officer of BCGEU: "TILMA threatens access to early childhood education." Wow.
The critics suggest that not only are early childhood education and Canadian independence at risk; so too are jobs, labour standards, employment safety and freedom of municipalities to buy their supplies locally at a higher price. It might be okay to buy in Bellingham, but we draw the line at Calgary.
[K. Whittred in the chair.]
As one listens to the forecasts of doom and various pleas for the status quo, one is reminded of another private member's motion by Frédéric Bastiat, another economist and a member of the French parliament. This was his proposal:
"To the hon. members of the Chamber of Deputies: a petition from the manufacturers of candles, tapers, lanterns, candlesticks, street lamps, snuffers and extinguishers and from producers of tallow, oil, resin, alcohol and generally of everything connected with lighting.
"We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price. For the moment he appears, our sales cease, all the customers turn to him, and a branch of French industry whose ramifications are innumerable is all at once reduced to complete stagnation. This rival, which is none other than the sun, is waging war on us so mercilessly we suspect he is being stirred up against us by the perfidious Albion" — which, as an aside, was the French terminology for Great Britain in those days.
"We ask you to be so good as to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights, inside and outside shutters, curtains, casements, bull's eyes, deadlinks and blinds — in short, all openings, holes, chinks and fissures through which the light of the sun is wont to enter houses to the detriment of the fair industries with which we are proud to say we have endowed the country — a country that cannot, without betraying ingratitude, abandon us today to so unequal a combat….What industry in France will not ultimately be encouraged?"
Members opposite and their many friends who have spoken out against TILMA have obviously studied their Bastiat. Just as, more than 100 years ago, the parliament of France was encouraged to throttle low-cost competition from the sun, modern-day TILMA critics would throttle any advantage from jurisdictions who might have a low-cost advantage over us.
Carrying this logic to its extreme, we on the North Shore could install customs barriers on the Lions Gate and Iron Workers bridges, purchase all of our petroleum supplies from a new refinery to be built in Ambleside and forbid lawyers downtown from taking on any clients from Edgemont Village.
But frankly, I prefer the words of Mike Harcourt, a great Canadian:
"On the question of internal trade barriers, the first ministers have agreed that we're going to work to eliminate as many of those internal trade barriers as possible, and they set June 30, 1994, as the deadline for doing that. We reached this agreement in March 1993. We've had our trade ministers working very actively on that. As a matter of fact, at this moment Minister Clark and his parliamentary secretary are in Toronto dealing with the question of internal trade barriers."
That's Mike Harcourt, June 27, 1994.
Here's what they say about TILMA down east. "B.C. and Alberta have achieved for themselves what the agreement on internal trade" — the latest reincarnation of provincial relationships prodded on by the federal government — "failed miserably to do for all ten provinces. They have created a clear and enforceable liberalized environment for trade and commerce inside Canada." That's the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.
The need is great. Canada's productivity is lagging behind that of most of its competitors. Ultimately, this is reflected in Canadian wages, chronically about 20 percent lower than those in the United States.
The need to reduce barriers in our economic union has been studied to death. Over 20 years ago the Macdonald royal commission into the economic union lamented our failure to open up trade between the provinces. Federal and provincial governments regularly profess their commitment to strengthening the Canadian common market with little to back up their speeches, at the end of the day.
Meanwhile, regional trade agreements abound in the world. The European Common Market is a resounding success, and there's never before been greater mobility of labour and capital around the world. Historical enemies such as Germany, France and England can open their borders, but Alberta and British Columbia cannot. We should be able to grasp the simple principle of treating persons, goods and services equally regardless of origin. In fact, that sounds like such a sensible principle
[ Page 8879 ]
that maybe the Human Rights Commission can make more headway on it than governments.
As a final clincher to the debate, I would offer the economic model offered by two eminent Swedish economists, Eli Heckscher and Bertil Ohlin, in the 1920s and elaborated on in the 1930s by one of my old professors, Paul Samuelson of MIT, and further tweaked in the '50s and '60s by another of my old professors, Jaroslav Vanek, proving that these ideas are hardly new. The gist of their conclusions is that national welfare rises for both countries — read both provinces — when they move to free trade. You can look it up.
C. Wyse: Madam Speaker, it is indeed my honour to respond to an argument from the member opposite, though the member opposite has left out some very important points in his motion. TILMA, you see, is a trade, investment and labour mobility agreement. You can't take out a portion of the agreement and say it doesn't apply. It's a trade, investment and labour mobility agreement.
The Union of B.C. Municipalities happens to be amongst the usual suspects not usually found that have serious reservations about this agreement. At their convention in September, upon legal advice that they received, they pointed out very serious reservations upon this particular document, TILMA, and the effect that it has upon a wide range of items, including the ability of local government to be able to actually govern. I will come back to that shortly.
However, when you look at the trade aspect of it, the agreement of internal trade, in actual fact, has shown that this federal responsibility provides no impediments worth relating to that TILMA attempts to get at. And remember that the challenges underneath TILMA become all the articles, particularly articles 3(1), 5(1) and 5(3).
An agreement that is signed in British Columbia underneath NAFTA cannot restrict its benefits to the members of NAFTA. Therefore, any advantages that are given underneath the trade, investment and labour mobility agreement then must apply to the signatories of NAFTA. There is the connection to the effect of this agreement done in secret with limited or no consultation across the affected parties here in British Columbia and Alberta.
It is also interesting to note that the governments of Saskatchewan and Manitoba have looked at TILMA and rejected their participation in it. In Ontario during the last provincial election we had parties that were promising, on one hand, that they would help Ontario businesses and, on the other hand, saying that they would live up to TILMA. In actual fact, you cannot do both under TILMA. That is simply a fact that governs the results of TILMA.
When you look at the aspects, narrowing my discussion slightly simply to trades, TILMA obligates governments to recognize the qualifications of workers certified by other provinces without requiring any additional training or examinations. This means that a province must accept that a worker is certified, even if his or her certification was based on lower standards in another province.
Likewise, Alberta's higher trade certification standards would be seen as a restriction or impairment to investment. By dropping one word in the motion, Madam Speaker, this discussion has become so narrow that the arguments to defend it become exceptionally soft, with no discussion around it. TILMA will end the ability of government to negotiate agreements that foster apprenticeship training for local and equity — for example, first nations and women — as well as hiring and fair wages.
Recently, within the last few weeks in Alberta, the banking industry has challenged, under TILMA, the right for Alberta to have ATB banking continue — something that was set up in the '30s in order to provide a service that the large banks and bankers would not apply across all of Alberta — a challenge that removes the possibility for banks to be found where Alberta wants banks — in the approximately 250 communities where the major banks have left and where those banking services are not there.
Madam Speaker, I can't imagine anywhere in the world that any government would follow TILMA and use it as a template when I, in five minutes, have been able to come up with examples. I can't even get near environment and how TILMA will restrict both local and provincial governments in enacting the items that they wish to do.
In closing, TILMA has turned over the right of government to govern to a three-person panel to determine how things are enacted in the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. That is not a model that should be followed anywhere in the world, and British Columbia should be serving notice immediately to have it cancelled within one year.
J. Yap: I appreciate this opportunity to speak on this motion, and I appreciate my colleague the member for West Vancouver–Capilano for bringing forward Motion 66, which is an important one for us to debate in this House.
I'd like to start out by addressing a couple of comments made by the member for Cariboo South, generally a theme of fearmongering on the part of the honoured member. He started out and he ended by raising the spectre of local governments, and specifically, he mentioned the UBCM as having grave concerns.
The reality is that TILMA, when fully implemented, will of course apply to local governments, but there will be a two-year transition period, which started in April 2007. During this time of transition, there will be consultation with municipalities to negotiate any required exclusions or special allowances.
There will be this period of transition and consultation. We should not — as the member before me — jump to conclusions simply from the point of view of raising fears and being a fearmonger.
I'd like to speak in support of this motion. My colleague from West Vancouver–Capilano spoke very clearly about how we need to reduce trade barriers
[ Page 8880 ]
within our country, within Canada. These barriers are archaic, and I appreciate his bringing us a little bit of history from a hundred years ago about how in today's world the whole concept of trying to put up artificial barriers is really quite ludicrous.
We are a nation. We need to have as much unfettered trade as possible within our nation. We live in a global economy; we all know that. Trade is a vital part of this global economy, where we can create more opportunities, more economic opportunities, more jobs for all of our citizens. We know who we are. Canada has always been a trading nation, and British Columbia is a trading province.
TILMA, as an excellent example of how to address trade barriers between two provinces, has strong support. I'll share a couple of quotes. The Conference Board of Canada in a study in 2006 called Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts: The Effect of Barriers to Competition on Canadian Productivity. Here's one of the conclusions. A majority of the 198 Canadian businesses surveyed by the Conference Board indicated that they had experienced problems arising from both federal and provincial non-tariff barriers.
Another expression of support, this from the C.D. Howe Institute in the study Can the B.C-Alberta TILMA Resuscitate Trade in Canada? This study pointed out that interprovincial trade barriers raise the prices that local consumers, businesses and governments pay for the goods and services they procure.
I mentioned that trade is vital. Just a couple of statistics: 41 percent of B.C.'s interprovincial exports were destined for Alberta — 41 percent — and from the other direction, 25 percent of Alberta's interprovincial exports were destined for B.C.
With TILMA, once fully implemented, we will be able to increase the opportunities for mobility and for trade, and increase the opportunities for growth, for economic growth, for jobs for all citizens of British Columbia and Alberta. TILMA is an excellent example of what can be achieved. TILMA will allow businesses to trade more efficiently between our provinces. TILMA will allow professionals to practise between B.C. and Alberta when fully implemented.
I would like to refer to an expression of support by the hon. member for Skeena. This is a quote from a news program. To set the stage, the background is this. In September 2007 two doctors from Alberta wanted to start a practice in Kitimat, an area experiencing a shortage of doctors. The B.C. College of Physicians rejected both their applications to practise in B.C.
The member for Skeena had the following to say, referring to TILMA: "Obviously, here's an example of one professional organization having different standards from the Alberta one, so this shows you that we need to be doing this."
TILMA will mean a harmonized economic powerhouse between B.C. and Alberta, which will have the second-largest economy as a trading zone in Canada after Ontario. B.C.-Alberta will be 30 percent larger than the province of Quebec in terms of economy, in terms of GDP, when fully implemented and seeing the benefits of TILMA.
TILMA will lead to the creation of 78,000 additional jobs in British Columbia and will add 4.8 percent to our GDP. That is something we can look forward to with TILMA.
TILMA is the right approach to ensure our continued prosperity as a province, and we should encourage all provinces to look to TILMA as a model for reducing interprovincial trade barriers for the good of their citizens and for all of Canada.
L. Krog: I'm delighted to rise this morning to speak to the motion brought forward by the member for West Vancouver–Capilano, who always injects a sense of history to this place by making references to the kind of language and views that I think were fashionable during the Cold War. He talks about organizations that are opposed to this like the CCPA, like it was some grand conspiracy, and that somehow labour would never support anything progressive on the issue of trade.
Having said that and having poked a little fun at the hon. member, I'm conscious of the fact that he's one of the best-educated in this chamber, and his views should always be treated with respect.
It is for that reason I'm surprised that a backbencher has to bring this motion before the House this morning. If in fact TILMA is such a great thing for British Columbia, if it is such a transparent document, if it is so important for British Columbia's future economic prosperity, then I have to ask this morning: why wasn't that treaty brought before the Legislature of British Columbia for open and honest public debate? Why is the government afraid to bring it into this chamber?
We're going to spend weeks on the Tsawwassen treaty, debating it clause by clause and looking at every tiny aspect of it. Yet this document, this agreement with the province of Alberta which is supposed to bring about economic nirvana in British Columbia, is going to get a few minutes this morning and, if the government ever gets around to debating it, a tiny bit around a bill dealing with the reciprocal enforcement of judgments — which I guarantee that half the members in this chamber won't understand when it arrives here anyway.
Again, I say to this government: if this is so important and so good, why isn't it here in the form of an actual act brought forward by the government, passed through cabinet and available to all British Columbians for full, open, honest and public debate?
I would suggest that, firstly, it's not that important. You know, I sat in this chamber for four and a half years previously. I've been here for over two years now, and I must tell you that I have not had one single constituent come into my office, pound on my desk and say: "By golly, I want a trade agreement with the province of Alberta. It is the most important thing facing British Columbia today." On the other hand, I have had hundreds of people come in to talk about housing and poverty, about homelessness, about health care — about important issues.
The member for Richmond-Steveston said that it's the right approach. The right approach would be to
[ Page 8881 ]
have this here for a fulsome debate. The right approach would be to have available all of those experts, who presumably would have advised the government about this bill, sitting beside a minister at committee stage answering those difficult technical questions.
The right approach would have presumably been, if this is so good, to have secured the support of the Union of B.C. Municipalities. But they don't support it. They voted it down.
If this is such a big problem for the economies of western Canada — indeed, of all the provinces in the country — why isn't there such a great cry for it? Why isn't it at the top of the government agenda?
The fact is that the government of British Columbia has entered into an agreement that — with the greatest respect to the government side in this House — I suspect is neither necessary nor a solution to any real problem. There are issues around interprovincial trade, but in the great scheme of this province's economy, it is a small matter — a very small matter.
The fact is that it does represent, however, enormous possibilities for restricting the right of British Columbians and municipal governments and, indeed, provincial governments to do the right thing for British Columbia. I suspect the reason this treaty isn't before the House in the normal way is because this government knows it can't answer all the difficult questions that British Columbians have — all the difficult questions that the UBCM, those politicians assembled, had.
The fact is that they've entered into an agreement without understanding its full consequences. They haven't considered all of it. Whenever any criticism arises, it's dismissed as being somehow typical of those left-wing groups who don't like the Liberal government.
Hon. Speaker, it's no answer, and it's no answer on this government's part this morning to give us this little bit of time to talk about a motion around TILMA instead of debating it fully. I say if it's really important, if it's that significant, bring it on. We'll debate it full on in this House, just like the Tsawwassen treaty.
J. Rustad: I am very pleased today to rise to speak to Motion 66, particularly, in support of this motion. I want to put a little bit of context.
The member for Nanaimo just finished saying that TILMA was not debated in the House and that how could we possibly bring something forward like this without debating in the House. I'd just like to remind the member that in 1994 the NDP also talked about an agreement on internal trade, which came into effect in 1995 with no official debate. I find it rather interesting that the member today seems to be so righteous about wanting to have a wide-ranging official debate on this, when in the past their practices obviously spoke differently.
The trade, investment and labour mobility agreement is much more than just something about a debate; it's about something real. It's about being able to move goods and trades, being able to actually work together in a partnership between two provinces. That partnership will effectively create the second-largest economy in Canada. The combined GDP of B.C. and Alberta will be 30 percent greater than that of Quebec. That block of power and that block of ability in terms of trade and of being able to attract investment is very significant. Quite frankly, the rest of Canada should be looking at this and saying: "How can we do something similar?"
Look at what's happened in Europe. You look across at the various countries in Europe and all of the historical challenges and problems they have had, yet they've managed to come together and say: "We actually want to look beyond that. We actually want to be able to create a union that allows for the free movement of goods and labour across our area." Why? They understand that the past practices are not the way of the future and that they need to be competitive across a block, across a large area that is now over 300 million people in one trading bloc. That gives them an amazing amount of clout and ability and strength in terms of their economies. Madam Speaker, that is what we should be looking at.
It's very unfortunate that the opposition will stand up in opposition of this. It reminds me very much of people who, you know, want to protect their own little turf. They want to put up a wall around their own area and say: "We just want to play in here; we don't want to have our ability to go outside of that."
There was another group that considered that, and they ended up creating something called the Berlin Wall. They did that specifically because they believed they wanted to protect their area and their abilities, and they believed that their own internal strengths were strong enough. They didn't want to have the influence. They didn't want to have competition. They did not want to have the ability to have goods and trade and investment go back and forth.
This speaks to the fundamentals of what TILMA is. TILMA means to be able to open up our economy. We are a small trading province. We depend on trade. We depend on the ability to interact with other provinces and other countries so that we as an economy can flourish. We do not need to see things like a Berlin Wall, which is what this opposition seems to want to go towards. They like the idea of protectionism.
All we need to do is go back in history and look at some of the causes of things like the Great Depression and things of that nature, where it really was protectionism that created a huge problem. There were other factors, obviously, but protectionism in itself helped to prolong what happened throughout the Great Depression.
To me, what it shows is a real lack of understanding from the opposition on just what trade is, what investment is and what is needed to be able to spark economic growth and activity. When you look at the record for the 1990s, it becomes very clear why.
Madam Speaker, I want to tell you also about some challenges that I've heard from businesses in my area. Particularly they're looking at the opportunity of being able to access oil and gas opportunities and business opportunities in northern Alberta. One of the challenges they run across is the fact that certain of the skilled
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trades, which are key to some of the industries there, have to have over and above their own skills in terms of….
In any case, in terms of their training that they have to have, Alberta also has to have a special certification, an Alberta certification. That means that companies on our side of the border are limited in terms of being able to access those jobs and that kind of opportunity in Alberta.
TILMA is designed to be able to bring down those barriers so that companies in my end of the woods, in B.C., will now be able to go across the border and work in those industries and compete in those industries. When you look at B.C., when you look at the competitiveness of our companies, and when you look at what we can provide and what we are able to do through innovation, we can easily compete with companies on the other side of the border to be able to go after those kinds of opportunities.
That means we have the opportunity to create more jobs not just on our side but on both sides, and the opportunity to expand our economy. I think the estimate was that TILMA will add about 4.8 percent to our GDP over time through its benefits. That is real growth. Quite frankly, it's more than almost the entire decade put together of those guys' management of business throughout the 1990s.
The member for Cariboo South talked about how other provinces are in opposition to this, and he said: "I can't imagine why anybody in the world would support TILMA."
Well, I can tell you, Madam Speaker. With the kind of thinking they have behind a Berlin Wall, it's obvious why members on that side of the House could not understand why something like TILMA would be an advantage and why many countries — including the EU, Mexico, the United States and Canada, including significant blocs — are all looking at how we can take down trade barriers, how we can increase the ability for the flow of trades and goods, and how we can make sure our economies prosper in this ever-globalization of the world we have today.
I'm very pleased today to be able to rise in support of this motion. I understand the natural opposition that comes from the socialist dogma around trade, around investment and around protectionism. But they really should look beyond this, because this agreement is what is good for B.C. It's good for western Canada. Quite frankly, it should be good for all of Canada.
I look forward to this moving forward across Canada. I look forward to those trade barriers coming down, because we can compete. This will be a great benefit for the people of British Columbia.
D. Routley: It does give me great pleasure to rise and speak on this motion today. In fact, I changed my flight arrangements just to be here, because I think it really is important. It's more important than offering up five minutes to each member to debate a motion.
TILMA harnesses us to a downward slope in standards and in training. This is another abandonment of community autonomy. We can easily see how TILMA can interfere in local governments' ability to do things like having green purchasing policies for their maintenance departments. We can easily see how it interferes with hiring equity programs and with programs based on reconciliation, I might say to the provincial B.C. Liberal government.
Any kind of positive steps and agreements with first nation bands to hire their members ahead of others would be challengeable under this agreement. How does this measure up with their previous commitments to reconciliation? Well, very poorly, Madam Speaker.
The real barriers to employment mobility in this country and in this province in particular are not domestic regulations. It's the failure to recognize foreign credentials and, above that, the failure of the B.C. Liberal government to invest in proper apprenticeship training and their watering-down of the Red Seal trade. In fact, that's a great threat to the Alberta training system through TILMA, because their standards may indeed be brought down to the low standards of the B.C. Liberal government.
Previous Education Minister Christy Clark met with companies — like the bottling companies Coca-Cola and Pepsi — and asked them to voluntarily comply with TILMA when the government moved to remove junk food from vending machines. She and this government know that those kinds of programs that are being portrayed as barriers, negative regulations and restrictions are in fact the very kinds of regulations that protect our children in an age of increased childhood obesity and that protect our communities in an era of more advanced environmental considerations — at least by the people of B.C., if not the government of B.C.
The member for Richmond-Steveston said that B.C. and Alberta would become the second-largest trading zone — our economy versus other Canadian economies. That is not the spirit of cooperation in Canada. That's not the spirit of breaking down barriers. That's the spirit of creating new ones.
The member for West Vancouver–Capilano calls it a radical idea, a revolutionary notion. Then he goes on to say that perhaps we'd prefer customs on the Lions Gate. This is a red herring — one fish that's red takes the attention from the broader mass, the broader problem. The broader problem is this government's failure to invest in proper training.
What is being answered? I agree with the member for Nanaimo. No one has ever come through my constituency door saying: "Jeez, I ran into so much difficulty shopping in Alberta. Wow, I had so much trouble having my Red Seal certification recognized in another province." Nobody has those problems. In fact, the only outcry being answered here is from big business that would step in the way of the autonomous decision-making of communities and of the people of B.C.
Another red herring was offered up by the member for Prince George–Omineca. It was the Berlin Wall comparison. Imagine. I didn't see that wall when I passed across the border last time. Maybe I took the wrong border crossing between Alberta and B.C., but I didn't
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see a wall. I didn't see people…. No, no, I didn't see that at all. In fact, what I see is a wall being put up by the B.C. Liberal government when it comes to my critic area, which is apprenticeships and skills training. It has diluted that sector in this province to the point where Red Seal qualification itself is being challenged in this province.
Our trades qualification completions are only just now coming back up to the high point of the 1997-98 year. They had slipped 40 percent in between that time and now. So these are the real barriers to labour mobility in this province.
The real barriers to investment mobility lie in most cases — supportable…. If the community decides they want to have a green purchasing plan for their maintenance department, is that not supportable? Well, they cannot have it. They cannot have it because they would have to apply for an exemption, and communities are not prepared to invest that.
There is already a paralysis of decision-making in small communities and in community governments. This combined with Bill 30, with Bill 75. The intent of this Liberal government is to strip the ability of British Columbia to manage its own affairs. It's to strip the ability of local government in B.C. to interfere with their pet projects and the projects of their donors, because that's who they're really answering. That's the cry they're really answering. From the public interest point of view, that's what the B.C. Liberals have done. Rather than tearing down barriers, they put them up for some and remove them for others. They pick and choose winners and losers.
That is not a radically new idea. That's an old idea. That's an old idea of preservation of privilege, not the distribution of opportunity, which this fails to do. What stopped one from shopping in Alberta? What was the outcry? There was nothing. In fact, this B.C. Liberal government, through this policy, is only answering the siren call of their donors, and they are ignoring the voices of small communities in this province. That's what the B.C. Liberals have done with TILMA.
B. Lekstrom: It's my pleasure today to stand and speak in support of the motion presented by the member for West Vancouver–Capilano.
I've heard a great deal of talk today about what is good about this agreement and what could be perceived as being bad, but I can tell you that I've lived on the border of B.C. and Alberta all of my life, and for the better part of it, I have heard business from both sides of the border talk about this boundary and the problems it creates.
We have this border that is really nothing more than a sign, but when you hit that, it creates significant challenges for us in Dawson Creek and Peace River South. I can tell you that the development of TILMA, the trade investment and labour mobility agreement, is a positive step for those of us that not only live on the borders of B.C. and Alberta but live in British Columbia.
TILMA is designed to address the barriers to economic opportunities, and it will create the second-largest economy in Canada — only behind Ontario. I find it difficult. It's for reasons that obviously I can't follow. That this could be a bad deal….
Certainly, when implemented…. And this is from the Conference Board of Canada. They found that TILMA could add 4.8 percent to our real GDP and 78,000 jobs in British Columbia alone. Again, to find a negative in that, I think you're hard pressed and have to dig for something that I certainly can't find.
We talk about the impediments, and the UBCM has been raised here a number of times. The hon. member for Nanaimo had raised it — about how they opposed TILMA. But I do want to read into the record what the resolution passed at the UBCM said. It resolved that the UBCM review TILMA — not oppose TILMA, review TILMA — and enter into discussions with the province and local governments with the intent to either make changes to address local government concerns — okay? — to exempt local government or to request withdrawal entirely.
Now, that's a far cry from saying they oppose it. That actually matches in with what we're doing with the Union of British Columbia Municipalities and the government of British Columbia. We have committed to a dialogue with the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. I think that they do an amazing job representing local government and will bring the issues forward that they see and have a concern about. So we're doing that.
I do want the public that are watching and the members here that may not have read that resolution to fully understand that there was not a resolution to oppose it but rather to review it and work with the provincial government. I think that's incredibly important.
The issue that I heard the member for Cowichan-Ladysmith, who I believe just spoke previously to me, talk about was: "It harnesses us to the downward spiral of credentialing." I find that extremely, I guess, mystifying.
I worked in the labour movement for 17 years and never once in my time working there did I have members of my local or the union I represented or members of the B.C. Federation cut down members on the Alberta side by saying that they were less of a union member and less credentialed than us. I think that's going down a dangerous path. This is about trying to work together to make sure our credentials are recognized on both sides of the border.
If you're a teacher in British Columbia, should you be able to teach in Alberta? I think so. If you're an early childhood educator in Alberta, should you be able to come to Dawson Creek, Kamloops, Cowichan or any of our municipalities or areas that we represent, and practise? I think you should. We're going to do what we can on both sides of the border to ensure that we work together to find the best credentials we can that will work for all of us.
I do want to talk about the issue of the municipalities. They do not and are not required to defend their own measures or pay monetary awards. Only the provincial
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governments can be subject to the dispute settlement process in TILMA. For those of you that do want to take the time, TILMA is 36 pages long. It's a public document. I encourage you to read it. The key issue here is that over the next 18 months we are going to work together to make sure that we have the best agreement possible, one that benefits all British Columbians.
In closing…. I won't take a great deal of time. I believe there are other speakers that want to address this. I do want to say that I have a number of my constituents come in and talk about the border. I'm going to relate something back to my days as an elected official with the city of Dawson Creek when the agreement on internal trade was being discussed.
The Union of British Columbia Municipalities had concerns at that time. It's been implemented, and we're through it now, and it's working. But as the mayor…. And I'm going to relate this. We talk about the ability to put out tenders and hire who we need.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
I thought I had a great idea when I was elected mayor of Dawson Creek in 1996. I pulled my business community together and said: "I see different contractors from other areas working in our communities on tenders that we put out as a city." I said: "I have a great idea. I want to give all of my local businesses a 5-percent benefit. So if you're within 5 percent, you're going to get it."
That would mean that if somebody from Fort St. John or Grande Prairie or Prince George came in 5 percent above a local bidder, that we had the ability to give it to a local contractor. Thinking I had a relatively great idea and a great view for the business community, I was somewhat somewhat surprised when, without exception, every one of the businesses at the meeting said: "Member, as much as we know what you're trying to do, that's a bad idea. We don't make our living just in Dawson Creek and these boundaries. We make our living in this province and across the border in Alberta. So thanks for your consideration, but please, please don't implement that. Let us compete, and we'll compete with anybody."
TILMA, I think, is going to build a better future for not just British Columbia and Alberta. I think you're going to see others want to be part of this agreement. It is going to be good for all of us.
S. Fraser: I will be speaking against Motion 66.
The member for, I believe, Richmond-Steveston rose just a few moments ago and said that he was pleased to be able to speak and have an opportunity to debate this motion. No kidding, hon. Speaker. This is the first time we've had the opportunity to debate or speak to this motion, to this whole issue of TILMA.
This travesty was signed in April of this year with no debate, no consultation — no debate in this House. That's a travesty.
Now, I have great respect for the member for West Vancouver–Capilano, but I think he should have stuck to his two-minute statements on steelhead. The member in his opening statements on this referred to those opposing TILMA, to those critical of TILMA, to those afraid of TILMA as "the usual suspects." I believe that was the term used.
Well, the usual suspects are the municipalities and cities representing the people of this province, and they are represented by this side of the House. We are standing critical of TILMA, a trade agreement negotiated in secret by this government with no mandate to do so, with no consultation and with absolutely no debate in this House.
What's this? It's not a treaty, and it's not a bill.
An Hon. Member: A motion. It's a motion.
S. Fraser: Thank you. This piece of work, I think…. The modus for it is spoken to well by Gary Mar, the cabinet minister responsible for negotiating TILMA in Alberta. He said: "This resolution is everything that Canadian business asked for." That says it all.
This doesn't represent public interest. This is private interest. This is the same as the sell-off of B.C. Rail. This is the same as the privatization of our rivers through independent power producers — giveaway of public resources. It's the same as what's happened in the tragic giveaway of forest land out of tree farm licences to the detriment of local communities and to the benefit of a few who happen to have the ear of this government.
TILMA is a legal document that gives special rights to individuals and corporations to sue the provincial government. If this is an innocuous document, why was it not allowed to be debated? Why was there no consultation? With due respect to the member for Peace River South, suggesting that this Liberal government is working with members of the UBCM, the AVICC…. I've been to those meetings. They don't see it that way.
If he had been listening…. It was a scathing criticism of this government's handling of TILMA. Their fears are rightful fears. The reduction of standards — of labour standards, of safety standards….
B. Lekstrom: No, it isn't.
S. Fraser: If it isn't, why was it done in private? Why was there no consultation?
What about environmental standards? What about social values? We've already seen this government's actions around local government — dismantling their ability to make critical decisions that affect them on the ground. Private managed forest land — Port Alberni, section 21, taking away the ability to have any decision-making if it affects the profits of those corporations.
That's what TILMA is about. And if it isn't, why was it done in private? Why was there no debate brought to this House? It was demanded by local governments. These decisions, these resolutions at AVICC and at the UBCM, were unanimous, and they were a scathing endorsement of this government's handling of this piece of work.
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Yes, I'm speaking against the motion, hon. Speaker, if you hadn't guessed so far.
J. McIntyre: I'd just like to speak for a moment or two, but I'd just like to reserve the right to speak on this again in future, because I won't have time to say what I hoped I would be able to say this morning.
Maybe I'll just sort of try and wrap up things and thank the member for West Vancouver–Capilano for bringing this motion. I'd also like to thank the member for Peace River South who clarified, who actually gave the truth to the viewers and to the members of the House about this agreement.
This is about an opposition that's ideologically opposed to business. They want to fetter business. They're afraid of any kind of success, of any way to move this economy forward. We're a small trading nation. We're a province within that. This government is looking for every opportunity to advance jobs and opportunities for our people. Training opportunities — they talk about lack of training. No. We've more than doubled…. There are now 30,000 people in apprenticeships, in training in this province.
No. This opposition is the voice of big labour, of organizations like the Council of Canadians, who are trying to stop the progress in this province. They're in favour of the status quo, and they're in favour of vested interests. They don't want competition — no.
J. McIntyre: Yeah. Exactly. It didn't work in Cuba and North Korea. I agree.
With that, I would like to reserve my right to be able to give my comments and talk about some of the benefits of it.
J. McIntyre moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. B. Penner moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m.
The House adjourned at 11:58 a.m.
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