2009 Legislative Session: First Session, 39th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Volume 1, Number 11
Rules for private members' statements
Orders of the Day
Budget Debate (continued)
Hon. R. Hawes
Rules for public bills in the hands of private members
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THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2009
The House met at 10:03 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
rules for private members' statements
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, in order to assist members, I wish to remind the House of the spirit, intent and scope of debate and subject matter of daily statements under Standing Order 25B and weekly private members' statements under Standing Order 25A. As noted in several Speakers' decisions in this House, guidelines apply to both proceedings. Issues surrounding private members' statements have been canvassed and discussed many times by Speakers in this House, with numerous references in Parliamentary Practice in British Columbia, fourth edition, at pages 60 and 61.
Practice in this House under Standing Orders 25A and 25B does not preclude members from expressing a party's position on political issues or policy. However, personal attacks on members or imputing improper motives to members or groups of members are simply not allowed. Private members' statements are not proceedings for members to indulge in partisan, political and personal attacks and debate against members.
I quote in part from a Speaker's decision in this House dated March 1, 2007: "Statements should not reflect negatively on individual members or groups of members in this House."
Private members' statements, rather, are an opportunity for members to make statements on issues of current interest on matters of concern to them. As well, Standing Order 25A clearly states that topics covered should not revive discussion on a matter which has been discussed in the same session and shall not anticipate a matter which has been previously appointed for consideration by the House.
Additionally, these proceedings should not be used as a forum to criticize or rebut another member's words spoken during other proceedings of the House. I would ask all hon. members to be guided by these principles and guidelines, which have on numerous occasions been articulated by Speakers of this House.
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. de Jong: I call continued debate on the budget.
Hon. R. Hawes: Again, I welcome the opportunity to speak a little more on the budget that I truly support and that I know members on this side endorse wholeheartedly, because it is the right thing to do in the face of today's economic climate and the direction we wish to move in as a government towards a much stronger economy in the future as the world economy recovers.
[C. Trevena in the chair.]
I just want to talk for a moment about the chronology of events. The opposition has been stuck for days and days talking about who knew what when and trying to infer that there's some misleading and nefarious purpose and how the election would have gone a different way and a whole lot of nonsense, frankly.
I wonder. When the budget came out in February…. The opposition seems to be saying that we should have known, as they knew, that it was too optimistic, that a $495 million deficit could not be achieved. They infer that they knew this in February and that they knew it all through the election.
My question back to the opposition would have to be: if you knew that, why would you have used those figures in the budgets that you put forward to the electorate during the election? That would mean to me, by extension, that if you thought that that budget was too optimistic and that those figures weren't correct but yet you used them, you were misleading the people.
I've yet to hear even one member on the other side get up and say to the public: "We are sorry. For those who voted for us, we're sorry that we misled you with a budget that's truly false." We on this side knew that the $495 million that was put forward in the budget…. We worked through those numbers diligently and, throughout the election period, believed that those figures were achievable, and we truly believed that.
But you're claiming that you didn't believe it, yet you used those figures in your own budgets. Shame on you for now standing up and saying the things that you're saying. I think you guys ought to go….
Deputy Speaker: Minister. Minister of State, through….
Hon. R. Hawes: Through you, Madam Speaker.
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Minister.
Hon. R. Hawes: The opposition ought to all leave now and go down the hall and wash their mouths out with soap for what they've been saying. Frankly, I'm incredulous that they would make the claims that they're
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making, when they themselves used the numbers and accepted them, and they seem to think they had a crystal ball. What nonsense.
On the HST. We heard industry group after industry group and business after business come out and say it's the right thing to do. Economists across the country say this is something that's very necessary. The opposition is out there panning it and saying it's a terrible thing.
Speaker after speaker on the other side has got up, talking about how this is just a sop to big business. They seem to forget where people work. I don't understand why you would say that. For example, a small manufacturer from Chilliwack that makes ramps for loading docks or a small manufacturing company in Williams Lake, in Prince George or in my riding, in Mission — why would they be, in your words, big business?
Could you explain? What is big business? I have come to the conclusion that big business for the opposition is any business that makes a profit, because they seem to be opposed to any profitable business. We know that the big employers in this province, where employment comes from…. What feeds families is business, big and small. The entire private sector is what feeds families, what families rely on, what builds stability, what allows kids to be dressed properly, eat properly and go to school.
Deputy Speaker: Minister, Minister.
Hon. R. Hawes: What pays for your grandmother's hip operation is actually jobs supplied by the free enterprise sector.
Deputy Speaker: Members. Please, would you listen to the minister's arguments. You will have the opportunity to respond to the budget yourselves.
Hon. R. Hawes: Madam Speaker, it seems to me that every time somebody gets up here and wants to explain something to them that actually makes some sense, they start barking like dogs. That's because they don't want to hear the downfall of their own beliefs. This is the same crowd that destroyed the economy in the 1990s. Their philosophical beliefs have not changed.
Here's a quote from John Maynard Keynes, a pretty noted economist. When he was asked about why he changed his position on something, his answer was: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"
So I want to just ask the members opposite. The world has changed since last fall. It has changed dramatically, and every citizen in this province, every citizen in this country, every citizen around the globe knows the world has changed. With that change, that means we all must change our position. Yet the opposition appears to be a group that's cemented in that socialist rubric that destroyed the economy here in the 1990s, destroyed countries all over the world. The world is changing away from that socialist standard and embracing free enterprise — all but this group. This group would take us back to the 1970s.
In the 1970s, when the Dave Barrett government was in power in British Columbia, I happened to be living in the Yukon, working in a bank.
Deputy Speaker: Minister, could you just take your seat a moment, please.
Members, there will be the opportunity for everybody to address this issue in their budget response. Please, will you give the minister of state the opportunity to make his remarks with the courtesy that you would expect to have when you're delivering your remarks. Thank you.
Hon. R. Hawes: I worked in a bank in the Yukon during the '70s. During that period of time there was a massive influx of money into the Yukon from the mining sector. They were driven out of British Columbia by the socialist principles that were put in place by the then Barrett government.
In 1991 the same flight of funds happened to British Columbia, but not just funds from mining, every sector of the economy. You know, I don't think there's a person that exists in this province who doesn't recognize that Calgary became the head office capital during the tenure of the NDP in the 1990s.
Now, they say: "Don't go back. It's ancient history." Well, the bottom line is that every word they speak in this House, speaker after speaker, shows they still have the same philosophy that they embraced during the 1990s. Woe betide us if they ever, ever got in government. It would be a return to the '90s.
We've just come through five or six years of the most robust, healthiest economy that this province has seen — big surpluses year after year after year. It took us two years to work through just the terrible morass of mismanagement that was left behind by their decade in the '90s. But we worked our way through it with sound economic policies and understanding that, actually, the guy who writes the paycheque is the guy you need to really respect, because without him, there is no union and there is no job. There is no paycheque unless somebody is prepared to write that paycheque, and their belief is that the paycheque writer should be the government.
Well, I can tell you, Madam Speaker, that it doesn't work to take the money out of people's pockets, give it
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all to the government and let them do everything for everyone. It just doesn't work. It has failed around the world. It failed here in the '90s. It would fail again if they ever got into power, because that's exactly what they would want to do.
As we put through a budget this time…. Everyone knows that the world changed. Everyone knows that there are things that we have to do and that we have to change our way of thinking.
Prior to the election — in the fall of last year and for years previously — when we looked at the issue of the HST, it didn't make sense for us. But in light of what's happened in the rest of the country, in light of what's going on around the world, in light of the fact that we happen to live now in a global economy, in spite of the fact that these folks would like to draw a moat around this province and try to sustain ourselves on our own, it doesn't work.
So we have to be internationally competitive, and the HST makes us so. Unfortunately, these folks wish to take us backwards to a place where industry, business, the people who write the paycheques, don't want to see us go.
I want to talk for a minute about things like the forestry industry. I've sat in this House for eight years, listening. Since the meltdown, particularly, I've listened to the folks on that side talk about how the forestry collapse is somehow the fault of the government. The United States, the biggest purchaser of our lumber products, has stopped building houses, but that's got nothing to do with it, according to these guys. It's got everything to do with government policy.
The forestry industry. When we had the Round Table on Forestry and went around and talked to forestry businesses around the province and got some feedback from them on the things that we should do, it was roundly criticized by the Leader of the Opposition and the forestry critic, saying: "That's just not enough." The NDP plan was somehow to go out and do some more consultation, etc.
Well, the forestry industry has spoken clearly. They say that the very best thing that you could do for forestry in British Columbia right now is to put the HST in place. There is no better policy, no better thing that we could do for forestry. They've said that clearly. So I'd like to hear how the opposition would approach the forestry sector, when they don't want the HST. What would be their solution?
Today the solution is to wait out and to build new markets for forestry, and we're working on that. We're having some successes, but we are going to have a problem with forestry until the United States economy rebounds, until we start seeing house construction, etc. In the meantime, we do have to build other industries. We have to transition some employees into other forms of employment, and we're working hard to do that, but the HST is one of the things that's going to help with that.
Another thing in forestry. We hear many on that side talk about things like: "Log exports are job exports. Sending logs out is sending out jobs." I had the pleasure of meeting with the Steelworkers union in the last couple of years, and they talked about that issue. "Exporting logs is exporting jobs. Our mills here can't get fibre because it's all being shipped out of the country."
So I asked them: "Could you give me a list of the mills that want to buy fibre?" I do know some people who are in the log supply business, who are loggers and who have had a huge amount of difficulty selling any wood. They would be more than happy to supply any mill that wants wood at market price. They've got to pay the price that the logs are worth. I mean, they're not going to go in the bush and sell the logs at less than it costs them to bring it out.
But there's no response, because the mills aren't buying. They can't sell the cut product. so the only choice that's left in the interim, while the market rebounds, to keep a few people employed in forestry is to keep the loggers in the bush cutting wood and to find markets anywhere for that wood, whether it's in round logs or cut product. That's what we need to do.
Yet you folks on the other side, the opposition, would choose to cut that off and put every logger in British Columbia, every forestry worker in British Columbia out of work, and that's shameful. They pretend that they have a policy that's going to help workers, and when the industry comes forward, they just dismiss that out of hand, as though…. "Well, it's all big business. Forestry — it's all big business."
Tembec and some of the smaller logging companies in British Columbia, shake and shingle, and some of the small secondary manufacturers who are embracing the HST — you call them big business, and I don't get it. I just don't get how you can generalize and put the jobs of British Columbians in jeopardy. If you were in power, that's what you would do, and shame on you for that. Shame on you for that.
Deputy Speaker: Minister, through the Chair, please.
Hon. R. Hawes: Sorry, Madam Speaker.
I listened to a few members talk about things like closed schools. In my riding, the riding I did represent before the boundary changes, one of the schools was down to 17 students. It's a grade 1-to-6 school — 17 students. Yes, that school closed.
What would the opposition propose? That we keep it open with 17 students, or perhaps that we bus students from five or ten miles or further away to fill that school? I heard, though, that the opposition was talking about how terrible it would be to have to bus students, once you've closed a school. But 17 students in a school? How do you possibly keep it open? It makes no sense.
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Yes, there are schools that closed, but people who have served on school boards understand that when a school population falls…
Deputy Speaker: Member.
Hon. R. Hawes: …it makes it difficult to provide services to the kids, to provide the wide range of options to kids that are necessary. You need to have a base.
Deputy Speaker: Minister, one moment. Will you take your seat for a moment, Minister.
Member, will you withdraw that statement.
H. Lali: Withdrawn.
Hon. R. Hawes: The bottom line is that sometimes decisions have to be made that nobody wants to make, but when you look at the harsh realities, the fiscal realities that face us in this province, tough decisions have to be made.
Tough decisions are being made by school boards. I really respect the work that they do. I respect how difficult the decisions that they have to make are, and I know that often it's heart-wrenching for them to make the decision to close a school. Yet sometimes they need to do that because it's necessary.
It's belt-tightening time in British Columbia. It's belt-tightening time in Alberta and other places. I mentioned that yesterday. Alberta, which had just over a $4 billion deficit projected three months ago in a budget, today is saying, "Well, actually it's $6.8 billion," because things changed. They changed rapidly in a way that no one could foresee.
Today across British Columbia families are shaving their budgets. They're getting rid of every expenditure they can get rid of that is not essential, and in some cases essential expenditures, because it's belt-tightening time. I get that. The government gets that. That's what's happening in government right now too. Yet the opposition keeps coming out here saying: "You should be funding this. You should be funding that."
They talk about cuts to health care. We're putting more money into health care. We're putting more money into education. Perhaps you don't understand how to read the budget. They don't, Madam Speaker. The opposition clearly doesn't. Or they haven't done their job and read the budget. That's perhaps more like it.
If they read the budget carefully, they will see that there is more money going into these areas. There is more money in health care. There is more money in education. Yet they persist on talking about cuts, cuts.
The budget for health care has climbed by over 40 percent over eight years, yet they continue to call that a cut. Only the NDP could possibly say that an increase from just over $8 billion in a budget for health to over $15 billion for health is a cut — only the NDP.
This is a budget that protects the underprivileged in this province. Those who are the most vulnerable are fully protected here in this budget. This budget provides for a personal income tax decrease by increasing your personal deductions. It provides, three years down the road, for a zero percent tax rate for small business.
It projects an increase in the small business threshold, something that small business has asked for, for a long time. It increases to $500,000. These folks would call that a sop to our friends in business.
We get what provides jobs. We understand what provides jobs. The HST is one of the things that preserve jobs. The HST is one of the things that protect families and the things that families need to remain together. Yet the folks on the other side don't get it.
Well, they get it. They all get it. They also all get what happened in the budget. They know that when the Finance Minister talks about the chronology, he's telling the truth. He is a man of integrity. He's got great integrity, and for them to say that he has not got integrity….
I would like them to go outside and say that the Finance Minister has no integrity. They won't do that, because he's telling the truth, and they know that. Yet for political reasons, they continue on their quest of having somebody say something about when and what and why.
The world changed. They know it. They're lucky that they aren't forming a government. We're lucky too, but they're lucky because they wouldn't have a clue on how to handle what's going on.
We are going to work our way out of this. We have a plan to work our way out of this. We have a budget that shows when we're coming out of this. We will as a province come out stronger, and it will be because of the strong policies that we put in place this budget.
V. Huntington: Madam Speaker, let me begin my remarks by congratulating you on your election as a distinguished Speaker of the assembly. You've served an historic and crucial role in the debates and business of this House. While the job of Speaker is sometimes difficult, you have all certainly ensured that honour remains with the Chair.
Firstly, my staff and I must thank the officers and staff of the Legislative Assembly for the incredible support they have extended my office over the last two months. From the wonderful offices that the Speaker has assigned us to the very furniture on which we sit, we have been truly and well served by an extraordinary team of public servants. The Clerk, Clerk of Committees, the Sergeant-at-Arms,
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the comptroller, Hansard, WSI, Computer Services, the dining room and even your own office have smoothed our way. We have counted on everyone, and suffice to say, we are most grateful.
It is with considerable humility that I for the first time ask for your recognition, Madam Speaker. Some have commented that I'm following in my father's footsteps. To them, I reply with sincerity. The hon. Ron Huntington is a difficult act to follow.
My father was a respected parliamentarian who served as Chair of Public Accounts and who became the first elected chair of the Progressive Conservative Party caucus. He served as Minister of Industry and Small Business, and upon retirement was appointed chair of Ports Canada.
My father was an individual who ardently believed in free enterprise, fairness, justice, good corporate citizenship and social responsibility. Those are the footsteps I am committed to follow.
My father shared his devotion to democracy with a good friend, Mr. Fred Gingell, a former member of this assembly who represented Delta South with so much goodwill, intelligence and distinction. Mr. Gingell remains a beloved figurehead in my riding, and I note with gratitude that his memory is still held in universal regard by officers and members of this House.
I would like to thank the retiring member for Delta South, Val Roddick, for her nine years of service to this House. As Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture Planning, Ms. Roddick was an outstanding representative for agricultural interests, which are so important to our riding and to the province as a whole.
I must also acknowledge an honourable opponent during the recent election. The hon. Wally Oppal has been an outstanding servant not only of this province but of the judicial system of this country. He has a reputation that few can match and all can envy. It is my fondest wish that Mr. Oppal continue to receive the recognition he is due and that he again have the opportunity to serve British Columbia in a significant capacity.
To the other individuals who let their names stand in my constituency: I say that each was a candidate of high calibre, and all deserve the appreciation of Delta South for their willingness to serve. In that regard, I'm also pleased to congratulate my colleague from Delta North on his re-election to this assembly.
In my first speech to this assembly I cannot omit an acknowledgment of my second home, Gitanmaax, the village of the night torch–fishing people. Gitanmaax is at the confluence of the Skeena and Bulkley rivers, known more widely, perhaps, as Hazelton.
For three years I was the band manager of Gitanmaax and had the privilege of being adopted by the late Mary Smith of the Lax Gibuu clan. I am grateful to the member for Stikine for his words in Gitxsan and for his acknowledgment of our relationship. I have only a small name, but I am proud Wolf all the same, and I want to recognize my attachment to that place.
Delta South also includes the Tsawwassen First Nation, which this spring concluded the first urban treaty in British Columbia. It was my pleasure to sit on the Tsawwassen provincial negotiating team on behalf of Lower Mainland local governments. The treaty is an achievement of which so many can be proud, and I would invite this House to extend its congratulations to Chief Kim Baird on her extraordinary leadership.
I want to turn my remarks to the amazing people of Delta South who set their sights on an unknown path and who have been willing to take a brave leap forward in this strange, appealing and oh-so-tender thing we call democracy. The people of my riding believe absolutely in free enterprise, in law and order, in paying their taxes, in participating in community and in helping others.
The residents of Delta South have faithfully supported the present government through thick and thin and over many years. In fact, their constituency is well-known for its steadfast and utter support for this government. They are voters who, in spite of being angry with government policies that nearly decimated our cherished hospital, continued to support the government. Nobody, especially myself, could have contemplated the massive change that four short years would bring to that extraordinary level of trust and commitment and loyalty.
So what changed? What moved a community to turn its back on its traditional point of view, on its traditional support for government, to take an extraordinary step forward that is nothing short of historic, to take a chance on an independent candidate who decided something was wrong in the halls of power and that representation of the people had been subverted? In short, why did the good people of Delta South feel that supporting the government was no longer an option?
Democracy is a funny thing. It's somewhat like the common law — resilient enough to change in the face of time, but fragile enough to fracture with abuse or neglect. I liken it to an invisible glass wall — strong yet fragile. That is what happened in Delta South. The belief that government is for the people shattered. The belief that somewhere, somehow, someone would listen was finally broken. The government has treated Delta South as if it were fodder for government policy and a fiscal bottom line.
When my father first arrived in Ottawa, he was told: "Mr. Huntington, if you think the country is run the same way as a business is run, you are in the wrong place." In many respects, that is so. But you know something? Hard-core business people who only think of the bottom line and who treat their employees as second-class citizens are inviting trouble through slowdowns, lack of quality and absenteeism. Good business people will work with and listen to their employees as if they were part of a team
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and part of a common goal. They will work not just for the shareholders but for the best possible environment for all involved in the enterprise.
This government has failed to do that with the people of Delta South. It failed to see us as partners. It failed to protect the Brunswick Point farmers — men and women who endured expropriation and treaty negotiations and who now cannot get this government to let them buy back the land for the price offered to every other farmer in Delta, men and women who have spent countless dollars to fight their own government in court.
Where is the money in the lands budget to do the honourable thing? Nowhere. Where is the shift in policy that will see the government treat these century-old heritage-farming families like the first-class citizens they are? Nowhere. Is this treating the people as if they shared a common goal? Does this government remember the emotional appeal by Deltans when our little hospital, running in the black for heaven's sake, was threatened by one of the many reorganizations of health care?
This is a riding with the largest container port in B.C., the largest 24-hour ferry terminal in the world and the largest industrial zone in the Lower Mainland, and we were going to lose our emergency room. We gathered by the thousands, and we held hands around that hospital — a moving and inspiring sight to anyone who cared. A petition on the hospital was delivered to this House with over 31,000 signatures, one of the largest petitions in B.C. history.
But it didn't matter. No one listened. A decision had been made, and the people be damned. A lot of hard, hard work, including by our former MLA, managed to save a greatly reduced emergency room, but we lost our acute care beds. We lost our intensive care unit. We lost our specialists, many of our family physicians and our nurses. We lost beds in our extended care wing. Some of our seniors had to travel for hours on buses to see their spouses. We became less than we were, and our local health was compromised.
Why? Because no one would listen. We didn't want to stop a reorganization. We simply wanted to be part of it, to contribute to the decision-making. Another crack occurred in the fragile glass of trust.
I might add that our little hospital is coming back. The health authority has admitted mistakes, and there have been many successes too. We are a centre of excellence for day surgeries. We have our acute care beds back — a we-told-you-so story, by the way. Our hospital foundation built a new emergency room. Our hospital auxiliary built a new foyer, a new shop, a new café and a meditative garden. The hospital foundation has just installed a CT scanner, all paid for by the people of Delta.
But the reductions in elective surgeries…. Are they going to help? Are they going to hit our hospital again? Will it be like the schools? If the number of patients drops, do we have to justify the existence of the facility? Will we have to go through this all over again?
The Minister of Energy and the Premier both promised in writing that there would be no new overhead power lines constructed in the backyards of Delta South. But the minute — the minute — the election was over, the towers went in — a blatant, horrid, outright falsehood, a friction that has caused unspeakable heartache in Delta, a fraud that disrupted lives, tore apart homes and has parents fearing for the health of their children.
Then, just before this election, the government orders B.C. Hydro to buy the homes. One hundred homes purchased for the same amount that burying and shielding the lines would have cost in the first place. Where did that money come from? What was honourable about this fiasco? Where is the policy shift that will see the 58 other families who live beside the power lines receive the same buyout opportunity? Nowhere. Is this treating the people as if they shared a common goal?
The South Fraser perimeter road is part of the government's vaunted Gateway program, one of the job creation opportunities that will provide "additional stability and confidence." How much money could be transferred to other infrastructure projects if the Minister of Transportation did a cost-benefit analysis on altering the designated route?
Delta doesn't want to get rid of the highway. We simply want logic to prevail. How much money could be saved if the portion of the highway north of 99 used the existing and sufficient rights-of-way on Highways 99 and 91? Does the minister know? Do her officials? Have they even looked at the suggestion? After all, the municipality of Delta is building a parallel road to the SFPR through the industrial zone.
Do we really need two roads? Could we upgrade existing roads into the industrial area at a fraction of the cost? Will anyone listen to us before it's too late?
Does the minister know that her highway goes through red-listed habitat, that the little mammal found on the edge of Burns Bog was thought extinct, let alone at risk? That single fact brings chills to my soul when I contemplate the real reason for the announcement of a species-at-risk task force.
Does the minister know that 95 percent of the built heritage of North Delta is being impacted or destroyed by her highway, that the last forested bluff on the lower Fraser River and one of the oldest pioneer communities on the Fraser is being destroyed? There is an alternative, if anyone cares to listen.
There are so many reasons that Delta decided it could take no more from this government. Even a 30-minute speech can't do justice to the reasons Delta South feels so betrayed. Over 1,000 acres of Delta's agricultural land is disappearing with the Gateway program — 1,000 acres. The finest soil in Canada will become a rail yard, a
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container-storage facility, a four-lane truck highway, an interchange, a commercial development and a container port.
This is in a community that is all that remains of the migratory bird flyway on the Fraser delta — one of the four most important bird habitats in the world — a community that has Canada's largest concentration of birds of prey.
There is nothing in the throne speech or the budget that recognizes a moral obligation to the flyway and the wildlife that depends on it. Without a healthy foreshore and without protected agricultural lands, we will destroy the habitat that supports that flyway.
The government likes to say that we have to balance the economy and the environment. Well, Delta South is the balance. We are all that is left of the habitat that supports millions and millions of birds. But no one listens. Instead we build highways and container ports on the most precious land in the province. Where has our morality gone?
I don't quarrel with the fact that the government finds itself in a deficit position. I doubt whether a government on this globe has come through the last year unscathed and without unexpected debt. A place as resource-dependent as British Columbia will suffer even more dramatically than many.
If the government is determined to amend legislation to enable it to carry a four-year deficit, I will support the amendment. I wonder, however, why the charade of a balanced budget is not dropped altogether. Why not simply repeal a law that is plainly subject to government discretion? It has become meaningless, and meaningless law is bad law at best.
But the issue for the people is not really the deficit. It is the guile, the pretence that the deficit would be so much smaller. It's not really the HST. It is the failure to tell the people the truth. Worse, it is the sense of utter helplessness in the face of a democratically elected government. It is the apprehension that our vote is a fraud, the slow realization that the elected representative is not delivering the voice of the people to the government but rather is here to deliver the voice of government to the people.
In other words, it is the fear that democracy is in trouble, and that is why I was elected. I am nothing short of a message to this place and this government. Democracy, as we practise it, is in trouble, and we in this House better do something about it.
Madam Speaker, my election as an independent member has clear precedent, even if you do have to go back 60 years to find it. But understand this: it is a vote against a trust that has been shattered by arrogance and a failure to listen.
It is also a vote for someone. I have committed to the people of Delta South that I will be their voice in this House and to this government. I am energized by their trust and support and, to the countless British Columbians from around the province who have contacted me and who also realize that MLAs are hampered by our current party system, I hope to show that there can be a new way of exercising representative politics in our province, our beautiful province of British Columbia.
L. Krog: I ask leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
L. Krog: Joining us in the gallery today is longtime friend of mine and supporter and a great friend of the former member for Nelson-Creston, Corky Evans — Barb Barrett. I'd ask the House to please make her welcome.
R. Howard: It is my pleasure to rise today and once again be afforded the opportunity to speak to this House, my constituents and the people of this great province. I rise to speak to the budget update just issued by the Minister of Finance this week.
First of all, I feel it is important to acknowledge that this international economic crisis presents probably the toughest set of circumstances I have ever seen for a budget. I offer to those listening that this government does not like red ink, deficit or debt. I know that my colleagues in government do not like to be in a situation where a deficit is necessary. But it is necessary if we are to get through this recession and protect vital services.
I also feel it is important to express my optimism that this government will accomplish the objective of getting B.C. through these difficult times so that we emerge stronger.
This optimism is based on personal experience. As a business person who struggled during the '90s but managed to hang on long enough to thrive under the vastly superior economic management that British Columbia has benefited from since 2001, my optimism comes from firsthand experience of the basic fact that this government knows how to create the conditions necessary for business to succeed and prosper, a necessary precondition for job creation which, in turn, leads to more revenue for government and, as a direct result, the strengthening of vital services.
There is a theme to my comments, and it is: who do British Columbians have confidence in to steer this province through tough economic times? This government cleaned up the mess that the opposition left behind. We now know how to get B.C. through tough times. We've
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done it before. The budget update we heard earlier this week shows we know how to get the job done again. This is what we were elected to do, and this is what we will do.
I'd like to reflect on what brought me into politics in the first place.
The government of the '90s in this province brought us a made-in-B.C. economic crisis at a time of global prosperity, and this is quite different than is happening now. I started my business in 1994, having left the security of an executive position with a financial institution. I did this because I had a long-held dream of being an entrepreneur, of controlling my own destiny.
Well, we started our business and found that things were tough in the '90s. Taxes were high, the economy was weak, and the sea of red tape was deep. It was a mighty struggle to make ends meet. There was no optimism during that lost decade, and I recall that any discussion of a new enterprise was greeted with skepticism by my business associates. Perhaps the greatest debate of all was who would take payroll. The risk-reward ratio had gotten way out of skew — too much risk for too little reward.
In 2001 a new government was elected. This government was elected, and things started to change. The commercial properties we managed started to fill up with new businesses. These new businesses hired employees. We hired new employees. There was a new energy among my business associates, people looking for and finding opportunities. People believed once again that if they had a good idea, they could work hard and enjoy some success.
It was a remarkable change to witness and convinced me for sure that there was a place for good government, a government that believed in the creativity and drive of the people of this province. So I had a certain belief in the strong fiscal policies of this government and a certain wariness of the opposition and their ability to create a strong province.
As I have said, the '90s were a lost decade. This province was classified as a have-not province — meaning we had to approach Ottawa, cap in hand, and ask for more money. Now, can you just imagine that — this province with all its natural resources, with its supernatural beauty, its locational advantage and our unrivalled human ingenuity being classified as a have-not province? It certainly boggled my mind and was a strong reason for me coming into politics in 2001.
There was another phenomenon that plagued us in the '90s, and that was the brain drain — bright and talented people leaving this province because they felt there was no opportunity here for them. Families pulled apart, with some family members leaving this province to seek prosperity elsewhere. If I had not seen it for myself, I'm not sure I would have believed it.
Yet another legacy from the '90s: we saw our ratio of debt to GDP climb over 21 percent, and this government had to work extremely hard to get that key ratio down to 13 percent. All of those years of hard work will now offer a cushion in these troubling economic times, because now I understand that out of sheer necessity, out of the sheer weight of this economic storm, this key ratio will migrate upwards. However, I know that all of us in this government are determined that we will not borrow one penny more than is absolutely necessary to get B.C. through this recession while protecting core services.
I know that we will get back to surplus as soon as possible. It is a responsibility to our children and grandchildren that all of us in government take very seriously.
I'd like to say that I believe the Finance Minister has very successfully walked a very fine line. He's protected health care and social services, which continue to be funded to record levels. I want to repeat that, because it's absolutely crucial. Health care and social services will continue to be funded to record levels.
The Finance Minister has taken steps to protect seniors, and he's taken steps to protect our education system, which holds the promise for our future.
It is interesting to sit in this House as a new MLA and listen to opposition members claiming with urgency in their voices that we are cutting services, cutting health care, cutting education. These are claims that are absolutely divorced from reality. These are claims that exhibit an absolute failure to grasp basic mathematics, because these claims can only be made by people who do not know the difference between addition and subtraction.
As an illustration, I present the following. Social services spending. The budget provides an additional — yes, the budget provides an additional — $455 million for priority social services and programs, including $420 million over three years to support individuals and families in need of income assistance.
Health care spending. Over the next three years, health care will receive the largest share of funding increases in government spending. By 2011-12 the Ministry of Health Services budget will increase — yes, increase — by an additional 18 percent, reaching a total of $15.7 billion.
Post-secondary spending. Funding for institutions that support post-secondary education in B.C. will increase by an additional — yes, an additional — $93 million in 2009-10, from the 2008-09 budget. Total post-secondary spending will exceed $4.7 billion in 2009-10.
We are adding to funding in these areas, not subtracting, whether the opposition wishes to acknowledge that basic reality or not.
The other thing that I've heard opposition members claim is that we don't care about children, seniors and the disadvantaged. I've heard them say this over and over — as if they think that if they keep saying it, it will come true. Or perhaps they think people will at least believe it if they keep repeating these stories.
I maintain that anyone who says we do not care about children, seniors and the disadvantaged is misleading
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in the extreme. We are doing everything possible in the most challenging economic conditions that anyone in this House can recall to protect these vital services.
The Finance Minister has also announced additional investments. These new investments include $409 million for forest fire fighting. As I've mentioned, $420 million over three years for income assistance, $151 million for full-day kindergarten to start in 2010 and be fully in place by September 2011, $80 million for H1N1, $39 million for a one-time investment for tourism promotion.
So we can say without reservation that this government has taken extreme care to protect core services which contribute so greatly to our quality of life. These new initiatives, of course, include a provincial capital plan — $7.4 billion in 2009-10, $7.7 billion in 2010-11 and $6.5 billion in 2011-12 for capital spending.
What does that mean to British Columbians? It means jobs. This will create jobs — an estimated 1,100 jobs in the Cariboo region, 700 jobs in the Kootenays, 2,900 jobs on Vancouver Island, 4,200 jobs in the Thompson-Okanagan, 2,600 jobs in the north and more than 10,000 jobs in the Vancouver and Coast Mountain regions.
In keeping with this government's strong belief in the rights of individuals and families to direct their own spending to the greatest extent possible, there are new tax measures. These include personal income tax. We will increase the basic personal exemption to $11,000. This will save a single person up to $72 a year and a family of two up to $147 and eliminate provincial personal income tax for an additional 75,000 British Columbians.
We will increase the small business threshold to $500,000 and announced the planned elimination of the small business corporate income tax rate by April 1, 2012. New HST exemptions for residential energy and a partial rebate for municipalities and qualifying charities and non-profit organizations…. This government continues to believe in the people of British Columbia.
This government believes in keeping more money in the pockets of British Columbians, leaving us all with more disposable income, more control of our own destiny, more ability to make our own decisions on how to best spend our hard-earned money. Despite unprecedented pressures, this government continues to reduce the tax burden on working families in this province and improve the tax climate for small businesses which, as we all know, are the backbone of our economy.
Of course, by raising the personal exemption limit, we are further reducing taxes. Lest there be any doubt, the 120 tax reduction measures taken by this government since 2001 are directly related to a healthy economy and record spending in health care, education, social services and infrastructure programs.
I was elected to Richmond city council in the fall of 2001, and this brings me to another important aspect of this budget update. As I have mentioned, a part of my motivation for getting into politics was the election of the B.C. Liberal government in the spring of 2001. They vowed to clean up the mess of the previous government, to get B.C. back on track after the lost decade of the '90s.
In my first several months on council, with the memory of an underperforming economy still lingering, we spent most of our time looking for ways to effect savings. As the economy started to improve under this government's direction, and confidence was restored in the B.C. business community, we started to get ourselves in a position to look forward. As the years went by, we accomplished many great things, the Richmond Olympic oval and the Canada Line amongst them. I think it is very important to note that these achievements pursued by Richmond city council would not have been possible without strong partnership with this province.
This government, time and time again, was a strong partner with our city — from the iconic Olympic oval with its pine beetle, or Denim, roof showcasing the best B.C. product, wood, to the entire world; to the Spirit Square which connects the Olympic oval to the Richmond shore of the Fraser River; to the Canada Line which took many partners to make it happen, but none more important than this government and, in particular, this Premier. It was his commitment to the environment, to the economy and to families that made this Canada Line happen.
This government understands and has always understood that partnerships with local governments in particular play a vital role in getting things done. There's a long list of partnerships my city has with this government, from the three I have mentioned to our Terra Nova park, to dikes and roads. This government gets that local government will play a key role in continuing partnerships with this government.
The budget speaks to this in a significant way. With the accelerated capital plan, local governments are eager to partner with projects that are important in their communities.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
During the campaign we knocked on hundreds of doors and heard repeatedly that people really felt that the number one issue was the economy. There was a strong recognition and belief that a job is the best social services safety net there is. Not only does it provide the job holder with a sense of comfort, satisfaction and reward; that same job generates the taxes that pay for government programs that we hold so dear. It is also the holder of the job that is out in the restaurants buying the meals, out in the shopping centres purchasing back-to-school supplies and paying for haircuts.
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Madam Speaker, I must tell you that during the recent campaign there was a certain moment when a chill ran up my spine. I mention this to you in the context of the stories out of the '90s that I've shared with you. You can understand that when the opposition announced that they wanted to take B.C. back, I became very concerned. With my campaign team we, in fact, devised a slogan in response to this taking B.C. back. We were there for the '90s, and we didn't want to go back. So we said: "Heck no, we won't go."
We don't want to go back. We want to move forward. We're excited about the future, and we know, if we set the table for individuals and businesses to succeed in this province, that there are many who will accept this challenge and propel this province to even greater heights.
What this budget proves to me — and I said this during the campaign often — is that this is about trust, and this government trusts you to make your own spending decisions. That's in stark contrast to the opposition members who want your money so they can spend it. Armed with memories from the '90s, coming into this chair as a newly elected MLA for Richmond Centre, I wondered if I would see evidence of the opposition's thirst for your money.
Well, the House has been sitting for just a little over a week, and I can tell you this. First, it's a fact that the opposition voted against every tax reduction this government has enacted. Second, I can tell you, from sitting here, that on every single issue that has come forward where there has been some need for fiscal restraint, they've shown none.
The opposition wants more money for every cause, more money for everybody, more money for everything. Well, they don't actually have any money, and even if they were in power, they would only have your money.
This government has an exemplary, solid record of achievement and a triple-A credit rating. Triple-A credit ratings, by the way, are not awarded without significant research and reason. Under this government, the province received its first credit-rating upgrade since 1989, and seven — count them, seven — upgrades later under this government, we now have a triple-A rating. It's a remarkable statement and a remarkable contrast between this government and the opposition. Our triple-A credit rating means that when we need to borrow money in times such as these, we can do so much more cheaply.
You can see, Madam Speaker, that I am very confident in our ability. I'm confident in this government's ability to lead British Columbia out of this international economic crisis and into another prosperous decade. With nothing less than the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics as a launch pad, we will get British Columbia through these difficult times. We will emerge stronger than ever, and we will accomplish this while protecting vital services.
C. Trevena: Madam Speaker, I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly congratulate you on your election to the role of Deputy Speaker. I look forward very much to working with you over the coming years. It is a true privilege to serve in this role in the House. I know that there's a lot of learning to be done, but I think it's going to be very interesting, and I look forward to working with you.
Before I start my remarks about the budget and the government's plans for the coming session, I would like to note that this is the first opportunity I've had to speak in the new parliament. I would like to take that opportunity to thank the voters of the North Island for returning me as their representative.
It's a true privilege to represent the diverse communities of the North Island. We're in difficult times. Everybody acknowledges that. The boom of forestry is gone. Mills are closed. Unemployment is on the rise in my constituency. People are leaving the communities to find work. There are many, many struggles that families and our different communities face. I look forward to working with them and to have the honour of working with them in the coming years.
I'm honoured that people have put their trust in me to again represent them in this place and to be their voice in the House in the making of legislation and in deliberations about the budget, as well as dealing with the many, many issues in the constituency.
Of course, I wouldn't be here without a supremely active, supportive and energetic campaign team, and I couldn't do any of my work as an MLA without the hard work and support of my staff — Lynne Stone and Kathy Smail, my constituency assistants in Campbell River; Norm Prince in Port Hardy; and here in Victoria, Teresa Scambler, my legislative assistant.
I have to thank the House. I am humbled and honoured to have been given the confidence of this House to be elected as one of the Deputy Speakers. I will work as hard as I can to live up to the responsibilities of the job and the expectations of all members in this House. It is a role I respect and I will carry out with my utmost dignity to do properly.
I believe, essentially, in the parliamentary democratic system. I've talked previously in this House about the work I've done in elections in post-conflict societies and evolving democracies. While the parliamentary system is rooted in hundreds of years of history, it too is evolving. The fact that we in B.C. have an opposition Deputy Speaker, I believe, is part of that evolution.
The Speaker and his or her deputies are in place to ensure that the parliamentary process functions in the best way possible, and I will work with all members of the House to ensure that the system works as best we can make it — that no side tries to manipulate it for their own ends. The rules that we have are open to interpretation, but the rules are there to protect the democratic system
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so that we can do what we've been elected to do, and that is to work in the public interest and represent and work for the people of B.C.
I was very pleased to hear the Minister of Aboriginal Relations talk in his response to the throne speech about the need to find ways to bridge the partisan gap to try to make the system work better, and I wholeheartedly agree. We need to reach beyond the bickering that we so often see in this House to find better ways to make our committees work and to do the people's business, because that is what we are here for. That's what we're all here for. We're here to work on behalf of our constituents and the people of B.C., respecting democracy. Of course, as we all know, the word "democracy" comes from the Greek dēmos, which means "people."
We need to remember that this Legislature is just one part of our democratic process. It may seem redundant to say so, but the election process is also central to a healthy democracy.
People have been discussing over the last ten days, since we've been back in this House, the lack of participation in the May election. I agree that it is a huge problem that we all have to overcome. We must engage people with issues and with inspiration. The way we as politicians operate, both in this House and outside, has a real impact on that.
Our political responsibility starts well before we get in this place. Part of that responsibility is our election platforms. Simply put, these platforms are supposed to give voters the framework on which we will proceed if and when we form government, and these platforms are supposed to give people the opportunity to examine and discuss the issues.
Likewise, as a candidate on a doorstep, you get to hear the issues that are important to your constituents, the issues that are raised time and time again, what people are talking about in the coffee shop, on the bus or on the ferry.
In the North Island the issues which were raised throughout the campaign were not surprising. They're issues I've been dealing with for the last four years and, I believe, will continue to be dealing with. There were jobs. People are hurting across the constituency. There have been mill closures in Campbell River and the crisis in the forest sector.
People were talking about health care and education, about the need to ensure that we get our new hospital in Campbell River; that there is enough coverage for health care in the true North Island — in Port Hardy, Port McNeill, Port Alice; that the paramedics dispute is resolved swiftly and with respect; and that our young people get quality education. One of the vote-determining issues was, without question, the privatization of our rivers, as epitomized by the largest planned private power project in Bute Inlet.
I will talk more about these constituency issues in a moment, as I did promise my constituents that I would be their voice in this place and would make sure that their voices — the people of North Island — are heard.
What I didn't hear — taking my ferry and talking to people in the coffee shops and on their doorsteps and when I talked to people, whether it was in Port Hardy or Alert Bay, Cortes Island or Campbell River — was the harmonized sales tax. Taking the reaction and the number of people who've been in touch with me since its announcement two months after the election, it most certainly would have been a doorstep issue and, very probably, a vote-determining issue.
People are coming to me very worried about the proposed tax. The impact of it is going to be enormous and across the board. People both on fixed incomes and other incomes are fearful of increased costs. Businesses are worried about the impact on their ability to operate.
As I mentioned, the North Island is struggling economically. We need jobs, and the tourism sector is seen by everyone as an important strand in our economic recovery. No one expects tourism to replace the resource jobs, but the potential for tourism growth is an important part of our economic platform in the North Island. People in the tourism sector feel that they have been hit twice over, first with the sudden dissolution of Tourism B.C. and then with the harmonized sales tax.
I'd like to quote one of the many letters that I've had from tourism operators in my constituency. This is from Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures, who wrote to the Premier about his concerns and said that I could quote his letters. He said:
"The majority of the costs associated in my tourism business are exempt from the current PST and will continue to be exempt from the new HST. Depending on my sales in any given year, labour and grocery expenses alone are 40 to 50 percent of my revenue. These costs will be exempt from the HST, so my business will not have any input tax credits from these costs to offset the HST charged to my customers.
"The vast majority of my clientele are from outside of Canada, and my advertising budget, which is approximately 10 percent of my revenue, is aimed almost entirely at this market.
"What really concerns me most" — he goes on in his letter to the Premier — "is your government's apparent lack of knowledge of and respect for the tourism industry. The announcement of the HST, as well as the dissolution of Tourism B.C., have occurred with little to no consultation with the tourism industry and with even less consideration to the effects that these decisions will have on one of B.C.'s largest industries. I do not believe decisions of this magnitude affecting the logging, mining or fish-farming industries would be made in a similar manner."
I also would like to quote another tourism operator who has come to me. Craig Murray, who runs an upscale fishing lodge in the North Island, said to me:
"If the world media get this message about B.C. being too expensive, then we're really in trouble. People go where they're cordially invited and return to where they're well-treated. This is the basis of hospitality.
"Right now our government has failed our industry, and there seems to be no way that they want to mitigate the problem. They even want us not to give them any static about what they've done."
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That, again, is from another tourism operator in my constituency.
It's not just tourism or the food service industry that are worried about the tax and that would have liked to have known about it earlier. A chiropractor in Campbell River wrote to me, saying: "With the job losses in Campbell River, we've seen a huge decline in our patient visits, and this tax will surely keep more patients away. When my will to help others becomes a personal and financial burden, I will no longer practise, and I feel this tax is going to be the nail in the coffin."
The HST, which is central to the government's budget, will not help our communities prosper. It will hurt service industries, undermine tourism and hurt the pocketbooks of people already struggling in an expensive province.
What shocks people is that the HST announcement came so swiftly after an election in which the idea could have been raised, the discussion started, but instead, it was announced two months after the government had been returned.
I go back to my belief in the parliamentary democratic process and the importance of this place. I'm concerned about the announcement of the HST outside of this place and that so many of the other announcements on financial issues have been announced just before the budget. We heard at the end of last week, last Friday, of the cuts in the arts sector and cuts in facilities grants to schools.
Madam Speaker, we are elected to government and to opposition to work in an open way to address these matters in this House. We have long debates, we have committees, we have the structures here in place to allow this to happen. We have a budget, and we have a tradition in our system that the budget is brought down, tabled, a week after the throne speech, usually in February, but after an election, just after the election.
So there are huge concerns that these cuts — which are very damaging, and I'm getting a lot of concerns from my constituents — were brought in ahead of the traditional route, leaving the arts community reeling, leaving school districts reeling, when we could have had a more thoughtful process and more discussion in this House. I'm glad that we're having the debate on the budget now, and this is the proper place to be discussing these issues.
These issues are very important in my constituency. Education and what's going to be happening with school infrastructures are worrying school boards. One superintendent said to me that they're living on a moment-to-moment basis. They are already struggling with too few resources, and that can only hurt our young people. Our communities in the North Island are trying to hold on to young people and young families, which depends both on education and on jobs.
I would like to paint a picture of my constituency for members. I've talked about it in the past many times, but it's changing. Campbell River, once the heart of the forest industry, now has its paper and pulp mill silent. The TimberWest mill has been closed down and torn down. It's very eerie when you're in the town. The forest industry was the backbone. Now the forest industry, the forest sector, as we know, is in crisis. People are not working. It's not just a summer shutdown. There are just people not working.
When this happens, the spiral starts. People who work in stores have their hours cut because the stores are getting fewer customers because there's less disposable income. It's very worrying, but I saw nothing in the budget which is going to help the proud forest-based communities. Our forests are idle, our workers are redundant, and the transition programs….
I've got to say that I've heard members opposite talk about the transition programs, and the minister responsible yesterday explained them very clearly in his response to the budget. I listened intently because what I hear from people trying to access these programs is a sense that rather than having the opportunity to get assistance, they are being excluded.
They talk about a confusing jumble of rules and regulations which don't encourage them to retire or retrain. Small contractors have been left on the sidelines and some forced into bankruptcy. The definitions, also, aren't helpful. I talked to one person who was refused assistance because he worked in silviculture and was told that he didn't qualify because silviculture was not part of the forest industry. Perhaps that says more than we would like to know about what is happening in our forest sector.
Our society is fragile, and it is being hurt by cuts. The fact that people are being encouraged to gamble in order for revenues to be raised to fund social services is a very worrying reflection on priorities. It has been a sad reality for some years that organizations have had to turn to gaming money to provide programming.
One of the reasons I so admire this Legislature and respect all the people who run for election is that it is an opportunity to be here in the public interest, not self-interest, not for political expediency, but to work on behalf of the people of the province. It's our job, and it's the government's job to put the public interest at the heart of all our actions
Earlier this summer the B.C. Utilities Commission said the long-term acquisition plan for B.C. Hydro was not in the public interest. Instead of acknowledging that and changing its direction, the government has said in the Speech from the Throne that the BCUC will receive special direction. That, I feel, means that the government will push ahead, ignoring what is the public interest and encourage the industrialization of our rivers.
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I've talked in this House a number of times about proposals for Bute Inlet. That's an area the size of the Lower Mainland. I was up there and discussing it with people who've been working there and estimating it takes…. From Whistler down to Richmond and over to Chilliwack would be about the size of Bute Inlet, and it would become the largest private power generator in the country if it goes ahead. A private company owned partly by General Electric would industrialize that inlet and 17 rivers and streams. This isn't in the public interest.
I would like to quote Randy Jespersen, the president and CEO of Terasen Gas and John Walker, the president and CEO of FortisBC, who recently wrote in The Vancouver Sun: "In our view, the BCUC is one of the most progressive regulatory bodies on the continent and…should be relied upon to appropriately adjudicate in these important issues." So I hope that reason will prevail — that through discussion in this place where discussion should happen, the government will consider the alternatives and think again.
The overriding message I heard during the election campaign was that people from all walks of life are worried about what they see as the sale of our lands, our rivers, our hydro, our interests. And people now, post-budget, are worried about the cuts to environment, cuts to compliance and enforcement, cuts to stewardship and water stewardship, cuts to those areas which provide oversight for our forest and our land base.
We must all remember that we are servants of the people who elect us. We are here because they've chosen us and our political parties to represent them. We have to remember that we do not own the resources. Our government must manage the resources for future generations. They should work in the public interest, not in the interests of any corporation or any body. The government's job is to protect the people.
There have been many references to our children and grandchildren in this place. The sad legacy is that our children and grandchildren may have nothing left. The sad legacy is that it may have been sold, corporatized, privatized — and our parks, our forests, our rivers and our land base.
We are all here in this place with a respect for democracy and a respect for this House to work for the public good, but working for the public good means recognizing that they are not our resources to spend but to protect for future generations. Working for the public good means looking at the impact of financial decisions on our most vulnerable and not cutting costs to the bone. Working for the public good means having a regard for individuals and organizations, not underestimating their levels of intelligence or their credibility. Working for the public good is what we as legislators have been elected to do. The people of B.C. deserve good government, and I hope that we can work together to achieve that.
J. Rustad: It's a great honour to stand today to deliver a response to the budget. I'd like to, first of all, congratulate my fellow MLAs that have been elected for the first time or re-elected to the House. It is truly a great honour to be able to represent constituents. I've had that honour for the last four years, and I know that those who have been elected will feel that same honour and sense of responsibility.
Before I go into my comments regarding the budget, I'd like to thank a few people. First of all, I'd like to thank my wife, Kim. She took an enormous amount of time off of work to travel with me during the election, to support me in my endeavours to continue in politics. Without her, I know for sure that I wouldn't be able to be here doing this job. I just want to say: "I love you, Kim, and thank you."
Also, I'd like to recognize my parents, Molly and Laurie Rustad, and thank them for their support. I'd like to thank my staff in my constituent office, Maureen Haley, Judy King and Kathy King for the work they have done over the years and the work they continue to do, and also my staff in Victoria for the work that they do in helping us to be able to carry on and do the job that we do here.
During the campaign, of course, we have many, many people that support us, and I'd like to start by thanking the constituents for their support and for their trust in me to represent their concerns and their voices here in Victoria. I'd also like to thank my campaign manager, Keith Playfair, as well as my entire campaign team. They did a phenomenal job throughout the election, gave up a lot of themselves for something that they believed in, for the movement and the betterment of our riding and conditions for the people in our riding. I just want to thank them for everything they've done.
One of the previous speakers in the debate, particularly on the throne speech, the member for Nanaimo, suggested that we have to consider mandatory voting. There was a concern around voter turnout, the record-low level of voter turnout, and maybe it's time that we consider taking actions. The member for Vancouver-Hastings also suggested that we need to deal with these lower voter turnouts and had a suggestion around why there was a low voter turnout.
You know, I often wonder if people aren't turned off of politics because of the negative advertising and the negative attack ads — in particular, the record levels of that that we saw in this past election.
Having said that, I do believe that voter turnout is a concern. We need to be looking at trying to encourage people to engage in democracy. We need to be looking at trying to encourage people to bring forward their respective views. I think it is time we have a discussion. Whether that may be something I suggested four years ago, perhaps the possibility of a tax credit for people who
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vote, or whether we go to something like mandatory voting, perhaps that is a debate that might be worth having.
My riding is very diverse. Yet it has many, many similarities, whether it's the communities from Houston to Vanderhoof or from Southside up to Fort St. James. There are many, many differences, yet through that is a single thread, and that is that we're dependent upon the resources for our area. We're dependent upon each other for support. We want to be able to see opportunities for the future of our families and to build those kinds of positive links that we like to see in our communities.
I've had the honour of travelling a great deal throughout my riding and working with a number of groups, particularly some of the first nations groups. I want to mention that I really see a change and a difference with first nations over the four years.
We have seen, for example, out in Burns Lake six first nations come together and have discussions about partnering in a business opportunity in forestry. It's phenomenal to see that kind of decision-making, that kind of leadership by those first nations. It's great to see them taking the step to try to improve the conditions for their people.
I also want to mention the Cheslatta Carrier Nation and the work that they're doing. It's well worth going and paying a trip to see what they're doing with wood, to see the beautiful paddles and other things that they are making for products for export. They're trying to take the resources that they have and the skills and the people that they have and trying to develop business opportunities. I just want to congratulate them and thank them for the efforts that they're trying to do.
It's part of what we're trying to do with our new relationships. We're trying to encourage and nurture those types of opportunities and to see that type of activity happening.
As I said, there's one thing throughout my riding that I see, and that is that the people throughout the riding have optimism. They look to the future. They want to be able to build some opportunities for their children. Many times I've heard them talk about wanting diversification and to see things happening.
They know, as I do and all of us in this House know, that we are facing challenging economic times that require us to develop policy here in Victoria that is going to help promote job creation, that is going to enhance competitiveness and increase productivity in our province. Although this is not popular with some people, HST is designed to do just that.
For the agriculture industry, which is very, very important in my area, HST will put about $12 million to $16 million a year back into the agriculture industry, particularly for value-added, which is so important for our industry — $12 million to $16 million. It's huge.
Over the last four years I've heard from many people in the agriculture industry, particularly in my riding, who said the PST is antiquated and has all kinds of problems. They brought forward ideas and solutions to try to reduce the negative impacts of PST on their business. I believe that HST and the move that we're doing here will help solve a lot of those issues for that industry.
Madam Speaker, you know, we used to have — and we still have — a very vibrant and strong forest industry. It's gone through probably the worst economic downturn that we've ever seen. However, if we hadn't changed the cost structure that the NDP had imposed on the forest industry in the 1990s and brought us back from being one of the highest-cost producers in the world under the NDP to costs that are competitive, all of our forest industry likely would have been shut down today.
But we need to do more in terms of making sure that we are competitive in our forest industry, and HST will bring $140 million a year in relief to our forest industry. What does that mean, Madam Speaker, to see that difference in our forest industry? I can tell you what that does.
It makes us more competitive. It makes our cost structure in a place where we can survive through these downturns, but it also means that it protects jobs. It allows the people in my riding to be able to work, to be able to be in that industry, for it to be competitive and, in particular, as we emerge out of this downturn, to be strong and leaders and take up market share. HST helps to deliver on that for our forest industry.
The mining industry. Mining is also very important for my riding, not only from the current mining operations that we have such as Huckleberry Mines and Endako Mines but also for future opportunities in my riding. Many, many people work across my riding in mining — whether it's in exploration or directly involved with mining — in some of the best, highest-paying jobs that you can find anywhere in the province.
What did the mining industry say about HST? As you know, we've been going through challenges with our economic times. They came out and said that this is the best news they've heard in 18 months. When you're looking at a company that wants to try to attract the capital to make an investment in a new mine, or maybe they want to invest in doing some upgrades and just in the day-to-day operations, HST could mean millions if not tens of millions of dollars in savings to be able to help promote and move the mining industry forward.
Once again, what does that mean for the constituents in my riding? That means a competitive industry, that means a lower cost structure, and that means the ability to support more jobs and be able to keep our economy strong throughout that area. HST delivers on that, and I'm very pleased that we have taken these steps to be able to support that type of industry.
But what else does the budget look at, and in particular HST? What does it mean for the day-to-day people? How is it going to impact on their lives? Besides what I've mentioned in terms of jobs, I just thought I would bring up a few examples.
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When people want to do some renovations — maybe they've got to buy a new hammer, some nails, 2-by-4s for construction — HST means no change, no additional tax and perhaps even a reduction, as the redundancy of the compounding PST will be removed.
For day-to-day operations, for day-to-day goods — milk, eggs, bacon — it means no additional tax. But once again, there's a potential for embedded taxes to be removed throughout this process. Things like frozen pizza and other prepared food — yes, there will be an increase in taxes on some of those goods. But things like gas for your vehicles, heating, electricity, car seats, baby food — no additional tax. Running shoes — no additional taxes. As a matter of fact, once again, there's a potential for some of that embedded, regressive PST to actually come out of the system to help drop prices.
Nobody likes to pay taxes, but the competitive structure of the HST provides our province with the right foundation, and it is the right thing to do.
J. Rustad: But I hear the opposition carrying on and doing some heckling around this. I just want to say this about what the NDP have done. They have gone out around this province…. Quite frankly, they've been misleading and fearmongering, and I will give you an example of that, Madam Speaker. When the Leader of the Opposition was in PG late in August….
Deputy Speaker: Order.
Member, please take your seat.
Members will come to order.
J. Rustad: When the leader of the NDP was in Prince George in late August, she was quoted in Opinion 250 as saying: "We believe the HST will cost the average family $1,000 per month." Madam Speaker, you know, I'm sorry, but was she just simply incompetent? Is it just the usual poor NDP math? Or was she deliberately misleading and fearmongering as she went out around there? I've….
Point of Order
H. Lali: Hon. Speaker, I'd ask the member to withdraw those remarks — the last ones that he made.
J. Rustad: Madam Speaker, I would like to respectfully suggest that the language I have used has not been anything different than what has been used in question period over the last few days.
Deputy Speaker: I would respectfully ask the member for Nechako Lakes to withdraw.
J. Rustad: I withdraw that comment, Madam Speaker.
J. Rustad: The PST is a regressive tax that many people don't realize they're already paying for. It is continually embedded in products as it moves through the supply chain, and actually it's one of the things that the opposition just don't understand.
I'll just give you an example. If you were to run a lemonade stand and if you want to sell a glass of lemonade, you have to reflect your cost structure. If it costs $1.07 to produce, you have to charge at least $1.07 to break even. If your input costs came down by seven cents, and then you add on a tax of seven cents, what does that mean? It means that the price of the lemonade is still going to be $1.07. They don't understand that challenge that's in there. Quite frankly, it's why I wouldn't trust them to run a lemonade stand.
The throne speech and the budget have laid out many good things for my riding. What might the future look like for Nechako Lakes? I believe it's important that we have to be competitive, that we have to make sure we have the right structures in place to be able to promote those jobs, and the budget, quite frankly, does that.
What's it going to do? Personal income taxes are going to be reduced. That helps us attract people to the riding to be able to fill jobs, support the industry and help grow our economy. Small business taxes will be eliminated. And not only will small business taxes be eliminated, but the threshold for small businesses will be raised from $400,000 to $500,000. That's huge. Small business is an economic driver for our economy, and it is huge that we have those in place to be able to support our economy.
MSP premiums will rise, but credits for low-income individuals and seniors will more than offset this rise. Health care spending will also be up over 18 percent over the next three years — so 18 percent — yet that's somehow characterized as a cut by the NDP. But you know what? The people in my riding understand when we're putting more resources towards those things.
I also want to say: what does it mean for jobs, and what does it mean for the industries — particularly for forestry? In my riding Conifex just recently announced a $32 million expansion in their facility that will put 150 people to work. That's 150 new jobs that have been created by a $32 million investment in the heart of the economic challenges. What that says is that's talking about the confidence in the forest industry and its ability to turn around.
We've also just had a recent announcement of a new pellet plant about to be constructed in Vanderhoof by Vanderhoof Specialty Wood Products. That's going to put an additional 24 people to work. These are projects that are
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already in the works because they have the confidence of where our government has taken this province and where things are going to be in the future for our province.
There are two new pellet plants being planned for Burns Lake. One of them is going to be one of the largest pellet plants in the world. These are going to drive jobs and investment. They're also going to drive additional cost benefits in forestry, which is great news for my riding.
There's a company that's looking at taking wood waste and turning it into high-octane fuel. CORE BioFuels is developing a project, and they're looking at making a $100 million investment in the Burns Lake–Houston area that would be able to take wood waste, turn it into a Syngas and take that and convert it into high-octane gas. They're looking at that here in this province because the cost structure for our province is right. We have the fibre that's available, and we have the right environment to encourage that kind of innovation and that kind of investment.
Outside of forestry, we also have mining. Thompson Creek minerals and Endako Mines are looking at continuing their expansion. They're going to put back on stream the expansion. That's going to bring in hundreds of construction jobs and hundreds of jobs in the project.
Mount Milligan is a project that has gone through. It's received its environmental permit. I'm hopeful it will receive its mining permit shortly. That will create 350 to 400 full-time jobs and over a thousand jobs once you consider the spinoff effects.
Deputy Speaker: Member, please take your seat. Pardon the interruption.
Will the member for Fraser-Nicola please come to order.
J. Rustad: Those are just two projects. We also have TTM's project on the Chu property south of Vanderhoof. This is a massive mine that is about to enter into the environmental assessment phase. It is a mine that can bring on a thousand full-time jobs, spinoff jobs. You're looking at between 2,000 and 2,500 jobs being created. This doesn't include the thousands of construction jobs that will be created.
We also have Booker gold looking to expand what it's doing in exploration to bring a mine on. Exploration in our area is hitting a new fever since the recent exploration work that has been done by Geoscience B.C. has been released.
I talk a little bit about mining because I want to talk about just what the benefits of mining will be not just for my riding but for the province. This comes from a mine that's not in my riding. It comes from the Prosperity goldmine, but the statistics are very similar for every single mine. One mine, a gold and copper mine, will generate about an $800 million capital investment. There will be over 700 construction jobs over a two-year period, 500 people directly employed, 1,200 people indirectly employed, $200 million a year in spending for a total spending of $5 billion over a 20-year life of the mine.
The project will generate $1.7 billion in revenue for the federal government and $3.4 billion in provincial government revenue. It will generate 60,000 person-years of employment over the life of the mine. Consumer spending in B.C. will rise by $303 million a year because of that one mine, for a cumulative of almost $7 billion over the life of the mine. Think of what that means for our economy — just one mine.
It's estimated that Prosperity will generate 1,400 additional dollars in disposable income for every household in B.C. Residential investment expenditures in the province will rise by $743 million over the course of the project. Investment in machinery and equipment will rise in B.C. by $1.1 billion over the project period. The total production revenues from the mine over the life of the project will be largely seen in exports and are expected to exceed $7 billion.
The provincial population will rise by about 5,000 persons during the project to meet provincial employment requirements, and cash to the bottom line will be almost a billion dollars for the federal government and $2.3 billion for the province. Madam Speaker, that's one mine.
If you think about what that means for our economy, if you think about what that means for the area…. We've got Mount Milligan that's ready to go. We've got the TTM project that is moving ahead. I have Endako Mines that is in operation and is going to expand to more than double its mining operations.
We also have the Huckleberry project that is in my riding. Think about all of that potential generation in terms of what that means for the province.
Mining is huge. It needs to go ahead, but it will only go ahead if we have the right environment, if we as a government set the right policies in place to be able to track those dollars and to move those projects forward. That's what the budget and the throne speech lay out for this province.
I just want to highlight the difference between the NDP and us in terms of mining. During the 1990s the minister responsible for mining received an award. They received an award in Chile. The reward that that person received in Chile was for mining person of the year. Why did that person receive the award for mining person of the year? Because they managed to drive all of the mining investment from B.C. down to Chile, and it was a huge boom for their mining industry.
We can never go back to that. We must make sure that we have a strong mining industry here in this province.
Outside of those direct jobs in mining, I also want to talk about some short-term benefits that mining and
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the forest industry investments and the potential for pipelines and the potential for IPPs are going to create throughout my riding. Just in mining alone, there is going to be the potential for between 2,000 and 3,000 jobs in construction over the next four years in building of mines and expansion of mines.
From forestry, there are additional construction jobs that go on. The pipeline projects have the potential to create 4,000 to 6,000 construction man-years of work. It's unbelievable what that potential is.
Those guys want to shut it down. We want to see those benefits come to my riding and come to us as a province.
I'll tell you, Madam Speaker, that my workforce in my riding is 14,000 people, give or take. If you imagine what the direct jobs and those indirect jobs from mining and forestry are going to create in my riding, it means a 25 percent to 30 percent increase to employment in my riding. It's huge.
You wonder why the people in my riding elected a B.C. Liberal government? Because they want to see those benefits. They want to see those jobs. They want to see that future for their family. They know that we are a government that will be able to deliver on that. We're a government that's going to have the fortitude to do the right thing to make sure that their future can be secured so that we can come out of this economic downturn and they can be assured that they are going to be able to build futures for their family.
I find it quite interesting when I think about independent power projects in our province. Those projects that I've talked about in my riding require power. They require significant electricity to be able to operate and to be competitive. We need to be able to encourage new power to come on stream. We need to be able to encourage those investments in that.
For the life of me, I cannot understand why these people are opposed to that. To shut down IPPs in this project is to say to mines like Mount Milligan, to TTM, to the Prosperity project, to Endako, to the forestry projects: "We may not have the power for those projects to go ahead. We may not be able to feed the power that we need to drive our economic future."
That is very shortsighted from that side of the House, and it's also one of the reasons why they're in opposition. We recognize clearly that we need to make those investments. We need to encourage those investments, and we need to find ways to make sure that we have a sustainable green economy and yet at the same time keep competitive rates and be able to feed that industry. The throne speech and the budget outline that. They are building that future, and I'm very pleased to be able to stand here today and support that.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
I just want to close my comments, Mr. Speaker, and as you've taken the chair, I just want to extend my congratulations on your re-election as Speaker of the House. I'm not quite sure why you wanted to do this, but I'm glad you have put your name forward. Obviously the turmoil we go through in this House can be quite trying at times, and you have done a great job in leading us through this as Speaker of the House.
I just want to say once again to the people in my riding how much I want to thank them for this honour to be able to represent them — how much I want to be able to say to them that even as we go through these challenging times, I know that we can make a difference. I know that my riding and the future of my riding will see huge benefits from what we are doing.
Yes, some of these things we're going through right now are tough. Nobody likes to see deficits. Nobody likes to see changes in taxes, because it can bring some uncertainty.
But I can tell you this. We have the fortitude on this side of the House to do what's right. We have the fortitude on this side of the House to make sure that we have the people of this province in mind. We have the fortitude to make sure that everyone will have an opportunity to be able to participate in the future, that we will do the right things to set up a competitive environment, to make sure that we have a trained workforce, to make sure that we have the services we need in terms of health and education for the people in the province, and to make sure that we attract the investment we need to create jobs so people can build a future.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today, and I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate.
J. Rustad moved adjournment of debate.
rules for public bills
IN THE HANDS OF PRIVATE MEMBERS
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I've had the opportunity to review Bill M201, Independent Budget Officer Act, 2009, which was introduced in the House by the member for Surrey-Whalley. The bill would require expenditure of public funds contrary to Standing Order 67 and therefore is out of order in the hands of a private member and will not proceed to second reading.
Hon. I. Chong moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 this afternoon.
The House adjourned at 11:51 a.m.
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