2010 Legislative Session: Second 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
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Volume 11, Number 4
Introductions by Members
Prince Rupert centennial book
Introductions by Members
Statements(Standing Order 25B)
Helping Hands Food Bank in Kimberley
4-H public speaking program
Norsat satellite technology
Prince Rupert centennial
Parksville community awards
Community gaming grants for school playgrounds
Hon. R. Coleman
Community gaming grants and supports for vulnerable persons
Hon. R. Coleman
Community social services for children and families
Hon. M. Polak
Halalt First Nation consultation on water project
Hon. G. Abbott
Health care services in Logan Lake
Hon. K. Falcon
Orders of the Day
Budget Debate (continued)
Hon. S. Bond
Hon. S. Thomson
Hon. K. Krueger
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TUESDAY, MARCH 9, 2010
The House met at 1:34 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
C. James: Mr. Speaker, we have three guests who are joining us today. They've been talking to MLAs about the important work they do every day to protect the safety of people in our communities. I'd like to introduce Gary Birtwistle, Gary Charleton and Darren Blackwell here from the Victoria Fire Fighters Union. Would the House please make them welcome.
Hon. M. Stilwell: Joining us today in the House are Casey Sheridan, president of Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, and Neil Sterritt, the institute's board of governors chair.
I had the pleasure of touring NVIT last fall. NVIT is the only aboriginal-governed public post-secondary institution in British Columbia, with programs focusing on aboriginal communities' social, economic, land and governance development.
NVIT was formed in 1983 by the Coldwater, Nooaitch, Shackan, Upper Nicola and Lower Nicola bands. NVIT has grown over the years from 13 students in a basement to over 1,200 students on two campuses, the award-winning Eagles Perch campus in Merritt and their campus at Mathissi Place in Burnaby.
I'd also like to congratulate the institute on receiving the province's education quality assurance designation. Please join me in welcoming Casey and Neil.
K. Conroy: Joining me from Local 941 of the Trail Fire Fighters are Rick Morris and president Lee DePellegrin. With Lee today is his wife, Wendy, who is here for the first time in Victoria. It's actually the first time for a visit to the chamber for both Wendy and Rick. Would everyone please join me in making them welcome.
T. Lake: It is my pleasure to welcome two gentlemen from Kamloops fire and rescue here today. Corey Butler and David Sakaki are emblematic of the men and women that provide service for Kamloops fire and rescue, giving great service not just to our community but to communities around the world through the services that they provide overseas in a volunteer capacity.
I would ask the House to please join me in welcoming these two gentlemen.
M. Elmore: I'd like to introduce my family who are here visiting me today: my mother and father, Maria and Ken Elmore, my sister Martha Elmore, my niece and nephew, Dylan and Torin, and my cousin Lena Aro.
When my mother said to me, "Why on earth did you ever decide to run for political office?" I said to her: "Well, you can't blame me." I think it's in the family, because it was her father, my grandfather, who was the vice-mayor in her hometown in Tuburan, Cebu in the Philippines.
So I think the responsibility is in your court, Mom.
Without their support and love, I wouldn't be standing here. I thank them very much and ask everybody to please make them feel very welcome.
D. Hayer: I'd also like to recognize six firefighters who are visiting us here today. They are Larry Thomas, Curtis Chamberlayne, Jay Easton, Mark McRae, Todd Schierling and Chris Keon. They also met with the members on both sides to bring up the issues.
Would the House please make them very welcome and thank them for all the great work they do.
L. Popham: I would like to welcome two members of the Saanich fire department, Steve Hanna and Mitch Williams. Please make them feel welcome.
M. Farnworth: In the gallery today we have a number of interns who will be working with the opposition caucus over the next while, and they fall under the tradition of terrific interns in this Legislature. I would like the House to welcome Angie Riano, Caitlin O'Brien Meggs, Lindsay Walton, Mark Hosak and Kate McBride.
J. Horgan: Joining us in the gallery today is a real lifesaver. Thirty-five years ago he and I were sitting at a Shamrocks game down the street and — people will not be surprised — I was talking rather than paying attention. An errant ball left the floor, and my friend Steve Hanna, who is joining us, was a goaltender. He stuck his hand up just before the ball hit my face. For those on this side, he saved my life. That's a good thing. On that side, that's unfortunate.
Steve Hanna, Saanich firefighter — welcome.
PRINCE RUPERT Centennial BOOK
G. Coons: I'd like to take this opportunity to acknowledge that the centennial book has arrived. Prince Rupert: An Illustrated History, published by the Prince Rupert City and Regional Archives, is a 184-page, hard-cover coffee table book with over 600 photographs celebrating a hundred years of Prince Rupert history.
Volunteers on the archive book committee worked for over two years on this. Later today, I will be presenting
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a copy of this centennial masterpiece — hold it up — to our very own legislative librarian Peter Gourlay and two ex-Rupertites, Emily Yearwood-Lee and Marilyn Carr-Harris, who just happen to work there.
I also will leave a personalized message on page 144 beside the team photo of the 1978 Prince Rupert Kings senior hockey team.
Thank you so much, hon. Speaker, for your indulgence.
Introductions by Members
Hon. K. Falcon: Today in Victoria we've got the B.C. Pharmacy Association in town. At lunch they hosted a number of government MLAs to talk about issues and thank the government for the expansion of their scope of practice to include injections and also allow for prescription renewals.
Today in the galleries we are joined by Marnie Mitchell, the CEO; Parkash Ragsdale, the deputy CEO; Shakeel Bhatti, the vice-president of the board of directors; and Kate Hunter, their director of communications. I would ask the House to please make them welcome.
H. Bains: In the gallery today is my good friend Harmel Suner and his relative from Australia visiting us, Mr. Tut. Please help me welcome them to this beautiful city.
L. Reid: In concert with my Richmond colleagues, I would like to welcome to this place very fine firefighters representing the city of Richmond, the Richmond fire service. They're led by the indomitable Mr. Ed Selinger. I would ask the House to please make them welcome.
S. Herbert: I, too, would like to join with my Vancouver colleagues to honour and welcome the Vancouver Fire Fighters Union here to this House. I look forward to hearing from them later today.
Mr. Speaker: Any firefighters that weren't welcomed, welcome.
(Standing Order 25B)
HELPING HANDS FOOD BANK
N. Macdonald: March is nutrition month, and I rise today to recognize the good work of one of the many food banks that serve people in our province. Kimberley has long appreciated the assistance of the Helping Hands Food Bank.
Over the last number of decades, gaps in government support have allowed too many people to fall into poverty. But citizens in community after community have found ways to provide some assistance for those most in need. The most basic of those needs is the need for food.
In Kimberley I've seen people like Lowell Paulson and Stan Salikin and many more community members put in hour after hour of volunteer time to support the food bank. As well, community groups like Kimberley United Church have food bank Sunday to raise funds for the food bank, and the Kimberley Junior Dynamiters hockey team holds food bank nights.
The Kimberley Elks Club has a partnership with the Helping Hands Food Bank to raise money through bingos. Last year the Elks donated $3,000. This year they plan to raise $6,000 to help feed those in need in Kimberley.
Last year almost 1,800 people in Kimberley were assisted with regular food hampers. A further 374 received emergency hampers, and 43 percent of the people who received assistance from the food bank were children.
The continued existence of food banks shows that as a core human value, our communities will find ways to provide support for our friends and neighbours when an absence of government services leaves people in poverty. I'm sure members will join me in showing our appreciation to the volunteers at Helping Hands Food Bank and all the food bank volunteers and workers for their effort and their humanity.
4-H PUBLIC SPEAKING PROGRAM
D. Barnett: This past Saturday I had the privilege of being a judge at the Williams Lake and district 4-H public speaking event at a community in my riding called Lone Butte. It was an exciting opportunity to see firsthand the development of youth in my riding, and they are on the right track.
All the speeches were well researched. Students spoke with confidence on topics such as animals, people, the environment, community and the world of what-if. They were very impressive. There were 12 junior speakers aged nine to 16, and they all received badges and points. These points will go towards their year-end overall marks.
The seniors in grades 11 to 12 showed their public speaking potential, and their marks will go towards their graduation credits.
These young people will be our leaders soon. Empowering them with the skill of public speaking is just one of the many great programs of 4-H. The 4-H movement offers many programs that open children and teenagers to the worlds of agriculture and ranching and provide opportunities to develop young people into productive and confident leaders.
In the Cariboo-Chilcotin we're always proud to see our young people remain in our communities. We're proud to see children take over their parents' farms and businesses. With the support of families, 4-H leaders
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and the 4-H movement, I know the students are in good hands.
I offer my congratulations to all the participants in this year's Williams Lake and district 4-H public speaking competition — the leaders of tomorrow. I encourage all my colleagues in the House to get involved with their local 4-H district and support our youth and agriculture industry.
L. Popham: People love firefighters. That's a fact. An Angus Reid public opinion poll showed that firefighters are one of the most trusted professions in the world. Firefighters are our heroes. They put their own lives at risk to save ours. They see us at the most painful and terrifying moments in our lives, and they give us comfort, respect and care.
Fire departments are like families — families protecting our families. I'm married to Jon, a firefighter from Oak Bay who has been there for 18 years. My brother Guy is a firefighter in Delta and has worked there for 16 years. When you have a firefighter or two in the family, you feel like part of the greater fire department family of British Columbia. Yes, I have a soft spot for firefighters.
I am proud to be the MLA for the Saanich fire department. The Saanich fire department has been around since 1948 and has 108 full-time firefighters. The Saanich fire department is not only protecting our community, but they're helping us build a better community with the Saanich Fire Fighters Charitable Foundation. This foundation is a registered non-profit charity that was established in 2001 and has raised over $200,000.
They give and they give. Whether they are on shift or on days off, they are contributing to our quality of life. When they come to us as elected officials and ask for support for cancer presumption legislation, when they come to us and ask for support for the right-to-know legislation, and when they come and ask for the right to be licensed to practise at the emergency medical responder level, both sides of the House need to listen.
Firefighters would break down doors, walk into fire and risk everything to save us. Let our legislation not be the barrier that stops them.
NORSAT SATELLITE TECHNOLOGY
L. Reid: Norsat, a high-tech business in my riding, has more than 25 years of innovation excellence to its credit. Norsat International was founded in 1977 and is the leading provider of intelligent satellite solutions that enable the transmission of data, audio and video via satellite in even the most challenging environments. The company has a long tradition of engineering firsts.
The company's founder, Rod Wheeler, helped launch the direct-to-home TV industry in 1977 by introducing industry's earliest low-cost, receive-only satellite dishes. This was followed by a number of other innovations, all of which have effectively positioned the company as one of the industry's leading firms.
In 1977 President Rod Wheeler constructed the first personal, TV-only, receive-only satellite earth terminal in North America. In 1994 Norsat introduced the Microsat multimedia PC receiver that enabled the personal computer laptop to capture real-time satellite video, listen to and edit directly the computer keyboard selections of audio programs and monitor real-time data broadcasts.
In 2002 Norsat built on its portable terminal experience by introducing a commercial-grade flyaway terminal for news-gathering organizations. Norsat sold its first news-link system to CBC news. In 2004 Norsat became the key supplier of news-gathering equipment to the U.S. Army.
In 2005 Norsat introduced the GLOBETrekker, the industry's first intelligent backpackable broadband satellite system. This equipment is often parachute-dropped into communities and into nations that need assistance. I can tell you that it's a snap-together piece that even I had the pleasure of snapping together on my visit there.
Norsat has sold more than 2.5 million products in 87 countries throughout the world. Today's president is Aimee Chan. She is experienced, innovative, reliable and flexible.
Norsat International designs and delivers reliable, high-speed data transmission products and open networks. With a variety of open standard DVB satellites networks and a full complement of microwave products, Norsat leads the company that customers all over the world can count on.
On my tour day, Norsat received orders from Haiti and, frankly, has airlifted that product into that country. It is today helping to rebuild a nation.
PRINCE RUPERT CENTENNIAL
G. Coons: In the fall of 1903 Charles Melville Hays, president of Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, sent engineers to determine the best western terminus for his company's transcontinental railway. Construction of the first wharf started on June 8, 1906, and was completed within a month. In May of 1908 construction of the mountain section of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway started, heading east from Prince Rupert.
That same year Charles Hays contracted to design the layout of the city as we see it today. Although the dream of Prince Rupert as a major port and transportation centre was suspended when Hays perished aboard the Titanic, that dream, that vision was never lost.
The railway connection was finally completed in the spring of 1914, and a highway connection to Terrace was completed 30 years later. In the following decades Prince Rupert grew in accordance with its motto: "By rail and ship, with net and pick, we win our wealth."
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Its extensive fishing fleet, shipyards and coastal logging operations have generated much wealth for this community and for the province over the years. Rupert's transportation hub highlights passenger and freight rail traffic, B.C.-Alaska ferry traffic, coal and grain container capacity, marine tourism traffic from kayaks to cruise ships, air traffic and seaplanes, and a multitude of small vessels travelling to north coast communities that all depend on Prince Rupert for services.
Prince Rupert has survived two world wars, one great depression and boom-bust cycles in its commodities and resources. Of some relevance in this Legislative Assembly, Prince Rupert's political world has produced two B.C. Premiers, one Speaker of the House and one Lieutenant-Governor.
Tomorrow — Wednesday, March 10, 2010 — marks a hundred years to the day since the incorporation of this community that I am proud to call home. I am pleased to invite each of us to join me in wishing a happy centennial to Prince Rupert.
PARKSVILLE COMMUNITY AWARDS
R. Cantelon: The Glassies are a beautiful etched-glass trophy that's awarded by the Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce to outstanding citizens. Gerry Ethier was recognized as volunteer of the year. Gerry is known for his determination and ability to engage others. Get Gerry going, and you get a crowd.
The community builder of the year was awarded to the Parksville and District Association for Community Living, who've been dedicated for 50 years to helping their clients become integral and productive members of the community.
Entrepreneur of the year was given to Rhiannon Cosgrave who, in the middle of a depression, decided to start up her business, Natural Synergy Day Spa. She ventured forth and succeeded where others feared to dare.
The outstanding customer service award was given to Angela Giannotti, owner and operator of Bugsy's Bar and Grill. It's more than just food. You get a very rich, warm family experience in Angela's place.
Youth of the year went to Morgan Farrell, a very busy young woman. Morgan is working on her gold-level Duke of Edinburgh's Award.
The environmental sustainability award was given to Earthbank Resource Systems, in the business of recycling waste into garden compost.
Business of the year was given to Parksville Pharmasave. Owner-operators John Shillabeer and Tammy Toriglia use a team approach with their staff to give the best health advice to their clients.
The citizen of the year went to Kevin Clayton, a leader, a motivator, a get-it-done kind of guy. This realtor with Coast Realty in Parksville really knows how to give back to the community.
So let's celebrate all our community builders and join with us in congratulating them on their achievements.
COMMUNITY GAMING GRANTS
FOR SCHOOL PLAYGROUNDS
C. James: When the B.C. Liberals cut funding for B.C. School Sports last September, the Minister of Education said: "Maybe people will be doing more walking or dancing or playing in the parks." Well, as unbelievable as it is, the government actually made even that harder this week. The B.C. Liberals have taken away gaming grants to build school playgrounds — taken that money away from children and schools to put into government revenue to pay for their budget deception.
My question is to the Minister of Social Development. How can he possibly justify cutting gaming grants to school playgrounds for kids?
Hon. R. Coleman: The gaming grants provided $2 million a year for two years, as was planned, for school playground grants, and 250 schools actually took us up on that particular program. As we went through this and looked at it — I know the member opposite just brought up youth sports — as we made decisions with regards to gaming grants…. You know that now because of the change we made to gaming grants, 100 percent of youth sports will be funded in the province of British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
C. James: At a time when the government is bringing in more gaming money than ever before, the B.C. Liberals are taking away from community grants to groups and organizations across this province, a $36 million cut from 2008 levels — $36 million. So 800 fewer groups are receiving grants now than they have before. Yesterday we heard the minister say this was about priorities.
So my question is to the minister. When did taking money away from kids' playgrounds become a priority for this government?
Hon. R. Coleman: It's fairly instructive, coming from that Leader of the Opposition, who in the 1990s never funded playgrounds and never funded PACs. As a matter of fact….
Hon. R. Coleman: You know, we made the choice to restore the funding of $20 per student to the parent
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advisory councils across this province. That is $12 million to PACs across B.C. and $2,500 to DPACs. They can use that money discretionarily, whether for playgrounds or other uses, within the schools across British Columbia next year.
Mr. Speaker: Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.
C. James: This is money from the proceeds of gaming. This is money that the government promised to give to community organizations. Well, it's pretty clear that they've broken that promise, full stop, when it comes to giving money back. They're taking money away from kids and playgrounds and putting it into government revenue.
So my question, again, is to the minister. Why should B.C. children be made to pay for this government's deception?
Hon. R. Coleman: Before question period I thought I'd go back and look at the program that the NDP had in place for PACs and DPACs across the province of British Columbia during their tenure. There wasn't one. There was no program whatsoever. When it came time to look at….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. R. Coleman: I know it's hard for them to swallow the fact that they never did anything for PACs and they never did anything for a playground plan. It's tough for them to understand that we had a $4 million program over two years, $2 million a year under the gaming program — 250 playgrounds developed in the province of British Columbia.
J. Kwan: The minister is wrong. In fact, PACs have been able to access gaming funding since 1998, and it was set up by the NDP back in 1998.
Britannia Elementary School is a designated inner-city school. It is a community school and serves a diverse population. About half of the students are of aboriginal descent. The playground at Britannia has been condemned. The local PAC has been fundraising for this playground for months. They are short $12,500, and now this government has taken away gaming grants. Parents, students and educators are concerned that they will not be able to see a new playground for their kids in this school.
My question is actually to the Minister of Education. Will she stand up for the kids in our education system and tell her government to reinstate the grants for school playgrounds?
Hon. R. Coleman: I had this program when we became government in 2001, and I looked back at the PAC funding. The odd PAC might have got a grant from a sophisticated school that had the.…
Hon. R. Coleman: Oh no. Just listen. Just listen, Members.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. R. Coleman: This is what we found. A few PACs from sophisticated schools in B.C. had applied for grant funding, and what happened? Schools in inner cities, schools that were in rural British Columbia, schools across the province weren't getting any money. So we're the government that said $20 a student across the board from 2001 to 2008.
Last year, even though we protected $48 million for CommunityLINK with gaming grants so that we'd be able to feed children in school, we still gave PACs $10 a student, and this year they're going back to $20 a student. None of that, except for the prejudices of applications, took place under the NDP era. The fairness was brought in by this government for PACs across British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
J. Kwan: Talk about fairness. First, playground grants were granted based on a lottery. Then this government went to give grants for community schools that are in great need and have the highest needs, and guess what. When the applications went in, they were not qualified. That's fairness for you from this government.
Inner-city schools put in applications and didn't get the grants. Gaming revenues are up and not down, and this government decides to stop providing gaming grants for school playgrounds. In the meantime, this government decides to continue to fund a whole ministry to promote healthy living and sports.
According to the Vancouver school board, there are some 90 condemned playground structures that need to be replaced, at a cost of over half a million dollars, and they have no access to government funds. As a result, tens of thousands of children will not be able to play at their school playground — this at a time when the government claims that they want to see children get active and healthy.
My question is to the Premier. If the Minister of Social Development will not stand up for children, will he do the right thing? Will the Premier do the right thing and provide the necessary funding to Britannia and to other schools who need that money for school playgrounds?
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Hon. R. Coleman: It would only be that member from that party that would say that 100 percent of funding for youth sports, disabled and adult disabled sports in British Columbia was a problem because there's something about children.
I'm sorry, Member. We made the choices to fund 100 percent of the funding back into those things. You know what other choices we made, Member? We made the choice that food banks in rural British Columbia….
Hon. R. Coleman: I know you don't want food banks to be funded, because that's your position — okay? I get that you don't want social issues paid for. I get that you don't want the North Shore search and rescue paid for, because you'd rather say: "Don't do this. Don't do this. Don't make a choice."
Over a two-year period, 250 playgrounds and the parent advisory councils in this province get money, and they get the discretionary money — over $12 million to invest in their schools whichever way they see fit. And do you know what? I'll put their choices over your choices any day.
COMMUNITY GAMING GRANTS AND
SUPPORTS FOR VULNERABLE PERSONS
S. Simpson: Hon. Speaker, $36 million in gaming grant cuts, over $26 million in cuts to the disabled and people on income assistance, and all of this in less than one week.
In the budget speech the Finance Minister said: "Too many people across B.C. are still feeling the downturn, too many families are struggling, and too many communities still face uncertainty."
Can the Minister of Housing and Social Development tell us how over $62 million in cuts to communities and vulnerable citizens in less than a week does anything but add to those struggles and add to that uncertainty?
Hon. R. Coleman: On the social side of the grants for people like food banks and people that need it, like homeless outreach places and stuff like that, 100 percent of the money has been protected — 100 percent of the money in youth sports.
I know what you don't get, hon. Member — that when we protect children and families' futures by having the grants targeted to the kids, you don't like the fact that we're doing it because we face a $1.7 billion deficit, that we don't want to shortchange our children while we're trying to save the economic future of our province.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. R. Coleman: When you face tough economic times, you make tough choices. I know the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant would probably like me to go sell the 23 hotels that we bought in her riding for people with homelessness and mental addictions so that we could put the money somewhere else, because she doesn't support that.
I know. The $275 million investment in new build for homelessness, mental health and addictions are protected in this budget. That's what fiscal responsibility is. When you face tough times, you make tough decisions, and you make the right decisions. That's what we're doing.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Simpson: What I don't understand, for the minister, is how he thinks it's okay to increase Internet gaming limits to $10,000 and not give a dime to playgrounds for kids. That's what I don't understand.
What I don't understand is how the minister can stand up and talk about protection when he eliminates grants for environmental groups, eliminates grants for arts and culture, eliminates grants for playgrounds, cuts grants for child care and preschools and then cuts nutrition supplements, dental services, medical services, funeral services, shelter allowances and contraception services. And that's just the beginning, I'm sure.
Making these cuts is tragic. To have done it with no consultation is shameful on the part of this minister. Can the minister tell us why he thinks it's okay to so dramatically impact communities and individual citizens with not one word of consultation or discussion?
Hon. R. Coleman: I won't rise to the illogical bait of the member opposite.
We are facing unprecedented economic times. I know you don't like that. I know you don't like to admit that being prudent and fiscally responsible is good for the future of our children and our grandchildren, because you would just as soon pay down and get rid of their whole future by the way you'd do business.
I also know that you don't want to recognize that in spite of tough economic times, we've invested $2 billion additional in education over the next three years. We've increased the Education budget. We've increased the Children and Families budget. We've held firm on the budget for Housing and Social Development so that we can do things for people who are homeless with mental health and addictions.
Under the grant program we've protected human and social services for people like the North Shore search and rescue. And people like the food banks across B.C.
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and other social programs are protected within the grant program.
COMMUNITY SOCIAL SERVICES
FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
N. Simons: Last month another devastating announcement was made by the Minister of Children and Families, which announced that $10 million would be cut from community social services across the province. This will have a dramatic impact not just on front-line social workers but on the children who these services were provided for. Will the minister please explain that to the people of British Columbia.
Hon. M. Polak: I think it's important to first acknowledge that this year alone we will invest more than $800 million in community social services through those agencies.
Our priority, of course, is to protect critical front-line services for children. With that in mind, we are working closely with our community agencies, and we are working in concert with them to make these reductions in a way that has the least impact on individual agencies.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
N. Simons: I don't know how the minister is going to help these community agencies find the extra money that's been lost by her decision. But let me give a suggestion, a suggestion that's been proposed by the board of directors of Sunshine Coast Community Services.
I'll quote a letter. "We will be forced to make choices as to whether we should deny services to a child who's been sexually abused or to a family struggling to overcome intergenerational abuse and addiction or to a teenager with no family connections who relies on a youth worker to guide them to independent living rather than a life of possible addiction and crime."
Perhaps the minister will take this to heart. "If your government decides to proceed with this budget reduction, I invite you to come and sit with our board of directors and help us make these choices."
My question is to the Minister of Children and Family Development. Will she assist these community agencies in deciding where these devastating cuts will take place?
Hon. M. Polak: It's important to point out that even in the midst of unprecedented economic challenges being faced around the world, the budget for our ministry will increase this year by $9½ million. This year alone we will invest a billion dollars across government in child care, in early childhood development, and in services to children and youth with special needs.
We are working hard to protect those critical front-line services, and we value the work of our partners, who are assisting us as we try to take what amounts to a less than 2 percent reduction out of an $800 million budget.
HALALT FIRST NATION
CONSULTATION ON WATER PROJECT
D. Routley: The Halalt First Nation in Westholme, in my riding, are concerned about a water wells project being drilled into the aquifer of the Chemainus River. The Minister of Aboriginal Relations continues to claim that consultation was done. It's pretty clear that consultation should be more than, "We're coming to drill water whether you like it or not," and that seems to be the sum total of the government's actions to this date.
The Halalt deserve to be involved in decisions made when significant developments occur in their traditional territory. Will this minister and this government commit today to developing a watershed basin management plan with the Halalt as full partners?
Hon. G. Abbott: I think it's unfortunate that this member trots out in this Legislature and in letters to the editor these misleading and inflammatory statements about the water project.
The district of North Cowichan undertook the project. The project was subject to environmental reviews by the provincial environmental assessment authority but also by the federal government, and there was extensive consultation with the Halalt First Nation as part of that.
Further, I'd say we're very concerned about the escalation of tensions at the Halalt First Nation. I'm looking forward to exploring some ways to see the de-escalation of that, but this member's words…. He should be conscious of what he says, because he in fact inflames those passions with his words, and he should be more thoughtful about the way he conducts himself on this issue.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
D. Routley: The measure of adequate consultation would be consent. The Halalt have never consented to this project on their traditional territories. The inflammation of tensions has occurred…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
D. Routley: …because this government made a commitment to big words like "reconciliation," like "new relationship," and their actions have failed to measure up to the bar that they set.
The minister can blame me if he likes. That won't do him any good with the people in my constituency, certainly not with the Halalt. The Halalt are waiting for proper
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consultation. They are asking for involvement in plans which affect their territory and their water. I would like it — and this side would appreciate it, just as the Halalt would — if this minister would stand up today and commit to involving the Halalt as full partners in a watershed basin management plan.
Hon. G. Abbott: It's not often that we are able to secure from the New Democratic Party any kind of policy commitment. I'm appreciative of the member today for providing us with some clarity with respect to at least one policy, and which apparently is that on any environmental assessment office project that is considered, the only way it will proceed is if it receives the consent of all parties. This is perhaps an astonishing, perhaps bewildering, policy statement — a veto — on behalf of the NDP.
But we're appreciative for them taking a stand on anything, because that is seldom seen in this House or in this province — that the NDP would take a stand on anything. Further, we are prepared to look at any constructive idea from the Halalt or from the district of North Cowichan.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Member for Cariboo North.
B. Simpson: It was this government that promised, under the new relationship, shared decision-making with First Nations, which First Nations have now indicated is mere words, mere rhetoric and has not been translated into action. The Halalt were in this House listening to this minister the last time we canvassed this question, and they were all nodding in the negative when the minister indicated that due consultation had occurred.
My question to the minister is simple. If all of the due diligence and consultation has been done, can the minister explain to this House why the Halalt are protesting this project, why day after day they're trying to get this government to listen to their protests and demands for further consultation? Why is that happening?
Hon. G. Abbott: I appreciate the Aboriginal Relations critic further clarifying the policy which was enunciated by the member earlier. Apparently, the NDP's conception of shared decision-making is veto, and that's very interesting. We appreciate the member providing that clarification — that on any new decision-making, veto is the order of the day.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. G. Abbott: We appreciate that, but clearly the critic was not watching when, just two and a half months ago, we signed a reconciliation protocol with the Haida First Nation. The member clearly wasn't paying attention when we signed a reconciliation protocol with six northern coastal First Nations.
Both of those contained decision-making matrices, and they are supported well by First Nations in this province.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
HEALTH CARE SERVICES
IN LOGAN LAKE
H. Lali: I missed you all too, especially the three amigos over there — my friends.
In recent days, while he's been talking about the benefits of primary care, this same minister is allowing the Interior Health Authority, which also reports to him, to dismantle basic medical services in communities like Chase and Logan Lake. His health authority is cutting primary care services in Logan Lake, and half of its ER, as of April 1. The mayor, Marlon Dosch, is challenging these cutbacks, and the community is up in arms.
My question is to the Minister of Health. Will he convince the IHA to actually come to their senses and reverse these hurtful cuts to the ER in Logan Lake?
Hon. K. Falcon: Of course, this is a common theme we hear in this House, where the members like to talk about health care cuts in spite of the fact that health care is actually growing by over $2 billion over the next few years. One of the things we know is that even when you're pouring over $2 billion into a health care system and it's still not enough, there is a requirement to ensure that every dollar we spend in the system is being spent wisely.
I actually met with the mayor of Logan Lake. We had a good discussion about their health care centre there. You should know, Mr. Speaker, that one of the challenges is that the health care centre emergency room receives on average about three visits per day, and only one of those would be qualifying as an emergency visit. Naturally, they are looking at the level of support service to fund an emergency centre that receives only three visits a day.
I did say to the mayor that it would be appropriate to work with the health authority to ensure that the level of care is appropriate and necessary to meet the needs of the folks in Logan Lake.
[ Page 3297 ]
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
H. Lali: No one believes this Liberal government, and no one actually agrees with the position the minister is taking as well. Ella Brown, the B.C. Liberal candidate in the last election, stated at an open public meeting last week that the Liberals' Interior Health Authority is not telling the truth in order to actually push these cuts through.
Again, my question is to the Minister of Health. Will he put a stop to the Interior Health Authority's misleading and mean-spirited tactics and also the hurtful cutbacks in Logan Lake, and will he actually reverse the ill-thought-out decision that has been made to close the ER in Logan Lake?
Hon. K. Falcon: As I mentioned, I met with the mayor, and I met with one of his councillors to discuss this very issue. Again, I say to the members opposite that in the entire time I have had the pleasure and honour to be the Minister of Health, I have never once heard any alternative vision ever offered by the NDP other than just throw more money into the system. Do not ever consider any kind of change. That must be anathema to the members opposite. We must only throw more money.
I do believe that in an era where 15 percent increases, over $2 billion of additional operating dollars only, being put into the system over the next few years…. When that, indeed, is not enough, we need to challenge the system to try and do better and to make sure that the dollars that are being invested in the system are being used appropriately and to the benefit of patients.
That's exactly what they're trying to do at Interior Health. They'll continue to work with the mayor and council and try to resolve this in a manner that meets the needs of both the patients and the Interior Health Authority.
[End of question period.]
M. Mungall: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Introductions by Members
M. Mungall: I would like to introduce some people from my constituency, Nelson-Creston, Paul and Sandra Boscariol. They are here with Miyu Kimura, who is a Rotary club exchange student all the way from Japan. She's studying at our local high school in Nelson, L.V. Rogers. She arrived last August, and she's going to be here a full year, right into July, so please make her welcome.
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. de Jong: I call budget debate.
M. Sather: I'm pleased to continue with my discussion of the taxing ways of this government. I mentioned B.C. Hydro rates previously. Let's look at ICBC — a $778 million whack hidden in the service plan. Remember, this is under the Premier who said he was against hiddenness. He was against hiddenness when he was in opposition, but this is hiddenness personified. There it was — another tax, by any other name, that's going to hurt the taxpayers of British Columbia.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
The members of my constituency, Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows, could use some of that money that the government is hiving off of ICBC. We've heard about the Evergreen line over and over again, but how many promises is that? There's a lot of need in our community, and we see instead the government taking their money. Our drivers, our commuters see the government taking away their money.
Now, the government says: "Well, we have to do this to establish a level playing field for the private sector." Why? ICBC is doing a good job. If they can produce cheaper car insurance rates for the people of B.C., why not let them? But no, instead this government is determined to favour the private sector, not the taxpayers of this province.
Then there are the tax-free holidays for big business that we've seen this government introduce over the last several years, the $227 million to big banks. Well, the average taxpayer looks at that and says: "Hmm, I think those big banks are doing just fine. They don't, in fact, need another tax break from this government, another giveaway." Tax holidays for oil and gas — more than $1 billion over the next three years.
Then the government has the audacity to say that they're concerned about the tax burden on big businesses that municipalities are supposedly imposing. Instead of saying to those companies, like Catalyst Paper and the rest, "Why don't you be good corporate citizens and pay your taxes?" they go after the municipalities to try to gouge them for more. In fact, the now Minister of Housing and Social Development accused municipalities of dining out on business taxes. That's really unfair, and it shows the depths that this government will go to.
Now let's look at the spending side that this government indulges in: $62 billion in off-book spending — debt incurred that the people of British Columbia will have to pay one way or the other. It's mostly through the P3s that this government is so fond of.
Even then, if you look at it, the taxpayer has to pick up the tab, like we're doing at the Golden Ears Bridge, like
[ Page 3298 ]
we're all doing as taxpayers. The ridership hasn't developed yet to be able to pay for the costs that we have to pay to the constructor, to the provider. That's $500,000 a month — it started off. In January of this year it went up to $1.5 million a month. That's a threefold increase, and it's going to jump to $3 million a month in June of this year. That's, again, money that we have to pick up as taxpayers to pay for this government's big-spending ways.
The Port Mann bridge construction started off as a P3, public-private partnership. It was rescued by the public, supposedly, and now it's classified as a self-supporting Crown corporation. Again, so-called off-book debt — spending in large measure that the taxpayers of British Columbia will have to pay extra money for every time they go over that bridge.
Members on this side, the member for Burnaby North and many others, think that this government is paying off debt, but in fact they're creating massive debt. They're paying off a tiny bit of debt while creating a whole lot of debt — $5 billion in increased debt just since September of last year. Imagine it: in just a period of six months a 12 percent increase in the debt to this province. Just imagine what they can do in a whole year.
The people of this province have to be concerned. This government is the biggest tax-and-spend government that ever existed in the province of British Columbia. That's what they are, pure and clear, but they actually accuse us of that. It's rather peculiar. This government has put the taxpayers of this province in the big hurt locker, and the hurt is going to go on and on and on.
Let's look at carbon credits. You know, carbon credits and carbon trading are something that may hold promise — I hope they do, in fact — for us dealing with climate change and global warming. The Finance Minister says there's huge potential in carbon trading, but it has to be done right. It has to be done right.
Right now a lot of people in British Columbia don't have much faith in carbon trading. If it is done wrong, it's going to reduce that faith even further. What I see happening in my community of Maple Ridge, what I see happening in Mission, is not right.
There is a company, Ecosystem Restoration Associates, that goes to municipalities like mine and to, like, Mission municipalities, and says: "We'll plant some little trees in your forests." Then, in the process, they go ahead and cut down native trees like red alder — 50-year-old trees, fall them, leave them in the forest to rot, to release their greenhouse gases.
These are perfectly intact forests. These are not forests that need "restoration." Then they sell this as a carbon credit. It's really atrocious.
They say that part of the game is eradicating invasive species. One of the main invasive species in our area in the Lower Mainland is the Himalayan blackberry. I've gone to the sites in Maple Ridge. I've gone to the North Alouette River. I've gone to Silver Creek in Mission. There's blackberry all around these sites, untouched.
What I'm told is that, for example, the district of Mission is using this project as part of the way they're going to meet the climate action charter, which says that municipalities have to become carbon neutral by 2012 in order to get the rebate for the carbon tax. Now, I don't know if Maple Ridge is doing the same thing, but I expect they are.
It's incumbent upon the Environment Minister and the Premier to go to those municipalities and say: "If this is the way you're going about getting carbon credits, you do not get that rebate." You do not get it, because it's a sham.
It's a sham, and it's a shame because, as I said, carbon trading could have a positive future — and, hopefully, does have — but not if this is the way it's going to be done — certainly not.
I have to say something, and I am going to say something, about advanced education. Student aid was cut by over 27 percent from the pre-election budget to this budget — 27 percent. British Columbia is dead last in Canada in the amount of non-repayable student financial aid that we provide — 60 percent less than the national average. Student debt in this province is out of control. Students need more support. [Applause.] Thank you.
To quote what a student wrote, she said: "At a time when personal debt threatens the fundamentals of our economy, getting a post-secondary education in the province of B.C. has become a debt sentence." If the government wants to do something for the economy, they should put that money back into funding for our students. That would be a big help.
Let's look at the environment and forestry for a bit. The budget speech talks about the forest sector, yet we see a 16 percent cut since the February '09 budget and 22 percent since the so-called green budget of two years ago. You will remember the golden goals, the great goals of the decade, as the Premier laid them out in 2005 — and apparently he's still fond of those: "to lead the world in sustainable environmental management."
Well, right now we're seeing a drop in the budget from $409 million last year for fighting forest fires to $52 million this year, and the Environment Minister is saying: "You know, it's dry out there. We've got a potential problem on our hands with regard to forest fires." Indeed we do. The ranchers of this province are abundantly aware of that, and they've made their concerns, yet the budget has dropped phenomenally for fighting forest fires.
There are a number of issues to be concerned about with this budget. Let's talk a little bit about health care. You know, the Liberals go on — every year we hear the same thing — about how health care is unsustainable. But if the Minister of Health wants to do something to help the health care system, why doesn't he go to Ottawa and talk to the Prime Minister about the stranglehold of big pharma on patents? Drugs, medications, are costing
[ Page 3299 ]
huge amounts to our health care system, so what does this government do? They remove the therapeutics initiative program.
Now, that was a program to save money. It's a program whereby if there was a generic drug, which is always cheaper than the brand-name drug, and it's going to do the same job, you should use it. But the minister — under pressure, actually, from the pharmaceutical industry, interestingly enough — revealed last December: "We're no longer utilizing the therapeutics initiative." That's shameful.
That's where the waste comes in with this government. That's where the rhetoric does not match with the actions. All this talk about making health care more sustainable, yet when it comes to big industry like the pharmaceutical industry, we see the province, the taxpayers, the seniors — everyone, all of us depending on health care — being put in the back seat to the needs of this government or the desires of this government to make things difficult for everyone.
I just wanted to say a little bit about the rhetoric we hear from the government side about the recession. I mean, it's been a laughable ride that we've undertaken since the government discovered, albeit belatedly, that there was a recession. At that time, members will recall that the government was bragging that, well, you know, B.C. is recession-proof. There might be a recession happening but not here. Not here — we're recession-proof.
Then when that argument started to kind of wane a bit, when it obviously…. They were completely out of touch on the economy. Then they said that B.C. would be the best place to weather the recession. I remember the Minister of Tourism talking about that and others.
M. Sather: There he is. There he is responding wholeheartedly to those statements. Yet what happened? Well, Stats Canada figures for January of this year show that B.C. lost 4,200 jobs, while most other provinces saw a jump in full-time jobs. We've been suffering big-time since the recession hit, and it's unfortunate that the government is still trying to weave this web of deception. In fact, we lost 70,000 full-time jobs in British Columbia between January of last year and January of this year.
Now the ministers, the members opposite are trumpeting that British Columbia is going to lead Canada out of the recession. Well, why should they believe anything that this government says around the recession? They had it totally wrong going into the recession. They had it totally wrong during the recession. Why should this depend on believing them now that we're going to lead Canada coming out of the recession? I hope they're right. I hope we are going to lead Canada coming out of the recession, but the believability factor is very low in terms of this government.
B.C.'s economy shrank 0.3 percent in 2008, more than any other province except Ontario — so not a stellar record at all. Yet the government will have the people of British Columbia believe that they, in fact, are the experts on the economy, but it's not working out for British Columbians, and that's a concern. That's a concern for all of us.
I did want to bring up, if I have a few more minutes, a theme that I talked about last week in this House, having to do with green energy. The government likes to talk about green energy a lot. It's highlighted in this budget. In fact, apparently we will be seeing a clean energy act.
One of the things I talked about was the run-of-the-river projects vis-à-vis green energy and the cost that that, again, is incurring for the people of British Columbia. The member for Maple Ridge–Mission is quoted as saying: "There are no guaranteed rates, and each agreement B.C. Hydro signs with an independent power producer has to be in the interests of ratepayers." Well, that's not true. In fact, there is….
I see, Madam Speaker, that a member would like to make an introduction.
Deputy Speaker: Member, thank you for yielding the floor.
J. Brar: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
J. Brar: Visiting us today is a group of students and teachers from the Fraser Valley Christian High School located in my constituency, Surrey-Fleetwood. There are 32 grade 11 students and four adults. They're led by their teacher Miss Belinda Morsink. They're here to watch the budget debate and learn what we do in this Legislature. I would ask members from both sides of this House to make them feel welcome.
M. Sather: When a power purchase agreement is reached between B.C. Hydro and a run-of-the-river power producer, the price is set. As far as the sustainability, or being in the public interest, the B.C. Utilities Commission made very clear, before they were chastised by this government, that the government's long-term acquisition plan was simply not in the public interest. I say "the government," because we know that B.C. Hydro acts in the interests of the government.
B.C. taxpayers are committed to over $20 billion already to pay for run-of-the-river power. More profligate spending by this government, more massive debt incurred on the backs of the taxpayers of British Columbia.
[ Page 3300 ]
It goes on and on — however, not if you listen to the group called the B.C. Citizens for Green Energy, who are a front group for the B.C. Liberal Party.
They say that run-of-the-river power for export — now we're out in the open, we're out of the closet about this being for British Columbia anymore, and us being short of power and how we need it — will pay off the debt and even get rid of what they said is the PST. That's wonderful. Wow. All of that stuff is going to happen because of the $20 billion of debt that has been incurred, spending that's been incurred, that the taxpayers will have to pay for. It's simply not believable. It's not believable at all.
A few words on bioenergy. That's a big subject these days, and the Minister of Forests has talked about it. Bioenergy, in general, from what is called dedicated land is less sustainable than bioenergy from wastes or residues. Using dedicated land means that land cannot be as easily used for other purposes — for example, agriculture, forestry, carbon sequestration, wetlands and natural areas. This can reduce supplies in other areas and result in either shortages or create a demand for other land to meet those needs, leading to higher prices for food or forest products and compromised ecosystems. That's from the Pembina Institute.
The issue here with bioenergy from forestry — one of the issues, anyway — is how long it will take to restore the carbon which is lost through harvest and what effect it will have on other ecosystem services such as oxygen production, carbon sequestration, water purification, pollination, soil formation and nutrient recycling — which is a very important factor.
Now, the Minister of Forests, I know, is big on the plan in the northwest. In my colleague's area they're talking with First Nations about becoming more involved in producing wood pellets for export to Alberta or wherever they intend to use those. That may have some beneficial effect, but we have to be most careful about how that work is done.
In conclusion, I'd like to say that the people of British Columbia were looking for more in this budget. They were looking for something that would give them some confidence that jobs are going to be forthcoming, because that's one of the biggest concerns. We know that there are fears. The government has openly talked about the fears, too, of possibly a double-dip recession being triggered by factors in the United States.
My constituents and other British Columbians, I know, are concerned about jobs, and yet they didn't see anything in this budget that would give them faith that their jobs are going to be secured, that their kids' jobs are going to be secured. Certainly, the salvation for job production in British Columbia is not going to be the HST, yet that seems to be the primary motivation that the government is putting forth.
On the other hand, they've talked about the forest sector, revitalization of the forest sector, but the forest sector and that ministry have been whacked big-time, so the actions of the government and of the minister make it hard not to believe that there's an abandonment of forestry, in fact. That's certainly bad news in many formerly, at least, forestry-dependent communities that don't have a lot of other options.
Every time I drive down the Lougheed Highway in Maple Ridge — because we have forestry manufacturing in Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows as well — I look at those smaller mills and secondary remanufacturing facilities and hope that they're still going. So far, it seems to me that a number of them are, and we keep our fingers crossed.
Of course, the Hammond Cedar mill, which once was the biggest in the world, now is dwindling faster and faster — hopefully, not closing. It's an Interfor mill, and the workers don't have the confidence that Interfor is reinvesting strongly in British Columbia. We see them investing more south of the border, moving mills, moving operations, so there's a lot of concern out there.
What we're going to be seeing, I guess, at some point before too long, is the introduction of some legislation around the HST. We can have a full debate about it then. There will be many people out on the doorsteps talking about that very issue, and it's going to result in some interesting times this spring.
Hon. S. Bond: I'm delighted to be able to take my place in the House to articulate the reason that I intend to wholeheartedly support the budget that was delivered by our Finance Minister just days ago. I am always proud to stand up and speak on behalf of the constituents that I serve in the riding of Prince George–Valemount. It started out as Prince George–Mount Robson when I was initially elected many years ago.
I want to very much speak to the power of partnership. I'm so lucky to work with a group of elected officials, whether it be at the municipal or at the federal level — and, of course, my provincial colleagues. Together we've decided that we're going to work as hard as we can to make sure that the people who live in northern British Columbia are served well and that the services they require are provided. We do that best in a collaborative way.
Today I want to recognize the leadership of others who have been elected: Mayor Frazier in McBride; Mayor Smith in Valemount; Mayor Rogers in Prince George; my MP colleagues Cathy McLeod, Dick Harris and Jay Hill. All of us work together on behalf of constituents, not to mention the members for Prince George–Mackenzie and Nechako Lakes.
That's the way we make progress on issues here in British Columbia and across the country, and it's so difficult at times to stand in this Legislature and listen to
[ Page 3301 ]
the kind of message that we hear that it's just simplistic and easy. "Let's just add more spending, let's just change this, let's just do that, and that would fix all of the issues facing the province today." I know that it's far more complex than that.
There's something that drives, I think, everyone in this Legislature to make really good decisions for the future of British Columbia. I want to say today that I am very lucky to have a supportive staff both here in Victoria…. A number of staff members help me make sure that our ministry is well taken care of, right from our deputy minister and his team through to my own personal staff. I want to thank the staff that works with me in Prince George.
Most importantly, I want to thank my family, as many other members in this House, probably all of them, have done as they stand on their feet in this place, because without them it is impossible to do this job well. They literally give up a lot of personal time and a lot of things that really matter to them when we're away.
You know, something very extraordinary happened in our lives. As our lives would be…. In fact, it happened while I was not there, and it was very difficult not to be there. Having said that, it was pretty extraordinary. I don't think I've introduced him in this House at this point in time, but on November 27 in our world a brand-new little person arrived, and he is quite extraordinary. His name is Caleb William Bond. He is our first grandchild. [Applause.] Thank you.
An Hon. Member: Second-best-looking grandchild in B.C.
Hon. S. Bond: My colleagues and I have this debate quite regularly. I'm sure that if my colleagues from the other side of the House entered this debate, they would join in the discussion. My colleague to my right actually says that, in fact, he is the second-best-looking grandchild in the province, but I want you to know that in fact it is really an extraordinary experience.
I was very lucky that we have technology, because my son in the delivery room was actually able to text me and tell me about what was happening and the moment that Caleb arrived. I'm surrounded by people on this side of the House who have that joy, and they've had it more than once. In fact, I have a colleague that has 13 grandchildren. I have a colleague that has 11.5 grandchildren, so I'm assuming we'll have an announcement about that. And I have another colleague who has actually seven grandchildren.
I bring that message to the House because I know that my husband, Bill, and I are absolutely thrilled to be grandparents, and I'm so grateful to my children and my husband for the support they've provided to me. But I tell you that story more because that is what drives the government of British Columbia to make the decisions that they are in the position of making.
It is so easy to stand on the other side of the House or to be outside this gallery and to say: "You know what? Why don't you put some more money in here? Why don't you add another program there? Why don't you just change that?"
Well, I'll tell you why. Because since the day that Caleb has arrived and long before that, compelled by other members on this side of the House, we recognize that we have a responsibility. Undoubtedly, we have to deal with the short-term issues that are facing British Columbia, and we are not alone.
Around the world over the last several years we have faced unprecedented economic circumstances, not just a little blip. Not a blip. A major, catastrophic economic downturn. I can tell you that now is the time for prudent fiscal management. It is not the time to say: "Well, let's just add another program. Let's put this back. Let's take care of that."
In fact, now is the time. Our children and our grandchildren expect us to make difficult decisions. Why does that matter to us? Well, it matters to me and members on this side of the House that in fact today we are facing a $1.7 billion deficit. I can assure you that not one member on this side of the House, despite the commentary that we hear on an hour-by-hour basis from members opposite…. Not one of us took that lightly, and not one of us takes it lightly today.
The reason being that we believe it's our responsibility to deal with those issues today so that we do not pass that burden of debt on to our children and our grandchildren in the future. That means tough decision-making. It means setting priorities. It means setting aside some of those things that in fact we'd like to do. I can tell you that I know the men and women on this side of the House, and, you know, they'd love to do all of those things that people hear about.
Of course, we'd want to make sure that we can add new programs and continue to fund things, but whether we like it or not, it's simply not possible to continue to do everything we've done in the past or to add to that. It is a matter of setting priorities and of choosing where we're going to invest our dollars.
That is precisely what Budget 2010 has done. Let's look. When I think about that from Caleb's perspective…. My first grandson. What do I want for him as he grows up in British Columbia?
Well, for one thing, I want to make sure that he has a health care system that's there for him when he needs it, so what did we do as a government? I can tell you that I'm not sure where some of the commentary even comes from when you hear the talk of the word "cuts." Let's be clear. Budget 2010 lays out a plan for health care in British Columbia that will add over the next three years alone over $2 billion — with a "b."
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Now, the members opposite can choose to characterize that however they wish, but I can tell you this. By the end of that three-year period, health care funding in British Columbia will exceed $17 billion. In fact, what it means is that more than 70 percent of all available new funding goes to health care. That's a pretty significant indication of where the priorities of this government lie.
We are committed to a top-notch health care system. That doesn't mean we can continue to do everything today, in the future. We have to look at the health care system. We have to ask ourselves if it is sustainable and what needs to be changed, and we have to have the courage to make those changes. I can assure you that to a member on this side of the House, that's what we intend to do. We intend to do that not just for my grandson but for all of our children and grandchildren in the future.
They're tough issues. They require leadership. In fact, that's exactly what we're prepared to do as a result of the budget that we've tabled in the Legislature.
The other thing that so many of us are very passionate about is the education system in this province. I've been lucky enough and just incredibly privileged to hold that portfolio in the past.
We know this, that when we investment in the early years…. I know you, Madam Speaker, know that more than anyone in terms of the investment and the work that's been done on early learning and early childhood development in the past. We know that by investing in our children's early years, we are not only creating a better opportunity for them to be successful when they are in the education system, but we also know that there's a tremendous return on investment when you invest in early learning opportunities.
Programs like StrongStart, where children and their caregivers have an opportunity to attend a StrongStart centre somewhere in their neighbourhood. That's our goal. That's our vision for early learning in British Columbia. This budget lays out a plan that will even enhance that opportunity.
We're going to prioritize. It is a time for prioritizing where we make investment. We've said that we're going to invest in health care, but we're also going to invest in our youngest British Columbians. What we've said is that we're going to expand kindergarten in this province. We're going to make sure that children get an opportunity to go to kindergarten for a full-day program. That will provide enormous benefit, and the long-term outcomes we know are immeasurable. Children will do better as a result of that investment.
In addition to that, Budget 2010 talks about the possibility of programs for four-year-olds and potentially in the future programs for three-year-olds. All of those things make a difference to families in British Columbia. It's an opportunity to support not only the child but their parents as they face what are some of the most difficult circumstances in raising children. How do we care for our children when we're at work and we're in the workplace? Well, we're also going to add additional money for child care support.
This budget is about setting priorities. It's about supporting families, caring for children in meaningful ways. It does not mean, as I said earlier, that we can continue to do everything the same way. We know that we are facing a $1.7 billion deficit. Our job is to make sure that we meet our fiscal targets.
Our track record is clear. Our credit rating has been upgraded over and over again, and that means that when people look at British Columbia, at the strategic plan that's been laid out, they've actually looked at that and recognized that this is a government that knows how to manage fiscally. In fact, we will continue to do that over the next number of years with the prudent budget that's been laid out before us.
We have to put the budget in context for people who continue to hear about: "Well, let's just add one more program or another issue. Let's just do it a different way. Let's just add more money."
Do you know, Madam Speaker, that in 2007, before the global economic downturn hit, British Columbia's annual revenues were almost $40 billion? Think about this. Why are we driven to make decisions that are difficult? Why are we forced to prioritize?
For one reason, revenues for the year just ending were almost $3 billion lower. We know that if we're going to be prudent and thoughtful, it will take several years before those revenues recover.
It comes down to this. We want to be able to live within our means. I think taxpayers expect us to do that. If you look at our revenue expectations…. We look at revenue. It's expected to average about 4.9 percent annual growth over the next three years. Total government revenue is forecast at $39.1 billion in 2010-11, $40.9 billion in 2011-12 and $42.8 billion in 2012-2013. But if you look at total expense over the next three years, it's forecast to be $40.6 billion, $41.6 billion and $42.5 billion.
We have to look at savings and efficiencies. We did that in 2009-2010, and yes, we are refocusing ministry budgets. That is what difficult times require. We are refocusing our budgets. But in fact, the government has been able to fund $1.36 billion in priority programs, and that's really what it comes down to. What are the priorities of the members on this side of the House, and what have we done about making sure that we can fund those important priorities?
We've been clear. Our priorities are health care. They are education. They are protecting core services that support families in British Columbia. We make no apologies for the fact that it is about making decisions. It is about prioritizing, and I can assure you that we are committed to meeting our fiscal targets. In fact, we expect to return to a balanced budget in 2013. Our children
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demand that of us, and we are going to do that to make sure that the future for our grandchildren in British Columbia is a sustainable one.
I'm sure you would not be surprised, Madam Speaker, that I do want to speak just a little bit about transportation, because that's the portfolio that I hold today. In fact it's also very exciting, because this government is currently in the midst of the largest expansion of transportation in the history of British Columbia.
One of the things we have recognized is that in order for our province to be successful in attracting investment, we have to be very concerned about the efficient flow of goods and people throughout our province. That's what investment in transportation and infrastructure is all about.
We recognize that in order to have a strong and vibrant economy in the future, we have to make sure that when people look to British Columbia and look at investing, we have a great transportation infrastructure system in place. Our goal in our ministry is always to look at how we create an integrated and safe transportation network that incorporates all of our regional priorities.
We know this, that as we move forward over the next three years, we are going to continue to see the largest expansion of transportation infrastructure in the history of our province. But before we look forward to the next three years, Madam Speaker, I hope you'll indulge me in looking back just ever so briefly to something that has been so incredibly successful in our very recent past.
You know, we made a decision to invest in some very key pieces of infrastructure. We looked at the Sea to Sky Highway in British Columbia, and we knew that there were significant challenges in terms of that highway being safe for the people who have to use that every single day. We also knew that as we looked at planning for transit needs in the Lower Mainland, in Metro Vancouver, that we needed to invest increasingly in rapid transit.
Well, let me tell you a little bit about those two pieces of infrastructure alone. During our recent Olympics, I can't begin to tell you how proud I was of the fact that we had a government that had the foresight to deal with investing in those key infrastructure projects, and not just for the Olympic Games. You know, anyone who suggests that that's the case is simply wrong.
I know men and women that drive up and down the Sea to Sky corridor every single day. I can't begin to tell you how many of them have stopped me to say: "Thank you. Thank you for the amazing feat of engineering and technology."
It has now taken a highway that was once one of the worst in the province in terms of safety records and turned it into something that those men and women feel safe and comfortable driving every single day. Now, it's important that it's a long-term legacy, but I can't begin to tell you how well that piece of infrastructure investment performed during the recent Olympics.
I want you to know that the Canada Line…. I can tell you that there were a lot of cynics and a lot of naysayers about investing in rapid transit in the Canada Line. In fact, a lot of them sat on that side of the House. I can tell you that I read quote after quote that said: "Not now. Not ever. Not this. It's going to be a boondoggle." In fact, one of the members actually called it a pig in a poke.
Well, I want that member opposite now to actually stop and think about that comment made, because I can tell you that without the extraordinary success of the Canada Line, where would we have been during the Olympics? And where would we be today, when virtually every Friday, at least, if not in between, almost 100,000 riders choose to ride on that pig in a poke? And I can assure you we're proud of that investment.
Madam Speaker, I want to tell you a little bit about the success of the planning that we've done. I can assure you that as we move forward, there are going to be more of those successes. I can tell you that the name of one of them is the Evergreen line. In fact, we're going to move that project forward too, and we're going to do it with the same degree of success that we had with the Canada Line.
If you look at the Canada Line, it was a $2 billion project that came in three months ahead of schedule and on budget. Now, that is a track record worthy of being proud of. Ridership today averages 85,000 people a day, with TransLink projecting ridership to average — imagine this — 100,000 by 2013. Well, we're way ahead of target, and it's because people take the opportunity to use public transit. That's great on a number of fronts, because when you think about it, it's one way to make sure we're reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We're making sure people are leaving their cars at home.
Our projections were 100,000 people by 2013, but just before the Olympics, daily ridership on the Canada Line spiked to over 103,000 people, and during the games — listen to this number — the Canada Line certainly proved that it was worth our investment and worth our insistence that it move forward. The daily average ridership was over 200,000 people a day on the Canada Line.
The $6 million Sea to Sky Highway was also delivered on time and on budget. The project has increased the safety, reliability and capacity of the highway. During the Olympic Games traffic along the Sea to Sky corridor ran so smoothly that, in fact, Russian transportation officials — and, as we all know, the host of the next Winter Games will be in Sochi — requested a tour along the corridor to learn firsthand traffic management best practices so that Russia could be better prepared to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
Bus ridership was up 34 percent. SeaBus ridership was up 200 percent. The West Coast Express was up 78 percent. The list goes on and on. But what's the critical factor there? This government has invested in every single one of those modes of transportation. That wasn't simply
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for the Olympic Games, although we were delighted with the way the system, in my view, won a gold medal for performance during the 2010 Olympic Games. In fact, these were investments that will pay off long into the future.
On that note, I want to say a very significant thank- you to the transportation partners from the Olympics, including the staff from the Ministry of Transportation, who did an outstanding job on behalf of British Columbians. I can honestly tell you that the staff and the team and all of the people involved in that joint team of organizers worked literally 24-7 to ensure that we were moving people as efficiently as possible, that we were being hospitable hosts.
I know that we were all proud of the firsts that were actually accomplished during the Olympic Games, of those gold medals and those inspiring stories of athletes from Canada and elsewhere.
But I was proud of the work done behind the scenes by countless men and women to ensure that people could actually get where they needed to go. They got there on time. They got there in an efficient way, and that is in no small part due to the fact that as a government we had the foresight to invest in additional resources to ensure that that happened during the Olympic Games.
As we move forward, this year alone we're going to invest almost $2 billion in transportation investment and capital projects outside of transit. The total transportation investment this year in Budget 2010 is $2.2 billion. That is nearly four times the level of transportation investments in 2001. Over the next three years we will be investing $5.8 billion in transportation and infrastructure investments. It includes the bulk of the $2.46 billion committed to the Port Mann/Highway 1 project .
There have been cynics and naysayers on the other side of the House about the Port Mann/Highway 1 bridge project as well. As we look at why that's important…. There are a lot of reasons it's important. It's important for the flow of goods. It's important for the efficient movement of people in Metro Vancouver.
Can you imagine the wasted time spent in congestion? What we want to do is use infrastructure and transportation investment as a way to give people more time in their lives. They actually are going to spend less time sitting in lineups and more time on the quality things that really matter to families in British Columbia.
It's bigger than just investing in bridges and highways. It's about quality of life. It's about productivity. It's about environmental considerations. It's about making sure we're reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We can only do that with strategic investments. Whether that's health care, whether it's education, whether it's transportation and infrastructure, it's all about providing support to British Columbia families. It is about a systematic, thoughtful approach to strategic investments.
One of the things that we should be most proud of is that when we say we're going to build a bridge or we're going to build a highway or we're going to rehabilitate a road, we actually do it. It's about more than talking about building bridges. It's about building bridges. It's about making sure that, in fact, they are done as quickly and as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible. We have done that time and time and time again across British Columbia.
In fact, we have used public-private partnerships. While members on the other side of the House may have some political and policy concerns with that, let's look at the track record. Public-private partnerships in British Columbia have delivered major infrastructure projects on time, on budget, and they have done it consistently across British Columbia. That benefits taxpayers.
We're going to continue to use public-private partnerships where it's appropriate and where it's going to save money and make sure that projects get built on time. That's the prudent thing to do, and we're proud of the track record that we have with public-private partnerships in this province.
I'd also like to highlight a couple of other key projects that are provided for in Budget 2010. We are building the South Fraser perimeter road. I've had discussions with numerous people about the importance of that road and, in fact, some of the challenges that we've faced in moving that project forward. We believe that the Simon Fraser perimeter road will provide better access between Deltaport and Highway 1, and 91 and 99. It will allow for freer movement of goods south of the Fraser.
We've worked hard to continue to address the environmental concerns that have been expressed by members in this House and by others. We are committed to ensuring that this is done in the most sensitive way possible to make sure that we're addressing environmental concerns.
I've been very appreciative of the questions and the ideas and the advice and, in fact, some of the negative comments that we've received about this particular project. We're moving it ahead. We want to do it thoughtfully and carefully, but it is an investment. It is another $1 billion project in British Columbia that's aimed at reducing congestion and increasing the flow of goods and people in a smoother way south of the Fraser.
The Kicking Horse Canyon project also looks at $972 million, revitalizing this portion of the national highway system, a critical link to British Columbia's ports and southern routes. What an amazing, amazing project — again, a very significant partnership. It is critical to the Asia-Pacific connection that we have and that we want to capitalize on.
One of the things that I spent a lot of time on, along with many of my colleagues, during that Olympic period was capitalizing on the fact that very significant decision-makers from companies around the world
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came to Vancouver. In fact, I had the unprecedented opportunity to meet with the largest shipping companies in the world, with international airlines, and all of them wanted to talk to us about our Asia-Pacific strategy.
We are the only province that has the opportunity to take advantage of our geography and our connections to the Asia-Pacific. What we need to do is make sure we capitalize on that geography, capitalize on the momentum that was created through the Olympics and through the discussions that we had.
I could go on and on about the importance of transit, the importance of the investments in B.C. Transit and B.C. Ferries, the importance of investing in rural and Interior roads — all of which we intend to do — continuing to deal with the devastation of the mountain pine beetle by looking at investing in roads that have been impacted by the mountain pine beetle, encouraging further investment by looking at oil and gas roads. We're going to invest in all of those areas.
Let me close by saying that every day that I get to work on behalf of my constituents, I consider it an enormous honour. But I also take perhaps as seriously my commitment to my children and to my new grandson, Caleb. This is not an easy task. It is far more complicated than being able to stand up on the opposite side of the House and point fingers and be critical and simply say: "Just do this or add this. Let's just pile on the debt, pile on the debt, pile on the debt."
Well, I can tell you that I, for one, am not prepared to pile the debt on the backs of our children and grandchildren, and no one on this side of the House is prepared to do that.
Budget 2010 prioritizes. It invests in record levels in health care, in education and in transportation infrastructure. It supports children. It supports families in this province. Most importantly, it ensures that by 2013 we will be back to a balanced budget. We'll be able to look our children in the eyes in the future and say that we did our part. We provided the leadership necessary.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
G. Coons: I rise to speak against Budget 2010 as presented, and I do want to congratulate the member for Prince George–Valemount on her speech and about her family. It is important that we recognize our family.
Right now my wife and eldest daughter are in the Okanagan in Oyama, skiing the slopes along with Jim Elliot, who is an orchardist. My other daughter next week is going to highlight the problem of homelessness in Prince George as she embarks on a five-night homeless endeavour to raise awareness and fundraise for homelessness in Prince George. So I really acknowledge my daughters, Breton and Hannah.
The previous speaker talked about the legacy they want to leave. Under this government, out of the proposed budgets going a few years ahead, seven out of 12 of the budgets will be deficit budgets. When we come up to their balanced budget, we'll have a $50 billion to $60 billion deficit, debt that we have to pay. This government boasts of their economic strength, but in reality it's just a flaw.
Last week's budget highlighted how this government had no real strategy, no concrete initiatives or any plan to grow the economy and recover after the Vancouver games bypass us. We see a small spark of the global recession weakening. Our economy is showing some cautious signs, but only in certain regions of the province.
When we look at the region that I represent, the north coast in the northwest of the province, it suffers the highest unemployment in the province, the largest number of people on social assistance, growing debt loads, loss of vital services, school closures and abandonment by this Liberal government.
You add in the growing gap between the rich and the poor, housing prices plummeting, the high cost of living, a scheme that loots ICBC of three-quarters of a billion dollars and hikes to hydro rates of 29 percent in the next two or three years, and we have a Liberal budget that highlights contempt for those living and trying to raise their families in rural British Columbia.
This budget does nothing to support vital community services and lacks long-term planning that would ensure an economic rebound. Public and community services are key to making the economy recover and to ensure it recovers quickly and that everybody in the province shares in this economic recovery.
Programs that have been eliminated span all regions of the province, including services for mental health, addictions and youth services counselling. There's no plan to deal with this province's astonishingly high child poverty rate — number one for six years, no plan to help families with a living wage so that the gap closes between the rich and the poor, no help for seniors who have suffered this Premier's wrath for nine years with service cuts and higher fees.
As previously reported in COSCO, the Council of Senior Citizens Organizations of B.C.: "By putting our lives at risk and taking away our right to retire with dignity, we need to take on this Liberal government." The budget response by COSCO? Gudrun Langol says: "Seniors are not important to this government. We all have to sign up to be movie extras, I guess, seeing our wonderful industry has gotten a few tax breaks, and maybe we can get in on that."
Basically, instead of a recovery budget, this government brought forward a budget that betrays the election promise to protect health care and education and hammers British Columbians with HST. Instead of making investments in people to secure a recovery and create jobs, we have a shyster budget, a shell game budget, one with a mystical facade of gimmicks and trickery.
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In the Globe and Mail Patrick Brethour says: "Faced with a need to restore its battered fiscal credibility, the B.C. Liberal government has instead chosen to resort to sleight-of-hand measures that create a distraction from the unfolding political debacle of the HST and the future peril of a blowout deficit. In short, the Premier's government has just tabled the gimmick budget."
Other comments on the minister's harmonized sales tax gimmick include: "sleight of hand," "a joke," "stupid," "contemptuous," "laughable," "silly," "flimflam," "phony," "lame."
No innovative investments in the future of our province for our children or grandchildren to help move into an economy that ensures our wealth and social capital are there for all British Columbians.
On the seventh anniversary of the heartlands budget, the Liberals have nothing for rural B.C. — no plan, no strategy, no concern. It doesn't have any rural strategy to foster sustainable economic development and help create good-paying jobs.
[H. Bloy in the chair.]
It's a fundamental betrayal and abandonment of those that depend on the government to look after those people with needs in all the province, not just the chosen few. Despite nearly a decade of mismanagement that has left our province deeply divided between rich and poor, rural and urban, we still have so much to offer but nothing from this budget.
The throne speech. Fourteen pages, over 5,000 words and rural B.C. not mentioned once — only with a bizarre, northern and rural homeowner benefit that seems to include the heartland capitals of Kamloops, Kelowna and Whistler. When the minister was questioned on why there was nothing for rural B.C., he mentioned the homeowner benefit and the property tax deferral scheme — just another gimmick to try to lay out an economic plan and push towards economic recovery.
We look at the deferral plan, the property tax deferral scheme. The government says it will help families who might need the help, but it has the potential to snowball with young homeowners, adding to their debt and making more money, obviously, for the best friends of this government, the banks.
John Pankratz, president of Certified General Accountants of B.C., indicated that while it could provide short-term break for some stretched families, he wouldn't want to see it used as a long-term strategy. "It's not something that in the long term you want to see a lot of people jumping into with a lot of enthusiasm. It's more of a stop-gap measure." So basically, a band-aid approach, a gimmick, no plan.
If we look inside the budget and look at the budget of the Community and Rural Development Ministry, look at the rural B.C. secretariat…. Back in 2008 the Premier announced, at the Union of B.C. Municipalities, the creation of this new one-stop rural secretariat. It's going to assist local governments to apply for infrastructure funding, diversify regional economies, assist resource-based workers in transition, increase community socioeconomic health and sustainability, and enhance response to opportunities and the urgent needs of communities.
What has the Premier done to assist local governments, help regional economies, assist workers who have lost their jobs, ensure the socioeconomic health of rural B.C.? He cut this vital program, the rural B.C. secretariat. From February '09, $36 million, to this year, $33 million, and in 2010-11, $3 million — a 91 percent cut.
An Hon. Member: Wrong.
G. Coons: Read the budget. It's right in front of me.
From $36 million to $3 million. For years the Premier has acknowledged that rural B.C. is on life support. That's why he created the rural secretariat. With this budget the heartbeat of the heartland, the rural secretariat, has been flatlined by the Premier, the heart of rural B.C. ripped out and transplanted to help pay for the $600 million roof on B.C. Place Stadium, the billions of dollars of tax breaks for subsidies for big banks and oil companies and the unknown legacy bills of the Vancouver games.
Now, I find it interesting that the members on the other side — the previous speaker from Prince George, from the north — didn't talk about the northwest transmission line. One other member mentioned it, but you know, it's buried deep in the budget. There are no details, and the government is noticeably silent on this.
We all support economic development in the north, but we need to hear from the minister, the Minister of Energy, about his plan for an organized, rational development in the northwest that includes this vital transmission line. This government needs to show us a business plan and explain how it's going to recoup the hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars that are subsidizing the line.
Six months ago the Finance Minister told us that a partner had been identified and that we would be putting in $90 million. But they admitted recently that they still haven't secured a private partner for this transmission line. I guess that's why there's so much silence coming from this government on the transmission line.
The Mining Association of B.C., when the federal government put in their support, had a headline: "The Mining Association of B.C. Applauds the Federal Government Support for the Northwest Power Line." They're putting in the money. On Tuesday, March 2, after the budget, their headline was: "Budget Focuses on HST." Not once is the transmission line mentioned in the Mining Association press release on the budget. So another scam, another misinformation.
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I'm not surprised that the Minister of Transportation, who was speaking earlier and is on the northern caucus, failed to mention the transmission line.
We look at forestry. All of our resource ministry budgets are looking at a $320 million hit. The forestry ministry is going to go from over $1 billion to about $6.4 million. It takes the biggest cut, close to $200 million over three years. You know, this government, over the last three to four years, has abandoned our vital forest industry. The decision to cut $200 million from Forests is the latest broken election promise from a government that's abandoned the industry that built this province. The budget hammered them with a 23 percent, $200 million cut.
The inaction of this Premier and this government over the last nine years has devastated and ravaged the industry even worse than the pine beetle infestation itself.
Now, if we look at the budget for Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, there are further cuts to this budget. From the September '09 budget update to this February budget, there's a decrease of 4 percent or just about $3 million. But for the 2010-2011 year, the budget is expected to be about $40 million, a cut from $66 million — a cut of 40 percent or close to $27 million — and further cuts after that.
What have we seen from previous budgets under this government? Well, in 2008 we saw the failed recognition act, in 2005 the failed new relationship vision, and in 2001 we saw the referendum on native rights. I guess that didn't fail in the Premier's mind, but those who saw it as divisive and a racist attack knew it was a complete failure.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, along with 200 groups, called for a legislated poverty reduction plan. They said that now is the time for a poverty reduction plan, and we saw nothing in this budget. Over half a million British Columbians live in poverty, making B.C. have the highest poverty rate in Canada.
People work hard to overcome poverty, but society must ensure that policies are in place from governments to help them achieve an adequate standard of living. Nothing in the budget about a minimum wage. Nothing in the budget about a living wage for B.C. families. The only thing that's certain in this budget is that we will, unfortunately, be number one for child poverty for the seventh time in a row. Nothing in this budget to alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable, except for more cuts to services and more suffering.
Now, we look at a tale of two cities — basically a tale of two provinces. In Ontario, in its latest throne speech recently, the headline reads: "Ontario Stakes its Recovery on Education." On education in Ontario: "The province plans to create another 20,000 spaces. The classroom is the centrepiece of Premier McGuinty's five-year plan to return Canada's one-time economic engine to prosperity."
What are we doing in our budget as far as post-secondary? We're cutting. The government may say, "Well, we're keeping the budget the same," but when you don't take into consideration the cost pressures, it's a cut.
Operating grants for post-secondary colleges and institutions. They're going to be operating on the same funding levels as last year, but no allowance for the cost pressures, the cost of living and the dozens of other increases. So basically, this flatline budget will have significant cuts in our post-secondary.
The annual capital allowance for post-secondary colleges and institutions. Basically, the ACA is going to go from about $60 million to $12.8 million, a 78 percent reduction to the post-secondary system. This cut to the annual capital allowance means that capital funds required to keep facilities running will need to come from operating budgets. This will lead to significant, significant cuts to programs and services and, again, an abandonment of our post-secondary.
Labour market and immigration. Again, for 2010-2011 in the post-secondary budgets, it's a flatline budget. Again, the Industry Training Authority will probably receive no money. It was cut in 2009 by $8.5 million, and this will have a major impact on what's happening in our post-secondary institutions.
What we did see were the broken promises to post-secondary students. Their support programs in this budget were slashed by this government. They face a 28 percent cut to student aid after the government broke their election promises and axed funding.
During the election this Premier campaigned on the promise to protect funding for advanced education. Now they're backtracking, deceiving students and making deep cuts to student aid programs. They slashed $31 million in this budget from the student support program, and since the 2009 election they've cut student aid by 27.4 percent.
It's shameful. It's not fair to students. They're being forced to pay for this government's election deception and lack of an economic plan. We need to make smart investments now in human capital to remain competitive, not cut programs and services through insufficient funding.
The cost of post-secondary is rising quickly. With the fewest student grants in Canada, many of our students in British Columbia are finding themselves without the financial means to attend university or college or to complete their programs.
What we need to do and what this government should have done is provide students with incentive to stay in British Columbia and fill the jobs of tomorrow. By taking away student aid programs, this government made it much harder for a young person to receive an education. We need a healthy, educated workforce that can afford to go to post-secondary.
Over the past nine years this government has consistently underfunded universities and colleges, which
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are the drivers of our economic growth in the province. They force students to pay outrageous tuition fees. The government's own figures show that in 2011, it will collect more from tuition fees than corporate income tax — unbelievable. Education should not be a debt sentence, and that will be this Premier's shameful legacy to our students.
If I look at the college in my riding, Northwest Community College, which operates out of Terrace and Kitimat and many of the other small local communities around, they're receiving 78 percent less funding for maintenance and repairs from this government and from this budget. There are cuts of discretionary funds such as aboriginal special project grants, targeted aboriginal funding for community-based programming and cuts to the Industry Training Authority budget. These cuts will have a huge impact on the budget and the services offered to the students in the northwest.
Now, we look at public education. This government has the mantra of saying that they continue to fund at highest levels, but that is just a shell game. They are not funding to the levels that they need to be at. Even though spending has been boosted by a tiny amount over the last couple of years, this government has downloaded greater responsibilities and huge costs to the school boards.
This small amount that's been put into the education budget will not cover the downloaded costs, increased costs, inflation. Some of the cost pressures include the transportation costs, pension additions, administrative salary increases, administrative pensions, support staff increases, carbon offsets, gas tax, carbon costs, SmartTool software, MSP increases, B.C. Hydro rate increases, BCeSIS costs, DPAC and PAC costs, B.C. School Sports, building maintenance costs, TOC criteria for wages through the Ready award, StrongStart costs, annual facility grants that were only half-funded over the two years, the funding protection that a lot of rural British Columbia school boards need, and looking at the growth in special ed and general inflation.
All of these over the last four or five years have been downloaded onto school boards. This budget will only lead to more instability and uncertainty for schools as these costs continue to outpace government funding.
Now, the government side of the House wants British Columbians to believe that they're protecting education. But students, parents and teachers know better, as they all brace for more cuts, more school closures, more overcrowded classes, more cuts in teachers and support staff. This government is in complete denial about its role in education cuts, and they'll probably keep breaking their own class-size and composition law. The government claims there's enough funding, but the small amount far exceeds the rising costs.
This government's shyster type of math just doesn't add up. The government continues to play a shell game, and the only losers are the students of British Columbia. There still will be close to a $300 million shortfall of what's needed just to maintain existing levels of service. There's no long-term plan to improve learning conditions and classroom conditions for students. There's no plan to improve class sizes or support for students with special needs, and no plan to prevent school closures. Just more chaos when we need stability.
Now, we look at the arts funding in this latest budget, and this government continues to ignore the economic benefits of the creative sector. That's evident in their gross disregard for the recommendations of the bipartisan Select Standing Committee on Finance, which recommended that cultural funding be reinstated to 2008 levels.
The committee noted that for every dollar invested in the arts, it generates a return of $1.36. To me, that seems like a good investment in your dollar. The Alliance for Arts and Culture says: "We've seen further cuts to core funding for a total loss of 32.4 percent from funding levels in 2008-09."
The B.C. Arts Council has been cut 53 percent from 2008-09. B.C. Gaming Commission contributions have been cut 58 percent from 2008-09. This is funding used to make possible community access to arts and culture through free public festivals and events.
The gaming grant cuts will severely impact cash-strapped charities and non-profits — another shortsighted decision by this government, with no plan and no vision. Day care, festivals, fairs and museums will see a 50 percent reduction — another severe blow to organizations, especially those in rural and northern British Columbia.
If we look at what's happening with the environment, the Ministry of Environment, there's clear evidence that this government has abandoned their environmental promises, going from a greening of B.C. to a greenwashing of B.C. The Liberal budget actually cuts programs that create green jobs. Funding for the Ministry of Environment has been cut by almost 40 percent since the Liberal so-called green budget in 2008.
While the government claims they are restoring LiveSmart, they've cut the funding for the popular program to half of what it was before the election. And it should be noted that in 2008, this province — our province, British Columbia — was the only one in Canada to see increases in industrial greenhouse gas emissions.
The Premier's provincewide cuts could force more park closures and undermine the ministry's ability to provide core services like effective enforcement against polluters and poachers, protection programs for species at risk and work related to adapting to climate change.
As many have been pointing out, this budget is yet again putting carbon-intense industries over green initiatives. Once again, the Ministry of Environment has been cut even deeper than it was in the September '09 budget. Some of the program cuts from February '09 to this budget are the climate action secretariat by 55.6 percent; environmental
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stewardship, over 17 percent; water stewardship, over 18 percent; compliance, 17.5 percent; parks and protected areas, a cut of close to 14 percent; environmental assessment, a 6.6 percent cut.
The $100 million slated for climate action and clean energy and $35 million to revive the LiveSmart program, which is about $135 million, pale in comparison to the projected $282 million in subsidies this year alone for oil and gas. The Pembina Institute says that this budget cites more gas than green. We on this side of the House know how much gas comes out through the halls when these ministers are talking about their greening of B.C.
Matt Horne, director of energy solutions for the Pembina Institute, said: "Fresh off the Olympics, British Columbians were looking for big strides toward a clean energy economy, but continued carbon tax exemptions combined with oil and gas subsidies amount to a near $700 million lost" in this investment.
West Coast Environmental Law indicates that past and new cuts to the Ministry of Environment play a key role in an ongoing drop in enforcement of laws protecting B.C.'s air, water and wildlife, and they have called for increased funding to environmental law enforcement.
I see this in my riding in Bella Coola. Two years they've been without a conservation officer. There have been dozens of grizzly bears killed because of no conservation officer — mothers and cubs. There's no Bear Aware program. They're on the list in Bella Coola, but they can't get the funding. Cuts to environmental protection will only ensure that there will be more concerns about killing of wildlife and lack of conservation officers throughout the province.
The Dogwood Initiative sees this budget as out of balance. There's a clear signal from the Premier, they say, that he would rather provide subsidies to the world's most profitable and dirtiest industries than support green innovation. The Premier is spending over $1.5 billion to subsidize and support dirty projects versus $135 million for green innovation and clean energy, a huge discrepancy that will only continue the exponential increase of our province's greenhouse gas emissions.
The Georgia Strait Alliance acknowledges that there's no money for ocean health.
I do want to talk about the HST. The government said that there is nothing more important than the HST. But what we're seeing is that Manitoba confirms that it hurts consumers. The Progress Board reports that it's going to hit ordinary British Columbians hard.
I do want to end on a note from Laura, a senior citizen who says:
"As a senior living on my own, the HST will cause me to lose my house. When you are on a pension, you get no increase. The only way low-income families can cut back on costs is food and utilities. My furnace is at 12 for the day, and overnight it's set at 10. Laundry is done in cold water. There are going to be lots of families and single moms with children living on the street. Never in my many years have I seen big business pass on any savings to the consumer. The HST was planned for big business, for their benefit only. Everything this Premier has to say, I automatically deem an untruth."
This is from Laura, a senior citizen who is concerned about the impacts of the HST, as 82 percent of British Columbians are. We will take the fight of the HST and ensure that we represent the citizens of British Columbia in the role that we are honoured to do, and we will represent all British Columbians, not just the favoured few.
Hon. S. Thomson: It's an honour to stand in the House today to support Budget 2010.
Firstly, though this is my second opportunity to speak to a budget presentation, I want to take the opportunity to thank the constituents of Kelowna-Mission — again thank them for this tremendous opportunity to serve the province. I remain honoured and humbled, and I recognize the responsibility that I've been entrusted with. I take it very, very seriously.
I also want to thank my family again for their continued support and patience. My youngest son is on an extended adventure in Australia and is probably not listening or watching. But I expect my wife, Brenda, is, and I sincerely appreciate her continued love and support.
I also have five grandchildren that I'm working for — just in case people in the House are keeping track or counting the number of grandchildren that people are working for. But as the member from Prince George noted, that is who we are working for. It's the future, and it's the children of this province and our grandchildren that we all consider so important that we want to work for. My grandchildren are as adorable as any of the others.
Again, as many other members have noted, we're all supported by the great work of our constituency assistants who continue to help the residents of Kelowna-Mission in so many ways. So I want to thank Nan Pellatt and Rebecca Narinesingh in my office for their continued tireless, dedicated and very much appreciated support.
This 2010 budget is a document for those people that I just mentioned — for our constituents, for our families, for our grandchildren and for the businesses in our region — because it positions the province to lead in economic growth and recovery. Difficult decisions have been made so that this budget can provide the prudent and measured approach to ensure the stability we need to bring investment and jobs to British Columbia.
Our continued focus on having the lowest personal income taxes and on continued reductions in corporate income tax and small business taxation contributes to the foundation that we need for the future. The sound fiscal approach has resulted in a triple-A credit rating, and it's a testament to the steady, solid guidance provided by our Premier and by our Minister of Finance.
This budget follows the unparalleled success of the hosting of Canada and B.C.'s 2010 Winter Olympic
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Games. There have been lots of comments on the great success of the games. They will provide the impetus for short- and long-term economic investment, growth and jobs in this province. From the torch relay to the gold-medal hockey game, we were engaged, we were motivated, and we were inspired by the response and the experience.
Speaking of that experience, the torch relay, as it came through Kelowna, provided me with one of my most touching and personal moments of the games. In Kelowna-Mission one of our torchbearers was Rev. Albert Baldeo, a spiritual leader in our community and someone that everyone turns to in times of trouble and in times of happiness. Albert is originally from Trinidad, and he is significantly challenged by advancing Parkinson's disease.
He was so appreciative of the honour to be chosen. On a dark early morning between Glenwood Avenue and Rose Avenue in our riding in Kelowna-Mission, in front of the Kelowna General Hospital, he took his turn, stepping out of the shuttle to the hundreds of supporters that were there — his family, his grandchildren, his Rotary club, his church and an attendant with a wheelchair to assist. But when his turn came, Albert took the torch, turned and headed down the street, surprising everyone, bringing tears and cheers from all.
He embodied the spirit of all Canadians. He sent me a poem following his experience, and I just want to read a very short passage from that poem. I won't read it all, but it epitomizes the spirit that I just talked about. This is the poem that he sent to me.
The torch has a lovely flame.
May it flow gently in this land.
Even in my infirmity
I am proud to be a Canadian.
The torch reminds me today
That as a nation we are free,
And my prayer is that
The Olympic Games
Will create world unity.
To my loving eight grandchildren
I would like to leave a legacy
Blessed by God from above.
That legacy is the legacy
Of gratitude and love.
It's for people like Albert and his eight grandchildren that we are working, and it's for that reason that we don't want to leave that legacy of debt on those grandchildren and on our grandchildren and on the future. That's why this budget is so important to the people of British Columbia.
During the Olympics I had the opportunity to create and promote awareness of the agriculture industry, agricultural producers and food processors and the very important linkages and partnerships that exist throughout the value chain in the agriculture and agrifood industry — including retail distribution, restaurant and food services, and partnerships between primary producers and chefs.
These opportunities included the First Nations Agricultural Association agricultural day, where we focused on the great work that the first nations communities are doing in developing agriculture industry and agritourism; Savour Canada, with the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the federal Minister of Agriculture; the Canadian Food and Wine Event, with our own B.C. industry primary producers, food processors and chefs; B.C. Street out in Richmond, where we had regional promotion for our communities across the province — the Comox Valley, the Cariboo, the South Okanagan — a street that saw over 10,000 visitors a day.
I just want to correct one assumption or one thing that came out in the press during that event. I did not lose the grape stomp to the mayor of Penticton, Mayor Ashton. I think it was a tie.
It gave us that great opportunity to promote the grape and wine industry in the South Okanagan. All of those regional areas had a significant focus on agriculture in their communities as part of the promotion of the regional economies — tourism and everything else in those areas — and agriculture was a big part of those regional events.
On culinary day with CTV we had the opportunity to again feature the B.C. industry. I had the opportunity to pass out over 2,000 Fuji apples from the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, the B.C. tree fruit industry, to the public at Robson Square.
We had regional days featuring many of our regions, specifically at the B.C. Showcase. The Okanagan and the Cariboo were two that I had the chance to participate in. We joined businesses from those regions promoting those regions, and each of those included a significant component of agriculture.
It's very important to recognize that this provided the opportunity to promote our industry domestically, interprovincially and internationally. We gained media coverage of the B.C. food, wine and agricultural products around the world, from venerable U.S. outlets like the New York Times, CNN, to media outlets from China, Australia, Russia and Germany.
The members opposite have made reference to the comment about the lack of support for communication on the importance of the need to support local food production and the Buy B.C. approach. I want to say that we are committed to continue to support communication in this area, just as we did at the Olympics, just as we will continue to use every opportunity possible, including today, to stress the importance of our B.C. consumers supporting our industry by focusing on local producers, by buying B.C. products.
We will continue to work with organizations such as the B.C. Agriculture Council, the B.C. Food Processors Association and the Small Scale Food Processor Association of B.C. to do just that. We're working with
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B.C. farmers markets, the direct farm marketing association, the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, with their initiatives to link consumers with primary producers, small-scale food processors, retailers and chefs focusing on high-quality, safe, nutritious food products that we produce here in British Columbia.
B.C. has one of the most unique and diverse agriculture sectors in the world. Despite our current difficult economic climate, there is still tremendous opportunity for B.C.'s agrifood industry. B.C.'s primary agriculture sector has sales of $2.8 billion, employing 33,000 people. Agrifood sales and employment rise to $23.7 billion and 312,000 jobs when processing and food service are included.
I'm not going to try to be overly optimistic and pretend everything is rosy. The fact is that we're facing one of the worst economic downturns in B.C.'s recent history. B.C. is not alone. This is a global downturn that has affected countries around the world, and this has impacted the agriculture sector. We only need to look to the particular challenges in our livestock industry and sectors of our horticulture industry to understand that.
Despite this — and we'll continue to work with those associations to address those challenges — B.C. is well placed to come out of this recession better than other regions, and so is the agriculture and agrifood industry.
B.C. still leads the agrifood sector in so many areas. We lead Canada in the production of farmed salmon and clams, and in blueberries, cranberries, sweet cherries and raspberries. We have the largest fruit sector in Canada, the second-largest nursery and floriculture sector, and we rank third in the country for dairy, turkey, chicken and egg sectors.
We're continuing to work closely with farmers and producers to find innovative ways to support this industry in the middle of a global economic crisis that is beyond our direct control. The ranching task force recently brought forward recommendations about how government and industry can work together to achieve a more profitable, self-sustaining industry. It is my hope that we will have our comprehensive cross-government response to this report for release later this spring.
Farmers are innovative. They respond to changing market conditions in creative ways. This government is committed to helping further the development of new technologies such as anaerobic digestion and opportunities in alternate energy, benefiting the environment and creating economic opportunities for our producers.
We are committed to working with the sector to create more opportunities to add value to our products. In many respects, agriculture is a shared jurisdiction. The federal government is an important partner in providing hundreds of millions of dollars to match provincial funding through the Growing Forward agreement. By the year 2013 B.C.'s agriculture industry will have received $553 million in funding for programs that benefit B.C.'s ranchers, farmers and processors.
With every dollar the province spends and provides in our budget, we leverage federal dollars for the B.C. agriculture and agrifood sector on a 3-to-1 ratio. This is the highest leveraging ratio amongst all the provinces.
Through this partnership and through the additional financial support, we've been able to announce $3 million to ensure food safety in partnership with the Small Scale Food Processor Association, a $10 million program for environmental farm planning and beneficial management practices to continue our leadership in environmental stewardship on farms, $1.5 million projected to assist livestock producers to deal with predator control, a $2.4 million program to promote food safety awareness for producers and $1 million for the farm business advisory services program.
These investments and these programs respond to the needs and priorities identified by the industry. We continue to focus our resources on making sure that we have that continuing partnership and support with the federal government. Despite the economic challenges facing government, we work hard to ensure that this budget allows us to continue to focus on delivering critical ministry services.
It's going to allow us to continue to deliver the production insurance program and AgriStability program to primary agriculture producers. These are two programs that the industry has identified as critical to their future. I was pleased to be able to join the federal minister to announce the transfer of the administration of the AgriStability program from the federal government to the province.
This gives us the improved ability to deliver business risk management services to the industry and also create new jobs in communities across B.C. I will continue to work with my federal and provincial colleagues to ensure these programs meet the needs of industry as we undertake a strategic review of these important programs.
We're also maintaining the funding through this budget for our state-of-the-art containment level 3 lab and facilities located in the Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford. This ensures we maintain the capacity to properly respond to animal and plant disease outbreaks, to protect the environment, to meet important biosecurity objectives and to protect plant and animal health.
The members opposite talk about the need for industry support. However, one thing that they've been very conspicuously not mentioning is the very significant benefit that harmonized sales tax provides for both primary producers and B.C. food processors. This is estimated to be over $24 million in direct benefit to producers' bottom lines.
This is something that the agriculture industry has asked for — a simplified tax-exemption system for our farmers. The harmonized sales tax accomplishes that. I think it's very important to note that this is of greatest
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benefit to those producers who are investing in their operations, who are adding new technologies, who are purchasing equipment for small-scale food processing — just the kinds of producers that the members opposite note are such an important part of our local food systems.
I think they have been very, very conspicuously silent on the important benefit that this approach to harmonized sales tax provides for the agriculture sector. When you talk about wanting to provide support for the industry, this is an initiative that provides that direct support and goes immediately to producers' bottom lines.
Also, as part of our budget initiatives, a sustainable, stable aquaculture industry remains a priority for this government. We're working with our federal colleagues to transfer the regulation of shellfish and marine finfish aquaculture in accordance with the ruling of the B.C. Supreme Court. We're going to retain the responsibility for the land tenures under the Land Act, and we'll retain the thousands of jobs — nearly 6,000 jobs — that come with the industry that is particularly important to our First Nations.
This sector brings over $550 million in economic activity to B.C.'s coastal communities. We're going to continue to make sure that this transition protects that investment and protects those jobs in those communities.
The ministry also continues to deliver on the responsibility to create and maintain an effective regulatory environment for the administration of Crown land. We provide effective rules for the efficient land tenuring and resource use under the Land Act. This provides ongoing support for agencies delivering over 7,000 tenures each year.
We're improving authorization and monitoring activities so there's less duplication and more efficiency and certainty for our clients. That will be part of our process in addressing the budget efficiency of our ministry.
The budget maintains our ability to respond to the needs of communities and also responds to the needs of communities for sponsored Crown grants, formerly known as free Crown grants. These Crown grants put lands in the hands of local government for public services and infrastructure and allow for the transparent accounting for the cost of the land.
Through this budget, we're also providing support to communities through the B.C. brownfield renewal strategy. This award-winning program offers advice and support to communities, First Nations and landowners wishing to revitalize brownfield sites. It encourages innovative partnerships focused on returning unproductive lands to active use.
B.C. is also leading by example in remediating contaminated Crown sites through the Crown land restoration program. This year the contaminated sites portfolio will expand to 77 sites with the investigation of five more priority Crown sites. Of the 72 sites already in the portfolio, remediation work has been completed on 45 of them.
We bring expertise, also, in land sales, bringing together strategic parcels of land with local governments, First Nations and private sectors to create jobs, diversify the economy, create wealth and respond to the needs of B.C. communities.
All of these important initiatives demonstrate our commitment to sustainable environmental management and our commitment to leaving a better world for our children and our grandchildren.
The riding of Kelowna-Mission and the Okanagan will continue to benefit from the great infrastructure in our region. The people of our area and our region have seen investments and commitments that total over a billion dollars in health care at Kelowna General Hospital and the Vernon hospital, which serve the residents of the Interior. The recent announcement of over $400 million for a cardiac care centre at KGH will benefit the entire province.
We have investment in transportation infrastructure, with upgrades to Gordon Drive, the Mission Creek bridge replacement, over $11½ million dollars for interconnecting pathways for an active transportation network, improvements in four-laning on Highway 33 and a passing lane on Walker Hill. All these investments are creating jobs and improving the movement of people and goods and services in the Okanagan.
This budget also continues to invest in education. UBC Okanagan and Okanagan College have received tremendous support to continue to enhance the programming and quality of education for our post-secondary students, not just Okanagan students but students from all around the province.
Construction has also started on supportive housing projects. Willowbridge, a new 40-unit development for the homeless and people at risk of homelessness in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association, is underway. Tutt Street, a new 39-unit supportive housing development for women in financial need to be managed by NOW Canada, the New Opportunities for Women. Construction has started on both of those projects. This is creating great opportunities for our region, creating jobs, but more importantly, providing those needs for the vulnerable.
The continued strong fiscal management of the province evidenced in this budget has provided the opportunity for these important benefits, improving the quality of life in the Okanagan. It is all part of why the Okanagan, and this province, is such a great place to live, work and invest.
I started out by saying that we're working for the future, for our children and our grandchildren. This budget provides that prudent fiscal management that provides that future for the children to make sure that we don't put that legacy of debt onto our children and onto our future.
I want to close by saying that I look forward to the opportunity to vote and support Budget 2010.
[ Page 3313 ]
D. Black: We seem to be having a little theme here today around family and grandchildren. I just want to get it on the record that I also have grandchildren. I have seven, the oldest of whom is an eight-year-old granddaughter, and the youngest of whom are one-year-old identical twin girls. I'm incredibly proud of all of them.
I would also like to give my congratulations to the Minister of Transportation, who indicated today that in her family they've just had the birth recently of their first grandchild. I can only hope that she gets the same kind of joy and satisfaction from her grandchildren that I have had from mine.
You know, much of what happens in a democracy, when we're all talking about our children and our grandchildren here today, is that we come to this place with different political philosophies. The hopes and aspirations that I have for my grandchildren include a society, a British Columbia, that does not have the shame of homelessness. I dream for my grandchildren of a society in British Columbia that does not have the shame of having the highest child poverty rate in the country.
I dream of a society for my grandchildren where the shame of violence against women is truly dealt with and the fear that too many women face when out and about in our communities is gone. Those are the kinds of aspirations I have.
I dream of a society in British Columbia where a child who's born in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver has the same kinds of opportunities for a rich and fulfilling life that a child born in Kerrisdale would have or a child who's born in a resource-dependent community in British Columbia, a devastated resource community in British Columbia, would have — the same kinds of opportunities for a post-secondary education and to fulfil their dreams that children from a more affluent society would have.
I'm also honoured to represent the concerns of the people in my riding of New Westminster. I hardly know where to begin on the kinds of cuts we've seen. I see loss upon loss and the safety net that we've always had such pride in growing thinner and thinner with far too many holes in it. Our beautiful province of British Columbia, which hosted the world just days ago, surely can do better to care for, to educate and to respect its own citizens' needs.
I want to begin by addressing the cuts to the Fraser Health Authority, cuts that have had a huge impact on the people in my riding, particularly seniors. I'll try to keep each item brief, because the list is a very long list. Queen's Park Care Centre convalescent unit was closed on December 31 — a loss in New Westminster of 25 beds for patients in transition from hospital to home or on to community facilities.
Eight beds were closed at Queen's Park Care hospice centre, meaning palliative care patients will now have to leave our community and go to other communities for care, which means that some elderly husbands and wives and other relatives will find it difficult to visit and spend time with their dying loved ones. The compassionate and specially trained nurses are now working in other communities, and that's surely another additional loss to New Westminster.
This is when people in New Westminster still lament the closure that this government fostered on St. Mary's Hospital — shut down St. Mary's Hospital. When the government shut down that hospital, they promised that the hospice beds that had been in St. Mary's would continue in New Westminster at Queen's Park, and now they're gone too.
Seniors were also hit with an increase in user fees for residential care, with fees increased from 70 to 80 percent of a person's after-tax income. This translates to higher fees for 75 percent of the people. What this means to seniors is less money for what this government calls luxuries but are really the small things that add enjoyment to a life in a residential care facility: long-distance phone calls, cablevision, hairstyling, modest outings or the occasional meal out.
Funding was also eliminated in September for the greater Vancouver family services' Vital Connections program, which provided professional counselling and mental health assistance to seniors. Many other problems faced by seniors such as grief, loneliness, financial strain and the move from independent living to a care facility had been addressed by the senior peer counselling program at Century House. A bargain at only $10,000 a year, the program is now gone.
What I see in these cuts is a false economy. Seniors who can't get help from their peers and through family services will now be showing up in doctors' offices, emergency rooms with stress-related and other illnesses.
While we're on the topic of a false economy, let's consider the Chimo Achievement Centre, a rehabilitation program that's operated successfully for 25 years to support adults with serious physical disabilities. One Chimo participant said that before she joined the program, she'd been in hospital several times a year. Since becoming involved in Chimo's life-affirming activities and support, she hadn't been hospitalized once — not once. The entire Chimo budget was $165,000 per year, far less expensive than one — one — long hospital stay.
As well, there is no way to measure the value of a program like Chimo that provides fellowship and support for men and women faced with some of life's most difficult challenges. When the program ended on January 31, the participants had nothing to replace it. Now they're stuck at home day after day with no place to go for the kind of support they got at the Chimo Centre.
At a rally in Surrey which I was privileged to attend, as was the member for Coquitlam-Maillardville, I could only marvel at the Chimo participants' determination
[ Page 3314 ]
and sympathize with their sadness and also their anger at losing such an integral part of their lives.
From our oldest residents to our youngest, there seems to be no stopping this government. Tragically, the dismantling has already begun of one of the most successful neonatal units in Canada. Twelve of the Royal Columbian's level 3 neonatal beds are being transferred to Surrey, thus breaking up a unit that has treated premature and sick newborns for 15 years. The closure of these highest-level neonatal beds is going ahead even though high-risk obstetrics will remain at Royal Columbian Hospital.
It doesn't take much to know that having the high-risk pregnancies at Royal Columbian Hospital and losing the highest level of neonatal beds is a very troubling thing to have happen in terms of fragile newborn babies. It's very worrisome, and the community is very worried about it, as are the doctors. The survival rate at RCH has been amazing, and the RCH unit is consistently ranked as one of the best in the country.
Fraser Health president Nigel Murray calls the moving of 12 beds an enhancement — kind of a doublespeak — but he fails to explain how this is an enhancement. Sixteen lower-level neonatal beds will remain at RCH, but we really have to wonder now how long they'll be there.
In a letter to the editor printed in the Royal City Record, Dr. Richard Merchant, an anaesthesiologist, says:
"None of the experienced obstetricians and only one of the neonatal pediatricians are intending to move from the Royal Columbian…to Surrey. None of the senior nurses who provide the backbone of care have accepted transfer to Surrey. Even the obstetricians and pediatricians in Surrey have not supported the move of these cases….
"One really has to wonder why the Fraser Health Authority…is so firmly fixed on this move against all logic, advice and common sense."
That's the end of the quote.
Unfortunately, the list of cuts to health care goes on. Let's not forget the number of public health dietitians. They were cut in half. Apparently, this government doesn't see the value of educating the public about chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity, and good heart health. Again, I have to say it's a false economy because it's always less expensive to prevent an illness than it is to treat it.
The lack of respect for professionals in health care continues with the social work budget in hospitals cut by $1.15 million, resulting in the loss of 14 social workers and clinician jobs. Also gone are the 12 hospital chaplains, who provided non-denominational spiritual care and worked with other staff to identify patient needs.
We need to look at what's happening in the mental health field as well. A six-bed regional adolescent psychiatric unit at Abbotsford Regional Hospital was closed in November. The mental health after-hours program was also cut, as of October. People in crisis can only receive phone calls — no in-person visits.
As well, the Simon Fraser branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association has suffered severe funding cuts. I've met with the agency's executive director to learn how these cuts will affect the people he serves in New Westminster, and I've learned just how devastating these cuts are to vulnerable people.
We've also suffered a reduction in funding and closing of addiction counselling and treatment and sexual abuse support services throughout the Fraser Health Authority. We're told these services will be provided by existing Fraser Health resources rather than community organizations, but quite frankly, that's unlikely when we're seeing social workers and other professionals lose their jobs, and we're also seeing big cuts to community organizations that deliver these services.
As an example of a slashed community program, Purpose Society's Stride with Purpose is one, a program that targeted the health needs of people with HIV, AIDS and hepatitis. It had its funding cut by 60 percent from $168,000 to $68,000. And I can tell you, I'm certainly not seeing a decline by 60 percent in the number of people in my community and surrounding areas who are living with HIV/AIDS or hep C. Many of these people are at risk of homelessness and also struggle with mental illness.
Once again, our most vulnerable are becoming even more marginalized with fewer services and fewer supports. Is this really the best we can do in what we call the "Best place on earth"?
Because of tremendous support from my constituents and public pressure, the New Westminster domestic violence response team did have its funding restored, but only till the end of this month and only with the responsibility being transferred to the Solicitor General's ministry. We continue to fight to protect this innovative and valuable program that provides a counsellor to work alongside New Westminster police officers in the most high-risk domestic violence situations.
Not so fortunate in getting their funding reinstated was the after-hours taxi service for women experiencing violence, which had its funding cut.
My constituents are also experiencing other Fraser Health cuts, including a reduction to MRI availability times. We'll see 3,000 fewer tests performed this year — that's 3,000 people — even though in 2008, B.C. residents had to wait twice as long as those in Ontario to get an MRI. Now Fraser Health has also laid off 110 surgical staff, so far fewer surgeries will be performed. Oh yes, and outpatient and ambulatory care clinics have now been closed for six months.
Just last week the government quietly announced it will cut supports for such things as contraceptives, medication delivery devices, funeral services and shelter allowances for low-income individuals, children and families. It only takes a moment to realize that many of
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these cuts are in areas of preventative health and will end up costing the province and all of us more in the long run.
As well as health cuts, I'm concerned about my critic area of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development. A recent poll found that four out of five British Columbians want the government to invest in post-secondary education programs to help adults of all ages learn new skills and find new careers. But the wishes of British Columbia residents are once again ignored, and instead, we have a provincial budget that continues to freeze post-secondary education funding. I see nothing in this budget that shows me that this is an area of priority for this government.
In fact, there are no commitments for new spending at a time when universities and colleges are dealing with funding shortfalls. I worry that funding will not even be maintained at a time when many people are returning to school to upgrade their qualifications and to try and achieve more stable employment. Surely this is the best way for British Columbians to recover from the economic collapse we have seen around the world — with education and with advanced training.
But where's the support? It was there during the election. It was there when the Liberal government campaigned on the promise to protect funding for advanced education, but now, when it really counts, they've backtracked and are making deep cuts to student aid.
This budget slashes $31 million from student support program funding. That's one heck of a lot of money. It isn't fair to students, and it certainly isn't investing in this province's human capital at a time when projections are that 75 percent of jobs will require post-secondary education.
If we invested wisely now, it would strengthen our competitive position in the global markets and, at the same time, strengthen our own provincial economy. We need to provide students with incentives to stay in B.C. and to help fill the jobs of tomorrow. By taking away student aid programs, the B.C. Liberals are making it that much harder for a young person to receive an education.
Along with the need for new initiatives to support post-secondary students, I ask: where's the subsidized housing for students and the innovative plans to support families while one parent retrains? Let's not forget that more than 100,000 full-time jobs have been lost, and that translates into many thousands of struggling young families and working families. Instead of helping, this government has cut the total budget for housing by over $66 million, or 16 percent.
In New Westminster our students go to UBC, Simon Fraser University, BCIT, Douglas College and other schools that are quickly becoming out of reach for many of them financially. Although B.C. already ranks dead last among the provinces in grants and other aid disbursements, student support programs suffer further in the 2010 budget. Despite an election promise to maintain student aid funding, the student aid budget has shrunk from $116 million to $84 million since the election. This is a cut of 28 percent in student aid.
Let's take a moment and consider what people in the post-secondary education field have had to say about this budget. "Instead of building a legacy, this budget fails to address a growing problem in post-secondary education in B.C.," said Cindy Oliver who is the president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators. She adds that the funding problems in post-secondary are most glaring when you consider how the numbers add up on a per-student basis. Between 2009 and 2011, operating grants to public post-secondary institutions will fall by 0.6 percent per student, and that doesn't include the cost of inflation.
"Freezing funds for universities over the next three years and for the foreseeable future is not protecting post-secondary education," said Dr. Paul Bowles, president of the Confederation of the University Faculty Associations of B.C. "Costs are increasing each year, and these costs rise more quickly for universities than they do for the province in general."
Shamus Reid, the B.C. chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, is quoted as saying that cuts to student aid are misguided and that the government now collects more money from tuition fees than it does from corporate taxes. I think British Columbians are shocked to find that out — more money collected by the government in tuition fees than in corporate taxes. "That illustrates how completely out of whack the priorities are for this government," he said, and I couldn't agree more.
Recently I heard from one young person who's doing his best in what are difficult circumstances. This young man is the son of immigrants to Canada who, as so often happens, find themselves underemployed for their education and their skills. They aren't complaining, he says, because they came to Canada for a better life for their family, and they'll work hard to achieve that.
Meanwhile, my young friend is working at two part-time jobs and going to college with hopes of going on to university and then to graduate school in his chosen field. It isn't easy, and he sometimes wonders if it will all be worth it.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
He has two younger sisters who are also good students and who hope to go on to university. But, as he says, they won't have the option of taking a night job at $8 an hour in a convenience store or a gas station the way he does. It just isn't safe. Instead, they will work in retail, scrambling to get as many hours as they can.
A little help with tuition would make all the difference, he says, for him and for his sisters in the next three years.
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"We want to be good Canadians," he said. "We will study hard, and then we will work hard. We will work hard at our jobs, and we'll pay taxes, and we'll help our parents. But first we have to get an education, and that isn't easy in this economy."
As we've learned with the HST, what this government says it will do or not do during an election campaign has really no bearing on the future actions. They say they have expanded university, college and apprenticeship opportunities in the last eight years. They claim thousands of new spaces have been created for graduating students. But where are the matching funds and adequate support for these spaces that are really students? Empty seats might qualify as spaces, but please tell me how that helps the students themselves, their school or our province as a whole.
Speaking of students who struggle to afford their education, their platform called for limiting tuition increases to inflation, but I don't see that anywhere in the budget. Nor is there any increase in student aid funding. Students and their families are being forced to carry the burden of increased tuition fees by going deeper into debt.
Also facing cuts is the Industry Training Authority, if you can find it. It keeps being moved to different ministries. I know it's embarrassing for the government when we keep bringing up the government's election platform, but where is the new medical school at UBC Okanagan, the wood design and innovation centre at UNBC in Prince George, the new earth science system at UBC, the expansion of the Sauder School of Business at UBC and the new Pacific institute for climate solutions that would involve UBC, UVic, SFU and UNBC?
All were promised, and now there's just an ominous silence. The government says billions have been invested in new research skills development and expanded trades and apprenticeship money. But what is it they're referring to? If it's the advanced education funding since 2001, then the amount may have increased in constant dollars, but investment in advanced education has remained stagnant.
We hear a lot of lip service about how the future belongs to those who prepare for it, that learning never stops. Of course, it's getting harder for that learning to continue. Just consider that funding for public libraries has been cut by 22 percent this year and frozen for the next three years, which will certainly have an effect on low-income families who use the public library and its resources.
The Minister of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development said in response to the throne speech: "Natural ability and natural resources only go so far without a good education." Well, I agree with her words, but what we really need is action. This lack of action is taking place at a time when B.C. is facing job losses, longer lineups at food banks, higher housing costs and the worst child poverty rate in the entire country.
Instead of taking action to recognize and deal with these problems, this government has come up — get ready for it — with the HST. Despite the opposition of more than 80 percent of British Columbians, despite putting in writing that they would not implement this cash grab, this government is determined to implement this tax that will hurt the poor, seniors, students and struggling families. It will hurt small business and kill jobs, and isn't that exactly what the government keeps promising to protect — jobs and small business?
I'm proud that my party continues to fight to stop the HST, taking that fight to every community in British Columbia and calling on Liberal MLAs to join us in opposing this legislation. This is a massive tax shift onto the backs of consumers at exactly the wrong time.
Before I close, Madam Speaker, I want to tell you about three of my constituents. They're ordinary British Columbians facing extraordinary challenges. First, we have a single-parent father who is on the Fraser Health wait-list for an autism assessment for his five-year-old son. It will take a year to get the boy assessed, and meanwhile, his school can't provide the resources he needs until after the assessment. Who knows how much this child will lose, waiting for an assessment? A year is 20 percent of a five-year-old's life.
Then we have the mother and son, both with disabilities, who've been on the B.C. Housing wait-list since 2002. Right now they're underhoused in a small one-bedroom apartment, which they'll lose this fall when they're subjected to the annual rent increase.
We also have a senior on disability who has received a bus pass for many years and has now been told he's ineligible. His Canada Pension disability benefits are $38 more than the bus pass income limit. A one-zone bus pass costs $72 a month. You can just do the math and see how it's impossible. Real people with real problems but no real solutions.
There's an old saying that if you aren't sure where you're going, you'll probably end up somewhere else. That's what I believe is happening with this government. Its members are lost, making muddled choices. I, along with many, many British Columbians, don't like where we're going. Programs that work are closed. The needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens are not met, and we are chipping away at the things that make us proud as British Columbians: health care, education, protection for the environment, and our own standard of living.
The much-despised HST is just part of a larger whole that encompasses a government that has lost its way and is floundering. It's not too late to return to the values of kindness, empathy, sustainability and looking out for one another. All it takes is political will and commitment. We can make it happen, or we can do nothing and later say: "What happened? How did we lose so much? How did we in British Columbia lose so much that holds us together as a society?"
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It's time for this government to listen to the people in New Westminster and communities all across British Columbia. Let's make a real commitment to address their issues and to get this province back on track.
Hon. K. Krueger: I rise, of course, to speak in favour, in support of Budget 2010, a careful, thoughtful, scrupulously considered work.
It's been my privilege and honour to work with the Minister of Finance for many years now, and our relationship is predated by his strong friendship with my wife, Debbie, from when they were in high school together up in Courtenay.
If people knew the man as we do, they would be so ashamed of their criticisms. It's an absolute pleasure to work with this man. An example for me is the difficult question of tax credits to the film and TV industry, which we worked through together for seven months after Ontario made a change to tax credits which we believe is unsustainable. We think Ontario realizes that now, but it presented a real challenge to British Columbia and to our economy and to that industry.
Anyone who doesn't understand why not proceeding with the HST when Ontario has done so would be a huge handicap to our economy ought to read some of the mail that I received from the film industry over the seven months between Ontario's change and our recent announcement.
We live in a wonderful time and place. I'm so happy to be a British Columbian and happy for all the rest of my fellow British Columbians as well — even our opponents across the floor. Much of our banter is banter. The feelings aren't as harsh as what people might assume by some of the things that get said in this place and outside this place, but we're all privileged to be British Columbians, every one of us.
At the opening ceremonies…. Well, I wasn't there. I watched it on TV with a lot of other people. There was a young couple standing near me and very obviously in love. They had been married for some time. I got to know them a bit through the course of the evening. When Sarah McLachlan was singing her beautiful song with the refrain "It's just another ordinary miracle today," he looked at her, and he said, "Born and raised, Baby," and she said, "Born and raised." They clicked their glasses for a toast. I thought: "That says a lot in a phrase." It's just a wonderful place to have been born and raised.
I wasn't born here, and neither were a million other British Columbians. My colleague across the way who just spoke indicated she wasn't born here either.
Hon. K. Krueger: Oh, she was. That still puts her in the majority, but there are many of us who weren't. I was born too young to have a say in the matter, so I moved here when I was five years old.
But it is a wonderful time and a wonderful place. The experiences that we all shared at the Olympics are experiences I'm sure we'll never forget — even those who weren't actually there: just being a part of it all, knowing it was happening in our province, that we were hosting it, and the marvellous things we saw — the way a spirit of joy just overtook the city of Vancouver and enveloped everybody.
Crime dropped through the floor. Motor vehicle accidents dropped by 20 percent. Policemen who were on every corner — and we had 7,000 policemen who wouldn't normally have been in Vancouver — were all smiles. They were tour guides. They were sending people on their way. By the end of the process, those who were there to direct traffic had no traffic to direct because the joyful crowds were flooding the streets. I saw policemen standing in the middle of intersections like this because young people were giving them high fives constantly, and they just had a smile on their face.
It was an absolutely wonderful time, and I don't think that Vancouver and British Columbia will ever go back to being the same as we were before. Sure, we probably can't maintain that level of euphoria and joy, but things feel really good in this province. I think they will for a long time to come.
The inspirational stories of the Canadian athletes and other countries' athletes…. But of course, we are particularly proud of Canadians: Alex Bilodeau winning our first gold medal on our home soil in a Winter Olympics — what a marvellous thing — and his obvious sincerity as he shared that experience with his older brother and told the world that his older brother is his role model and his inspiration. Their whole family's story — just wonderful.
Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue and their beautiful skate, winning the gold medal in the pairs. I was hosting a suite on a subsequent day, and we happened to notice that the young couple was next door to us in a suite with other members of Canada's skating team who had already had their competitions.
I went over and said hello and found out they didn't have any food, so we brought over the trays of food from our suite. Then they came over and signed autographs and took pictures with the guests that I was hosting, many of whom were from out of the country. It just made it a marvellous experience.
That night we watched Joannie skate her short program. The incredible inspiration that she was to all of us and to the world in a time of just terrible adversity so shortly after the completely unexpected death of her young mother — to be able to focus and bear down and deliver the Olympic performance that she did is something that I'm sure none of us will ever forget.
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We came away with 14 golds for Canada, the most that a host country has ever won, the most that anybody has ever won in a Winter Olympics — just marvellous. The Olympics were great for British Columbia and great for every one of us, knowing that 3½ billion people were watching those opening ceremonies and hearing that by the end of the Olympics 33.1 million Canadians had watched at least part of the Olympics, many of them, lots of the Olympics — tuned in on television, many over the Internet.
Some 99 percent of Canadians watched the Olympics to one extent or another. The opening ceremonies — that was the most watched television program in Canadian history. Subsequently, I heard that the men's gold hockey game might have actually surpassed it, but both of them made history.
Nearly one billion impressions of our "You gotta be here" ad campaign, and I know that made British Columbians proud. I didn't hear a word of criticism about it. People were thrilled with those images and with the British Columbian celebrities that were highlighted in those images.
An "impression" is the advertising industry's term for each time that an ad is watched by an individual. They believe it was getting close to a billion, 250 million more on line, 1,162,079 Facebook followers — people keep very close track of these things, and that's what they tell me — 1.8 million visits in February to our website hellobc.com, 480,000 views of the 102 videos on the "You gotta be here" YouTube site, and a million viewers of Tom Brokaw's "Explaining Canada" on-line video. That was a marvellous gift to Canada that he made for his countrymen.
Our whole relationship with NBC and with CTV was fantastic. We had people from Tourism B.C. embedded in those major media sponsors from the time they came on as sponsors, with their full knowledge and joyful participation. There is such a strong friendship there that I know it will benefit our province and those organizations for many years to come.
I toured through the NBC studio in our convention centre, and they were thrilled with the convention centre. The executive who was touring me through walked me into a room where many people were at desks and watching many screens. They were almost all showing curling competitions. He said: "We don't understand this game, but we're just fascinated by it." That's how many Canadians feel when they first take an interest in curling. Wonderful people.
The vendors, the retailers on Robson Street said it was Boxing Day every day. I don't know if they said that all the way through the Olympics. I can't imagine they didn't, because it just seemed to be jam-packed all the time.
Our B.C. Place showcase and the Robson Square showcase — over a million and a half visitors there, and 12,000 rode on the zip line, and 290,000 Canada Line passengers in a single day. When it was built, there was a hope that it would achieve 100,000 passengers within, I think, a couple of years. Well, it passed that in the first three months, but during the Olympics it showed it could carry 290,000 in one day.
My wife was riding in from the airport on Canada Line, and she just loves it. Everybody does. It's clean, just pristine, pleasant, well lit, lots of people around you enjoying the ride.
There was a gentleman who'd just come in from out of country standing behind her, and she heard him talking on his cell phone. He said to the friend he was talking to: "You wouldn't believe it. The rapid transit comes right into the airport. It's just a beautiful thing."
Well, 488,000 people rode SkyTrain on Valentine's Day at one of the peaks of the Olympics, and 14,000 visiting media were in Vancouver showcasing British Columbia to the world.
Mother Nature smiled on us and gave us the most beautiful weather I've ever seen in February in Vancouver. It was just a really great experience all around.
Where do we go from there? We have a lot of plans, and they're in motion already. We were elected in 2001 as government on a commitment to bring in a new era of hope, opportunity and prosperity. We've been working hard on that. In the early days we were facing a structural deficit, in 2001, of $3.9 billion per year. That is, we were all locked in to spending $3.9 billion more per year than we were receiving in revenues. It was a very, very tough situation to be in.
We showed that we can overcome that adversity together. We had gone from the best-performing economy in Canada to the worst in the '90s. We brought the economy back to the best-performing in Canada, and we did it quite quickly. We achieved a triple-A credit rating again, so we have the lowest cost of borrowing that any jurisdiction has anywhere.
We were ridiculed by many people, including certainly the opposition, for our income tax cuts. They called them giveaways. An individual named David Bond, who used to be in the news a lot, said, "Well, Gary Collins says income tax cuts work, and I say they don't. But he, after all, is a certified flight instructor, and I am simply a PhD economist," which he thought was an ironic statement. But the irony turned out to be that the tax cuts worked, and we shot up from being the poorest-performing economy to the best performing again.
We're hearing all this criticism about HST. But we heard that also about income tax cuts, and they worked. We heard it about carbon tax, and the public has responded very, very positively to carbon tax. In fact, the opposition squared its shoulders and said, rightfully, after the election, "We were wrong about carbon tax, and we're no longer opposed," and good for them.
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The opposition was also negative to independent power production. We think that green energy is one of the very, very bright parts of our future and may well help us pay off the provincial debt left behind by governments of the past and pay off the deficits that we're presently running. We're all for independent power production. Again, that was another issue we fought the last election on. And again, after the election there was certainly an indication that the NDP had changed its mind about IPPs, independent power production, and good for them.
There was a tremendous amount of negativity, actually, about the Olympics as well over the many years that we've been working on them. We got the announcement on July 2, 2003, that Vancouver had won the bid. I was there with my wife and family. That was another time of great joy. There was this phenomenon that was as if some gigantic, many-tentacled hand boosted us all out of our seats and threw our arms up in the air. There are comical pictures of us all doing that at the same time. It was a great day.
What a ton of work after that. Kudos to all of those who made the success of the Olympics what it was — not just possible, but what it was. It exceeded our expectations. It exceeded my dreams, and I think the things that flow from the Olympics will as well. I want to really honour Jack Poole and John Furlong and our Premier, whom I can't name because we're not allowed to do that in this place, but we all know who he is.
The bid team said — back leading up to that great event, July 2, 2003, and subsequently — that he worked as hard and probably harder than most if not all members of the bid team. He practised and practised his portion, and we all saw him all the way through the Olympics, the province's principal cheerleader, his voice trying to give out on him. Somehow he kept coming back day after day having restored it somewhat, somehow, and kept going. Even at the closing ceremonies, he was the man with the Canadian flag, and he is and was an absolute inspiration to all of us.
We're not feeling too threatened by what the opposition's saying about the HST. The Leader of the Opposition was in my hometown and the hometown of my friend and colleague the member for Kamloops–North Thompson just this week. She had an open line on NL Radio, where Jim Harrison, the news director, is considered, I think, the leader of the Interior media in British Columbia.
Jim was interviewing her, and they invited callers, and they only got three. Two of them said they were in favour of the HST, and the other said that we should bring back the Coquihalla toll, which we aren't going to do. We worked long and hard to get rid of that toll. When the Premier saw that we were reaching the point where the tolls would have paid for the highway, he announced at a UBCM convention, to our great joy, that the tollbooth was coming down.
My colleague from Kamloops–North Thompson and I were there the day that he personally bashed the first tollbooth down with a big excavator, and we rejoiced. Claude Richmond — who I can name in this House — who was then sitting with us, had actually been there the day the Coquihalla tollbooths opened, and he was there the day the Premier knocked them down.
We're glad to see the last of them. You can hardly tell where they were anymore. There are still washrooms on each side of the highway, but it's the same speed limit right through there, which is a wonderful thing.
The HST. That gets raised way too much in this debate. People are trying to make it the focal point about this budget. I find that kind of comical, given the record of the opposition's position on income tax cuts, on carbon tax, on IPPs, on the Olympics and now on HST. Three years from now, going by the same pattern, the NDP will be saying that the HST was their idea and, certainly, congratulating those who have made it such a success and the hundreds of thousands of new jobs that will have been created.
That's the pattern. These things are opposed, and really nasty things get said, but then when it all works out, people are quick to try and get on the bandwagon and claim some credit. It is the tried, trusted and failed approach of the NDP to go after these things hammer and tongs, jump on the bandwagon, pour gas on any perceived fire and then, when it all turns out the opposite of what they expected, try and get in on some of the credit.
After the election last May the leader of the NDP said that she perceived what their problem had been, what their failure had been, and that was, she said: "We failed to deliver that positive message." I thought: "What positive message?" I honestly couldn't think of one, and I still can't. There was nothing positive said in that campaign, and I haven't heard any since.
I haven't heard any new ideas, any ideas that sound credible to us. It's always just, "Put more money in this. Put more money in that. Run the deficits up. Don't worry about the debt. Think about today; don't think about tomorrow," and a whole lot of worse things, very negative and personal things.
I'd like to hear the positive message. I'd really like to know what the ideas of the people in opposition are, the opposition as a whole. Surely there's some synergy over there, and the whole could be bigger than the sum of its parts. They could be coming up with some things that they might want to enter into the realm of debate so that we could formulate public policy together. Frankly, we'd be happy to poach any good ideas, but I'm not sure there are any.
Maybe that's what they're doing. Maybe they're holding out for another several years until they get another crack at election. That's a bit of a shame, because the world changes so fast. If there are good ideas over there, we'd really like to hear them. We still don't hear that positive
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message, if there is one. We hear a lot of negative spin, and frankly, it's not very nice, and it's not very fair. A lot of it is very false — for example, the whole issue of arts funding and the history of the two parties with regard to arts funding.
The people in the arts and culture community, while they lobby me — and very aggressively, often — also say: "We want you to know straight up that we know you've been far more generous to arts and culture than the NDP ever were or probably could be, because they are such poor financial managers that they really couldn't be generous with us. We are far better off with you. We would just like more funding." Actually, they have some pretty persuasive arguments, which I will get into shortly.
The fact is that we have delivered over half a billion dollars to arts and culture by way of grants since we were elected in 2001. That's a record that has never been hit by…. It wouldn't be a record, but nowhere near. No previous government has ever gone to that level of funding for arts and culture. There are new allocations each year and new allocations in this budget, which I'm very pleased about, and I know that the community is as well.
One of the things we've been doing, of course, is the Cultural Olympiad, and what a marvellous success that has been. We funded that by a legacy fund that we created, knowing that there was going to be this opportunity. It's a legacy fund of $20 million, the arts legacy fund. The earnings from it have been funding the Cultural Olympiad grant after grant, and it is a roaring success.
There have been 1,500 performances attended by over two million people, and it's ongoing, of course, right through the Paralympics. It's a huge success, and I hear the arts community speaking with well-deserved pride about the Cultural Olympiad and their successes in it. It is the festival of festivals. It's the largest cultural event ever staged in Canada, and people should be very, very proud of it.
During the Olympics and while I was in Vancouver, and I was there for the whole 17 days, I didn't see many events, although I was at some. I was hosting people and talking with them. I got the sense that pretty much 4,399,964 people were there celebrating with us. It was just packed. The 36 people I didn't see were pretty much the folks who sit opposite us. I had the impression that, sadly, they had decided to boycott, because they had done their best to make sure that people thought the Olympics would be a negative event and to deliver a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Of course, it would have become painfully obvious to them, and joyfully obvious to the almost 4.4 million rest of us, that the opposite was true, that it was a tremendous success and that British Columbia was hitting a home run day after day after day. And that's the way it continued. It was a great, great time to be in Vancouver, to be a British Columbian, to be associated with the Olympics and all of that success.
The Premier and I had a conversation a while ago about how do we build on this, recognizing that although we have the greatest opportunity we could ever dream of for marketing British Columbia, we have the greatest fiscal challenges — we and the rest of the world — that have been seen since the Great Depression.
I gave him ideas. He has a prodigious intellect, as everybody knows, and he draws on the opinions of many, many people in his wide circle. I was thrilled when one of the results of that was the $60 million legacy fund — half for sports, half for arts and culture. It's a part of this budget, and it's a very exciting thing.
I'm accepting input from whoever cares to offer it. We have people that we work with on a very regular basis that I really enjoy working with and tremendously trust. Some of those people are in the B.C. Arts Council, a really great organization that makes the decisions for us on a lot of the arts grants that we flow. We provide the money to them, as much as we can afford in the budget year, and they make good decisions.
The test of that is how very few disputes arise — less than two a year, on average, in the whole province that have to go to the formal resolution process. So I'm looking for input from them but also from the opposition. I'm certainly getting it from my colleagues. I'd like to know how people suggest that we proceed to meet the goals that are outlined in the budget document and dispense that $60 million — $10 million each for sports and for arts and culture, for each of the next three years.
That's one of the legacies of the Olympics. There are many more. One of the suites that I hosted…. The convention centre had the suite, and they were hoping that the people they had invited would strongly consider and be attracted to bring conventions to British Columbia and to the Vancouver Convention Centre as a result of being at the Olympics and of being afforded hospitality at that suite.
One of the people there was an orthodontist who is a prominent figure in the orthodontists association from the U.S.A. A week after that event I talked to the CEO of PavCo, which operates the convention centre. He told me that he had since concluded negotiations for three different conventions after that night, and two of them were 18,000 delegates each.
We've had 82 conventions booked in the new convention centre that we could never have had in British Columbia without that facility, because nothing else was large enough for them, nothing that we previously had. We have $2.73 billion worth of economic activity on the books that will come to us through conventions at the new convention centre.
The statistics are very high for the percentage of conventioneers who come back to the host jurisdiction if they've enjoyed it and visit again with their families.
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Imagine 18,000 orthodontists bringing their families, bringing their friends and coming back to British Columbia year after year after year.
All of the investments that we have made, whether it was building Canada Line, whether it was building the convention centre, whether it was upgrading the Sea to Sky Highway…. People just love the way it's turned out. Many of those things are things we wanted to do anyway. But if people want to call them Olympic expenses, that's okay with us, because they are paying off, and they will big-time.
I don't want to be ungracious about this, but I've looked back at the records of the NDP when they were in power, and the B.C. Arts Council was first funded by the NDP, to their credit, in the mid-'90s. In the five years that they funded it, there were three years when they provided $11.8 million, $11.8 million and $11.6 million to the B.C. Arts Council for arts and culture groups.
The first year, actually, they did the best they ever did. That was $14.8 million. The last year, 2000 to '01, it was $14.5 million. So the average over the five years was under $13 million per year, because the total was $64.5 million. That total is less than half of what the B.C. Liberals provided to arts and culture in a single grant in 2008, and that was a bonus grant. We'd already provided the appropriation that we usually do, and a generous one.
[C. Trevena in the chair.]
People keep pleading with us to try to get back to the '08-09 standard, but that was one of the best years we've ever had. The BC150 legacy fund of $150 million was more than double the NDP's total funding to the B.C. Arts Council in the five years before we were elected. So I'd ask them to try and keep that in perspective. We, as a government, are doing far better for arts and culture in a time of worldwide recession than the NDP did, far better than the NDP did in a continental boom, because the 1990s — other than British Columbia and Chiapas, Mexico — was an absolute boom time for all of North America.
It's hard to absorb some of the abuse that we get from the other side without feeling a little bit cynical about it. Regardless, maybe that's just politics and they can't get over it, but I'd like to hear that positive message. What is that positive message?
I see the House Leader for the opposition has arrived. He's a guy who even when they were government, we respected him. They called him the Janitor, because every time something blew up on him, he'd come in and clean it up. He was always appointed the minister to clean it up. He's laughing now because he remembers that, and it's true. He was a very busy man, and everybody called him the Janitor in a very, very respectful way, because he saved them from, well, as much as he could.
In my still relatively brief time as the minister responsible for tourism, arts and culture, I have had tremendously effective lobbying by the arts and culture community. Everybody knows that they're essential to our social fabric and every jurisdiction's social fabric. They do the value-added to society. They make people think larger than themselves, and they bring out talent in people that might otherwise never have been discovered, even by those people themselves. They're tremendously important in that way.
I think most of us also know that they're tremendously important economically, that there is a multiplier effect. Everything they do tends to spin off more and more jobs and activity, a tremendously positive effect on the economy. They've really educated me over the last number of months, too, about the fact that they actually help governments deliver health care, education and social services.
They give you examples, and then you think of other examples in your own life and the lives of your friends and their families — people whose lives are so much better because of the arts, because arts bring joy to their lives. Arts make them feel better about where they are in life even if they're feeling unwell.
The arts help people age more slowly and enjoy aging a lot more than they would otherwise, and probably help them stay in their homes longer, which is the best possible place for them rather than in institutions. Arts help people get better, many times, from illnesses and from injuries.
In education. The arts community, cultural communities have taken part in our education system for many years, and they enrich the educational experience of students, enrich their lives. I think it's unquestionable that they contribute a lot to the delivery of education.
Social services. The theatre right across from the police station in Vancouver, 319 Main, was completely refurbished by a movie director who, sadly, died of cancer at a very young age.
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Minister.
Hon. K. Krueger: I guess I have to wrap up, because the Speaker says I'm running out of time. Thank you very much. I wish I could give you more. Go, British Columbia, go.
G. Gentner: It's a pleasure here to rise again to represent my constituents in North Delta. You know, it's also fitting that I follow the minister of Tourism B.C. responsible…. Oh no, that's no longer here — is it?
However, I'd like to thank my constituents in North Delta. I have to begin by telling you that this is a constituency that really is a working community that plays and has fun. Hard-working families are involved with
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recreation. They're volunteers. They're homeowners. North Delta is a good gauge. It's sort of like the average constituency, suburban-like, in the province. Statistics Canada bears that out year after year. Having spent some time talking to my constituents, I want to share with you some of what I'm hearing at street level and on the doorstep relative to this budget, which I do not support.
We're into the post-Olympics. You know, it was a wonderful time, and we are also now going to be excited about the Paralympic Games coming. But relative to Budget 2010, you know, the party is over. The party is over, and it's time to turn out the lights and really look at what this government is all about. It's budget time.
I've been stuck for some time trying to give this budget a theme. Is it a slash-and-burn budget? Are they into cutting? But it seems to also be a major money grab. I thought it may have been a "spend out of the recession" budget. Well, maybe it's kind of like what Imelda Marcos once said: "Hey, win or lose, we go shopping after the election." Who cares about election promises and statements once you're elected? Before the election, there's no HST. All of a sudden after the election — poof! — here we are. We have an HST. A deficit of only $480 million before the election, but here we are after the election, six times larger.
Let's go shopping. Let's forget about the economy. I mean, it's blustering. It's a phony budget. But I don't think it's quite right. Yes, it's a cavalier approach, what Marcos said. But it doesn't quite grasp what this budget is. So how do we give this budget a theme? The B.C. Liberals are void of anything new. We keep hearing the same rhetoric over and over. Even their multi-million-dollar public affairs bureau can't spin it.
What do we call this budget — the budget of scarcity? Or is it of hardship? Is it of recession? I think that would be too kind, calling it a budget dealing with recession. No, it can only be called what it truly is. It's the pickpocket budget. They're sticking their hand in the back pockets of the working people of B.C. This is a government that's picking pockets without a person's knowledge. They're sneaking around.
It's almost as though it's kind of a crime, a form of political larceny which involves the stealing of money and valuables and services from the person of a victim without them noticing the theft at the time. It requires considerable dexterity and a real knack for misdirection.
Someone who picks pockets is a pickpocket. Pickpockets and other thieves, especially those working in teams, sometimes apply distraction. Oh, I remember those 4:30 Friday afternoon press releases that the B.C. Liberals are so famous for and so coy about. When the media have gone home just before the weekend, then — zap! — out come the press releases. Distractions, just like that of a pickpocket. A pickpocket will masterly distract you by asking a question or bumping into the victim. These distractions sometimes require sleight of hand, speed, misdirection and other types of skills. This is the pickpocket budget.
You know, Jack Dawkins, better known as the Artful Dodger, is a character in the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist. We all know the dodger. A dodger is a pickpocket. Which ministry over there is the dodger? The Premier's office, with its ability to download all its costs to other ministries and then plead austerity? The Minister of Health? Oh, the quick of hand. He's the fixer. Now you see it; now you don't. "Everything is just fine. Look over there. There's a hospital bed. Oh, and thanks for the MSP. Oh, and by the way, that bed is now privatized."
The Minister of Finance — he's the fastest pickpocket in the west. Surely Dickens was thinking of him as the dodger, the continuous denier. Dickens said the following of the dodger:
"He wore a man's coat, which reached nearly to his heels. He had turned the cuffs back halfway up his arm to get his hand out of the sleeves, apparently with the ultimate view of thrusting them into the pockets of his corduroy trousers, for there he kept them. He was, altogether, as roistering and swaggering a young gentleman as ever stood 4 foot 6, or something less, in his bluchers."
Or is it the Minister of Housing development, notorious for his knowledge of what poverty is? Perhaps he is Fagin, shopping with what hand is in your pocket. That is what this budget is all about. Pickpockets are slick, when you can hardly notice them.
The B.C. Liberals are pickpockets thrusting their dirty little hands into the linings of all working people, small business people, the aged, the young, the pockets of university students and the jobless. They are ever so quick. Why, they can turn an HST into a health services tax with a sleight of hand, totally oblivious to what little people, everyday families are trying to cope with.
What we are witnessing is once again, in this decade of major tax shift, shifting the burden of paying for services by cutting, paying for deficits because of an economy run into the ground, run amok. This budget is pickpocketing.
After many, many years — seven years — British Columbia is still No. 1 when it comes to child poverty, worst in the country. Ranking of purchasing power of minimum wage — we are the worst in the country. Decrease in medium income between the years 2001 and 2010 — the worst in all of Canada. Minimum wage — now, there's a curled lip over there of once the proudest province of labour legislation.
And what do we have to look forward to? More years of continuous 6 percent increases to Medical Services Plan premiums. Can you imagine? No wage increases, and year after year 6 percent increases to MSP, yet no protection for your medical records. Now, that's wonderful planning, isn't it, with your money.
The living wage reflects what people need to support their families, based on the actual costs of living in a specific community. The calculation of a two-earner
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family with two young children includes basic expenses such as housing, child care, food, transportation and government taxes, as well as credits, deductions and subsidies.
The B.C. Liberals have an abysmal interest in the priorities that really matter to British Columbians, and it shows. Our lowest wage earners have not had a raise in nine years. Affordable housing is dwindling. Homelessness is at a record high, and we have the highest child poverty rates in all of Canada. The unfair HST has families digging deeper into their pockets just to put food on their table, heat their homes, use transit and travel on B.C. ferries.
Each parent must work full time at an hourly wage of $17 in Metro Vancouver, and much the same in greater Victoria, in order to pay for necessities, support the healthy development of their children, and participate in the social and civil life of their communities. A staggering 40 percent of families in Metro Vancouver fall well below the living-wage calculation of $17 per hour.
B.C. Ferries are up again. Just make sure we snuck it in before the HST. No, I'm sorry, it's probably the carbon tax that's going to hit us again. Since 2003 B.C. Ferries have gone up 60 percent. Well, look over here. They say it's all revenue-neutral. That's the B.C. Liberal distraction, while they artfully slide a hand into your pocketbook. "Oh, here, let me dangle another $100 bill for your carbon efforts." That's supposed to be neutral. But they're going up again.
How do they raise taxes and lose money? How is it even possible to introduce new taxes and take a loss? Easy. The budget shows that in the upcoming 2010-11 year the HST, scheduled to be imposed on July 1, will actually lose $113 million.
Payment for hydro resource giveaways. Hydro increases by 8 percent per annum every year until 2020. By then it will be double what it is today, while at the same time they're giving away one of our last assets — our rivers.
B.C. Hydro rates will rise by 33 percent over the next four years. But don't despair. Look at the privately owned run-of-the-river projects. The Californians will have lots of energy and in the sleight of the hand for another 7 bucks per month, at least for this year. Next year the B.C. Liberals will find a different ruse to once again dip into your pocket. What is it next year — 9 bucks more a month? They're a sneaky bunch over there, Madam Speaker — a sneaky bunch.
Then there are those property taxes going up. Utility rates are going up and up and up. Whatever happened to the B.C. Liberals promise of water meters? Sewage and garbage rates are going up, and recycling rates are going up. The recycling market is supposed to be dead, yet get this. The government's faith in the globalized economy is ensuring that the recycling industry, that the old newspapers are being shipped and recycled in China, for heaven's sakes.
Hon. K. Krueger: What's wrong with that?
G. Gentner: "What's wrong with that?" he asks. We've lost our pulp industry, the only recycling pulp we have, and they're shipping it to China. He says: "What's wrong with that?"
Then we have the larceny at ICBC — the hand in the ultimate socialist cookie jar. The ripoff of $780 million from ICBC insurers. That's robbery. That's outright robbery. The shift of $780 million from reserves in the optional side to generate revenue not only means robbing the shareholder, the motorists of B.C. who are covered by ICBC, but it also provides less assistance for optional insurance, which is where the competition is jawing at.
I don't see an equal grab on private insurers — perhaps an across-the-board insurance tax on ICBC and Canada Direct, another way of gouging the consumer — but a means to allow even greater competition at the optional side.
The whole clawing makes a mockery of BCUC. Instead of a well-deserved rebate for consumers, a means of really stimulating the economy, they steal. I mean, it's really a matter of who you want to stimulate, hon. Speaker.
Deputy Speaker: Member, one moment, please. I would like to caution you about your use of language. You are bordering on the unparliamentary and have been thus far, so I'd like to just caution you that you do maintain a parliamentary tone in your remarks. I'd like other members to give the member the opportunity to continue his remarks.
G. Gentner: Thank you, hon. Speaker. Well noted.
Then we have the distraction of the deferred property taxes for the first-time buyers. Beginning July 1, homeowners with children under 18 with at least 15 percent equity in their homes will be able to defer their municipal taxes. Seniors and those with financial hardships have been able to it for years. Interest on deferred taxes would be charged based on a prime lending rate, which will be reset twice a year until the amount is paid back or the house is sold. So let's pray that there are no major interest rate increases.
But don't forget that property insurance rates are going to be going up as well. Heating costs are going up. Costs are going to go up and up. Strata fees are going up. Maintenance fees are going up, in part because of the HST. Property deferral is another distraction by the pickpocket.
You can pay for the HST and other increases by deferring your property taxes. We know the real estate agents
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aren't happy about the HST, so the dodger says: "We'll give first-time condo buyers a property tax deferment so they can pay the HST." Young families won't have any equity when they're done, but who really cares over there when they are gingerly slipping their hands into the people's pockets? Clever people, these B.C. Liberals.
The B.C. Lottery Corporation — $347 million to enhance gaming. More baubles and distractions for those who have lost hope so that the government can once again slip their hands into unsuspecting pockets.
Now, let's talk of recovery, the economy and the HST. The HST will bite much into the retail restaurants along where I live in the south Scott Road corridor. In 2009 B.C. retail sales decreased by 6 percent — that's according to the B.C. Business Council — and it's anticipated that consumer recovery will be slow in 2010. We will be tough, and with the pending implementation of the HST along Scott Road, an eight-kilometre commercial stretch straddling Surrey and North Delta, much of today's retailing along this corridor will be in the ditch because of the HST.
There's no doubt that many businesses, especially restaurants, will be forced to close. This government doesn't care about small business or the mom-and-pop shops. Along Scott Road in less than a year there has been a 10 percent decrease in businesses, with an overall vacancy rate of over 25 percent. In some older strip malls vacancy rates are as high as 42 percent. Now, that's alarming.
What North Delta is witnessing is not comforting. As North Delta's commercial district erodes, so does the community's tax base. Although many economic forecasters may be upbeat for 2010, the commercial vacancy rates tell a very different story. With all the commercial vacancy rates along Scott Road, one has to question the timing of the B.C. Liberals' implementation of the HST itself. The HST will effectively kill many of the 80 various restaurants in North Delta.
Not only will the HST reduce consumer spending, along with this government's endless download of services to municipal and regional governments, thus forcing higher property taxes or higher rents, higher utility costs and utility rates, higher user fees, but all these added costs to daily spending, and now this insidious, hurtful tax will mean consumers will have far less to pay for many routine expenditures such as clothes, shoe stores, retailing outlets, etc.
However, the HST increase will directly affect restaurants, and many of my constituents will have to forgo their occasional dining experiences. The HST will kill restaurants. About 17 percent of all retail businesses in North Delta are restaurants. In B.C. 7.5 percent of the overall B.C. workforce works in restaurants and hotels. It represents 22 percent of all B.C. youth employment. That's according to the B.C. Restaurant Association. I think it's fair to say that many of our young people in North Delta and throughout all of B.C. will be adversely affected on July 1, 2010, when the HST is implemented.
The B.C. Restaurant Association anticipates that in the one year of implementation from July 1, there will be a $747 million drop in restaurant sales alone there B.C. Think of it this way. A $20 meal after taxes will cost you $25.40. The additional 7 percent on the present PST will break a lot of businesses, a retail downfall Delta cannot afford.
Now, briefly, on the economy in my constituency. I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about that ever-disastrous South Fraser perimeter road. I found it very interesting that the Minister of Transportation referred to it as the "Simon Fraser" perimeter road. The minister didn't even know, couldn't even tell you that it was the South Fraser perimeter road. We're talking about a $1.2 billion expenditure, and she calls it the Simon Fraser perimeter road. Shows you how much she knows about her file and how little she knows about my community.
B.C. now has a $15 billion trade deficit. You know, the glorious, self-indulgent prophecies of globalization — building a road to accommodate that trend. The South Fraser perimeter road is being built when we are undergoing huge deficits in the next three years — humongous deficits — and cuts to schools, health care, seniors and school services. They continue to foolishly spend on a road that we don't want or need, building a multi-billion gateway road system to accommodate future port traffic, yet the overall port tonnage declined 11 percent compared to the previous year.
According to Robin Silvester, president and CEO of Port Metro Vancouver…. He states that on the export side the only sign of recovery was from grains, specialty crops and crude oil. So why all the fuss about the South Fraser perimeter road? How many trucks are used and how much freeway pavement is necessary to get those commodities to a ship? Nada. Commodities such as these are transported by rail and through something called a pipe.
Interesting, though, how one of the only stable sectors is agriculture. Yet this government continues to put it on the chopping block. The Minister of Agriculture should be completely humiliated with the cuts to his ministry. Grain exports increased by 33 percent, but this hardly expresses the Chinese November 15 ban on Canadian canola. How do the Chinese get away with it anyway? Globalization for us and the importation of goods and exportation of jobs, while the rest of the world protects their economies. That's very interesting — isn't it? Protectionism elsewhere but not here.
Back to North Delta, the so-called rationale for the South Fraser perimeter road. Overall container volume for Port Metro Vancouver decreased nearly 14 percent for 2.2 TEUs — that's 20-foot equivalent units — on the year. The downturn in the economy and the erosion of
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the consumer confidence in 2009 led to an almost 19 percent decline in laden container imports.
I ask the B.C. Liberals opposite: don't they know the value-added industry that could be invested in our community with this wasted $1.2 billion South Fraser perimeter road? Think of what we could be investing in. The port's annual report on cargo statistics shows that the decline in B.C.'s industrial activity in 2009, particularly in the forestry and construction industries, produced a sharp negative impact on the port's overall domestic volumes.
Domestic shipments of logs were down 42 percent, paper and paperboard down 19 percent, wood chips down 18 percent, caustic soda down 43 percent. If you want to see how the economy is doing, you only have to study our ports, because they tell the real story — economic output weighed against our inputs. Our inputs declined by about 4 percent, while our exports declined by 28 percent. To reach 2008 levels of activity, it will take our ports many, many years — another ten years. In fact, we may never get there again.
With the growing efficiencies at Prince Rupert, the new-to-open widened Panama Canal and the potential innovative transportation means to ship goods cost-efficiently through the Lower Mainland, the South Fraser perimeter road is a wasted proposition, a proposition that defies economic logic and defies the agricultural base and that of the environment.
The warning signs have been there for years of what a colossal mistake this project is. North Delta and South Delta did not vote for a B.C. Liberal MLA because of it. That would say something, but this government is devoid, I believe, of any common sense. It's stuck in the '50s and the '60s when it comes down to innovative transportation. They talk the talk about climate change initiatives, but they never walk the walk.
As homeowners in North Delta continue to lose their homes and the cannonball smashes a century of history, they roll over with bulldozers some of the most special indigenous history in all of North America — in fact, one of the oldest recorded settlements on this continent, an area of history within the post–ice age era 10,000 years ago, along a foreshore of one of the world's most productive and significant salmon-bearing rivers, the mighty Fraser — destroying the farming community and the fragmentation of the farming.
I'd like to say thank you to all my supporters who thought we could stop this hideous road to oblivion, but I'd also like to say how awfully sorry I am that I could not convince this government — and, I dare have to say, even some of my own colleagues — for not fully appreciating what an incredible place the lower Fraser River estuary and basin truly is, a place we call home.
I want to move to talking briefly, with the few minutes I have, about a young person who came into my office a few days ago who was looking for legal aid. I told him that I was not a lawyer and couldn't help him in that role. You see, he had been drinking and driving. He was charged, and he blew well over .08, and he knew he shouldn't have done it, and he was charged. We were fortunate that there was no harm done from his act of stupidity.
What he did was wrong. He has a part-time job and is looking for work, but he needs a defence. He needs some legal help, but he cannot afford it. The legal aid regional office in Surrey is now closed. He cannot phone Law Line. It's a once-free phone service of the Legal Services Society designed to help people who don't qualify for a legal aid lawyer to represent them, but it has now been eliminated.
In the September budget the Legal Services Society has been cut by $27.5 million, 28 percent. Now, in this budget six months later, the Legal Services Society is being cut by a further $2.1 million. All these services have been cut.
If you are rich and powerful and you are charged with impaired driving, you can afford a lawyer, and you will have a defence, no matter how much more dangerous and careless your action may have been than that of the young man who came to my office. He will be stained by his actions for the rest of his life. A person not of privilege or of any influential prowess, he will not only have less representation than that of the powerful and the rich, but he will have no representation at all.
The cuts in this budget have consequences that will affect the lives and opportunities of so many of our citizens — people who, unlike many of us, cannot buy a second chance. We can talk about mental health and addictions, what's happened on the Eastside, and we can talk about substance abuse, which I want to. We've seen the response of this government regarding homelessness.
Some of the homeless who are addicts and refer to themselves as dope fiends may even have started on crack or heroin and saw the transition to homelessness as some sort of short tenure. As individuals are bounced in and out of single-room-occupancy hotels and the homes of ever-dwindling networks of friends and family, they eventually end up on the streets. They see homelessness as only a temporary situation, are ready for something better.
Why many addicts and those who are mentally ill don't live in shelters is because they don't find them welcoming. Some will tell you that housing or rentals in the Eastside are not safe. Some rental areas are vessels of greater criminal activity, where addicts are intimidated to work in gang-like activities themselves.
Many addicts will tell you that there are cliques or social strata within the housing precincts. Many will tell you that they are isolated and that staff does not know what is really going on. There's a certain amount of disdain and fear regarding the housing accommodation that is being provided.
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The street can be a violent place, and this government has no strategy for a theoretical approach to social suffering. It doesn't care. People here are, after all, people. They deserve some dignity and respect and help.
I asked the members opposite to read an interesting book called The Righteous Dopefiend, by noted anthropologists. They go on the ground level, and they actually talk in the field to those who are shooting up and find out what's going on. The only way they can get through their day is by shooting heroin into their bloodstream. It will turn their physical pain and psychic distress into relaxed comfort, even bliss, for a few hours.
I raise this because the budget doesn't talk about heroin addiction. It's not simply a psychological dependency or an emotional craving. It is a physiological dependency deeply embodied at the cellular level of functioning. Ecstasy and agony play deep leapfrog with chronic high-dose opiate use. Every five to eight hours organs run amok, and people are screaming in pain.
This budget does not talk about the anguish, the negligence or treatment or lack of strategy to address the stain we wear as a society, whereas some media did pick up on it during the Olympics.
We can spend hours of platitudes and bathe their side in the glory of the games, but we must also come to grips that for many of our society with mental illness, those who have psychological wounds of abuse or abandonment have long since been subordinated to the demands of daily heroin addiction. We have got to come to grips with that, hon. Speaker. I live in the suburbs, somewhat detached from it, but I also see it now. What we tolerate, unfortunately, has to do with societal status. I hope we will address this growing problem.
J. Rustad: It's a great pleasure to rise to speak to Budget 2010. You know, just before I go into my comments, I'm just listening to some of these speeches from the opposition, and the negativity that drips off. I tell you, I actually had to sit down and think: "You know what? We're facing spring here. We've just come through the Olympics."
There are so many positive things that are happening as we emerge out of this economic challenge we're facing. I tell you, it is quite something to overcome something that has just been delivered by the member for Delta North.
However, I want to start first of all by thanking my constituents of Nechako Lakes. I want to thank them, of course, for the trust they put in me in re-electing, the trust they put in me to be able to make some tough decisions on their behalf to be able to guide their riding as well as, of course, our province, particularly the north, through these challenging times to be able to emerge, to be able to support families.
With that, I would also like to thank my wife, Kim Royle, the love of my life. She has been a huge supporter. She has been a huge support for me, and I'm very, very fortunate to have her on my side.
I'd also like to thank my parents Molly and Laurie Rustad as well as my constituent staff Judy King, Barb Gale and Sharon Smith and my staff down here in Victoria, Andrew Leyne, Evan Southern, Tim Morrison and Marc Chawrun. They do a phenomenal job in providing support for me, in providing support for my constituents and dealing with the issues that we have to face.
Madam Speaker, we just came through the Olympics. You know, if you talk to anybody in the province, if you go around and ask, "What did you think of the Olympics? What did you feel like after seeing the Olympics, after seeing the gold medals, after seeing that experience from Vancouver?" I can tell you something: every person I have spoken to feels uplifted. They feel excited and reinvigorated by what our athletes have done and by the Olympics and by what we put on for a show.
It's interesting to note, because if you go back and look at the speeches that happened in the previous years from the opposition, you would think this province wouldn't even have had the Olympics. When you think about all of that positive energy, all of those great things that we saw in this province, not to mention showcasing B.C. to the world and the opportunity that will bring for us…. If the opposition had been in power, none of that would have been a reality, and that's a sad thought.
One of the things that I think about in the Olympics is when you're facing an economic challenge, many people…. You know, you hear about job losses, you experience some challenges, you see perhaps a decline in stock portfolios or other things that people may have, and people feel concerned, and rightly so. The economy was such that…. It's the challenges that we're facing.
It is a very uncertain time, but when you go through something like the Olympics, it lifts people up. It really does change people's thoughts, and that impact alone on our economy will be immeasurable. The opportunity that that will bring in terms of pulling people out of an economic downturn and looking forward to a future, quite frankly, is something that any jurisdiction around the world would have given their eye teeth to be able to have, and we have had it.
You know, I'm proud of what we did with the Olympics. We had to spend some dollars on it. We had to put some money in it to make it a good show, to really capitalize on those efforts, but I'm proud of what we've done as a province, because I know those will bring benefits to us as a province.
When I think about the budget, really, it's almost like you're hearing two stories. One is what we have done as a government in bringing in a prudent and appropriate response to our hard economic times that we're facing in B.C. You know, this budget is a delicate balancing act between services that we have to provide, and that of
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course we all need, with our tax burden for the people and at the same time trying to set the stage to take advantage of this next economic cycle that we are facing.
The other story, of course, is one that you would listen to from what you're hearing from the opposition, who through their responses, I would venture to say, are somewhat irresponsible and, quite frankly, visionless.
In order to meet the dramatic, extraordinary fiscal realities that we are facing, we are running a deficit. And I have to say that I am not happy about running a deficit. Borrowing from the future to pay for our needs today never, in my opinion, seems like a good idea. But when you're facing extraordinary circumstances — the worst economic challenges that we have faced since the 1930s — it's understandable that at this time we do have to try to smooth through that bump by running a deficit.
My hope is that we're going to be able to exit running a deficit as soon as possible. But I find it interesting that the core support and the core of the opposition are suggesting that our deficit should be three times the level.
If you go back, I was on the Finance Committee and touring the province, and the people who were, quite frankly, the controlling interest, if you want to call it that, of the NDP are calling for us to run massive, massive deficits. That is what I mean by being irresponsible. We must be able to try to live in a manageable environment and provide the kinds of services that we have.
Along with this, we also have a situation where we were increasing our debt. As a province, we are making strategic investments at a time when it's needed. We're providing the type of stimulus. We're capitalizing on federal dollars that are available, and we're making those key infrastructure investments in our province.
Those infrastructure investments are not just about providing the key roads and infrastructure, power and what have you — services to support our industry — but they're also to be able to provide health and education in terms of facility upgrades and the type of work that's required across the province.
Those are strategic investments, and they're coming at a time that they're needed. So yes, our debt is increasing, but it's understandable when you look at the situation we're in and you see what this will do in terms of setting the stage for our future.
The biggest issue, I think, when you look at Budget 2010 — and the one that the opposition seems to be railing on the most, quite frankly — is finding the balance between taxes and services. When you think about taxes, where does the revenue come from? It comes from individuals. It comes from corporations. It comes from royalties off resources, and of course, it can come from revenues from Crown corporations.
All of those you need to think about in the right balance to be able to have the right economic setting but also be able to provide for what we need to do in the province. So what are the appropriate levels for taxes? It's a very interesting question, and it's one that, quite frankly, I was hoping to hear from the opposition, because they keep on saying that, you know, we need to be spending more. But what is appropriate in terms of taxes?
What are the appropriate balances that we need to have for services? And quite frankly, Madam Speaker, what do we need to do to try to grow revenue? If you listen to the NDP….
J. Rustad: I hear the member from Sunshine Coast chirping about this.
If you listen to the NDP, here's what they'll say. They want to have more taxes to pay for additional health care. They want more taxes to pay for additional education. They want more taxes to pay for additional social services. They want more taxes to pay for forestry. They want more taxes for agriculture — for just about everything government does.
Do you see a pattern here? The NDP clearly stand for more taxes. It's a shame that the NDP won't come clean with the people of B.C. and include all of the additional taxes that they'd like to raise as part of their speeches. It's a real shame that it's a hidden and that they aren't willing to come forward and be honest about it.
You know, they don't simply want to raise taxes. They want to tax the future generation by increasing deficits. In B.C., like everywhere else in the world, we depend on people being employed in order to generate revenue for the services we all need. Driving job creation builds communities. It builds services. But most importantly, it builds families, futures and hope.
How do we encourage job creation? And I think that is the key to what we are doing here on this side of the House versus that side of the House. Job creation comes when you have the right environment to attract capital, when you have a skilled labour force and when you have access to resources.
You need to have available electricity. You need to have a predictable and efficient permitting process. You need to have a competitive tax regime, and you need stability, as many large-scale investments that create jobs require years to be able to have a return on capital.
This is what we've been doing in B.C. for many years, and Budget 2010 furthers that objective. Once again, what have the NDP actually said about this? What is it that they have actually tried to project as a picture? The truth of the matter is nothing. In fact, they've said worse than nothing. They've called for an increase in bureaucratic process for permitting. They've called for a veto for First Nations over projects. They've even called for a ban on electricity exports.
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Madam Speaker, think about this for a second. B.C. has to import power. It has to import electricity on an average basis, on an annual basis. Could you imagine what would happen if every jurisdiction in the world had the NDP's policy and refused to even consider the idea of exporting power? We'd have rotating brownouts in this province because we don't have enough power to meet our needs. That's what I mean by being irresponsible in terms of their responses.
Probably the most disturbing, the NDP have never, not once, stood in this chamber and supported a single private sector project that has not already been permitted. When you look at the job creation that comes from the private sector and the fact that it's the engine that drives this province, it's shocking when you consider what their particular perspective is on that.
I wonder: just what is the NDP's real agenda? Their federal leader has called for the public ownership of decisive sectors of the economy and, in particular, the resource, finance, manufacturing, transportation and community sectors. Is this what the members of the NDP really stand for?
Along with this, their leader has called for the immediate withdrawal from NATO and NORAD, free universal access to all levels of education, from universities to day care. Is that their hidden agenda? Because clearly, they're not willing to stand up and talk about anything that they really stand for on that side of the House. But fortunately, the NDP are not in power in B.C. They are not in a position to further their socialist agenda.
In my riding in Nechako Lakes we're fortunate to have significant resources and a strong workforce. Forestry, agriculture and mining are the backbone of the economy, and Budget 2010 helps to strengthen these endeavours. HST will play a huge role in supporting all of these industries.
I hear much, much rhetoric about HST, but here are some facts. HST is something that has raised a lot of concerns, of course, but here's how it looks from a resource-dependent community and riding like mine. First of all, our riding has significant amounts of activity in forestry. The savings in forestry alone will represent $150 million a year, and what does that mean? For my riding, that translates into roughly $14 million in cost reductions — $14 million.
This means that loggers, millworkers, producers and everybody that depends on the industry is now in a more competitive position to weather the challenges that we have and that we are facing with our economy. These savings will help support jobs, will help to create that balance when it comes to making decisions around making investments and, I'm hoping, will ultimately be the tipping point to drive future investments in new equipment and facilities throughout the riding.
Here's an example. Spectrum, which is a silviculture company that does work in my riding, has stated that HST will reduce their costs by about $50,000 a year. What they say about that is that it means in the challenging times of winter — they have the silviculture side during summer, and everybody's busy — this will allow them to be able to help to support their workers throughout that period. But it also…. They do work in Alberta, and this means that they now have a much more competitive playing field when they're dealing with contracts in Alberta and in B.C. This is a real example of how HST will actually help support the forest sector and help support jobs.
Mining plays a huge role in my riding, with two active mines in my riding and the hopes for more in the future. The savings in my riding will likely be more than $2 million per year. Just for the Forest Minister's information, as he's clearing his voice, I have Endako Mines as well as Huckleberry Mine, which are operating mines in my riding, with several more significant potentials for my riding. I always like to straighten that out, because there's always some competition around just where these mines may actually be.
But that savings from HST means that they reduce their cost structure, and when you go through economic challenges, it means you have the ability to be able to ride through that.
Thompson Creek has recently approved a roughly $500 million expansion of Endako Mines. This is a project that will create hundreds of construction jobs as well as expand their employment base, and HST will help reduce those costs and make sure that they are on a solid footing as it goes through the economic cycles in the years to come.
I find it interesting to note that Thompson Creek, in going through this expansion, has to get approximately 11 different permitting processes to do the undertaking. When you think about that — 11 processes to undertake — we have some of the best environmental standards in the world.
You know, 11 processes — that's interesting to go through, but surely we could find a way to be able to streamline that to meet the same needs that we have in our environmental process but to simplify it so that instead of 11 processes, perhaps you're looking at just a few processes that you would have to go through. That's something we need to do.
When I look at that requirement of those 11 processes, I'm also reminded of the fact that this is all on their existing footprint. This isn't expanding outside. This isn't putting in a new mine area. This is within their existing footprint, and it's going to take about two years to go through that whole process to get all those permits. It's a shame that the NDP just don't understand this, when we say that we need to streamline. The opposition refused to even want to consider looking at that as an opportunity to try to help promote futures.
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Mining has an enormous potential for my riding. With three new mines within or close to the riding, the opportunity for creating thousands — thousands — of new jobs is enormous. Of course, HST will play a huge role in trying to help them with their fundraising, helping them with raising the capital and making those decisions to be able to put that investment in.
It's not just my riding, as well, when you think about mining. There's Highway 37 and the electrification of Highway 37 and the commitment we have to go ahead with that — the mining potential all the way through there.
When I look at what we have across the north, this is our time. This is the north's decade. This will be an opportunity for us to do some significant economic development throughout the north — to be able to create jobs, engage First Nations like we have never been able to do it before, change some of those demographic issues that we are facing. It is our time, and that's what this budget does. It creates those opportunities so that we have that type of environment and we can see that type of progress.
Once again, through just about everything we do, whether it's the flow-through tax shares or whether it's stuff along Highway 37 — trying to streamline processes, trying to work with the federal government on a single environmental process — the opposition simply says: "We're not interested. We don't want to create those jobs." That's a shame.
Once again, I'll reiterate the challenge. Stand up, and just for once support a project, once support something that is going to create jobs and make a difference in communities like Kitimat or Terrace or Smithers or anywhere up through that northwest region.
One of the other things that I have a great pleasure in being assigned to do is to be parliamentary secretary for silviculture. One of the reasons why I think of this as not just a challenge but a great honour is that forestry plays an enormous role in our future. We face a number of challenges in the forest industry. We have the downturn, of course, in the housing market and all those sorts of things. But we also have the mountain pine beetle. We have challenges in terms of our fibre supply. Forestry and silviculture will play an enormous role in overcoming those challenges.
I want you to think about this for a second. It was a number of decades ago. Sweden was in a situation where they, as a country, were overcutting. They were in a situation where they were going to face a significant downfall in their fibre supply, yet through silviculture and strategic investments there, they were able to overcome that downfall and actually expand and support a level of harvesting on one-third of the timber-harvesting land base that we have today.
On one-third of the land base, their cut is equivalent of what our cut is in the province, and that's amazing. Silviculture has the opportunity to drive those kinds of innovations, that kind of fibre supply. I think about what we're trying to do. We're doing enormous strides in terms of trying to encourage bioenergy and trying to encourage biofuels, utilizing our wood waste for pellets, expanding the types of products we can produce, and silviculture is going to play a key role in having the underpinnings for all of that.
In order to do that, we're going to have to make some decisions. We're going to have to try to perhaps change some processes. We're going to need to look at different strategies, but most importantly, we are going to need to drive private sector investment, and that will be a very interesting discussion when it comes time to having that debate in this House, because private sector investment is going to be the key for making sure that our future in our forest industry is going to be strong.
Budget 2010 also builds on a number of other things that are very, very important throughout our province. Particularly, I look at education. You think about education, and think about what we said in the throne speech. First of all, we've got over 150 million new dollars that have gone into education here, including the annual facility grant and the amount of money that's going to that. That's all very good news for our current system, but think about this as a student.
You have a student who goes home. Maybe they have this stuff at home or maybe they go to friends' places, and they maybe have access to a computer, and they call up stuff on a screen. They've got probably two or three different applications up on a computer. They have access to, you know, tools like Facebook and networking, and maybe somewhere in the corner they're doing some school work as well. They have access to things like Nintendo and other computer games or other types of technology, TVs.
They have an environment that is very conducive to absorbing many, many things. They're open to all these kinds of technologies and advancements and things coming at them, and they're able to manage quite nicely in that type of environment. Then they come to school, sit in a desk, look at a chalkboard and open a paper book. The difference between what a child is like and the environment for a child at home and what is happening in the school — the gap between those is continuing to widen.
What that does is it creates challenges in terms of keeping children interested, but more importantly, it creates challenges in making sure that our children are prepared for the challenges of the 21st century. We are going to need to do some things to modernize our education system, and that is going to be a challenge. There are many things in there — and I'm looking forward to the discussion we're going to have here — that we're going to need to look at.
In health care, we have added additional dollars. As a matter of fact, over three years, it's going to be $2 billion
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in additional money for health care. Think of that — $2 billion. That's a huge amount of money. It's enormous, particularly when you think about the challenge we are facing from a budgetary perspective. Despite the fact that our revenues in this province have dropped by more than $3 billion, despite the fact that we have faced some of the most difficult economic challenges, we are able to make strategic investments in both education and health care — that, I'm proud of. But even with those investments, we are going to need to do some things.
Health care spending is growing at a rate of more than 6 percent a year, and even in a good economic year where we grow our province's economy by 2 to 3 percent, health care spending is outstripping that by between two and three times, year after year. That means we are going to continue to have pressures on all the rest of the ministries unless we can find ways to make our health care system more efficient.
I want to relate just a little experience. You know what? I think our health care professionals are absolutely fabulous. They do a great job. I had a little problem down here in Victoria. I was doing dishes late at night and broke a glass and cut my finger. Unfortunately, I didn't have the stuff at home to be able to wrap it up, and it was late at night. The drugstore wasn't open. A clinic wasn't open. So I had to go to the emergency room.
I went to the emergency room to get this addressed, and first of all, they didn't have access to my records because the health authority down here doesn't speak to the health authority at home from a technology perspective. So they had to enter all the information. But by the time I got through the health care system, just to wrap up a finger, I saw seven people — seven people for something that was just as simple as wrapping up a finger and cleaning it up a bit.
I think we can do our health care system a little bit better, and quite frankly, we're going to need to do it a little better if we're going to be able to afford going to the future.
You know, the opposition, when you're talking about health care, say: "We need to be putting more dollars in. We need to be putting more dollars for education." You know what? We need to raise more taxes to do that. They've actually said that.
I find it interesting because when you think about a system that the expense is growing faster than your revenue, even if you raise taxes, like the opposition would like to do, to put more dollars into it, what it will ultimately mean is those new taxes…. Sure that gives you a boost for that particular year and maybe it has a spinoff effect for next year, but then you're right back up against the wall. You're still growing expenses faster than you're growing revenue.
It's not an issue of just trying to continue to throw money at it, because quite frankly, as a province, we'd go bankrupt on the size of taxes we would have to add to ultimately reach those levels that we are going to need in health care.
Those are the kinds of things that we have to grapple with in the budget. Adding $2 billion in is a huge amount of money, but it's what's needed. Along with that, we also need to be looking and taking measures that are going to put health care on a more sustainable path.
One of the other things that has been talked about, and I think about this significantly for my riding, is our new relationship with First Nations. I think about this in particular because I have 13 First Nations in my riding. That's quite significant, and I also look at it from the perspective of our labour force and what we're doing in the future.
We are going to need to tap into what the First Nations labour force will be able to provide us. We're going to need to be able to work with them to engage in providing those opportunities for employment. We're going to need to work with them to engage in terms of training and all those sort of things, but we need to do that in the context of working in partnership. We need to do that in the context of sitting down, deciding on how we're going to proceed with things and working through those issues.
I've been working very closely with a number of First Nations in my riding to do just that, to sit down and try to find a path to go forward. I think of, for example, Lake Babine Nation, a nation with 1,200 to 1,400 members in the riding with probably a thousand members unemployed — a thousand members unemployed.
We talk about working at forestry opportunities — and they're actively exploring an opportunity for a pellet plant — and power generation. They're actively looking for those, but even if they were to be able to achieve those, that would only be, maybe, 50 or 60 jobs.
Yes, there'd be some spinoff benefits that could come in terms of revenue, but when you're looking at needing to create a thousand jobs or even maybe 500 jobs and reducing the unemployment level significantly in the riding, we have to look at many, many options.
New mines have a huge opportunity to do that. What we're trying to do with silviculture has an opportunity to do that. I truly believe that as you see things develop throughout the north, as you see these opportunities arise, you will see the First Nations engaging in those, and that'll make a huge difference.
When you think about the challenges that First Nations have — and many people have, of course — with unemployment, with being able to provide for their families, they're not insignificant challenges. They are huge.
You have to look at, perhaps, some of the roots that are causing some of those challenges. But ultimately, we aren't going to be able to solve that challenge by throwing more government money at it. We are going to
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need to be able to engage in the economy. We're going to be able to need to engage in jobs to be able to really make a difference for those people as well as for us as a province.
When I look at Budget 2010 and I think about the future and what this budget has set, building upon other budgets, I truly believe that we have a foundation that is going to lead us through this economic challenge. We have a foundation that we're going to be able to build upon that's going to be able to create futures for families, that's going to be able to create hope for people in forestry, resource industries and even in tourism and other industries throughout the province, because of what we've managed to do and what we've managed to be able to achieve in this budget.
We've had the right balance. We haven't gone off the rails with massive, massive deficits. We haven't gone off the rails with huge debt increases. We have taken prudent measures. We have a balanced approach, and it will lay the foundations for that prosperous future.
I'm very proud to have had the opportunity to be able to represent my riding here in this House. I'm very proud that we have been able to set the stage because I truly believe this decade will be the northern decade. I look forward to the future and what it will bring.
Deputy Speaker: Member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast. [Applause.]
N. Simons: It's nice playing to a friendly house, you know.
N. Simons: All right, I'll let you know. The points will be obvious. I'm sure you'll agree 100 percent with what I have to say.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to respond to Budget 2010. I didn't know it had a name. I thought it was the no-name budget, because we've had budgets named for children that didn't do much for children. We've had budgets named for seniors. I don't think the seniors have seen much out of that. We've had budgets named after the environment.
This one doesn't really have…. It should really be called the HST budget. I think most people who are following provincial politics here in British Columbia know that the most significant public policy announcement was the imposition of a harmonized sales tax, which they announced immediately after the election. Well, prior to the election we were all led to believe that this was not on this government's radar.
Now, unfortunately, the result of having an HST is going to be devastating to a lot of people. Everyone who is being objective about it, even in the newspapers, is saying that it's a tax shift from the corporate sector to individual consumers. This does not, to me, meet the criteria required for good governance, when you have communities and individuals who are suffering financially — to impose what will amount to a significant increase in the budget for the average middle-income family.
The harmonized sales tax. The announcement in the budget was that…. They meant to call it a health services tax, when in fact, most people in the province recognize that this is a bit of a late-coming argument to try to perhaps sugar-coat what is actually a bitter pill. There are many acronyms that people have come up with to describe this tax.
It is the most significant change that British Columbians will have to face, the harmonized sales tax. According to people in the restaurant industry, this represents a significant cost to them and a significant challenge to maintain the number of workers that are currently in that industry. It would be my hope that government would listen to people in the industry and make an actual effort to mitigate the harmful impacts of this new tax that this Liberal government is imposing on the people of the province.
While they're imposing that particular tax on us all, they're also allowing the corporation capital tax, which was essentially a tax on financial institutions and banks that used to bring the province approximately $100 million a year in revenue, to fall by the wayside — not to replace it with anything.
In fact, the result of that is that the big banks that do a lot of business in this province, who generate a lot of revenue for their shareholders in this province and whose headquarters are not in this province, will not have to leave any money here. They can take it back — their $2 billion-plus profits this quarter.
It seems to indicate to me that this government is picking on the wrong folks when they pick on the little guy and ignore the vast wealth created by the big corporations. I think we have a fundamental difference. It's not negativity, contrary to the member for Prince George–Omineca.
N. Simons: Ah, he's moved. It's the member for one of the Prince George ridings. I'll get it out soon enough. Don't worry.
An Hon. Member: Nechako Lakes.
N. Simons: Nechako Lakes. Thank you, hon. Minister.
He says that we're being negative, but in fact, it's our responsibility to bring up to the people of the province and to this House where we believe public policy is not
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in the best interest of the people of this province. I'm not being negative when I suggest that the HST is too big of a hit for your average low- to middle-income family.
I hope that there is some empathy on the part of government members to recognize that it is not universally accepted by residents of this province — if there's ever been an understatement….
I understand that the people of the province are not convinced by the successive feeble attempts to explain it as the best thing that they can do in the "Best place on earth." It's a tax for consumers to pay on goods that were previously exempt. In this particular case I'm disappointed that government members, even those who have railed against taxes in every form, are suddenly believing that this consumer tax, this tax on individuals, is actually going to do what they claim it will do.
No, the track record of this government isn't that stellar. I don't know if many people are actually holding their breath to see if, in fact, it will generate the kinds of economic stimulus that they hope it will. I know for a fact that this is going to have a hugely negative impact on social service providers, on non-profit organizations, on the arts community, on a number of sectors that have made their concerns known loudly and succinctly and clearly to this government to no avail.
Also concerning to me is the clear — clear, but somewhat disappointing — government response to the needs of children in this province. I speak in particular about the cuts that were announced to the Ministry of Children and Family Development. In an attempt to convince the public that front-line services aren't going to be impacted, this government shows itself to be not coordinated in its approach to the social concerns of the population.
Now, let me put this into context. The deputy minister has said that the changes being undertaken in the ministry currently and for the last two years…. The changes that have been implemented in the ministry are…. I'm going to look for the quote, but suffice to say they are massive, and they affect all aspects of the service delivery of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Now, you juxtapose this huge change occurring in the ministry with funding that has in some cases stayed the same and in many cases gone down in proportion to the number of people required to be served. Then you look at the last of the major reviews of the ministry. In almost the first paragraph of…. Justice Hughes's investigation of the ministry's service delivery for children in need of protection said that the ministry was buffeted by change that was inadequately funded.
Justice Hughes was clear that when you combine inadequate funding with massive reorganization you create a situation where the important aspects of that ministry's work become secondary. I believe that there can be no…. We should not be relying on faith that the system can change without adequate resources to effect that change. It's difficult to even assess whether this change is relevant or not. It certainly seems like a lot of words.
The number of people working in the ministry is going down. They're not rehiring social workers who leave. Social workers have told me that morale is lower than in any other ministry in the public service.
Yet we hear platitudes about how "we believe that social workers are doing such an important job" and how important it is to "make sure that we protect front-line services."
Well, we know the facts, and we see that there's a dissonance between what the government says about protecting children and what the government does about protecting children. Some of this was brought up earlier today. I believe that it's an important message that the people of the province hear, that the government's priorities are not with the children of this province.
When you can have programs for children who witness violence where there are waiting lists of eight or nine months in order for that child to see a counsellor, or programs for kids who are having difficulty living at home and who choose the streets…. When you cut services to people in those circumstances, you end up paying a lot more. We can see, we can hear the members opposite decry the rise in the cost of health care, but at the same time we see them underfunding the resources that keep people healthy.
Seniors in my riding who used to come together once a month for lunch paid for their lunch. They got lifts. Nobody paid for the gas. There was a coordinator who made sure that these elderly isolated folks living in their own homes could come together and have lunch once a month.
Isolation is one of the indicators of social health, and isolation is not good for positive outcomes for seniors. Yet the Ministry of Health decided that it was not a core service, and all of a sudden you have seniors who are more isolated than they've ever been. I can be quite sure that those seniors are going to be making more trips to the acute care at our hospital, placing additional burden and cost on health care providers, because we've decided to cut a tiny bit of funding, thinking that it's going to save money.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Now, it's penny-wise, pound-foolish. In this case, it's penny-foolish. I think that the Ministry of Health can only really make a justifiable argument about their costs if they recognize that preventative services are effective. I have seen no indication from this government that they believe in preventative services, either in health care or in child welfare. Yet we know that these programs are being whittled away with an emphasis on allowing
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problems to fester, to grow and to end up in the most expensive programs that our community offers.
I note that time is growing short, and perhaps I should leave it until tomorrow to get into my other topics. So with that, I move adjournment of debate, and I would seek leave to continue this tomorrow. I will hope that tomorrow the same members will still be here to hear the conclusion of my remarks.
N. Simons moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. K. Krueger moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 tomorrow afternoon.
The House adjourned at 6:24 p.m.
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