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
Monday, April 12, 2010
Volume 13, Number 6
Orders of the Day
Private Members' Statements
Maintaining the essential resource of life: water
Rural B.C. community economic development
The value of reconciliation
Private Members' Motions
Motion 4 — Trade partnership with Alberta and Saskatchewan
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MONDAY, APRIL 12, 2010
The House met at 10:02 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Orders of the Day
Private Members' Statements
Maintaining the Essential
Resource of Life: Water
J. Slater: B.C. is proud of our water resources. We rely on them to be healthy and sustainable for us, for our economy and for our environment. British Columbia proudly showed the beauty and the greatness of our streams, lakes and snowy mountains to the world during the Olympic Winter Games.
[C. Trevena in the chair.]
Our streams and lakes are part of our identity and an internationally recognized drawing card for our visitors. We rely on water every time we turn on the shower, wash our clothes, eat our lunch or flick a light switch.
But do you usually think about the water you use? Do you think about keeping our water safe and sustainable? For almost two years now the B.C. government announced the Living Water Smart plan, B.C.'s water plan and vision to keep our water healthy and safe.
Today I want to focus on some of the progress in protecting our water and planning for when we don't have enough. I also want to demonstrate how a partnership approach is helping us to find solutions.
Let me begin with the new initiative to modernize the B.C. Water Act. The Water Act is the heart of the water governance framework. The act currently is 101 years old. It's also one of our oldest laws and doesn't always respond well to today's water challenges.
With our population increasing and hot, dry summers becoming more common, changes may be needed to be made to the way we allocate our water. Partnerships are essential to share water stewardship roles more broadly and to encourage collaboration between other governments, users and our citizens.
Right now all across the province British Columbians are rising to the challenge, thinking about and sharing their views and solutions for the modernization of our Water Act. They're getting involved in the law review process through traditional and innovative engagement methods such as workshops, submissions, a discussion paper, our website and a blog that is collecting input into policy development, a first for B.C.
WAM is an opportunity to ensure the principles underlying the Water Act respond to modern expectations as well as promote stream health and our water security. We are more than halfway through the 12 workshops being held around the province. As a champion of this process, I am hearing a desire from all the stakeholders to work collaboratively and to move the Water Act into the 21st century to better serve our children and grandchildren as well as nature.
We have so much to gain from rethinking the way we manage our water and so much to lose if we don't. But what do we do if we don't have enough water to go around? Last summer — and looking at predictions, probably again this summer — there wasn't enough water to go around to keep our streams healthy. Below-normal snowpack conditions across much of the Interior indicate potential water supply challenges for this summer.
Environment Canada's long-range forecast is for warmer-than-normal weather over the next three months. We will once again see widespread water restrictions, dropping well levels and drought conditions creating stresses and causing economic losses. Being prepared to respond to the droughts in these communities, for chances of sustaining agriculture and other economic activities during dry periods…. It assists with protecting fish and aquatic ecosystems from the negative impacts of low stream levels and warmer rivers.
To reduce the impacts of drought, the British Columbia government, in partnership with key federal and provincial agencies, is developing a drought response plan to guide action before and after a drought. The drought response plan will build on existing tools such as the Dealing with Drought handbook used by water providers to help them prepare drought management plans. In preparing the plans, advice from First Nations, local governments, water users and other stakeholders is being sought.
Once again, workshops have been held with interested people and groups in various locations around the province. These sessions have gathered input on provincial- and regional-specific actions that should be taken in times of low stream flows or drought.
The drought response plan is intended primarily to guide provincial government actions during drought, but we are also capturing input and will reflect in the plan recommended actions for our partners such as federal agencies, water licensees, local governments, First Nations communities and water users.
The efficient use of water is essential if we are to sustain the environment and our economy, particularly in times of drought. Did you know that British Columbia uses 65 percent more water than the average for a developed country? There are easy wins by making water conserva-
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tion part of our life and our health and lifestyle. Okanagan water supply and demand project is an example.
You can't manage what you can't measure. How much water have we got, how much water are we using, and how much are we going to need in the future? In our driest basin and one which I am very intimate with, the Okanagan, a groundbreaking study that is unique and powerful in many ways has been accomplished. The demand project will be used as a model throughout other areas in the province.
We are leading the rest of Canada by having a powerful water accounting model that will allow communities to understand the availability of water supplies and the demands that they place on that supply. Knowing that, communities can better adapt to climate change and population growth.
M. Sather: It's my pleasure to respond to the member on the Water Act. He talked about the Water Act modernization that's underway, the process, and there's a discussion paper that's out there. I got a copy of it, and thanks to the government for sending that to me, whomever did that. However, I just got it on the 29th. It was sent out on the 29th of March.
The member mentioned the discussion groups, the workshops. Although there are 12 of these, nine of them are for First Nations only. There are only three others, in Nanaimo, Kelowna and Nelson. Nothing whatsoever in the Lower Mainland. Two of them are already over, March 5 and 12.
We have very active and interested stewardship groups in Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows. They're very involved with an illegal water diversion by the Aquilini Group from the North Alouette River, which the government is intimately aware of, I'm sure, yet none of them will have a chance to participate in their communities. Nor were they sent a copy of the discussion paper.
I've gone onto the website and tried to download the URL, but it comes up as not available. It doesn't seem very accessible, so I'm hoping the government will pick up on that.
With regard, of course, to the illegal diversion in Maple Ridge, we're still waiting. Community groups are waiting for a report from Crown counsel as to what is or is not going to happen. The Crown has the option to notify community groups who have an interest if they feel it's in the public interest, and it certainly is, so we're hoping that that will happen.
When we look at the modernization discussion paper, a lot of it is about whether there are going to be guidelines or regulations. Of course, guidelines are not going to do it. We need to have more teeth in the new act, and I'm certainly hoping that there will be.
I'm concerned about the precedent that the government has set with streamside protection regulations, whereby there has been a movement to self-regulation and -reporting — not only reporting but setting standards, if you will — by consultants hired by the proponent. We don't want to go down that road again with the Water Act. I'm certainly hoping that we won't.
The paper talks about either a devolving or a delegation approach. Devolving would be sharing with local government. I have some concerns around that, in their capacity to be able to do that, and I'm hoping the Ministry of Environment isn't abrogating their responsibilities in that regard. Delegating would be around establishing a watershed agency.
This has, I think, some promise if the government goes that route, because I know that in my community there are certainly agencies and individuals that could provide very good information for that approach.
Finally, on the groundwater issue the problem that I'm seeing so far in the discussion paper is that it doesn't address the issues of development affecting groundwater or, for example, forestry practices affecting groundwater. Those are issues that we've had in Maple Ridge in the Blue Mountain and Thornhill areas.
When they've gone at length to government, they've been told in the end that they can try to find out who's responsible. "Go to the Ministry of Health." In other words, if you get sick, that's your only recourse. So we have to do much, much better on that.
The discussion paper talks about extraction and use, though we need more than that. We need more than regulations around that. We need protection from other land uses, which can very negatively affect water.
Water is going to be, as we know, a huge, huge issue in this century. I am pleased that the government has the discussion paper. I'm looking forward to positive results from that. Their amendments to the Water Act that they brought in this year did not help, in my regard. In fact, they extended the period by which an individual can extract water without a licence.
I'm concerned, as I expressed to the minister around that act, that there's a lack of capacity in the Ministry of Environment to actually enforce regulations or guidelines, albeit they're pretty hard to enforce. So it's important that the government not drop the ball by devolving responsibility to somebody else. It's important that the Water Act changes have teeth in them such that we can actually have some effect.
J. Slater: Just for clarification, the website that we're using is www.livingwatersmart.ca. The links are certainly working on that.
My colleague just told me that everything's working fine on that, so I encourage everybody to have a look at that site and make sure that all the information that they need or require is on that site.
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Yes, we can't get around to the whole province. The 14 workshops are well attended. The workshops that I've been at have had First Nations attendees as well as the three First Nations workshops throughout the province.
I encourage everybody to get on to the website if you want some input, or mail it to us. We certainly do encourage everybody with all their concerns to make sure that we are hearing what everybody has to say, because what government does is only part of the solution.
Government cannot manage water alone. Through Living Water Smart B.C. we challenge British Columbians — businesses, the farms, the communities — to protect and preserve and conserve our water.
rural b.c. COMMUNITY
D. Donaldson: There's no doubt rural B.C. is the key to economic recovery in this province. The natural resource wealth found in non-urban areas like Stikine is what drives this province. Forestry, oil and gas, mining, fishing and agriculture have created the wealth we enjoy as a society in B.C.
Just a few years ago David Baxter from the Urban Futures Institute released a report that 70 percent of all the new revenue generated in the province comes from areas outside the urban centres. Even last year, when commodity prices weren't the best or export markets weren't the greatest, more than $3 billion came into the provincial treasury through natural resource revenue.
That is why we should all be concerned about the sustained economic decline in rural areas. Most communities have seen very slow rates of economic growth and diversification, and now we are witnessing disturbing signs of depopulation. As was stated at the B.C. Rural Summit in Port Hardy last month, we all know that short-term economic stimulus and simplistic solutions will not create the change necessary.
The federal stimulus package was welcomed in many rural communities, although its rollout was unnecessarily delayed by this provincial government at the expense of local employment, especially in northern areas where the construction season is short due to winter weather. The stimulus made a difference, yet we all know that this type of strategy is not sustainable in the long term.
Talk about simplistic solutions. Does anybody remember the heartlands strategy? It's the seventh anniversary of that proclamation by this government, but like many of the other government's priorities, it was a passing fad with very little in the way of serious long-term commitments. There are, however, solutions, and I would like to highlight a few today.
First we need a meaningful rural B.C. strategy. As George Penfold, regional innovation chair for rural economic development at Selkirk College in the Kootenays points out: "Quebec has a national policy that Quebec wants strong rural areas, wants to ensure the survival of rural areas and identity and to rethink ways of building on the extensive development potential of rural areas, all in a sustainable way. Those sentiments are backed up with a signed, formal rural partnership agreement between the province, municipal organizations and two provincewide rural interest groups."
He goes on to point out that this agreement is based on a seven-year program time frame, so if government changes, there's still long-term continuity. Penfold writes: "That's quite different than the project-by-project fund chasing and trying to access federal and provincial programs that seem to be in perpetual motion in terms of priorities, administrative structures and funding that rural interest groups in B.C. have to deal with."
Secondly, we need to improve and sometimes create rural development organizations in rural B.C. Looking at examples from other jurisdictions demonstrates how successful these can be to economic revitalization.
The Kentucky Highlands Investment Corp., for example, serves a region of about 500,000 that has become one of the poorest in U.S. history. KHIC has become a recognized leader in community economic development venture capital, providing direct equity investment into business start-ups and expansions. That addresses a major barrier in rural areas, that rural businesses are largely ignored by traditional venture capital firms.
Over the past 20 years companies in which KHIC invested paid more than $1.9 billion in salaries and generated an estimated $300 million in tax revenues. So it's not just the natural resource extraction but the taxes paid by the people who live in rural areas.
Another example is the Highlands and Islands Enterprise that services northern Scotland. HIE is one of the oldest regional development agencies in Europe, established in 1965. Its activities include debt and equity finance investment as well as labour force development. It serves a region with about the same population as the Okanagan, but HIE has a staff of 350 compared to about 80 working in economic development in the Okanagan region. That demonstrates the degree of importance Scotland places on its rural areas.
HIE also focuses on social enterprise, which I will discuss a little bit later in this statement.
Back in the U.S. there is Coastal Enterprises, Inc., which is a community development corporation in the state of Maine, consistently one of the poorest of the six New England states. They not only finance business startups and expansions but also develop and implement affordable housing and broker employment opportunities, a holistic approach. They can intervene on a large scale in key sectors. They loan approximately $90 million per year to up to a hundred businesses.
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Unlike what has been created in B.C., these are examples of agencies that can cross over from debt financing for private sector initiatives to actually directly investing in private sector businesses and providing businesses guidance from within as a codeveloper. That is the type of leadership currently lacking in B.C. when it comes to rural revitalization.
The third area which needs focus, if we are all in this province to benefit from rural areas, is social enterprise development. Social enterprises like co-ops and non-profits play a key role in our economy. They generate about $11 billion in revenue, and 147,000 people were employed in that sector in 2003. It's not an insignificant sector.
At the basis of social enterprises is the community economic development approach, the triple bottom line — environment, economy, social investment — as well as an inclusive approach to decision-making, where community members are in control. CED also raises the question: who benefits the most from these activities?
The provincial government needs to make better use of social enterprise as a policy tool for dealing with major issues we're facing today, like rural revitalization. As well, policies that provide social enterprises with access to capital will help existing services and expanding future possibilities. A change in procurement policies by this government to improve the opportunity to purchase from social enterprises would also allow this sector to increase its activities that are extremely important to rural community life.
Hon. Speaker, I see my time for this segment is fast approaching its end, so at this point I would like to leave it up to the other side to respond to my comments and respond to the solutions I have put forward.
J. Rustad: I want to thank the member for Stikine for raising this issue. The issue of rural B.C. and economic development, of course, is very near and dear to my heart. It's very near and dear to our government in what we are trying to do within the province.
There are a number of things that I want to talk about over the course of my response here, but I find it interesting that the member for Stikine talked about communities that are experiencing a declining population and that this is something new. I know the member has been in rural B.C. and lived in rural B.C. for many, many years. I find it hard to believe that he doesn't understand that the trend of population moving away from rural B.C. was something that started after the 1930s and has been going on for quite a period of time.
In any case, that being said, I think it's critical that when you look at rural B.C., when you look at the economy and the jobs and what people are asking for, what people want to see, it's clear that we do need to put steps in place that are going to try to encourage that development.
During the last election, when I knocked on doors throughout the riding and talked to people in rural B.C., they said: "You know what? We've got to find a way to help the forest industry. We need to be able to support our core industry. We also need to find a way to be able to help diversify our economy, to create new jobs, depend not just on forestry but be able to expand. You know what we need? New jobs for our children. We need to be able to create economic activity within our area so that our children can choose to stay and so that we can attract new people to our communities and to our areas."
HST does just that. It's a huge step for rural B.C., for forestry. The $140 million that will be saved throughout the forest industry, the $80 million plus we saved in mining and oil and gas — those types of things help to generate economic activity.
Throughout rural B.C. we're very, very dependent upon trucking. It's over $200 million that this will save for the trucking industry, which will be able to help all the ma-and-pop operations right through the entire economic cycle and set that base in place.
The member for Stikine talked about having a meaningful rural economic strategy. He wanted to create, I guess, this bureaucratic approach, this large industry or large design around it.
I'd like to point out to him — and maybe he wasn't aware — that we actually have now a rural communities and rural B.C. secretariat that's part of the Ministry of Community and Rural Development. Its task is to look at what's happening, to work with communities, to work with rural B.C. to be able to develop strategies. It's an interesting approach.
Particularly what's important about that is it's not a one-size-fits-all. It's something that goes and looks and works with different communities rather than an overall large, bureaucratic type of process that comes often out of Victoria.
The other point the member made was that he wanted to see rural economic development groups start up and be funded. The Northern Development Initiative Trust and the other trusts that we've set out in the province with $285 million that we put in place does a lot of just that.
He talks about wanting to see rural venture capital. I find that interesting, because maybe he's suggesting that government should develop a rural capital strategy, and maybe that's some new strategy coming forward from the NDP. The NDI is working with other agencies and actually doing just that — setting up a way to be able to do that and doing it independently, making those decisions in the north.
I want to just talk a little bit about what we have done and our record around rural B.C. We provided over $2.7 billion in support to local communities. More than 60
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percent of that has gone into rural B.C. since 2001. Our Towns for Tomorrow program has invested over $50 million in 154 projects in communities under 5,000, and that has been expanded to communities between 5,000 and 15,000.
We provided $2.9 million through the reclamation and prospecting pilot program to help train youth from rural and First Nations communities to be able to be employed with the mining sector. We've committed $2.1 million to the environmental monitor assistant program to help train people in First Nation communities to employ them in the mining sector. The list goes on and on in terms of what we have set up.
When I look throughout the north, we have invested $30 million in a container terminal in Prince Rupert, another $11 million in a runway expansion in Prince George. All of this is designed to be able to create economic opportunity, to create the environment so that people can explore, people can have those things.
Madam Speaker, once again I want to thank him for bringing this issue forward.
D. Donaldson: I want to thank the member for Nechako Lakes for his comments. I acknowledge that he cares about rural revitalization. I don't think he listened to the solutions I put forward. By not talking about a rural B.C. strategy, I think he admitted that this government has no rural B.C. strategy.
Again, I agree with his enthusiasm, and it's just too bad his government doesn't share the enthusiasm for rural B.C. that the member for Nechako Lakes has.
To conclude, for too long rural areas have been viewed by this provincial government as a resource bank where the pattern has been perpetual withdrawal with inadequate reinvestment to ensure long-term viability.
As Dr. Greg Halseth from the University of Northern B.C. writes: "Continuous withdrawals from the resource bank may be undercutting both present and future prospects for development not just in rural areas but provincewide. Having a vision for rural B.C. policy coordination and investment in rural areas is key." I couldn't agree more.
For too long rural areas have been ignored. We do this at our collective peril. We need a rural B.C. strategy. For too long, short-term vision has hindered progress. We must learn from other jurisdictions worldwide about multi-year investment mechanisms and other policy tools. For too long we have not recognized that rural communities drive rural revenues. We need a new focus on social enterprises that keep communities healthy and strong and vital.
That will be the way to the future prosperity for all in this province. That is the kind of leadership we need from government. That is what people in rural B.C. expect. That is what all people in B.C. expect, and that is what members on this side of the House work towards day in and day out.
J. Thornthwaite: I'm speaking today on early learning. Early learning is vital to lifelong success and provides a foundation on which to build individual, social and economic well-being. In fact, there is a very comprehensive document, the 15 by 15: A Comprehensive Policy Framework for Early Human Capital Investment in B.C., of which we were a part. It is noted that although 71 percent of British Columbian children arrive at kindergarten meeting all the developmental benchmarks that they need to thrive, both now and in the future, 29 percent are developmentally vulnerable.
While the poor are more statistically likely to be vulnerable, the majority of the vulnerable children in B.C. reside in the most populous middle class. Early vulnerability is a middle-class problem. It's a social cost, and it's an economic cost, so what can we do?
I believe that we are on the right track. We have made early learning a top priority because we know investments in children benefit us all. The Nobel Prize–winning economist James Heckman has calculated that the return on investment for early childhood learning programs is as high as 8 to 1 — far better than many of the stocks and mutual funds available.
Today one in four children enter kindergarten not developmentally ready to start school. To help preschool-aged children prepare for success in school, the government is investing $43 million to expand the StrongStart B.C. programs. StrongStart is a free, drop-in, early learning program for preschool-aged children accompanied by a parent or caregiver with organized sessions like storytime, play activities and serving a healthy snack.
Currently there are more than 300 StrongStart B.C. programs in operation across B.C., offering early learning opportunities for families and children and those that have not started kindergarten. Currently there are seven StrongStart centres in North Vancouver, including Eastview, Lynnmour, Seymour Heights and Lynn Valley in my riding.
This document, the 15 by 15 document, said that in its 2008 throne speech, the government of B.C. committed to assessing the feasibility of full-day kindergarten for children aged three to five, and they did comment that this was an enormously important development and that the government deserves much credit.
In addition, we are beginning to deliver full-day kindergarten for five-year-olds starting in September 2010 to ensure that our youngest learners get the best possible start in life. We're investing $280 million over three years to support the implementation. All children will have access to full-day kindergarten by September 2011.
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The North Vancouver school district will have 671 all-day kindergarten spots next September, which represents 70 percent of the district's projected kindergarten enrolment. That means that if 220 kindergarten students enrol in French immersion, North Vancouver could accommodate all remaining kindergarteners in all-day K in the program's first year.
We've also provided over $13 million in funding to support 259 family resource programs that offer family development services for families with children zero-to-six years of age. Family resource programs are also known as neighbourhood houses or family places, and they offer prevention-orientated family development services for families and children.
We dedicated over $7 million to the aboriginal early childhood development initiatives. The aboriginal early childhood development initiative is focused on supporting comprehensive, integrated and culturally sustainable, community-based programs in aboriginal communities. We have two in my riding alone — Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nation.
The 15 by 15 report, which I mentioned earlier, is UBC's human learning partnership. It is a collaborative research initiative between researchers at UBC, members of the business community and the provincial government that studies childhood development. We were the first Canadian jurisdiction to implement provincewide HELP early development instrument, a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood survey that assesses children's stated development upon entering kindergarten.
However, we can't do it alone. The document not only notes that we need to shift our public policy to 21st century social and economic issues versus relying on the old postwar thinking where mom stays at home and dad is the sole breadwinner, but we also need to shift our thinking from treating illness after the fact to promoting health from the outset of the human life course.
This research evidence makes clear that this shift will accelerate economic growth over the long term. I note in this document that they have said, "Investment in health and well-being occurs disproportionately in the final years of the life course," and Canada is among a long list of affluent countries that are financing their ballooning elderly populations at the expense of their children.
The province remains committed to the goal of reducing the rate of early childhood vulnerability to 15 percent by 2015, meaning that at least 85 percent of our children would start kindergarten developmentally ready.
The Ready, Set, Learn program. Over the last five years we have provided almost $18 million to operate Ready, Set, Learn, a program helping parents and families prepare their three-year-olds for kindergarten. The Ministry of Education provides resources for these events, including an age-appropriate book for the child, information about school programs and community services, and additional items chosen by the school to influence school readiness. In 2009-2010 over 1,000 public schools were registered to participate in Ready, Set, Learn, including Westview Elementary in North Vancouver.
All-day kindergarten. Our commitment to phase in full-day kindergarten for five-year-olds is another step towards building a strong foundation for lifelong learning and nurturing play-based environments. We have committed $280 million over the next three school years to implement full-day kindergarten for all five-year-olds in British Columbia, and full-day kindergarten will be available for up to half of the children starting school this fall and for every child starting school in September 2011.
Success By 6. Success By 6 helps to ensure that children aged zero to six develop the emotional, social, cognitive and physical skills they need to enter school. Since 2003 we have invested $27 million in Success By 6 initiatives, a community-driven United Way initiative which is dedicated to providing all children with a good start in life. Our recent funding commitment will support all Success By 6 programs.
M. Karagianis: I'm happy to stand and respond today to this topic of early childhood learning because, in fact, the investment in young people from zero to six years of age is probably the most significant and important investment we can make in the province, because a good start in education is something that follows a child right through their entire life and contributes to a future economy that is creative, is vibrant, and that all individuals in the province can participate in.
In listening to the comments made by the previous speaker, it does highlight a couple of very key issues in this age group from zero to six. I think the speaker early in her comments started off to say that poor children are less likely to thrive as well in the education system or to be as prepared for kindergarten.
We again have the very sad distinction in British Columbia of the highest rate of child poverty in Canada for the sixth year in a row, and no significant initiative has been put forth by the government to address that issue. So the overarching influence of child poverty on so many children here in British Columbia will continue to take its toll and will continue to make it difficult for many of those children to be prepared for kindergarten.
I would say that certainly if there's a real commitment from the government to early childhood learning, it has to be in conjunction with a real child poverty reduction plan, and I haven't seen that forthcoming.
I know that the member referred frequently to programs like StrongStart. Again, that fits very closely with this issue of poverty because we know that child poverty is not just restricted to single parents, to specific individuals on income assistance, and that we now
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have the working poor in British Columbia. Poverty has touched on families where both income earners in the family are out working every day, and families are more and more reliant on having both parents out in the workforce.
In fact, the StrongStart program is tailored very specifically for families where a stay-at-home mother — or a guardian or a caregiver of some sort — is available to accompany their child to this program. So really it rules out a very significant number of families.
Those that the member talked about earlier, those poor children who are less ready for kindergarten, in fact, are ruled out by the StrongStart program unless they have the capacity for a parent to accompany them to that program. So it's not as effective a solution, again, as the government has touted.
The member talked about Success By 6. That has been canvassed frequently here in the House recently. We've seen that program cut by 50 percent currently, and the future of that program is definitely in jeopardy. It's not clear what will happen with that. Again, this is a resource that has been reduced, slashed and is disappearing before our very eyes.
The all-day kindergarten which has been brought in — again, a very interesting concept and a very supportable concept, but given what's happened in the rest of the education system, you can't look at it in isolation without knowing that there are huge stresses on the education system as we see school closures, we see school boards in deep deficit situations and having to make very tough choices.
How will these support systems be there for all-day kindergarten? That is not clear, and in fact is at this point, I think, a contributing factor to a government that has said they're in support of early childhood learning but has refused categorically to put the appropriate resources in place.
Coupled with cuts to things like literacy programs and library services, we see that there are less and less options for families. If I continue to go back to the issue that the member introduced early on, which is about poor children being less ready for kindergarten, in fact, the kinds of programs that are available through libraries offer those families a fighting chance to provide the resources to their own children, to make sure that they are ready for kindergarten.
If the government consistently refuses to support the kinds of programs that all families in British Columbia can access, then we are not giving a fair opportunity to many, many families across this province and many of these young people. We are failing that very initial investment, the most important investment in those years zero to six.
I would say that the government talks a good story, but the reality is that we've seen budget cuts here, right now, in this current budget that are defying everything that they claim to be promoting.
J. Thornthwaite: I'd just like to mention the comment on poverty. Yes, it is a significant issue all across Canada, but I've been told that the child poverty rate is now lower in British Columbia than it was when the opposition was in power.
One of the issues that I'd also like to mention and that I had mentioned — just to clarify what I said first — is that the majority of vulnerable children in B.C. reside in the more populous middle class, and early vulnerability is a middle-class problem. What we're trying to do with this government policy is to try to increase and maintain jobs and investment in the province to encourage everyone to have a job. And that, of course, is the most prominent fighter against poverty.
But carrying on about what we're trying to do to assist families and communities and neighbourhoods and also to assist school districts in giving them an option to school closures, we are very, very committed to the neighbourhood learning centres. The government does have a vision, and that vision is to have these community neighbourhood hubs where people can access educational community services under one roof.
The neighbourhood learning centres can include many, many services including child care programs, office space, health care clinics, sports programs, seniors centres, StrongStart centres or family resource centres, and we are developing more of these on a regular basis. I know that there are two that are currently running here in British Columbia right now — Revelstoke and Abbotsford Collegiate being two.
In conclusion, I am a parent. I have three children. I have two children in the school system right now. I recognize the significance of the investment being made in the province for our children's education, and I recognize that the government's program initiatives are vital resources for parents in my riding and across B.C. The commitments to early learning education in this province assure all parents that their children have the opportunities to reach their full potential.
THE VALUE OF RECONCILIATION
B. Simpson: I want to read from a government document to start my comments this morning on the value of reconciliation.
"We are all here to stay. We agree to a new government-to-government relationship based on respect, recognition and accommodation of aboriginal rights and title. Our shared vision includes respect for our respective laws and responsibilities. Through this new relationship, we commit to reconciliation of aboriginal and Crown titles and jurisdictions."
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Noble words but, as we've seen since 2005, as yet unrealized. In fact, it's unfortunate, because this document raised the bar for First Nations' expectations, particularly around their role in shared decision-making and in revenue-sharing — expectations that are now on a collision course with reality.
We've been here before. Up through the 1980s until the late 1980s British Columbia actually had a tacit policy of assimilation and of extinguishment of First Nations rights through basically ignoring the question. We are the province that has the fewest treaties, the fewest agreements with First Nations over unrealized land title and over the First Nations rights and title over their resources.
Through the late '80s more and more First Nations took to direct action and to protests, and as a result, the government had to respond. The Social Credit government at the time formed the B.C. treaty task force, and that task force ended up, through the NDP government that formed after that, in the B.C. Treaty Commission process. I'll have some things to say about a recent report that they issued.
That Treaty Commission has been working away, and we've had a couple of treaties come through this House, but the government's record was to come late to the idea of reconciliation of First Nations rights, was to come late to the whole principle that it is better for us to reconcile, it is better for us to address the legalities and the historical precedents of First Nations rights.
The government evidenced that in their challenge to the Nisga'a treaty. The Crown actually chastised the members who sought a legal route to challenge that treaty by telling them to get back in this House and challenge it in the House, not it in the courts.
The second thing, of course, was the referendum on First Nations, which really exacerbated the situation and inflamed the feelings about First Nations in this province. When the new relationship document came forward — and unfortunately it was done in secret, behind closed doors — it caught people by surprise in '05. It came out, and it created some hope. It created hope within the First Nations leadership, and the First Nations Leadership Council began working with the government to see if they could realize this new relationship and this reconciliation.
Why is it that it's important for us to achieve reconciliation with First Nations? There are a range of reasons for that.
Morally — because we have to get on with it. We have to get on with reconciling the First Nations rights and title in this province. Legally we're required to do it because the courts have indicated time and time again that the government must sit with First Nations and resolve this issue. We've had the most recent court ruling in the William case, where the judge indicated that the courts will end up resolving these if governments cannot do so.
It's also recognized in our constitution. Section 35 of the constitution recognizes First Nation rights and title — that the land rights of First Nations have not in fact been extinguished.
But I wanted to speak about the value from a perspective of economics, because it seems to be what the government understands best. At least, that's what they suggest.
In the new relationship document, the second paragraph speaks about establishing processes and institutions for shared decision-making. It talks about recognizing the inherent right for First Nations community to make decisions as to the use of the land and, therefore, the right to have a political structure for making those decisions.
Now, having the land issue unresolved has started to create some significant problems in achieving prosperity in this province. The government talks about prosperity, but how do we achieve it?
In the throne speech we've got the phrase "one project, one process." We've had a debate in this House about one project, one process. The problem is that that approach flies in the face of the real issue on achieving prosperity — and particularly in the area of mines and mining activity — and that is the unresolved territorial rights of First Nations.
I'd like to read comments from the outgoing Association for Mineral Exploration CEO, Rob Stevens, in response to the minister of state's overenthusiastic suggestions about what's going to happen with mining in this province. Mr. Stevens urged the province to be consistent and timely in consultation with First Nations, particularly regarding development of mineral deposits on land where aboriginals — and this is a direct quote — "have identified a territorial interest."
Mr. Stevens went on to say, and this is a quote: "We think a more active role needs to be taken in that regard…and supporting activities once the permit is in place and to avoid challenges with those projects moving forward once they have legitimately received their permit."
The Premier, under questioning in question period, indicated that no project would go forward — it was with respect to the Enbridge project — with First Nations not involved and First Nations not signing off on those projects. Yet we've seen in two cases — one that particularly speaks to the one-project, one-process problem — the B.C. environmental review process approve certificates over the express protest of First Nations.
In the case of Prosperity, the Tsilhqot'in National Government have indicated that they will not approve that mine, and yet the provincial environmental review process issued a certificate and indicated they saw no problems with that proposal. In the case of Mount Milligan.…
[ Page 4093 ]
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Member.
B. Simpson: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I'll continue after.
R. Cantelon: The member for Cariboo North mentioned that the process, the concept behind reconciliation, is a noble idea. I would support many of the things he said, but it's certainly more than a noble idea. It's now a constitutional imperative for us to move forward and develop reconciliation.
Reconciliation must lead to many things. It must lead to a more formal understanding of how we deal with each other, how we develop economic opportunities among each other, and to move forward in a positive way. In dealing with local First Nations, I think one of the largest expectations…. And I agree that we have created hope, and we must fulfil that expectation of hope and economic opportunity and sharing within each of our individual communities.
I'm not going to try to speak broadly across the province here. We have 203 bands throughout British Columbia, and I would say we have 203 challenges to face in each of these communities.
It's incumbent on the local MLAs, on the local people and the community to reach out to the First Nations in their area and develop more common understanding, to build that very difficult and very tenuous thing called trust between the First Nations' cultures and the European and other cultures. It's very, very difficult. Our history has not been good. The residential schools fiasco — worse than that; it was a tragedy — has certainly distempered the entire discussion.
Recently — and I want to relate to a specific incident — we have a great economic opportunity within Snuneymuxw traditional territory to build a cruise ship terminal. This came to a head, to a crisis. There's no doubt that the Nanaimo Harbour — which is one of the finest harbours in British Columbia, may I add — was the traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw. We've now, in discussions….
When anything is going on in the city of Nanaimo — and I'm sure this is done in many communities now — we immediately acknowledge that this is their traditional territory — in this case of the Snuneymuxw. I'm sure all politicians and all community leaders now recognize that. That didn't happen just a few years ago. So we're moving forward in slow steps, and there's no question that we need to do that.
Again, I share the member for Cariboo North's emphasis on economics, because I think if we can do anything to develop reconciliation, it is to lift the economic opportunity of First Nations.
I want to return to the port authority and the proposed cruise ship terminal. This was developed through a shared vision between the First Nations, the city of Nanaimo, the port authority, the airport commission and, then, Malaspina College — to present a shared vision of how we see the community moving forward. All those groups are to participate.
So here we had an opportunity, a great opportunity, for the shared vision to benefit economically in a very positive way First Nations and the port authority and the greater community. The provincial government funded a share, the port authority funded a share, and the federal government funded a share.
This is to be a cruise ship terminal that will be a great icon for cooperative development within the community, and a great opportunity. We do know that people are looking for cultural tourism and First Nations tourism from places as far away as China.
But it reached an impasse. It was a critical case of people not communicating, that the values and the methods of communication crossed paths. As the Deputy Minister of Infrastructure pointed out, it was like ships passing. They weren't on the same course at all.
But I want to tell you that it can be made to work. I had the opportunity to sit down with the port authority on an Easter Monday, perhaps an appropriate day to spend a couple of hours with them. I then spent a couple of hours with the First Nations, and I am pleased to say that those differences in the eleventh hour were resolved.
I'd like to give you a few comments from the chief. The headline in their release is: "Snuneymuxw First Nation Consents to a Pathway Forward." They look forward to an agreement whereby both parties can share in the economic opportunity that this great development presents.
One of the issues certainly was environmental concerns, and I think that all the community members as well as First Nations share the concerns that the development in the harbour doesn't go forward in a way that harms the traditional fishery of the First Nations. It's certainly a very fertile area for crabbing in this area.
Chief Doug White has said that they're going to have an open process that invites the community in to hear their concerns and share their concerns in a very positive, moving-forward way. He says: "We welcome all the citizens of Nanaimo to give input into our environmental review process." Madam Speaker, I think this is a good example of how things can work and will work.
B. Simpson: I appreciate the member for Parksville-Qualicum's words, but one particular instance does not make the general case, and it's the general case that's the problem. It's the unrealized expectations. It's the raising of the bar from the new relationship and the fact that the government has failed to deliver on that.
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Let me finish with Prosperity in Mount Milligan, because it goes to what the government is doing with their proposed one project, one process — that is, to continue to poke First Nations in the eye over the very issue of unrealized and unrecognized territorial rights.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
In the case of Prosperity, when the government issued its press release approving the environmental certificate, no mention was made of First Nations whatsoever. The government indicated that they saw no problems with that proposal, with the exception of the loss of Fish Lake and Little Fish Lake, which is precisely the issue for First Nations. They have indicated they will never allow that lake to be drained.
Now, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs has jumped into the fray, and Chief Stuart Phillip has indicated that they don't like Taseko's approach. They don't like…. That's the mining company involved.
But the real issue — and I've had this discussion with Taseko — is: where is the Crown? Where is the province of British Columbia in showing leadership? Instead of issuing the environmental certificate, what are they doing to facilitate and actually realize the new relationship and shared decision-making?
So as Mr. Stevens indicated from the association of mining exploration, the province must show more leadership and not attempt to pass the obligation on to the companies. The courts have also agreed with that.
In the case of Mount Milligan, for example, all project approvals have been realized, federal and provincial. Once again, the issue is First Nations rights. Once again, this project will not proceed without the First Nations addressing their issues. One project, one process doesn't do it.
So this government….
B. Simpson: I hear the Environment Minister chipping away. Here's a challenge to the Environment Minister. This government was given a proposal by the First Nations Energy and Mining Council last week. That proposal was for an environmental review process that would meaningfully engage First Nations.
What has the response been from the government? None. What has the response been from this minister and the Minister of State for Mining? "Oh, we're quite happy with the process the way it is," despite the fact that it is causing First Nations to once again, like the late 1980s, take to direct process. Unrealized promise; unrealized potential. Let's get on with reconciliation.
Hon. B. Penner: We're now dealing with private members' motions. I call Motion 4 on the order paper.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, unanimous consent of the House is required to proceed with Motion 4 without disturbing the priorities of motions preceding it on the order paper.
Private Members' Motions
MOTION 4 — trade partnership
with alberta and saskatchewan
D. Horne: I move:
[Be it resolved that this House support the creation of the New West Partnership with Alberta and Saskatchewan which will foster free trade, investment and labour mobility through the development of unified and mutually beneficial purchasing, procurement and licensing opportunities.]
This is consistent with this government's commitment with building stronger trade and building opportunity for British Columbia businesses as outlined in our throne speech in February: "New economic growth and smarter government is at the heart of our new west partnership with Alberta and Saskatchewan. It will build on the success of the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement to foster free trade investment and labour mobility across our three provinces."
[L. Reid in the chair.]
I think it's important to step back and talk about the necessity, the appropriateness and the importance of building trade relationships. As a small economy in the global sense, it's extremely important that we allow our businesses the ability to access larger markets and that we allow our businesses to have the ability to prosper within those markets.
I was actually up in the Okanagan this last weekend celebrating the birthday of the member for Vernon-Monashee and had a wonderful time up there and met with some farmers who had an orchard. They're growing apples.
One of the things that really stood out to me was…. He commented that the entire apple production of British Columbia is about four million bushels. If you take a look at the apple production of Washington, it's about a hundred million bushels. Give or take 5 or 10 percent either way, depending on whether you have a good crop or a bad crop that year…. Ten percent represents more than double the entire production of the province of British Columbia. You look at things like this, you look at the size of these markets and you look at our ability.
Trade agreements. The importance with trade agreements is not only to ensure that we have access to markets but to make sure that the trade and the playing field remain fair.
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We need to put frameworks into place so that when we have difficulties with our trading partners, when we have difficulties with those that we're doing business with, we have a mechanism, a framework, in place in order to be able to address that, in order to be able to take those difficulties, those differences and those problems being faced by our businesses, farmers — those that build the economy of British Columbia and create jobs for all of our citizens — and make sure we're protected.
When we use the word "protection," it's not about protecting and making sure that we close our borders. It's about making sure that we have open opportunity for everyone but that that playing field remains fair and in a position that all can prosper from, obviously, especially those from British Columbia.
You look at the opportunity and what western provinces represent — British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan. Our combined GDP is $555 billion. That's a fairly significant amount. If you take a look at other countries in the world, that would put us in a position fairly high on the order of magnitude with other countries around the world. We're talking about a group that has considerable strength and a group that, working together, does provide a lot of power.
The interesting thing that I always find is when we talk about trade…. We talk about trading with China, or we talk about trading with Russia or with Mexico or with our Latin American friends, our European friends, and the importance of making sure that we have unfettered access to those markets. One of the most unique things about Canada which I always find interesting is that we actually don't have free trade within Canada. We actually have trade barriers today between our provinces.
Our ability to move throughout our country, to move goods and services throughout our country…. Even labour mobility for someone who is of a certain trade or profession — for them to practise in other areas of the country remains a difficulty in many areas. This is something important for us to address. You know, it's one of the things we always say — that it's important to have your own house in order before you go and start telling and working with others.
One of the difficulties right now and one of the things that we have to do over time is we have to continue to make sure that our own house is in order; that we have the ability to trade within the provinces; that we have the ability for labour mobility; that we have the ability to ensure that we can work well as a team and move forward globally and work together; and that, as a province and as a country, we are seen as leaders.
That, I think, is the importance of building these trade arrangements. I think that is the importance of making sure that we have the frameworks in place, the relationships in place, the agreements in place — in order that our province and that our businesses can succeed and can prosper for the future.
B. Ralston: It's my pleasure to rise in response to the motion. What I want to start off by talking about is the premise on which the member opposite bases his remarks.
He did say that we don't have free trade within Canada, if my note is accurate. Professor John Helliwell — a leading economist, as the Finance Minister might refer to him as, at University of British Columbia — was commissioned by the Saskatchewan government to do an analysis of the TILMA arrangement. What he concluded was that entering into TILMA, for Saskatchewan, wouldn't really change economic growth at all.
I'm going to quote from him just so it's accurate. He was specifically addressing the potential gains from entering into TILMA:
"My reason for putting such a small upper bound on possible gains, whether static or dynamic, and how they might be shared or shifted among partner provinces is that the differences between TILMA and the AIT in terms of potential cost reductions is very small, a tiny fraction of the magnitude of what was at stake in the international trade treaties. This is because trade is essentially unfettered already among provinces."That's the quotation, and I want to stress particularly…. And this is, as the Finance Minister likes to say, a leading economist. "This is because trade is essentially unfettered already among provinces." So the idea that there are all these barriers and that this agreement is necessary is just not based in fact.
The second thing is, and it's significant when one looks at the motion…. Historically in Canada, the Prairies have been considered a region — that is, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba — and British Columbia, a separate region. Perhaps notably in the past, W.A.C. Bennett put forward a constitutional proposal which had British Columbia consolidating with the Yukon and the Prairie provinces as one constitutional unit as well. So there's a long tradition.
This motion — for some reason; one can only speculate — excludes Manitoba. One wonders why that might be. Perhaps the government of Manitoba is not, in the partisan lens of the government office, seen as a government that they want to deal with.
What is really striking in talking about creating rough equality between the provinces for the purposes of working together, increasing trade among the provinces, increasing prosperity is that…. It's striking. There is no HST in Alberta. They've never had a sales tax.
The government of Premier Wall in Saskatchewan, after much consideration — and I don't think they've changed their mind at this point — has not brought in an HST in Saskatchewan. The Manitoba government has decided recently not to impose an HST upon their
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citizens. So there seems to be an economic unity between those prairie provinces, and British Columbia is very much out of sync.
One wonders how easy or realistic or practical it will be to fulfil the ambitions set out in this motion when you have three prairie provinces which have a very different tax structure than British Columbia — at least if the legislation passes here in British Columbia, might be here.
I think it's significant looking at what the Minister of Finance in Manitoba said about the economic future of her province. I'm going to quote here: "With the global recession causing so much economic uncertainty for Manitoba families, we don't think it makes sense to impose $405 million in new sales taxes. We are not prepared to risk the economic recovery by undermining Manitoba's growing consumer confidence."
The opportunities are seen by the Minister of Finance in Manitoba as a future without the HST, not to damage the recovery. Manitoba is very competitive by almost all measures — the KPMG studies and a number of other studies — in terms of its general business climate. So there seems to be a real symmetry between those three provinces, and yet British Columbia is out on its own.
This motion — I'm not sure quite what the motivation of it is, but given that radical disparity between the emerging tax structure in British Columbia and the prairie provinces, it seems doomed to failure. Those are among the real concerns that businesses would have in looking forward to economic prosperity across the regions and across the country.
J. Les: I'm pleased to rise this morning for a few moments to discuss this motion, and I commend the member for Coquitlam–Burke Mountain for bringing it forward. Trade policy is obviously fundamental to developing a strong economy, an economy with economic growth prospects.
It has often been a mystery to me why we as Canadians insist on so much balkanization within our own country. It has been said in the past — and I think, to a degree at least, it is still true today — that it is more difficult to trade within our own country than with some international countries abroad. That truly, I think, distinguishes us as Canadians, perhaps not in a very positive way.
We in British Columbia, though, over the last number of years have been taking the lead to ensure that we break down some of those barriers between provinces to enable Canadians to deal with each other on a level playing field and in a way that is conducive to more investment within our country and to more job growth. I think, equally as importantly, it's conducive to ensuring that individual Canadians have choice — choice in where they work, choice in where they invest. I think that is all to the good.
I think the default position should always be to open and free trade between Canadian jurisdictions. It ought not to matter a great deal as to which province exactly you're from. If you're an individual that happens to be living in Ontario and you've been educated as a teacher and you want to come to work in British Columbia, I say, "Welcome to British Columbia," without any further to-do. But in the past those kinds of decisions have been fraught with all kinds of recertification requirements and what have you.
The same is true for people who work in medical professions and others. These are people that we want. These are people that often want to come to British Columbia and have been, in various ways, discouraged from doing so.
Now, the previous member talked about the different regions in this country. While it is true that we geographically have different regions in this country, that doesn't mean, however, that we need to be thinking about the regions specifically in trade or economic terms. We are all Canadians, and we ought to start thinking like Canadians. Although we do have somewhat different tax structures, I am not particularly afraid of that either.
I know that in British Columbia we have the most competitive tax structure in all of Canada. Because of that, we are going to be very well positioned to grow and develop in the future and have more jobs available to British Columbians as a result of those competitive tax structures.
Also, the agreement that was signed with Alberta several years ago — the trade, investment and labour mobility accord…. When that was looked at by the Conference Board of Canada, they suggested that it could result in the net increase of 78,000 additional jobs in British Columbia.
Clearly, I think that people who look at and study these things all agree that when it comes to trade policy, we ought not to be xenophobic. We ought to be open to the world, open certainly to other Canadians, and when we adopt that position, we will prosper.
We saw in the '90s under the Glen Clark government that the isolationism that was in vogue then certainly didn't do British Columbia any good. But we have seen more recently that we are attracting further investment, and importantly as well, British Columbians are seeing investment and employment opportunities in other provinces that are all to the good for us here in British Columbia.
Again, I very much support this motion. I'm glad we've had an opportunity to debate it this morning, and I look forward to further speakers.
D. Black: I'm pleased to have the opportunity to stand and speak to the motion that's been put on the floor this morning.
[ Page 4097 ]
Madam Speaker, it's important to acknowledge that this motion actually follows up on the rejection of TILMA by the Premiers of Canada. Both Saskatchewan and Manitoba rejected TILMA. The Saskatchewan Premier in fact expressed deep concerns about the negative impact on Crown corporations and municipal tax incentives. Premier Wall recently said about this new west partnership: "We have concerns…that remain consistent with us, and I think they will be accommodated." He thinks they will be accommodated.
If the B.C. Liberal government hadn't signed that deal originally behind closed doors, if, like the government of Saskatchewan, the B.C. government had put the agreement out to public consultation, consultation with municipalities — real consultation, real input — B.C. municipalities may have had the opportunity then to address their very valid concerns. In fact, by negotiating this deal in secrecy, it was rejected by the UBCM.
If these agreements were public, if they had the benefit of consultation, then perhaps British Columbians may have had a deal that was negotiated on behalf of British Columbians and a deal that really does respond to B.C. interests.
It was stated earlier by the member for Surrey-Whalley that there are studies that indicate that trade has always flourished between provinces in Canada and that this motion seems sort of oddly out of context with those reports that have been done by noted economists — economists who were noted by our Finance Minister, as a matter of fact.
The biggest interprovincial issue is actually the HST. The HST has been rejected by both Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The Premier of Manitoba said Manitobans would pay an additional $400 million in taxes under a merged GST. In fact, he was quoted recently, saying: "With the global recession causing so much economic uncertainty for Manitoba families, we don't think it makes sense to impose $405 million in new sales taxes. We are not prepared to risk the economic recovery by undermining Manitoba's growing consumer confidence."
That's a direct quote from the Finance Minister in Manitoba. The Saskatchewan Premier said that their government's opposition to the HST remains unchanged.
So while these western governments — all of the other western governments — reject the HST, we've got a government here in British Columbia that promised, only a few short months ago in writing, that there would be no HST only to betray British Columbians and introduce the very tax they promised to avoid.
During economic uncertainty and a fragile recovery here in British Columbia, this government saddles B.C. with an unfair tax that will actually produce less in revenue to government, and it makes absolutely no sense. The kind of leadership we really need from our government in British Columbia is the kind of leadership that works towards a strong economy for everyone in the province.
This government promised to protect education and health care in an election that was held less than a year ago. They promised to improve student aid, but immediately following the election, what have we seen? A government that has betrayed the people of B.C. Huge cuts to student aid. B.C. students carry the highest debt load in Canada. They are actually mortgaging their future.
Deputy Speaker: Member, I would bring you back to the motion under debate.
D. Black: Thank you, Madam Speaker.
The government has actually flatlined funding for post-secondary education, and that relates to this motion, because what we really need to see in B.C. is a government that's committed to the new economy in British Columbia — a knowledge-based economy. We need a government that will fund post-secondary education at the level it needs to be, look towards research and development in order to be players and to ensure that British Columbia is part of a new knowledge-based economy.
We know that the interprovincial trade is ongoing. We need to acknowledge in B.C. the changing nature of the B.C. economy. The losses in B.C.'s forest sector, which was once the backbone of our economy, are actually staggering. This kind of agreement is going to do nothing to change that. The government has failed the very heartland of British Columbia that they promised in early years to protect.
The motion before us seems to be innocuous enough. I'm not sure what it is intended to accomplish, whether it will in fact accomplish anything, but I really urge this government to look ahead, to look to the changing economy in British Columbia and to fund the kind of research developments so that we do move ahead in B.C. to a knowledge-based economy that works for the benefit of all British Columbians. Thank you very much.
D. Hayer: I support my colleague from Coquitlam–Burke Mountain's motion for the creation of the new west partnership with Alberta and Saskatchewan to foster free trade, investment and labour mobility within British Columbia and those two western provinces.
This motion builds on a promise that our government made February 14 in the throne speech that the new west partnership will generate new economic growth. It only makes sense to work cooperatively with western provinces, our partner provinces, to unify beneficial purchasing, procurement and licensing opportunities. That will save money for all of our constituents and all our residents.
The world and Canada have endured a remarkable economic downturn over the past 18 months or so. The
[ Page 4098 ]
only way to grow and return to the financial success we all enjoyed for so long is to rebuild our economy. Building a better and strong economy is one of the best ways to get things going, and one of the best ways to make sure the economy is strong is to remove the barriers and to promote free trade internally in our nation.
Those steps were begun last fall when our cabinet joined the two western provinces at a joint meeting and signed the western economic partnership. The deal will now be called the new west partnership, and it's built on TILMA, the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement that was signed in April 2006 and that took full force on April 1, 2009, between B.C. and Alberta.
Following the B.C. and Alberta lead, AIT, an agreement on internal trade, was signed on December 8 between all provinces and territories to establish full labour mobility under the agreement on internal trade. This new AIT labour mobility provision came into force on April 1, 2009, which allows people with specific professions and occupational certifications in one province or territory to be recognized as qualified to practise their profession in all provinces and territories in Canada where that practice is registered and regulated across Canada.
The new partnership creates the largest barrier-free trade and investment market in Canada, if not North America, resulting in unprecedented economic partnership representing a total of nine million people with a combined GDP of $555 billion.
This partnership will enhance competitiveness, economic growth and stability, increase opportunities and choices for workers and consumers, investors and businesses, and reduce costs to the consumers, businesses and government for more development that is sustainable and environmentally sound, with high levels of consumer protection and health and labour standards. It supports ongoing trade and investment liberalization, both nationally and internationally.
This means for investors, for businesses, for job creation, the region will be seen as one providing a more attractive environment to build and grow business and create jobs. The partnership will also give workers and business across the region a level playing field, allowing greater opportunity and more choices to grow, to move and to succeed.
This partnership will remove unnecessary barriers, reduce costs and improve competitiveness for business and benefit consumers. By removing the trade barriers, by removing differences in government standards and regulation across the three western provinces, making sure that red tape and differences are eliminated in the trade barriers, this partnership is a smarter way of providing government, which will improve dramatically the opportunity for economic recovery.
I also like that this partnership is designed to be inclusive. Our government is urging the federal government and all other provinces and territories to join in by removing unnecessary internal trade barriers, duplication and red tape.
I fully support the way this will improve our economy. It will be beneficial to all British Columbians and all the people who live in the west. It will create more and secure jobs and maintain a financial climate that allows families to prosper.
In addition, a strong, productive, competitive economy allows the government to address pressing social issues. So we need this agreement. This partnership creates those opportunities. It will allow all small business in B.C. greater access to government and public procurement contracts in western provinces, including Crown corporations, provincial ministries, municipalities, school boards and hospitals. B.C. professionals and businesses will have a greater opportunity to bid on government jobs and contracts in the western provinces.
Madam Speaker, I understand I'm running out of time. There are many other speakers who want to speak on this. I fully support this motion. I know at the end of the day, the opposition will also support this motion — this free trade agreement within western Canada.
J. Kwan: Well, I rise to enter into this debate, and I find there are a couple of points interesting to me. Let me just outline them for you, Madam Speaker.
You know, the motion has been put forward by the government members. As we speak, actually…. As we know right now, Saskatchewan actually has not signed on to this deal, much to the government's touting of this agreement, and notwithstanding the fact that on this notion of this new west partnership with the western region we're missing one particular region named Manitoba.
If you want to talk about balkanizing — the member for Chilliwack said earlier that somehow he didn't understand why provinces like to balkanize — I would suggest that this might be an example of it.
Even if you went the route of choosing a regional, a western region, sort of approach to it, selecting certain provinces and not others — when clearly Manitoba is part of the western provinces — is mystifying. There's only one explanation to that — only one explanation. What would that be? Oh, that would be because Manitoba doesn't support this approach. That's why. In fact, Manitoba proposed a different approach. They actually proposed a national strategy.
Now, how about that? How about a national strategy on the notion of not balkanizing? Here we have the member for Chilliwack saying, "Gee, I don't know why provinces like to balkanize. But we like to select certain provinces as part of the western region" — not to balkanize though, because Manitoba is not part of it, and
[ Page 4099 ]
not to actually sign on to and go and support a national strategy and to actually put the effort into that instead. Wouldn't that be not balkanizing?
Not according to this group of government members, I guess. Their definition of balkanizing is their own definition, because it fits their political agenda. That's what it is, and that's what it's all about. That's what this motion is all about.
Then we just touch on another point — on the issue of process. Now, members around this House would have remembered those days. I'm sure you would remember, Madam Speaker. What about all those open cabinet meetings? "Oh, well, you know, we've got to be open, transparent and accountable and show the world what we're doing."
There was this whole charade about open cabinet meetings. Then what happened here? Those open cabinet meetings are now long gone. Not that when they were having open cabinet meetings that they were worth the salt anyway, because they were all rehearsed meetings.
Notwithstanding that, we have this process here of Alberta and Saskatchewan going behind closed doors with the Premier and his cabinet here in B.C., behind closed doors to talk about this deal. Now, you've got to ask the question: what was the government trying to hide?
They say they support trade, that they want to remove barriers and that they're proud of the process of engaging in that. Why wouldn't they do that in an open cabinet meeting? Show the world. Talk to the world. Tell British Columbians what they're up to. But oh no, they couldn't do that. They couldn't do that, not at all.
Then they go and negotiate a deal behind closed doors. Guess what. They only actually jeopardized their own action, because it caused British Columbians — and rightfully so — the municipal leaders, the UBCM, the local governments to reject TILMA, and that is what this agreement is supposed to be building on. They rejected it. Why? Because this government chose to hide behind closed doors. They choose not to have an open, accountable and transparent process.
Had the government engaged in that, who knows? The UBCM might well have supported TILMA and might well have supported this agreement. They might even have some good suggestions for the government to consider, that they might actually want to accommodate to ensure that British Columbians' interests are incorporated.
Well, how about that for a change — open, accountable and consultative with local governments and local authorities, where these kinds of agreements would actually impact them? No, not at all. Not with this group of government MLAs, and not with the Liberal government. No, siree. They cannot engage in that kind of process.
Hence, we have this situation today. Since the announcement of the process back in March of 2009, we have an agreement that's not been signed, even though the government likes to tout how great it is and so on. The agreement is not signed, and Saskatchewan maintains concerns and issues, and raises concerns about this agreement. So much for openness and accountability. So much for promoting free trade and mobility, and what's in the best interests of British Columbia.
J. McIntyre: I'm delighted to be able to rise in my place here to speak to Motion 4, and I would actually like to speak to the motion before us. Somehow there seems to be a disconnect between this side of the House and that side of the House, because they're talking about open cabinet meetings, HST and whatever. I thought we were talking about a western partnership. I don't know whether I didn't get the memo, or what.
With that, I of course support this motion. It ultimately speaks to building an even stronger economy in British Columbia. We have a situation where you can clearly see that the economic power in this country is migrating west. The resource-based economies of our three western provinces have products that the world is demanding more and more. We have a potential to become a genuine western powerhouse.
We're operating in a global economy. Canada itself is a small partner in this, and B.C. is even smaller. We need to band together, to get rid of interprovincial barriers that are keeping us less competitive and less productive.
As many have said before me, it's easier to deal north-south on this continent than it is east-west, and that's not right. We have a major initiative of this government, the Pacific Gateway. It's as important to British Columbia and especially to Canada as the St. Lawrence Seaway was to Canada when they opened trade to Europe in the '50s. We have increased potential to be shipping Saskatchewan's potash and Alberta's oil and gas products through B.C. ports to the fastest-growing economies in the world: China and India. Alberta's economy is in pipe. They need access to world markets.
And what do we have? The Port of Prince Rupert, which is the closest port to Asia after Vancouver — both of them well ahead of and more efficient than the U.S. ports on the Pacific Rim. We have a $150 million investment by CN in the Port of Prince Rupert.
Those are jobs in a rural economy. Those are the jobs that the NDP purport to support. No, what do they do? They oppose all of these kinds of programs. They oppose these things that are designed to boost economic development in rural areas of our province like green power production and HST.
When the new west is aligned, we can operate as a single economic region with a combined GDP of $555 billion and nine million people. In my four years at
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PNWER and my time in Intergovernmental Relations, I had firsthand experience of the power of regional solutions for national issues and national problems. We worked on economic and environmental stability in the region through the Western Climate Initiative.
We were working on things like carbon capture storage, the research and development with pilots that are going on in Alberta and a pilot between Saskatchewan and North Dakota. We worked on the enhanced driver's licence that would mitigate against the thickening of our borders with the U.S. I got to see firsthand Saskatchewan's interest in joining PNWER and then in joining the joint cabinet meetings we had with Alberta.
I would also like to speak very briefly on the benefits of TILMA. Much has been said about that this morning. That is between Alberta and British Columbia. It removed costly barriers to investment, increased mobility of skilled workers and allowed for greater consistency in recognizing foreign credentials for workers between our two provinces.
We created the second-largest economy at that stage with $5 billion additional to our GDP and 77,000 jobs. We had 225 companies that have now registered to do business in Alberta, so we've been expanding business opportunities for our British Columbia businesses.
Businesses registered in one province are automatically registered in the other, saving lots of time and effort and dollars with unnecessary regulation and red tape. The most important thing is that the health, environmental and safety standards were all maintained, contrary to what the NDP would have you believe.
I'd also like to talk about the agreement on internal trade. That is the agreement that all provinces were signatories to. All of this morning, I don't think I've heard it mentioned once by members of the other side. They are focusing on all sorts of things that were not even related to the topics, but they don't admit and tell British Columbians that provinces like Manitoba and Saskatchewan, which, for some reason, they've been focusing on this morning — guess what — are signatories to the agreement on internal trade.
It was B.C. that led the charge on that agreement. In fact, we recently became the first province to introduce legislation to establish labour mobility for skilled and certified workers right across Canada. Under the new AIT labour mobility chapter, all nurses, teachers and other professionals who are recognized in other provinces will be free to practise anywhere in Canada, as they should. We now have a much more level playing field.
There are obvious benefits to an economic partnership. Procurement. We've B.C. businesses getting greater access to all government contracts. We've got volume purchasing for supplies and equipment. We've got licensing — you know, ease of licensing with skilled certified employees having greater mobility.
There are also other benefits from this economic partnership. We can fight together for open skies. We can lobby together with a much bigger, louder voice about things that will help the western economies through tourism. Justice issues. We've got health, volume buying for drugs and things like that — all sorts of benefits of a western partnership.
In summary, this makes so much sense. In short, increased opportunities and choice for workers, consumers and investors; decreased costs for consumers, business and government; increased productivity; more attractive for foreign investment and job creation; more clout in our Canadian federation; driving Canada's economic growth. This is a win-win for British Columbia.
B. Simpson: To the member's comments from North Vancouver–Seymour, where she wasn't quite sure why we were talking about Manitoba and Saskatchewan, it's because it's the western partnership which involves Saskatchewan and….
B. Simpson: Sorry, I got the wrong…. My mistake, my error. Anyway, the member who just spoke.
One of the things that I am curious about, as I listen to the government members speak about this, is how a western partnership avoids balkanization. The members over there keep mixing up Canada-wide trade agreements, Canadian free trade, with trade with Alberta or a western trade arrangement.
The logic would hold that if you're only going to do an agreement with Alberta and try and get free trade with Alberta, or you're only going to do a western partnership, you're still balkanizing Canada. I'm not quite sure how the argument for going down this path is an argument against balkanization. You're still proceeding in that fashion. As our member, the Finance critic, pointed out, leading economists have indicated that we have free trade in Canada already.
What is it we're attempting to accomplish? Well, I think one of the debates that we need to have in this House or in committee at some point is the whole role that trade agreements play in the global economy, but as the spinoff in our social systems, in how we treat the environment and how we treat individuals.
It's easy to argue, and it's easy to see, as we've seen in the global meltdown, that trade agreements are culpable in what's happening, in what we're seeing with the loss of the middle class, in what we're seeing with the degradation of the environment, in what we're seeing with the increasing poverty. Free trade agreements, under the guise of increasing prosperity and increasing competitiveness, are actually the way that we have engaged in the race to the bottom.
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In order to achieve free trade over the last number of decades, we have given up much of the progress we have made on employment standards. We have given up much of the progress we've made on quality workplaces and safe workplaces. We have given up on environmental standards. We have lost good-quality, paying jobs that supported families for the long term and substituted those with service sector jobs, part-time jobs and self-employment.
If free trade is going to continue on that path of globalization, the question that needs to be answered is: prosperity for whom and competitiveness at what cost?
As we talk about freeing trade further with Alberta and with Saskatchewan, I think one of the reasons why this government won't take that out to public debate — and we've raised that over and over in this House and out in the public — is that they're afraid to hear from the public that they don't want us to continue in the race to the bottom. They are afraid that TILMA is a continuation of the erosion of environmental standards, workplace standards and regulatory ability for government.
That's precisely why the Saskatchewan Premier has indicated that he's not interested in TILMA, because he's afraid of that exact thing. He's afraid that in order to sign on to this, he will have to give up the sovereignty of Saskatchewan to determine what quality workplaces look like, to determine environmental standards, to determine what role government plays in stimulating the Saskatchewan economy. That's precisely why Premier Wall has indicated that he is very concerned about the TILMA approach to so-called free trade in the western provinces.
Again, as we've raised, Saskatchewan has not signed on to this. It was promised that they would sign on in January.
Once again we have from this government a catchphrase brought into this House — words that suggest that TILMA has realized all kinds of things already and which are not substantiated. If the government wants to substantiate that, bring the report forward. Bring the report forward that substantiates that TILMA has benefited British Columbia and in what way.
Theoretically, making trade freer, if it's necessary, seems on the surface to be a good thing, but there are many traps, and we've been in that place already. Here's an example. Freeing trade with Alberta, which is a powerhouse in ranching, may actually undermine — and our local ranchers are concerned about that — small-production ranchers.
As the Ranching Task Force pointed out, 97 percent of all ranches in British Columbia are in the small- and medium-sized range, and of that, 64 percent of those small- and medium-sized ranches account for all of the farm cash receipts. Those individuals are often trying to grow the local economy. They're often trying to make sure they maximize the local potential of their beef production.
They have a fundamental question: if we open up and take away any barriers, if we make sure that Alberta has complete access to our marketplace, will that hurt them? It's an open question. Why is that an open question? Because this government refuses to go and consult with the people of British Columbia.
Therefore, if we want to have this kind of approach, let's go talk to the people of B.C. Let's see if it's something they want. We may very well hear what Premier Wall has heard from the people of Saskatchewan: "No, thank you very much." In which case, this government has an obligation to respond to the people of British Columbia and not to their own spin doctors over in public affairs.
S. Cadieux: I'm pleased to — I was going to say "stand" — be here in support of this motion today and take my place in the debate. I think we're missing the point here. At the same time, I think it's clear that the debate is once again laying out the fundamental differences between this side of the House — our entrepreneurial nature, our ability to represent businesses, small business people who know about the necessary role of competition and of risk in successful business — and that side of the House, which is scared of progress, scared of change, scared of competition, scared of anything that doesn't first start with the singing of Kumbayah.
This is about diversifying our economy. This is about removing barriers and allowing businesses and trade to be freely interacted between our provinces, just as we are often much more able to do with other parts of the world. We're looking at building on agreements that we already have in place with B.C. and Alberta, a new partnership that will create a larger, broader, interprovincial trade agreement.
This isn't about picking and choosing. It's about taking a step. It's about leading. It's about saying: "We know this is the right direction to go. This is the right direction for Canada as a whole. We're happy to talk to any province that wants to move forward on this initiative. We'll continue to work with the federal government and all of the partners, moving forward."
We need to take a serious look and recognize that we have a very strong economic foundation in the west. We have an opportunity to continue to move forward with a framework for collaboration and innovation. We need to make sure that we can keep an open, efficient, stable marketplace for our businesses and for the people that are employing the people of British Columbia.
We need to make sure that we have opportunities for choice for workers and consumers and investors. We need to make sure that we are continually reducing the cost of those operations so that they continue to thrive
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and continue to take risk and move their businesses forward.
We are really remiss if we don't recognize that non-tariff barriers are a real cost. The Conference Board of Canada survey in June 2005 indicated that the majority of Canadian companies felt negatively affected by interprovincial barriers, and those things included standards, regulation, licensing requirements and labour mobility.
The vast majority of Canadian companies feel that they are limited in their operations and their ability to compete, but we shouldn't address that? That's ridiculous. The standard of living and opportunities available for British Columbians are dependent on being productive and on having a free economy.
The NDP would like to continue to support protectionist ideology and build a wall around the province. They seem to completely ignore the fact that the agreement on interprovincial trade that all of the provinces and territories signed onto is what we're talking about today.
It's moving forward on those types of relationships and moving forward step by step, because we know in British Columbia that we have what it takes to lead the country. We know that in British Columbia we have the economy that is opening up to the Asia-Pacific. It is why we are faring better through this recession than anywhere else.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
It's also about recognizing that when there is a recession and when things happen…. In any economy, there are ebbs and flows in terms of what jobs are needed, where and when. What we need to do is to make sure that people can find work when and where they need to, because keeping people employed is the fundamental way that we keep our economy strong, keep our families strong and keep our social services strong.
I can't believe that we're hearing from the other side that we should make sure that only British Columbians can work in British Columbia. I think that means that no British Columbians can work outside of British Columbia, and I think that's ridiculous.
You know, we also heard this morning one member from the opposition talk about how the HST — which I wasn't sure we were talking about, but anyways — will erode consumer confidence. In reality, consumer confidence in B.C. right now is 28.6 percent above the Canadian average. Why? Why is that the case? Because in British Columbia we know what it takes to have a strong economy, we know what it's going to take to lead Canada's economy through the future, and we're moving forward with those initiatives.
G. Gentner: I take my place to address the motion as delivered by the MLA for Coquitlam–Burke Mountain. You know, this is the same old song that's been sung many times in this Legislature. Way back in 2006, I believe, the government was making mention of a new agreement — the TILMA. We heard it over and over again in 2007. It's been addressed in this House in 2008 and in 2009 leading up to the election.
It seems to be the task of this government to bring forward old, tired-out positions — brought forward sort of through a napkin and reintroduced over and over again — because they're void of any new positions. There's a vacuum over there. They are empty. We've heard it before.
You know, the agreement's been in place, we hear, so why are you bringing it forward? It's regurgitating it. They're bringing it up over and over again, and I have to say that it doesn't taste the same the second time. It just doesn't work. It's stale. We're waiting for some innovation from over there, but it's not going to come. It's a tired-out, old regime.
I think it's time that we find a new beginning in this province of B.C. that will certainly look at interprovincial trade, that will deal with internal trade — not the trading off or the jockeying for a new cabinet position. That's what's happening here today. That's what's happening here. We should be talking about how we create better relationships with our provincial friends.
We hear: "Well, let's not talk about the HST." Well, HST has a very incremental linkage to how we trade. Tell that to the Fernie small business guy who has to now charge 12 percent for selling a bicycle, or a restaurateur who lives in Sparwood and now has to charge 12 percent on a meal while only 73 kilometres away, in Pincher Creek, Alberta, you can go buy your bike at the Wal-Mart or the Costco. Tell that to the merchant there.
Or you know, Tim Hortons doughnuts. I can see them all lining up on the other side, in Alberta, because it's cheaper to get your Timbits on the other side. That's real good trading, isn't it? You're really going to chase them all away over to the other side of the Rocky Mountains. There's no HST there. There's no provincial tax. The Timbit trail.
At least Ontario is giving the exemption, to $4, to those who buy at Tim Hortons — under $4. But not these guys, not this organization across the way.
I know time is expiring, and I want to talk to you about, quickly, what it's going to do to my community — deregulation. We saw what happened with the B.C. Rail situation, with the derailments, when it moved over to the federal jurisdiction. You know, not one glove fits all. They went ahead and sold it off.
They thought they could run a railway in the same way they can in the rest of Canada. In B.C. the train's quite a bit different. In B.C., you know, we have regulations relative to trucks and how we regulate that.
What does it all mean? Are we going to now see that LCVs — longer combined vehicles — are going to find
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a way on the Rocky Mountain doubles coming on this side because we've now deregulated? Are we going to see more and more — or the lack of — proper regulations of trucks that are now going to be following a new type or set of rules?
We have a whole different train on this side than the prairies. You think you're going to be able to sort of wash your hands and deregulate in such a way that there'll be nothing left. This is British Columbia. We have some standards that we want to hold to.
You know, we can't even look after the types of regulations of those who are involved in the trucking industry in my community. Their overall failure rate was 28 percent who couldn't even get through an enforcement blitz, a three-day situation. Now they're going to deregulate it again, and we're going to find trucks are coming through this province, larger trucks that follow the regulation standards of Alberta.
This is a different province, and yes, we've got to work together. We've got to make sure internal trade works. We also have to respect the fact that British Columbia has some very dear and important regulations. We'll do everything we can to ensure that that will be encouraged.
P. Pimm: I wasn't sure if I was going to get an opportunity to speak to this new west partnership or not. I know I don't have very much time, so I'm going to cut it back from what I had virtually planned.
It's very interesting to listen to the opposition and to see how they would like to put the borders and the barriers on our province and to just deal within the province. I don't know how that can benefit anybody. I can tell you that in our area in the late 1990s businesses and corporations were moving out of British Columbia faster than you could count them, in our area especially.
Now we actually have an opportunity to deal with this agreement, and it follows suit on TILMA. It actually allows businesses to move back and forth between the provinces and allows mobility of employees to do the same thing. Certainly, along those same lines, you're going to look after your locals as well. That's all part and parcel. You're going to have some open processes, and that's definitely…. The member for Chilliwack, my counterpart, said the same sort of thing. You're going to look after that sort of thing.
The other thing that I really want to touch on a little bit, and I'm going to change to it in a little bit, is: I want to go back to taxes, the taxes in 2001. Nobody's talked too much about it, but our taxes were so high in 2001 that it was absolutely chasing businesses away from here by the droves.
Small business was 4.5 percent in 2001. It's 2.5 percent now. It's going to be going down to zero. Those are the kinds of things that actually attract businesses. That's what gets corporations back in your communities. That's what gets the mills and gets the lumber industry back on track. Those are the kinds of things that you have to do. You have to make it an attractive climate for your locals, for your corporations so that they can provide some jobs so that your locals can go to work.
In 2001, 35 percent higher in every tax bracket — that's what British Columbia was, even when you compare it to our first province to the east, Alberta. Today we're equal to or better than that in every category, and I have to think that that is a major, major component in getting B.C.'s economy back on track.
Noting the hour, Mr. Speaker, I'll stop there. I think that's probably enough.
P. Pimm moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. P. Bell moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 this afternoon.
The House adjourned at 11:59 a.m.
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