2010 Legislative Session: Second Session, 39th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Volume 14, Number 2
Holocaust Memorial Day
Hon. G. Campbell
Hon. G. Campbell
Introductions by Members
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Nisga'a final agreement
Archie Browning Sports Centre
Wheelchair basketball tournament
Early childhood development
Achievements of Vernon athletes
Election campaign materials
Matters under police investigation not subject to debate
Resignation and replacement of Solicitor General
Hon. G. Campbell
Forests Ministry staff reduction and forest industry in B.C
Hon. P. Bell
Impact of harmonized sales tax on landlords and tenants
Hon. C. Hansen
Royal Inland Hospital sterilization unit
Hon. K. Falcon
High school child care programs for student parents
Hon. M. Polak
Hon. M. Stilwell
Orders of the Day
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 9 — Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act (continued)
Hon. M. McNeil
Hon. I. Black
Hon. J. Yap
S. Chandra Herbert
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Housing and Social Development (continued)
Hon. R. Coleman
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TUESDAY, APRIL 13, 2010
The House met at 1:34 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
holocaust memorial day
Hon. G. Campbell: Today we remember more than six million victims of the Holocaust, and as we say that number, let's remember that that's six million people who were mothers and sisters, brothers and fathers and, more importantly than all of that, 1.5 million children.
The Holocaust really did damage for generations, damage that we cannot forget. Men, women and children were victims of racism and intolerance, victims of the darkest evil. Today we honour those who have survived and pledge to them that we will shine the light of education and always remember.
In the gallery today, Hon. Speaker, we're honoured to be joined by survivors of the Holocaust and the family of survivors: Zev Bak, Sofia Bassina, Nikki Basuk, Bob Boekbinder, Susi Deston, Peter Gary, Benji Gorodnitsky, Janushka Jacoubovitch, Katusha Khmelnitsky, David Kirk, George Pal, David Reed, John Sitwell, Raya Sitwell, Gerald Stanford, Jacob Wardy, Anna Abramsky, Michael Abramsky, Ethel Bellows, Amalia Boe-Fishman, Rita Chapiro, Raisa Chudnovsky, Yacov Chudnovsky, Sofie Cymbalista, Arieh Engelberg, Sarah Engelberg, Izzy Fraeme, Margaret Fraeme, Jack Fraeme, Arkady Gofshtein, Asia Gofshtein, Esfira Golgher, Vladimir Hopner, Estika Hunning, Esfir Kiss, Robert Krell, Sarah Mandelbaum, Lola Mendelson, Jeffrey Milton, Greta Milton, Joseph Polisky, Alla Polisky, David Riefman, David Schaffer, Sidi Schaffer, Iackvov Sitchine, Louise Stein Sorensen, Benno Strummer, Elizabeth Vitkov, Arkavy Vitkov, Leo Vogel, Louie Adell, George Wertman and Frieda Wertman.
We honour your experience. We mourn your sacrifices and, in doing so, reaffirm our collective commitment to remember and to educate and to never waver in our condemnation of hatred and violence. We will never forget.
We live in a great country that is multicultural, that is open and that says to the people of the world: "You are welcome to join us as we build a better future for our children. You have come to us. You have joined us. You have strengthened us."
We will not forget. We will remember, and in remembering, we will temper our own actions and ensure that we are a reflection of the human spirit that's reflected in each of you and survivors around the world.
Hon. G. Campbell: I'm honoured to rise today to recognize Vaisakhi. It is my pleasure to offer greetings to the Sikh community on this holy day. More than 20 million Sikhs worldwide celebrate Vaisakhi, including 165,000 here in British Columbia. Commemorating the 311th anniversary of the Sikhs' initiation of the Khalsa, the celebration of Vaisakhi is a testament to British Columbia's rich cultural diversity.
For over a century the Sikh community has contributed to British Columbia in many ways and in all walks of life. I'd like to offer our thanks for everything that the Sikh community has done to help shape and build the province of British Columbia and our country.
I hope the coming year will be filled with prosperity, health and happiness, and I'm sure all the members of the Legislature join me in saying Lakh Lakh Vadhai.
H. Lali: I, too, would like to join the Premier in wishing all Sikhs and Punjabis all across the province a happy Vaisakhi as well.
Introductions by Members
H. Lali: Also, I have an introduction to make. I don't know if they've made their way into the galleries yet, but we have some of my constituents here touring the Legislature today. From the Lytton Kumsheen Elementary-Secondary School we have 30 students here, along with their teacher Mr. Ken Pite. Would the House please join me in giving all of my constituents who are here touring the precincts a warm Victoria welcome.
S. Simpson: I'm really pleased. Today in the precincts are a couple of my constituents, Tina Atva and Bob Heilker. They're here joining us today. We had lunch. They won a silent auction item through the community policing centre in Hastings, and the opportunity was to come over and have some lunch, visit Victoria and spend some time here watching us perform. So I would hope that people will make Tina and Bob very welcome.
P. Pimm: It's not often I get a chance to introduce any guests from the north, but today I have the honour of introducing some constituents from my riding. Bruce Ross and his wife, Shannon, are here to join us today. Earlier their son Ryan and his wife, Dayna, along with their child Ainsley were here in the precinct. So I'd like to get the House to help me give them a warm northern welcome.
V. Huntington: It is a pleasure indeed to welcome to this chamber a group of special guests from Delta South. They are 32 of the civics 11 students from Delta Secondary
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School in Ladner, taught in two classes by their teacher, Mr. John Powell. In fact, Mr. Powell's classes are believed to be the largest in our entire province.
I had the wonderful opportunity of visiting their civics classes last fall when they were preparing for a mock parliamentary session. They held a question-and-answer session with me, demonstrating a keen interest in politics and politicians, with their refreshing, relevant and very probing questions.
I hope that today they enjoy witnessing our version of parliamentary democracy, and I ask this House to join with me in extending them a warm welcome.
G. Gentner: In the gallery today is Sheryl Seale, who is my CA, a shop steward, a radio producer, a program director and, on occasion, even a broadcaster. Could the House please make her welcome.
(Standing Order 25B)
NISGA'A FINAL AGREEMENT
C. James: I rise today to commemorate a historic moment in B.C. history and in Canada's history. Ten years ago today the Parliament of Canada passed the Nisga'a Final Agreement Act, setting out the rights of the Nisga'a Nation. For the Nisga'a, as we know, this moment was more than a hundred years in the making and a long journey towards reconciliation and justice.
In 1887 the Nisga'a chiefs travelled to Victoria to press for treaties and self-government. They were barred from entering this Legislature. British Columbians will always remember the day that the Nisga'a leadership returned to Victoria. At the foot of this very building, where they were turned away more than a hundred years before, they were greeted by the Premier of the day and granted ceremonial entrance to these buildings — granted entrance through the doors reserved only for the representatives of Her Majesty the Queen.
On that day Chief Joe Gosnell, president of the Nisga'a Tribal Council and lead negotiator for the Nisga'a people, stood at the Bar and addressed this House. He called the Nisga'a Treaty "a triumph…for all British Columbians and a beacon of hope for aboriginal people" across the world.
"To us," he said, "a treaty is a sacred instrument. It represents an understanding between distinct cultures and shows a respect for each other's way of life. We know we are here for a long time together. A treaty stands as a symbol of high idealism in a divided world. That is why we fought so long and so hard."
He said: "I have been asked: 'Has it been worth it?' Yes, I say, a resounding yes."
I hope all members of this House will join me in celebrating this anniversary, this historic moment for the Nisga'a people and for all British Columbians.
G. Hogg: We live in a society where everyone has the right to be respected and the responsibility to respect others. Studies tell us that three of the most difficult challenges which we face are returning love for hate, admitting that we are wrong and including the excluded. Humankind has a history of difficulty accepting those who are different from us, of including everyone.
In our schools and in our workplaces, bullies exist. Some even thrive. We must raise awareness of their existence. Awareness alone will not mean change, but it is a step towards change, and we have made great strides forward.
Bullying occurs when a person or group repeatedly tries to harm a person who is weaker than them. April 14 is Anti-Bullying Day in British Columbia. We are asked to wear pink to raise consciousness and to remind ourselves and our province that we must take action, because up to one-third of today's youth live with daily fear of having to face a bully at school.
Ninety percent of those who get picked on report that it affects them greatly — emotionally, mentally and physically. And 85 percent of teen bullying occurs when other teens are present. They and we can make a difference.
We can watch for bullying and for those being bullied, we can report it, and we can speak out against it. We can talk about examples of bullying and help others to understand the impact of bullying, and we can celebrate the efforts being made to build communities that foster respect, fairness, equity and compassion. Together we can make a difference with respect to bullying.
ARCHIE BROWNING SPORTS CENTRE
M. Karagianis: Archie Browning lived in Esquimalt. He was a police officer and an exceptional athlete who was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. He spent many days and nights at the Esquimalt Sports Centre, which was built in 1961. Unfortunately, Archie died in 1989 at 62 years of age. Just two years later, however, the community honoured him by officially renaming the facility he so loved as the Archie Browning Sports Centre.
When the building was threatened in 2007 with closure, the community rallied, and the Friends of Archie Browning Sports Centre society was quickly formed. The friends mobilized support, made the future of the centre a municipal election issue and saved the facility. Not only that, they played a key role in the initiative to seek funding for its continued survival.
Last September the centre was chosen to receive nearly $2 million from the Building Canada fund. The money will be well used to help repair the roof and install new
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ventilation and heating systems, along with other architectural, structural and mechanical upgrades.
With more than 30,000 square feet of indoor floor space, the Archie Browning Sports Centre is an exceptional venue for large events. The multi-use facility includes an NHL-size ice arena, a six-sheet curling rink, a lounge and a banquet room. In the cooler months the Archie Browning is the place for hockey, curling, figure skating, speed skating and broomball. The summer is the dry-floor season with lacrosse, ball hockey and roller hockey — when roller hockey takes over.
It's a cornerstone of the community and a place of pride, more than ever before. I hope that members here will join me in recognizing the exceptional efforts of the Friends of Archie Browning Sports Centre — the best friends an endangered building ever had.
WHEELCHAIR BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
D. Horne: During the break week, last Sunday, April 4, I had the pleasure of attending the 2010 Canadian Wheelchair Basketball open club finals hosted by the B.C. Wheelchair Basketball Society, Douglas College and the wheelchair basketball society of Canada.
During the Easter long weekend seven teams competed from across Canada in Coquitlam and New Westminster to go for gold. The gold-medal game was between Douglas College Lions and Variety Village from Ontario. It was a close and entertaining game, but ultimately Douglas College triumphed with a 58-52 victory. It was a fine finale for this team, who went through a winning streak throughout the tournament.
Congratulations to all the members of the Douglas College team — Patrick Anderson, Jaimie Borisoff, Bryan Shore, Jean-Luc Lagan, Erik Vliegenthart, Peter Colistro, Elisha Williams; their captain, Derek Lundie; and their coach, Joe Higgins.
The athletes were truly remarkable. Their talent and passion was evident as they battled it out for gold, not to mention that the team had a lot riding on this game, as their record for victories so far is that they won the last two championships in a row. It's six times since 1996 that the Douglas College team has won.
After the game, I handed out the silver medals to the Variety Village and had the MVP awards. I'd like to extend my congratulations to all of the skilled individuals, including the all-stars — Pat Anderson, who was named tournament MVP; Dayton Sopha, from Variety Village, the all-star; David Eng; Bo Hedges; Abdi Fatah Dini; and Jaimie Borisoff, from the Douglas College Lions, who was also named an all-star for the tournament.
EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT
J. Kwan: I rise today to inform the House of an event that I attended recently, on March 12 — the forum on early childhood education, organized by the Ray-Cam community centre at the Waldorf. Over a hundred people attended from around Metro Vancouver.
B.C. is the first jurisdiction in the world to have an established, standardized tool for assessing early childhood education at a population level over time, but nearly 30 percent of British Columbia children start school with physical, socio-emotional or cognitive vulnerabilities, according to Dr. Clyde Hertzman.
Analysis put together by their human early learning partnership at UBC revealed that child vulnerability will cost the economy 20 percent in GDP growth over 60 years. According to the researchers at UBC, unnecessary early vulnerability in children is costing the provincial economy a sum of money that is ten times the provincial debt load.
The early development research is so compelling that there is a virtual consensus amongst economists, such as Nobel laureate James Heckman that the most cost-effective capital interventions occur among young children.
He concludes: "A major refocus of policy is required to capitalize on knowledge about the life cycle of skill and health formation and the importance of the early years in creating inequality and in producing skills for the workforce." Researchers found that "well-designed programs for disadvantaged children aged four and younger can produce economic benefits ranging from $1.26 to $17 for each $1 spent on programs."
Canada's chief public health officer has stated that investment in early childhood development will "reduce the long-term social costs associated with health care, addictions, crime, unemployment and welfare. As well, it will ensure Canadian children become better educated, well adjusted and more productive."
I want to recognize the organizers for putting together this event.
ACHIEVEMENTS OF VERNON ATHLETES
E. Foster: This has been a great winter for athletes from Vernon and the north Okanagan. Starting with Paralympic sit-skier Josh Dueck's silver medal in slalom, followed by a gold-medal performance by Canada's wheelchair curling team, who would not have brought home the gold without local athletes Sonja Gaudet and Ina Forrest. These three athletes showed their talent to the world.
Josh Dueck has been a freestyle skier competing since he was a teenager. He broke his back in a skiing accident when he was working as a coach. This life-changing event launched him back into competition, and within one year of his accident he was back on the slopes.
Sonja Gaudet led an athletic life from a young age. After she suffered a spinal cord injury, she decided to challenge herself and pursue a career in amateur sports. She tried wheelchair curling and knew it was a good
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fit. Her participation quickly turned into national and international championships. This is Sonja's second Paralympic gold medal in wheelchair curling, as she was on the team in Turin.
Ina Forrest began curling in 2004 after a passerby approached her and suggested she give it a try. She's never looked back. The Vernon Curling Club member quickly took to curling and became a member of the B.C. wheelchair curling team that same year. She's competed and won various world championships.
It's a great honour to have these world-class Olympic athletes in our riding, and we thank them for their contribution to our community, the province and our country.
Mr. Speaker, Vernon's streak continues. The people of Vernon are celebrating the victory of the Vernon Vipers over the Powell River Kings last night. The teams went head to head in seven games of the Doyle Cup, and the Snakes won 3 to 1. The Vipers' tournament-winning performance makes them this year's top team in the B.C. junior hockey league. They will now face the Alberta champions on their way to defending the national Royal Bank Cup that they won here in Victoria last year.
ELECTION CAMPAIGN MATERIALS
M. Farnworth: The police are currently investigating a leaflet that was used as part of a smear campaign during the last provincial election. The Premier has a responsibility as leader of the Liberal Party — but, more importantly, as Premier of British Columbia — to protect the integrity of the democratic process in British Columbia. So my question is for the Premier.
When the issues around this leaflet first surfaced during the election campaign, what steps did he take to ensure that no B.C. Liberal Party officials or B.C. Liberal government officials were involved in the planning, distribution or implementation of this smear campaign?
MATTERS UNDER POLICE INVESTIGATION
NOT SUBJECT TO DEBATE
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, a matter under investigation by the police, while not sub judice in a strict sense, has by precedent not been discussed in this House. It's a matter of courtesy to the investigation to avoid debate in parliament, so I'd ask all members to observe this well-established rule.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, is it a different question?
M. Farnworth: Yes, hon. Speaker. I'm not asking about a police investigation. I am asking what the Premier did during the election campaign when this issue first surfaced. What steps did he take to ensure that no B.C. Liberal government officials…?
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, I want to remind you that it is under police investigation, and I think that my first statement…. Out of courtesy to the RCMP, we will not continue along this line.
M. Farnworth: New question, then.
Mr. Speaker: Continue.
RESIGNATION AND REPLACEMENT
OF SOLICITOR GENERAL
M. Farnworth: We have now seen three Solicitors General resign in under two years. Can the Premier tell us when we can expect to see a new Solicitor General in what is a very important file and, hopefully, whether or not that Solicitor General will last longer than the previous three Solicitors General?
Hon. G. Campbell: Hon. Speaker, I am glad to convey through you to the House the activities over the last couple of weeks. On Friday, March 26, the Deputy Minister to the Premier informed me that there was an Election Act complaint….
Mr. Speaker: Whoa, whoa, whoa. The same….
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members. Hon. Members.
Hon. Members, the same rule applies to both sides of the House.
Mr. Premier, the same rule for the fact that we're not entering into this investigation by the RCMP applies to both sides of the House.
Hon. G. Campbell: I respect that. First, let me say that the acting Solicitor General is a man of impeccable credentials. He will be serving the people of British Columbia well over the next number of months, and I have every confidence in his ability to carry out this task as well as his tasks as Attorney General.
FORESTS MINISTRY STAFF REDUCTION
AND FOREST INDUSTRY IN B.C
C. James: Nearly 300 government employees got their pink slips yesterday. Almost two-thirds of them were forest workers. The minister responsible said that the reason was a reduction in harvest levels, but that same
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minister just the week before was saying that forestry is turning the corner, things are going well.
My question is to the Minister of Forests. How does the minister justify his claims of a turnaround when the B.C. Liberals are cutting hundreds of jobs in one single announcement?
Hon. P. Bell: Yesterday was a very difficult day for 204 people in the Ministry of Forests and Range, and I want to make sure that all of those individuals know that we're going to be working hard to find placements for each and every one of those individuals both in the ministry and in other ministries, but….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Just take your seat for a second.
Hon. P. Bell: This is against a backdrop of a deficit of $1.7 billion this year. This is against a backdrop of a time when the harvest levels in this province have been reduced by 35 percent. Just two-thirds — less than two-thirds — of the volume that we were harvesting just a few years ago is being harvested today.
I think that the people of British Columbia expect us to make the responsible decisions not to download debt to future generations, to people's children and people's grandchildren. We've made the right decisions here. I'm confident that we can deliver the services that are necessary for us to deliver in this province.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
C. James: What I'd like to say to the minister is: this is under the backdrop of the B.C. Liberals, who have neglected the forest industry for years in British Columbia. That's what it's under the backdrop of.
These latest cuts will once again hurt families and communities across this province. But this is what the minister responsible for mining told a gathering in Nelson recently: "We're not looking at forestry. It'll be a long time before the forest industry recovers." So it's very clear that the B.C. Liberals have given up on the forest industry.
My question is to the Minister of Forests. Why won't he stand up at cabinet and ensure that forestry and forest-dependent communities get the support they need in this province?
Hon. P. Bell: I find this very interesting from an individual that's opposed every single thing that we've tried to do to rebuild this forest industry. But you know what? I'd actually like the Leader of the Opposition to turn around and talk to her critic. Her critic, just the other day, just two weeks ago, was in the media saying that this government was doing the right thing, marketing into China. We're making headway in that market. And that's the New World opportunity.
Turn around and talk to him. Turn around and talk to him.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.
C. James: Mr. Speaker, 30,000 families impacted, 71 mills closed since the B.C. Liberals started damaging our forest industry. This government's record of failure speaks for itself, and the cuts yesterday spoke louder than anything. Now even the Minister for Mining states that the B.C. Liberals have thrown in the towel when it comes to forestry.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
C. James: Again, my question is to the minister. Forest-dependent communities are tired of empty words. Words don't support families. When will this minister act?
Hon. P. Bell: I've got a question for the Leader of the Opposition. She rarely bothers to answer any. But I would ask her: what do the following companies have in common? Canfor, Conifex, Interfor Tembec. What do those companies have in common? Every single one of them is investing in British Columbia, reopening mills and putting people back to work in this province.
B. Routley: For years rural British Columbia has had to deal with the consequences of B.C. Liberal forest policy neglect — 30,000 jobs lost in British Columbia, 71 mills closed in the last nine years alone, and more cuts are now hitting families today in Kamloops, Clearwater, in Merritt, Prince Rupert, Revelstoke, Castlegar, Alexis Creek. They're just some of the communities that are now going to pay the further price.
To the Minister of Forests: rural British Columbians are fed up with this government dismantling forestry in British Columbia. We are appalled by the lack of respect for forest workers that helped build this province.
When will this minister stop the rhetoric, and when will he finally act to protect forests and the future of British Columbia?
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Hon. P. Bell: You know, the members opposite are actually going to have an opportunity in the very near future to see whether or not they really care about forestry in this province. The members opposite might want to listen to this opportunity and this challenge, because there are a number of them over there who represent key communities that are forestry-dependent communities in this province.
When we're really going to know if those members opposite — the member for Skeena, the member for Cariboo North, the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast, all the members opposite — care about forestry or not is whether they stand up and support the HST. The HST — that's the kind of policy that makes sure that the men and women that work in this forest industry in all of those members' ridings over there can stay with high-paying, family-supporting jobs in this province.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
B. Routley: When you strip away the bark from this minister, all you get is more diseased forest policy. This minister should know…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
B. Routley: …that by cutting these jobs today, he's undercutting the long-term health of our forests. These are critical jobs on the ground to protect our land base, and now they're gone. There's been failure in the past, there's failure now, and there'll be failure in the future. That's this government's record on forest policy.
To the minister, my question is…. Forest communities and forest workers are no longer buying this minister's empty rhetoric. Will you commit to do your job to protect the forests of British Columbia, starting today?
Mr. Speaker: I remind the member — through the Speaker, please.
Hon. P. Bell: I don't want to understate how challenging yesterday was for 204 men and women in the public service who have committed, year after year after year, to providing service to our forest sector.
You know what? This is a different time in the world. It's a very challenging time for us. What I find interesting is the…. I'm not sure if he's the deputy critic or an assistant critic. He is contradicting the critic for Forests, because the critic for Forests is on the public record, just two weeks ago, saying that the work that we're doing building the Chinese market is what's necessary, long term, to have a sustainable forest industry.
It's not going to be far off when these members will have an opportunity to vote and make a conscious decision on whether or not they want to support one of the most important things that we can do to support the forest industry in this province.
I'd like to quote Rick Jeffery, the president and CEO of Coast Forest Products Association: "Those regions that have introduced a value-added tax, like the HST, see increases in productivity and investment, and for our industry that means levelling the playing field…
Mr. Speaker: Thank you, Minister. Thank you, Minister.
Hon. P. Bell: …with our competitors."
We on this side of the House support high-paying industrial jobs. Clearly, that member doesn't.
N. Macdonald: When this government, when this minister, go to the HST deceit as a defence, it just points to the desperation of this government. It has been a comprehensive failure. A solid 2 percent of British Columbians strongly agree with his position.
Mere weeks ago the minister was in Revelstoke, and he was talking about the great future of forestry in Revelstoke. Yesterday this government downgraded the district office in Revelstoke, and he laid off the district manager and five staff. The words here mean nothing. The actions speak louder. They speak louder.
Or maybe it's the Minister of Mines who speaks most accurately for this government — that they have given up on forestry and that they feel forestry has no future. Everything points to that.
Now, if the minister disagrees with that, then maybe he can tell us why he is allowing the Forest Service to be taken apart at this particular time when there is so much work that needs to be done on the land. Why is he doing that?
Hon. P. Bell: Only in an NDP world would it be appropriate to maintain full employment in the public service at a time when there's a reduction in harvest levels by over 35 percent. Only in an NDP world do they think it's appropriate to download costs, debt, from our province to future generations.
I know that that member opposite doesn't believe that, and I would challenge him to stand up and say that we need to make sure that we protect the future for our children. When we see a significant reduction in harvest levels, we have to make sure that we have a ministry that's the right size.
The member opposite doesn't have to believe me. All he has to do is listen to leaders in the forest sector — leaders like Rick Jeffery, leaders like Hank Ketcham — who are continually on the record talking about the importance of the HST in making sure we have a viable industry.
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Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
N. Macdonald: This minister talks about fiscal responsibility. We have a Minister of Forests we're paying for. We have a minister of silviculture we're paying for. We have a minister of pine beetle we're paying for. This bloated cabinet doesn't get touched. It doesn't get touched there.
The Ministry of Forests' mission is to protect and manage and conserve B.C. forests. This government may have destroyed the forest industry, but it still has responsibility for public lands that make up 95 percent of British Columbia. The jobs being cut are only peripherally involved in cutting permits. The minister knows this.
How can the minister justify the destruction of the Forest Service, a group that has proudly served B.C. for almost a century? How does the minister justify doing that?
Hon. P. Bell: I know that research has never been a long suit of the member opposite, and I'm sure that the Parliamentary Secretary for Silviculture and the Parliamentary Secretary for Pine Beetle are pleased to know that they've just been promoted to ministerial status. I'm sure they're very excited about that.
This is just reflective of this opposition. They need to be honest with the public. The member opposite just two weeks ago talked about the good work that this government was doing in China, how that was rebuilding the forest industry, starting to drive employment across the province.
There are more people working in the forest sector today than there were three or four months ago. Companies are putting people back to work, and it's a direct result of the work that this government's been doing.
IMPACT OF HARMONIZED SALES TAX
ON LANDLORDS AND TENANTS
B. Ralston: Earlier this week the Premier of Ontario announced proposed changes in legislation to protect tenants in that province from rent increases resulting from the impact of the HST upon the operational costs for landlords. My question for the Finance Minister is this. What steps will the B.C. government take to protect tenants from increased rents here in British Columbia if the HST becomes law?
Hon. C. Hansen: As I look through some of the websites that have popped up in British Columbia, I am disappointed to see the number of those websites that imply that rents are going to have an added 7 percent on top of them. That, of course, is not true. Likewise with condo fees, when I see websites implying that there's going to be an additional 7 percent on condo fees. That is not true.
In terms of rents in British Columbia, residential rents are exempt from the GST currently, and they will be exempt from the HST going forward. There is no question that there will be some very slight increases in costs that landlords will face, and those very slight increases that landlords will face can be accommodated within the rental framework increases that we have in place today.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
B. Ralston: Well, according to the Rental Owners and Managers Society of B.C., the HST will increase costs for B.C. landlords above the ordinary inflationary pressures and will put pressure on them to increase their rents. The regulation that regulates increased rents does not prohibit increased rents due to an increase in the HST. Will the minister confirm that his information is inaccurate, and will he take steps to protect tenants in this province?
Hon. C. Hansen: We have a provision in this province that allows landlords to increase rents at reasonable amounts every year. It's a system that's been in place for several years, and the very slight increases that landlords will face because of HST can be easily accommodated within the framework that is there today.
ROYAL INLAND HOSPITAL
A. Dix: Documents obtained by the opposition and the media show the extent of the failure of the B.C. Liberal government in the sterilization crisis that struck Royal Inland Hospital this February and March.
Audits and reviews in 2004, 2007 and 2008 warned the IHA and the government of the need for a new sterilization unit in the hospital, a fact acknowledged by the CEO of the IHA more than two years ago. But nothing changed. The unit was not upgraded, despite the repeated warnings of staff and surgeons.
Can the minister explain, in light of this new material, why the unit was not retrofitted and why the plans cited in the audit and again by the CEO went nowhere until Royal Inland Hospital was faced with a crisis in February?
Hon. K. Falcon: The member is completely wrong in his characterization, not surprisingly. The fact of the matter is that we on this side of the House actually believe that audits are an important tool in our health care system, whether it's patient satisfaction, whether it's cleanliness audits or whether it's surgical sterilization audits.
Now, I would love in this House to be able to compare how our audit results are doing to the 1990s, but sadly there were no audits that took place under the NDP, so I'm not able to do that for the House. The audits that
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were undertaken in Interior Health in 2007 and 2008 made a number of recommendations. Those recommendations have either been implemented or are in the course of being implemented. That is exactly what we would expect from a system that constantly measures itself and constantly tries to improve.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
A. Dix: Listen. It's unbelievable what the Liberals will call innovation. It's like a bad science experiment. They were warned. The CEO of the health authority said that we'd need a new sterilization unit to keep surgical equipment sterile in Royal Inland Hospital in 2008. You know what the response of the minister was or the government was? Their response was: "Let's do nothing. Let's see what happens."
What happened was a crisis that shut down operating rooms at the hospital. Why did the minister and the successive ministers not act on their recommendations, and when are they going to get a new sterilization unit at Royal Inland Hospital?
Hon. K. Falcon: You know, the Health critic was the chief of staff for an NDP government that didn't see fit to do any audits. It's remarkable that they didn't even look at what they were doing to determine whether there was a way to improve it. It's unbelievable.
The fact of the matter is that the member is absolutely wrong when he says that nothing was done. The fact of the matter is that additional staff were hired, different procedures were put in place, and more education was being provided right across the health authority. There were a whole range of recommendations made and a whole range of recommendations implemented. This member is dead wrong when he alleges that that is not the case.
HIGH SCHOOL CHILD CARE PROGRAMS
FOR STUDENT PARENTS
M. Karagianis: Last week we learned that the Options Child and Family day care centre in Victoria may have to close their doors because the Minister of Children and Family Development has cut their funding. Today we've learned that the Options program is not the only high school day care program that's being cut. In fact, Higgins House, the on-site day care at Vic High, has already told its parents that their program is going to be shut down.
My question is to the Minister of Children and Family Development. Where are these vulnerable young moms supposed to turn to now?
Hon. M. Polak: I want to assure the member and everyone else in this House that in the case of both Artemis Options Society and also in the case of Higgins House, the funding that is being provided for day care spaces is not being reduced.
I can further advise that in the case of Artemis Options Society, we are also not reducing their education and life skills funding. That funding remains in place. The only area being reduced is with respect to provision of teaching around feeding and diapering, basic parent skills, for which each of those facilities will still be provided part of their funding and services that are also provided at nine different family resource programs in the Victoria area.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Karagianis: It's interesting, because last week on CBC radio the minister admitted that the actual day care services were being cut for Artemis — a $40,000 funding cut to them.
M. Karagianis: Absolutely. A $40,000 cut. It is devastating to these families. They do not have any place to turn. These young women have no alternatives for day care. They are trying to go back to high school. They are working very hard to get an education and keep their kids out of the foster care system. The minister knows this.
It is exceptionally hard to find day care in the age group that these children are looking for — the zero to three. The minister knows all of this. She knows the funding has been cut.
I would like to know: why is the minister doing this to these young children, these young teens trying to get through school, raise their children? Now they are having their support services stripped away by this minister. Why is this minister doing this?
Hon. M. Polak: Perhaps the real question is why the critic insists on exaggerating the impact of reductions to services. So I'll repeat for the member: funding for day care spaces remains in place at both Artemis and at Higgins House. That includes not only operating funding that every other day care centre in British Columbia receives, but in addition, these young ladies also receive an enhanced subsidy of $100 per child, more than anyone else receives.
The services that are being affected are not being eliminated. They relate to providing instruction around feeding and diapering and other resources that may be available in the community, and those services are being provided in nine other family resource programs around the province. But day care spaces funding is not being reduced.
[End of question period.]
N. Simons: I seek leave to make an introduction.
[ Page 4209 ]
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Introductions by Members
N. Simons: In the House today I'd like to welcome in the gallery a friend of this House, a former Minister of Finance, a former MLA for Powell River–Sunshine Coast, a constituent and friend of mine, Gordon Wilson.
Hon. M. Stilwell: I rise to present a petition from my constituents regarding tuition fees and income taxes.
M. Elmore: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Introductions by Members
M. Elmore: I'd like to welcome the executive director, Lisa Ellis from Artemis Options child care, the girls' assistance program at Lansdowne high school, as well as Heather Kay, who are here from the board, and the young mothers who are here — 16-, 17-, 18-year-old women who are doing an incredible job to complete their high school education. They're here with their babies, six months to a year and a half.
They're visiting us here. I'd like to welcome Mary Sampson and her little boy Alexander, Maria Myemba with Aalyeh, Danielle Walker with little Cayden, Kat Lucas with Carter, Aurora Goodman with Liam, and Coral Osadchy with Raleigh. As well, we have the young mother here with us, Marisa Farwell, and also Jeanne Farwell and counsellor Jennifer Meikle. I'd just like to recognize the great work they do, the tremendous commitment of these young mothers. I'd like everyone to please extend to them a very warm welcome.
S. Fraser: I seek leave to present a petition.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
S. Fraser: Two years after my private member's bill fell off the order paper, I've got over a thousand signatures from British Columbians urging this government to bring in safe antifreeze legislation.
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. de Jong: In Committee A, I call Committee of Supply — for the information of members, the ongoing estimates of the Ministry of Housing — and, in this chamber, continued second reading debate on Bill 9.
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 9 — Consumption Tax Rebate
and Transition Act
N. Letnick: The last time I spoke to a room this full was when I announced a pop quiz for my students.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
It's a privilege to stand here on behalf of the constituents of Kelowna–Lake Country to talk about Bill 9, the act to remove the provincial sales tax from goods and services in this province. There are many ways to approach the topic of HST. In this chamber I've heard some who like to yell at the top of their voices. Quite frankly, I hope that the member for Cowichan Valley doesn't blow a gasket at some point and we have to take him out in an ambulance. I'm really concerned about his health.
Others, like my colleagues on both sides of me, like to poke a stick in the hornets' nest and provide great entertainment and great rhetoric — those who have mastered the art of rhetoric and debate to which, I think, we all aspire.
I'll start my 30 minutes with a little story. The little story has to do with why I'm here. When I was running for city council some four years ago, I took the pleasure of knocking on a lot of doors — some 5,000, 6,000 doors. But one door really comes to mind. One door always comes to mind whenever I'm thinking of public service.
I knocked on this one door. It was a basement suite. This lady opened the door. She looked frail. She looked sick. We had a nice talk for about 20 minutes about her life and the difficulties that she's had. I vowed to her that as I went through public office, I would continue to work for her and people like her: people who needed housing, people who needed social assistance, people who needed help with health care, people who needed jobs.
Over my course, my experience on council and my experience here so far, I've always kept that top of mind. What can I do — what can we do — to help those who have the least in our society? By helping those, we are helping all of British Columbia.
So with that, I was thinking of Bill 9 and the HST, which is to replace the provincial sales tax; the HST, which will create jobs; the HST, which will drive the economy; the HST, which will allow for people like Mary in this story to have a better life because we're going to be increasing the pie.
Just last week, as we all went back to our ridings, I had the opportunity to meet with a number of people, different groups. We talked about all kinds of issues including,
[ Page 4210 ]
of course, the HST. I spoke with seniors on the need for health care. We went and looked through the financial statement of this province, and through the financial statement we identified a few things.
If I may, Madam Speaker, one of the things we identified is that the MSP or medical services premiums are only 10 percent of our total health care costs — just over 10 percent of our total health care costs.
When I was discussing the need for a better approach to taxation in this province, I brought that forward and said that we need to find a way to expand the economy. We need to find a way to create those jobs because without the expansion of the economy, without investment in British Columbia, we don't have the jobs that pay the taxes that go towards paying for our health care.
They understood that. Nobody had ever sat down to explain it to them, explain the link between our growing economy and the ability to provide for the thing they value most as a senior, and that is good, sustainable health care.
I also had the opportunity to speak to a businessman, a young businessman starting out in business. He said to me in my office: "I wish you would lower taxes. This tax burden that we have in this province is too high."
I had to take some time to explain to this young businessman how this government, over the last nine years now, has consistently lowered taxes. Over 100 tax reductions have made it so this particular province has the lowest taxes for individuals under $118,000 and have made it so we have one of the lowest small business taxes. Soon, over the next few years, we'll eliminate small business tax in this province.
I said to him: "That is not enough. What we need to do is also shift the taxes from an income-generating tax to a consumption tax." That way, that will invest in more jobs. It will give more people money that they can spend on their business, and in turn, the multiplier effect of that will move towards making him a much more successful businessperson.
Again, he understood because we took the time to explain to him. I took the time to explain to him, and once again I pulled out the financial statements and looked at the financial statements of the province for this year. As it turns out, personal income tax over total expenses is only 14 percent. So that's 86 percent of our roughly $40 billion in this province that is financed through means other than personal income tax.
So we went through the financial statements. We went through his needs. When he left my office, he was supporting the HST.
A day later I had the opportunity to talk to some business students at Okanagan College. They wanted to talk about the difference between being an elected city councillor and being elected to provincial office. I told them that the difference is that in both cases you get to make an impact, but in provincial office you get to make an impact on larger issues like health care, the economy, education, social services, transportation and a number of others.
In municipal politics you get to make an impact on local issues like: should you allow for a building to be built? Should you take sides with one neighbour versus another regarding a fence? Where would you invest taxpayer dollars in fire versus policing? Important issues as well.
But the one question they asked me, which I knew was going to come, was: what's your position on the HST — or the repeal of the provincial sales tax? These were business students, so I had an affiliation with them, having taught at the college for nine years before coming here.
What we talked about was the benefits of the HST as a value-added tax over the problems with the PST. A lot of times that's what I don't hear out in the public. Of course there are a lot of people saying they are opposed to the HST. They're signing the petitions, and I respect that. That's democracy. What I don't hear is: what is the alternative? I don't hear that from the opposition. I don't hear that from the general public as to what the alternative is.
The alternative, I guess, is to not pass this bill repealing the PST and to keep a provincial sales tax. As we discussed with these college students, the problem with keeping the provincial sales tax is that it has an adverse impact on jobs. It has an adverse impact on investment. It will move people and companies away from British Columbia to other jurisdictions.
Twenty-nine out of the 30 OECD countries have moved from a PST to a value-added tax. Over 130 countries in the world have moved from a PST to a value-added tax. Most of this country has moved from a PST to a value-added tax.
So I gave them the story of Bell Canada. This is one I heard a few months ago. Bell Canada announced that they planned to invest over a billion and a half dollars in new infrastructure in Ontario, and one of the major reasons they gave to invest that money in Ontario was because they were moving to a harmonized sales tax. That harmonized sales tax would shave about 3 percent off their bottom line — 3 percent on that investment.
I had the privilege of touring the province last year with colleagues on both sides of the House, listening to people and their priorities and issues for the Finance Committee. One representative was from TELUS, and I asked the representative from TELUS…. I said: "Bell Canada has made it known that they are going to invest a billion and a half dollars in Ontario, and one of the reasons they gave was because they were moving towards an HST. What would happen if we did move towards an HST as well?"
The representative from TELUS was very careful in her words, but basically, what she was saying was that if
[ Page 4211 ]
we didn't move to an HST, they would have to consider that in their calculations as to where they would locate their investment. In between the lines what they were saying was that if we don't move towards an HST and have a level playing field with Bell Canada, with Ontario and with other jurisdictions, then that will adversely impact the amount of investment we see.
I thought that was very honest of the representative from TELUS to say so. I thought it was very honest, because you don't usually hear people in the business community say: "I'm not moving there because of a certain tax policy." What they usually do is quietly move away from the jurisdiction and set up in other jurisdictions. They usually take their jobs to another province or another country. When they're making investment decisions, they usually avoid those jurisdictions that have the higher tax regimes.
We wouldn't hear a big sucking sound of jobs away from B.C., but over time if we don't move over to the HST, a value-added tax, from the PST, that's exactly what would happen. We would lose investment, and we would lose jobs. All those people out there that have concerns about their particular piece of the pie, whether it's the restaurants or students or seniors or anybody else who believes they're adversely impacted, would actually be worse off in the long term by this government not taking the decision that it has to move towards a value-added tax.
I sat down with those students, and after explaining that and looking once again at the financial statements, in this case for students, I said: "Well, the statements show that tuition fees over post-secondary education expense are 25 percent." So we discussed that. We discussed that the money collected by government for tuition fees — in this case it is $1.135 billion for 2010-2011 — is only 25 percent of the amount of money that government spends on post-secondary education, which is $4.5 billion.
Now, I know that students want lower tuition fees, and I'd like to give them lower tuition fees. But to be able to do that, to have the choice to do that, you have to have a larger pie. The economy has to grow. The economy has to see jobs grow.
Once again, that is the major reason why this government is moving forward with a value-added tax and away from the provincial sales tax — so we can encourage more investment into British Columbia, more jobs so we have more taxes to put towards things like health care for seniors, tuition for students and tax policy reductions for young business people.
Those were three of the places I visited last week. One more that came up was the Salvation Army. I had the privilege of doing some tax returns at the Salvation Army for some people on social assistance. Before I got into politics, I owned an H&R Block franchise, so I knew a little about personal income tax, having done probably about 10,000 returns over the 12 years.
When the Salvation Army put out the call for volunteers, I put up my hand. I said: "Sure, I'd like to be there. I've got a week away from Victoria." I miss this place, of course, but I love home too.
I sat down with a few people and helped them with their tax returns, pulled out the laptop. For the most part, the people that came to the Salvation Army to get help with their tax returns were low-income people living on social assistance or some kind of disability.
We had a talk as I was doing the return saying: "Do you understand the HST, and are you getting GST credits now?" And they said, "Yes, we are getting GST," whatever the amount is. I just said, without them knowing who I was, most likely: "You know what? With the HST, because of your income, you're going to be actually getting $230 more a year." They didn't know that.
Part of the problem, I believe, or part of the challenge for us on the government side is to communicate to the whole province all the benefits that the HST will have for them — not just at a macro level, not just that it's good for the economy, and it's good for jobs, but to really communicate to every individual as much as we can. I know people on this side of the House…. I could say both sides, but I meant the people on the B.C. Liberal side, on that side. The people on both sides of the House have been trying to communicate the benefits and challenges of the HST.
We have to continue to work towards reaching every British Columbian so that they understand how it will benefit them, whether it's health care for the seniors or young families, whether it's jobs for young families or middle-aged people who have lost their jobs, whether it's for people in agriculture. We have a lot of B.C. fruit growers right now who are working with our Minister of Agriculture and all of the government to find ways to have sustainable profits in agriculture.
One way is to get rid of the PST. That will give them more money, whether it's in agriculture, in wood products like Tolko or Gorman Bros. in my riding or whether it is exporters like Kelowna Flightcraft, who have over a thousand employees. Somewhere near half are in Ontario and are moving towards HST.
There are many, many examples that I can give you right in my riding as to how it impacts on a macro level. But we have to whittle that down to how it impacts every individual so that they know it's not just somebody else. It's not just that this is good for business and good for corporations, but that this is good for them.
I think we have to work so that we can reach the person on social assistance, reach the person who is struggling with health care issues, reach the student who really wants to know what's in it for them, so that they can have an appreciation of the benefits of the HST.
I think we're making great strides getting there. We're doing that through public campaigns. We're getting
[ Page 4212 ]
there with our website. Over the next few months as we continue to roll it out and starting, of course, on July 1 when it becomes law, I believe that once people start paying it and understanding how it really impacts them and the little amount that it's going to increase their consumption, they'll really realize the benefits of the extra jobs and how it is good not only for B.C. but for them in particular.
The students also brought home an issue for me that I just want to touch on, and that is the issue of our budget deficits. The budget deficits are projected over the next few years to 2013-2014 to be cumulative of what will be $2.7 billion in '09-10, $1.7 billion in '10-11, $945 million in '11-12 and $145 million in '12-13. That's a total of $5.58 billion in deficits until we return to a balanced budget.
The whole world has gone through a major economic crisis over the last few years, and it's only because of good tax policies and progressive initiatives over the last eight years by previous governments — B.C. Liberal governments — that we were able to pay down the deficit left us in 2001. So when the economy did turn to the negative, we had some room that we can move forward on.
So we have $5.58 billion in total deficits that we project over the next few years that we're going to have to pay off. I told those students that one of the things that bothers me the most out of everything we're doing is those deficits. We have to make sure that we pay down those deficits as fast as we can once we go through the 2013-2014 cycle and that we continue to expand the economy, expand jobs and attract investment so that we can pay down the deficit.
I would say that since 41 percent of our costs are in health care, a lot of the deficit is to finance health care for people like me and my parents. I don't think it's right to have these young students come into their economy with a debt hanging over them for services that basically I and my parents have incurred.
I want to make sure that any policy that's taken by this government is supportive of expanding the pie, expanding the economy, expanding those jobs and making sure that we pay off that deficit as much as possible.
B.C. Stats in 2009 shows that there are approximately 857,000 people under the age of 18 in B.C. When you take the accumulated deficit and divide by the number of people under 18, that's over $6,000 per child in this province.
I believe this government is on the right path to make sure we bring that down to zero as quickly as possible, that we pay off this debt, that we expand the pie to afford the best health care, education and social programs with the least emphasis on job-killing taxes — and not adopt policies that drive this province into the ground like we did in the '90s and become a have-not status.
I know that all members want what is best, and I don't doubt that members on both sides want that, but we obviously have different perspectives on how to get there. Some believe that we should tax wealth and investment. We don't believe that.
We believe we should reduce taxes on wealth and investment so people will continue to move here and create those jobs and take risks with their capital. We believe we should tax consumption and move towards the consumption tax that Bill 9 will do. Bill 9 will remove the PST and allow the HST, at the lowest rate in this country, to take effect.
It's interesting, I think, Madam Speaker. Was it New Brunswick that just announced they were moving to a 15 percent value-added tax? The NDP government in New Brunswick announced that they're moving to a 15 percent.
N. Letnick: Nova Scotia. Thank you. Madam Speaker, I've been corrected. The NDP government in Nova Scotia is moving to a value-added tax of 15 percent. Ours is just going to be 12 percent.
I think it's important to see that this is not a decision that was taken in isolation from the rest of the world. We are trying to catch up right now to the competitiveness that our key competitors like Ontario, Nova Scotia and other provinces have, which 29 of the 30 OECD countries have.
At the end of the day, once we implement this and people have a chance to see the jobs that are forecast to be created from this and the expansion in the economy, I think we will see…. Once we take the corner on the economy, I think people will appreciate that this government had the foresight to move forward on the HST, even though it was not very popular at the time.
I just want to talk a little bit about what happens in my particular riding regarding the HST. In my particular riding we've had enormous success in investment. We've had a new bridge — an over-$144-million bridge, the W.R. Bennett Bridge — invested. We had a new highway — Highway 97 expansion.
We have Highway 33 that's expanding now to four lanes with a passing lane up Walker Hill, which will help enormously for the people in Joe Rich, the people in Black Mountain, the people in Toovey and all the people in Rutland and everyone going back and forth to Big White. That's going to be a major improvement in safety in our area. We also have improvements in Highway 97 in Lake Country. Highway 97 will be moving away from Wood Lake, and it will be moving into a higher aspect. In that way, it will be safer as well.
We have the investment in Kelowna General Hospital — just recently announced, another $430 million in Kelowna General Hospital; investments like the new cardiac care centre, the cardiac surgery centre. We have investments in Vernon Jubilee Hospital. We have investments down in
[ Page 4213 ]
Penticton. Over a billion dollars in investments in health care in our area alone.
The list goes on and on: UBC Okanagan expansion, Okanagan College — two new schools. All this is being done because of good tax policies, which allow investment in our province and therefore people moving to our province creating those jobs which pay the taxes that will allow us to reinvest back into the services that people need and demand in our province and right in my local riding.
I want that to continue not only in my riding but in the ridings of everyone in the Okanagan and in the ridings of everyone across the province on both sides of the House, because I believe that every British Columbian deserves to have the best in health care, the best in education, the best in social services and the best in transportation that we can afford.
I think the best way of getting there is to continue with the tax policies that this government has put forward over the last eight and nine years, policies which remove taxes away from investors and will move taxes away from income and allow taxation and service fees to be at the consumption level.
I'd much rather, if somebody is going to be buying a big expensive boat, that they pay taxes on it. I would much rather, when someone goes in to speak to their accountant and say…. We all do that, I would assume. You know, I want to pay my fair share in taxes, but no more than my fair share in taxes. I'd much rather we keep those taxes as low as possible and have them make the choice of buying the big cars or the boats or the big houses — whatever it is — and then pay the taxes at that point.
I think that's what this repeal of the PST will do. It will move taxes towards consumption, and it will allow people to pay the taxes but at a different place, still allowing for investment into our province and allowing for people to make those difficult decisions to use their capital, which will give the Finance Minister the ability to say to all his ministers: "I have more money. I've got more money because the economy is larger. I have more money that you can use to invest in the priorities that British Columbians have." I'd like to see that day come as soon as possible, and with the move to an HST, I see that coming.
Now, the opposition takes great delight in listing products and services that will be taxed with the HST. Sometimes some of the members of the opposition get emotional when they talk about it. It's interesting to see, you know, taxing….
N. Letnick: Yeah. Well, it's okay to get emotional. This is the place — right?
But at the end of the day when they get emotional and then all of a sudden when the camera is off, some of the members just start laughing, I wonder whether they really believe in their soul, in their gut, that what they're saying is true. Or is it just because the camera is on them?
It's an interesting conundrum, because they want to get the point across. They want to talk about all of the great things we're going to be taxing with the HST that we weren't taxing before, but at the same time I don't hear in the same breath the other option.
I guess I have to conclude that the other option that the opposition members would like is to continue with the provincial sales tax, to continue to force people to pay a tax which moves jobs out of British Columbia — which in the short term might be politically attractive, given all the polling that you see and what's going on in the general community. But in the long term it's not in the best interests of British Columbians, not in the best interests of those who need health care, those who need social services, those who need jobs, those who need education.
We're not about short-term political gain. We're about making the right decisions, even though that might be tough.
I had the pleasure to work with the Select Standing Committee on Finance over the last few years, and I worked with some of our colleagues on both sides of the House. One of the things that we heard when we were on the road was that the B.C. Agriculture Council favoured harmonization, saying that adoption of the HST would realize significant cost savings for them.
We heard from the Chartered Accountants of British Columbia, saying: "A harmonized system would improve the competitiveness of our businesses, particularly small business, and would save the provincial government significant administrative costs." Of course, it would create jobs and would assess "discrepancies in the application of the two sales taxes."
We heard from the Retail Council, who said: "We've not yet heard anyone in government provide a thoughtful analysis of the economic and revenue-generation reasons for considering harmonization." They urged us, the committee, to urge the Finance Minister to look beyond the PST and to harmonize.
We heard from Grant Thornton LLP: "Now, perhaps, focus should be on reducing the inefficiency of administration by moving to a harmonized tax. For many years we can continue to look towards harmonization."
"Important economic benefits to harmonization" — the Retail Council of Canada again. Chartered accountants, again, supporting in 2008.
In 2009 we heard from the B.C. Chamber of Commerce. "The opposition to HST must answer the question: if we do not harmonize, how do we expect our resource industries, our technology sectors and our manufacturing
[ Page 4214 ]
industries to compete in the global marketplace — or in the Canadian marketplace, for that matter — let alone attract investment?"
Mining Association of B.C.: "We estimate the HST is going to reduce operating costs for most mines anywhere between half a million dollars to a million and a half a year. It should reduce the cost of new mines by some $10 million."
It goes on with Coast Forest Products Association, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, Initiatives Prince George, Insurance Bureau of Canada, TELUS — as I spoke about before at a Vancouver public hearing — and on and on.
Clearly, the business community has for many, many years, through successive Finance committees touring this province, articulated a need for us to move away from the PST to the HST. But we haven't done it. We didn't do it, except for this year. The reasons why we did it this year are many. For one, the rules changed this year. The federal government allowed us to exempt up to 5 percent, and we used most of that 5 percent to exempt tax on gasoline.
The federal government allows us to set our own rate, which we couldn't before, and we all have the lowest rate in the country at 12 percent, combined with the HST. The federal government offered us an incentive for transition of $1.6 billion, and that's going to go a long way to help those students not have to pay for the budget deficits that we're incurring right now because of the global economic crisis.
There are many reasons why the rules, the reasons for bringing in the HST, changed from before the election to after the election. I have no qualms at all to go through that with anyone who comes to my office and asks me about the HST. Once they leave my office, not only do they understand why we're doing it — and they believe in it — but they also understand that the difference between before and after was huge, and they are supportive.
The problem is that it's very hard for me to talk to 54,000 people in my riding. So we have to, and we are moving towards communicating as well as we can with those people.
As I move towards conclusion, I still have to take an opportunity to join my two colleagues on both sides here and just try to prod the hornets nest a little bit. What I'm going to say is a little tongue-in-cheek, but it's also very serious.
What is the difference between the members on the opposite side and ourselves? And what I was thinking about during QP …. I just took some notes down, off the cuff. The difference for me as I see it is: B.C. Liberals — jobs, NDP — no jobs; B.C. Liberals — lower taxes, NDP — higher taxes; B.C. Liberals — real world….
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Member.
J. Brar: I rise to speak against Bill 9. Let me tell you why.
I oppose this bill because the HST is the single most powerful bombshell of betrayal thrown on the people of British Columbia by the Liberal Party. I oppose this bill because the B.C. Liberals did not tell the truth to the people of British Columbia during the election regarding the HST, when they said they will not impose the HST on the people of British Columbia.
I oppose this bill because the HST is an unfair tax hike on the people of British Columbia, because this is a tax shift of $1.9 billion from corporations to average folks. In other words, big business will pay less, and the people of British Columbia will pay more.
I oppose this bill because the HST will hurt small businesses and cost thousands of jobs to the people of British Columbia. I oppose this bill because 87 percent of the people in British Columbia don't like this tax — 87 percent of the people.
I oppose this bill because the people of Surrey-Fleetwood, from all walks of life, have been calling my office and sending e-mails to fight to stop the HST to the end.
I also oppose this bill because all the arguments given by this government to support this bill are baseless and laughable. The HST will pay for health care. That's the biggest joke I have ever heard about the budget in this House. So I would like to go into detail about those reasons I have just listed to oppose this bill.
During the last election the B.C. Liberals made two key promises, which are related to the HST, with the people of British Columbia. The first one was that they promised that the total deficit in this province will be $495 million, not a penny more. The second promise they made during the last election was that they would not impose HST on the people of British Columbia. That was before the election. The reality after the election was completely different, and I will come to that a little later as to what is different now.
This is not the first time they have made a promise to the people of British Columbia before the election and have done completely the opposite after the election. If we look back, we know that once upon a time the Premier of this province made the promise to the people of British Columbia that they will provide the best education system to the people so that no child is left behind. But as soon as the elections were over, they started closing schools. They have closed 175 schools in the province of British Columbia.
Once upon a time the Premier of this province made the promise to the seniors of this province that they will build 5,000 new long-term care beds for seniors. But once the election was over, they refused to build those 5,000 long-term care beds for seniors.
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Once upon a time they promised not to sell B.C. Rail, and they put that on the election platform. But as soon as the election was over, they sold B.C. Rail. They did sell B.C. Rail. Again, that list of those broken promises goes on and on, and this is not a new thing when we talk about the HST.
I will come to those two key promises they made when it comes to the HST. The first one, as I said earlier, was that they made the promise to the people of British Columbia that the total deficit will be $495 million and not a penny more. That was before the election. But after the election the reality was completely different. The deficit, in fact, after the election was hitting almost $3.5 billion — much bigger than what was told to the people of British Columbia during the election. That was the reality.
So the Premier and the Minister of Finance were looking for cash, because the cash was missing. They were looking for new cash. There was only one place they could have gone to find the new cash, and that was to sign an agreement with the government of Canada to get $1.6 billion from them to basically hide the budget deception they gave to the people of British Columbia during the election. That's what I think was the key motive and key factor. Because of this, they have broken their promise to the people of British Columbia of not imposing the HST.
The second promise they made during the election, as we all know, was that they would not impose HST on the people of British Columbia. That promise was not only a verbal promise, by the way. They gave that in writing. They gave that commitment in writing to the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association — in writing. They gave that in writing to the Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association — that they would not impose HST on the people of British Columbia.
The member for Kelowna–Lake Country who spoke before me was talking about options. The option is very simple. The people of British Columbia want honesty, and this government was not honest before the election with the people. That is the option.
They gave that commitment in writing to both the business associations. After the election was over, they didn't wait for long. They dropped the bombshell of betrayal on the people of British Columbia by doing just the opposite. Just six weeks after the election, the B.C. Liberals betrayed the people of British Columbia by imposing HST on the people.
Guess what. They have done it now. The bill is here, and they want to force the people to pay HST. It's very clear that they were not honest with the people of British Columbia during the election. It's very clear that they did not tell the truth to the people of British Columbia during the election when it comes to HST.
That's why we always read the news or hear the news that people of British Columbia don't believe politicians. Why would they? The two key promises they made during the election were both broken just six weeks after the election. That's what happened this time, that's why the people of British Columbia are very, very upset, and that's why they're opposing HST.
Madam Speaker, 87 percent of people in British Columbia are opposing the HST. Survey after survey has confirmed that. Members on the other side all know that. They know that very well, I'm sure. The people are writing e-mails to them. People are calling their offices. People are meeting them and saying that this is a bad policy, that this is a broken policy and that this is betrayal. People are telling them.
They hear that from the people of British Columbia every day. That's why British Columbians from all walks of life and all parts of the province are joining together to stop the HST. Thousands have signed petitions, joined Facebook groups, held rallies, and the fight continues. I welcome these members to go out in their own ridings to stop that…. That fight will continue for the next 90 days, and people will show them the reality. People will show them that people don't like HST.
The message from the people I have spoken to is very clear. It's very clear that B.C. Liberals cannot continue deceiving the people of British Columbia. The B.C. Liberals cannot continue betraying the people of British Columbia. Enough is enough. We must stop the HST.
The reality is that the HST is an unfair tax hike on the people of British Columbia. The HST is a transfer of $1.9 billion in taxes paid by big corporations at this point in time, and it will be moved onto the consumers. In other words, the big businesses will pay less, and the people of British Columbia will pay more. This is a favour to their business friends in the province of British Columbia.
The question we need to ask is: how much greed is enough? How much greed is enough? Tax cut after tax cut after tax cut has been given to wealthy people. When it comes to minimum wage, this government has continuously refused to raise minimum wage, when every province in the country has raised the minimum wage — every province.
They talk about competition. Think about the minimum wage. They don't even talk about the minimum wage when we talk about competitiveness. Every province in this country has raised the minimum wage, not only once. Many provinces have done that more than once during the last nine years since they have been in power.
But tax cut after tax cut after tax cut has been given to wealthy people. When it comes to the average folks, this government doesn't care about them. They don't care about those people at all. Minimum wage in this province has not been raised since they took over in 2001. In fact, they introduced what they call a training wage, which is $6, $6.50. When we ask about the minimum wage, these members have been silent. Time and again, they have been silent.
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The other reality about this new tax, the HST, is that it will drive the cost of many things up, and I am going to list that. I challenge the members to tell me that that's wrong.
Many small businesses will be forced to charge 7 percent more for a range of goods and services. If we look at the TD Bank, it estimated that 21.4 percent of the goods and services that British Columbians buy will be newly subject to the HST and that, on average, consumer price will rise by 1.5 percent, even if businesses reduce their prices. B.C.'s PST applies to a smaller base of goods and services than the sales tax of other provinces, so the effect on consumers will be larger here. That's the report from TD Bank.
Items that will no longer be exempt from the PST include most services and many goods that were specifically exempt from the PST for reasons of public policy. People will now pay 7 percent more on many of those items, and I would like to say that the bottom line is this: that the HST is going to drive up the cost of many things which are very important to average people. The cost of restaurant meals will go up. When you go after July 1, you will face it yourself, Madam Speaker. The cost of many grocery items — such as snack foods and other prepared foods like salad and sandwiches, and heated food like a muffin and a coffee — will go up.
The cost of school supplies is going to go up. School supplies. Even the kids of this province will not be spared. The cost of taxi fares is going to go up. The cost of live theatre, movie tickets, amusement parks, campground fees, museum admissions and whale-watching tours will go up. The cost of accounting services is going to go up, and the costs of many other services like architects and real estate agents are going to go up.
The cost of classes for yoga…. I like yoga, by the way. The cost of even yoga classes is going to go up. Spare, at least, the yoga class. Yoga, dance, cooking, martial arts — the costs of all those things are going to go up.
The cost of membership fees for clubs and gyms and player fees for team sports is going up. What about the healthy living and sports? The Minister of Healthy Living and Sport is here. This is going to cost those kids more. The people who are going to participate in physical activity — it's going to cost them more. The cost of facilities and ice rinks is going to go very high.
The cost of haircuts is going to go up, and the cost for personal care services like a beauty salon and spa is going to go up. The cost of vitamins, dietary supplements and other non-prescription products is going to go up. The cost of magazines, newspapers, newsletters and student yearbooks is going to go up. The cost of bicycles, bike repairs and parts is going to go up.
The cost of wedding planners and even funerals is going to go up. I remember that my fellow member spoke this morning about this. It will cost you — everything from birth to death. The HST is going to be applied on many things, the services that people use at this point in time.
The cost to repair home appliances is going to go up. The cost of energy-efficient home appliances is going to go up. The cost of laundry and dry cleaning is going to go up. The cost of basic residential telephone services is going to go up. The cost of basic cable TV service is going to go up. The cost of work-related safety equipment is going to go up, and the cost of automobile towing and emergency roadside services is going to go up.
This is not a complete list. The list goes on. This is going to cost the people of British Columbia almost every day in everything they are doing and every service they need. That is the reality of HST, and that's why 87 percent of the people of British Columbia are opposed to this tax.
I have heard a lot from the other side that the HST is good for business. Let me tell you, the HST is going to hurt small businesses and cost thousands of jobs. It may be good for big corporations, friends of the Liberal Party, but for small business people out there, this is going to cost a lot. It's going to hurt a lot of the small business industries, and I would like to just list a few.
This is going to hurt big-time the restaurant and food service industry. This is going to hurt the construction and real estate industry. This is going to hurt the tourism industry, taxi industry, veterinarians, and many other small businesses are going to pay a high price when the HST is introduced.
Thousands of people in British Columbia are going to lose jobs. I'm going to repeat again to the members that thousands of people in British Columbia are going to lose jobs. It's not me saying that. The restaurant industry forecasts that the HST will cost them up to almost 12,000 jobs — 12,000 jobs in the restaurant industry alone. Go and speak to them.
The tourism industry predicts that the HST will cost them up to 10,000 jobs — 10,000 jobs in the tourism industry alone. That's why lots of businesses don't like the HST, like 87 percent of the people in British Columbia don't like the HST. Lots of businesses don't like the HST as well, and I'm going to list them.
J. Brar: The member is saying that I must say what I think. I think that this government should have told the truth to the people of British Columbia before the election. I think that this government should have been honest with the people of British Columbia before the election. That's what I think.
I stand with the people of British Columbia. Some 87 percent of people oppose this tax, and you know that. If you really believe the people of British Columbia, you should stand up and oppose the HST.
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There are a number of businesses opposing the HST. Madam Speaker, 87 percent of people oppose the HST, and I'm going to list the businesses. Businesses oppose the HST. The first one is B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association. They oppose it. The Council of Tourism Associations of B.C. opposes it. The B.C. Care Providers Association opposes the HST. The Federation of Community Social Services of B.C. opposes the HST. I hope members will pay attention to me now.
The Rental Owners and Managers Society of B.C. opposes the HST, and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs opposes the HST as well. It's very clear that there is no winner. There is no winner among the people of British Columbia when it comes to the HST. There's only one group of winners, and that is a group of big corporations and friends of B.C. Liberals.
This is a tax shift from big corporations to the people of British Columbia. As we all know, the HST is going to transfer $1.9 billion in taxes paid by big businesses onto the people of British Columbia. That's the reality, Member. You should just accept that. That's the reality. Big business will pay less, and the people of British Columbia will pay more when this will be introduced.
Deputy Speaker: Member, you will direct your comments through the Chair.
J. Brar: I respectfully, Madam Speaker, through you….
The other thing I want to say is this. The B.C. Liberals do not have the mandate to impose the HST. They do not have the mandate to impose the HST because they said very clearly before the election that they will not impose HST on the people of British Columbia.
If they were honest…. If they would have been honest, if they would have been bold, if this is a good policy, they should have put it in front of the people of British Columbia before the election. They do not have the mandate to impose the HST. They chose not to tell about this before the election because they knew that they would lose the election. They knew about that.
That's why they betrayed the people of British Columbia. They clearly betrayed the people of British Columbia on this, and you cannot continue betraying the people of British Columbia. It will stop, and people are going to teach you a lesson.
Watch what happens in your riding, Madam Speaker, in the next 90 days.
I oppose. I oppose this bill, once again. I oppose this bill because many people have approached me on almost every day, and the people of British Columbia don't like this tax.
Keeping in mind the time, Madam Speaker, I would like to probably move on very quickly to the points I want to make.
The HST has been a very hard sell for them. The first spin was that the HST will bring in the same tax as the current system — in other words, that it will be revenue-neutral. But the people of British Columbia didn't believe the government on that.
Then the spin doctors started finding another excuse, and the other excuse was that the HST is going to pay for health care. That is the biggest joke in the budget debate that I have ever heard. Biggest joke — the HST will pay for health care, when we know that all the money coming from the HST is going to go to general revenue. That was the joke they tried to make on the people of British Columbia, and that was the height of desperation to sell this tax to the people of British Columbia.
I would like to make my concluding comments and say this: that I oppose this tax with my fellow members because I stand with the people of British Columbia. And I will do that.
I oppose this tax because the B.C. Liberals…. This is a big bombshell of betrayal by B.C. Liberals on the people of British Columbia, because they did not tell the people of British Columbia the truth before the election.
I think I have time to quickly read a few e-mails I got in my office so that the members know that people are approaching members. This is a letter written by Pacific Community Resources. They are saying:
"The Pacific Community Resources deliver over 50 different programs — including education, housing, employment counselling, life skills and addictions services — from Vancouver to Hope. Our programs serve people of all backgrounds and cultures, designed for youth, family, children and adults with multiple needs. We serve over 15,000 individuals annually and employ 2,000 diverse staff at 25 different sites."
They continue to say:
"We are a large agency, and we have significant concern over the potential harm the HST could have on B.C.'s non-profit community social services agencies."
I would conclude that letter. That letter was signed, by the way, by Ian Mass, the executive director of Pacific Community Resources.
The other e-mail I got from Coach Reg, and it reads:
"I recently had a second meeting with the facility manager, and it seems that we will be charged for the HST. My understanding is that regardless of any previous agreement or contract, this will become the law, and facilities are having to enforce the HST tax collection. The impact will be dramatic, as it will now add additional costs to pool and room rental. The cost is now on top of the B.C. direct-access grant money, which has been reduced."
This was signed by Coach Reg from the Surrey Knights.
The other e-mail I have, which I would like to read into the record, says:
"Surrey White Rock Ringette is a small sports association with predominantly female players from the age of five to 25. We compete directly with female hockey for players and try to keep our registration low and reasonable so that we are a viable option for those families of limited or exhausted discretionary income. For the previous season our early-bird registration was $340, compared to hockey's $525."
It goes on to say:
"We have been informed that the city of Surrey and White Rock will be increasing their costs for ice and room rental by a minimum of 10 percent to offset HST and other anticipated
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administrative costs. Our association, in turn, will have to pass this increase on to our membership with our registration costs to ensure we are able to balance our books. HST and lost gaming funds have been factored into our 2010-11 season, which realistically should be resulting in a 30 percent increase in players' registration costs."
A quote from the letter.
Person after person is approaching us through e-mails and by phone, and people don't like this tax.
I would like to conclude that I will stand firm. I will fight to the end to stop HST. I will oppose this tax, and I urge the members from the other side. We just need seven people. We just need seven members to stop HST, and I would appreciate it if the members will listen to the people of British Columbia and stand up in this House for the people of British Columbia rather than somebody else.
Thank you very much, Madam Speaker, for your time, and thanks to all the members for listening to my speech.
Hon. M. McNeil: It's my pleasure to speak to Bill 9, the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act. I'd like to speak to the facts and not to the fear. I want to talk about reality. The people of B.C. need the facts. They don't need myths.
My colleague from Kelowna–Lake Country was absolutely correct when he spoke just a little while ago. He said that he spoke with folks that came into his constituency office, and when he talked to them about the facts, dismissed the myths and explained exactly what this HST would mean, it made all the difference. I'm finding the same thing.
Over 130 countries around the world have already made this shift to the value-added tax system, and British Columbia will be one of six Canadian provinces with a similar tax system. Every leading economist in Canada is saying that the HST is the right thing to do, but apparently, the members opposite aren't as impressed by the economists.
Let's talk jobs. The HST is about job creation, attracting investment to British Columbia so that we can build a lasting legacy for our children and grandchildren. We want families to have more money in their pockets, and the easiest way to ensure that happens is to ensure there are jobs being created in this province.
B.C. families are paying less in total taxes compared to what they paid ten years ago under the previous government. In every single income category every single family in British Columbia is paying less today under this government than they would have paid for the same amount of income ten years ago.
In fact, under the proposed HST, a tax credit will support low-income families and seniors, and when this tax credit is combined with the recently introduced climate action credit, low-income British Columbians will be eligible for upwards of $340 a year in provincial credits, in addition to the existing GST credit.
[C. Trevena in the chair.]
The HST follows more than 120 tax cuts introduced by this government since 2001. As a result, B.C. has the lowest provincial personal income taxes in Canada for those earning upwards of $118,000 a year. For most taxpayers, B.C. personal income taxes have been reduced by 37 percent or more since 2001, and an additional 325,000 British Columbians now pay no provincial income tax.
The HST builds on significant tax relief since 2001 — the 44 percent reduction in small business corporate income tax rate and a 39 percent reduction in general corporate income tax rate by 2011.
HST will apply to the same goods and services that were taxable under the GST. If there's no GST on a product or a service, there is no HST. Any item that presently has GST and PST in the total cost will not change due to the HST.
HST opponents are circulating an e-mail which outlines an estimated $2,100 impact of the HST on a hypothetical senior couple earning $41,000 after tax. Those claims are completely incorrect. The e-mail claims that they will add $2,100 to your yearly costs, but in reality, you would need to spend an additional $30,000 on currently PST-exempt items to reach that amount.
Another false claim is that you'll pay more for car insurance, home insurance, home heating, gasoline, electricity, and more. The reality is that the HST won't change the price of any of those items, because they are either exempt, will be rebated or are currently already subject to PST and GST.
Support for the HST isn't confined to this side of the chamber. The B.C. Chamber of Commerce is 100 percent in favour of implementing the HST. The Retail Council of Canada is in favour of the harmonized sales tax because it's better for the consumers. The B.C. Agriculture Council is 100 percent in favour of the harmonized sales tax because it's good for farmers. It actually makes them more competitive, and it means more British Columbians buying British Columbia agricultural products rather than imported products.
The forest industry, as my colleague mentioned today, is in favour of the HST because it's good for forestry workers and will ensure that mills stay open in regions around this province that have been hard hit by the economic downturn. The B.C. Construction Association is also in favour of the HST. Their industry will see about $880 million of costs removed because of all that embedded PST they currently pay today.
The mining industry is 100 percent in favour of the HST because they know it will help attract more investment to this province and keep us competitive with our global jurisdictions.
These groups are in favour of the HST because it's good for the economy. Anything good for the economy creates
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jobs, and jobs are good for British Columbians. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, not typically supportive of the policy positions of this government, itself sees the value-added tax, or an HST model of tax, as the right driver of economic activity and actually believes that it's the right model.
We've all heard about the report done by Dr. Jack Mintz from the University of Calgary, where he states that the shift to the harmonized sales tax will result in a net increase of $11.5 billion of investment and a net increase of 113,000 jobs in British Columbia. I see some of my colleagues from across the way smiling, and it's the same smile we saw during the discussion on the carbon tax and how that was going to be bad.
Dr. Mintz's report confirms that the HST, along with federal and provincial corporate tax reductions, will dramatically improve the competitiveness of B.C. businesses, both here at home and abroad. He goes on to state that "all industrial sectors in British Columbia will benefit from sales tax harmonization. The largest beneficiaries will be…construction, communications, business and household services sectors, which will see their effective tax rates on new investment drop by…more than a third."
A shift to the harmonized sales tax takes those embedded costs out. The consumer only has to pay the consumption tax once, and that is only at the point of purchase, at the ultimate consumption level. In fact, over 80 percent of all goods and services will not be impacted at all or, if anything, will wind up costing less as a result of the shift to the value-added tax.
I want to come back to the specific provisions that are in this legislation. As I mentioned earlier, Bill 9 provides for the winding down of the provincial sales tax system that we have in British Columbia today, and that means that 7 percent comes off. Also in this bill are mitigation measures that are going to be so important.
An HST credit is going to be available to 1.1 million British Columbians, so one in four British Columbians is going to benefit from a cheque in the mail once every three months. The other thing that's important here is the point-of-purchase rebates that we're putting in place.
This, again, is because of the flexibility that the federal government has provided. It's allowed us to exempt all motor fuels in British Columbia. That is different from the approach that's been taken in Ontario, where they will see an added 8 percent cost on the price of gasoline in Ontario as of July 1. That is not the case here in British Columbia.
This legislation also provides for a point-of-purchase rebate for home energy costs, and again, that is unique in British Columbia. In all other HST provinces they actually have that additional provincial portion of the tax applied. In British Columbia, because of the unique structures that we have, we actually have the ability to do a provincially administered rebate for that. To the customer, it will seem like an exemption from the 7 percent portion of the HST.
There are also provisions for a rebate structure for our SUCH sectors. Those are our schools, universities, colleges and hospitals, where the charities and various others will get a rebate that will totally offset the incremental cost of what their HST would be on average.
This move that we are making is one that is vitally important to the economy in British Columbia. It is one that will actually set the stage for economic growth for decades to come. It is a move that will ensure that British Columbia is an attractive destination for businesses and investors that want to come in here and create jobs — jobs for British Columbians. It does mean that the industries around British Columbia that are coming through difficult times will be able to retain the employees they have, possibly even bring back laid-off workers that otherwise would have been unemployed.
It means that new industries — whether it's the forest sector that's going to come back in different ways, whether it's the bioenergy sector or other areas of new opportunities, whether it's the mining sector that has great opportunities for growth or whether it's the film industry that is extremely competitive….
This is a bill that will provide for the elimination of the PST. It will also enable us to make sure that the HST comes in on July 1 of this year and that we'll be able to take full advantage of the great economic opportunities that will flow as a direct result. More importantly, this means jobs.
G. Coons: I rise to take my place opposing the bill in front of us, Bill 9, this government's HST bill. This bill, the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act, highlights the hypocrisy of this government. This bill is actually a truth-or-consequences bill.
We come to this Legislature with the realm behind us, representing our constituents, representing the province with integrity, with truth, with honesty. We wear a pin in this House, in this Legislature. We're all given this pin, which we hope — which I hope, which our constituents hope — reflects the integrity, the honesty, the truthfulness of this Legislature and of its members.
This bill, being a truth-or-consequences bill, will have severe consequences for those members on the other side who merrily skip to the beat of deception, as they're all complicit in the election deception that we saw prior to May 12 in getting them in this Legislature.
This bill, the truth-or-consequences bill, even though each government member speaks to this bill and bleats out the same mantra, "The greatest thing since sliced bread…." But in this bill, at 82 pages, 213 sections and over 29,000 words, HST is only mentioned three times —
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on page 69, in sections 181 and 182. This government's own HST bill skirts the whole issue of bringing what they want to bring to the constituents in their ridings — the HST.
Again, this bill highlights the hypocrisy, the misrepresentations that this government is known for — in its truth-or-consequences bill.
Before I get to some components of the bill itself, I'd like to read this letter that was sent to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services in November of 2009. It's from Beat Steiner, the Bella Coola Heli Sports operator.
"The HST is going to have a huge negative impact on tourism numbers in the province. The government should be looking into ways of attracting tourists, not discouraging them with this new tax. There are many small, isolated B.C. communities that have made a big effort in recent years to transition from a resource-based economy to a more diversified economy that includes tourism. The introduction of this new tax is completely undermining those efforts and will greatly speed up the dying out of these small communities."
That's what this tax is going to do to rural British Columbia and to British Columbians.
Now, in the bill, this truth-or-consequences bill, we look at…. The member is talking about part 3, on page 5, section 4, the point-of-sale rebates. They list the six exemptions, and the six exemptions that we've heard prescribe books, children's clothing and footwear, children's diapers, children's car seats and car booster seats, hygiene products, motor fuels. But this is not a true, factual analysis of what this B.C. Liberal deception bill is actually going to do to British Columbians.
When the members on the other side talk about the reality — and British Columbians need facts — they are failing to do their job. They are not putting the facts on the table, and they never did with this bill. This bill actually is a tax transfer of $1.9 billion, a shift of taxes from big business to B.C. consumers — an average of about $430 extra HST cost per person, close to $1,700 for a family of four.
The TD Bank estimated that over 21 percent of the goods and services that British Columbians buy will be newly subject to the 7 percent HST — over 21 percent of the goods and products. And consumer prices will rise by 1.5 percent even if businesses reduce their prices. We haven't heard that from the government. We haven't heard that in their reports.
This government had no mandate at all for the 7 percent HST. During the election they said that they were not contemplating adopting the HST. Before the election they turned it down numerous times on the grounds that it would hurt consumers. That's what British Columbians believed, and now British Columbians do not believe this government at all. This tax is an increase for consumers, a tax cut for business and will increase the deficit and further threaten essential services like health care and education.
The member for West Vancouver–Sea to Sky, in her debate — and I've been trying to listen to the debates and hear the discussion on both sides of the House — talked about the hodgepodge of goods that are going to be taxed. If you want to look at reality, if you want to look at the facts, you don't go to a deception method of referring to the items as a hodgepodge of goods.
Let's look at some of the items that will no longer be exempt from PST. People will now pay 7 percent more for restaurant meals and catered foods. The restaurant industry basically said that it's going to be a devastating impact.
Over 75 percent of respondents to their poll oppose the HST. They want meals exempt from it, and this government did not listen. Many groceries and snack foods and other prepared foods — salads, sandwiches, heated food, muffins and a coffee…. From this government's own September '09 budget, on page 131, it's going to be an extra $991 million.
School supplies — an extra $55 million. We look at airlines within Canada. They're going to be going up — air fares.
Ferry fares. Even though the fares may have some exemptions, the ferry service requires a whole bunch of goods that will be increased by 7 percent. B.C. Ferries actually said it's going to increase their costs by $6 million a year.
Recreation services like theatre, movie tickets, amusement parks, campground fees, whale-watching tours — all up by 7 percent. The Council of Tourism Associations basically said that there'll be over 5,000 jobs lost, and visitor spending is dropping by close to half a billion dollars. "It's significant," said COTA Chair Jim Storie in an interview.
We look at tax preparation, mutual funds. We start looking at nest eggs, retirement services, all falling under the realm of this government.
We look at veterinary care, farm animals, domestic animals. Bob the Pug — another 7 percent to get him fixed up. Outrageous, hon. Speaker.
Now, when we look at investment counsellors…. I talked about nest eggs. Investment counsellors warn that the HST will make it harder to save for retirement. They say that the harmonized sales tax in British Columbia is going to raise the cost of investment counselling fees from 5 to 12 percent. This is from the Investment Counsel Association of Canada: "The looming HST will affect people's retirements and their nest eggs."
Other professional services — architects, real estate agents, appraisers, yoga classes, dancing, cooking, martial arts, memberships for clubs, gyms, player fees for team sports. We've talked about facility rentals and ice rentals, whether it's minor hockey, figure skating, karate, judo, minor basketball, archery, kids' summer camps. In Prince Rupert ice fees are going to be going up significantly — thousands of dollars for figure skating and minor hockey. We look at massage therapy, acupuncture,
[ Page 4221 ]
alternative medicines. We look at dietary supplements. They're all going up.
Magazines, periodicals, newspapers, newsletters, student yearbooks. Even though books are exempt, these are going to be going up 7 percent.
All types of bicycles, despite the member for Comox Valley — I believe it was Comox Valley — that talked about the little old lady in Kelowna and the one bicycle shop owner in Nelson…. There are hundreds of thousands of people just like those little old ladies in Kelowna and just like that one shopkeeper in Kelowna, and this side had better listen to those facts. Equipment for bicycles, whether it's tricycles, helmets, any supplies needed — all going up 7 percent.
Wedding planners, caterers, funerals, energy-efficient home appliances, car washes, telephone services and basic cable TV service — going up, from the government's own records, $82 million. Residential smoke and fire alarms — again, up 7 percent. Towing and emergency roadside services. Hybrid cars.
The list goes on and on. It's not a hodgepodge of items or goods. It's on a significant part of people's daily lives that this government is ramming down their throats an extra 7 percent, and that's unconscionable.
Now, as we move along, looking at where this government is going with the HST, we look at First Nations and the impact on First Nations. The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs sent a message in their opposition. They strongly oppose the HST because it stands to "increase the poverty of our people and all poor British Columbians."
There was no consultation with First Nations, and the burden of the HST will be felt by consumers. They are 100 percent against this as they've had no consultation. It's going to impact them significantly, especially lower-income households, as there are some proposed rebates, but they will not offset all of the increased taxes.
As we move along with this bill, another section of this truth-or-consequences bill looks at section 66, on page 31, the 12 percent imposed tax on used vehicles, boats and aircraft, which includes snowmobiles, Sea-Doos and ATVs. It's just another gouging of those wanting or needing to sell a used vehicle or marine vessel.
To set the record straight, in the September 2009 budget documents this government indicated that the 7 percent PST will still apply but not be subject to their HST. The quote in here is: "The province will retain a provincial sales tax on the private sale of used vehicles, aircraft and boats." They are "currently subject to PST but not subject to GST and will therefore not be subject to HST." So another commitment, another promise about used vehicles and boats and ATVs and off-road vehicles and snowmobiles and Sea-Doos.
In the 2010 budget, on page 80, it tells a totally different story, a gouging of an extra 5 percent on used vehicles and boats. On page 88 it says: "The application of the 12 percent tax provides comparable treatment between the private sale of vehicles, boats and aircraft."
In other words, there will be another 5 percent increase on used vehicles, boats and aircraft, a gouging of close to $100 million over two years. The government's own forecast in September '09 forecasted that the revenues in 2010-2011 would be $75 million and in 2011-2012 would be $101 million. But the September 2010 documents indicate that the extra 5 percent will be gouged after that — a difference of $125 million and $171 million. So the difference is in the 2010-2011 of $50 million and a difference of $70 million in the 2011-2012. So $120 million is being gouged from those trying to sell used vehicles.
Again, another fly-by-night policy written on the back of a napkin. No input, no consultation, except the new-car guys like it — their friends and donators, the New Car Dealers Association, whose donations since 2005 were greater than $536,000 to this Liberal government.
An Hon. Member: What a coincidence.
G. Coons: Yeah, a real coincidence — including, in the last election cycle, more than $259,000 donated to this government. No wonder there's a huge break for new-car dealers and another hit on those that are….
Hon. P. Bell: Madam Speaker, I hate to break the member's stride, but I seek leave to do an introduction.
Introductions by Members
Hon. P. Bell: I see we're joined in the House by Mike Kennedy and Tim Ryan of Ainsworth Lumber, a British Columbia–based forest company that's investing, building great oriented strand board panel products in the province and employing people all over. Would the House please make them very welcome.
G. Coons: No problems with breaking the stride, Minister.
Last week in this House, listening to the debate, the member for Nechako Lakes said this in the House. This is a quote from the member: "Leadership is about being able to stand up. It's about being able to take positions. It's about being able to bring forward facts, being open to straightforward, honest debate and making sure that when you bring stuff forward, you bring it forward based on sheer fact with backing."
Now, that's laughable. That's laughable coming from this side of the House and again highlights the contempt that this government has for being open, honest, transparent and accountable.
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Referring to that statement, what was the basis? What justification did this Premier have, did this Finance Minister have, did this government have to deceptively, with no input, no consultation, no assessments, no credible reports, no reviews, no analysis, no impact studies as far as implications on small business, on tourism, the restaurant sector or on British Columbians in general…?
This government had an obligation. The Minister of State for the Olympics and ActNow B.C. said that the reality is that British Columbians need facts, and they never got them from this government, and they still aren't getting them from this government. Nothing — no facts, no openness, no honest debate, no straightforwardness, no sheer facts without backing. They promised they would not bring this in, and they broke their promise, and British Columbians don't believe them.
It's not just British Columbians. It's not just the little old ladies from Kelowna or that one bike shop owner in Nelson. It's thousands of British Columbians all over this province that want action from this government. They want answers, and they want to stop the HST.
Now, the Vancouver real estate board, on their website, tried. They did. They brought forward the facts, the reality. They did a comparison on their website — the B.C. HST versus the maritime HST. In it they said that the maritime HST reduced their combined tax rate upon introduction. Newfoundland went from 19 to 15 to 13. Nova Scotia went from about 19 to 13. The B.C. HST does not reduce the combined tax rates, making consumer goods and services more expensive as most items were not previously taxed at 7 percent.
Just look at that. On the maritime side they lowered their taxes from 19 to 13 percent. They lowered them 6 percent. That's about a 30 percent reduction in taxes, and what's happening in British Columbia? On a whole — I hate to quote the member — hodgepodge of goods, significant goods that are going to impact families, that are going to impact First Nations, that are going to impact British Columbians, they are putting the tax from 5 percent to 7 percent, which is 140 percent increase.
There's no comparison with the Maritimes. This government uses shabby information to try to push forward their agenda.
The real estate board also says that the Atlantic Canada HST has increased capital investment. Any increase in capital investment has yet to be determined in B.C. It's a question mark, because there's been no analysis, no impact studies, no reviews, no assessments, no credible reports put on the table by this government or this minister.
The last point as far as the maritime HST. The maritime provinces consulted with business and other industries prior to the introduction. B.C. did not consult with any industry or consumer group prior to their announcement. This is a quote from them: "The B.C. Liberal government also broke their election promise." Now, no matter what mantra we hear on the other side, this government broke their promise, and British Columbians don't believe what they're saying.
Now, the real estate board also looked at the B.C. HST versus Ontario. The Ontario government sought the advice from business and other industries back in January before doing it. No such consultation was done by this government. This is from the Vancouver board.
Again, as far as Ontario, there are no comparisons. The Ontario government is giving….
Deputy Speaker: Member. Member.
G. Coons: It is nice to try to get debate across the House, but I wish the debate would have come prior to the election from the members on the other side.
Now, we look at a timeline of this B.C. Liberal deception about the HST, about this truth-or-consequences bill before us today, Bill 9. You know, the timeline…. The Premier, back in August '09 says: "The fact of the matter — it wasn't on our radar. We didn't engage in any discussions. I wasn't thinking about it until after the election."
He also said: "After the election I mentioned to the Deputy Minister of Finance and said: 'Let's find out what's going on in Ontario and how that's working.' We said: 'Yes, go have a look.'"
He had a look, came back, and reported to us. That's how this Premier runs this province. That's how this government runs this province. They run off to some place and, on the back of a napkin, they come back with their notes, and they try to present something with no study, no analysis and no reports.
Barbara Yaffe said about the Minister of Finance, in the Vancouver Sun: "If the minister indeed was oblivious to Ontario's actions for more than a month, campaign or no campaign, British Columbians have a good reason to question his fitness as a Finance Minister." And British Columbians are questioning not only his fitness but the fitness of this government.
Vaughn Palmer said: "Well, if this HST idea is such a humdinger for the future of the economy, why didn't they do it before the election?" Why didn't they do it?
Well, it's hard to figure out. It's hard to figure out. You know, when we look at in January of 2009, the federal government announces some flexibility for provinces that want to adopt it. In the same month the Ontario Premier says his government is considering it.
You would have thought in January that the brain trust of the Liberal Party would have figured out that maybe we should start thinking about it and talking about it
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and put it on our radar. But they failed not only themselves; they failed British Columbians.
Then two months later, Ontario announces it will adopt the HST in March. March, April, May — a couple of months before our election, still not on the radar. Then, finally, a month and a half after our election, it's announced with great fanfare just six weeks after the election that this government is going to implement the HST. If that isn't an election by deception, I don't know what is. It's shameful.
Now, many of the members on the other side, many of their supporters talk about a bunch of reports that they were referring to — the C.D. Howe report, the Mintz report. But I want to look at Saskatchewan right now.
You know, Saskatchewan — who this government wants to tie in with on other initiatives. The Finance Minister of Saskatchewan just said recently: "We do not support harmonization because of the $400 million burden of taxes that is going to go from business to consumers in this province, and we think it's entirely inappropriate."
G. Coons: Oh, okay. There you go. At least there's some honesty. Honesty — from this side of the House.
We look at Brad Wall. You know, an election campaign in 2007. "I was asked about harmonization, and I said we wouldn't be going in that direction, because we don't think it's right." He kept his word.
This government and this Finance Minister basically threw his trust in the garbage can with the deceitful actions by implementing this HST. Manitoba ruled out the HST for the same reasons. They researched it before making a decision — something, basically, that's unheard of in this province, where we saw no input. We saw or heard of no consultation, no assessments, no credible reports.
I mentioned the three Atlantic provinces. So we start comparing the HST across Canada, and it doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense for a lot of provinces, but this government charges ahead in their deceitful Timbit trail.
Now, all of sudden, the members on the other side, months and months and months after they've put forward their mantra about how great the HST is going to be…. You know, there's a hodgepodge of issues or items that will be taxed. They brought forward their propaganda review, the Mintz report. Previous speakers have talked about it, spinning the B.C. Liberal mantra — 12 pages of questionable claims. That's what British Columbians get from this government — 12 pages, $12,000 of questionable claims.
Now, this government — as Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba did — had the opportunity. They had the opportunity to analyze what the impacts of an HST would be. They could have done some credible reports. They could have done some impact studies, but they failed to do that before embarking on one of the largest tax shifts in B.C. history, $1.9 billion onto consumers.
After an election promise to not bring in the HST because it was bad for British Columbians, all we get is a measly 12-page good-news story, a propaganda report that did not look at all the aspects of the impact of the HST. And I said before, TD Economics said it would add 0.7 percent to the rate of inflation, and a typical household would be worse off.
Mintz did not address that. He offered no analysis. The report that this government put on the table for British Columbians offered no analysis of the HST, did not look at the impact of British Columbians.
Now, I see my time is running out. I just want to comment on what the member for West Vancouver–Sea to Sky said yesterday. She talked about an unholy alliance with Bill Vander Zalm and said that it's basically embarrassing. But what's really embarrassing is that this government and those members don't recognize that over 80 percent of British Columbians oppose this government's progressive HST.
It's just not those little old ladies in Kelowna and that one bike shop owner in Nelson. It's thousands and thousands of them. It's embarrassing. It's embarrassing for this government to sit there and try to defend their HST. What's embarrassing is this Finance Minister telling British Columbians a tall tale about a lame election deficit of only $495 million and, a few short months later, it's six times that amount of $2.8 billion.
But the biggest embarrassment is how this government misled, deceived British Columbians about the HST. First they promised they wouldn't bring it in, and then they brought it in. We, along with the thousands and thousands of people that oppose the HST, will oppose this to the very last day.
Hon. I. Black: I rise to take my place in the spirited debate around probably one of the most important policies that's been debated in this House in a long time.
I've had the opportunity — and I mean that sincerely — to travel the province in the last year or so, where I've had the opportunity to engage the small business community extensively in my role as Small Business Minister and listen one on one and in larger groups to the small business community talking about what's important to them.
There's no question that this policy is resonating with the small business community of British Columbia. I have to say that the common themes that I've encountered along the way include things like misinformation, questions — certainly, myths and a clear appetite to have those cleared up.
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After the display that we saw just a moment ago, I think there's no question that when the members opposite have talked about how their perception that the public has that the HST is going to cost them X percent more for this and X percent more for that and how there's a degree of anxiety in the community….
I have to tell you that if I only had the theatre and the rhetoric provided by the NDP to base my judgment on in this matter, I think, frankly, if that was forming my opinion and education, I'd be quite anxious as well. But the facts betray the rhetoric of the members opposite. There have been many emotional and dramatic speeches.
Hon. I. Black: I can hear that the former school teachers are weighing in on this already, on my remarks.
But there have been many dramatic speeches in this House, none of them really touching, to any extent, on the policy itself, at least not anything remotely resembling an informed debate. We seem in this House to talk ourselves into a great state when it suits us, and that clearly seems to be happening at the moment.
Hon. I. Black: Oh, members opposite — through you, Madam Chair — if I wished to talk myself into a great state, being of proud Scottish blood…. Trust me; you'll know when I get into a great state.
The theatre of this debate has to be put aside.
I had the opportunity through the years, as many of our colleagues did on this side and on the opposite side, to sit on the Finance Committee, where we did what I refer to, tongue in cheek, as the world tour of British Columbia. We did this remarkably compressed tour of this great province to the furthest corners to inquire from British Columbians as to how they'd like their tax dollars spent. For three years I had the opportunity to do that.
It was a bipartisan committee, and the members opposite were part of that. They were with us in the same room when we heard, time after time, from various chambers of commerce, business people, CGAs, accountants — people who actually understand job creation and people who actually understand how to keep the companies competitive to allow them to stay in business — that the HST was something that they would like us to do.
The members opposite were part of the unanimous vote in adopting the report of that committee, which said that this was something that the government should do. Not just to the members opposite but to those watching at home, I understand fully that tax policy is not exactly exciting reading, but the bottom line is that playing on people's emotions is wrong. It's wrong.
I think that the reality that the NDP has taken a stance based on political events of the last 12 months is something I accept. I disagree with it, but I accept that. Yesterday my colleague the Minister of State for Mining was quoting John Maynard Keynes. Ironically, it's a quote that has recently been posted on a website called openDemocracy. It's one of his most famous quotes. Keynes said: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" It was his exact quote.
I have to tell you that the members opposite have taken a stance based on their perceptions of the massive economic shifts that Keynes may have indeed been referring to: the revenues available to governments, where they came from and a new competitive playing field that various countries and jurisdictions and, frankly, provinces are now facing. New realities experienced by every province, by every western country in the world, frankly….
Deputy Speaker: Minister, one moment.
Would members please give the minister the opportunity to make his remarks so that everybody can hear them. Thank you.
Hon. I. Black: Thank you, hon. Chair. Again the members opposite are wrong if they choose to isolate B.C. as being above the worldwide economic meltdown and, instead, turn to the fearmongering and rhetoric that they have.
If you turn to the actual debate itself on the HST, I think, frankly, the debate itself can be broken down into what I see as three basic parts, and there seems to be increasing room for drama and political theatre in each of those three parts.
Now, I know that it's not always politically convenient to do that. You know, rising above the drama and theatre and disposing of the throwaway lines and the drive-by politics is not always easy to do, and it's certainly a lot less fun than looking at something that is otherwise quite dry reading, known as tax policy. But the first element of this debate, in my view, is looking at the numerical or economic discussion, and to do that….
I'm not an economist. I happen to have studied economics a little bit, but the bottom line is that when the average person and many of us in this House are reading reports from economists and are doing so on topics such as tax policy, there's a lot of terminology in there that I think can be very nebulous as to its meaning.
I think of the phrase "capital purchases." It's one you see a lot if you read anything on the HST, which I have. "Capital purchases" is a phrase that comes up a lot. I think that "capital purchases" is an expression which in its simplest term is things that you buy to grow your
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The other term they use a lot is "tax on investment." I think, to the average British Columbian who doesn't have an active role in small business, who isn't among the 384,000 proud small business owners in British Columbia, that when they see the "tax on investment" phrase, it's really a phrase that means something that scares you off investing in your small business, something that is effectively job-killing. It's a disincentive to growth.
Then there's the notion of "tax competitive," another phrase which sounds very antiseptic. It doesn't sound at all emotional or doesn't sound at all like it reaches into the heart and mind of the average person in this province. I think that I've got to count my family among that. We don't sit around the kitchen table and talk about tax competitiveness as a province.
It does resonate closer to home when you translate that into what it really means, which is that tax competitive means job-attracting. Tax competitive means job-creating. That resonates with British Columbians, and I think that is where a lot of the focus of this debate ought to be.
When you turn to, then, again, the not particularly scintillating reading in the area of tax policy and the HST, there are phrases that get tossed around of this kind. One of them is something known as "the marginal effective tax rate." It's not particularly a cocktail conversation kind of phrase, but it means this.
If you refer that back to what I mentioned earlier, where tax on investment is a job-killing phenomenon, a high level of tax on investment is a bad thing and a low level is a very good thing. I think if you use that as your starting point and your ending point in this debate, a lot of the other stuff in the middle, frankly, falls into focus quite nicely.
Right now, to use a number, we have a marginal effective tax rate for our mid- to large-size companies of 29.5 percent. With the HST implemented, this drops immediately by almost a third to 21.6 percent. So what we're saying is that we're going to reduce by one-third the phenomenon that kills jobs, or contrarily, we are going to increase by 50 percent our ability to create jobs within the province. That's one way of looking at it.
That's maybe a numerical starting point, but what does that mean in the broader context? Well, all of us in business compete. Small businesses compete amongst themselves. They compete across the province. They compete across provinces. Many in our small business community are exporters and by definition compete around the world.
So it has to be asked: if one of the key measurements that prevents us from moving forward as small business people is this job-killing notion of investment tax or tax on investment, and we are going to achieve a level of 21.6 percent, down from almost 30 percent, where are we relative to our competitors?
The bottom line is that we right now have a competitive playing field of our top 20 competitors from around the world who have that same tax on investment at about 21.3 percent. By going from 30 relative to 21, down to 21 versus 21, for our mid-sized to large businesses we are now on a level playing field at a time in our economic history where it's absolutely crucial to be there.
Now, that is, of course, at the large- and the mid-sized business level. When you turn to the small business community, we are currently sitting just shy of 25 percent of that same employment-killing tax — for lack of a better phrase. With the HST we will go from 25 percent, approximately, to 11.5 percent. The relative point of 21 percent, or our biggest competitors around the world, our most active competitors around the world, will put us at half that level. We will be in a substantially better position for a small business community than we currently are.
Now, you know, we're very, very proud of what we've done for our small business community in British Columbia over the last eight years and the number of tax reductions we've put in place to go from 4½ percent tax, where we were, down to 2½ percent, promising and to fulfil the promise to go down to 1½ percent and then eliminate the small business tax entirely by 2012. We're very proud of those steps.
But you know, it's a little bit humbling when you actually take the time to read the economists' reports on HST. It's actually quite humbling to realize that when you go and examine what opportunities exist for our small business community in terms of competitiveness as a result of going to the HST….
It's a little humbling, because if you look at the forecast that has been done around tax competitiveness over the next eight years, that lifeblood of encouraging men and women to take real risks — to put their houses on the line, to walk away from good careers and start small businesses and pursue the dreams for themselves and their family and their children — that crucial measurement of tax competitiveness is a really, really important step.
What we've seen from the economists who've analyzed this through the year 2018 is that fully 79 percent of all the tax reductions that small businesses are going to enjoy over the next eight years directly come from the implementation of the HST. That is a phenomenal statement that cannot be ignored in this debate.
When people say that this is somehow going to harm the small business community, they are simply not informed as to what the facts are. The HST is the single greatest thing we can do for our small business community as we move forward.
Now, I mentioned to a chamber of commerce presentation that I did the other day, which was sponsored by the CGA community in British Columbia…. The CGA community is one of the many associations that have
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come out very, very early to support the HST. Frankly, the CGAs were one of the first out of the chute to support the HST, and at that opportunity I thanked them for their leadership in this area.
We have to remember that the CGA Association and the CGA community…. Their primary customer base, their client base, is small businesses, by a long shot, so their opinions on this matter can't be underestimated.
But they do not stand alone. They stand with almost every major association in the province — the retail and the technology, forestry, manufacturing, roadbuilding, truck logging, construction and transportation. All of these associations, all of whom have small businesses that employ people — the opposition is suggesting that these organizations are wrong, that they're wrong to be supporting something that is going to allow them to grow their businesses, which means hiring people.
You look to the vast majority of the think tanks in the province, including the B.C. Business Council; the Progress Board; the Conference Board of Canada; the Institute of Chartered Accountants; and as was mentioned yesterday, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, hardly a right-of-centre think tank, hardly an organization that agrees with the direction of our government…. Yet they have come out against — and under great pressure, I suspect, from their political funders in the NDP…. They have come out and actually said that the HST is the right thing for British Columbia.
So when you analyze this tax measure, and the changes involved in it, on its merits, it is getting support from the most unlikely of corners. That has to make the reasonable person stand back and go: "Maybe there actually is something to this."
In the process of speaking with the chamber, I did reflect upon the contributions of our small business community. I've mentioned them in this House before. The number of small businesses we have in B.C. is enormous. Our reliance on them as a provider of employment — 54 percent, which is the highest ratio in the country…. The providers of over a third of our province's GDP — again, the highest in the country.
As we reflect on all the various things we've done for our small business community over the last years…. I touched on the tax rate that has headed for zero from 4½ percent. I talked with the chamber about the small business tax threshold being increased, the level at which they start paying tax.
Then I talked about something that's equally important to small business owners, which is the personal income tax burden, which has now gone from among the highest in the country to the lowest in all of Canada.
Then we talked, as well, about the additional incentives in our current budget, which raise the point at which you start paying tax as an individual from $9,300 to $11,000. Combined with the $230 GST rebate, it really puts to rest a lot of the nonsense that has been circulating around how the HST is in some fashion going to hurt low-income British Columbians, because the data just does not support that whatsoever.
You know, we actually have just come through some very interesting economic times, as I mentioned. While we are, by most accounts, through one of the most disruptive periods in modern economics, the worldwide financial system still is reinventing itself. All the implications of this really aren't known yet.
When you think about where we're at…. We've gone from a country of relative prosperity in terms of the government's bank accounts over the last decade or so to having $100 billion in deficits across the country. Of that, 50 percent is the federal government, and the rest is split amongst the provinces. But $1.7 billion of that is ours, and we're not happy about it — not for a minute.
While B.C.'s financial turnaround and related revenue swing over the four years from 2002 through 2006 are still considered a remarkable achievement in modern Canadian economics, where we went from about a $3.1 billion deficit through to a $4 billion surplus, that phenomenon and the success of that sits in the shadows of what we've just experienced around the world over the past 18 to 24 months.
I won't dwell on it in long form, other than to say that if you look at Ontario, which went from an $8 billion to a $14 billion to a $24 billion deficit projection, all within the same year…. That's not over three years. That's simply within the same year. Likewise Alberta, the mecca of "we don't do debt," found themselves going from a $2 billion surplus projection to a $7 billion deficit — again, within the same year.
So we are finding ourselves in some very, very different times than we've seen. But I outline that scenario to say that against all of these challenges and the restraints in which we find ourselves as we try to dig ourselves out of the situation we're in at the moment, we're actually spending more than ever before as a government, and that's a very important point to identify.
When we were given the responsibility of governing British Columbia in 2001, the provincial budget was about $28.4 billion. Today it's closing in on $40 billion. It's actually $40.1 billion. So there's not a ministry in government today that doesn't have more money being spent on it than it did back then.
It's against that backdrop of a recovering economy that has weathered the storm better than any other in North America, but with an unwanted provincial deficit…. It is against that backdrop of having now the lowest taxes in Canada for anyone making $120,000 a year or less and a small business tax rate on the verge of being eliminated all together — but with a new playing field of competition for investment and, frankly, customers both within Canada and the international jurisdictions with whom we compete — that we embark on implementing the HST.
Now, I've stood in this House before, and I've said it,
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and I'll say it again just now: the single greatest economic stimulus that this government can do for the small business community of British Columbia is the HST.
I actually understand the angst, as people have expressed through members opposite. When people are contemplating having a change in a tax regime, when you fundamentally are going to change the way that you collect tax in jurisdictions, it's a natural reaction for people to go: "What does this mean to me? What does it mean to my family, my small business and the job prospects that I currently have?" Those are natural reactions. Different sectors are certainly affected differently, so these are reasonable questions.
But when you contemplate the HST…. We've made it very clear that this is about being competitive. It's about jobs, and it's reasonable for people to ask: "What does that mean? What does 'more competitive' mean?"
Really, there are two numbers that jump out. One is the $140 million number. This is what I heard repeatedly as I travelled to Quesnel and Prince George and Fort St. John and Pouce Coupe, when I did a Small Business Roundtable here in Victoria. Actually, it was in Saanich.
We were asked the question repeatedly: "Why are we having to spend the extra money having two different tax systems in place? We're small business people. We can't afford to be spending $140 million a year." That is what it costs the small business community. Incidentally, some estimates are much higher than that. That's the low one. "We're spending this money not growing our business, not hiring more people to help us to be better at what we do or to serve our customers better, but we're spending this collecting, tracking, reporting and remitting on the PST system."
That's a system that everybody except the members opposite, apparently, recognizes as being inefficient and job-killing. These are direct costs to your business, and it's a complete waste of the money of these small business owners.
The other number that's relevant, which has been lauded in this House many, many times, is $2 billion. That's the amount of hidden tax that currently exists in the current PST system.
I think this is a really important point, because we've heard this rhetoric of how this is somehow a new amount of money that's going to be paid by the consumers of British Columbia, and that is just factually and arithmetically impossible.
The hidden and embedded taxes in the products and services that you pay for today in British Columbia already include that $2 billion. When you don't have an ability to subtract it as a cost of doing business, you have no choice but to pass it along to your customers.
The embedded PST is rolled into your cost of doing business — just like your real estate costs as a small business, just like your payroll costs of a small business — and you pass it along to your customers and your mark-up. Customers are already paying this, and you're fooling yourself if you don't think that that's the case. The members opposite, frankly, are just in denial.
Again, we talk about going to the HST as a method of doing something that is extraordinarily important, which is lowering the effective tax on investment by British Columbia by 40 percent. Again that's that thing that creates jobs. We are clearing the runway. We are opening up the doors of opportunity through the HST to the tune of almost 50 percent immediately.
It is actually a single move. In this one move, it is estimated that there will be $14.4 billion of new money, not existing money, that otherwise would not have been invested here over the next ten years. Frankly, that does nothing but translate directly into jobs.
If people at home get one message from what the HST is all about to the people on this side of the House, the HST is about jobs. It's about jobs; it's about jobs; it's about jobs. It's no more complicated than that.
I enjoy listening to some of the remarks from the members opposite when they speak of some of the things that they perceive are going to cost more money and some of the groups that are upset or not upset.
Of course, one of the many myths floating out there is that the HST is going to somehow inflate the cost of buying a home. I think it's important to note that when I was speaking with the chamber, they also had questions about this and were very relieved to hear the answers because they, too, had been hearing some of the rhetoric. The bottom line is that people buying new homes worth up to $525,000 aren't going to pay any more in HST than they currently have embedded in the PST side of things.
That happens to be a fact and, in my view, an interesting and important one for people building homes and trying to buy brand-new houses that no one else has lived in before.
But I think the more pertinent point and part of the fearmongering that's been circulating is that there's a perception in my community that I've had to correct repeatedly in the various phone calls and conversations I've had. It's that the HST somehow applies to the purchase price of an existing home, and that is simply not true.
I've also had some fun speaking with my friends in the restaurant community. You know, it was our government that stood shoulder to shoulder with the restaurant community when the NDP proposed a 25 percent increase to their payroll and of course their famous beer tax. I was Labour Minister at the time, so I know this one well.
The restaurant industry continues to have some fragmented views on this particular point. Some are concerned, some are looking for mitigation, and others are fairly ambivalent on the topic. I spoke to a couple of local restaurateurs in my riding, and one of them said,
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"I'm just glad that the total tax on beer is actually going down from 15 percent to 12 percent" — something that of course the NDP opposition doesn't point out. Others say things like: "A rising tide floats all boats" and "If people don't have jobs, they don't go to restaurants. So we accept the job logic, and we'll welcome them coming in."
Ian Tostenson is a fellow who's been quoted quite a lot. He's the president of the B.C. Restaurant Association, and I know Ian. I have a pleasant relationship with him, and I have to tell you that our dialogue continues on a regular basis.
He sits on the Small Business Roundtable — a very, very important institution to the small business community in B.C. He continues to sit there, and if you ask Ian where his head is at, I would not be surprised to hear him say that, yeah, he's got some members who still have concerns about the HST. But he very quickly goes on to say: "I would take the package of tax policies of the current government since 2001 and those proposed for going forward over any tax policy package being proposed by the NDP any day of the week."
I am going to start concluding my remarks by focusing on a couple of myths that are floating around out there. As I mentioned, the biggest challenge we have is misinformation and misunderstanding, and you're in that unenviable position of trying to use logic and reason to overcome what has been whipped into an emotional discussion predominantly by the NDP.
The fact of the matter is that we have a great deal of endorsers of this policy. It's absolutely the right thing to do in the view of the large number of businesses, business organizations and associations that I mentioned earlier.
But you know, we have faced criticism before, Madam Speaker. When we looked to reduce income taxes by 25 percent on the first day we were in government, we were criticized. Well, we were right, and the economy and British Columbians benefited as a result of that.
When we looked to lower the small business tax rate to zero by 2012, we faced criticism. But we were right, and the economy and British Columbians benefited from that too. A hundred-plus tax reductions were put in place since 2001 with the result that every British Columbian pays an average of 40 percent less income tax than they ever did before.
The bottom line is when you meet with the chambers around this province, they agree, to a chamber, that this government has never done anything to damage the economy. I think that's an important statement to pause and reflect on as people are sitting at home and trying to get their head around all the stuff they're reading in the newspaper — these conflicting and very emotional and dramatic points of view that they're seeing in the newspapers and things that they're chatting about in their coffee shops and around their communities.
The one question that has to be asked is: for all of the value system that the B.C. Liberal Party represents, for all of the things we've done over the last eight or nine years, you can, as a constituent…. I have many in my community who will engage me in one topic or another, and there will some things that they like better than other things that we've done. But there is no debate. There is none.
This is not a government that has ever deliberately and consciously focused on doing something that would fundamentally harm the economy. If that was true, we would not be sitting with 300,000 more jobs today, after going through a recession, than we had in 2001.
So at the end of the day, the HST, which is the lowest in the country, is the right move at the right time. It's going to boost the province's recovery from this global economic downturn, and it's going to capitalize on all the fantastic opportunities generated from the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
When we met with people during those games, they all said the same thing: "We get the B.C. advantage — the people, the industries, the educational institutions, the geographic advantages, the tax policy advantages, what it means to live here and raise a family. We get all of that."
When the HST was introduced, for the sophisticated investors who were coming here from around the world, they looked to us and said, "We get it. We know what it means to have a VAT-type system in the jurisdictions from which we come," which means that our exporters are benefiting, and the HST, for the province of British Columbia, is a game changer.
That's a sentiment that has been echoed by organizations in my own community, the Flavelle mill. David Gray described the logic surrounding the HST advantages — incontrovertible.
I think of Ken Catton from Pacific Coast Terminals in my community — largest exporter of raw sulphur in Canada — and he absolutely says it's good news for him.
I think of Phoenix Truck and Crane, one of the greatest employers in our community, with a passionate management team and owner. He reviews this as simply terrific.
I'm going to close by referencing quotes from the many reports that are out there. Despite the nonsense that I'm hearing about the lack of studies that have been done and information that's out there, I'll turn to the CGA report, where they say this:
"Currently there are a number of people advocating 'no HST.' These people are advocates of the current PST plus GST tax regime, a system of taxation that is both inequitable and inefficient. The exemptions to PST create the" — very social — "inequities. A person buying a coat or a blanket to keep warm pays PST on their purchase, while the person enjoying a champagne and caviar dinner in a restaurant does not pay PST on theirs.
"After harmonization, equal tax rates will be charged on both purchases, thus making it a more equitable tax system. HST will also eliminate the waste associated with compliance and tax-
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cascading and will remove barriers to growth in exports and productivity."
This is how they conclude:
"The HST is better for British Columbia. It is more equitable and more efficient. It will promote exporting and perhaps, most importantly, it will promote investment in capital and productivity, issues that are becoming increasingly important as we collectively manage an economic and demographic future that will be much different from the past."
Finally, I'll quote from the Mintz report where it says: "In summary, the tax reforms about to be implemented in British Columbia will have a profound effect on capital investment, jobs and income in the province representing a giant leap toward its becoming one of the most competitive economies in the world."
Madam Chair, this decision is the responsible and crucial policy for the economy and job prospects of our province, even if it is spirited politics. We firmly stand by it, and with the continued hard work of our small business community and their contributions, we are going to build a stronger B.C. together with the HST helping lead the way.
K. Corrigan: I'm rising to speak in opposition to Bill 9.
A previous speaker, the member for Kelowna–Lake Country, said in his statement that the HST was "not about short-term political gain." The fact that the B.C. Liberals did not tell the people of B.C. about it during the election was entirely about short-term political gain, and it was about broken promises. That's what I'm going to speak about today — broken promises and the consistent pattern of broken promises by this government.
Repeatedly and consistently over the last nine years, this government has made promises during or before elections and done the opposite afterwards. A couple of the previous speakers have talked about the CCPA. I want to just point out a couple of things that the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has said about the HST. In a recent policy note the CCPA said that the HST will not help a slumping economy and that it is not going to create jobs and long-term growth.
Deputy Speaker: Member, I would remind you that you can't read from electronic equipment during debate.
K. Corrigan: It also said that, contrary to what the previous member said, the HST is going to transfer income from the consumers' pockets — $1.9 billion a year — into the pockets of corporations. It goes on to talk about several other things that are problematic about the HST.
But I did say that I want to talk about broken promises. Machiavelli said: "The promise given was a necessity of the past. The word broken is a necessity of the present." We all know that "Machiavellian" is a byword for deceit, despotism and political manipulation.
That quote suggesting that necessity is a justification for first making promises and then breaking them is a particularly apt description of the way this government has behaved not only on the HST but over and over and over again.
K. Corrigan: Well, I'll just go on to talk about some examples for the member opposite. If you break a promise once, then perhaps it can be seen as a mistake or oversight. But when you make promises over and over again during elections, then break them once the objective — i.e., getting elected — is reached, one can't help but conclude that the pattern is intentional and planned, and that speaks to character.
K. Corrigan: So what is that history, as the member opposite asked, that intentional history of saying one thing for the sake of expedience during an election and then doing the opposite once the election is over? Well, I'd like to provide some examples of that pattern.
November 2000. In a pre-election interview with the Guardian, the paper from the Hospital Employees Union, B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Campbell repeatedly….
Deputy Speaker: Member, please don't give members' names.
K. Corrigan: I apologize, absolutely.
Deputy Speaker: I would ask that other members refrain from making comments through other members' speeches. Thank you.
K. Corrigan: Thank you, Madam Speaker, and thank you to the members opposite for reminding me that we do not mention names.
The B.C. Liberal leader repeatedly said that he would not rip up HEU collective agreements. Specifically, the leader said: "First of all, I don't believe in ripping up agreements." And then he said, "I have never said I would tear up agreements," and "I am not tearing up any agreements."
On May 16, 2001, the B.C. Liberals win the election. On January 28, 2002, the B.C. Liberals pass Bill 29, which eliminated negotiated protections for health care and social service workers, including a 20-year-old provision which protected health services and workers from privatization and contracting out.
In other words, after the election the government did exactly what it had promised not to do prior to the election.
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It took five years and a Supreme Court of Canada decision to say that the government's actions were a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Columnist Vaughn Palmer said about this, looking back at it: "Looking back on the hasty adoption of Bill 29, the real driver was probably a rush to minimize the fallout from the Premier's broken promise…. The Premier himself bears a lot of the responsibility for that defeat, as he does for the HEU decision to go to court and challenge the law in the first place." That was from the Vancouver Sun — another example of deceit and deception and broken promises.
In 2001, the New Era document, the election document for the B.C. Liberals, said that they "would not sell or privatize B.C. Rail." The reality in that case was that B.C. Rail was sold to CN Rail in 2004 — a stinky deal that is still before the courts. Here's what columnist Mike Smyth wrote about that broken promise.
Deputy Speaker: Member, I would remind you: we are talking about Bill 9 — if you can refer your comments to Bill 9.
K. Corrigan: I am talking exactly about Bill 9. What I am talking about is a pattern of deception and deceit which is characteristic of not only what has happened with regard to Bill 9 and the promise that was made by this government prior to the election that there would not be an HST, a pattern that is consistent with what has happened in the past. Madam Speaker, I think it's perfectly consistent with the discussion of Bill 9.
Mike Smyth wrote that the leader "promised in the 2001 election not to sell or privatize B.C. Rail. But Paul Nettleton" — former Liberal MLA — "said he was called into Campbell's office shortly after the Liberals' winning campaign, along with other MLAs from rail-dependent Prince George, and told to get 'on-side and on-message' with this sale."
Nettleton was quoted further. "To my surprise and dismay, it became clear we were going to break our promise and we were aligning ourselves with CN," he said. That comes from a story by Michael Smyth in the Province, March 15, 2009.
To further quote Smyth: "The stink rising from the B.C. Rail corruption caper has reached a new high on the stench-o-meter with the fresh evidence linking the Premier's most trusted right-hand man to the malodorous affair…. And still the Premier refuses to comment, refuses to explain."
Deputy Speaker: Member, while I understand your concept of trying to link the two themes, can you make sure that you do link your themes to Bill 9? We are talking about Bill 9, and we need to make sure there's relevancy to your remarks on second reading for Bill 9. I've given you quite a lot of latitude.
K. Corrigan: Thank you. I'll continue the quote. "His whole before-the-court, he-won't-talk-about-it shtick sounds more lame and evasive as the stink rises ever higher." That was Mike Smyth in the Province, March 27, 2009. This is yet another example of a case similar to the HST, where the government said one thing prior to an election and then did the opposite after the election.
I would like to give you another example of where there was a broken promise prior to the election and then a change of course after the election, similar to what there was with this HST bill or Bill 9. Prior to the 2001 election, the Liberals promised B.C. seniors that they would build 5,000 new long-term care beds in five years. The quote from the New Era document was: we will "work with non-profit societies to build and operate an additional 5,000 new intermediate and long-term care beds by 2006."
"Between 2002 and 2004 the government in fact rushed to close 26 residential care facilities throughout the province, for a net closure of 2,500 beds, or 15 percent of the total bed stock. This was done without any replacement beds being made immediately available. It wreaked havoc on the lives of seniors and their families and has been repeatedly cited as the key factor in overcrowded hospitals."
That comment came from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in 2005.
There were many validators to the concern that was expressed about the closure of beds and the failure to meet the province…. Similarly, there are many validators at this time now saying that the government was deceitful and misrepresented what they were doing prior to the election and then changed their tune after the election — similar to Bill 9.
For example, here's what the B.C. Medical Association said about the Liberal record on long-term-care beds in May of 2008. They said: "In 2001 the provincial government committed to create 5,000 new residential care beds by 2006, but in fact the number decreased by 1,464." That was the B.C. Medical Association in May of 2008. At that time the Premier even pretended that the targets had been met and argued with the B.C. Medical Association.
Deputy Speaker: Member, I would once again urge you to try to be relevant to Bill 9.
K. Corrigan: Madam Speaker, what I am trying to establish is something that I think is very important in this House and, in fact, to the people of British Columbia, and that is the fact that we have a continual pattern of deception by this government saying one thing before the election and then doing entirely the opposite.
The only way that I can establish that it is a pattern is to give examples of where this has happened over and over again. I think it's important to the people of B.C. to find out about that and to think about the fact that
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we have a government here that is continually doing the same thing, which is saying one thing prior to the election and then doing completely the opposite — doing anything that it needs to do, saying anything that it has to say in order to get elected and then doing entirely the opposite and misleading people, just like with Bill 9.
Deputy Speaker: And I would ask the ministers not to try and direct the member. That comes from the Chair.
Thank you, Minister.
K. Corrigan: In fact, the promise about the beds failed so completely in 2001 that the Liberals made the promise all over again in 2005. It wasn't till a year ago that the B.C. Liberals finally admitted that they built 800 beds.
Quoting again from the CCPA: "Today there are actually 804 fewer residential care beds. In their place 4,393 new assisted-living units have been added since 2001, albeit with lower support and staffing levels. Instead of the 5,000 new residential care beds, only 3,589 net new assisted-living units have been added to the public system." That's from the CCPA, An Uncertain Future for Seniors.
Deputy Speaker: Member, one moment.
Point of Order
Hon. C. Hansen: Madam Speaker, I think you have given direction to the member on several occasions. I think there are ramifications for a member who totally disregards the instructions of the Speaker with regard to relevancy. I have been listening carefully to the member. I see no relevance from her remarks that pertain to Bill 9.
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Member.
As I have mentioned several times, we are discussing Bill 9, and while we understand the way that your argument is going, we are trying to discuss Bill 9 in its specifics as much as possible. So if you can keep your remarks relevant to Bill 9, it would be very helpful for the continued debate.
K. Corrigan: Thank you, Madam Speaker, for those comments. I appreciate it.
I want to give another example of how it is that the deceit by this government in saying, on the HST before the election, that the government was not going to bring in the HST, that it was not Liberal policy yet after the election suddenly it was Liberal policy, and how that deceit and deception of the people of British Columbia is similar and is part of a pattern.
I'm going to give another example of how that deception is part of a pattern. The Liberal Party's New Era document for its 2001 election campaign promised to "stop the expansion of gambling" that has increased gambling addiction and put new strains on families.
Deputy Speaker: Member, once again I would like to remind you that the discussion of this is we are discussing Bill 9, the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act. This is about the removal of the PST and the implementation of the HST.
While we understand the thematic of your argument, to be going on about other areas for quite so long I think is losing the spirit of the debate. If you can keep the focus on Bill 9, it would be very appreciated.
K. Corrigan: Well, I think that the people of B.C. would be interested in hearing about the many more examples there are that are similar to the way the government has behaved with regard to the HST and Bill 9, and I could certainly provide many more examples to do with education. We were talking about gambling. I could certainly talk about the remand centre in Burnaby, where the government said one thing prior to the election and then did another thing after the election, just like what is happening now with Bill 9. There are so many more examples, but I guess at this point I will talk about the present government deceit.
During the 2009 election campaign this government made many promises. First of all, the deficit was not going to be any more than $495 million, not a penny more — which, again, is fiction. It's been very clear in this House and throughout the work of reporters that the government was well aware during the election period that the deficit was going to be substantially higher than that.
But remember the pattern of false statements or promises during the election to be followed by an about-face after the election. I've already given some examples of that, and we can certainly see that here again with Bill 9.
That finally takes me to the most recent and, I think, despicable promise broken, a promise accepted by and relied upon by businesses and individuals throughout this province that the government would not bring in a harmonized sales tax. The Liberals have said they didn't bring this up during the election because it wasn't on their radar, but British Columbians do not believe that this process was not already well underway during the election.
The people of this province are not that stupid. They don't believe it. On March 30 at a meeting with the provincial finance ministers, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty confirmed that "other provinces had approached him about the HST." Provinces without the HST are Saskatchewan, Manitoba, P.E.I. and B.C., and
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all but B.C. have confirmed that it wasn't them who approached Flaherty. Very specifically it was said before the election that there would be no HST.
One of those sectors that relied on the Liberals when they made those statements was the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, which asked the Liberal Party directly what their position was on the HST. What exactly was the Liberal position before the election? Well, I quote:
"While some British Columbians have suggested that a harmonized PST and GST might be beneficial, others have pointed out that it would extend the PST tax base to a broader range of goods and services that are presently exempt from the provincial sales tax.
"Such items that are currently PST exempt include energy-efficient appliances, membership fees for clubs and gyms, newspapers and magazines, taxi fares, restaurant food and the professional services of architects and accountants. This is a major concern.
"The B.C. Liberals are also mindful that a harmonized GST would reduce the provincial government's ability to unilaterally adjust sales tax rates. This harmonized GST would make it harder for future provincial governments to lower or raise sales tax rates, which reduces flexibility.
"In short, a harmonized GST is not something that is contemplated in the B.C. Liberal platform."
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Exactly the same commitment was made in writing by the Liberals to the Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association, that it was a major concern, an inflexible tax and not to be contemplated under a Liberal government. That's the promise that I was referring to earlier, in response to the member's question from across.
Now less than a year later we are getting set to have it rammed down our throat without a word of regret or any apology to the people who believed what they were told before the election. You know, it makes you wonder. Is it any wonder that the Liberals are falling in the polls? It's bad enough that people get slammed with a $2 billion tax grab, a shift to consumers, but the worst thing is getting it slammed on you after you've been promised that it wasn't going to happen.
I had a town hall meeting several months ago, and I had hundreds of people come to the town hall meeting about the HST. They were upset as consumers. They were upset as people trying to balance their budgets, having families that were worried about all the extra costs that they were going to pay for so many different items.
They were all worried about that, but the thing that they were just vibrating about, that they were so angry about…. Speaker after speaker got up and said: "I can't believe that they could say one thing before the election, claim one thing, and then do just the opposite after the election."
Well, why did they do it? Two reasons, I think: to reward the largest corporations, who are getting a $1.9 billion tax cut. It's going to be transferred to consumers. And here's the other reason: the federal government offered them $1.6 billion if they would harmonize the tax.
This tax is going to hurt a lot of people. It's going to add 7 percent, for a total of 12 percent, on services across the province. In addition to services that are going to get hit, there are going to be all sorts of goods that were subject to the GST but which the province used to exempt.
Many of those were exempted because they helped out the environment. Some of those are: $55 million for school supplies, $8 million more for bicycles, $5 million more for hybrid vehicles, millions more for energy-efficient home appliances and hot water tanks and so on, conservation products, insulation. The list goes on more and more. It goes on and on.
We're also going to be paying 7 percent more for restaurant meals and catered foods; services such as taxi fares; entertainment like live theatre, movie tickets, amusement parks; professional services of architects and accountants; management fees charged to mutual fund investors; tax preparation; veterinary care; classes — I've heard several members talk about yoga, so apparently there are lots of yoga fans in the House — cooking; dancing; membership fees for clubs and gyms; acupuncture; haircuts and beauty salons; services to appliances, getting your appliances fixed; cleaning services; dry cleaning; carpet cleaning. The list goes on and on, and goods as well — periodicals, newspapers, magazines.
So who is it going to hurt? It's going to hurt a lot of small businesses. I've heard a lot of talk about this being great for small business, but the reality is that businesses like restaurants are going to have to add 7 percent onto their bills. That's why the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association is opposed. The B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association says this is going to cost them $750 million a year in lost sales.
Some 173,000 people, or 7.5 percent of the workforce, are employed in B.C.'s restaurant industry, and it's going to hurt that industry. My son is one of them. He works in a restaurant as a bartender, and he's worried about losing his job. They're already talking about whether or not his hours are going to be cut back directly as a result of the HST.
The Council of Tourism said it will cost up to 10,000 direct and indirect jobs and will lower tourism revenue in the range of $350 million to $550 million a year.
Families are worried. Families are worried because there will be an average extra cost to consumers of around $450 a person. That's not per family. That's per person. That's a lot of money to the average person who is already being squeezed by increased MSP premiums, stagnant wages, increasing costs and a minimum wage that has stayed the same since 2001. The people who have the lowest wages are losing, year after year, while the rich are getting richer.
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Social service organizations are going to hurt. Residential seniors facilities. The B.C. Care Providers found that the HST would transfer tax from seniors care back to the Ministry of Finance.
It's also going to hit our school system. School boards are already reeling from a number of downloaded costs, and in addition, they're going to have a partial hit from the HST.
Let's not forget what the people of B.C. have said about this. The people of B.C. are overwhelmingly opposed to this tax, and they're opposed to it for good reason. A recent Ipsos-Reid poll released in December said that 82 percent of residents in B.C., 82 percent of the respondents to the poll, were opposed to the HST, and only 12 percent were supportive. The reason they said that is because they think it's going to hit them directly in the pocketbook.
They had said that it's going to hurt consumers. It's going to make goods and services more expensive, and many believe that the HST is going to hurt business in addition.
You know, the government was desperate in its attempt to sell the tax as well. Yeah, another fiction, another deceit, another misleading move, a cynical move was to say that the HST was going to be tied to health care. This is a fiction which means nothing. It's an absolute shell game and a gimmick.
All we have for support for this tax is a scant report done eight months after the fact, done by a researcher who had already expressed his support for a value-added tax. So we have no in-depth research of what sort of effect the HST will have on B.C. That is astounding — that the government wouldn't have fully analyzed and would not have consulted before making this kind of an announcement.
I've heard so many members from the other side standing up and saying: "This is the best thing for B.C." Well, if they thought it was the best thing for B.C., why did they not consult, why did they not tell people before the election that this was what they were going to do, and why did they not provide the analysis prior to the election? We know why that is. They didn't want to do it because they thought they had a better chance of winning the election if they didn't tell people what it was that was going to happen.
We on this side of the House are continuing to work in our constituencies. We are going door to door. We're listening to consumers, and we're bringing the anger of the consumers and families who are struggling, small businesses that are worried…. I see those businesses all the time. I have lots of small businesses in malls in my community. I'm going from business to business, and they're telling me how angry they are about the tax and the fact that they weren't told about it prior to the election.
There is resounding opposition to this bad tax, and we on this side of the House will continue to fight against this legislation. We're going to take it to the members on the other side's doorstep as well, because as we have said, all we need is seven MLAs who are willing to stand up with their constituents and make the choice to oppose this bad tax.
In conclusion, I think that after the behaviour on this tax — the way it was handled, the fact that we were not told that there was deceit prior to the election — how can you blame people for being cynical about government? How can you blame people for not voting in elections? They've become so cynical about government and how governments treat them. I think our populace deserves far better — particularly young people, who have become disillusioned.
My final remark on the HST, on Bill 9, is that I think this bill and the fact that there is a broken promise yet again is a long and sad commentary, a long and sad pattern that this government has followed of saying one thing during an election and doing just the opposite after the election and feeling that that is perfectly appropriate behaviour. Going back to what Machiavelli said: "The promise given was a necessity of the past. The word broken is a necessity of the present."
Hon. J. Yap: It's my honour and privilege to take my place in this debate on Bill 9. To start off, I would like to first of all address some of the comments from the last speaker, the member for Burnaby–Deer Lake, who talked about promises. As we know, we promised to keep B.C. strong, and we will do just that with the HST.
We promised tax cuts and brought in the 25 percent income tax cut the day after the government was sworn in, in 2001. We delivered. We promised to reduce red tape in the first term of this government, and we delivered a 60 percent reduction in red tape. We delivered. We promised to invest and improve health care, and we've done just that. We have among the best health care systems in Canada today. We delivered.
We promised to grow our economy and that we would focus on creating jobs. Over 300,000 jobs have been created since 2001. We promised to restore prudent fiscal management to British Columbia, and we've restored a triple-A credit rating to the province of British Columbia. We delivered. And this is a good one; listen up. We promised to deliver a great Olympic Games that can be a great springboard for British Columbia, and we delivered.
I've had the opportunity to listen to the debate from members on both sides of the House and, predictably, the members of the opposition are opposed and negative and resorting to all kinds of arguments without really focusing on the benefits of, really, a value-added tax — the benefits. You know, I can understand that members of the opposition will want to engage in innuendo and other types of discussion, but really, introducing the
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HST, introducing a value-added tax, a consumption value-added tax, is the best thing that we can do to help British Columbia at this time in our history.
I know that previous speakers on this side of the House have made a number of references, but it's very important and bears repetition. I, first of all, want to start with this quote from the eminent economist, Dr. Jack Mintz. I quote from his report: "Without a doubt, British Columbia's sales tax harmonization will be a game changer, promoting capital investment in the province and providing an opportunity for the private sector to create jobs and pay higher wages to workers." That's Dr. Jack Mintz.
I know it's a theme that's been touched on by my colleagues — that this, Bill 9, is really about jobs, jobs, jobs. It's about creating the climate for the private sector to make investments, to create opportunities, to hire more people, to create more prosperity and thereby strengthen communities and provide revenues to government that will enhance services throughout the province of British Columbia. Introducing the harmonized sales tax at the lowest rate in Canada, of 12 percent, will help us do just that.
This is the most important thing we can do to strengthen our economy. We already have a very competitive tax system here in British Columbia. As I mentioned, we reduced personal income taxes the day after the government was sworn in, in 2001. We recall the howls of opposition from the NDP and all of their colleagues that this was the wrong thing to do, and we showed precisely that it was the right thing to do.
It restored confidence in British Columbia as a place to do business, to invest. Since 2001 we have made over 100 tax reductions. Moving to the HST will mean a 40 percent reduction in the effective tax rate on new business investment in the province of British Columbia.
Don't take our word for it. Look at the record around the world. More than 130 countries, including the most advanced industrialized economies, have a value-added tax. I know it's been already mentioned by past speakers on this side of the House that there are jurisdictions in other parts of the world that have a value-added tax that has a rate in the 20 percent range, and we're talking about the lowest HST rate in Canada, at 12 percent here in British Columbia.
Dr. Jack Mintz talks about the positive economic stimulus that the HST will provide: an $11.5 billion increase in capital investment over the next ten years, a net increase of 113,000 jobs in the province of British Columbia over the next ten years. That is the economic stimulus that we need, and that's what members of the opposition are speaking against as they stand up, one after the other after the other, opposing this tax change that will benefit British Columbia.
The HST will remove $1.9 billion from the costs which are already reflected in the prices that people pay. I know that the opposition want to spin their message and say: "Oh, it's $1.9 billion in new taxes." Well, actually, it's $1.9 billion that is already embedded in the costs.
I know that the opposition will not want to talk about the fact that it's businesses — which are the generators of economic value, the generators of jobs, the generators of investment — that will provide the jobs that are already paying PST and that now, through HST, will have the ability, through the input tax credit, to reflect that those were input costs. It thereby will lead to competitive improvement and growth in investment and jobs.
Here are a few specific examples. For those who want numbers, we'll share a few numbers. Sectors that will realize specific savings that have been identified include the forestry sector, which we've heard so much about. It's so important to our economy around the province of British Columbia, especially in the Interior and in rural British Columbia. The forestry sector — $140 million in just that one sector — will realize the following savings: $140 million.
Mining, oil and gas are very crucial generators of jobs and investment and the strength of communities in our province, and $80 million will be removed from the costs of this sector.
The transportation sector is very important for our province in terms of moving our goods and services and allowing us to trade as an open trading economy — very important — and $210 million will be moved from the cost structure of the transportation sector.
In the construction sector — $880 million from that one sector that is so important to the economy of British Columbia.
Those are examples of positive, competitive changes that will come with the change to the HST.
We're mindful that we need to ensure the most vulnerable and those on lower incomes are protected, and this bill will allow a rebate of up to $26,000 in terms of housing. It will allow a rebate up to $26,000 on homes up to $525,000, which covers a lot of new homes. Homes above that threshold of $525,000 will be eligible for the rebate amount of $26,250. Used homes — a large part of home ownership, the dream of many British Columbians — will not be subject to HST.
We on this side value the private sector and their contribution to our economy, and it's important to encourage investment and encourage job creation so that we can have strong communities and ultimately the revenues to the province that allow us to deliver the services that British Columbians expect and want.
We've heard a lot about the NDP opposition wanting to lecture this side of the House on economic policy. I want to harken back to the record of this group, who I know want to one day have a chance to return to this side of the House. But let's remember what happened when they were last given that privilege by British Columbians to be government.
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In the 1990s Canada's economy and North America's economy were actually doing quite well. But what happened in British Columbia? We had year after year of economic decline. British Columbia was last in terms of investment and job growth.
They're facts. I realize that the opposition are frugal with the facts, are very selective with the facts, but we need to have some balance here in the debate. So I'm trying to inject that balance.
British Columbia was last in terms of investment and job growth, and the average annual take-home pay for British Columbians went down by an average of $1,738. It went down during the 1990s. Some 50,000 British Columbians voted with their feet and left our great province during the 1990s. We actually declined in population; 50,000 British Columbians left B.C. One in ten British Columbians was on welfare. This is the record of that side of the House, who are seeking to lecture us and to tell British Columbians how much they know about….
Hon. J. Yap: Exactly. My colleague has it right. The number is over 300,000 people on welfare. Under the NDP, eight consecutive deficits. They missed virtually every single deficit reduction plan they came up with during the 1990s and doubled the province's debt.
So it is a bit rich to receive a lecture — and I know my colleagues share this feeling — from a group who have no idea about economic policy, about governance, about fiscal management which British Columbians expect. I mentioned that we promised a return to prudent fiscal management, recognized around the world and allowing us to have a triple-A credit rating….
Deputy Speaker: Minister, just take your seat for a moment, please.
Members, should you wish to engage in debate, it's done through the Chair and only when you're on your feet.
Minister, please continue.
Hon. J. Yap: During the 1990s, I'd just like to remind my constituents and British Columbians that we had one credit downgrading after another. By the end of the 1990s, British Columbia had sunk to have-not status. That's under the NDP, and some of the members who were there in the '90s are here, including the member who is heckling me.
Let's not forget that during the 1990s, we had among the highest taxes in North America. It was a disincentive to want to invest, to do business, to try to create jobs here in British Columbia because that side of the House believed — and perhaps sincerely — that taxing and spending was the way to go.
We all recall the job killer called the corporate capital tax, which that side of the House brought in during the 1990s and which put a chill on investment right here in British Columbia. That was a signal to the whole world that no, we don't want your investment; we want to tax wealth. Simply because you have capital, we want a piece of your action. That was a tax that drove away business, and we know what happened. As I've mentioned, business left British Columbia during the 1990s.
The HST, with this bill and the harmonization, will also include the option for British Columbia to receive a transition payment from the federal government. This transition payment is actually recognition that by agreeing to harmonize our provincial tax with the federal GST to create the HST, we're actually making British Columbia and, by extension, Canada, more competitive.
That $1.6 billion…. I know that the NDP opposition have characterized it in many ways, casting aspersions to it, but it's money that will help us manage our finances, will help us pay for the services that British Columbians all expect and need, and will help us through this transition period.
The HST, I know, is of concern to some British Columbians who are listening to the debate, listening to members of the opposition and their supporters who are making completely outrageous statements about the impact on their lives after HST is implemented.
You know, many of my colleagues have already talked about the restaurant industry, for example. Some members of the restaurant industry are expressing concern without really looking at the reality. Are people really going to stop going to restaurants to have that coffee and doughnut because the HST is in effect? I think not.
Hon. K. Krueger: Not likely.
Hon. J. Yap: Exactly. There has been and there is a lot of misinformation, and I understand that in a democracy there's debate, but we need to be clear on the facts, and the fact is that this is a value-added tax that we're moving to that will put us in line with the modern industrial economies of the world.
The last time I checked, the modern industrialized economies of the world are still doing very well. People are still going to restaurants, people are still buying newspapers, and people are still buying the services they need, even with the value-added tax that they've had for years.
It is a scurrilous argument on the part of the opposition to be saying that suddenly, by going to a value-added tax that is in place in many parts of the world and that will be in place in much of Canada with the other provinces, especially Ontario, moving to this, somehow we will be
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disadvantaged. We want to make that clear. I want to make that clear on the record.
The NDP seem to be a bit conflicted on this, because, as has been stated by colleagues, they were actually part of the consultation. I've had the opportunity as a member of this House to be part of the Finance and Government Services Committee that once a year travels and consults with British Columbians.
For two years in a row the Finance and Government Services Committee, made up of members of the opposition and including members of the government side, consulted with British Columbia, consulted with the business community. One of their recommendations in the report suggested that the Minister of Finance consider the benefits of the HST.
You know, for the opposition to say there was no consultation, no discussion, that suddenly it happened, is really not correct. There's been a lot of discussion. It has been a possibility that's been discussed in the past. I know that perhaps during the 1990s when they were in government — and we all know the terrible relations that the NDP government had in the 1990s with the federal government — it was very difficult for British Columbia to do business with the federal government, to come to an arrangement that would benefit British Columbia.
That's their experience, but the experience of this government…. Thanks to our Premier and the relations we've built over the last number of years, we can actually do business collaboratively with the federal government, and with the HST we did that. We received favourable terms to come to the table and to harmonize our tax to join the modern industrial economies of the world.
I realize that the NDP opposition cannot believe that we can actually work collaboratively and make decisions, including difficult decisions, on a time frame which is very foreign to them. I understand the NDP enjoy processing and studying and really not being prepared to make tough decisions. We know that this is a difficult decision, because it is a change.
It is a change, and we understand change can sometimes be anxiety-causing, but we have to talk about the benefits that will come and the reality — the facts. The facts are that when Bill 9 is passed and the PST is repealed and we harmonize our tax with the GST to create the HST, we will put British Columbia in a stronger position for economic growth into the future.
Don't take my word for it. Every credible economist and business leader in the country — business leaders of small, medium and large corporations…. I know large corporations are somehow considered to be less than desirable by some members of the NDP, but they are the generators of jobs. The business community, whether it's a large, medium or small business — that's where we generate prosperity through investment, job creation and growth.
I'd like to share a few quotes. Some may have already been shared with the House, but this is an important debate. We want to make sure that British Columbians understand that this is important.
Here's one — the forest industry, represented by the Coast Forest Products Association. Rick Jeffery, who is the CEO, had this to say: "Setting the stage for increased competitiveness, the HST encourages investment, drives increased productivity, provides job security for highly paid workers in this sector." That was in September of '09.
Staying with forestry, the B.C. Lumber Trade Council. Another quote, from John Allan, the president: "For the forest industry, the HST immediately lowers operating costs, preserves cash, helps preserve existing jobs and working family incomes."
From the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, a highly respected organization representing small and medium-sized businesses. John Winter, the CEO, had this to say: "With the commitment to harmonization and the other measures announced regarding personal, corporate and small business tax, the provincial government must be congratulated for creating the most competitive taxation regime in North America."
And this one, I think, is really worth…. I encourage the members of the opposition to listen to this one. A professor at the University of British Columbia, Kevin Milligan, had this to say: "HST isn't a left-right issue. It isn't ideological as far as economists are concerned. It is just good policy."
The major group representing accountants. Regardless of the views of members of the opposition, they know about business management and financial management — Chartered Accountants of British Columbia. Richard Rees, the CEO, had this to say: "We have been calling for harmonization for several years. Given the current economic climate and Ontario's recent move to harmonization, there is no better time than now to take this important step."
The NDP opposition have had the opportunity to debate and go on the record. I want to share a few things that suggest they seem to be…. In spite of some of the comments made, they actually, maybe grudgingly, would concede that maybe there is something to the value of harmonizing our tax. For example, the member for Cariboo North in the fall of last year said: "Taxes aren't bad. Harmonized taxes aren't bad. It just needs to be done right." That was said by the member.
The Leader of the Opposition had this to say: "There's no question some large companies will benefit from the HST. We've said that all along." That's positive.
We've heard one member after another attempt to cast aspersions on the value of harmonizing our tax, on the value-added tax which would put British Columbia in line with not just the province of Ontario. It would allow us to be more competitive and would put us in line with
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some of the most modern industrial economies in the world with high living standards. Some members of the opposition actually expressed that it's not too bad.
I already talked about the Finance and Government Services Committee reports two years in a row that supported the Finance Minister looking at the benefits of harmonizing the tax.
Harmonizing the provincial and federal GST into HST will give British Columbia's economy a boost. As I said in my opening comments, Madam Speaker, there's nothing more important than making British Columbia more competitive, because through a more competitive tax system and a more productive economy, we invite investment. We invite people to move here.
We just had the biggest promotional event that any country could have, the 2010 games, to invite the world to come and invest in British Columbia, to move here, to find opportunities, to find investment returns, to hire people. We believe, on this side of the House, that this economic stimulus that the HST will provide will really help us in terms of a launching pad into the future with the 2010 games. This would help us really launch our economy.
We already have a very competitive tax system, and I keep coming back to it. We need to be clear. I know British Columbians — some British Columbians — might be a bit confused. "Well, wait a minute. Isn't this HST going to mean higher taxes for me?" The members of the opposition are promulgating that thought.
We want to be clear. I want to be clear, in the time that I have, to say that in British Columbia we have one of the most competitive tax systems. Anyone earning up to $118,000 in Canada — and that covers a lot of British Columbians — pays the lowest personal income tax provincially anywhere in Canada.
We also have, as has been said — and I want to be clear about it as well — the lowest and will get to the lowest corporate income taxes in Canada. We also are moving to a zero small business tax rate. By 2012 it will be zero.
We are doing the right thing for the economy of British Columbia. We are doing the right thing to attract investment and job creation. We're doing the right thing to build a more prosperous and stronger future for British Columbians.
The HST will help us get to that place where we will encourage investment, where we will encourage growth, where we will encourage job creation and strengthen communities around the province of British Columbia through this harmonized tax, bringing British Columbia — again, as I said — in line with some of the most modern, strongest and prosperous economies around the world.
I support this Bill 9, Madam Speaker. I support the HST. I encourage all members on both sides of the House…. I know colleagues on this side of the House support the HST, support Bill 9. I encourage members of the opposition, those who haven't made up their minds fully, to be open to the possibilities that this is the right thing to do.
It may not be the most popular thing to do, but sometimes with the responsibility of leadership, it's about doing the right thing and not the most popular thing.
With that, Madam Speaker, I want to thank you and the House for this opportunity to speak. I support Bill 9 and encourage all members of the House to support Bill 9.
S. Chandra Herbert: Well, I'll start off just by saying that the viewers at home may have noticed my name has changed. In fact, I just got married not long ago, so that's maybe why the name is different on your screen. [Applause.] Thank you to the members for the congratulations.
I was just thinking about weddings and thinking about Bill 9, the HST and the connection. I guess weddings are where you exchange vows. You make your commitment to each other and what goes on in that relationship.
S. Chandra Herbert: I think the connection is to elections. The minister was wondering what the analogy was, and I think the analogy is around elections and the commitments you make to voters.
I would guess that you would, in an election — at least how I try to run it, and I'm sure the members have as well — through platform commitments and commitments to their voters…. They tell them what they're going to do, they tell them what they're not going to do, and that's the kind of commitment that they make.
Now, I know it's a bit of a stretch to compare an election to a wedding in some ways because it's rare that our constituents love us in good times and in bad times, in sickness and in health. But they certainly do let us know how they think and what they want us to do, and they do expect us to stay true to our words.
That's a good thing, because I think that as representatives of our constituents, if we are going to tell them we're going to do one thing before an election and in an election, they certainly have good faith to believe we will continue to follow that promise after the election. A vote definitely is based on trust, and 3 percent more of the electorate trusted the B.C. Liberals at the time of the election because they trusted the words of the B.C. Liberals and believed they would follow through.
I speak today in opposition to this HST legislation because it is against that trust. It goes against the vows that were made to the electorate by the B.C. Liberals in the election. It goes against that very commitment, the very faith that British Columbians placed in the members opposite to do. They put their trust in them to be against the HST, as they'd committed.
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I'm opposed to the HST because it will make life more difficult for my constituents who also — surprise, surprise — are resoundingly opposed to it. I'm opposed to the HST because it will not provide one dime for health care or education. Instead, it will increase the costs of both and make it more expensive to get an education or to stay healthy.
I'm opposed to this bill because it's some of the most cynical backroom politics we've seen in this province, and it's bad for democracy and the faith that citizens put in us and that engagement that is so necessary for a healthy democracy to continue.
I'm opposed to this bill because it continues a trend that the B.C. Liberals have followed, squeezing the middle class and continuing cuts to the programs and services that British Columbians rely on, all the while maintaining the worst record of child poverty in Canada — numerous working poor folks living on the street, seeing a 400 percent increase in homeless people…. The list goes on. A very few have done okay. The rest of us have not done as well. That's for sure.
Now, I'm not opposed to the HST because of a knee-jerk response of opposition to taxes. No, there are good taxes; there are bad taxes. I think we all agree taxes are necessary because of their role in providing for things like health care, education, police, etc., down the road. But when you get to the question of what is a good tax and what is a bad tax, we've got to talk about: what is the vision for a society?
Do we believe in fairness? Do we believe that we should all have an opportunity to succeed? Well, certainly I do. Certainly the opposition on this side does. So we need to look at what kind of taxes. I think progressive taxation is largely where we differ with that side of the House.
That side of the House has been moving us more and more closely to a flat tax, where basically if you have a lot, you do very well. If you're in the middle, you do poorly. If you're on the low-income side, you also do poorly because the services that taxes provide get cut back further and further and further.
Progressive taxation ensures that if you are doing very well in a society…. I know a number of people that I work with and a number of business owners that I talk to say that they are and that they don't mind paying more taxes in terms of being able to provide for the kind of equality they want to see in their communities. I think that's a good thing. Now, of course, you need to balance it, and I think that's an important thing to make. You've got to keep taxes progressive, but you also need to ensure that there's proper support and assistance for businesses to prosper, as well as your community.
But instead of progressive taxes, we have the HST, which is not a progressive tax. If you're in the middle income, you pay more. If you're wealthier, you would pay the same amount as somebody middle-income. If you're in the low income, you pay the same amount as if you were in the high income. So if you go to the McDonald's, everybody…. It doesn't matter what pay rate you make, you pay the same amount on the HST.
Hon. K. Krueger: That's not true.
S. Chandra Herbert: I hear the Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts suggest that it's not true, that if you pay more at the McDonald's….
S. Chandra Herbert: The point I made, which the minister seemed to disagree with, was that at McDonald's…. Everybody goes there. They pay the same. They buy the same items. If you're wealthy, if you're poor or if you're middle-income and you buy the same items, you pay the same amount of tax.
Now, maybe the minister opposite can afford to pay more tax because of his salary. Unfortunately, with the HST he pays the same amount as the person who doesn't have a salary or the person who's sitting on minimum wage, which has continued to be held back while the rest of Canada has increased its minimum wages. But the minister might not understand that, since that seems to be the concern of that side — to further confuse.
Maybe the minister would like to hear what the B.C. Liberals said about the HST. Maybe that would remind him of why we continue to oppose this tax, why British Columbians oppose this tax and why such a short while ago that side of the House also opposed the tax.
The B.C. Liberals said:
"While some British Columbians have suggested that a harmonized PST and GST might be beneficial, others have pointed out that it would extend the PST tax base to a broader range of goods and services that are presently exempt from provincial sales tax. Such items that are currently PST-exempt include energy-efficiency appliances, membership fees for clubs and gyms, newspapers and magazines, taxi fares, restaurant food and the professional services of architects and accountants. This is a major concern."
So the B.C. Liberals thought it was a major concern. Oh, when was that? Oh, it was during the election that they thought it was a major concern.
They also continued:
"The B.C. Liberals are also mindful that a harmonized GST would reduce the provincial government's ability to unilaterally adjust sales tax rates. The harmonized GST would make it harder for future provincial governments to lower or raise sales tax rates, which reduces flexibility. In short, a harmonized GST is not something that is contemplated in the B.C. Liberal platform."
This was the commitment made in writing. Maybe the minister can dispute it, but it was there in writing to the Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association and the Canadian and B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices associations.
This was the commitment the B.C. Liberals made to British Columbians. That's fundamental. If you're going
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to make a vow to British Columbians, if you're going to talk to them and say, "We want your trust; vote for us," you better follow through. Well, in this case with this bill, Bill 9, it's a complete double-cross. It's a complete betrayal.
Ten weeks after the election, the election where that minister and all of his colleagues made that commitment….
Deputy Speaker: Member.
S. Chandra Herbert: Through the Chair. Thank you, hon. Chair.
Deputy Speaker: And other members, through the Chair as well.
S. Chandra Herbert: The side of the House of the B.C. Liberals made the commitment. Ten weeks after the election where they made that commitment, they launched their great betrayal, and here we are today continuing that experience.
It was a double-cross of B.C. voters. Voters were hoodwinked. They were tricked. They were bamboozled. They were spoken to with forked tongues. They shook the hands….
What I cannot understand is how a government could at one time shake the hands of the constituents, asking for their trust, make the commitment that the HST wouldn't happen and then, ten weeks later, without a second thought completely betray that trust. Maybe they had their fingers crossed behind their back when they made those promises.
That's not honest government. That's not decent government. That's not a government that I believe can be trusted.
This bill here today is really about trust. It's an interesting debate to be having today, when certainly in the last week or so we've seen such a maelstrom of controversy, of potential scandals, of people forced out of positions.
S. Chandra Herbert: The Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts wondered what "maelstrom" was. In fact, it's a storm of controversy. But maybe the minister has not been paying attention to the last couple of weeks. Of course there was the HST betrayal. We've had the ongoing concerns of what happened at B.C. Place with the casino. In the last two years we've had three Solicitors General, the top law enforcement officer for the province, step down all because of — wait for it; oh, right — either allegations of wrongdoing….
Deputy Speaker: Member, I will bring you back to consideration of Bill 9.
S. Chandra Herbert: Thank you, hon. Chair.
When I speak about trust, I just think it's important, when we're talking about Bill 9 and the betrayal of trust that it speaks to, that the people we put in positions of trust — our Solicitors General — have changed so quickly in the last three years. That must show us something about the culture of following the rules and trustworthiness in this government.
Now the bamboozle continues with this government. They continue to press, or maybe not. Maybe they've decided that that line of attack wasn't working, where they said: "Oh, the HST will be dedicated to health care." They were laughed out of town on that one. Actually, according to the government's own documents, the budget showed that there would actually be less revenue coming into government because of the HST. Maybe they meant it in terms of supporting health care. They might mean that it's actually hurting health care, if that's their twisted reading of words. You cannot have money that is less going to support health care unless you're arguing that a cut to health care is support.
The Finance Minister claimed that the bill would enhance the competitiveness. He claimed it would eliminate the old, antiquated, inefficient and job-killing provincial sales tax. But for years politicians of all provincial parties, including the B.C. Liberals up until right after the election, jealously guarded the made-in-B.C. nature of the tax for their budget-making.
It was a source of revenue on the one hand. It was also a way of dispensing incentives on the other, to support things that we as a province wanted to support. The province of B.C.'s sovereignty was held up in the PST.
It was one of the arguments, in fact, that the B.C. Liberals used to argue against doing away with it because we could support industries that we wanted to, like clean energy, like Energy Star appliances, for example, like cycling — the things that are good for us. We could do that through our tax policy and sales tax. But they are trying to do away with this sovereignty in this bill and tying our hands for future generations.
The former B.C. Liberal Finance Minister provided an extensive study of harmonization during the Liberals' second term, and she decided that no, they wouldn't go there because it would be bad for provincial consumers and should not be brought in. Instead, the B.C. Liberals decided to embark on an extensive, time-consuming and, I'm sure, expensive review of the provincial sales tax.
They made some changes, and again the Minister of Revenue at the time, Rick Thorpe, said: "We do not want to give our sovereign tax rights away to the federal government, so again we are opposed to the HST." The B.C. Liberals, with the very fibre of their being, seemed to oppose the HST, as did we. But then the election came, and the great betrayal was launched.
I'm opposed to this tax because it's bad for Vancouver–West End. It's bad for my constituents, and they tell it to
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me every day through e-mails, through letters, through phone calls, through stopping me on the street. They've made their voices heard loud and clear.
I'm very concerned about the HST and its impact on my constituents for a number of reasons. First, it's a tax increase for consumers in the middle of a tough recession. In a tough time for my constituents and constituents all across this province, this government thinks it makes more sense to take money away from them, to make it harder for the middle class, the middle-income earners to be able to continue when we have one of the highest debt loads per person in Canada.
British Columbians have some of the highest levels of debt in Canada already. Now these guys seem to want to increase the debt load, I guess, on my constituents and British Columbians by raising the very cost of living for them.
I think about rental housing. I talk to landlords, and they tell me: "We have services. We need to maintain the building. Oh, we need to hire cleaners. We need to hire the various people to maintain the building." Well, those costs will go up. They tell me they don't have any room to put it, so they're going to have to increase their rents. They can't eat the cost.
When my constituents are already dealing with some of the highest rents in Canada and the highest costs of living, that's not a trivial concern. I know that members on that side will say: "Oh, it's not a big deal. Everything's fine." Try telling that to a person who can't pay their rent at the end of the month because the rest of the costs of living have gone up.
Try telling that to somebody who's seen some of the highest tuition fees in Canada that they're trying to balance, and the lowest levels of student assistance. Try telling that to somebody who can't afford the bus pass, can't afford the fees for transit because they keep going up, because the cost of hydro keeps going up, because the MSP keeps going up.
These are big matters, and these, again, are regressive taxes, user fees that the B.C. Liberals continue to champion — costs that are equally borne, no matter what your income is.
Hon. K. Krueger: That's not true.
S. Chandra Herbert: Oh, I seem to understand that the minister opposite doesn't believe that if I make $100,000, my cost on a tax…. A cost of the tax with the HST would be the same.
I understand why they don't understand it, because they don't understand progressive taxation. They don't understand that basically, if I'm buying a hamburger at McDonald's and I make more money, the cost of the tax to me is not going to harm me as much as if I make less money. I'm going to have less discretionary income to spend if I make less money. So the cost is going to harm me more when I have less money than if I have more. But maybe progressive taxation is something they really don't understand.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised, since consistently their policy has been to do whatever they can to shift the costs onto the backs of those on the middle income and those on the lower income so that they bear more of the cost, making it harder for them to live in their day-to-day lives.
I hear no response over there. I'm opposed….
Deputy Speaker: Members.
S. Chandra Herbert: The members continue to ignore the fact that you pay the same cost, whether or not you make $100,000 a year or $20,000 a year, in HST when you're buying food at a McDonald's. They don't understand it, and they won't understand it because it goes against the grain, I guess, of their ideological bent.
Now we look at the costs for community groups. I think of community groups in my constituency who use the West End Community Centre, who use the Gordon House, who use the Coal Harbour Community Centre. Those costs will go up, so if you want to play hockey, that cost is going to increase. If you want to go figure skating, and there's a figure-skating club there, your costs will increase. Oh, but maybe you play soccer, so you need to rent the field. That cost will go up too.
Oh, so much for encouraging people to get active and healthy. Well no, that cost is increasing. I seem to remember that not too long ago, the government made the argument that we should reduce costs on things that we want more of and increase costs on things we want less of.
The only lesson we can take from the HST is that they want less healthy children — in the argument, if that is their argument — because what it's going to do is make it more difficult for kids to participate in organized sports. It's going to make it more difficult for people, no matter what their age is, to participate in organized sports — whether that's softball in Stanley Park or what have you.
Room rental rates are going to go up. Gordon Neighbourhood House, West End, Coal Harbour Community…. The community policing centre, as well, has issues with how this is going to come out because of, again, the increased costs on them.
All of this, I might add, is in a time when the government has drastically cut support for community organizations through gaming and through a number of other granting and investment programs.
Now, the Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts likes to engage in debate, even though he's not got the
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floor. Well, the Council of Tourism Associations would love to have a debate, I'm sure, with the Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts about the HST because they've said that it's catastrophic for their industry, that it could cost up to 10,000 jobs for their industry, that it's going to put a drag on what should be a good time for them.
They've made that report. They've put the report out there, and they've raised those concerns. The minister said, "Oh, something will happen in the budget," but the budget, of course, didn't include any support for tourism, culture and the arts. In fact, what it included was a $6 million cut to marketing funding. So much for a show of support.
What will no longer be exempted from the tax? Well, we've got restaurant meals. We've got school supplies. There are a number of nutritional supports that will also be covered in an increase, services such as taxi fares, recreational services. If you want to go out to see a live show, a movie, go to an amusement park, maybe get out to the campgrounds, maybe go to the museum, maybe engage in some other tourism activities like whale-watching — all those will cost more.
Oh, maybe if you want to go to the vet, and sometimes you have to do that. Oh, that will cost more too. Classes. If you want to go to yoga, if you want to do dancing, if you want to go cooking, if you want to do martial arts, that will cost more too. Maybe you need a massage. Maybe you need acupuncture. Maybe you need alternative medicine. That'll cost more as well.
Everybody needs a haircut. Well, not everybody, but most people need a haircut, aside from the minister opposite. I wasn't referring to him, but he can take it that way. He will have to pay more for the HST for a haircut as well.
Now, I know some of the concerns I've heard from people are concerns about vitamins, dietary supplements, non-prescription medicinal products and how that will increase for them and harm their ability to continue to use those things which benefit their health and could cost us more in the long run because they'll need to get into health care earlier than they would have otherwise.
Magazines, periodicals, newspapers, bicycles, bike repairs, wedding planners, caterers, funerals, repairs to home appliances, energy-efficient home appliances, laundry, dry cleaning, carpet and upholstery cleaning, car washes, residential telephone service, basic cable TV, residential smoke and fire alarms, work-related safety equipment, energy-saving building materials and devices for vehicles, automobile towing, emergency roadside services — all going to cost more.
So what do British Columbians say? British Columbians, by and large — I think the poll was 82 percent — are opposed to the HST. The people I talk to say: "Yeah, I'm opposed to this, but I'm more opposed to the betrayal of trust." They say: "I'm sick of this song and dance that the government keeps trying to hoodwink us with."
I know the minister might laugh about it, because I'm always concerned about cuts to arts and culture funding. So maybe I should praise them for their song and dance and say that they actually are showing an appreciation for culture because they sure try to put on a big show to convince British Columbians that, first, they never claimed not to do the HST. And then, "Oh, actually it was the plan all along," and "Oh, actually no, wait, we didn't know what Ontario did in January. Oh, but wait." And it just goes on and on, back and forth, the story forever changing.
They were opposed to it because it was bad for British Columbia. Now they're in favour of it because it has all of a sudden, magically become good for British Columbia. That seems to be the thing that they're trying to convince people to buy. But continuing on, the rage that I see out on the streets, out in rallies, in the e-mails and so on has not abated one bit.
I think about the restaurants in my constituency. I talk to these folks, small business owners. They're very concerned.
S. Chandra Herbert: I talked to Tim Hortons, if the minister must know. I've talked to, I think, the X Spot Café. I could go through and actually list him a whole bunch of the different restaurants that I've spoken to in my constituency who are adamantly opposed.
They carry the flyers. They carry the information, and I think some of them are involved in that campaign with Vander Zalm as well, because they just feel betrayed. They say: "We don't get it. We used to be called the backbone of the economy, but now we're being flushed down the drain. We're ignored. We're told: 'We're going to support you. We'll help you out. We'll mitigate.'" But in fact, what has happened is that the problem is worse for them.
The other thing they raise with me again and again is that they don't get it. If they're going to have to pay more, if their businesses are going to suffer, what is the benefit? Are they going to see more money going into the health care system that they're concerned about from this tax, into education from this tax? Of course they realize the answer is no. None of this tax revenue from the HST is going to support the programs that they want to see supported in my constituency. There won't be more money for health or social programs from the HST at all.
They've suggested that for the average restaurant in B.C., it could be nearly $50,000 in lost business. That's when a pre-tax profit exists of about $29,000 per establishment, according to the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association. That's big dollars for a small
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company trying to survive. In my constituency, with lease rates very high, the margin is even thinner.
I'm opposed to this bill because it makes a difference in terms of our ability to market ourselves elsewhere in the world. I think of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which said: "Bring your wallet to B.C. Hold on to your handbags because of the cost increase." Is that the kind of message we want to be sending the world? I don't think so.
I think about short-haul domestic travel, certainly something we need to be concerned about because international travel has been down. Actually, you're going to see an increase in camping fees quite drastically. You're going to see an increase in the inability to travel around the province, because the costs will go up. It's identified in a study put out by the Council of Tourism Associations, which raises that as one of the big concerns — that it would be more heavily impacted.
I think about the B.C. Association of School Business Officials. They talk about the fact that HST will cost B.C. schools about $40 million more per year. Why does that matter? Well, it matters because if we're going to educate our youth, our children, we need to be ensuring that we have an appropriate level of teachers, special assistants and special aid for those students who struggle with things like learning difficulties, etc.
But in fact, what we're seeing is cuts in education, and this will make it worse. We've seen, in terms of our own schools in the West End — Lord Roberts, Lord Roberts Annex, King George — big effects of government's budget betrayal already, and this will make it worse should this bill pass.
I had a mother call me the other day who was very concerned about her child, an eight-year-old who is struggling with learning to read. Now her special assistant could be cut. That's not something we ever want to hear about, especially given the demographic challenges we face. As our population ages, we need to rely more and more on our young people. They need to be the top educated in the world if they're going to compete with the rest of the world. Instead, the HST increases the cost of that education and may force further cutbacks in education, which we've been seeing lately.
I think about the non-profits that work in my constituency. I think about the West End Seniors Network, Gordon Neighbourhood and a range of others. They wonder what it's going to mean for them. Well, the children and families counselling association has raised concerns and basically said that they're worried about the impact of the HST not only in terms of operational sustainability but on our ability to provide services to vulnerable citizens during a time when they need such services more than ever. They're worried that it's going to make it even more difficult for them.
I know the B.C. Liberals claim that this is going to be just fine for non-profits. But in fact, when you compare it to what's happening in Ontario, it's not going to be just fine for non-profits, and they're going to see increases in cost.
The Union of B.C. Municipalities, who I know the members opposite probably don't want to mock as they've mocked other people's concerns, voted to call on this government to abandon the HST. They've said: "Don't do it." This charge was led by the city of Vancouver because they knew it would raise the cost of taxes, and it could force them to increase the property tax within their municipalities across B.C. Another regressive form of taxation. So they voted against it
But that side, the B.C. Liberals, don't care. They can say one thing in an election, and do another thing after. They can say: "We won't listen to you." They can say, "We are listening to you," when they're not. They seem to think that they are somehow above reproach. They're above the ability to be touched, because they know an election is in 2013. Oh, they can wait. They can wait. They can hope that people will forget about this betrayal.
S. Cadieux: I am pleased to take my place here in debate in support of the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act, Bill 9 — as, we would like to remind the opposition, it is titled. But before I move to my remarks, I'd actually first like to comment on some of the things I've heard earlier in the debate.
One member of the NDP read a number of e-mails that she'd received from constituents. What she didn't mention was whether or not she'd bothered to correct any of the misinformation that had been written in those e-mails. So I thought perhaps I would let the member know that one of her constituents seemed to be concerned about the fact that books would cost more. In fact, I hope that she wrote back to Carol to let her know that books weren't subject to the HST.
Of course, I understand that people, at first glance, might be concerned that the cost of food would go up. Another of her constituents wrote about food costs — you know, that her grocery bill was going to climb. I want to make sure that the member opposite was able to write back to that constituent and make sure that her fears were calmed to know that basic groceries — which are most items at the grocery store that don't include a ton of added sugar or are in the pop and chip aisle — are not subject to the HST.
As well, there was a senior. Of course, we are all concerned about our senior citizens. She listed a whole number of things that she was concerned about. I hope, again, that Winifred was informed by her member of the Legislature — who, of course, would want to make sure that her constituents were well informed — that heating fuel and hydro and chiropractic are all things that are not subject to the HST or are rebated.
There was another one. This might be interesting to the member who spoke just previous to me, who was
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concerned about the fact that a lot of young people are planning weddings. She was very concerned that there was going to be an added charge on the wedding dress. I'd like to make the member aware that she can let her constituent know that, no, in fact, wedding dresses will not be any different in price July 1 than they are today — and neither will the cake, for that matter. So good things, some good news that she can assure her constituents about.
In fact, one other. We care about education, with all of the investments we're making in post-secondary education in British Columbia. We recognize the value of post-secondary education. One of her constituents, Marie, was concerned about the cost of textbooks. Again, textbooks aren't subject to the HST. Those are all good pieces of news that I hope that the member opposite bothered to let her constituents know about rather than….
S. Cadieux: Oh, good for you. I'm glad to hear that you did provide some of the actually correct information, which is counter to most of the things we hear and read. Wasn't that nice to hear?
But let me move on now to my own remarks and my own feelings on the HST. In fact, you know, the harmonized sales tax isn't new. What's new is that this year the federal government decided that they would allow sufficient flexibility in regards to exemptions and, most importantly, to the tax rate itself. That opened the way for the HST to become an opportunity for British Columbia that it was not previously.
Compared to provinces such as Ontario that will implement at 13 percent and Nova Scotia that's now going to be 15 percent, the HST in B.C. will be the lowest in Canada at 12 percent. This will make B.C. one of the most competitive jurisdictions not only in Canada but in the industrialized world. This means that B.C. will be an attractive place for investments and an attractive place to create long-term, stable employment.
More than 130 countries, including 29 of the 30 OECD countries, have adopted similar value-added tax regimes. I'm sure that not all of those 130 countries are wrong.
Implementation of a single sales tax in B.C. will immediately reduce costs and enhance the competitiveness of our B.C. manufacturers and exporters nationally and internationally and bring B.C. into line with other jurisdictions with what is viewed as the most efficient form of sales taxation in the world.
I was speaking just today with a friend of mine who owns a very successful small business in the high-tech sector who informed me that he is a business person that keeps up with tax policy and, of course, applies each year for his GST rebate and is very aware of the $25,000 or $30,000 more he will be able to claim as a result of the harmonization of the PST and GST. He's quite thrilled about that. That's going to be a whole bunch of money that he can reinvest in his business and keep British Columbians employed.
There's a great deal of optimism and a great deal of thanks coming from the business community about this. Why is that? Well, it's not only because they're going to save money just on the tax itself, but they're going to save money because it's more efficient. It's more efficient to collect and account and remit one tax than it is right now with multiple.
The provincial sales tax itself is a costly and complicated process, with the varying pieces of items that it applies to and doesn't apply to and when and when not. The proposed HST eliminates duplication of meeting the different requirements of the PST and GST, and that's going to save businesses in British Columbia $150 million that they can then, again, reinvest either in salaries or in new improvements to their business or expansions.
I know that the opposition likes to refer to that as rhetoric, but it's not. It's fact. The leaders in the business community who know what it takes to be successful agree on the benefits of HST. Jock Finlayson of the B.C. Business Council has said:
"Businesses that sell in the domestic market will see costs fall as the PST is removed from inputs. The benefits of these cost reductions will flow through to consumers in the form of lower pre-tax prices. Experience in Quebec, Atlantic Canada and other jurisdictions that have adopted broadly based, value-added consumption taxes in place of retail sales tax strongly validates the view that cost savings for businesses are passed on to consumers."
Currently we know that the prices that consumers pay incorporate all of the various hidden and embedded retail sales tax that businesses pay on their inputs. We know that those will be removed once the HST is implemented. Simply put, PST results in higher costs, less investment and fewer jobs. With the HST, businesses will save $2 billion in embedded PST that they can use to increase investment and increase jobs.
What sectors are we talking about? How does that $2 billion break out? Let's see — $140 million in savings in the forestry sector, a sector that can truly use those savings; $80 million removed from the mining, oil and gas sectors; $210 million to be removed from the transportation sector; $880 million removed from the construction sector — we all know and we all have businesses in our ridings that make their living in the construction sector — and $140 million removed from the manufacturing sector.
I find it very interesting that so many opposition members can find all sorts of reasons to tell us that they are representing their constituents, all of their constituents. I don't doubt that they think they are. But that would suggest to me that those same members are not repre-
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senting all of their constituents in the industries — in the forestry sector, the mining sector, the transportation sector, the construction sector and the manufacturing sector. All of those people are going to benefit, and they're not upset. An independent TD Bank report suggests that we're also going to see that these $2 billion in savings are passed on to consumers.
You know what? The major employers agree. The B.C. Business Council, the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Chartered Accountants of British Columbia, the Certified General Accountants, the Retail Council of Canada, the New Car Dealers Association, the B.C. Construction Association, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C., and New Media B.C. all agree that the HST is a positive move for B.C.'s economy, and it means that people who own or work for companies that belong to these groups will also benefit down the line. Their customers will benefit, and therefore, our communities will benefit.
What about the consumer? Well, the vast majority of purchases we make today already bear the GST and PST, so the HST won't be as big a shock to British Columbians' wallets as the opposition would like to suggest. About 80 percent of the things we buy already have PST attached, so HST won't add anything to the cost of those items. In fact, it just changes it.
S. Cadieux: Obviously, some people don't know how to balance their chequebooks.
It will not cost any more with the HST. If your family decides to buy a new couch for the living room, obviously you've decided you can afford a new couch, and it will cost the same under the HST as it will today. If you decide it's time to buy a new lawnmower for your front lawn, that lawnmower will cost the same after July 1 as it does today.
Things like your shoes and your Levi's jeans — all of those things will be the same today as they will be after July 1, things like appliances, the flat screen TVs, the cell phones, the iPods, and all of those other consumer goods that seem to have become essential pieces of modern living.
If today you don't pay GST on an item, then you won't pay HST on it, so essentials like groceries, residential rents, new homes up to $525,000 and pre-owned home purchases, prescription drugs, medical and dental services and child care are all exempt.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
All of those basic necessities are exempt or unchanged. As well, we're tailoring point-of-sale rebates that make sense for B.C.
Children's clothing, books, diapers, car seats are all things that we will see rebates on in B.C. as well. Gas, fuels and residential energy will also bear no additional tax through either exemptions or rebates.
Mr. Speaker, seeing you in the chair and being slightly off course as a result of the chatter from the other side that I can't seem to distinguish, I would like to reserve my place in the debate and move adjournment of debate.
S. Cadieux moved adjournment of debate.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. B. Penner moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 tomorrow afternoon.
The House adjourned at 6:24 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF HOUSING
AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); H. Bloy in the chair.
The committee met at 2:32 p.m.
On Vote 39: ministry operations, $2,719,996,000 (continued).
The Chair: Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to the Douglas Fir Room. We're doing the budget estimates on the Ministry of Housing and Social Development.
S. Simpson: We'll start this afternoon talking about employment training–related matters and then move to CLBC following that.
Could the minister tell us what the current budget is, the dollars that have been transferred from the federal government over, for the EI part II, the value of those dollars, and how many people it's anticipated will receive training or support from those dollars?
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Hon. R. Coleman: We have both provincial and federal funding to support British Columbians in getting back to work as quickly as possible.
In the '10-11 fiscal year through our ministry we will be investing $423 million in employment services. This includes $341 million through the labour market development agreement and $62 million in provincial spending. In addition, we have secured access to $20 million in funding through the labour market adjustment, which is managed by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development. There will be no spending cuts this year. Funding will be focused on priorities, and we'll be able to serve as many people as we did last year.
To that, the province met its LMDA accountabilities and then some in projects to significantly exceed the '09-10 targets. As of December 2009 over 37,000 EI claimants returned to employment. That's 81 percent over the target of 20,000 as targeted at the beginning of the year. Over 61,000 active EI claimants accessed B.C. benefits and measures. This is 37 percent over the target of 45,000 claimants.
Almost $248 million in savings to the EI account compared to the $50 million target was achieved, which was the targeted number. Since the province took over the responsibility for LMDA on February 2, 2009, over 200,000 unemployed British Columbians accessed their employment assistance services. Of these, over 80,000 received services in accordance with their return to work action plans. We've already seen over 28,000 of these clients return to employment.
S. Simpson: The minister says 341 million in federal dollars, 62 million in provincial dollars — I believe that is what he said — and then $20 million from an additional fund.
Could the minister tell us: is it projected that that level of funding will continue for subsequent years or the next couple of years? What is the expectation on the funding?
Hon. R. Coleman: For this year it's the same. It's about the same amount of money. This year we received $52 million in the stimulus package that the federal government has. There's no commitment to the stimulus package moneys in the year '11-12. There's another $8 million we received based on client load, which is $8 million we got in '10-11 based on client load. That gets reassessed as we go through the year and see what the client load is. At that time the federal government and us negotiate with regards to that number. All the other numbers stay the same.
S. Simpson: The minister, when he was talking about people served, flipped out quite a few different numbers of different combinations of people receiving EI and receiving service. The first time I thought I heard that it was 37,000 EI recipients who returned to work. I think that was the number in the last year.
Could the minister tell us: of those people, those EI recipients who returned to work, the people who qualified, how many people applied to receive services through these dollars in some fashion in total? How many people came wanting to receive support under this funding?
Hon. R. Coleman: The short answer on the one piece of the question about how many actually applied, we don't have that data. With our new system we would be able to actually track it. We would be able to go through service providers. What we can tell you is that of the active EI claimants, 61,000 of them access B.C. benefits and measures. We had targeted 45,000 claimants under that particular piece, and we're up 37 percent over the 45,000 we targeted.
We had thought we'd have 20,000 EI claimants returning to employment, and we actually accomplished 37,000. But in the actual who came through the door to apply and may not have been successful, we don't have that number available.
S. Simpson: If the numbers are just not available at the moment, I appreciate that. The question I have is: if you don't have that number, how do you measure the success of the program in terms of numbers of people who come in and engage the program, receive a level of service and then go off and get a job or go back to school or do something that advances their interests in terms of moving them along?
If you don't know where you're starting in terms of the number of people who need the support or come asking for the support versus the ones who accomplish that, how do you measure that?
Hon. R. Coleman: We set targets based on past practices on an annual basis with the federal government. They have some of the data, and their data management has some challenges, just like ours do.
This is what I can tell the member. Since the province took over responsibility on February 2 last year, over 200,000 unemployed British Columbians accessed our employment assistance services. Of these, over 80,000 received services in accordance with return-to-work action plans, and we have already seen over 28,000 of those clients return to employment.
When we set the targets with the federal government, which was a discussion we had when we took over the labour market development agreement, they set targets based on their historical information because they were transferring the program to us. Their historical information, their target was that 20,000 EI claimants would
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return to employment from 2009 to 2010. In fact, 37,000 actually did, which was 81 percent over the target set by the federal government.
The second piece of the target was for 45,000 active EI claimants who access B.C. benefits and measures. We sat down and worked out the target of 45,000. We exceeded that to 61,000, which is a 37 percent increase in efficiency.
Also, the thing we set at the beginning here was the target as to what these measures would save, and the saving target set was for $50 million. In actual fact, $248 million in savings to the EI account was achieved.
That's the total data I have available for the member.
S. Simpson: We'll speak a little more about the work that's being done for post-2011, when there's redesign work being done, I believe, to make it a B.C. program.
Could the minister tell us: is it the intention to have a system in place that would allow the kind of tracking that I've been asking questions about — who applies, how they apply, what they get in service — and deciding whether, in fact, there's a value for money, a cost benefit here? Is it the intention to put that in place as part of the 2011 restructuring?
Hon. R. Coleman: Yeah, that's true. It shows why we're spending the money on the integrated case management system and trying to modernize our systems. In order to get to the level of data, which I think is important…. The better the data management we have, the better outcomes you can measure and the better you can basically measure how your programs are working under the individual categories. That is the reason for the whole program to begin with.
At this stage, these are the numbers that, between us and the federal government, we can put together based on the systems that we have today.
S. Simpson: Could the minister tell us the criteria? It speaks in a number of places around criteria related to this. Could the minister tell us: what are the criteria for success under this program?
Just to elaborate a little bit, is it the criteria that they got a job and they kept the job for…? I think here it was a performance measure. "Percentage of program clients who achieve $560 or 70 hours of work per month" is one of the things in the service plan. Is it about that they got a job, part-time or full-time? Or is success about something else? Is it pre-employment? Is it back into education, etc.?
I'm particularly thinking, in those categories, about young people and maybe people with disabilities or other challenges. What are the criteria for success with this program?
Hon. R. Coleman: I'm going to try and give you a summary, and then you can probably pick off chewable chunks, because this is going to evolve into a number of initiatives. Each one has a different outcome base depending on whether the person is a person with disabilities, whether they're a person wanting to go back to school, whether it's trying to get labour market attachment and community attachment for people or community assistance programs — that sort of thing.
The measurement, which is measure 5 that the member quoted from, from the service plan, is established by the federal government as the measurement they would like for the labour market development agreement.
The B.C. employment program was launched in July 2006 and since that time has assisted a number of clients over to obtain employment. It'll serve about 17,000 clients this year, about 2,000 more than in previous years. In 2009 the average wage paid to clients placed in a job directly through the B.C. employment program was $14.32 an hour.
The B.C. employment program is delivered through three prime contractors and over 80 subcontractors. As a result, obviously, of the economic downturn, the program was modified in June 2009 to assist new income assistance clients to obtain employment as quickly as possible.
What we do is we have a variety of programs in and around people. If you take someone who has a disability or someone that wants to go back to school versus employment….
Under the employment and labour market development agreement, the first thing in our relationship there with the federal government is to get people to employment. Whereas with folks that have other barriers, we try and get them into labour market attachments where they can get back into the job force, get to know somebody in the community and give them some community attachments so that they're part of the community, which helps them with their other health and relationship issues as well as the employment issues.
S. Simpson: I'll just pursue that a little bit., As the minister will know, I had the opportunity, in preparing for estimates, to go back and look at the ASPECT Alliance Annual Conference and their report and work that the ministry did in their presentations and feedback that was collected by the ministry, among others, from participants. It's quite informative, the information that was presented here, so I've used that a little bit to kind of craft some of my thinking about these questions.
One of the areas the minister certainly will know and staff will know is that there is a level of debate about the notion of local, community-based services versus the provincial operators, the JobWaves, people like that who work at a larger level. Part of the question that I see raised in here is about who takes those people that may
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be multibarriered, who takes the youth, who takes the disabled — the levels of services at the community level versus the kinds of levels that you move people through with some of the larger organizations.
The question I have is: what is the analysis that's done within the program at the ministry level of the intakes these different agencies are bringing people in for and then the outcomes, and what's being accomplished in terms of what's best for these individuals? I know that the minister often talks about how you can have all the programs and the policies in the world, but at some point you get down to the individuals and what happens to them and how their lives are affected.
What analysis is being done at the ministry level about who is on the intake levels at those different kinds of organizations, and what's coming out the other end in terms of the outcomes? Do you do that analysis?
Hon. R. Coleman: I'm going to answer the question in a number of ways. I'll start off, first of all, with how we have the controls or measurements.
The ministry routinely monitors and assesses our employment service providers and contracted labour market partners through a number of things.
First of all, monitoring. Our ministry staff continually monitor contract and program performance. Monitoring activities include risk assessment and analysis, the program environment, activity, and contractor-reporting and program performance measures.
Secondly, we do pre-reviews, in which the ministry staff review contractors' invoices and expenses claims prior to payment.
Post-reviews. The ministry staff conduct regular reviews of contractor invoices, program and service delivery clients, and deliverables for contractors performing any other labour market functions. These reviews provide assurance that contractors are meeting contract expectations and invoicing the ministry in accordance with the contract.
We also do audits. The ministry periodically engages third-party auditors to perform audits, providing independent assurance of contractor performance. Findings identified through these quality assurance activities are discussed with the service providers and contractors, who develop action plans to address any concerns that we may have. We do follow-up reviews, performed to ensure the action plans are implemented.
In addition to that, we also have the business transformation project underway, which is basically how we're trying to transform our business in a number of ways. The first would be one-stop access to all employment services. The second would be that funding sources are invisible to clients and that services are delivered seamlessly, which gets back to wrapping the services around the individual and trying to deliver them seamlessly to the individual.
Partnerships with other provincial ministries, community organizations and employers leverage existing infrastructure, eliminate duplication and enhance efficiencies. Even though that sounds like a great idea, it's a lot of work to actually integrate and get those partnerships not just cross-ministry but through the organizations. Our guys have been pretty good at integration and getting integration projects done with other ministries and groups across the province, but there's always more that can be done.
One program with individual services and support to meet clients' needs, to get British Columbians back to work quickly. Full expenditure of federal government program dollars in British Columbia, and migrate to a new system that supports integrated service delivery and performance reporting, which we're migrating to as we do our ICM project.
To give the member a couple of examples which I think might be instructive or helpful, approximately 3,500 to 4,000 clients are served through employment programs for persons with disabilities on an annual basis. Out of those, about 1,839 are employed. The program assists persons with disabilities to achieve their economic and social potential to the fullest extent possible. This employment program for persons with disabilities provides a range of specialized services to help individuals with disabilities.
There are really four goals here with regards to persons with disabilities, outside of what I described for the general practice. The first is to participate in their communities. The second is to pursue their employment goals as they are able to do, increase their self-reliance, and build skills and experience.
These services may lead to further employment or self-employment or to working with volunteer organizations for people with disabilities. It is a provincewide program. These services are there to meet the unique services that those clients might have to have.
In addition, there's another program, for instance, that is called the community assistance program. Basically, this program began in October 2006 to address the needs of clients with multiple barriers to employment. So a different group of people needed different wraparound services.
This is a $7.5-million-a-year program which offers significantly multibarriered individuals to improve their life skills, quality of life and strengthen their connections within their community. This one includes things like basic life skills training as well as referrals to existing community resources such as mental health and housing services, drug or alcohol treatment, legal aid, child care and family services. Approximately 4,500 to 5,000 people with multiple barriers, income assistance clients, are served through this program on an annual basis.
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S. Simpson: Those are important programs. I know a little bit about them, and I agree with that.
Just so we can be clear here. Those persons with disabilities or people that are identified with multiple barriers — a success for them in the program may not necessarily…. You would hope it includes employment, but it may not be employment. It may be volunteer activities. It may be a link to advance their educational opportunities so that they're better prepared down the road. It may be a number of those things that often are called pre-employment programs, for lack of a better term.
For folks in those categories — people with disabilities, multibarriered, and we'll talk a little bit about youth as well, but those ones — that would constitute, under this criteria, a successful application of the program. It would be considered a successful application by the criteria of the program. Is that accurate?
Hon. R. Coleman: I think the member hit upon it earlier when he mentioned that you take the individual and each one has a different level of success because of whatever they're facing in their lives. You could have someone that comes into EI with skills and is just actually on EI and needs a little bit of help to find a job.
Even though they're not all included in employment programs, this ministry has not just a connection from that level down to the folks who might be homeless on the streets but also a relationship across government with other ministries — particularly the Ministry of Health with regards to things like mental health and addictions, which may not be funded in this ministry but are brought in as wraparound services for people in Housing, for instance.
The reason is that a success for one individual could be something as simple as the fact that we've managed to stabilize them from the street to where they are getting some help with their addiction issues so that they can actually identify and handle, with medical support, some mental health issues.
They can have a stable life and stable housing and basically go through a meal a day and may progress, over a period of months or a year or more, to where they would be able to now take some training because they've now got their life stabilized with the multiple barriers that they face. That would be a success. Each step of their life, to me, would be a success.
At the same time, we try and keep the numbers, sort of in hard numbers, as to how many people we targeted that would come back off EI and go to work. That was the numbers I quoted earlier, which showed the 80-some percent improvement over the targeted numbers from the federal government.
The one thing I've learned about this ministry is that each piece has an incremental or isolated incrementality to the services we provide. So it could be, when I say that, sometimes an incremental thing from one stage of their life to another stage of their life to another stage of their life, each one being a success in their life that helped them improve their life.
Sometimes it's just one incremental thing, which is, "I'm unemployed; I need a bit of help to get back in the workforce. I'm there, and that's the last service I need from you" — for sometimes maybe five, ten, 20 years.
It's a complicated thing, and the way that we try to approach it is by trying to achieve this stuff through integration and knowing where we can intervene and do these things. We try and build all of these things around that type of thinking so that each individual's successes are measured by their successes as an individual. That's the toughest thing to quantify, I think we find, with regards to this. It's hard to say that one individual is more successful than another, because the barriers to that person's successes were substantially different than the others.
Hon. Chair, if we could just maybe have members in here who are having conversations to tone down. I know it's distracting to both the critic and myself.
The Chair: Member, and I'm sure all members heard that, we'll try and keep our side conversations to a minimum.
S. Simpson: I thank the minister for that comment, and I would share his view on that.
I appreciate the minister's comment on that, and I know that the minister…. I'm sure sometimes it's hard to look at this particular program outside of everything that goes on in the ministry when you're looking at how people receive a service. I appreciate that the minister is speaking about the kind of broader context of HSD and how it delivers services to vulnerable people who come through its doors in some way, shape or form.
I'm particularly, though, wanting to get back to the specifics of this program, because it gets back to how the contracted agencies that deliver the services and are funded through this program to deliver these services on behalf of the government….
The minister talked about the difference between that agency that might get somebody in and say, "Here's a couple of hours, a few hours' session on how to write a resume, and we'll help you to do that, and here's the way to do a job search or that," and spend a very limited number of hours with somebody who's got some skills and just needs a little bit of a push and then they're out the door, hopefully, and find employment and move on and get their life back in order.
It's very different from somebody who comes into an agency that delivers these employment services and is starting at a very different place, the kind of place the minister talked about with some other people that come
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through the doors of HSD. They require a whole different kind of service — something that's more intense, something that will require significantly more commitment of resources and time.
The question I'd have, then…. It comes back to how agencies get their money. Is there a fixed amount that agencies get paid, in the financial payment system? John Doe or Jane Doe comes through the door. It's whether they're at that fairly top level and are coming through for a quick program and out the other door after ten or 12 hours or whether it's something more intense with somebody who has other challenges.
How do they get paid? How does the agency get paid? Do they get paid the same money regardless? And is that a problem, if that is the case?
Hon. R. Coleman: This is one of the things that we've heard from our clients. They would like more flexibility within the envelopes that they get. So the number of clients served…. If they have someone they spend less money on, they can actually spend more on another.
The number of dollars spent can vary depending on the services given to a client. I'm going to get the maximum, because I just said to my guys that that would be my next question if I was the critic: what is that maximum?
Basically, we have a staged thing where we have them come in on intake. There's an assessment. There's a dollar amount for that, and there's one for the services they provide and the additional services we provide, based on their needs.
Then one of the requirements of all of our contracts is that 25 percent would go to local service providers so that some of the local vagaries with regards to certain types of client groups could be dealt with. We're also, as a result of the requests from most of our service providers, looking for some flexibility in and around some of the dollars for clients.
We're actually engaged with a pretty diverse group of stakeholders right now with regards to how we look at the contracts going forward — which includes everything from other provincial government ministries, other levels of government, employment and labour market service providers, community organizations, non-profit and volunteer organization employers, education and training institutions, advocacy and interest groups and sectoral industry groups — as we try and design even more flexibility into the system going forward.
S. Simpson: I'll wait for that number that will come on what those dollars are.
We know that in terms of the payments…. Of course, it's different for some of the smaller, locally based organizations who don't have the same cash flow as maybe some of the larger operations in terms of when they get their money.
One of the concerns that I know was raised was some notion around the elimination of the advanced payments that didn't allow some dollars to come upfront to organizations so that they could operate — instead of, as I understand it, them largely kind of delivering service and then billing out for the service and getting paid.
Is the financial payment structure such, or is it heading to be such, that it will ensure that those organizations, particularly the smaller community-based or local organizations who, of course, have to deliver the service, and that has to be substantiated, are getting those dollars in a way that doesn't stretch them because of limited cash flow?
Hon. R. Coleman: Well, the provincial accounting practices don't support advanced payments to sponsors for a given fiscal year where the expenses will be accrued in the following fiscal year. That's why, for instance, in the past, under the federal labour market development, they'd actually send some money out in advance in April to some of these organizations.
What we did was we sent out $2.3 million at the beginning of April, under this fiscal year. That's been released for payment to service providers so that no service provider who had an actual need for an advance payment was left without.
But as we go through this, we will have to…. Because these were exceptional circumstances, the advances in April were considered, and that's why we did it. We do intend to adhere to provincial accounting practices. The April advances in future would only be considered in exceptional circumstances. That's because you really have to have the folks that are delivering the service on some business model, where they either have a line of credit or they're supported by their business plan so that they would actually be able to deliver the services.
I can see why we did it this time and why we made the advances because of the transition and what's going to happen in the future. I have had a number of experiences lately throughout different areas of the ministry where you want to make sure that the money you were deploying is actually going to the services you are paying for. The norm would be that the people would bill you when they've actually done the business with a particular client at each stage.
We're going to work with our service providers to make sure we have it so that there is rapid movement of money, to make sure that they're kept in a cash flow position that makes sense. Because there were some that were going to experience hardship in April, on April 1 we advanced out $2-point-some million to make sure that they had some money in advance to be able to continue as we work through the new system.
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S. Simpson: I appreciate that, and this particularly becomes a challenge. I know that the minister…. I know the work that's being done for 2011. We'll hopefully look at this, and we'll ask about that a bit in a minute.
The minister and the staff that have been working on this have certainly heard the term "creaming" before when it comes to folks and the challenge or the assertion that some organizations are very targeted on the most job-ready people, move them through quickly, get their cheque and move on, versus the organizations, often ones that are more multidisciplinary in what they do, who are prepared to take the people who are a tougher challenge.
It's just an assurance, and I certainly believe the minister would agree with this, that those organizations that are taking on people who are more complex, for lack of a better term, have some kind of payment system that ensures they're receiving money as they work with these people over an extended period of time to get them to a place where they hopefully can become self-sufficient somewhere down the road.
I've got a couple more questions in relation to this program. There often has been a discussion around the eligibility for the different training programs versus the folks who are EI eligible, which are the folks coming out of the federal program, versus non-EI and their eligibility, which is for a more limited number of programs.
The question is…. Maybe this is a projection for what's coming as the government decides where to go with this program in the future. The minister talked about seamless programs. Is it the expectation to end up with one program where, obviously, EI folks will be eligible for the program and will receive the services they receive, but there will be more flexibility on how to bring people who may not be EI into the programs or offer them programs that today they may not have eligibility for, but it might make sense for them in terms of what works for them as individuals?
The Chair: Committee A will recess for five minutes.
The committee recessed from 3:24 p.m. to 3:36 p.m.
[J. McIntyre in the chair.]
The Chair: We're debating Vote 39, the estimates for the Ministry of Housing and Social Development. I'll take up where we left off.
Hon. R. Coleman: To the member's questions that he had, I'm going to summarize a number right here. For the provincial programs, there are different client maximums depending on the program, reflecting the higher level of client need.
For instance, under the B.C. employment program, it's $1,400 per-client average max. On the employment program for persons with disabilities, it's $8,500 maximum per client. The community assistance program is $3,000 per client. The bridging employment program, which is those people fleeing abuse, etc., is a $5,500 per-client maximum.
In terms of the issue of creaming, as the member brought up, contractors are required to accept 95 percent of those clients referred to the provincial employment programs. They're also paid for services delivered, so there's no incentive to cream a particular client because they get these dollars per client, depending on their needs.
What we do want to move to, though, where we do have to move to one program, is a menu of services. So we'll pay for a menu of services. This will allow us more flexibility around the services British Columbians can access. The issue of eligibility — whether for EI or IA, income assistance — determines what pot of money, federal or provincial, would pay for the services. There will still be provincial and federal budget limitations at times, depending on what dollars are available.
S. Simpson: Could the minister tell us: are there targeted youth programs under this labour training area, and if not, is there any thought about targeting, having targeted youth programs? I'll just tie another quick question to that. I believe that youth is currently defined as 15 to 30 years of age. Is it the intention to keep that, or are there thoughts about changing the age range?
Hon. R. Coleman: In B.C., for us, it's 15 to 24. Federally, it's 15 to 30. So there are two different standards, but we don't really worry about that. The employment service providers serve community geographic areas with the money that we give them. There are specific priority populations such as youth, people with disabilities and immigrants and those sorts of things that there are programs for.
Most of the youth stuff, though, that the member would bring up would be, I think, in Advanced Education and Labour Market Development, which basically is our advanced education ministry, and some in Children and Families. But other than what they would be able to pick up from our referrals to our clients, because these services are sort of universal geographically, any additional service they would get would be from other ministries.
S. Simpson: As the plans move ahead…. Maybe we'll move to a slightly different question. We'll talk a little bit about the program funding itself — the $4,000 cap. Could the minister tell us: when was the cap put in place, and what was the situation before that in terms of program funding or funding for training programs? Prior to the $4,000 cap, what were people eligible for?
Hon. R. Coleman: There was an unprecedented demand for employment insurance and the skills development
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employment benefits program. What we did was that we looked at what we were spending, on average, and we said that we would have a cap put in place for the average amount that persons were spending on skills development across the board so that every British Columbian would be treated the same, which wasn't the case in the past.
We made that change on November 27, 2009. We basically looked at the average that was being spent and said that's what the cap would be. We didn't have caps previously. Some organizations had caps. Some didn't. Some did it by policies. Some didn't do it at all. Some were asking for direction, but it was very clear that there'd been allowed to be a bit of an ad hoc system in place.
By doing this, we've managed in our first year to spend 99 percent of the money, basically, for employment programs, which is, in our mind, probably the best in Canada. Some people actually spent more, but that was more their ramp-up than it was their actual delivery of programs. Our money went to programs.
In addition to that, this change allowed us to retarget the money that we were saving by having the cap — particularly to Interior communities, who were particularly hard hit.
A number of their employment programs were on the verge of shutting down because there had been a disproportionate amount of money being spent in ways without any average across the board for them to budget.
We were able to find additional money for Interior communities because of the pressure, frankly, on a resource industry to be able to have more training for people in the Interior who need it the most.
S. Simpson: When the ministry is looking at the programs that it funds, the training programs it supports…. So somebody comes through agency X or Y, and there's an assessment made of what their training should be. The application comes forward, and they're put into a foundational program or whatever. Those programs, presumably…. Lots of them come through the educational institutions. Some of them are private programs offered by private trainers.
Has the ministry done any assessment of how many programs that may have been available previously to folks and are now not available…? Maybe it's not fair to say they're not available. But they're only available with a significant financial contribution from the individual.
How much has it restricted some of those opportunities, assuming we're dealing mostly here with people who are coming in off of EI or whatever and don't have a lot of money in their pocket? I'm trying to figure out what restrictions the need to put a $4,000 cap in place, because of demand, has put on the range of opportunities for people to get into programs.
Hon. R. Coleman: It's always been anticipated, under job training programs, that there would be some contribution from the person that's receiving the training. Basically, folks come in, and they're suitably skilled for training. What type of training would be best for them to get back into the workplace? The whole idea is to get folks who are on EI back to work and, if we can, find them some training as well.
One of the interesting discussions that I've had with some folks who have come and talked to me about this, on both sides of the fence…. I've had, basically, people affected both ways.
One person came to see me who felt that the cap wasn't fair, that their entire $15,000 program should be paid for. Another one came and thanked me for the $4,000, because he'd got a student loan for the balance of his $15,000 program. He said: "This actually saved me and helped me get back into the workforce. The help that your folks gave me to get me the student loan so that I could get back on my feet was wonderful." It's never been….
One of the challenges, of course, was that when we inherited the program, there was an inconsistent application of that policy — that it was always considered that there would be some contribution.
What we're trying to do is provide some additional funds for people to get some training, but at the same time, we work with them on what they need to get trained in, what their skills development needs to be. We give them good counselling with regards to that, and as we do that, we also make them aware of any other government programs, including things like student loans, that would help them achieve the training they're trying to get to.
S. Simpson: I'm sure the minister has heard this as well. I know that one of the organizations that has commented on this is the B.C. Trucking Association — Paul Landry, who is their CEO. I think the suggestion that Mr. Landry made was not that the grant be increased but that the government look at how it might support ensuring that people can have pretty ready access to affordable loans so that they can complete out.
I know this is kind of a reflection of the case of the company in Castlegar that trains long-haul truckers. It's $12,000 or $14,000, something in that range, for their training program. It's the ability to ensure that people who can will get their $4,000 but that they have access to whatever they need to borrow to be able to get the program they want, to be able to do what they want.
The question I have for the minister: is the ministry looking at — or does it provide any advice or support or encourage the agencies to provide advice on it — how people can get at those loans, particularly in the case of people who may have some difficulty getting the loans because of their circumstances?
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Hon. R. Coleman: We do that, but we also work with Advanced Education and Labour Market Development on the student loan issues and that sort of thing. I read the same article with regards to the one operation in the Kootenays, with regards to training of truckers. If you go on line, you'll find quite a varied price for the training for somebody to get a class 1 licence across the board.
That's part of what our counsellors need to do: make sure that we identify the programs that are not just affordable but that are qualified programs and that would qualify for loans and how we can help people walk through that sort of application morass to help them get the loans if they need them to get the training they need, in cooperation with the money we're prepared to put up.
I think that's what we're trying to do, and we'll continue to try it. I'm always interested in individual cases where there's somebody who runs into…. We can always track through, and if somebody has one, we'd be happy to look at it.
S. Simpson: Just one or two more questions, and then I want to move on to CLBC because the time will fly by over the next couple of days. This is in regard to where the program is going. I know that there's a lot of work being done around 2011 and the new program and what that will look like. I know there has been some level of consultation with the community, and I've certainly talked to the people who have spoken to your officials and who your officials have engaged to seek their advice.
I also know from talking to folks that are a whole lot of issues here that I'm sure the minister is more than aware of. There are issues around local organizations that understand local circumstances versus provincial organizations; targeted programs, whether it be for youth or for others and what those might look like; broader criteria — just a whole variety of things that I'm sure that ministry officials are dealing with in looking at the program.
The question I have is: what is the current status of the refit of the program? Where is it at, at this point, and what levels of consultation are still to be in play on this? I'm thinking, in particular: is there a further discussion document?
Is there something to come out — a White Paper, for lack of better terms? I never can get the colours of the papers correct, but the minister knows what I want — some kind of discussion document that says, "Here's where we think we're going with all this," to hear back from this wide array of people and organizations and agencies that have an interest in the success of this program. What's the thinking?
Hon. R. Coleman: Consultations are planned in 14 communities starting in April. We are posting on B.C. Bid the information with regards to those.
Basically, this is where we're at today. On February 15, 2010, the Ministry of Housing and Social Development issued a bulletin through its website explaining that as a result of service provider and community feedback our timelines for procurement under the new employment program model in the spring of 2010 have changed. We will now be procuring under the new employment program model in spring of 2011, and that was at the request then of our service providers.
The reason for that is they needed to get their heads around the new models. The new timeline includes two months of information discussion with community and service providers in May and June of 2010. That refers to the 14 communities I mentioned a minute ago. We will then, this fall, put out a draft request for proposal.
It's not actually a request for proposal that they've asked us for. They put out a draft that they can give feedback on over the next six months to get ready to understand the work that we're trying to do. The feedback we receive to that consultation will lead us to develop the request for proposal, which will be issued in the spring of 2011.
Contracts will then be awarded in the fall of 2011. Implementation will take place over a six-month period, with complete implementation of the new employment program model effective March 2012. This timeline coincides with the implementation of the integrated case management system for employment programs and ensures that we have this critical tool available to us as we better manage the programs.
It's all timed out — consultation, get the feedback. They actually get to give us feedback on the RFP, so they have a better understanding of that. We feed back to them, and then we develop the RFP. It goes out for the request for proposals, and then they award it through to 2012. That's the timeline, and that's the consultation we'll undertake.
S. Simpson: At this point, it's about four o'clock. I think we'll move to CLBC.
Hon. R. Coleman: I'm now joined by Molly Harrington, who I introduced earlier, and Rick Mowles, who is the CEO of Community Living B.C.
S. Simpson: When I look through the service plan for Community Living B.C., the service plan identifies pretty consistent growth, probably in the 5 percent to 6 percent range, in terms of potential demand for CLBC services. We know from the budget numbers that the budget numbers stay relatively static in terms of the dollars being provided to CLBC, while we have 5 percent to 6 percent growth in the potential consumer services.
Could the minister tell us what the expectation is about how those numbers get reconciled in terms of continuing to be able to provide levels of service?
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Hon. R. Coleman: The first thing I'd like to say as we get into Community Living B.C. is the remarkable work that they've done in the last 24 months since I've been their minister with regards to how they look at how they do their business, how they can improve and identify the real numbers that they think will be the need for services in the future, and the work that they've done with Children and Families on the transition of the children back to Children and Families — on the basis that we'd have the proper data at age 16, so we'd know what clients we have coming and what services they would need.
The provincial budget this year is increased by $13.3 million in the province's contribution to CLBC, but there are, as the member outlined, some growth pressures that may be there. How do we deal with those? What we've done with this is…. Because we have an organization today that I think is fiscally solid and well managed, they have managed to be able to identify their cost pressures and how they could be mitigated through a range of measures rather than just always saying: "Throw money at it."
Those include reviewing the existing service commitments we have and our delivery methods to identify other more innovative and potentially cost-effective approaches and to more closely align allocated funding to the level of each person's disability-related needs. That's pretty good groundbreaking work.
It will actually be beneficial to the developmentally disabled community in British Columbia because this is allowing us not only to move to the next era of services for our clients but also to measure their outcomes better and to know as we go through how each individual client's needs are met versus trying to sometimes stick a square peg in a round hole type of thing and saying that everybody has to fit in a certain way.
CLBC has done a lot of work on this, and they've come through with some very good things, including things like individualized funding, personalized support initiatives and a provincial assessment centre that's going to help us assess these folks and how we can deliver the customized things for their services. By doing that, we're convinced we will find the efficiencies needed to make sure we can meet our growing needs.
S. Simpson: I've had the opportunity over the past few weeks to talk to a range of community living organizations, the CEO network and others, and I think that generally I would agree with the minister that the feeling is that there have been improvements on all sides, particularly in the last year, and that things are working better. That's what I'm hearing from the people on the ground, and I think that that's definitely how they're feeling.
We'll get back and talk about the dollar numbers and where those dollars come from. I would ask that….
When I look at page 10 of the service plan, it says "service requests." It says: "As of December 31, 2009…63 percent of people placed on CLBC's request-for-service list at March 2009 were provided service or declined service and were removed…." Then it goes on to talk about a percentage of money used to address emergency situations.
That first clause: could the minister explain that to me? Does that mean that 63 percent of the people who requested or required service as deemed were dealt with in some way? And if that is the case, what happened to the other 37 percent?
Hon. R. Coleman: I just gave my answer probably more articulately to the CEO than when I give it to you.
Hon. R. Coleman: You thought it was good.
Really, it's not 37 percent of people that don't get services. What we get is people getting services who from time to time ask for additional services that they really don't need or are not qualified for because of other circumstances. We have folks who want to change their services, so by virtue of the change in services, they feel they've got less services in one area versus another.
We could have changes in the requirement for respite for one person, so that's a change in services, or somebody that has come into our system and only needs respite versus the fact that they're actually taking care of the individual in a family setting otherwise.
When we hit the 63 percent level, it's really about the number of people that ask for services. Oftentimes some people make more than one request over a period of time for services that are really not deemed to be required, given the individual's assessment by CLBC.
We try and work with each client, but we do get additional requests on a regular basis. Sometimes they're justifiable, and sometimes they're not, but they're all bundled together. It's not all new clients coming in. Sometimes it's people just asking for an additional service that they're not necessarily qualified to get because of their individual circumstances.
S. Simpson: I have been told that as CLBC looks at its efficiencies to be able to meet the challenges and deal with wait-lists…. Maybe we'll start there. What is the current situation with wait-lists for CLBC services, and what are the projections for wait-lists over the next couple of years?
Hon. R. Coleman: We have our lists broken down, for the member opposite, because there are a number of lists. First of all, everybody on the list who had requested services that were new as of January 1 last year has services today.
We have a 20 percent reduction of people who have requested additional services year over year. At the same
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time, we have on our list now 390 folks who are new folks requesting services and who weren't on our list a year ago in January. We're processing them through for their assessment.
We have additional individuals, as I described to the member, receiving services who want another service. There are about 1,100 of those people who have asked for additional services. Each one of those is assessed according to whether they require them or need them, and that's a list that evolves all the time. Each one requires some work by staff on each individual.
Then there are also people receiving a service who want an increase to the service they're receiving today. That's about 230.
Our priority is obviously the first people that haven't any services today because they're new. We process them and get them into services to try and meet their needs in each region of the province, which includes about eight regions across B.C.
Then as we have those requests for additional services, we assess those for the individual, as I described earlier, to see if they really require them. You know, some people just want to keep raising the menu of services when in actual fact they're not needed.
We have to make that determination, and the same with people who want an increase in the services they already receive, which could be anything from somebody who has respite once every three months saying they now need respite once a month, which then we assess. That would be a person who would be on a list for increased services. If we had the ability to do it and felt it was appropriate, we would do it.
It's all basically individualized issues with regards to each individual person on the list because they're requesting different services. The 300-and-some are going through a process now for services because they're all new to us. So they have to go through the entire assessment process to find the services in the community they're in and what's available and those sorts of things.
S. Simpson: We know that in this process, part of the biggest challenge of this…. I must say of the ministry and this critic area that as I've tried as the critic to learn the ministry better over the last eight or nine months, I find CLBC is probably the most complicated piece to understand in many ways. Much of it relates to this question of service and what the adequate or appropriate level of service for a given individual is, depending on their developmental disabilities, their family status, the family capacity to support — all of those things.
Could the minister tell us: how does this work? First of all, somebody in the community living sector talked to me about a quality assurance framework. I think that was the terminology they used. What is the process that the ministry uses to ensure that people are getting those levels of service that CLBC believes they need — and the community living organization that may be providing the support and services to them, and the family? How do you develop that framework? How does that work? Maybe the minister could explain that.
Hon. R. Coleman: The member, I think, hit it pretty close. You have a service provider who does not necessarily want to say no to an emotional family with regards to services to an individual. They're providing services based on standards that we've set together for them, and it's very difficult. Each family is like an individual case file, of course. They also have individual needs that they believe in.
We have what we call a guide to support allocation, which is a standardized approach to the services that are basically standardized for people with developmental disabilities. That's based on a disability-related need with regards to other factors — family, the services provided in the community, what access to other services they may have, what else they're doing with regards to other agencies like health or whatever the case may be. Then there's our relationship with the funding source and the assessments. We try and work through each one of these.
The challenge is that sometimes you actually come to the conclusion that the service is not required under our guidelines or whatever, and you have to say: "No, they're not." That doesn't mean they don't reapply in three months for another service or for that service again. It's an ongoing relationship that our service providers, particularly our staff at CLBC, work very hard to have with the families and people with developmental disabilities in B.C.
I think they do a very good job of it, actually. I measure that from the stand that I very seldom hear from parents or an individual with developmental disabilities who feel they haven't been able to be allowed through a reasonable process, when it comes to this service for the members of their family.
That's how we do it. We do it with a guide to support allocation that we have, which then gives us some standardization across the system, and then we add services as they're identified for individuals who require them.
S. Simpson: I know there's a lot of discussion in the service plan and staffing that talks about quality assurance and that. How does that quality assurance process work within CLBC? How does CLBC do that assessment for itself — as a check upon itself to ensure that in fact the assumptions that are being made at the CLBC level jibe with what needs to happen in the community and with the community living sector, in terms of dollars going forward to families and those organizations? What is that process to kind of check-up on itself around quality assurance?
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Hon. R. Coleman: We have sort of the same measures of contracts, audits, those sorts of things that I described in the previous debates, if you want to get into what we do with these versus when we were talking about the employment programs. We have the same type of those.
I think that you were asking more about the individual client and their services. What we do is assess the clients. CLBC works with the service providers. If an individual getting services or if a family has a concern, we do provide independent CLBC service-quality advocates who are separate from CLBC that they can appeal to if they feel that their services are not meeting their needs according to what they feel as a family with regards to a decision by either us or a service provider.
S. Simpson: In the instance that one of those independent service-quality advocates is brought into play or that there's not a resolution between family and the other players over the level of service, what is the conflict resolution process that's used to come to some solution over this that, hopefully, works for everybody?
Hon. R. Coleman: First of all, before it goes anywhere, I think there's a lot of hard work with the emotions of the family with regards to trying to define the assigned services, but there are times when there can be a disagreement with the decision of the facilitator, who works for the contractor or us, who makes the decision on what services to be provided to a particular individual.
There are a number of steps the individuals can go through with regards to if they disagree with the services or through that discussion. They can go to the manager, who can then have another discussion with the family to try and work out their concerns.
If that's unsuccessful, they can actually appeal to the regional director level, and at the regional director level, if that's not worked out — which I think is probably seldom — they can go to the CEO of CLBC, who can also take a look at it, and then, finally, appeal to the service-quality advocate, who is Jane Holland, and she makes the final determination. That's what it is.
I would suspect — I don't have the numbers, and maybe we have them — that seldom do they get all the way down that line. I think our folks work through the issues pretty well with people.
S. Simpson: Just so I understand. At the end of the day, should those other processes not result in satisfaction for people, an appeal of the issue to Ms. Holland — and then her decision is a final decision? If she decides that the level of service should increase, then is that a final decision that's binding on CLBC in terms of resources being applied?
Hon. R. Coleman: We have 12,000 clients, so we're talking about a handful of incidents to the CEO. On an annual basis virtually none of these get to that level. Jane Holland, as a service-quality advocate, is at arm's length, not an employee of CLBC, and actually doesn't report to the CEO of CLBC.
Normally, with the files, it's not a question of a yes or no. It's usually a mediated relationship that helps to explain to the family through the issues and the reasons for the decision, or to have the persons that have made the decision on the level of the service as part of that. It usually ends up in some sort of mediated agreement between the parties that they get the services that both of them feel they can understand and live with.
S. Simpson: I understand that the advocate would try to find a resolution that everybody is comfortable with. The question, though, is that at the end of the day, if there are service-related issues to an individual or that, and should the…. I'm still trying to determine whether if the advocate, Ms. Holland, makes a determination, it is a ruling. Is that the nature of her position?
I don't understand the position that well. Does she make a ruling that service levels — and this is all theoretical — should increase in some way, shape or form? Is that then a decision? At the end of the day, if there isn't a way to find another solution, is that a binding decision for CLBC?
Hon. R. Coleman: No, they aren't binding on CLBC or anyone, but we don't know of a case where she hasn't been able to work with the family and with CLBC to solve the issues between the parties.
The reality is that some people want way more services than they're entitled to, and that will often be the case. People have to understand that sometimes there are services on the converse where perhaps we haven't decided to provide enough, so this individual…. The advocate works us through both sides through that and comes to an amicable solution, and our experience is that it's all working. There's no anticipated change in how we do the business, but that's how we do it. And no, it is not binding.
S. Simpson: Could the minister tell us how many contracted agencies, community living societies, there are currently in the province that are contracting with CLBC?
Hon. R. Coleman: We have about 5,000 contracts, both private and non-profit, in B.C. An association of community living in some community may have a number of contracts. Sometimes it can be with regards to maybe three or four individuals in a group home that would be a contract, and a lot of times it could be individualized services for individuals. We have 5,000
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contracts with a number of both private and not-for-profit agencies across the province.
S. Simpson: How many associations for community living contract…? I'm not concerned so much about how many individual contracts they hold but associations that have a contractual relationship with CLBC.
Hon. R. Coleman: Looking over at my CEO, we don't exactly have that information available right now. We will get it for you.
S. Simpson: Maybe if that information is going to come, the next question that came with that is: does the minister know roughly how many staffed group homes those agencies have currently funded by CLBC?
Hon. R. Coleman: We have about 700 staffed group homes in the province of British Columbia that actually serve about 2,443 clients in those staffed resources.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
S. Simpson: Could the minister confirm…? Part of the discussion, I understand, that's going on is that as CLBC starts to look at the way it improves and enhances its efficiencies to deal with the pressures of a static budget and a growing caseload, it was suggested to me that there's probably about a $22 million efficiency being looked for in the coming year. Would that be accurate? If not, I'd stand to be corrected on what the number is.
Hon. R. Coleman: It is correct that we're looking for about that number in efficiencies. There's no question about that. This is a changing population, as the member is probably aware.
We basically have a different client group than maybe was traditionally developmentally disabled clients 20 years ago. The services they require are changing dramatically. Where you put them and where they live are going to change dramatically, because more individualized options and more inclusive options will be necessary for the new clients coming into the system. We have an aging population with increased mortality. The residential offices need to support the complement of disability-related needs of individual clients.
One thing we've found as we've looked at this — and this is why we're doing the number of things we have — is that people will come to us and say: "I have," for lack of a better description, "a 24-year-old developmentally disabled young adult who I want to put in that vacant bed that you have in a group home in this community." You go look at the group home, and the mix is two or three other people in their 50s who have high needs and requirements whose services….
The social integration of that individual, the 24-year-old, would be extremely damaged by actually putting him in that particular environment, so what you try to do is you individualize that. We know that by doing individualized options, we can actually give them better services and sometimes for less money, and that's where we will find our savings as we transition how we do group homes and individualized services with wraparound supports for folks as we go forward, as we deal with the changing group of people we're dealing with, with regards to developmental disabilities in B.C.
S. Simpson: Is it accurate that the cost…? This is an average cost. I understand that it will change from circumstance to circumstance but that the level of CLBC funding for staffed group homes might be roughly in the area of about half a million dollars per home on average in that range. Would that be a reasonable number?
Hon. R. Coleman: On average, you're probably pretty close. The staffed residential bed in a group home is about approximately $100,000 per person, and that's because of the staffing and the wraparound with regards to the group home. That's been a fairly consistent number for some time.
S. Simpson: As CLBC looks to achieve that $20 million, $22 million — roughly that figure of efficiencies in this year — is the expectation that the largest portion of that or most of that will be achieved through transitioning from staffed group homes to some of the other housing options or alternatives the minister talked about? What's the expectation, or is there a projection?
I see the minister nodding, so I'll take the question a little further — nodding in the negative, not the affirmative. How many staffed group homes might the CLBC be looking to close, knowing that you'll be transitioning people to other options and alternatives?
Hon. R. Coleman: The short answer is no. It's not being done on the basis of any particular…. Basically, for instance, last year, we did a…. On our service redesign we found $20 million in savings that we could add to services to our clients by simply redesigning our services. We're not moving down the road to say it's all on the backs of one piece of the service design versus others because, as I mentioned earlier, we're really reviewing the delivery methods to identify other more innovative and potentially cost-effective approaches and more closely aligning allocated funding to the level of each person's disability-related need, which wasn't done in the past.
By doing that, you will find some very interesting and creative options with regards to people, depending on their level of disability. We've had parents come forward and ask us if they all bought, for instance, five units
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of housing on a floor and kept it in the estate for each one of their adult children, would we fund just one, for people to check on them to make sure they were…? They felt they could function independently most of the time, and a cost for us would be to deal with one unit and have a staff person there from time to time.
That's why you go to an individualized model. I think it's important we do it, because there was a tendency — I think more so many years ago than there is today…. Even today we try and assess the needs of our people that are in group homes better than we probably did in the previous decades. It was basically, "Here's a group home. Someone goes in it, we'll feed them, and we'll have staff. We're done" — right?
What we're trying on the service redesign is to have someone that's coming into our services to make sure that we can give them much more of a quality of life than that. We want them to have social integration. We want them to be involved in the community. We want them to be interactive with other folks. And we don't want them to be isolated out into a particular form of housing or a particular form of service.
In some cases the best outcome for those folks is a group home. In other cases it may not be, so we have a continuum of services we're developing. We're not doing anything with group homes any differently than we have before, except to make sure that when we do use a group home for a particular client, we get the right social integration, the right mix in that particular home for them to be able to have the quality of life that their families want them to have versus somebody just predetermining that they're okay just in a group home.
S. Simpson: I appreciate that, and I appreciate that there are people who may be in group homes today and that an alternative model may make perfect sense for them and may improve their quality of life. I'm also told, though, by associations that in most instances now with their group homes, the severity and the complexity of the disabilities of people who are now resident in group homes are more so, certainly, than they might have been a decade ago.
As the minister knows, many of the people who operate the community living societies have been there an awfully long time, and their commitment to the people who they work with is quite something. It's quite laudable. They've been there a long, long time.
When I talk to them, they say: "You know, we're now at the point where…. We used to have folks who were higher-function. We now find often in our group homes we just don't have those people anymore because we've moved people in over time who have very complex needs. Now that they're here, they're not going anywhere, because of the nature of that, so it's a little more challenging." That increases the questions.
I'll come back, though, to the question that I was asking. If CLBC is looking to save $22 million in this next year, roughly, is there an expectation in the plan that some of that or a portion of that may include transitions from funding of group home operations to other models? And if so, what's the expectation around numbers of group homes that may be phased out in the system in favour of other models?
Hon. R. Coleman: There is no movement to say we're closing group homes, but we do know that by attrition some group homes will become vacant, and we may not have clients whose disability-related needs today are for them to go into a group home and who need other wraparound services. We do know that we will find savings as a result of that. The challenge with the population the member describes is that we do have two things happening on developmental disabilities in British Columbia.
At the one end, we have a population that is aging longer and requiring more services in the residential care that they have today, which, as the member describes, are probably, for some community living organizations, the services.
On the other side, we have a growth in a younger population coming through with developmental disabilities where families don't want them in group homes. They want to be able to care for them at home or in a family arrangement and have long-term plans for their children — way different than it was when the families of the older population we have today were planning for them.
As a result of that, we have savings on one end, because we can give them individualized services in a different environment that are not as costly as, let's say, a group home. We will have group homes, as a result, where we will have people that are no longer in a particular community where we have the client base to keep the group home open. We won't have the clients that would actually fit with that form of treatment or assessment or use. At that point in time, through attrition, we would deal with individualized homes.
We're not going out there, saying: "We're cutting this to cause this." We just know that by focusing on alternate residential settings, which have reduced the average residential costs — because they want different services, and not necessarily in this sort of institutionalized model that existed with many group homes over the years — a transition in all of the services for people with developmental disabilities in B.C. is going to take place.
If we manage it — and we think we can manage it well — we will also find efficiencies and savings in doing that. We've proven to ourselves that we can — without affecting the group homes, without affecting anything else we're doing — by just making sure that we're identifying services for the individuals that need it at the appropriate levels that they get them. We're going to continue to do that, and we'll work through that.
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Each year as we come through, we will assess our population growth and the age of our population so that we can come back to Finance each year with our accurate predictions of what is going to be needed for developmental disabilities in each of the increases of each fiscal service plan as we go forward.
I'm pretty comfortable that…. I've had lengthy discussions with CLBC about this and with the people in the community services areas. They come, and they tell me: "We think you've got to move out of some group homes to allow for services at a different type of service for people that were serving the clients today." They tell me that, so then I ask the questions of our folks: "What does that mean?" You learn as you grow into a file.
We've had Community Living B.C. in this ministry now for, I think, almost two years. The learning process for all of us in how we do business and the improvements I've seen in how we deal with this are pretty remarkable. The challenge is always to not measure your success by the number of dollars you invest but by the quality of life you give to your clients.
If somebody is in a residential setting at home, and the cost of their services at home is $40,000, but the family integration and the social integration of that individual is stronger — with siblings, family members, grandparents who are there for the individual in this setting and the home — and it costs less than, let's say, $100,000 in a group home, and the outcomes are better, then you should make it based on that person's needs.
That's what we're trying to do, and that's what we'll continue to do as we deal with both our aging population but also the family relationships we're building with our community service providers and with the individual families to make sure that they are getting the services that are good for the outcomes of their children.
More important is to remember that we don't need to go back to a day when people felt you just had to put somebody in a home. These folks have the right to be integrated in society at the same level as everybody else, and it's better for their health outcomes and their personal incomes if they're allowed to do that.
S. Simpson: There's no doubt. The community living societies that I've spoken to and a number of the associations would say that, yes, there are people in group homes that they have where it might make sense to transition them to some other option. But there also are significant numbers of people where that makes no sense at all, either because the consumers of the services have been long-term residents in the group homes, or the capacity of the family to deal with them is limited or not there. There's a variety of reasons why that's not the case.
Was I to understand from the minister, then, that there is no intention to close any group homes that have current residents, should those residents be choosing to stay in those group homes?
Hon. R. Coleman: For the most part that's correct, but you are going to have situations where, because of mortality, you have a group home down to one person in four. If there's a group home within the community where that person could probably be comfortable living, where there may be a vacancy, that would be cause for the consolidation, which would be as a result of the fact that you don't have a need for both homes.
At the same time, it could also allow you to transfer somebody that has certain age issues and issues with regards to things that are similar to somebody else in the community into a better situation for them — would then vacate a home that you may want to try and do something innovative for, for a different type of client.
Each one has got so many different needs that you may have an opportunity where you'd say: "Well, we're moving one out because that opportunity puts them with the same or similar age group, with people they can be compatible with, and now we have four others that are ready to maybe go into here," because they would be compatible in this situation because of their age and their social integration or family circumstances or whatever the case may be.
S. Simpson: I'm sure there's no question that, you know, if you're working at those kinds of situations where you're structuring a group home in terms of age or other kind of demographic issues, to say, "We're going to make it a more compatible place…." It becomes a better environment for everybody who's in it. Parents or guardians or others are probably, in most cases, if there are comparable levels of service, going to say: "Well hey, let's look at that. That looks like that might be an improved situation for my loved one who is suffering from a developmental disability."
The issue is, just to be clear here, as somebody said to me in one of the community living societies that I was talking to about this issue…. They raised the issue of closure of group homes with me. It's been raised by a number of organizations with me as to where things are going.
The question was…. Okay, if I have somebody in a group home, and the guardian, the family says, "I don't want this person to move" — and not necessarily, "I don't want them to move to a comparable group home in some different…" but "I don't want them moved to some dramatically different program where the expectations on the family or some other arrangement is there that's quite different than a staffed group home; I want them staying in the staffed group home where they're comfortable" — then those people can be confident that nobody's going to be suggesting to them that they need to make that change. Would that be fair?
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Hon. R. Coleman: We don't do forced moves, if that's what the member is getting to. We do, though, sometimes, when we have a redesign or have to have a repositioning with regards to our facilities, work extensively with the families and the advocates to walk them through what other opportunities are available in addition to maybe moving to another facility, if there's a capacity issue.
That includes things like home-sharing or semi-independent living. Oftentimes we'll find that when we walk them through those options they will find that maybe those are options they would like to try.
We're not closing group homes and just forcing people to move into other redesigns. We have the ability within our capacity of our 12,000 clients to be able to manage our program redesign and find our management systems and how we do this stuff quite easily.
I don't know what the member's getting at, but we're not doing it, and we're not forcing anybody to move. As I described to the member, there are situations where you might have an incompatible situation for somebody within a particular group home. For instance, if somebody's own mental state has changed, and the fact is that they've become violent, and the other three people in the home are at risk, there has to be a reassessment of that person's needs and where they might be housed.
Conversely, if somebody has developed an additional health issue that requires a different level of care, that may take them into some kind of independent living where there's assistance for their medical needs or whatever the case may be.
All of this is something that moves around. We do it as we assess and build new programs. I'm quite comfortable with the direction CLBC is going, and in speaking with the social services suppliers that I've dealt in my community living groups across B.C., they are too.
Some people are always resistant to change or new ideas, but we do have to recognize that some of our clients will actually require longer-term medical support than they can be afforded in a group home at some point in time in their lives. That's where we then try, and we have an issue moving into more of an independent living type of facility with relationship with health.
We work through all of these as best we can. We will find that, given the…. The expectations of folks who have younger children coming into our system and their resistance to not do a group home model but to have more individualized services are changing what we're doing on the front end. On the other end of the services, we're finding our mortality, our disability and our health issues are having to make us make decisions with regards to having folks move into some health care–type facilities versus being able just to be sustained in a group home.
S. Simpson: This isn't a conversation about individuals and their circumstances and whether a change in their circumstances is a positive thing for them and that you have a continuing review of the levels of care and support they're receiving so you make positive changes that work for them, or they have behaviours that may conflict with other people in a group home that require some separation in order to protect the safety and security and quality of life interests for everybody there. I don't think that's the conversation we're having.
The conversation that I'm hearing about from organizations is that CLBC is going to have increasing pressures for service levels because of increasing demand that it reflects in its service plan. It's this year looking for $22 million of efficiencies, when it's already got a pretty tight budget to be able to deliver the quality of services that it delivers.
There's not clarity about: will there be requirements for further efficiencies — and we'll get to that in a minute — in subsequent years? Will there be requirements for additional millions of dollars to be taken out of the system?
What people are saying is that there's $22 million to be saved. There is a buzz out there that the change from supported group homes to less costly alternatives is one of the primary areas to look for support there.
Folks, I think, aren't necessarily opposed to that, but they're looking for some sense of how that occurs and how the interests of people in those group homes get protected with this. I think it's more a question of uncertainty as much as it is anything else, about where the $22 million comes from in what is a very tight budget at this point.
That's the challenge I'm hearing from organizations out there, who say: "Yes, we have people we could move, and it might be in their best interests to move them to another option, but we have people that that move would make no sense for."
There are people who could take advantage of things like the Etmanski programs around PLAN and those kinds of things. But there are also people where that doesn't work. Clearly, that's a very innovative program that was developed, the PLAN program. It worked very well for a number of people, but it has a limited constituency in some ways, based on people's ability to invest in that. It's a great program, and I'm glad it's here, but it isn't for everybody.
The question is, kind of: what do you do with other folks and people in other circumstances? So I'm just looking for some assurances here around that. I heard the minister saying that nobody's being moved out of a group home that doesn't want to be moved out of one. I think that's what I heard the minister say. So maybe the minister can comment on that further if he wishes.
The next question I'd have is: does the $22 million saving projected here in efficiencies…? Are there, in subsequent years, projections for further efficiency savings in the next couple of years after that as relates to the service plan?
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Hon. R. Coleman: Last year we started the service redesign. We actually found $20 million in savings as we did the service redesign — as we started to do this in the early stages, with very few clients by comparison to the overall numbers. There were no complaints that I received. There were no issues with regards to group homes over that 12-month period that came to me. There were some group homes last year that did close because they didn't have clients.
We will hear from different groups that provide services who always have a concern about change. We should be clear, though, that 7,200 of our clients are using planning assistance, family support or community inclusion services today. Some 2,942 of our clients are in home-sharing or semi-independent arrangements today. Only 2,400 of our clients are actually in group homes, in staffed residential resources.
We recognize that our service providers get concerned as change comes, and we work with them through that. There's always someone, I guess, that will say, "The sky is falling," because of a particular singular issue in a particular community, but we've managed to work through all those.
We believe, given the $13.3 million increase over our 2009-2010 budget, combined with some services redesign, that we're fine. We're in very good shape this year with regards to managing our service redesign and making sure our clients get the best service possible.
This is a $700 million budget that we're dealing with. Next year, as we come through this year into the fall, we will make an assessment of our intake. We will look at our numbers, and we will go back to Treasury Board with our projections for the next year of funding requirements, whatever level they would be at, with regards to the number of clients that come to us in the next 12 months. We have to monitor that very closely.
One of the things since I've had CLBC…. We're very solid on our numbers as far as determining, coming into any fiscal year, what we think we have to deal with and making the projections with regards to that and recognizing that the intake, for the most part, is people that are new to our system, that are looking for a different service redesign. As our mortality deals on one side of our older population, the younger population that's coming in to us today is actually looking for the home-sharing stuff that their families are looking at.
It actually changes the dynamics just because you have other services available for people that they can choose from. It doesn't mean you necessarily affect the existing client as much as that the new client has more options that are more flexible for them and make more sense, both from the outcomes you hope to get for them and, frankly, the cost of what those particular services can be.
At no time have I ever said to the community living sector or has CLBC said to the community living sector to expect that they were going to close a bunch of things or do things. There is always that urban comment out there. I accept that, because people are concerned about change, but it's also because they actually see their client base changing, and they want to make sure that they conserve that client base at the level they have, in their mind, for decades. In some cases the decade-old or two-decade-old service model is no longer applicable in today's society.
We work with them to find the options and the services that work for these families. I've had the pleasure of meeting with hundreds of families as the minister, and I can tell the member opposite that the feedback I am getting is that CLBC is doing a very good job of adapting their programs and their services, going forward, to meet the future needs of our incoming clients.
S. Simpson: The 20 percent of clients that CLBC has that are in group homes…. Roughly, it's 2,400, so about 20 percent of the client base of CLBC are in group homes. Would it be the assessment of CLBC, when they look at the needs of those people as they assess out, that those would, in the majority, be folks who have some of the more complex challenges versus people who are possibly more high-functioning in terms of their ability to function on their own and to live more independently? Is that a fair comment?
Hon. R. Coleman: I think I should make the member aware that we have people that require lots of services. In some cases they are home-shared because they have medical supports and what have you in the home-sharing. We have other people in other forms of institutionalized care.
It would be completely unfair to try and stigmatize a particular group of people that have developmental disabilities in British Columbia by saying that those in group homes are all low-functioning or have this, this and this, when in actual fact it's not the case.
We know from our residential options review that 25 percent in group homes are high-functioning. Often families, when offered opportunities for them to be more integrated in the community, choose the option to have those folks go into a different type of home-sharing or semi–independent living relationship or whatever, because it's not an option that was necessarily offered to them before.
I think the key here is that there are two groups of people that talk to us, or to me — and, I'm sure, to the member opposite — about this. One group is the service providers who have done certain things a certain way for a long time in some cases and who may be reluctant to change or may not have grown with the professional development of their staff or whatever to a level to understand the other options for some people, in some
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cases, or contract people as well. Then there are the families and the individual. For me, it's about the family and the individual.
The thing you have to do is remember that you have…. It's like back when we did the housing strategy. You have a continuum of options for people. There are people who are more appropriate to be in a group home situation because of their family situation, their own medical situation, their compatibility with the people in a group home, in a particular home. Sometimes it's actually the particular home, not just the individual that could be compatible in another home.
Then you have people who, because of age differences, may not fit in with a particular group in a living situation and who would do better in a different one or with a different group of people within that age. Then you have behavioural issues with regard to individuals and how they integrate socially within any particular environment that they're in when they have a developmental disability.
Then you have the need for social integration, for people to be able to socialize into the public and feel like they're part of a community and not stigmatized. I believe that you have to have the range of opportunities for people to make those choices. I also believe that the range of those choices should be up to the individual and their family, and that's why we try and offer those ranges of opportunities.
As we do a redesign, it's really about what we're finding through practices, not just in British Columbia but looking in other places in the world at what the best practices are for long-term outcomes for individuals who have developmental disabilities. And we'll continue to learn.
If I look at CLBC and talk to my colleagues across the country, which I've done at different national conferences, and talk to people who I've met, a few internationally, I think we have a pretty good model under development here for people with developmental disabilities. I don't think we should hesitate to try and find a better way to do anything for anybody. That's what, basically, the goal of CLBC is. It's to reach that high level of expertise and delivery, and in so doing, sometimes you look at your models and see what works better.
If we're getting better outcomes here on one design, then we should try it more. If we're having worse outcomes on a design, then we should try it less. If we have a jurisdiction that seems to be having particular success, maybe that's a service we should look at adding to our suite of services on our continuum for people with developmental disabilities.
The challenge with it is that any time you deal with a file that has 12,000 individual people who have all varying levels of developmental disability, the compassion that's brought to the fore by the family, by the service provider and by CLBC staff is critical to the success. Always remember that the individual's needs are the priority and that we're not going to basically say, "This is the only way we will do business," knowing full well that if we did, we would actually hurt an individual's long-term health. If we do it one way for one, it may not work the same way for another person.
S. Simpson: That being the case, could the minister tell us…? As CLBC looks at these options for other types of services, particularly other types of services related to the residential requirements of people — not group homes but other options…. There are, as I understand it, at least a couple of other options in addition to being back in the family. How does CLBC, through the ministry, put in place…? What's the quality assurance framework? How does that get put in place? How does it get assessed?
How does CLBC make the determinations about what those other models are to look like and about ensuring in its own mind as an agency, as an organization, that these are the options that should be in place in addition to what exists currently? How is that process working in terms of this discussion, and what is the consultation that goes on around that with families, with advocates, with the agencies?
Hon. R. Coleman: First of all, all our agencies have to go through accreditation. Our major agencies are all accredited to international standards. Our consultation is absolutely ongoing. It is ongoing with everyone we do business with. We're looking at international innovation and sustainable service delivery models because this is an evolving field that I think we could never hesitate to try and do better at. We collaborate with government and non-profits and government and non-profit initiatives.
We're establishing an innovation committee with basically all our service providers and, quite frankly, with families, working with industry leaders to identify new approaches to innovation and sustainability and to develop a strategic plan to focus on long-term stability for our clients and forging new partnerships in philanthropic and business sectors to actually work with us with regard to things like giving opportunities for our people, our clients, to be able to go and maybe work part-time, volunteer part-time, to be able to be socially integrated into communities.
I think all of this is important, and I don't think it ever stops. I have learned more about developmental disabilities and taken down more of what I would call personal prejudices or personal misunderstandings with regard to people and developmental disabilities in the last 18 to 24 months since I've had this portion of the ministry, since I had Community Living B.C., than I probably did in the previous 30 years of my life.
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That's because you get an opportunity to start to understand the needs of families and look them in the eye, talk to them and see what they're really concerned about for their children and the future of their children, especially as you see two types of families today.
You see a senior come to you who has somebody, a child that has had a developmental disability and is living now into their 40s or early 50s. They're concerned about the succession plan for them if something happens to them — when they pass on — versus the family who's dealing with a child coming through the school system and now coming into services from Community Living B.C. and what's available for them at different levels of their lives.
I don't think we should ever hesitate to continue to try and innovate and improve the services. As I said earlier, it's not all necessarily just about the dollars but about the services that the person needs.
I'm going to ask for a five-minute recess here in a second, hon. Chair, for my folks. But just so the member knows, as of September 31, 70 percent of our new intakes, our folks, do not go into group homes of any kind. They don't want to pick those services, and they're actually picking the other services of home share and that sort of thing.
If we could have a recess for five minutes, I'd appreciate it.
The Chair: Okay, this committee stands in recess for five minutes. We'll return at about 20 after.
The committee recessed from 5:14 p.m. to 5:21 p.m.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
The Chair: I'd like to call this committee back to order. We're currently considering the Ministry of Housing and Social Development estimates.
Hon. R. Coleman: This is just to update a number from earlier. CLBC works with over 3,000 service providers. I said 5,000 earlier. That was prior to the children's transfer.
S. Simpson: The minister talked about the consultation process and the ongoing discussion around innovation and best practices and that. I respect all of that. But what we know, of course, is that when you're transitioning, making program changes or looking at options and changing the emphasis of your programs, there's some rigour involved in that. I'm sure that CLBC is going through that rigour now to make those decisions.
It is about determining some of those quality issues and ensuring that those are in place. While it's an ongoing process, I would suspect that there must be some targets and timelines around when decisions get made about what options are there so that the agencies and others can think about that and plan for that as they do their work, as well, to make sure that the work they're doing is compatible and consistent with what CLBC's objectives are and what CLBC's thoughts are about service delivery and particular areas of emphasis on service.
The question I have, coming back to that question of quality assurance and consultation, is: what are the targets and the timelines for coming to a place where the organizations can get a document from CLBC, something that says: "Here is what our thinking is about where we believe services to people with developmental disabilities need to go, and here's what we are looking to do, and we've consulted with you over this period of time to come to these conclusions"? What's the reasonable expectation for people about when that all occurs?
Hon. R. Coleman: Discussions with our service providers have been ongoing for the last 18 months and are continuing. As a matter of fact, contract management and redesign is actually the subject of meetings that are being held with service providers today.
S. Simpson: As those discussions unfold, does the service quality advocate that the minister talked about earlier — Ms. Holland, I believe — have a role in doing any assessment of these kinds of changes in service? Is there a role for her in providing advice as to what her thinking is about those changes before they actually may occur or those changes might happen? Is her role just a reactive one, where somebody has a complaint and it reaches that level and they complain and she responds to the complaint? Or does she take a more proactive role in providing advice to CLBC or to the minister?
Hon. R. Coleman: No, she's not. Her job is as the advocate for families that have issues with regard to a particular design of an individual's program. She is in meetings with us from time to time, but she's not part of this.
I think that the real answer to this question is that I have a CEO and a management team at Community Living B.C. who I expect to run the $700 million operation that government funds into. My expectation, which is being met, is that they work with service providers on redesigning services if they think that there's something that can be added for benefit. They also listen to service providers who may have ideas themselves that may improve the services to particular clients back in the communities that they serve.
My understanding is that it's a pretty fluid information-sharing arrangement between the people, who all have at heart, at the very beginning, the individual needs of our individual clients.
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S. Simpson: I'm sure those discussions are going on. I suspect they're going on in a hotel in Richmond with the CEO network, among others — today, as a matter of fact. I know the creation of the CEO network was an important thing for the community living groups to do, to give them an entity that could have those kinds of discussions with CLBC that weren't at the level of the individual agency but were at the level of the service delivery agents.
Certainly, the sense I get from my discussions with them is that it's working better. It's working, and they're feeling that there is some good work being done around the kinds of discussions that the minister is talking about. That's a positive.
Moving to a couple of specifics in relation to this, recently, on the issue of the municipal pension plan, it's my understanding that CLBC has committed to the agencies that it funds, or to the portion of the contracts that it funds, that it will supply — after RRSP contributions, etc., are taken into consideration — or fund the employer's share of the municipal pension plan commitments of those agencies, as per the 2006 collective agreement. Could the minister say whether that's accurate, or maybe there's more to it?
Hon. R. Coleman: Yeah, that's accurate.
S. Simpson: What is the cost of that for CLBC?
Hon. R. Coleman: It's actually being paid through Finance. It will go to CLBC or to their service providers. The estimated cost for the municipal pension plan for contracted service providers that deal with CLBC is approximately up to $9 million.
[H. Bloy in the chair.]
S. Simpson: Those funds will be supplementary funds in addition to CLBC's current budget of $700 million — whatever we talked about here in the service plan, in the budget? That's an additional fund of money over and above that? So that's not needing to be drawn out of existing CLBC funds?
Hon. R. Coleman: Yes, that's correct. And the reason I say "up to" is because we don't know what the takeup will be; we have an estimate of what it will be. But the funds are not coming out of CLBC's operational contribution or the service providers' dollars that they have receive from CLBC for services they provide to clients. It's over and above.
S. Simpson: Is this commitment for the next fiscal year, or is this an ongoing commitment of government to fund the employer's share of that portion for the agencies?
Hon. R. Coleman: The province is committed to fund the incremental cost to the employers of implementing the municipal pension plan for eligible employees without reducing direct services to clients.
We're in a collective agreement discussion now, so it's part of that collective agreement discussion that we would continue with what we're already doing. I'm sure that that will come through in the collective agreement, but I know that the government is committed to making sure that there's no loss of services relative to the relationship with the municipal pension plan.
S. Simpson: I appreciate that, and I know that things could change in the collective agreement bargaining process. That will go where it goes.
The question is just that this commitment by government is more than…. I understand budgets change every year and things can change, but the expectation is that…. The agencies, the people I've talked to were all very happy that this has, obviously, got resolved in terms of the impact on them.
The question that was asked, though, that I had asked and that there was not an answer to is: is this commitment for one year? Is it a single-year commitment, or is it a longer-term commitment?
The question I have for the minister is: is it a reasonable expectation of these agencies that — whatever the share is post–collective bargaining, whatever the share is after collective bargaining and whatever the result of that is — the employer's share will be sustained, as per the 2006 agreement?
Hon. R. Coleman: That would be the expectation. That's a reasonable expectation that whatever comes through in this collective agreement would be funded to our service providers with regards to the municipal pension plan.
S. Simpson: I'm going to go back and ask some questions about that in a little bit. We'll finish with some of the direct CLBC stuff. I'll come back to some issues related to pension plans and the other folks who are the smaller group, I think, of agencies that aren't community living agencies.
I just want to come back a little bit to the discussion that we were having about the changes in service delivery. The minister talked about the importance of community and about the role of community, whether it be immediate families or the broader communities. I think this is not exclusively true, obviously, in smaller areas of the province — but the role of community.
One of the things that in the discussions I've had with some of the agencies who embrace that model of community and of changing or trying to build better infrastructure in the community or encourage better infrastructure that better meets the needs of people with
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developmental disabilities and allows them to integrate more fully into the community, whether it's education or it's other kind of services…. It's an array of things that might happen to support that.
They talk about that in terms of the Community Development models for service delivery versus the specific kind of service delivery model of, "I have a service, and I deliver a specific service to you," but more of that Community Development model. I'm sure that the minister knows something about it.
Is it the thinking of CLBC that they have a responsibility in terms of the supports they provide as they look at innovative and new ways to kind of deliver those services outside of the staffed group home, for lack of a better term — the old way of doing things? Is there an investment to be made in supporting agencies that are working on that community development model and how that might work? I'd be interested to know what the minister thinks about that.
Hon. R. Coleman: I'm going to try and answer that, because I'm not quite sure that I understood the questions. The example would be that Community Living B.C. has individualized services for people with developmental disabilities. The greater community around them, like the disability community, needs to be instructed by the needs of not just our clients but also disability clients, like we've seen…. Ours have become some of the most accessible cities — for instance, in Vancouver and Victoria and other cities across B.C. — for people with disabilities. I think for people with developmental disabilities we need to do the same.
The Start with Hi campaign, for instance, which is run every year by CLBC where somebody says: "Just say hi," is a campaign to say hello to somebody who may have a developmental disability, engage them in a conversation, welcome them into the community. I think it is an important piece of that sort of thing.
I also think that the other piece of Housing and Social Development — where we have people with developmental disabilities that go and work within services within communities like community centres and that sort of thing, where we give them $100 a month for their time so they feel that they're contributing to their community — is part of it, but it's not contained in Community Living.
What the member describes, I think, is the overall next stages of the development of our relationship with the entire developmentally disabled community, which isn't just focused on the services of the individual.
What you're talking about, I think, are things like community centres should recognize the needs of people with developmental disabilities, welcome them in, make them feel comfortable so they can come in and enjoy the services there like anybody else and that we have opportunities in our parks and other recreation facilities for people with developmental disabilities to enjoy them and to be able to be integrated.
If I'm wrong, then the member will correct me, but I think that's what you're getting at, and I think that's larger than just CLBC's job. I think it's everybody's job.
S. Simpson: That is the direction that I'm going with this conversation, and it is everybody's job. Some of the organizations I talked to….
What we've seen, I think, with some of the community living associations…. It's interesting. I've spoken to them, and they just talk about sort of their natural evolution. Many of them started out much more as advocacy organizations and have moved in many ways to becoming service delivery organizations as they've opened facilities or delivered the services of CLBC or that.
They've become more service delivery–focused rather than advocacy-focused. It doesn't mean they don't have that aspect, but they've changed a little bit, and that's just the evolution and the nature of evolution of the organizations. But what some of them now talk about….
The community development models of engaging folks are exactly some of the things the minister talked about, whether it's better public awareness about how a community centre functions — better public awareness in terms of, for lack of a better term, typical people in your community and how they engage people who have developmental disabilities — how you make that a more open and welcoming place and how that goes a big way to improving the quality of life for people who have developmental disabilities. It improves their quality of life as they get more engaged — certainly people who are higher-functioning.
They talk about the importance of that as a tool for improving quality of life, making that environment, that neighbourhood, that community, that place that people live a much more inviting place for them as people who face these additional challenges that they have.
The question I have is: is there a role for CLBC in that to support strategies of those agencies that actually come forward with plans or strategies in their communities? I don't think so much about downtown Vancouver, which might do that, but I think about a Quesnel or a smaller community where these organizations work, where it may be easier to do that in some ways.
Is there a place for CLBC to be investing in supporting those kinds of strategies to make a better environment for people with disabilities?
Hon. R. Coleman: There are a number of things that we do, but we're not the sole partner in this, of course. It starts with everybody, like I said earlier. We do have a group that goes around and meets with MLAs, local government, community groups and stuff like that, just
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basically to talk about designing communities and planning with regards to things within communities and to have consultations with those.
We also are trying to work to create communities where people with developmental disabilities have more choices about how and where they live and work and contribute. We started by promoting the Start with Hi initiative to help create inclusive communities in British Columbia, which is now a provincewide thing.
Community Living B.C. entered into a very successful promotional partnership with the Globe and Mail during the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. That was all about…. You know, to get people to understand more about the people with developmental disabilities.
We have a number of things that we do where developmentally disabled people are included in our disability strategy, which includes supporting communities to increase accessibility, Measuring Up communities established. And 107 communities across B.C. have increased their accessibility to people living with disabilities in their communities. Part of that has spilled over into the developmental disabilities side.
We have, basically, issues in and around accessible tourism, issues in and around employment programming so that we can customize employment services for people with developmental disabilities, cognitive impairments and mental illness. We do that through social development.
We're the first province to fully exempt RDSP for income assistance eligibility, which is basically the registered disability savings plan, which includes people with developmental disabilities. This is something that families asked us particularly for — these programs. We partner with the Vancouver Foundation to seed that program with $150 for up to 30,000 persons with disabilities, and they're allowed to now put into it, and it doesn't affect their social assistance dollars or other services they receive from government.
In addition to that, we have the 10 by 10 Challenge. We have recognition awards, frankly, for widening the world, which is meant to reflect the contributions and honours people have made and continue to make towards ensuring the community inclusion and full citizenship of individuals who get community living supports in B.C. Then, we also have a number of other things that we do.
So we're doing a number of things. Of course, obviously our primary funding and focus is on the individuals that require services, but we do believe that there are things that we can do, as we're continuing to do, to improve the awareness in communities so that our clients and people's children who have developmental disabilities can look forward to a higher quality of life as the awareness is improved across B.C.
S. Simpson: We'll move past that a little bit I think. The minister referenced the 10 by 10 Challenge. Can the minister tell us how that's going?
Hon. R. Coleman: It's actually going very well. There are 107 communities now that have increased accessibility for people living with disabilities in their communities. Every Measuring Up community, which all these 107 are, has endorsed a 10 by 10 Challenge to increase by 10 percent the number of persons with disabilities employed in their community by 2010, and that was the goal.
A number of them have actually way exceeded the expectations that they set out for themselves. I'll give you a couple of examples or maybe just one, given the time. For example, a community with a success story would be Abbotsford. The original target of 283 people with disabilities hired by 2010 was surpassed in Abbotsford, and a new target of 500 people has been set. The community as a whole is quite honestly getting on board.
The city of Abbotsford, as an employer, is participating in hosting lunch and learns with city managers and staff, launching an internal competition to find job leads in the community and recognizing businesses that go above and beyond in service inclusion for people with disabilities. A 10 by 10 brochure was mailed out along with a letter from the Abbotsford mayor to encourage all businesses to join the challenge.
Their 10 by 10 Challenge successes were profiled in the summer 2009 issue of the 10 by 10 Challenge newsletter to let people know how they were going. I have also participated, as a minister, with my own issue in recording a message with regards to that and testimonials on that particular report. But I've also seen the success in my own community, the township of Langley, where we have a very successful 10 by 10 Challenge inclusion committee there who are doing a great job on behalf our community.
I think overall, given that and…. Obviously we had this wonderful event which was the Paralympic Games that actually, I think, heightened people's understanding of people with disabilities and what they can do and how much they can contribute to communities. It has really helped with this because I think that we see even more momentum now on our 10 by 10 Challenge and employers looking to hire disabled people and that sort of thing.
So I think it's been a pretty successful thing when it hits 107 communities who have all taken the steps to be part of the 10 by 10 Challenge, and we'll continue to work with it to improve on it as we go forward.
S. Simpson: The minister's Council on Employment for Persons with Disabilities — does that committee have a role in the 10 by 10 Challenge?
Hon. R. Coleman: The 10 by 10 Challenge is a B.C.-wide initiative that challenges communities' employers, as the member knows. It was launched in October 2006 at the Union of B.C. Municipalities as an idea from the council. The council's initiatives including that have included WorkAble Solutions, which provides employers with the business case for hiring persons with disabilities, offers recruiting trips for businesses and connects employers with skilled, dedicated workers through WorkAble Solutions job-posting website.
Another initiative of theirs was the disability supports for employment fund. That's the $25 million fund administered by the Vancouver Foundation that provides grants to charitable organizations across the province to help people with disabilities participate in the labour market.
Innovative partnerships such as the 2010 Legacies Now Measuring Up accessible tourism project. The 10 by 10 Challenge, which we've just discussed, is a B.C.-wide initiative in the 107 communities across B.C. In '07-08 the province granted 2010 Legacies Now $2.62 million to establish the Measuring Up accessibility and inclusion fund to support community projects aimed at increasing accessibility and inclusion for persons with disabilities.
S. Simpson: The minister's council, I believe, was established under Claude Richmond, when he had responsibility for this under what was, I guess, Employment and Income or whatever the ministry was called at that time. I believe the nature of that council is that it's a minister's council co-chaired by the minister and by a co-chair appointed from within the council members. Could the minister tell us whether he has convened this council since he has had this responsibility?
Hon. R. Coleman: There have been meetings, but I've been unable to attend. I think there was one that I was able to get to. It's actually instructive to have this discussion, because they're probably due for another get-together to see where they want to go from here.
S. Simpson: So at this point the council is still operating, and it's still doing what it's doing. The minister, when the minister's schedule allows, has to get to meetings, because I think there's got to be an engagement here with the minister, obviously, for them to get some direction on where they should be taking the work that they're being guided to do.
Is it the expectation of the minister sometime in the not too distant future to probably convene this group of people who are working on this and then move forward some of this work on employment opportunities for people with disabilities?
Hon. R. Coleman: Yeah, in all fairness, I think what happened here was that the minister put this together back in 2006. It was a 10 by 10 Challenge, but the main initiative was 2010, and I think that it's probably gone to where it hasn't been as active, from what I understand, as it was maybe in some previous years as they built the 10 by 10 Challenge and the other initiatives that were funded by government, like the $25 million to the Vancouver Foundation.
I think a lot of the recommendations that they had as they came together as the Minister's Council on Employment for Persons with Disabilities were initiated by the previous minister and to some degree by the ministry after I received it, because they were ongoing.
The slippage may have been that we haven't actually formalized any meetings in some time. I will give this a look to see whether it needs to be reconvened and whether it has a role going forward that would be valuable to those people's participation rather than just saying they'll get together for a meeting. Then we'll make a decision from there.
S. Simpson: I'm going to move to a couple of questions that certainly affect the community living folks but also affect a little bit the broader volunteer sector, the non-profit sector.
The first question relates to those agencies that were covered by the 2006 collective agreement, the pension plan, that are not community living groups, organizations, so wouldn't have been captured by the efforts of CLBC to come in and through and be the agency that Finance or whatever is funnelling money through to deal with the employer share of the pension plan.
Also, I know that some of those agencies are multifaceted, and they have contracts that are outside of CLBC. So the question to the minister is: is there an expectation that the other agencies will receive, through some avenue of government, the same support that has now been afforded the community living groups in terms of funding the employer share of the pension plan?
Hon. R. Coleman: You have two groups of people. You have the agencies that would be in a collective agreement from 2006 that had the expectation in around the municipal pension plan. They provide services, not just to CLBC but in some cases through other areas of this ministry, Children and Families, Solicitor General and, I would expect, probably even within the health sector and certainly over, possibly, in the Attorney General. So a number of the social ministries would have somebody with that relationship. All of those people that had that 2006 collective agreement have their municipal pension plan issues taken care of.
There is another group of people that don't have collective agreements. They have a contract with us, which they tender, and their personnel and staffing issues are theirs. They are not in a collective agreement because they're not in a union environment, or however you
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would describe it, but are in a collective agreement discussion with government.
So their issues are sometimes recruitment and retention, which we try and work with them on, but other than that, there is no…. Because they are basically a contracted service at a price they bid into, their responsibility, from them to their staff, and benefits are theirs and don't come into the discussion with regard to municipal pension plan stuff.
S. Simpson: I really just want to deal with the municipal pension plan. The crux of the question is this. Back at the time a few weeks ago when this matter got finalized, CLBC, with the community living groups and the Federation of Community Social Services, I think that it was, and the CEO network and others…. There was an agreement and a resolution reached, which everybody is pretty happy with, that dealt with the pension plan issue as it affected those agencies that are contracted through CLBC. That agreement was reached then.
As of last week…. I had talked to some. I hadn't heard that the other agencies, as the minister portrayed them…. They could come from MCFD and a variety of other backgrounds. There had not been a comparable agreement reached with them at that point that said the Ministry of Finance, through the agencies or whatever, would provide the same kind of support to those agencies to pay their employer's share of the pension plan — those agencies that signed on in 2006.
I'm just trying to clarify here, because obviously it's a question of fairness. If you're going to say, "Okay, we're paying the employer's share, based on the commitment of the van Iersel letter" — or for whatever reason; it doesn't matter — those agencies that aren't community living would also be put in a comparable place as the community living groups.
Is that now resolved that those organizations will be kept whole as well on this pension issue?
Hon. R. Coleman: I do understand that some agencies may not have come to the conclusion of their discussions with particular agencies of government, and I couldn't be specific on who they are. Basically, they all have the same opportunity and the same issues around RSP funding and transfer of reserve funds and issues if the costs are in excess of the amounts paid by government. That was basically sent to all sectoral funders with regard to the municipal pension plan.
I'm not up to date on all the negotiations with regards to that transition, but they're all eligible for the same transition arrangements as they work it out with government. I'm not in a position to comment in detail other than that, because I don't know what the status of all of those other agencies across government is. I may have misspoken there earlier.
I do know that the municipal pension plan policies are the same for everybody, but they have to work out where their funds are and what their transfers are, and that's why each one of these is coming in up to…. That's what I said earlier. It's up to $9 million for community living. Until we've actually seen the uptake and the participation, there's that. I know that the CSSEA member employers were given an updated municipal pension plan funding and were satisfied with that. They're now working through the details with government.
S. Simpson: I know from, I think, the latest CSSEA bulletin that it has kind of changed slightly and doesn't make quite the same commitment at the end as the previous one made about supporting these plans.
I want to get back, then, maybe, to what exactly the CLBC commitment was. As I understood it, the commitment was that the agencies obviously would put into the pot any RRSP dollars that they had, and quite rightly. That would go into the pot. Their reserves, and most of the reserves of these agencies, are ones that are required reserves, obviously. They have obligations around those reserves often, but there wasn't going to be an obligation for them to be putting their reserves in. The obligation was to put their RRSP dollars in, quite rightly.
Maybe the minister could clarify that. I didn't get the sense that they would have to put their reserves in but that they did have to put their RRSP dollars in.
Hon. R. Coleman: I think the difference is that CLBC was very much on top of its context and was able to deal with it. I'll just read into the record item No. 2, under "Municipal pension plan," just so the member understands.
Basically, reserve funds in this context are undelivered services, where they have it in their budget and they haven't spent it — right? It's not that if you have a building reserve, you have to touch that, or if you have a capital reserve for repairs, you don't have to touch that.
It says of reserve funds:
"In the event that the employer's cost of adopting the municipal pension plan exceeds the above-noted RRSP pension plan redirected funding levels, funders and employers will work collaboratively with agencies on a case-by-case basis to determine if there are any available reserve funds accumulated under existing agency contracts that could be accessed for this purpose without impacting services."
Basically, if it impacts services — because its funds are there for a service that's being delivered — it would not be considered a reserve. This is money that somebody might have at a year-end. They said that they were going to spend X number of dollars in the contract. They haven't delivered the services. They have money left over. It would be the expectation, on a case-by-case basis, that those funds would also be able to help contribute to the employer's portion of the pension plan, given the fact that we paid the employer the money from government.
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S. Simpson: I know that CLBC kind of led on this in many ways in terms of resolving this issue that was out there post-budget about what happens with the pension plan. I appreciate that CLBC played a leading role in trying to find a solution here that now, hopefully, is the same applicable solution for other agencies that contract with government, that were part of that 2006 collective agreement and that now have obligations, which they're paying, presumably, as of April 1 into the pension plan.
This is the last question on this. Without getting into the details of every organization, is it fair to say that those organizations can reasonably expect a settlement, a resolution, to this challenge or this problem, if they haven't got it already, that is comparable to the resolution that community living organizations have got from CLBC? Would that be the minister's expectation?
Hon. R. Coleman: Yeah, I think that that's close. I think it's a fair description. I quoted No. 2. This 1, 2, 3 was quoted from the CSSEA member employers' pension map, which is an update on the municipal pension plan funding from the sectoral funders.
This is language that I know was crafted with the cooperation of the Ministry of Finance and the other ministers involved. It was to be able to make sure that you didn't directly impact services in doing the funding for the municipal pension fund, that you would use the RRSP funding and that after the first two, where reserve funds in a contract weren't used or where the RRSPs didn't match up with enough dollars, we would step up and pay the incremental costs with regard to the municipal pension plan.
S. Simpson: I have one more topic and a couple of questions, and then I'll be done.
This relates to a matter that I know the minister is keenly aware of — the health benefits trust. It is my understanding that the minister has indicated to some of the organizations that have raised concerns about this…. This really is an issue of those organizations that got into the benefits trust. I know of organizations that have spoken to me and that have looked at alternate carriers. Because of the level of liability that the trust holds, they are being told that in some cases significant dollars are needing to be paid as a penalty, or whatever terminology you want to put to it, to get out and get in with another carrier.
My understanding is that the minister or the minister's officials have indicated that they're working on this and that they expect to be able to say something about it. I guess I'm asking the minister at this point for an update on where things are at with the health benefits trust and with dealing with this challenge around the liabilities and the difficulty that it's put some agencies in.
Hon. R. Coleman: The member is right. The health benefits trust is a significant, for lack of a better description, elephant in the room for a number of agencies with regard to the unfunded liability of the health benefits trust. It's not just relative to the community social services sector but to other sectors.
I'm very familiar with it. I spent a lot of time on it to get the health benefits trust to the table to have discussions about this under the cooperation of the Minister of Health, who gave me that ability to sit down with the health benefits trust, because it's actually located in his ministry.
We are now in discussions with health benefits trust on how we could look at it differently for the community social services sector. We think that if we could truly take off a chewable chunk of this, we'd deal with the unfunded liability, how we would futurely cash-flow out and how we would manage disability benefits better than what they are, because success in the industry standard on disability is much better in the private sector than it is in the health benefits trust. It's actually dramatically better.
So there are discussions that now we are going to do some work individually with regard to this sector to see if we can find a solution that we could take out to market or can find a way to do it differently within the trust itself for this sector. That would probably lead to other changes for other sectors in the future, but we're going to be concentrating on the community social services sector, which does include CLBC.
S. Simpson: Thanks to the minister for that, and we'll look forward to some of that information becoming public as the minister finishes his work. I would just tell the ministry staff, for preparation for tomorrow, that we'll start, probably, with a short bit on liquor — not going to take too long — and then move to housing, and housing will probably absorb most of the rest of the day.
S. Simpson: Ah well, the minister can do whatever the minister chooses. We'll get to…. It'll be liquor then housing tomorrow.
Hon. R. Coleman: Thank you to the member. I want to just pass on and just put on the record, through to the CEO of Community Living B.C. and the executive and staff over there, how proud we are of the work that they do as a Crown, which I'll say about every Crown that I actually have. I think they're all doing a pretty terrific job, and I'd like that to be taken back to your staff to let them know how much we appreciate the work they do on behalf….
Noting the time, I move that the committee rise, report progress and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:12 p.m.
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