2010 Legislative Session: Second Session, 39th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Monday, April 19, 2010
Volume 14, Number 7
Introductions by Members
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
National Volunteer Week and volunteers in Kelowna
Prevention of violence against women
Arts and culture in Surrey
Junior B hockey championships in Kamloops
Contributions of volunteers
School district costs and funding
Hon. M. MacDiarmid
Central Okanagan school district costs and funding
Hon. M. MacDiarmid
Special adviser to Vancouver school district
Hon. M. MacDiarmid
Government mailout information on harmonized sales tax
Hon. C. Hansen
First Nations consultation on harmonized sales tax
Hon. C. Hansen
Government air travel for Site C power project announcement
Hon. B. Penner
Orders of the Day
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 9 — Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act (continued)
Hon. M. MacDiarmid
Hon. M. Coell
Hon. B Stewart
On the amendment
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport
Hon. I. Chong
Hon. M. McNeil
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MONDAY, APRIL 19, 2010
The House met at 1:34 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
N. Macdonald: On Sunday afternoon the Revelstoke Grizzlies Junior B hockey team added the western Canadian championship title to their Cyclone Taylor Cup championship. I ask the House to join me in extending congratulations to Revelstoke and the Grizzlies for their Keystone Cup win.
E. Foster: In the precinct today we have, representing the city of Vernon — their ambassador of excellence program — committee members Karen Humphrey and Coleen Noel and ambassadors Amy Serano, Tamsen Guidi and Brittany Weatherill. I'd ask the House to please make them welcome.
B. Routley: I have a large and delightful group here with the Arbutus Travel Club from the Cowichan Valley. They've toured the Legislature today, and we had a nice lunch together. It was organized by Corry Salmen. Please join me in making them feel welcome.
G. Gentner: In the gallery are friends of mine, John and Janet Doutaz. John, of course, worked many years in the Legislature. He did a lot of maintenance work and replastering the walls for us, and that's why it's still here today.
Also joining us in the Legislature are Ben and Judy Alcock from Powell River. Could the Legislature please make them welcome.
Hon. B. Bennett: Today, once again, we're honoured to have the mayor of Quesnel, Mary Sjostrom, with us in the gallery up here. Also with Mary is Coun. Barb Steele from the great city of Surrey. Please help me make them feel welcome.
A. Dix: I'd like to welcome in the galleries today Larissa Duff-Grant, a grade 10 student from Windermere Secondary in my constituency of Vancouver-Kingsway. She's joined her by her mom, Jennifer Gray-Grant. I hope everyone will bid them welcome.
J. Horgan: Joining us in the gallery today is a graduate from the University of Victoria in biology, Tess Grainger. Tess has just returned from travelling in Africa, and she plans to begin her master's degree at the University of Victoria in the fall. Would the House please make her very, very welcome.
D. Hayer: I would also like to add my welcome to Barbara Steele, our city councillor — one of the hardest-working councillors in the city of Surrey — who is my constituent. Would the House please make her very, very welcome for doing a great job in Surrey.
S. Chandra Herbert: On behalf of the official opposition, I want to congratulate all the artists and arts supporters in B.C. This week, of course, is Arts and Culture Week in B.C. We will continue our call for strong investments in arts and culture. Thank you to everybody who brings culture into our homes and our communities all across this great province.
Hon. C. Hansen: On behalf of the Premier, I would like to welcome a group of 46 students from University Hill Secondary School and their teacher, Mr. John Yetman, and four parents who have accompanied them to visit the Legislature today. I hope we'll make them welcome.
(Standing Order 25B)
NATIONAL VOLUNTEER WEEK
AND VOLUNTEERS IN KELOWNA
N. Letnick: "He shoots; he scores," were the last words we heard from the gold-medal hockey game where Crosby shot. And do you know what? None of that would have happened without volunteers during the Olympic Games. This week is National Volunteer Week. From April 19 to 25 all across the country we will celebrate the work of hundreds of thousands of volunteers.
Every community in this country owes a debt of gratitude to its volunteers. Last week in Kelowna we recognized some of our dedicated volunteers at the 35th Annual Civic and Community Awards. The finalists, who were nominated by Kelowna citizens, were recognized for their outstanding achievements and contributions to our community in 2009. Here are just some of those that I'd like to congratulate on the record.
The woman of the year is Mohini Singh; the man of the year, Vern Nielsen; Teen Honour in the Arts, Hayley Blais; Honour in the Arts, Randy Leslie; the Augie Ciancone Memorial award, Sydney Mullen and Connor Clerke; young female and male citizens of the year, Jessica LeNoble and Cody O'Neil; the Bob Giordano Memorial award, Arnar Bernhardsson.
Female and male athletes of the year, Samantha Richdale and Dan Brown; Bryan Couling Memorial award, UBC Okanagan women's Heat volleyball team; Central Okanagan Foundation Volunteer Organization
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of the Year, Rotary clubs of Kelowna; corporate community award winner, MacKay LLP Chartered Accountants. The Anita Tozer Memorial Award went to Herb Sullivan.
This year there's a new category, the Heroes Award, which was awarded to Ty Lockerby and Matt Jackson. They were recognized for their courage in saving four Calgary residents from a vehicle submerged in the lake at Three Valley Gap on June 29, 2009.
Thank you to all the wonderful volunteers throughout the province, throughout my community and throughout our country. We would not have the same place, the same enthusiasm or the same services without their selfless, enthusiastic support. I would like the House to join me — I'm not sure if it's appropriate in a two-minute statement — in congratulating all the volunteers throughout our province.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
M. Mungall: Unfortunately, violence against women is all too common. Whether in Afghanistan or Anahim Lake, whether in Vietnam or Vancouver, you can find a woman who has sought the supports needed to survive violence and prevent it further. In fact, you will likely find more than one woman in this situation in any community, in any country, on any continent. That is what makes this week so important.
The Prevention of Violence Against Women Week started yesterday, on April 18, and wraps up on April 24. Initiated in 1995 by the previous government, B.C. continues to recognize this week as a way to raise awareness and identify methods for preventing the violence that is so hurtful and often deadly.
During this week community groups throughout the province are holding workshops and information booths, distributing leaflets and posters, writing media columns and blogs and, of course, starting Facebook groups and Twitter threads. The Nelson Community Services Centre is hosting a community arts project called Voices in the Wind, where a clothesline of T-shirts tells the stories of women and children who have survived abuse.
By increasing awareness, by starting the conversation, we take a vital step in preventing violence against women, but we must take further steps to make violence against women a thing of the past to truly prevent it. We must teach ourselves and our children that violence is not a display of love, that it is not the way to solve problems and that it is not acceptable.
Wearing a white ribbon, donating to a local transition house and participating in a march are all ways we do this, but most importantly, we change the world when we treat each other as equals. By doing that, we can prevent violence against women.
ARTS AND CULTURE IN SURREY
S. Cadieux: This week marks the 11th annual B.C. Arts and Culture Week. This is a great opportunity to commemorate and to raise awareness about the valuable contribution that the arts have in our communities.
I'm really lucky in Surrey-Panorama that many talented artists and organizations have made their home in my riding and also in the greater Surrey area. The award-winning Surrey Art Gallery has long been a proud part of our community, stimulating dialogue and exposing visitors to new ideas and viewpoints through contemporary art.
The Crescent Beach photo club is currently showing their Lightscapes exhibit at the Surrey Art Gallery. From now until June you can enjoy the work of these gifted photographers as they highlight the beauty of our local area.
Whether you go to an exhibit or join a club, there are many ways to enjoy the arts. Schools are a great first place to ignite interest. Coming up this Friday I'll have the pleasure of attending the Earl Marriott Secondary School's live production of Beauty and the Beast. The demand is so high, in fact, that this is the first time the school has had to add a matinee showing.
Their theatre department has also enjoyed success thanks to the dedication and passion of Earl Marriot's theatre students, teachers and a large group of volunteers, including Surrey-Panorama resident Linda Weston. A true patron of the arts, Linda has dedicated hundreds of hours to the costume design of almost every school production. She selflessly continues to dedicate her time year after year to the success of each of these productions with absolutely fabulous costumes.
I encourage everyone to get to know their arts community better during this Arts and Culture Week and in the future.
D. Routley: I'd like to talk to the House today about farmers markets. Farmers markets are in existence in every corner of our province. They reflect the communities they serve. Like those communities, they vary in size, type and character. The vendors, to be members of the B.C. farmers market association, must make, bake or grow their own products. In our little corner of B.C. — in Cedar, B.C. — we enjoy the Cedar Farmers Market thanks to the energy of organizers George and Betty Benson.
On Vancouver Island only 30 years ago we produced over 80 percent of the perishable foods consumed on the Island. Today that's less than 5 percent. Food security is an essential element of an independent and autonomous community. We need to support our farmers and support our producers. Marketing and processing links that farmers depend on are supported by healthy farmers markets.
Also, arts and culture are promoted, as artists and cultural events promote themselves through our farmers markets. These are essential community links, and we need to support them. So I'd encourage all the members and all the people of the province to get out and support your local farmers market. In Cedar you can join us at 2313 Yellow Point Road from May 9 to October 31. Let's support our agriculture industry and make our communities secure.
JUNIOR B HOCKEY
CHAMPIONSHIPS IN KAMLOOPS
T. Lake: As mentioned by the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke, this past weekend Canada's tournament capital hosted the western Canadian Junior B hockey championships. The Keystone Cup took place at the McArthur Island Sports and Event Centre in north Kamloops. Each year since 1983 the top Junior B teams from across Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and northwestern Ontario fight a tough battle to determine the best in the west.
The Revelstoke Grizzlies were the best team from our province, and the Kamloops Storm represented the host city. Neither team disappointed. British Columbia won its second straight and seventh-ever Keystone Cup, with the Revelstoke Grizzlies beating Saskatchewan's Tri-Town Thunder 5 to 3 in the final yesterday.
The hometown favourites, the Kamloops Storm, definitely gave their audience a show. They beat the Beaumont Chiefs of Alberta in a nail-biting 4-3 win in double overtime to take the bronze medal, after tying the game with just one second left in the third period.
This is a tough bunch of 16- to 20-year-old hockey players. Their hard work and talent were evident on the ice, and they represented their provinces with pride on and off the ice.
As always, the people of Kamloops were more than ready to welcome these athletes into their community, once again living up to our well-earned name as Canada's tournament capital.
We all witnessed hockey unite Canadians of all ages and all stripes at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, and Junior B hockey unites people in smaller communities to support their young athletes. It's important that we also support their pursuit of excellence on the ice.
Congratulations to the Revelstoke Grizzlies and the Kamloops Storm, to all the participants, their coaches and families, and to the great city of Kamloops for hosting yet another successful tournament.
CONTRIBUTIONS OF VOLUNTEERS
N. Simons: Today marks the beginning of National Volunteer Week, so I've written a poem.
When the Legion hosts a Remembrance Day
or Rotarians and Lions build parks to play,
none of them asking for money or pay,
let's thank the volunteer.
When money is raised to save a cat,
and plays are put on by passing the hat,
when festivals bring us writers and singers,
let's thank a volunteer.
When the theatre's sets were better than ever,
when birds that were counted were birds of a feather,
and when Environment Canada gets reports on our weather,
let's thank a volunteer.
When a senior gets out for a meal with her friends
or when salmon get hatched in their hatchery pens,
when the team finds a coach or a choir finds a tenor,
let's thank a volunteer.
When a fire breaks out far away from a town
or a boat off the coast might be about to go down,
when a stream gets attention or an actor a gown,
let's thank a volunteer.
They're in our schools and on boards and on many
They're in our hospitals as well as our health care auxiliaries.
They do more work in a day than most birds and most bees.
Let's thank a volunteer.
In closing, thanks, Mr. Speaker. I've now had my say
to celebrate all volunteers on this day,
and it's probably time we get on with this play.
Let's thank our volunteers.
SCHOOL DISTRICT COSTS AND FUNDING
C. James: Hundreds of parents, teachers and students gathered in Vancouver to call on the B.C. Liberals to stop the neglect of our public education system. Hundreds more are rallying today. Here's what a student had to say at that rally: "All our textbooks are old. We have ripped pages that you have to tape." A parent said: "Two more years of this government will be the end of public education."
The minister was invited, but she failed to attend. So my question is to the Minister of Education. Why is she refusing to listen to parents, students and teachers? Why won't she get on with fixing the mess in the education system created by the B.C. Liberals?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Let's be clear. We are investing $4.6 billion in this education system this year in British Columbia. We've increased education funding every year for the last ten years. In fact, as the members opposite are well aware, the last time that the Vancouver school board's budget was reduced was when they were in power, in 1998.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
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C. James: For years and years the B.C. Liberals have denied having had a role in the education crisis that we see, and now the minister wants families to believe that it's someone else's fault, that it's the school board's fault. Well, people aren't buying it. Parents and students aren't buying the line. They know the B.C. Liberals have neglected education in our province.
This situation is not unique to the Vancouver school district. Here are shortfalls facing other school districts: Coquitlam, $4.1 million; Richmond, $6 million; Nanaimo, $2.8 million. These are all shortfalls: Central Okanagan, $4.6 million; Kamloops, a $2.4 million shortfall.
Again, my question is to the minister. The B.C. Liberal neglect isn't hurting just one school district. When will this minister stand up and admit that this crisis is in every region in British Columbia?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Well, I remind the member opposite of what the former NDP Education and Finance Minister, Paul Ramsey, said just a few days ago. "The shortfall is a fiction on paper. It's not a real deficit. It's a wonderful game that school districts use to jam Ministers of Education."
At a time when we're facing one of the worst economic downturns in decades, Mr. Speaker, we have chosen to increase education funding for a tenth year in a row. We have funding for a teacher salary increase, $54 million, and $58 million for full-day kindergarten — a program which the members opposite have not been supportive of but which we know will make a profound difference for the young learners in our province. Increased investment at a time when the economy has taken a downturn — we believe in education. We believe in the future of these students.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.
C. James: I can tell the minister what she and this government are doing. They're downloading costs onto school boards, they're blaming the boards, and students are losing out in British Columbia. That's what this government is doing.
Let's take a look at the numbers the minister didn't share with us, Mr. Speaker: $66 million of unfunded costs for salaries and pensions, $2.8 million for higher medical premiums, $6.3 million for carbon offsets for schools, $2.4 million for higher B.C. Hydro rates — none of that provided by government. Every single district in this province has been hit with higher costs while they struggle with huge funding gaps.
Again, my question is to the Minister of Education. Students are the future of our province. When will this minister admit that they've been downloading costs onto school boards, and when will this minister and this government provide a solution for school districts and communities across British Columbia?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Well, we have made it very clear that education is a top priority for this government. That's why we are investing over $4.6 billion in schools around this province this year.
Let's also be clear: this is a government that, like other governments across Canada, faces an extraordinary time economically. We have a $1.7 billion deficit in this province. We do believe in a school system that by this fall…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: …will have an estimated 60,000 fewer students than it did last fall. We do believe it's a time for us to look at doing things differently.
School boards are having these conversations in some cases, talking about sharing services, talking about making changes that will not impact students in the classroom. We need to talk more about this in a system that has been having increasing funding every single year for the last ten.
CENTRAL OKANAGAN SCHOOL DISTRICT
COSTS AND FUNDING
R. Austin: This is what Moyra Baxter, a trustee with the Central Okanagan district, said about this government's decision to appoint a special adviser in Vancouver. "I haven't heard any single school board or school district say that they aren't facing severe financial problems."
My question is to the Minister of Education. Why won't the minister admit that it's the massive shortfalls and millions of dollars in downloaded costs that have caused this crisis across British Columbia?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I'll remind the member opposite of what he said just a few short days ago, on March 17. "We have one of the best public education systems probably in the world." That's what we agree upon — one of the best systems in the world…
Mr. Speaker: Minister, just take your seat for a second.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: …one of the best public education systems in the world, a system that is going to have, actually, over $5 billion invested in it next year in the school year.
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Let's talk about who is in support of the appointment of a special adviser. Just last week former NDP Finance Minister and Deputy Premier Elizabeth Cull indicated her support for appointing a special adviser in Vancouver. We're taking this step because the VSB has been clear they are having difficulty managing, and we look forward to the report of this special adviser.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
R. Austin: It's true. We do have one of the best public education systems in the world. And it's being….
R. Austin: Oh, wait for it; wait for it. Get ready to clap again.
It is being dismantled brick by brick by these people on the other side. Districts across the province are reeling from these costs and funding gaps. Here's just one example. The Central Okanagan school district is being forced to cough up $2.2 million for all-day kindergarten. Okay. But they have $2.8 million in contractual costs, $417,000 in higher MSP premiums, $57,000 in pension cost increases, $137,000 in carbon offsets, $102,000 in increased hydro and gas — more than $7.6 million in cost pressures.
Again, to the Minister of Education. She expects the Central Okanagan district to pay for $7.6 million in cost pressures. Will she admit that she's the one who needs a special adviser to look at her own books?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: In fact, the ministry has looked carefully at our administrative costs, and we've reduced them by over 16 percent in the last two years. In 52 of our 60 school districts declining enrolment has been a reality for the last ten years — 52 of the 60. And by this fall we expect 60,000 fewer students in school rooms around this province.
We are saying it is time to look at doing things differently. It is time for school boards, and some of them are. It is time for them to look at doing things differently — sharing services, perhaps information technology, and making these steps so that they can maximize the investment in students and classrooms around this province.
SPECIAL ADVISER TO
VANCOUVER SCHOOL DISTRICT
S. Simpson: What parents and trustees in British Columbia want is this minister and her ministry to do things differently and fund these shortfalls.
The minister appointed a special adviser in Vancouver, the only place where she chose to do that. She did that, and then she followed it up with disparaging comments about that district, about its board and about its ability to govern.
These terms of reference that the minister laid out all direct themselves towards the board and what the board is or isn't doing. But what those terms of reference do is neglect the question that trustees and parents across this province want answered. They want to know if there's enough money in this system to afford a quality education system for their children.
Will the minister change those terms of reference? Will the minister amend those terms of reference and put the question about the adequacy of provincial funding into the terms of reference?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: The Vancouver school board has experienced an $85 million increase in funding while the number of students in classrooms in Vancouver has been reduced by over 3,000 students in the last ten years. Per-pupil funding next year will be increased by 31 percent since the number ten years ago.
Every single year in the last 17 years, this school district has forecast doom and gloom, terrible deficits. Last year they forecast they'd have a deficit of $8 million to $12 million, and they finished the year with a $16.7 million surplus. We do need to find out exactly what is going on. The school board chair has said that it is different this year than other years.
The special adviser will give us a report. She will let us know. She will look at how the board is functioning. She will look and see if there are administrative savings. In fact, the board chair has said she welcomes another pair of eyes to look at this district.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Simpson: The $18 million deficit in Vancouver is only one of a litany of deficits. District after district in this province is projecting multi-million-dollar shortfalls in their ability to deliver education in this province. This isn't about Vancouver. It's about every school district in this province and every child in this province.
The terms of reference talk about the board's budget development process, talk about their management capacity and talk about their short- and long-term planning. Those questions could all be asked of this minister and how she runs her ministry.
Will the minister do the right thing, if she's serious? If this minister is serious about getting to the bottom of the challenges in education, will she ask the special adviser, the comptroller general, to do an assessment of whether she's adequately funding education?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: The clear difference between the Vancouver school board and others is the statements they have been making about the changes that they propose to make this year, which they believe are
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unacceptable. At times they have stated that they have cut administration to the bone, and there are no further savings they can find.
This school district, like many of them around the province, is dealing with declining enrolment. We have classrooms not only in Vancouver but around this province, in 52 of the 60 school districts, that are 40, 50 and sometimes 60 or 70 percent empty — schools that have capacity of 70 percent within the school. We are aware of this, and we believe there are administrative savings that can be found, that there are ways of keeping changes away from the classroom and better ways to accomplish things with the best interests of students in mind.
We await this report. It will come to us at the end of May. We will make it available to the Vancouver school board, and we're hopeful there will be messages in this report that will be helpful right across the province as we deal with these issues.
GOVERNMENT MAILOUT INFORMATION
ON HARMONIZED SALES TAX
B. Ralston: The Minister of Finance has made the complaint recently that some members of the public just don't understand PST exemptions and the proposed transition to the HST. Here in the Legislature the member for Comox Valley was speaking about logging, and he spoke about the purchase of chainsaws. He gave an example of a chainsaw costing $700 or $800 that would cost about $50 to $60 in PST right now. However, the Ministry of Finance tax bulletin on commercial logging says that buying a chainsaw for those purposes is already PST-exempt.
Before the minister spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on paying for a mailout at public expense, will he set members of the B.C. Liberal caucus straight first?
Hon. C. Hansen: It's interesting. Last week we pointed out some gross errors in the NDP website. We exposed them, and lo and behold, the next day they pulled that portion of their website. The next day we actually exposed the fact….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. C. Hansen: The next day we exposed the fact that they had links on their websites to more information that was blatantly false. We exposed it, and lo and behold, the misinformation got pulled.
So we will make sure that accurate information gets out around British Columbia to actually counter a lot of the blatant misinformation that is being spread by the New Democratic Party and their members.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
B. Ralston: The minister makes repeated reference to what he calls factual information about the harmonized sales tax. In order that the mailout he's proposing, which is going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars at public expense…. Will he ensure that it has a comprehensive list of everything that will cost more as a result of the HST?
Hon. C. Hansen: You know, what's obvious to me is that the NDP is afraid of us putting facts out.
You don't have to go very deep into the website at www.gov.bc.ca to find out that books will not be subject to the incremental 7 percent of the HST. Yet we have the member for Fraser-Nicola saying: "You buy a book; you got to pay up that HST." That is pretty basic information that you can glean from the website, if he at least took the time to go in and look at it.
We've got the member for North Island standing in this House and talking about the increased 7 percent on heating oil. We know that's false. That is basic information that is at the front of the website, and you would only have to spend about 20 seconds in the website to ascertain that piece of information.
I challenge the Finance critic and I challenge all of the members of the opposition to actually go onto the government website and learn some of the basic information about the HST and its impact, and he will get the answer to his question.
M. Farnworth: There is outrage out there. That's why they've got all the signatures already in the riding of Comox opposed to the HST.
I want to come back to a statement the Minister of Finance just made. He said: "You know, people should really go to the website." Trouble is that when you go to that website, there's no comprehensive list. There's not one comprehensive list of what's going to go up due to the HST.
Could it be because that list is going to be page after page after page long? What you do see is nice graphics of gender-balanced, ethnically balanced, age-balanced, happy, smiling people saying support for the HST, when in fact, what people want is a comprehensive list.
Will the minister commit that when he spends his millions of dollars mailing out his information on the HST, it will include a comprehensive list of everything that will go up because of this government's HST tax grab?
Hon. C. Hansen: I'm glad the member has taken at least a little bit of time to explore the information on the website, because he now knows that, contrary to some of the information that has been spread, strata fees will not be subject to the additional 7 percent HST.
[ Page 4465 ]
He will now know from that website that gasoline and other motor fuels will not be subject to the additional 7 percent of the HST. He will know, for example, that car repairs and maintenance will not be affected by the change in harmonized sales tax. In fact, he should know that car repairs and maintenance will actually come down as a result of the shift to the HST.
There is comprehensive information on that website. It's linked to the Canada Revenue Agency website, which gives additional information so that people can determine all of those things that are either currently exempt as a result of being exempt from GST, which is the vast majority of goods, or goods that will not be affected at all as a result of this change.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Farnworth: You know, really what it comes down to is that the Minister of Finance is mad. He's mad at Bill Vander Zalm. He's mad at the NDP. He's mad at the public of British Columbia. Because they just won't take his word for it or the word of this government.
Will he, when he spends his millions of dollars on this mailout, do what the public wants and show a comprehensive list of everything that is going to go up because of this government's HST agenda?
Hon. C. Hansen: It's actually pretty simple for the member to figure out. If it's something that's not currently subject to GST today, it won't be subject to the additional 7 percent of the HST. In addition to that, there is a whole list of goods and things that are on the website which are currently subject to the GST but which will not be subject to the additional 7 percent. That includes books. That includes children-sized clothing. It includes all motor fuels in British Columbia. It includes home energy costs. It's pretty easy for the members to figure out.
FIRST NATIONS CONSULTATION
ON HARMONIZED SALES TAX
D. Donaldson: The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs opposes the implementation of the HST. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says this tax will further marginalize and add hardship to First Nations families and communities. Just a few weeks ago the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs reiterated their call for full consultation with the province before the HST is implemented. Their calls have been ignored by the Minister of Finance. The minister references gross errors. The people of B.C. consider that a gross error.
Now, to the minister: how does his failure to consult with First Nations on the HST fit with this government's promise of a new relationship based on respect?
Hon. C. Hansen: There are agreements in place with regard to the treatment of the goods and services tax as it applies to First Nations communities around British Columbia. The same agreements will be honoured — there's no change — and the same provisions would be applied to the entire HST.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
D. Donaldson: It seems this government's new approach to consultation with First Nations under the new relationship translates to no consultation when it comes to the HST. Chief Matthew Sparrow, a member of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs' HST committee, says of this government: "They are brushing us off. The honour of the Crown is at stake." First Nations have legitimate and specific concerns about the HST. They've been asking the Minister of Finance for a meeting since November, and today they still haven't heard back.
To the minister: why won't the minister agree to meet with these First Nation leaders on his plans to impose the HST?
Hon. C. Hansen: I have received letters of concern from some of the First Nations leadership in British Columbia, and we have answered the letters that have come in. There may be still some in the works, but in those letters we reassure First Nations leaders in British Columbia that the same provisions that apply to the GST will apply to the HST.
GOVERNMENT AIR TRAVEL FOR
SITE C POWER PROJECT ANNOUNCEMENT
J. Horgan: Following the election campaign the B.C. Liberals revealed a $3 billion deficit. At that time the Minister of Citizens' Services advised this House and people of B.C. that there were comprehensive travel restrictions in place for government business.
My question is to the Minister of Citizens' Services. Can he explain to this House how a Learjet for the Premier and four planes chartered to fly to Hudson's Hope, an airport that sees zero traffic on a weekly basis, is justified at a time of a $3 billion deficit? How do you explain five airplanes for a press conference?
Hon. B. Penner: I appreciate the question and the opportunity to speak about the very significant announcement made earlier today by the Premier and the Minister of Energy.
As noted, the project announced today will take it to the next level, requiring a full, thorough public environmental assessment process, and that's a process that our government is committed to. We will be looking to ascertain and minimize potential environmental impacts
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associated with this project, which has the potential to build on the great legacy of W.A.C. Bennett and the large hydroelectric projects that have built this province for generations. I believe that, done properly, that thorough environmental assessment will meet all the requirements necessary to make this project go ahead.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
J. Horgan: I was going to ask the Minister of Environment about the carbon neutrality of a Learjet for King Lear and four airplanes to take up the boosters. I won't do that. I don't know how you make that carbon-neutral.
But I'm going to go back to the spin wizard. I'm going to go back to the Minister of Citizens' Service and Minister Responsible for the Public Affairs Bureau. How do you justify sending five planes full of people for a two-page press release? Why didn't we do it here like we do everything else? You announced an environmental review, not the second coming of Christ.
Hon. B. Penner: Better question is: how does the NDP continue to justify their flip-flopping on the issue of the Site C dam? Who was it that said: "We should pay a premium for renewable so that…."
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Take your seat.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. B. Penner: I understand the NDP's sensitivity around this issue, because they're clearly deeply divided as a caucus due to the weak leadership on the other side.
That's why we can have the following quotes: "We should pay a premium for renewables so that we can rid ourselves of technologies like coal" and "Why I get excited about the prospect of a large project like perhaps Site C…." That was the NDP Energy critic.
The NDP Leader of the Opposition has also said that Site C should be considered "if this project is approved after a thorough environmental assessment and has the opportunity to provide clean, renewable electricity for generations to come and to build on the legacy of W.A.C. Bennett."
[End of question period.]
M. Sather: I seek leave to present a petition.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
M. Sather: I have 500 signatures from individuals in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows calling on the government to scrap the HST.
J. Thornthwaite: I have two petitions, one from Plymouth Elementary and the other from Fromme Elementary, with regards to possible school closures. A vote will be made tomorrow night with the school board.
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. de Jong: In Committee A, I call Committee of Supply — for the information of members, the estimates of the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport — and, in this chamber, continued second reading debate on Bill 9.
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 9 — Consumption Tax Rebate
and Transition Act
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I am pleased to rise and speak today in support of the HST. Harmonizing the provincial and federal sales taxes will make our province a more efficient and more competitive place to do business, and one of the reasons I ran to become an MLA was to help to improve B.C.'s economy.
I know that a strong economy for this province allows us to be able to support the programs that are so critically important to British Columbians: our health care system, our education system and the many valuable social programs that British Columbians count on.
My constituents recognize that B.C. is facing significant challenges unlike anything many of us have seen in our lifetimes — the most significant economic downturn that we've experienced in this province, literally, in decades. I hear all the time about how important it is to take steps to improve the economy and create jobs for families.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
When I come into contact with my constituents, what I very frequently hear is their personal stories, their concerns either for themselves or often for their children or adult children who are completing education. They're concerned that the future will hold jobs and will hold a
[ Page 4467 ]
strong economy for them so that they and their children can have opportunities and can achieve their dreams.
The riding I represent is Vancouver-Fairview. It is the home of many small businesses, tech and biotech firms. Small, medium and large businesses are in this riding, and they make great contributions to our economy and to our community.
The bill before us is important because a strong economy creates jobs for people in Vancouver-Fairview and around the province and opportunities for them and for their families. In fact, harmonizing the provincial and federal sales taxes is expected to create 113,000 jobs over the next decade. These are jobs that one at a time will make a difference to the people in my riding and all around British Columbia.
I know that families in my riding want government to take steps to promote job creation. Jobs make a difference to families. They allow them to achieve their dreams and to accomplish their goals and to live with security.
Prior to being elected I was a family physician in Trail, B.C. When I moved there in the late 1980s and as I worked there in the '90s, I saw young family after young family leaving the province because of the state of our economy — leaving a town they loved because there weren't opportunities for them there. Jobs were being lost. The economy was slowly grinding down during the 1990s. This is a town that essentially lost part of a generation.
Those families are starting to come back, but I certainly saw firsthand how critically important a strong economy was to their lives. I know for Vancouver-Fairview this is exactly the same.
There are some important compliance issues that make a difference as far as this tax goes. Harmonizing the two taxes will mean that businesses can spend less time calculating their taxes and more time focused on growing their companies. We've heard that this will lead to a more competitive business environment and more jobs for families. We've heard from some of these very businesses that they are expecting an expansion of their revenues, an expansion of investment. They believe that they'll be able to expand their businesses and that they will be able to hire more British Columbians.
Savings for small, medium and large businesses right across British Columbia will happen, as harmonizing the sales taxes is anticipated to save businesses about $150 million a year in compliance costs, and they've been very clear that these are dollars they intend to reinvest in their businesses. This is good news. I never hear business owners asking for government to increase their paperwork burden. This elimination of some of this paperwork, and the elimination of compliance costs, is welcome to these business owners.
Given all the talk we hear from the other side about how they support small businesses, why won't they stand up and support this initiative that will reduce small businesses' operating costs?
Here's what the B.C. Chamber of Commerce has said about the harmonized sales tax: "Tax-filing, compliance and other regulatory costs will be significantly lower under the HST, and this should be especially beneficial for smaller businesses."
I challenge the members opposite to actually support our small businesses, which are creating jobs and supporting our economy. In fact, in 2008 small businesses across this province employed one million British Columbians in dynamic jobs that added significant value to our economy all around the province.
The Retail Council of Canada has said that harmonization will result in a simpler and more efficient tax system for British Columbia businesses. This will help smaller retailers in particular who find administering two separate tax systems difficult and costly.
The New Car Dealers Association has added their voice to the support for the HST, saying:
"This is a terrific move by the B.C. government to improve the economy, and it's great news for British Columbians. For business, it means having to manage the administration of just one tax system rather than two. That will save time and money, and these days that's very good news for businesses, including the New Car Dealers Association."
The B.C. Construction Association has said that this will increase competitiveness with contractors inside and outside of British Columbia. No doubt that is why 29 of 30 OECD countries have adopted value-added taxes instead of using the old-style PST, and certainly that would be why more than 130 countries around the world also have value-added taxes.
What about investment? Well, we know that the HST will lower the tax on investment by 40 percent, and that will be another thing that will increase jobs in this province. Dr. Mintz, a well-respected economist right across Canada, has said that the HST will mean an $11.5 billion increase in capital investment. Are the opposition opposed to that kind of investment in this province?
The CEO of Coast Forest Products Association has said, "The HST means we will see increases in productivity and investment. We'll see, for the forest industry, levelling the playing field with competitors and providing the forest industry with an opportunity to invest in and maintain wealth-creating, high-paying jobs" — on an individual level, something that will make a difference in the lives of British Columbians who are in the forest industry.
The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters have said that the HST will save businesses money — money that can be reinvested in innovation and productivity and the development of new markets.
There are other voices of support. Journalist Calyn Shaw, back in August of last year, wrote about the HST at length. One of the things he said is: "Is this a policy
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that makes so much sense for the government that it belongs in the no-brainer category? Absolutely."
He went on to point out that it wasn't just government and himself that support this tax, the HST, but also economists such as Prof. Kevin Milligan from the department of economics at UBC. He's an enthusiastic supporter of this tax policy and gave it high praise. This is what he said: "HST isn't a left-right issue, and it isn't ideological as far as economists are concerned. It's just good policy."
This journalist went on to point out that, unfortunately, often getting lost in the HST argument is that in the long run, switching to a value-added tax instead of a retail sales tax is hugely beneficial to consumers. That's why government after government around the world has long since gone to a value-added tax. Just because we don't see the PST…. We know that it is often embedded and has often been paid numerous times on goods, as a cascading tax. That embedded tax being paid multiple times — it's hidden, but each time it's being passed on to consumers.
The HST is going to reduce costs to job-supporting industries in B.C., and we expect costs to come down over time by some $1.9 billion. Many other speakers have already spoken about the benefits, but let's go over them again — benefits of the HST to a number of different kinds of businesses in this province.
Madam Speaker, $140 million of costs removed from the forestry sector; $80 million from the mining, oil and gas sector; $210 million of costs removed from the transportation sector; and a staggering $880 million which will come out of the construction sector; $140 million removed from the manufacturing sector — allowing these sectors to be more competitive, allowing them to hire more British Columbians, allowing our economy to improve.
These cost reductions will help these important industries grow stronger as our economy recovers. It will help British Columbians who are already employed in these sectors and allow for further employment of British Columbians.
As Minister of Education, I heard concerns from school districts about what the HST would mean to their funding. That's why I'm proud that government is going to be providing an 87 percent rebate to the public school districts. These rebates will mean that on average, districts will not pay any increase in tax as a result of the HST.
But let's remember that ultimately it's the children who are in schools today — these children and their families — who are going to benefit from the future more competitive, more productive economy that will result from this change. Once they complete their education, they will find it easier to get their careers started when more businesses are hiring. Our students and their families will also benefit as prices for goods and services drop, as the hidden PST gradually comes out of prices.
About that hidden PST, according to the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, approximately 40 percent of PST is currently paid by businesses on goods and services which they use in their operations. This is a cost that factors into the price paid by consumers for the products they use every single day — a hidden, inefficient, embedded tax that is going to be gone when this bill is passed. By switching to a value-added tax, these hidden taxes will come out, and prices will drop for British Columbians.
As someone new to this House, I've found it interesting and sometimes puzzling to watch the NDP flip-flop on this issue. In 2007 and 2008 the members opposite supported the Finance Committee's recommendation that we should seriously study the feasibility of the HST. That sounds like they were in favour of the HST or at least in favour of seriously looking at it. When the government announced we were proceeding with harmonization, we saw another flip-flop, which reminds me of the carbon tax. They called for a carbon tax, but then when we implemented it, they opposed it.
In 2009 they called the carbon tax the wrong tax at the wrong time. But fortunately, we think the NDP has changed their position on the carbon tax, and they're now in favour of it. I believe this is exactly what we will see in future about the HST.
When we see the new jobs that are created, when we see this inefficient tax removed, when we see hundreds of millions of dollars being reinvested in British Columbia as it becomes a more attractive place to invest, when we see new jobs, it will be very difficult even for the members opposite to continue to speak out against this tax.
What's really troubling is the misleading statements that have been made by the members opposite and that they continue to make. Just a few days ago in this House the member for New Westminster spoke about British Columbians on low and fixed incomes. She knows, or she should, that low-income families and individuals will receive a tax credit, an annual B.C. HST credit, of $230 for individuals with income up to $20,000 and $230 per family member for families with incomes up to $25,000. This will benefit over 1.1 million British Columbians.
One thing I wonder about the NDP's position on the HST is whether or not they would repeal it if they ever got the chance. British Columbians need to know about this. I wonder what the future will hold some years down the line when we see what has happened when we remove an inefficient embedded tax, which is paid over and over by British Columbians, and replace it with this value-added tax.
In the past the member for Cariboo North has said that harmonized taxes aren't bad. The member for Juan de Fuca has said that the NDP would get rid of the
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tax and increase other taxes. I think we can believe an NDP MLA when they say they will increase taxes, as we've watched them vote against every single tax cut we've implemented over the years — tax cuts that have made a difference for British Columbians around this province.
Their leader has said that tax cuts don't work, that they don't create jobs, but the Finance critic has said:"It's a bit like having your appendix out. It's very hard to go back." So the leader says they would serve notice and get rid of this tax, but I really wonder whether even the NDP would take this step.
B.C. needs leadership to get through these challenging times, and this leadership is not coming from the other side of the House. Making the decision about the HST was a leadership decision. It is clear that switching to this value-added tax instead of a retail sales tax will be a huge benefit to British Columbians. The current PST is a hidden tax embedded in the cost of many goods and services that we purchase, and often there is a tax upon tax upon tax — embedded PST paid multiple times.
From my constituents, with whom I've spoken many times about how critical it is that British Columbia has a government that increases jobs, that will do things to grow our economy…. When I think about the businesses in my riding, the biotech and tech firms and the many other small, medium and large businesses, it is very clear that this is the right thing to do.
When we go to a harmonized sales tax, we will be taking a step that will improve the economy in British Columbia, that will provide more jobs for British Columbia, that will make this a more competitive environment — a place that will attract investment and will be part of us keeping B.C. strong and having a bright future for all of our constituents and for British Columbians in every walk of life around this province.
In conclusion, Madam Speaker, let me say that I hope all members in this House will put their constituents first, will think about their constituents, will think about the future of this province and will vote to get rid of the job-killing PST. I look forward to the day when we will all cast our vote, and I will be able to strongly support this bill.
S. Simpson: I'm pleased to take this opportunity to stand in my place and speak to Bill 9, the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act.
This is the HST bill for British Columbia. It's funny. When I talk to British Columbians and people about the HST and reference Bill 9 and this act, they say: "Well, what does that mean? What does the title of that mean? That doesn't say anything about the HST." I have to point out that this government didn't have the courage of its convictions to acknowledge in the title of this act that this is about the HST.
I think that's endemic and reflects part of the problem this government is having with its lack of leadership as it heads and sort of spirals into oblivion in British Columbia.
This piece of legislation follows on what we've seen happen since the election. It's important to put this bill in context to understand where this all came from, as many people would say, many British Columbians would say.
I thought that before the election both the NDP and the Liberals said they didn't support the HST. I thought before the election they both responded to questionnaires and to inquiries from industry saying that they didn't support the HST. I thought we heard the previous Finance Minister, Carole Taylor, who chose not to run last time, say: "I don't support the HST." I thought we heard the previous industry minister Rick Thorpe say: "HST isn't going to happen."
So what happened to the Liberals? What happened here? Well, we're still sorting out what happened, but what we do know is that there was a breach of faith here. There was a breach of promise. We do know that the Liberals before the election were very clear in saying that this would not happen. We do know and we now know that within about three days after the election, officials at the Finance Ministry were on the phone to Ottawa talking about how they could in fact begin the implementation.
As has been pointed out by members on this side previously, we have no illusions that Finance Ministry officials take steps like that on their own accord. We have no illusions that when you've had previous ministers, numerous ministers — the Premier and others — all denying that they were going to move forward with the HST, it's just not believable that Ministry of Finance officials would take it upon themselves to move forward and advance that without some kind of political direction. It just is not believable that that would occur.
Before the election, you have the Liberals saying one thing. After the election, you have the Liberals doing exactly the opposite. That may be the single biggest thing in this whole debate that angers British Columbians. It may be that the single biggest thing is this breach of faith — that the government said one thing and did the opposite after they were re-elected.
That probably more than anything else has angered British Columbians. It's taken British Columbians, at a time when there's a fair amount of skepticism about the political processes as it is, and just beat them again with another stick, another reinforcement of this concern about lack of integrity on the part of this cabinet and this government.
The Minister of Finance wants us to believe that he knew nothing about his officials and their efforts after the election, that this was all about a coffee machine discussion with the federal Minister of Finance, Minister Flaherty, and that that was when this all started to come
[ Page 4470 ]
together. That's when the minister approached his federal counterpart and began to proceed with these discussions.
Now what we know about the tax itself is this. First of all, to call this tax policy in some ways is a bit of a misnomer. What this is, is a tax shift. It takes $1.9 billion of corporate taxes and shifts that $1.9 billion onto consumers and small businesses that are generally service-oriented.
Well, the Minister of Education speaks about the job creation, but it is that tax shift — not new tax policy that would generate other revenues but that tax shift — from corporate British Columbia of almost $2 billion to consumers and small businesses. That's why the restaurant industry says this could cost them as much as $750 million. That's an industry that employs 170,000 people in British Columbia, and they have raised that concern.
That's why we're reading in the newspapers these days about developers scrambling to finish properties so that they can get them on the market and get them sold before the tax comes in, because they expect the market for new homes to depress. That's why the tourism industry has said it's their belief that they will lose upwards of 10,000 direct and indirect jobs related to the implementation of the HST.
That's why rental owners, apartment building owners, are now at the door saying: "This tax will cost about 3 percent additional costs for us to manage and maintain our buildings, and we want to pass those costs on to tenants." That's why strata corporations are saying: "We will have to increase our strata fees by as much as 3 percent, in some cases, in order to pay the additional costs that we will face because of the pressures of the HST."
These are all real cost pressures. They're all cost pressures identified by many groups that have traditionally been supporters of the B.C. Liberal Party and who, to start with, felt betrayed and now are beginning to realize how big the costs and the impacts are.
So you have a tax shift of $1.9 billion from corporations onto consumers and small businesses, the people who employ people in this province — small businesses, the largest employer group in this province. You have this broad increase in costs for all of those folks, and you have a reduced income.
The Minister of Finance has acknowledged that there actually will be less revenue coming to the public purse from this tax because of the requirement around exemptions. We have ministers across the board, but certainly the Minister of Education and the Minister of Health — pick your minister — who all stand up in this House and wring their hands about the deficit and wring their hands about the difficult financial situation we're in and wring their hands about how we can't afford to….
We have to cut services for people with disabilities. We have to take dental programs away from poor kids. We can't afford special education assistants in the schools. Pick your problem here. They wring their hands, and at the same time they don't see the irony of the fact that this tax — which is going to download all kinds of cost pressures on people who are least able to afford it, in many instances — is going to take a couple of hundred million dollars out of government revenue that would help to pay for those things.
Maybe if the Minister of Education was as concerned about kids as she would like to tell us she is, she might want to say something about that at the cabinet table, about where that few hundred million dollars could go to help pay for things in education. But I'll leave that up to the minister to decide to do that.
The other problem with this is the issue of tax sovereignty for the province. If you look back on the history of our tax policy, governed here in British Columbia with our own tax department, with ministers who have the ability to look at how that could be used as an economic development tool, how we can use it to stimulate the economy….
Well, there is capacity to do that. The capacity to do that was the ability of the Finance Minister, the Economic Development Minister, the Premier and others to be able to adjust the tax policy when it made sense in communities or in industrial sectors of the economy to be able to stimulate them.
Well, when it comes to this particular area of tax, a very lucrative one, we lose that ability completely and entirely. We no longer have the capacity to do that, because those decisions now will be made in Ottawa. They won't be made in Victoria. They won't be made at the cabinet table here. They will be made at the cabinet table in Ottawa. So we lose a tool here to be able to in fact use for incentives or to stimulate the economy that the members opposite like to talk about.
All of those are things that British Columbians are increasingly understanding, and as they understand it more, the response becomes clearer. The members opposite may have seen the Angus Reid poll that came out the other day. I'm not sure, but they might have seen the Angus Reid poll. It's possible.
They might have seen the front page of the Vancouver Sun. "Liberals in a World of Trouble," I think was the headline. I'm not sure, but I think it was "Liberals in a World of Trouble." Interestingly, it identified the biggest part. There's a whole litany of things for the Liberals to be in a world of trouble about, but it identified, first and foremost on that list, the HST.
It identified — I think it was 82 percent — the number of people who had had it with the government over the HST — 82 percent of British Columbians. Now, I'm sure that the group of corporate leaders that are embracing this may not have been in that 82 percent. I'm not sure, but I suspect they might not have been. They're pretty
[ Page 4471 ]
quiet these days, but they might not have been in that 82 percent. But that 82 percent was made up of people who are frustrated for a whole range of reasons.
A lot of those people, as we know, had historically been supporters of the B.C. Liberals, had been members of the B.C. Liberal Party, had been on the executives of B.C. Liberal constituency associations — and they've had enough. They've had enough, because they disagree with the substantive notions of this dramatic tax shift onto the backs of everyday British Columbians, with no benefit that they can see, the shift there.
Mostly they are angry about the broken promise. They are angry that this government told them one thing before the election and then did the exact opposite after the election. That, more than anything, hon. Speaker, is what has infuriated British Columbians. The members opposite might notice, if they read the rest of the poll…. I'm not sure if they did, but if they read the rest of the poll, they might have noticed that that reflects itself in other aspects of the poll as well.
The problem with the broken promise…. It's a big issue because it begins to call again into question the integrity of the institution of government. We know that governments are having a tough time. Politicians are having a tough time these days as it is, regardless of political stripe. The public is not very happy with politicians all that much these days, for some pretty good reasons in some cases. What this government has done is just fanned that fire for all it's worth. They have fanned that fire of disgust and anger for all it's worth.
Why did the Liberals do it? Why on earth would the Liberals do it? Why did the Liberals put themselves in a place where 82 percent of British Columbians say that they are dead wrong? Well, that's a very good question. The only thing we can see at this point — other than that, you know, some of their friends are very supportive…. Some of their friends and donors certainly would like this tax break, so I'm sure that they were encouraged there.
But I think it has a lot more to do with a question of panic and scrambling to get out of a situation that they had put themselves into. Before the election, when the government was talking about not supporting the HST, you may recall that the Premier at the same time was saying: "A $495 million deficit, maximum." Of course, within a moment's breath, after the election, it all of a sudden became $3 billion.
That number was too big. That was too big for the Premier. The embarrassment was already there in terms of the incompetence of the government to manage that. After all of these glowing commitments and promises before the election, the bungling was just getting to be too embarrassing.
The government has an obligation, and I'm sure the Premier says: "We're getting that number down one way or the other." And along comes $1.6 billion of federal money, a payoff to the province for signing on to the HST. Well, this is the number that allows the province to get under the $3 billion — which, somehow, was a magic number, I suspect, for the Premier and the Finance Minister — to get under that number. So for three years the province has some extra federal cash — transition money, I believe it's called — in order to get through this period of time.
The problem here is that the impacts of the HST — on consumers, on everyday British Columbians, on small businesses, on restaurants, on others — will last much, much, much longer than three years. Yet this Premier was prepared to trade all of that for $1.6 billion. That was the price. We often haggle about the price. That was the price.
The reaction of British Columbians to that: 82 percent of British Columbians angry with this government, furious with this government for their decision to turn their back on their promise, to break their commitment, to not fulfil what they said they would fulfil before the election.
We're seeing this reflect itself in a number of ways. We're certainly seeing it in the collapse of public support for the B.C. Liberal Party. I don't know how many election historians there are, but I'd suggest that maybe some members go back and take a look at the last time the B.C. Liberal Party was under 30 percent in support in British Columbia. It's going to be a while. It's going to be a while since the last time that the B.C. Liberal Party fell to less than 30 percent.
The telling thing here is that the numbers are continuing to slide. Every indication is they continue to slide.
The other thing we saw, of course — and we've been hearing a lot about that — is the citizens' initiative that's in play. Who knows whether the citizens' initiative will be successful or not, but what we do know, and what I am sure of, is that at the end of the day, whether it reaches the 10 percent threshold in every constituency or not, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of British Columbians will sign that initiative.
They will express their view and their opposition to the position of this government, and the government will need to make a decision at the end of the day, in July, as to whether they believe that they have any obligation to pay any attention to the people of British Columbia or whether they've simply dismissed that as a requirement for them as a government in British Columbia and that they can just move ahead. We'll see.
The only people supporting this are people who will find a direct benefit from it, and apparently, the list is quite small, because 82 percent of people are opposing it. So the list is quite small.
It's interesting. I heard the Education Minister and I heard the Finance Minister at different times. He stood up and talked about the Finance Committee and how the
[ Page 4472 ]
NDP, I think, voted in favour, where there was a unanimous report that there should be some serious analysis, I think he said it was, around the issue of the HST. Well, if the minister is to be believed, this kind of happened overnight. There was no serious analysis done. Nothing was done except somebody waved a $1.6 billion cheque in the face of the Premier and the Finance Minister.
His counterparts in Ontario are getting a pretty rough ride, too, but at least they had the integrity as a government to put the issue on the table, to be very open about it and to have a public debate about it before they actually came forward and said: "We are going to do this." There were a couple of months there where they allowed that discussion to go on. This happens overnight with no discussion and no consultation.
If they had been serious, the government might have said to the Finance Committee after the election: "We're interested in this tax. Finance Committee, why don't you go look at it?" That would have been an interesting discussion.
I'm sure the Minister of Finance could have joined the committee on a few of the visits around the province when his Chair of the committee tried to explain how a $1.9 billion tax shift from corporations to consumers was a good thing for people in Quesnel or in the Cariboo or in any of a number of other communities. It would have been interesting to have heard that. At least there would have been a discussion, some kind of process.
This government, this Finance Minister, this cabinet, the B.C. Liberals chose to tell nobody what their plans were. And immediately after the election, within three days, Finance officials are on the phone, to tell nobody what their plans are and then to ram this through — even though 82 percent of British Columbians are saying: "This is wrong. It's not what we voted for. You have no mandate to do this. Don't do it to us."
That's not leadership. This Minister of Finance would try to tell us that this is leadership. Well, it's not leadership when people are misled about what the intentions are. They then get it rammed down their throat after the fact, when they no longer have any control over the matter or the ability to make a different decision.
If this minister or this Premier had wanted to put this on the table in April, before the election, and say: "I believe…." I don't know how many times I've heard the minister say: "It's the best thing ever for the economy." Well, it's remarkable that the best thing ever for the economy was something that was absolutely out of the question before the election. If the minister had put that on the table, convinced people during the election campaign to elect him and his colleagues based on that, we'd be having a different discussion today.
That didn't happen. It didn't happen because this minister and this government and this cabinet and the B.C. Liberal Party know that they would have lost the election if they had come forward and put the HST on the table before the election. So they chose to hide it, knowing full well what their intentions were afterwards.
This debate we're having here will continue until the government brings closure sometime around the end of this month or whenever they choose to do that. We will vigorously oppose Bill 9; the government will defend it. At the end of the day, unless seven or eight members of the government side come to their senses, presumably it will pass. I'm not counting on seven or eight members of the government side coming to their senses. In July we will see that the bill will then be in place.
Sometime in July, I assume, we'll see what the result of the citizens' initiative is, and we'll see whether we're back here having another discussion sometime after that on an initiative move, if that is a successful process. As I've said before, if it's not successful, if it doesn't meet the test, we will still see hundreds of thousands of British Columbians, many of them standing in line, take the time to express their view to this government over the HST and the situation with the HST. They will have done that by putting their name to that initiative.
So 82 percent….
S. Simpson: The member over there talks about misrepresentation. What could possibly be a bigger misrepresentation than, before the election, telling people you have one position, and then going and changing your position diametrically? There's nothing like that for misrepresentation.
The reason why politicians don't have integrity these days is because of the conduct of the B.C. Liberals and their position — a lack of integrity. The shame they must feel when they go into their caucus meetings. It must be embarrassing. How do you feel when you go home, Member? When the members go home, I'd like to know how your phones are ringing in your offices. They're ringing….
Deputy Speaker: Member, you do know to address your comments through the Chair.
S. Simpson: Absolutely, hon. Speaker.
They're ringing in your offices, I'm sure, every day with people saying: "Your party lied to me. Why are you voting with your party when they lied to me? Why did your party lie to me?"
Deputy Speaker: Members. Member.
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S. Simpson: I have no reason to withdraw it.
Deputy Speaker: Member.
S. Simpson: I have not suggested any member has lied.
Deputy Speaker: Member, it is not appropriate.
S. Simpson: I withdraw.
The reality is this. The B.C. Liberals said one thing before the election; they did something afterwards. That is at the core of the anger of 82 percent of British Columbians who know that this government has not got a mandate to do this. That's the reality.
The initiative will be what it is in July, but the debate will not end regardless of that. This debate will continue. It will move forward.
S. Simpson: I'm sure that member will get a chance to get up and take his place in the debate when he chooses to do that.
S. Simpson: Clearly, hon. Speaker, I guess the member couldn't explain his position when he had his chance, so now he wants to take my time. But that's okay.
Hon. Speaker, you have a bill here that has no public support. You have a tax shift that will hurt British Columbians. You have less government revenue to pay for programs at a time when the government wrings its hands at every turn about its lack of resources. And you have a government that has taken its ability to manage tax policy and thrown it out the window with this tax.
This bill, I suspect, will pass sometime at the end of this month because as I said before, I'm not counting on seven or eight Liberals coming to their senses sometime between now and then. So the bill will pass. When the bill passes, the anger of British Columbians will go up. People are going to know it's a government that didn't keep its promise. It's a government that adopted a policy because it was desperate for $1.6 billion of federal money and was prepared to sacrifice around this tax in order to acquire that money.
The people are going to know that it's either a government that planned before the election to do this or, unbelievably, in a matter of a couple of weeks made the biggest tax policy change in the history of British Columbia without doing any due diligence around it. They made that commitment, and it's equally unbelievable. If the government wants us to believe and the Minister of Finance wants us all to believe that this decision was made over the coffee machine with Minister Flaherty, then it suggests that there was no due diligence done here at all. There was no due diligence done at all.
I look forward to ongoing debate on this. I look forward to having the opportunity to maybe rise in my place a couple more times and speak to this bill. I think that opportunity might come. You never know. I look forward to hearing from all the members over there as they try to explain to their constituents in every single constituency — the majority of their constituents who simply think they are wrong, who are angry with them and who are just furious with their decision to sell them out — this government's decision to sell British Columbians out for $1.6 billion. It's a sad, sad commentary, and it's a sad, sad commentary on this government.
With that, I see my time is starting to come to a close. I do look forward to hearing from the members. Clearly, some of them are enthused. I'm sure they'll be jumping up. I see there's a minister over there, I think, getting ready to get to his feet any second now to speak to this bill. We'll all be looking forward to hearing what the minister has to say.
Maybe this will be the first minister to get up and say: "I got it wrong. I guess I should have done something else. I've changed my mind. I kind of like my seat. I want to stay there, so I'm going to think about this one before I vote." You never know. The minister might say that. I'm not going to count on it, but the minister might do that. You never know. He's a pretty level-headed guy at times. He might do that. We'll see.
S. Simpson: At times. We'll see how he does with that.
Hon. Speaker, with that, I will take my place and look forward to the ongoing debate.
Hon. M. Coell: I am pleased to stand and support Bill 9, the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act. I was reminiscing, as I was preparing to make this speech, as to the decisions that governments make. I've had the honour and the pleasure of being in elected office 25 years. I was reminiscing over some of the decisions I've made in local government as well as in government and also as an MLA in opposition.
I wanted to share some of those decisions with you and the reasoning behind those decisions, and I think it'll become clear why I will be supporting the move to a harmonized sales tax during this period.
When we were first elected to government, we had a number of initiatives. We had a 90-day initiative based around tax reductions. We moved probably the largest personal tax reduction in B.C.'s history in the first 90 days when we became government.
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That was done in a time when we had just gone through 9/11 in the United States and the tech meltdown. We had a very sluggish economy, and we felt that decision would help grow the economy and create jobs. We had over a hundred different tax cuts during that period, and we also had deregulation. We set a goal of 33 percent regulatory changes. Those, I believe, helped to stimulate our economy and helped to grow the economy over a period of years.
There were other decisions we made at that time that changed the thinking of people. One of the jobs I had was the Minister of Human Resources, and it was our desire to have welfare reform in the ability of people to get jobs, to create jobs. We invested $300 million in training programs for people on income assistance. That was a change, a dramatic change, to the previous ten years of NDP government. That was a difficult time for adjustment, but it turned out that people were leaving the welfare rolls by the tens of thousands to find employment and to find employment at good-paying jobs.
Those were areas where we made conscious decisions on what would be the best for people, what would be the best for our economy, and so tax changes and changes to entitlements such as income assistance and the changes we made there proved to be successful over a period of years.
I think that when I look at some of the decisions we made in our last term — we looked at the need for increases in education, especially advanced education, and increases for training opportunities at the college and university level — we made those conscious decisions knowing that the economy was in a good state and that we had funds coming in so that we could expand educational opportunities.
We added $1.7 billion to the infrastructure of the Advanced Education Ministry. Buildings here in Victoria, for example — almost $300 million at UVic increased for medical school and increases in nursing. At Camosun College, $30 million. At Royal Roads, a $20 million building. All increasing the opportunities for young people. We did that because the economy allowed us to do that, and we had the funds to do that.
One of the decisions that took a lot of debate in this House in our last term, as well, was the Olympics. I think of the funds that were expended on a number of projects that will leave lasting legacies in British Columbia.
Those are the sorts of decisions that governments make. I think they do them — I believe on both sides of the House — with good conscience. I believe that you think about those decisions. You think about why they will make our province and our communities a stronger, better place.
The last couple of years since the recession have focused many challenges on government. I lived through the 1980 recession. As a matter of fact, I worked for the government in a program called the heroin treatment program in 1980. The recession hit. Government cut back on staff and cut back on programs, and that program and my job were lost. So I know exactly how people feel around the province when they lose their jobs because of a downturn in the economy. That is something I have experienced.
I think that this recession, although it came so quickly and caught governments off guard all across the planet, not just in Canada or the United States…. We attacked it in a variety of ways.
I think that government, in responding to a change in income, looked inward to see what programs needed to be rationalized. We also looked at what needed to be stimulated, so with the federal government and local governments, we initiated a huge stimulus package that allowed people to continue to work as the private sector, in many instances, slowed up and in some respects became nonexistent in different parts of the province. We responded to those issues in a very direct and positive way.
With regard to a harmonized sales tax, it's something…. I've heard members on both sides of the House talk about the history of the harmonized sales tax as to how it had been looked at in the past, whether it was something that British Columbia wanted to have as part of its taxing programs. It wasn't very flexible in the past. It wasn't something that we had looked at. But one of the things that continually came back was that it would be good for the economy. It would stimulate the economy. It would stimulate the resource sector, the high-tech sector. It would help businesses get back on their feet.
As part of our government's look at how we improve the economy — and from my perspective, when you improve the economy, you improve the lives of people in our economy…. The harmonized sales tax is one that will bring, I believe, a sense of competitiveness back to British Columbia. I think it's one of many things we have to do.
I think we always have to look at our own house as to what the different ministries look like and how they're structured as to how best to fit into the economy. I think that creating a low personal income tax, the lowest in Canada, is something we need to do for competitiveness. Having reduced taxes on small business and the corporate capital tax and a number of other taxes that we've done away with…. I think that is part of the stimulus program to get out of the recession and get our economy working again.
One of the things that we've had to do with the harmonized sales tax is make sure that people of lower incomes aren't affected by it. I think the rebate program that will be in place, which will bring funds to those people of $20,000 and less, will help.
There are a number of things that we've done with the federal government to make it more flexible — those
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areas where there will be no harmonized sales tax. That will help the economy grow out of the recession.
One of the things I've always thought is an important part of our job as MLAs is to have an open discussion, and we are having that. As the last speaker said, it will be almost a month that we've been discussing the HST and the movement to that. I think that's positive.
There are a lot of people in our communities that are concerned, and I think we need to make sure they have the right information in front of them to make a good judgment for themselves. We will do that where we see it's needed, and we'll continue to discuss in this House in the coming weeks the need for a move to an HST.
I'd like to look at some of the things in the capital region that I think will benefit from the HST in the long term. We have a vibrant high-tech sector that is very supportive of this. I know that the chambers of commerce in the area are very supportive of the move to HST. But I think that in the long run, our tourist industry will also benefit from HST.
When you look at the literally dozens of countries around the world that have an HST or value-added tax, people will understand and respect that when they come to British Columbia. So not only is it making our province more competitive, we're actually moving in the same direction as the majority of the countries in the world with the value-added tax. I think that will also give us the competitive edge we need to compete in Canada and, again, with our competitors in the United States and Europe as well.
It's obvious that we have made a decision after a thoughtful discussion amongst the government and a thoughtful discussion amongst the members of this Legislature.
There are no easy decisions in this job, I have found. There are decisions that you have to make and have to believe in your heart that it is in the best interests of our community, the best interests of our province. I think that the move to the harmonized sales tax is one that I can support fully, and I look forward to the debate continuing over the next few weeks. With that I'll take my seat.
S. Hammell: I am very pleased to join the debate on Bill 9 — officially the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act, but in reality the bill that dares not speak its real name, the bill to impose the HST.
When the Premier and the Minister of Finance announced last July that they were going back on their word and saddling British Columbians with a harmonized sales tax, they said it would be good for people. In fact, they are still saying it — a little bit like taking cod liver oil or putting iodine on a cut.
It quickly became clear that British Columbians didn't believe the Liberal government members, especially those people who'd seen their income shrink or disappear in the last years and months on the watch of this government.
In his budget last month the Finance Minister tried to justify the HST by saying to people that it would go to pay for health care — the money collected. Even fewer people believed that line. Those listening laughed and then shook their heads in disbelief.
If I understand the government's intentions correctly, a bill is coming into this House enshrining that joke in law. No one believes or believed that line or spin. So the Premier and the Finance Minister had to go back to try to re-create why they were doing this hated sales tax.
Today we are debating Bill 9, the bill that will impose the HST. Actually, in being more detailed — and I know that everyone wants to watch the actual details of the facts — it is removing the PST. We have to ask why this government has not come out in this House and created a bill or named a bill that actually said what the bill was intending to do. The Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act really does mask the change that is coming into place.
I am sure that the Minister of Finance will identify the mailing he is about to do with the correct terminology. It will be, I'm sure, trying to sell the notion that there is a good reason — for reasons that obviously miss me — to bring in the HST when, prior to the last election, there was in fact a written statement that the government would not bring in the HST.
Like my fellow member on my side of the House who spoke just before the last minister, I think the anger that we are seeing around the province is largely a reflection of people being angry — not only angry at having a tax imposed on them that the government said would not be imposed, but just the mere notion that people felt tricked. They felt they bought something that wasn't really what they intended to buy.
So we have to ask at some point in time: why would a government run directly into the wrath of the people of the province by bringing in something that they said they would not do and risk people's anger?
An Hon. Member: Because it's the right thing to do.
S. Hammell: I have been out in the community…. Hon. Speaker, I'm getting banter back from the other side. If it was the right thing to do, then you should have done the right thing and told the people what you were going to do. Within three or four months the world changed. I mean, nobody believes you did not see that train wreck coming. Nobody believes it…
Deputy Speaker: Member, address the Chair, please.
S. Hammell: …hon. Speaker, through the Chair. You can rant, and you can rave, and you can tear your hair
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out, but nobody believes that the train wreck was not seen…
Deputy Speaker: Member. Please reduce….
S. Hammell: …and that the government didn't see this coming, hon. Speaker. The people in the province — and I've talked to many of them in the last number of months — believe they were tricked. They believe they fell for something they didn't buy.
[C. Trevena in the chair.]
They went in their good faith to the polls. They voted for a government, and then the government has turned out to be something that they did not support.
We have to ask our question. I think you have to ask: who pays, and who profits by this? The HST comes right on top of other measures that are hurting British Columbians at the time of this recession.
Every time I get up in the House and have the opportunity to say this, I just cannot believe we are in the province that we live in and that we have the lowest minimum wage. We are having people who, on top of getting the lowest minimum wage, are having skyrocketing MSP premiums, hikes in hydro, hikes in ferry rates, hikes in camping fees, hikes in transit fares and gas bills among a number of things. And then you lay on top of it the HST.
People say: "Hey, I didn't buy into that. I've been tricked. I was never told. In fact, I was told there was a $495 million deficit, and we get one that's $2.7 billion. Follow that by another one that's $1.7 billion." My gosh, no wonder we went for the HST, because you get some money put into your pocket.
Hard-working British Columbians are already paying, and with the HST, they are being made to pay again. They'll pay every day they go out and buy some things that they never had to. If you're controlling your destiny and want to respond to the needs of your community, you control your own tax policy. Small business will pay for the HST just when they can't afford it.
Why is this government running for cover while they bring in this bill, hiding the fact that this is a bill to impose the HST? Why are they doing that, and why are they running for cover? Because they're avoiding the anger of not only ordinary British Columbians but small business people who are part of this very, very angry group of British Columbians.
S. Hammell: What planet do you come from? Like, 82 percent….
Deputy Speaker: Member, through the Chair.
S. Hammell: I can tell you that some 88 percent of the community of Surrey do not want this tax, and we have shared MLAs. We have MLAs from both parties. So I am telling you…
Deputy Speaker: Member, through the Chair.
S. Hammell: …the people of this province are absolutely furious over the betrayal of this government. I have seen petition after petition and signs in stores of small businesses. They are very angry. I've personally visited small businesses, and boy, are they ever angry.
S. Hammell: My, do I hear you protest too much? I mean, come on. You brought it in. Come on.
Deputy Speaker: Member.
S. Hammell: It's yours — right? You're proud of it. Through the Speaker, the members opposite must be very proud of this new tax.
They don't really care whether the people of British Columbia feel they've been deceived or not. They don't care. In fact, the Premier has said that he doesn't care what happens. This is a done deal, and it's over. So he doesn't give one hoot. I almost said…. He doesn't give one hoot about what the people think, what they're saying, how they are demonstrating, what they're trying to tell the government, whether they've signed petitions in protest, whether they've signed petitions on line.
Nothing moves the government. You know all. You have made up your mind, and despite what the people of the community want, you're good to go.
Usually taxes are imposed to raise revenue for important services like health care, schools, universities, roads, police and many other social goods produced by government. The sole purpose of this particular tax is to cut the tax bills of big corporations and business and transfer those taxes to the working people.
Deputy Speaker: Member.
S. Hammell: It has been described again and again as a tax shift, a tax shift from big business to ordinary working people. It is all about who pays and who profits.
Deputy Speaker: Ministers, could you allow the member the opportunity to speak?
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S. Hammell: The HST represents some of the worst interest group politics we've ever seen from a government that has become notorious for helping big business and sending the bills to those least able to pay them. This HST is a reverse Robin Hood tax. Who pays, and who profits? The government has made a tax shift — clearly, a tax shift. While we are the same businesses that….
S. Hammell: Sorry, I have sort of lost my little…. That's all right. I'll just pick it up.
I'm hearing every day from angry people in Surrey–Green Timbers and around the province — the people who will have to pay the $1.9 billion this year and more every year to come. That's on average. It has been stated by other people. It's about $432 a person a year on average.
S. Hammell: If the member…. I gather the member has already had his time up to speak. So he's not only wanting to take part of my time, he's wanting to take….
Deputy Speaker: Members and Minister, could we allow the member who has the floor the opportunity to speak? Everybody has the opportunity to speak in this debate, and some have participated already. Others will have the opportunity to participate.
Member, please continue.
S. Hammell: People who work hard every day will have to pay that tax to access a long list of necessities, such as their morning coffee; repairs to homes, appliances and cars; professional services; haircuts; taxi fees; funerals; and many other things. The cost of many goods and services will increase. Who pays, and who profits?
In Surrey parents and children who play hockey will have to pay by coming up with an extra $30,000 a year to pay the HST just to rent the ice. That's on top of paying the HST for pads, helmets, uniforms, the drive to the rink and even a coffee or a hot chocolate.
This is from a government that just weeks ago literally proclaimed from the top of mountains its dedication to sports and fitness. Some children will no doubt pay for the HST by losing their shot to play hockey, and who will profit? Ottawa will profit while British Columbians pay.
This government is giving away the power that this Legislature has had for decades to change sales tax for public policy reasons. Interestingly enough, this government is partnering with its Conservative friends in Ottawa to make hockey and other fitness activities more expensive with the HST, even though that government in Ottawa is on record as being in favour of fitness with a children's fitness tax credit.
This government's giveaway of our powers to Ottawa means that this province's sales tax exemption for energy-saving appliances and building materials will go out the window. So the environment will also pay for the HST. The cost of this measure will go well beyond the 7 percent HST. The example of children's hockey shows that the HST will make life more expensive and more complicated for many in British Columbia.
Speaking of complications, small business will pay the most for the HST. Many small businesses will pay in the form of unhappy customers who will reduce their purchases or do without rather than pay the HST. Professionals of all kinds, including some health care providers, will be charging provincial tax for the first time. That means they will have to make their customers pay extra to maintain their health, keep their accounts in order or get help in buying or selling a house.
Many other small businesses will pay the HST, and while they pay, who profits from this tax? Big business will profit to the tune of nearly $2 billion with the HST — big business including oil and gas, forestry and mining. This government claims that the HST will lead to new jobs, but their claim is empty.
Let's take a look at forestry. The fact that this government has just laid off 204 more employees from the Ministry of Forests and Range shows that it has virtually given up on our forest industry. This is a government that declared they were mere spectators as they watched the forest industry collapse. This is a government that removed the obligation that forest companies once had to process timber here in B.C., a move that has cost jobs and deepened the despondency in forest communities.
This is also the government that has released large tracts of land from tree farm licences, most infamously in the constituency of my colleague from Juan de Fuca, freeing companies to sell land to developers and foreclose the future of the affected communities. These corporations are already profiting at the expense of taxpayers, thanks to this government, and now the forest industries gain to profit again from the HST.
Why is this government so generous to the big corporations? Perhaps it could be that the Liberal Party has done very well by large forest companies. A couple of years ago it was estimated that the B.C. Liberal Party got $6.5 million in political donations from forest companies in the previous decade. These companies vociferously…. I remember the day they got up and supported the Liberal Party in the last election. It appears that the B.C. Liberal Party will ultimately profit from the HST.
The story is similar in other big businesses that are benefiting. Once the election was over, and once the B.C. Liberals had assured voters there would be no HST in British Columbia, the Premier and Finance Minister changed their minds without bothering to check for evidence, save for the word of those who wanted the HST. Big business in B.C. will benefit, and the CEOs of the big companies.
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The government says this tax break to the big corporations will lead to jobs, but there is no hard evidence, no studies to prove this — only wishful thinking. While those businesses profit, who else will pay? Hard-working community organizations that provide badly needed services to British Columbians in need will pay. They will now have to pay HST. Their accounts will become more difficult to manage.
Many of these organizations work with the government to provide education, social services and health care. The HST will yet be another hit to those services and to the British Columbians who need them, and those people are already suffering under the cutbacks being imposed by this government.
We will all be paying more for necessities, such as many food items, and even for rent and condominium fees, though indirectly through contracted costs. These increased costs will be difficult for many people to bear, especially those who live from paycheque to paycheque.
So who will be paying for this regressive tax? People who can't afford it. And who will profit? Well, the HST will bring an end to the luxury tax on large gas-guzzling vehicles, so the environment will pay, and car dealers will profit.
A group that will be hit especially hard is our tourism and hospitality industry. This year is turning out to be tough for our tourism industry already. Americans and others are cutting back on travel because of the recession and particularly because of the rising dollar. If you have a dollar that's on parity and then apply a 12 percent harmonized sales tax, you are making it very unattractive to come to British Columbia when you have the sales tax on many other items. This government is throwing our tourist industry another 7 percent millstone around their neck, and to complement that industry, our restaurants will pay.
It just amazes me. I mean, the tourist industry and the restaurant industry have been absolutely clear in their opposition to the HST — absolutely clear. Restaurants see they will have to cut jobs because of the HST. They actually had that experience when the GST was first applied, and they understand perfectly what's coming down the line. They know that they are one of the biggest employers of youth in this province, the restaurant industry, and they are worried about the youth and their ability to not only enter the job market but then to support going to university and schools.
Again, it amazes me — the denial, denial, denial from the other side. The members from the other side said prior to an election that they would not do this. They also said there would be only a $495 million deficit. After the election — wow. Now we have a $2.7 billion deficit, and we have the HST. Why people on the other side would continue to harangue and harass people when they just say what is clearly on the record….
I mean, I am sure the Minister of Finance is going to put in that infamous brochure every single thing that goes up as a consequence of the HST. Therefore, we can all agree that here are the benefits, according to Hoyle, and here are very clearly the deficits that people are going to have to pay in terms of their pocketbook. Small business will pay. When the Premier and the Minister of Finance…. My observation is that they have been having some difficulty convincing people that the HST is good for them.
I sort of started off with the notion that it was good like cod liver oil. They were being told it was good like cod liver oil or good like iodine on a cut. But it doesn't matter how good…. It reminds me of when we were told, "Don't worry; this is hurting me much more than it's hurting you," when we were kids and had to do something that we were being punished for in some way. There was this real sort of sense of woe from our parents. Just suck it up — right? — and just take it on your shoulders because it is good for you.
When they announced the measure, they didn't have the information, though, and I have to hark back to my colleague from Vancouver-Hastings. I mean, if you are going to do this kind of massive change to the lives of ordinary British Columbians and you're going to take a shift of taxes of almost $2 billion and move it across to regular people and ask them to pay, you would think that you would have done a study to prove it was a good idea, prior to doing it. You would have thought that you'd have done it — right?
You would have gone out and done due diligence because, of course, you are the masters of all that you are…. You are much, much wiser than me when it comes to finances. You would have just, in your wisdom, done studies so that when you walked out to do this kind of change to the community that you were governing, you would have had some kind of explanation other than: "Just trust me. It's good for you."
Ordinary people will see their cost of living going up. They are upset about that. I've spoken to many of them. Actually, many of them are worried about seeing their jobs and their incomes disappear. Some believe their businesses will also disappear, and I can reflect that directly as people have talked to me, particularly in the restaurant industry. I give a lot of weight to what the people there tell me, because they've lived it. They lived it, as I just mentioned, through the implementation of the GST, so they understand the impact that this kind of tax has on their livelihoods.
As the people in our communities, the people who sent us here, struggle to get out of the recession, they have awoken to the fact that this government and this bill, in their eyes and in mine, are part of the problem and not part of the solution. They see, when they look around, a government that has grown increasingly out
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of touch with the people of this province. All of us have a responsibility to remain in touch and reflect on the needs and the wishes and the voices of the community we serve.
Also, unfortunately, they have learned about the value of a promise from this government. When they have been promised or told that you would not bring in the HST, and shortly after, the Finance people are in there talking to the federal government about how the issue of the HST works and how to think about it, then they really have learned about the value of a promise. British Columbians will remember this bill when they go to the next ballot box.
Hon. Speaker, it has been a long, long time in my memory — and my memory is somewhat lengthy — since I have seen an issue that is so powerful in the community as the broken promise of the HST. This government has only one chance to redeem itself. It can listen to the people, remember what it promised a year ago and join us in voting down this bill. If they don't wake up and kill this bill, the government will also pay in the long run for the HST.
R. Cantelon: Certainly, this is a quantum shift, and certainly, it is a bold move. The move is about jobs, creating investment and opening up opportunity, and that's the thrust behind this bill.
Madam Speaker, I, too, have been in my constituency, and I, too, have been talking to many of the business operators and individuals. There's no question that there's a lot of misinformation. Of course, it doesn't help when many of the websites that advertise the GST have misinformation, such as home heating oil being taxed. I think both sides of this House need to be responsible in how they present the information.
Now, the member opposite was talking about small businesses. "It won't help," she says. "They'll pay." Well, they will pay, but they'll get the entire GST back. I think that's a significant difference, and their businesses will be made much simpler.
I was speaking recently to a retailer in a shopping mall. He's a clothing retailer. Of course, he does buy his clothes now tax-exempt, so he doesn't have an input cost directly there. But on the other hand, neither will his customers pay anything different. It'll be the same total tax, 5 plus 7 — 12 percent that they pay now — in combination of tax from GST and PST, in exactly a harmonized tax.
For the vast majority of purchases that the public make, they will see no difference, except they'll see one single tax.
For this particular retailer, of course, many of the other costs that he does have, unrelated to the specific costs of his goods — costs for computers, for example, things like that, and things that he needs as business aids: shelving and display materials for his store — he used to pay PST on and, of course, basically had to embed the cost of these secondary purchases to his business but essential components of his business. He had to pass the cost of that on indirectly into the cost of his product.
One thing I think most importantly from this small business man's point of view, and I know this is shared by many small business men, is that his work is greatly simplified. Even though he is, I would say, a relatively small-scale retailer, he pays $50 a month simply to resolve the two cost inputs that he has — the GST and the PST. He passes it on to an accountant to keep track of these two costs and to make sure that they're handled properly in his business.
Well, that burden is lifted not only for his business but for all businesses across British Columbia. Now you deal with one tax and one tax only.
I think that's one of the misconceptions that many people have, both in business and private, that somehow this is a new tax. Indeed, basically the old tax, the PST, is being eliminated. It wasn't a pretty tax, if I may use that analogy and use that comment. It was a very complex tax, and it was very unfair in many ways — the way it was applied to different businesses.
Recently, when I was in a different role as the Minister of Agriculture, I had the opportunity to talk to farmers. Of course, many of the items that they can buy are PST-exempt, only the trick is that you have to apply. You have to validate what the purchase was for, that it was related to a farm expense. Some items were included; some weren't.
If you looked at the purpose that the two items were used, the machinery and the farm, you'd say: "Well, why aren't they both exempt?" But one would be, and one wouldn't be. It was, as it developed, a very arbitrary construct of complicated taxes that affected the farming industry.
Well, now the farmers have greatly appreciated and welcomed the HST as simplifying it and wiping that complex byzantine structure of taxes out and replacing it with a simple tax that comes back to them when they submit their GST rebates.
There's no question that on Vancouver Island, particularly, it's going to be of great benefit. I was meeting recently with a group of citizens who represent different communities within the Oceanside area. They're supporting me and supporting the effort to put a health centre into Parksville-Qualicum, the Oceanside area. It's needed. It would handle urgent care. It would handle ongoing clinical care, among other matters.
I took the opportunity, after we met, to talk about the HST. There was kind of a smile, because it was a broad political spectrum supporting health care, as you might expect. Not all of them were supporters, politically, I would say. So we had a good discussion about that.
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Now, some of the people — actually doctors, who are involved in business — immediately recognized the value. They said: "Well, you have to raise the money somehow." I think that's something that, on the opposite side of the House, is not part of the equation — clearly, not part of the equation.
Not raising it is an issue. How you replace that revenue is another. Certainly, how would you replace the $1.6 billion, which has been disparaged by members opposite, in the cost equation? We would then have to, I suppose, if we abolished it tomorrow, somehow have to recoup the $1.6 billion that's coming to us from the federal government to help us to adjust through this period.
Either you have a bigger deficit or you tax somewhere else. That was exactly the comment by this one gentleman.
Another woman there, who I would not think necessarily was a supporter of our political efforts, commented, and quite correctly, that all the revenue from the HST is targeted towards supporting health care and health care measurement, health care improvements.
She said: "Well, if we don't support it, how do we get what we want? How do we get the health centre? How do we get these new things that we want? We want a lot of new things. We want a lot of new services, particularly in the health care field. But how do we get them if we are not ready to face the taxation that comes with that?" That, I think, was an important comment from her.
Yet another gentleman brought forward a comment. He asked me about this e-mail that's gone viral, as they say, suggesting that $2,100 would be the average cost to the average consumer, the average taxpayer in British Columbia. Now, he wasn't aware — and it's part of the whole sea of misinformation that's going out on this topic, which does no credit to either side and no credit to the issue itself — that it would cost $2,100 for extra costs above and beyond what they paid on PST.
Well, it was very interesting. In fact, a realtor challenged me and said it was going to cost him $30,000 more. Well, just to do the reverse, to invert that and divide by 0.07, you quickly come up with the fact that in order to generate $2,100 of additional taxes, you would have to buy $30,000 worth of goods and services that are presently not taxable with PST.
Let's just give that a consideration for a moment. That would mean that out of their disposable income, the average person — this wasn't some high-rolling Wall Street or Howe Street guy; this was, presumably, an average worker — would have their costs increased by $2,100.
Now, immediately in that there were some mistakes, of course. They had included things that are not going to be taxable — home heating energy, not taxable — and there were many other basic errors like that. Some people think, for example, that food is going to be taxed. I think people think this is a new tax on top of whatever else you're already paying.
You'd then have to somehow spend $30,000 on the items that are going to be taxed. Well, okay, let's take…. I'm a golfer, and my golf club membership is such that I pay $2,000 a year. That would be $140 on an annual basis, so about $20 a month. Well, we're a long ways from $2,100. And I think many people would consider golfing as a luxury. In fact, one of the comments that was made in this same meeting of health concerns was that they had no sympathy for golfers about paying the extra fee, and I gather members opposite may share that view. I'm not sure.
In any case, you then have to spend $30,000 on restaurants, haircuts and these other items before you get to it costing you $2,100 more. It's, frankly, virtually impossible, if you think of the fact that, of course, gasoline is exempt. Your car purchase is not only exempt, but you will now get that back. It will cost you less if you go and buy a new car — for business, certainly. Clothing you're already paying PST on, so that's not an incremental cost.
It has to be just purely incremental costs, and I defy anybody to show me how with an average income — let's say in the $50,000 to $80,000 bracket — they can construe that they're somehow, out of that kind of disposable income, going to spend $30,000 of it to generate a $2,100 a year tax increase. I think it's just simply not feasible, and it's one of the large misconceptions on this.
I mentioned small businesses. There isn't a small business that won't benefit directly on this. Virtually all of them will have some costs that they'll be able to recoup the GST on.
Some are particularly significant. In the building trade, for example, take a manufacturer of roof trusses, which are a major component of the construction industry. Right now, of course, they go and buy the material from a lumberyard, and they pay 7 percent. They go and buy the braces and all the other equipment and some of the other office equipment they need to generate the roof trusses, and they pay 7 percent.
That cost, of course, is added to their basic cost factor, and then 7 percent is charged on all of that. So we have the multiplying effect of 7 percent on 7 percent, a tax on a tax, and that increases their costs.
Now they're going to have that removed. That's going to be absolutely pulled out of their cost equation, and some people, of course, say they'll just pocket the profits. Well, they may, and in some cases….
In this particular gentleman's case, he went, when times were good and booming, from 300 employees to something around 180. I know what he'll be doing with it. He'll be hiring people back. It'll enable him to invest further in his equipment in terms of human capital
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and investment in machinery and equipment. Yeah, he might take a holiday too, but considering the volume of his business, he'd have to travel around the world a gazillion times to spend what he's going to gain back from the HST into his business.
So that's how it's going to affect moderate-sized, middle businesses. It's going to improve their profit picture. They're going to invest in new equipment, they're going to hire more people, and they're going to be able to increase the wages. So it's good value throughout the economy.
Now, if I can, getting back briefly to the costs to individuals. Of course, there is an immediate benefit. The income tax threshold was increased to $11,000, and that's an immediate tax benefit of $80 a year to an individual, or if they're making a spousal complaint…. Not a complaint. Please forgive me for that slip of the tongue, Madam Speaker. I certainly wouldn't do that, particularly since it's my wife's birthday on Wednesday. I'd never want to be accused of doing that in this House. I hastily retract that, and I hope Hansard notes that.
The total spousal declaration would be $160. This alone gives you about $2,000 worth, offsets $2,000 worth, of purchases that you might otherwise make that would have been non-taxable under PST. That will buy, certainly, the golf membership that I mentioned earlier and probably a few haircuts on top.
Our whole approach has been, historically, to lower taxes, to lower the bite on the individual pocketbook, because we feel, and it's something we've continued to work on and to espouse in legislation, that the taxpayers are the best people to decide how their money is spent — to make those choices personally and to make those choices for their own betterment or investment.
That's why, over the last eight years, we've cut taxes over 120 times. Now, the disadvantage, if you want, is that it doesn't really hit a person. They say: "Oh, well, that's nice, but what does that really mean?"
Well, what it means…. I had this discussion recently in a meeting. It was a very cordial meeting, I hasten to add, with the local Nanaimo District Teachers union, BCTF. They were very cordial, and we had a very, I would say, constructive and positive discussion.
I showed them, roughly speaking, that someone who had an income of $70,000…. They agreed that that might be somewhat equivalent to what a teacher's income is at the time. In 2001 the provincial tax on that would have been $7,000 — $7,025, to be precise. In 2009 that has been reduced to $3,829, a 45 percent reduction and a nearly 31 percent saving.
Certainly, if we were to suddenly raise those taxes back up, I think the howls of protest would be equal to what we're seeing on the GST. I'm sure the members opposite plan to — or I hope they plan to — do something, because with the deficit being where it is, we have two choices: either raise taxes or increase the deficit. Neither are palatable; neither are friendly.
I think we've taken a third route, and that's to readjust taxes to increase investment, to increase employment, to increase jobs, to raise the wealth, to raise the prosperity of British Columbia. By doing so, we will have a greater engine of economy, which will then generate the taxation revenue that we need to support the social programs that we have. That is the approach that we've taken, and that is the approach that has worked in the past, and that is the approach that we're going to continue to take.
They were quite surprised by this. I also understand that the residents of Qualicum Beach are not necessarily as happy and pleased with the HST as they might be. In fact, I saw the mayor of Qualicum Beach, a personal friend — and I still consider him a personal friend — and a supporter who endorsed me in the 2005 election, signing the anti-HST petition. What a shock it was, sort of, to me that he would do this.
I commented that a good deal of people in the Oceanside area, certainly in Parksville-Qualicum and in Nanoose, are coming to us from other provinces. That is the business. The mayor mentioned that they don't have any businesses that really are supported by the HST. Well, people coming and retiring are the supporting. They bring their wealth, they bring their assets, and they move to the Oceanside area. They make considerable investments in new homes, new furniture, new cars and a lot of things.
So if someone moved, for example, this year from — well, I'll take the middle one, my old province — Manitoba, they would have suddenly realized that at $70,000, instead of paying $6,500, they would be dropping to $3,800, a $2,700 deduction. They don't get that just this year. That's something they get for as long as they're here, compared to living in Manitoba, unless they chose to go back to Manitoba — the beautiful place that Manitoba is, I hasten to add.
Alberta is often being compared to us as the place that is a tax haven because they have no sales tax. It's cheaper to live there, and it's better to live there because of that.
R. Cantelon: I wouldn't say that, and those comments are not attributed to me — or to anybody in this House, certainly, I hasten to add. Even on the darkest days, it would not happen.
Over there, on a $70,000 level, you would be paying $5,000 a year income tax. Lo and behold, when you move here and fill out your income tax return, you would notice a $1,200 benefit for living here. That again would go a long way to paying the golf dues that they would like to take up, because of course you can golf twelve months a year in sunny British Columbia.
Ontario — which, by the way, I would like to add — is even higher than that at $5,200, so the benefit would
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be $200 higher. It's about $1,400 compared to here. Of course, if you live in Ontario, the taxes, even on HST, are higher by a point. They are at 13 percent, which is something we have not done. So in fact, we have the lowest HST in Canada.
It's this strategy that we have, frankly — to put more money into the hands of consumers, into the hands of individuals, to enable them to make the choices to buy things — that keeps our economy going.
Certainly, we're very sensitive to the fact that lower-income families need to be cushioned against the fact of the HST for those purchases that they need to make. So that's why there's a $230 quarterly tax credit for every income earner under $20,000 and for every member of the family, up to four people. It could be four times that for income earners up to $25,000, and then it graduates down from that. So the benefit still is considerable.
To say that it's going to be inflicted on the lower-income is absolutely, categorically untrue. Of course, I've also mentioned that we've lifted the tax on home heating oil, which includes home heating fuel energy, which includes electricity, propane, natural gas and heating oil.
Carrying on, the benefits to the manufacturers, though, are considerable. The forest industry on Vancouver Island has been a mainstay, historically, for industry on Vancouver Island. I'm sure members opposite cannot deny the fact that…. I'm sure they're aware of what has happened in the housing market in the United States, which has dropped to about 25 percent of its former level.
Consequently, they don't buy as much dimensional lumber as they used to. That should be no surprise. It really is…. I'm sure they would concede that it has nothing to do with any government's policy, whether it be the opposite side or our policies that caused this complete drop in the market.
For them, this is extremely good news, because this will lift the burden of taxation. Formerly, we had very good success in accessing markets through the Asian market, particularly Japan, which has a very vigorous wood culture and, because of that, were prime purchasers of our wood products.
We lost that market, partly due to inattention to it but also partly to the fact that Sweden and other Scandinavian countries captured that market. They, of course, have the same type of value-added tax component that we do. The difference in costs, when you add up the multiplying effect of tax upon tax upon tax, which we refer to as an embedded tax, puts our lumber prices out to lunch over there. By and large, it's a very competitive market, very much driven by a commodity approach to it. To a large extent, we've become price-takers, not price-setters, as a wide range of wood products have become acceptable to that Japanese market.
So they're one of 130 companies that net out the cost and zero out all the added, embedded PST or local sales tax costs. So they go forth in the market with a significant competitive advantage in price over what we do. This will greatly change that.
I won't sit here and tell you that this is going to change things overnight, but it will be a signal. It will be a sign that there is a future in the lumber industry and that we can move forward.
There are signs already that it is improving. We know that sales to China are going up. We know that China's dollar is being challenged by the United States and that they may have to revalue their currency, which would certainly again….
M. Farnworth: It's called the yuan.
R. Cantelon: Thank you. It's called the yuan — Chinese currency. Thank you to the member opposite.
They're under pressure to revalue the currency. It will certainly increase the value of that currency relative to the US dollar, and therefore relative to ours, and enable us to further expand the Japanese market and make our products more acceptable. There is a market. There is a future in the forest industry, and the future is bright.
One of the current changes in the way that the industry is approached is the model that Harmac Pacific has taken, where the union has gotten together with the management of the company and bought the company out. It's a model I sincerely hope is copied by others. There may have been some modest adjustment in wages, but I don't think that's a critical component. We do need high-paying industrial jobs to support our economy, and we need to wring every dollar we can out of the value of our natural resources.
I support the way they've approached it. Instead of union and management fighting on the floor of the manufacturing facility's workroom floor, they now work cooperatively. If something needs to get done, they just do it. But that's only one component.
The other component is that the management don't have somebody representing head office, usually in some remote part of the country or even the world, denying them the ability to make the investments they need to modernize the mill and keep the mill up to spec. They're all together on it, and they'll continue to invest in the mill and make it as productive as capable.
I recently spoke to Paul Sadler, the general manager of the plant, of Nanaimo Forest Products. With the change in the yuan, as the member opposite corrected me, and the development of the Chinese market, they're now starting to smile. They're now starting to show black ink on the bottom line. They had some tough times, but they're coming through it.
Pardon me for digressing a bit, but certainly the HST is welcome to them. It's going to deflect a lot of their expenses, indirect and direct expenses that they have,
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associated with manufacturing pulp. It's going to greatly improve their chances. Again, because we tend to be and need to be — particularly in the pulp market, which is an undifferentiated market — a commodity market, and we're price-takers, it will improve our profitability, their profitability and their competitive advantage over other companies in the world that make pulp.
Certainly, throughout the forest industry, the HST is absolutely a critical move to encourage investment, to encourage expansion, to encourage these sawmills to start up again. I mentioned it directly — that it'll affect the domestic market as well, because the cost of trusses then will drop. The costs that they pass on to the contractor will in turn drop. So it'll stimulate our local construction industry as well, but the primary market that we need to get going is the international market.
Sawmills, of course, are an absolutely critical link. We used to have what we would call an integrated forest industry, where every piece of the wood was used in some way or other. And if we lose sawmills, if we lose that chip supply to the pulp mills, we risk losing the entire industry. I don't think that anybody on either side of this House, and certainly nobody in the industry, wants to see that happen.
What I learned from talking to people in Harmac is that they want jobs for their children and their children's children here. They don't want to have to move to Alberta to get jobs in the oil patch. They want to be able to create a future here. I see that happening, and HST is a fundamentally essential component to making that happen, for that to continue to happen, so that we continue to have people investing in our economy, investing in machinery, investing in plants so that job opportunities will once again revive in the forest industry.
There are other businesses, as well, that have nothing to do with forestry and that in my constituency are kind of unique. We have a company that makes mockups — well, actually, exact replicas — of airplane fuselages. Now, that seems to be a very odd business in Parksville, but indeed they do. They make them for airlines all around the world, and they're used for training the flight crew. They have to be built to very exacting specifications.
They have to be built to the same virtual specifications as the ones you fly in, with aluminum hulls and closing doors and so forth, exactly replicating the ones on various airplanes, whether they be 747s…. They need to be exact replicas, because this is what flight attendants are trained on. So they have to be able to train and go through the safety procedures in exactly the same environment as they would 40,000 feet in the air.
This industry, located in Parksville, sells all over the world. But virtually everything they buy to do this, they have to put PST on their costs. What it will mean for this particular individual operation is not so much an expanded market, because they have very few competitors. They sell to Russia. They sell to China. They sell to Korea. They sell everywhere because they've established this niche so strongly. What it will mean to them is a better profit market. They'll be able to look at different product lines and entirely new ventures.
In fact, they were at one time considering electric cars, since they have the aluminum fabrication capability. They thought: "What other products could we build?" Elimination of the HST on the input costs, more money on the profit line, more money on the bottom line will enable them to look at diversification to their industry.
There are going to be many other benefits that aren't seen right away when you look at the traditional industries. Another one in Parksville is an outfit called Digital Resources, a very, very interesting company that does programming and the structural steel design for, well, would you believe the Superdome in New Orleans? Yes, and the new stadium in New York. The new stadium for the New York Mets is actually designed in Parksville, British Columbia — something I'm very proud of.
Now, they don't have a direct manufacturing cost because everything is software and everything is in knowledge power, but they've got to have the most powerful and the latest computers to make those very complex programs run, and they're adding staff and adding people all the time as their market expands.
This will have a great impact on them because now, of course, they'll be able to eliminate the PST on all of their computer purchases, their program purchases, their desks as they expand their operation and hire more people.
Again, I come back to the fact that this is about jobs, jobs and jobs. They'll be able to hire more people, and these are very high-paying jobs, highly skilled jobs. When you go through the office, you can see these are a lot of highly energetic young people enjoying their jobs. This is the type of investment that we want. This is the type of employment that we want, that creates new jobs for people, that hits the high-tech niche, if you want, that are highly rewarding and fulfilling jobs.
There are many, many aspects of HST. I think many are misunderstood, but if we look at some of the endorsements that people have said, that businesses have said to us, it's not just the usual chambers, although they're certainly an endorsement.
Deloitte, a major consulting and tax firm, have indicated: "The B.C. budget introduced elements, including HST, to attract new business and retain existing business in B.C. These measures combined with previously announced reductions in provincial income tax applicable to business make B.C. one of the lowest tax rate jurisdictions in North America."
Certainly, that combined with the HST makes us one of the most attractive places to invest. More people will come here. They'll look at Alberta, and they'll look at Ontario and say: "Where would I rather locate?"
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The weather has always been a major factor, but certainly we have the lowest taxes, the lowest corporate taxes and access to the entire Asia-Pacific market. I think all of these things together combine to make us certainly the best place in the world to live, work, play and invest, and the HST is a component of that that's essential. If we want to maintain our momentum, our competitive edge in the world, the HST is a necessary component of it.
So, yes, it has been controversial, but certainly it's an essential step. We were elected to make what some would say are the tough choices. This isn't a politically popular choice. I invite any of the members opposite who are sitting here to say how they would replace the revenues, the $1.6 billion.
I support the HST.
C. James: I rise to oppose Bill 9, the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act — or, in other words, an act to bring in the HST. Today I want to take some time to talk about why New Democrats are opposed to this bill. I want to take some time to talk about what this bill says about this government, and I also want to talk about how I believe we need to defeat it. But first, I want to begin with how we got here, begin with the chain of events that saw this government break trust with the people of British Columbia, go back on a fundamental commitment they made to the public.
It all started last spring in a tough-fought election campaign. Throughout that election the government promised — in fact, insisted — that B.C.'s deficit would be $495 million maximum. Those were the words of the Premier. I stood beside him in many a debate and many a discussion and heard those words over and over and over again — $495 million, not a penny more. That was the commitment that the Premier made to British Columbians time and again.
But as he repeated those words to the voters, what the public didn't know was that behind closed doors, Liberals at the highest level were being told that the forecast wouldn't hold. We now know that both the Premier and the Finance Minister were given updates by senior officials about B.C.'s finances during the election campaign. They were told that the revenue forecasts were off by hundreds of millions of dollars.
Despite that fact, despite that the Premier himself was told that the forecasts were off, the Liberals stuck to their budget line. They didn't come clean with the public, and that's a bit of a theme as we go through the HST discussion. They chose to keep voters in the dark about the true state of finances for our province until after the election.
Then what happened after the election? Well, the Liberals began working quickly to try and cover up that budget deception, to try and cover up what they knew, what they didn't tell British Columbians during the campaign. They actually started working with Ottawa to bring in the HST.
The public wasn't expecting the Liberals to introduce the HST. Now, why did the public not expect the Liberals to introduce the HST? Because the Liberals promised not to bring it in, during the election campaign. They even put that promise in writing. It wasn't enough to say it. They actually put it in writing. They said: "The B.C. Liberals have no plans to engage the federal government in discussions about potential harmonization." Well, it's pretty clear that that promise wasn't worth the paper it was written on, because it took this government only 72 hours to break that promise.
Just last week we learned that three days after the election — three days — conversations started between officials in B.C. and officials in Ottawa about the HST. Three days. Did the government have that conversation with the public then, during the three days they began those conversations? No. It wasn't until a late Thursday afternoon in July, the middle of summer, when the government finally let British Columbians in on their secret: they're going to bring in the HST.
They held back on that HST announcement for almost two months, and why would they do that? Well, they did that because they knew that they broke a fundamental commitment to the people of British Columbia, and they also did that because they knew that the people of this province would be furious.
Since then, what have we seen from Liberal after Liberal? We've seen a government trying to convince the public that the HST is good for them. Well, it won't work. It won't work because no matter how many experts the Liberals hire to say the HST is going to create jobs, we on this side know that it's a job killer, the HST. No matter how many times we hear the members say that it's going to pay for health care, we know that's a gimmick. The public knows that's a gimmick.
No matter how much money they try and spend on pro-HST propaganda, we all know this about the HST. We know it's a regressive tax. We know it'll cost British Columbia thousands of jobs. We know it will make life harder for families, for businesses, for British Columbians who want to make green choices, for British Columbians who are struggling to make ends meet. That's why people from all walks of life and all political stripes are uniting. They're speaking with one voice, and they're telling this government: back off the HST now.
The more stories the Liberals tell about the HST, the angrier the public gets, because British Columbians know that this tax isn't about helping families thrive or businesses grow. This tax is about covering up the B.C. Liberals' fiscal mismanagement.
If the Liberals truly believed that the HST was good for B.C. — if they truly believed, as we heard the minister and others say after the election, that it was the single
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greatest thing we could do for our economy — then they should have been honest about it. They should have been upfront about it, and they should have campaigned on it, but they didn't. Instead, as I said earlier — a theme that we see with this government — they kept the public in the dark.
Well, the public is angry. They're angry not just because they don't support the HST. They're angry because this bill represents a style of decision-making that frustrates British Columbians. They're told one thing, and then they get another. The worst of old-style politics: tell the voters one thing during the election and turn around and do the opposite after the election. That approach to decision-making, that approach to governing, is the wrong approach for British Columbia, and it's why you see hundreds of thousands of British Columbians joining together to oppose this tax.
New Democrats are standing with them. We're standing with citizens from all parts of this province, from all walks of life, and I am so proud to stand here in this House today and oppose this legislation. I'm proud to give voice to the overwhelming majority of British Columbians, voice to people who are against this tax and aren't being listened to by the B.C. Liberals.
I've travelled to communities across this province to show the public that we're with them in this fight. New Democrats are fighting this tax because it's the wrong tax at the wrong time. We're fighting the HST because we believe in openness and honesty. We're fighting the HST because we know it should be defeated, because despite what the Liberals would have the public believe, the HST is not a done deal — not until every single member in this House on all sides stands up to cast their vote.
Every single person in this House has a choice to make — to vote for or against a bill that will hurt B.C. families, businesses and our economy and that locks us into an agreement with the federal government for five long years.
I want to take this moment to once again speak to the Liberal back bench who, you know, I would imagine feel every bit as frustrated, every bit as betrayed as the public does by this bill. After all, to give them the benefit of the doubt, they campaigned in good faith on the B.C. Liberal promise that said they wouldn't bring in the HST. I'm sure many of them told their constituents, if they asked, that they weren't going to bring in this tax — constituents, by the way, that they were elected to represent in this Legislature.
Now those backbenchers are being asked to go back on their word, to go against the will of their constituents and their communities. You know, I don't blame them for feeling frustrated. I don't blame them for feeling betrayed.
I certainly don't blame them for feeling just a little bit uncomfortable, because when they go back home, when they go back to those communities, they have to defend this tax in the face of growing public anger — anger that we haven't seen in this province for a long time. Frankly, I think some of those MLAs, government backbenchers, are in denial.
In a debate on this bill the member for Maple Ridge–Mission called the HST "the honest sales tax." The honest sales tax? That's absolutely absurd. If the member wanted to be honest with the people of Maple Ridge and Mission, he'd keep his word, and he'd vote against the HST. That's what he'd do to be honest.
Then there was the member for Burnaby North, who actually claimed in this Legislature that there are no valid arguments for opposing the HST. Well, those kinds of statements will only further stoke public outrage in that community and in every other community across this province.
Then there was the member for Nechako Lakes, who said: "Delivering on the HST is delivering on what people asked for in the election campaign in my riding." Asked for in the election campaign? Even when the members were asked in the election campaign, they said they wouldn't bring in the HST. That's a statement that absolutely flies in the face of poll after poll. British Columbians are opposed to the HST.
You know, maybe those comments, the comments of those members, just show the extreme pressure that they're feeling right now. Maybe I can just put it down to the real pressure that they're under. It's pretty clear that those backbenchers have failed to grasp the reality of the HST. Well, I'd like to give them a wake-up call.
I want them to realize that despite their rhetoric, despite what their party says, they actually have a choice in this Legislature. Every member has a choice, the power to make a change. So once again, today I invite those Liberal MLAs to stand with us and to say no to the HST and no to this legislation. Now, I can appreciate how difficult that might seem, but if ever there was a time to show British Columbians that you care about their view, if ever there was a time to show British Columbians that you're listening to their concerns, now is the time.
I also want to say to the members on the other side that it's okay to change your mind. It's actually okay to admit you made a mistake, to actually stand up in this Legislature and to say: "You know, my community is speaking loud and clear. They're up in arms about the HST. They don't want it. I didn't talk to them about it, so I'm going to honour that. I won't be supporting this bill."
Now, as I said, I understand that that's a very tough thing to do. But deep down we all know it's the right thing to do, because this debate is more than simply a bill written on a piece of paper. This bill will have a huge impact on the lives of people, on businesses and on communities.
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A couple months ago I travelled to Prince George, and I was invited by a senior citizen to come and visit her in her house. She was concerned about the HST, and she felt she wasn't being listened to, so she invited me to come in so that she could express her concerns. She lives on a fixed income. She lives by herself. She has one small dog, one small pet.
She laid out for me on the table, her kitchen table, all of her bills for every single month. She lives frugally. She makes sure she takes care of her bills, but she just makes it to the end of the month. She couldn't imagine how she could make it each month with the HST.
She takes supplements to try and keep herself healthy and out of the health care system — to save money for the health care system by taking supplements. She'll now have to pay more with the HST. She's actually put her name on the list for a long-term care home because she doesn't think she can get by — not because she doesn't want to live at home, not because she doesn't enjoy having her own place but because she can't get by on a fixed income with the additional costs of the HST.
I visited at a bike and coffee shop in Courtenay. It was a wonderful little place. It was a great chance to talk to a brand-new small business owner, a teacher who was working as a teacher on call but decided to take the plunge and to begin this business. It's a place where the community gathers for coffee, and she sells bicycles. They have discussions around green agendas.
She asked me, again, to talk about the HST with her. At a time when she sees the world taking on the issue of climate change, addressing the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, she thought she was going into a business where they could do their part to help the community do that by selling bicycles. And now what are they faced with? They're faced with the HST — a cost that's going to make it more difficult for that small business owner to get by and more difficult for the families who are struggling to be able to provide the right alternative for their families in buying bicycles. That's what this bill is about.
I visited a restaurant in Kamloops. I had a chance to stop by and had a great dinner. The server came up to me after the dinner and said: "I just want to talk about that bill. Are you guys out there fighting on that bill?" He's a young person who is putting himself through university and is hugely concerned. He thinks that the business is going to dry up and that if people do come, there won't be any tips left because the HST is going to add that cost on to restaurant meals.
That's what we're fighting this bill for. Those are the people who we're standing up for. That's why this debate matters, and that's why I encourage every member in this House to reflect not only on those stories but their own stories — their own stories of countless British Columbians who are going to be affected by this bill.
As we go through this debate, that's what we should be remembering in this Legislature. We should be remembering the people in our communities, the small businesses in our communities. That's who we're here elected to represent, and that should be front and centre in this debate on HST — those people in our communities.
The debate on this bill is about doing right by British Columbians. It's about using the power that's granted to us by the people to pass laws that help them, not hurt them. Our jobs in this Legislature should be about giving British Columbians a forward-looking vision for our province, making B.C. more inclusive, more economically prosperous.
The B.C. Liberals have failed to provide that vision. All they've offered is the HST, a failed economic strategy, if it ever was one. The best thing we can do for our economy isn't the HST. The best thing we could do for our economy is to prepare our children for tomorrow's knowledge economy and build up a quality public education system for our children. That would be a quality….
The best thing we can do for our economy isn't the HST. It's investing in new technologies so B.C. can create and attract good-paying, sustainable green jobs.
The best thing we can do for our economy isn't the HST. It's enhancing public services. It's supporting the health and quality of life of B.C. families. That's how we can enhance life in British Columbia. We're not going to do it with a tax that's just going to make life harder for people, a tax that does nothing to build that future.
If we want B.C. to succeed, we have to build a dynamic economy that works for everyone — one that builds wealth, that encourages business, that rewards risk, that creates jobs. We need to build an economy that supports strong public services and social programs to support those in need. We need to ensure a clean environment that promotes a green, sustainable future.
That's the kind of vision that's needed in British Columbia — a long-term vision with practical solutions to address our social, economic and environmental challenges; leadership that makes smart investments in people, that seizes the opportunity of the current moment to help realize B.C.'s potential.
We on this side of the House are committed to providing that vision. We're committed to providing those solutions. We're committed to working — unlike that government on the other side — with British Columbians from all walks of life, from all corners of this province, from all sectors of our economy, to make sure that happens.
That work starts today. That work starts by making sure that we defeat this bill and embrace a vision for a better British Columbia for the people in this province. Thank you so much, Madam Speaker, for the opportunity to speak.
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Hon. B. Stewart: It's a pleasure to rise in this House to support Bill 9, the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act. The HST is going to be a game changer for British Columbia. It will help push British Columbia even closer to having the most competitive tax regime in Canada.
Let's talk about the facts and the game-changing situation. How many of the members of the opposition in this House remember, back in August of 2008, how their portfolios were going to be looking, as they'd gone through years and years of increased wealth and growth in their portfolios? Real estate values had continued to rise, and the bottom line is that most people didn't predict in the middle of September in 2008 that we would be faced with a game-changing economy globally around the world.
Frankly, I think that it's so easy to sit here and criticize people that, looking back in hindsight, maybe would have divested themselves of portfolio investments and got out of forest products, maybe, knowing that the downturn in the economy would devastate towns across British Columbia. But the reality is that these conditions didn't apply back in September, when we all know that the economy around the world changed forever.
The fact is that with the United States spiralling into an economic recession — where more than 80 percent of our timber supply was being sold back in the fall of 2008 — we had mill after mill, community after community, employee after employee being given pink slips and layoff notices as rising inventories around the United States and in places in British Columbia continued to mount and as these people were systematically taken out of their jobs.
So the government in British Columbia, which has a long track record of fiscal prudence, essentially took steps to help try to make certain that there was a sense of security in the market. The fact is that the government came out with a very action-oriented 10-point plan. That plan helped to give people some sense of stability here in British Columbia. But governments across the country that had been predicting billions of dollars in surpluses were all of a sudden faced with the reality: what was the new world order going to be like?
You know, I honestly can't believe that anybody on the opposite side, who can imagine a government that has a fiscal track record like the government of British Columbia in the last nine years, has looked at and criticized them for predicting a modest surplus — which they did achieve in the end of fiscal 2008-2009. We were predicting a deficit in a market where the market was free-falling. Nobody knew where the bottom was. The reality was that it was difficult for anybody on either side of this House to know where the bottom of that was.
The fact that we could predict that Ontario was going to announce, just two weeks before our election, that they were going to be implementing a harmonized sales tax with the government of Canada was, obviously, something that we hadn't anticipated. Certainly, I think, when you look at all the facts, all the reports of the people that have backed up the fact that harmonized sales tax makes sense — and it makes sense in Canada for a lot of reasons — the reality is that this government took the steps necessary to make certain that we stuck to our values.
What we promised during the election was that we wanted to make certain that we had a strong economy, and we assured people that we were going to get them back to work and make certain that they had jobs.
I've done my research to understand what Bill 9 means to me and to my constituents, to my community and to the ministry that I'm responsible for in Citizens' Services. I believe that the harmonized sales tax is the right way to go. I strongly believe that it is the single biggest thing that we can do to attract investment by increasing our competitiveness, increasing jobs and helping stimulate our economy.
You know, recently I had the opportunity to travel in the northeast and the northwest parts of this province, talking to people that are in communities that have been hard hit, devastated, by the fact that the lumber industry, the pulp industry….
The mining industry has been looking for reasons to invest in this province, and there are only so many things we can do. One of the investors in a mine that is up around Dease Lake looking at a very large mining investment told me that the change to HST was, in fact, hundreds of millions of dollars. It was a game-changing experience for their mining investment, which was over $3 billion, to look at putting that money into an economy that, frankly, is having to compete not just with other companies in Canada, other companies in North America, but having to compete around the world.
I think that's what many people here seem to forget: the fact that we may manufacture and produce lumber and minerals in British Columbia. But a lot of those jobs are dependent on selling that in other competing markets.
So back in October, after we had this crash of the economies around the world in 2008, all of a sudden the other 130 countries that have a harmonized or a value-added sales tax and are out there selling into markets that we didn't really necessarily have to depend on, now are our competition — whether it happens to be Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, China, all of those markets.
The reality is that these people that are in this business of creating jobs in British Columbia, selling those raw materials or the finished product into other markets, need to have every single advantage in this new global economy. That new global economy was not there in 2008, as many members of the opposition like to point out.
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Right now we have four other provinces in Canada that have a value-added tax system, with over 130 countries around the world that use a value-added approach to taxation. The HST that's already been implemented in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec have value-add similar to the HST, and in July of this year Ontario will also be implementing the harmonized sales tax. The HST will help keep B.C. competitive not only in Canada but across the industrialized world.
You know, I can't help but think, as a small business person, that 20-some years ago I set out with a small amount of money and invested in what I believed to be a business that, after free trade, was looking very dim in terms of its economic opportunities. I went out to the world markets to look at what it was like to have to compete in an export market, not just sell here in British Columbia.
It was a new reality in 1992 arriving on the doorsteps of Piccadilly Square in London and showing products to Michael Broadbent and people around the world that are wine savvy. They were a little bit interested in this country that had "British" Columbia in its name, but they were more interested in the fact that here was a new country wanting to come into the market.
One of the first things that I soon realized was that the opportunity and the benefit that I have at home, being able to have the local support of people that believe in buying locally, doesn't exist in international markets. Often they're looking at the bottom line — the value, the price and what it is.
Everything that we would purchase in terms of building that product was important. We had to include that in our overall cost, and that meant it also involved freighting it over and putting it in bond and selling it to a retail outlet that would have it on its shelves sometimes for many months to sell through the stock that they'd purchased.
I can tell you that faced with the harmonized sales tax, that would literally remove all sorts of embedded costs — whether it happens to be in the farming of the product, where the farm goods list doesn't cover all the suite of costs of somebody that is actually having to produce a product on a farm here in British Columbia. They are exempt or zero-rated on a number of products, but there's a whole bunch of products that they're not exempted on.
Whether it happens to be an all-terrain vehicle that's used for checking the wires or if it happens to be a cattle operation or changing irrigation or buying simple hand tools that you use in your operation, none of those products are PST-exempt.
All the repairs and maintenance that go into trucks, vehicles, trailers that move the products back and forth to market, maintaining the products that help get the product from a raw state into a processed state and then possibly getting it into a bottle, the repairmen that repair the refrigeration systems, the electricians that come and make certain that things are properly wired up….
The fact is that people fail to see that I as a producer was paying compound PST all the way through the process. We've been trying to explain that to the opposition here for almost the last 30 days, and I can honestly tell you that that message doesn't seem to be getting through.
I hope that the consumers realize, if they go back in time and look at the implementation of the GST — the removal of the federal manufacturers sales tax that was hidden, 18 percent, in the cost of goods and services here in Canada — what it meant to goods.
White goods, cars — prices fell overnight for those. What was it? It was competition that brought those prices down. It wasn't the fact that someone ordered them to take it down. We still had the 7 percent GST, but that was added on after all the embedded federal sales tax was removed from every step of the manufacturing process.
Here we are. We're saying we're taking the PST that is compounded in our operations and removing it from every step of the way so that at the end of the day, the final user…. In a lot of cases in British Columbia that final user of our products is outside of the country. It's completely free of that tax, so we have a competitive product, and we can create those jobs.
B.C. will not only have the lowest HST in Canada, but it's going to be 12 percent, with the opportunity to further reduce that in the coming years. B.C.'s tax on capital will be lower than the G-20 average by 2018 and lower than all other provinces.
Currently the prices that consumers pay incorporate various hidden and embedded retail sales taxes on business inputs. These will be removed once the HST is implemented. Prices fell in the Atlantic provinces once they adopted the HST. "University of Toronto economist Michael Smart found that the annual investment in machinery and equipment and other components of the capital stock rose by 12 percent above trend levels in the years following the 1997 sales tax reform. B.C. can look forward to those same similar gains."
Businesses run on capital. Our companies that are employing people in jobs have to invest in capital in their mills — whether it's their mines, equipment to move it, the trucks and the trailers that move that. The reality is that these people, without certain confidence in fiscal management, economic opportunity, are not going to be making that investment. Removal of the provincial sales tax that's embedded is going to help them become more confident in the fact that they should be investing in that capital.
B.C. can also look forward to similar gains. A higher rate of investment will lead to stronger economic growth, increased productivity, more exports, higher wages for
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the private sector workers, and this will result in savings being passed on to consumers, which increases the individual household's purchasing power.
Leading economists all agree that the HST is the best thing that we can do to increase our competitiveness and grow our economy. Jack Mintz from the University of Calgary, who has been cited quite a bit around this particular Legislature, has talked a lot about the fact that the sales tax harmonization is a giant leap for British Columbia's tax competitiveness.
You know, I only had to look at this. I mean, I already knew, because of my own personal experience in small business, that this was a game changer for me and other businesses in Canada and British Columbia.
But when I look at the report and I see the graphic difference of what the change on the marginal effective tax rate is for businesses — not just big business, for small business — this is a huge deal. When you look at the forecast for next year, people who are in small businesses — people who have one, two, three, five people employed — are going to see massive changes.
Anyways, the marginal tax rate is dropping considerably, and I think what's most important about it is that that gives small business the opportunity to be able to make certain that they can invest in their business, employ people in British Columbia and be able to make certain that those people are kept at work in their communities.
Deputy Speaker: Members. Members. Thank you.
Hon. B. Stewart: By the single act of harmonizing the taxes, we will encourage a capital investment of $11½ billion. We're going to create another 113,000 jobs before the end of this decade here in British Columbia. This means investments in our economy….
Deputy Speaker: Minister, one moment.
If the members would like to have a separate conversation, could they do it more quietly, please.
Hon. B. Stewart: Thank you, Madam Speaker.
This means investments in our economy, new economic activity that will help support health care, education and public services. More importantly, this means jobs for our families in the forestry, energy and agricultural sectors; in mining; and in small businesses in every single region of the province.
It's not exclusive to one area. It's not exclusive to big business. It is about getting people working. This is about jobs.
Hon. B. Stewart: I already explained to the member opposite exactly how the global economy, which maybe he didn't perhaps notice the fact that the market completely…. The bottom fell out of it in September of 2008, and if he was….
Hon. B. Stewart: The fact is that this change in the way that we tax is a change. It's about the fact that we need to make certain that we embrace change, because sometimes change is needed.
The fact is that the PST system is an antiquated, very difficult tax to work with as a small business. As a small business owner and operator, I can tell you that there are many people in our organizations still today who struggle with the ongoing interpretation of the provincial sales tax that we currently have. They're faced with disagreements between the auditors and the people that work in government here, because the fact is that there is not that clarity.
The fact that there is clarity in this new tax means that people who perhaps take advantage of not paying all the tax…. Maybe the fact is that the people that have found ways around it will be paying their fair share so that other taxpayers, like the rest of us here in the House, will not have to carry the entire burden of what it costs to make certain what we're trying to do — in terms of making certain that we have the basics in British Columbia in terms of proper health care and access to it, education and jobs.
Locally, businesses that sell in the domestic market are going to see their costs fall as the PST is removed from inputs. The benefits of these cost reductions will flow through to consumers in the forms of lower pre-tax prices. That's something that nobody on the opposite side, nor in the campaign to not have the change that we're talking about embracing here, is mentioning: the fact that prices are going to fall.
There's embedded PST on the groceries down at your grocery store. Nobody has taken the time to figure out the fact that 2 or 3 percent of the operating costs of running the trucks for the major supermarkets or the fact that repairing their refrigeration systems…. All of those things have embedded PST. That gets passed on to the consumers who buy down here at Thrifty's, Overwaitea. So locally, businesses are going to see these products…. Competition is going to force prices to fall.
British Columbia will require increased productivity in the future. Creating new jobs has become increasingly important for our province. As nearly half of our population enters the golden years, it's crucial that there is a young, bustling economy to support them as they once supported us. Replacing the PST plus the GST with
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one harmonized sales tax is a necessary step towards increasing that productivity.
The HST will make B.C. more competitive not only nationally but also internationally. Moving to the HST will attract investments by reducing the effective tax on new business investments by 40 percent.
Approximately 40 percent of the PST revenue is paid by businesses on goods and services that they purchase to run their operations — everything from equipment, machinery, vehicles, computers, office supplies, furniture, energy, legal consulting services and many more. By removing the PST that companies now pay on their inputs, the HST will make British Columbia more competitive. Small businesses will see their effective tax rate on new investments decline by 60 percent — 60 percent.
Our province's economy relies on exporting resources, and the HST will further support this process. International exports, goods and services produced within the province but sold outside Canada, will be zero rated, meaning that there's no tax to be collected on export sales. The HST paid on the inputs may be claimed, resulting in a refund to the exporting firms. As the PST did not have an input tax credit system, harmonization will reduce costs for exporting firms.
The province's exporters, be they of natural resources, manufactured products or services, are facing and will continue to face dramatic changes in both supply and demand sides of their markets. We've seen that in the past 18 months.
As the tax-cascading effect of PST will be eliminated by harmonization, the competitive position of interprovincial exporters will be improved, and to the extent of B.C.'s exports that are zero rated for HST, with exporters claiming tax credits for HST paid on inputs, harmonization will shift exporters' costs downward, making them better able to compete in international markets.
The increasing exports that will result will help to pay for the growing list of goods and services that British Columbians must import. In this respect, HST is better for British Columbia's economy than the current PST and GST system. With the federal and provincial corporate tax rates reduction resulting in a combined corporate tax rate of 25 percent — that's down from 33 percent in 2009, a drop of 8 percent — the multi-jurisdictional companies will be much more willing to shift profits into British Columbia, especially from foreign jurisdictions.
More investments mean more business, and more business means more employers, which means more long-term, stable jobs for British Columbians. This government does not want our children and grandchildren to have to leave British Columbia to find employment. We want to keep families together here in our province. The HST will do exactly that — keep families together.
Additionally, by removing the embedded PST in our most prized industries, we will see invaluable savings — savings that will help them weather this economic recession and savings that will keep their employees on the jobs.
B.C. businesses, both large and small, are supportive of moving to the HST because they understand that it will mean a stronger economy, more jobs and higher incomes over time.
Let me just quote from the B.C. Chamber of Commerce. "This measure saves business money and reduces government expenditures while providing protection for those on low incomes. In addition to those savings, the consumer will also be a winner, as business will pass the savings they make, such as the $150 million annually in compliance costs alone, on to the consumers in the form of lower prices."
[L. Reid in the chair.]
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 with our competitors and providing us with an opportunity to invest in and maintain wealth-creating, high-paying jobs." That's by Rick Jeffery, the president and CEO of Coast Forest Products Association.
More importantly, the Retail Council of Canada. "Harmonization will result in a simpler and more efficient tax system for B.C. businesses. This will help small retailers in particular, who find administering the two separate tax systems difficult and costly."
Those are some of the supporters that are telling you about what's going to happen with costs, but let's talk about the professional organizations that we count on. The Chartered Accountants of British Columbia.
"Harmonization will reduce compliance cost for businesses, save consumers money, maintain the province's competitive position within Canada, reduce barriers to doing business interprovincially, improve productivity and reduce administrative costs for government. We have been calling for the harmonization for several years. Given the current economic climate and Ontario's recent move to harmonization, there is no better time than now to make this important step."
There are many other supporters that back up our claim and the economists from all over Canada and around the globe that continue to support that a value-added tax regime is the proper and most necessary competitive step that we can take to make certain that our products remain competitive globally.
This is important because this province is built and supported by many small, vibrant independent business people. There's overwhelming consensus amongst B.C. business leaders, as I've pointed out, that the harmonized sales tax is the right way to go.
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Alone, our forest industry will save $140 million. Our mining, oil and gas will save $80 million, and $210 million will be saved by the transportation sector, another $880 million in savings by the construction sector and $140 million from the manufacturing sector. But the savings do not end just with these sectors.
Because of the streamlining nature of the HST, its implementation will also reduce the administrative costs. Now instead of filing two sets of tax statements, there is only one remittance form required for small-, medium- and large-sized businesses, and this will result in an expected savings of over $150 million.
The advantage of streamlining will also be extended to individuals. The HST is estimated to save B.C. taxpayers another $30 million annually, as British Columbians will no longer have to pay for the administrative costs associated with the social service tax.
Those auditors that I mentioned we used to see as a small business person on a regular basis every couple of years would come around and take two, three, four, five day of my staff's time, and I'd have to provide them with office space. They would come in and go through, line by line, every single item. I know that every single time that I….
Hon. B. Stewart: Every single job that we have in government is moving over to the federal government, just for that member opposite's concern, so there is no job loss as a result of this.
But the reality is that by the streamlining of this…. The point is that these people that are doing audits now have one audit to do — which is a single tax, the harmonized sales tax — to make certain that both businesses and people are paying their share along the way and that it is being properly administered.
But the audit system is very cumbersome and burdensome. Frankly, when you're in small business, that doesn't make you any money at all — having to sit down with the auditor. They certainly don't make it in the evenings, when you've got your business to run, that they're willing to sit down with you and do all the things that they want to do, so you have to do it on their timelines. Frankly, it can be a completely unproductive and not very useful use of a small business person's time. I understand, and I get the benefits that those savings will accrue to.
Establishing the harmonized sales tax will also reduce the amount of paperwork for tens of thousands of businesses, saving an average of $150 million a year. The harmonization will reduce the compliance cost, save consumers money, maintain the province's competitive position within Canada and reduce barriers to doing business interprovincially.
Right now businesses have to calculate and file two separate sales taxes, both the PST and the GST. The GST is filed quarterly or annually, and the PST is calculated or filed on its own schedule between monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually.
Can you imagine how much work that is for somebody running a small business — having to sit down, keep track of not only all the taxes but the reality of just doing these remittances, making certain that the paperwork is all in order for the auditors? Frankly, it is a cumbersome system. This is a way of streamlining it.
With the way that things are now, businesses have to deal with the two separate tax rules, administrative authorities and compliance requirements. What a headache.
Madam Speaker, we owe it to the taxpayers of British Columbia to make it easier. We owe it to the small business owners. We owe it to the medium-sized business owners to be able to make this system more efficient and less restrictive in their ability to make certain that they can have the freedom and opportunity to be successful and employ people. For businesses in B.C., having one tax will be simpler to administer and a great deal simpler to calculate and file.
By and large, most individuals will experience little or no difference after the HST is implemented. It is simply an amalgamation of the sales taxes that we currently pay. The HST will apply to the same goods and services that were taxable under the GST, and if there's no GST on the product, then there will be no HST.
Additionally, a number of products will be exempt from the 7 percent provincial portion of the B.C. harmonized sales tax. These exemptions include gasoline, books, children's clothing, footwear, car seats, booster seats, diapers and feminine hygiene products. But more importantly, there will also be a provincial credit provided for residential energy. The credit is equal to the provincial portion of the HST, which means that only the 5 percent federal portion is the HST that's going to be applicable.
After the HST is implemented, low-income families and individuals will receive a tax credit. Low-income families and individuals will also receive an annual BCT HST credit for $230 for individuals with incomes up to $20,000 and $230 per family member for incomes up to $25,000, paid quarterly with the GST credit.
M. Farnworth: I have to say that I am pleased to follow my colleague the minister. I listen to his words, and I'm really not sure where to start. If one is to take his comments…. I'll use his comments because they paraphrase so much of what we've heard from the government side on the wonders of the HST.
I use that word "wonders" because after speaker after speaker on the government side has been extolling the virtues of the HST, I am surprised we're not entering a new era where children listen to their parents, the skies
[ Page 4492 ]
will clear and kids will respect their elders, do their homework and clean their rooms without having to be told to do these things. In fact, just about everything will be better because of the HST and the miracles that it will bring if one listens to the members opposite.
That's exactly the problem. That's exactly the problem, because it's only since the election that they have started touting the benefits of the HST as the panacea that will remove the dark cloud that has plagued British Columbia since prior to the election, since the economic meltdown that came in September. Suddenly, all of a sudden, we now have to do something that they said that they would never do in this province, that previous Finance Ministers said that they would never do.
The government said during the election campaign that they would never bring in an HST. Now, all of a sudden, it is the cure-all. It is the panacea for our economic woes. It is the panacea for our social ills. It is the panacea for whatever ails us. It is the new elixir. I'm surprised that he hasn't even touted it is a cure for baldness; he seems to have that much faith in it.
I think that we need to peel back the label a little bit and look at exactly what's taking place, look at how we got here and then maybe get a better sense of why he and his colleagues may have such fervour around the HST, but the public remains skeptical at best. In an increasing number of constituencies they're becoming extremely hostile.
I was joking with my colleague that the previous speaker commented about the sales of lumber picking up slightly. I said: "Yes, 2-by-4s to teach the government a lesson that the public aren't happy, and with good reason."
Let's go back to the beginning. The minister talked about the collapse of the economy back in September, the global economy of which British Columbia is a part. We all know that. We are in a small, open economy in a giant, global economy, and so events such as what happened in September clearly impact on us, and we all know that. But September was seven months before an election.
At that time, given the government's new-found fervour for an HST, one wouldn't have been surprised if they would have brought that front and centre. After all, they are the party that claims to be the natural party of economics. Having a thorough understanding of the economy and how it works, one would have thought that if this was such a panacea, such a solution to what ails us, they would have brought this forward in September. Did they do that? Unfortunately, no, they did not.
What did we get? Well, as I've said many times in this House and will continue to say because I think that it's worth repeating for the members opposite, for their benefit, the Premier came down and took to the airwaves and gave us a ten-point plan, the ten economic commandments of this government. The ten economic commandments of….
M. Farnworth: Whatever. The member says that I've done this speech. I have done parts of this speech before and will do it again because I think it's so enlightening and makes the point. Clearly, the member still hasn't got the point. Back in September you came down with the ten commandments for economic renewal in British Columbia, and nowhere did you mention the HST.
You mentioned increasing ferry fares. You mentioned freezing assessments. You mentioned all these incredible microeconomic and macroeconomic tools that were going to keep, as the Minister of Tourism said, the ship of state of British Columbia navigating the economic uncertainty just quite nicely.
Well, it didn't work, but what it did do was buy the government some time in terms of: "Oh, you know, we've got things under control in the run-up to the election, and we're managing our provincial finances just fine. And the deficit — it will only be $495 million. That's what it'll be. Guarantee it. Take it to the bank, cash the cheque — $495 million." They went into the election campaign on that.
Then after the election campaign, all of a sudden the government's logic underpinning their statements was proven to be nothing more than quicksand, nothing more than spin. We find out the deficit is significantly higher than that, that British Columbia's finances are in a far worse position, and yet the government says: "Oh, we had no idea." Well, the ministers and members in this House say: "Well, the economy collapsed in September." Trouble is, they did know what was happening, and they weren't upfront with British Columbians.
And then after the election the government holds a press conference July 23 — which, funnily enough, happened to be my 50th birthday, so I will always remember where I was when the HST was announced — and announces, lo and behold, to British Columbians: "We're going to implement the HST." Something which they said they would not do during the election campaign.
Ever since then they have been scrambling to justify the implementation of the HST tax when they said they wouldn't do it during the election campaign. They came out and said, "Oh, this is the most important thing that we could do for the economy," and then they said: "No, no, clearly that argument's not selling. We're doing this for health care and education." Then that wasn't resonating with the public, and then it's like: "Oh well, you know, Ontario is doing it, and we have to do it, and it's the best thing that we can do."
You wonder: "Well, where was it back in September?" Clearly, this is more about the budgetary deception that
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the government found itself in after the election and the potential revenue from Ottawa.
That's unfortunate, because what British Columbians deserved was to have been told the truth. What British Columbians deserved was to have been able to have a full, thorough and proper debate on the merits of the HST. An election campaign would have been a great time to do that. The run-up to an election campaign would have been a great time to do that.
In fact, even in the last week prior to the announcement of the HST — that last week of July, in the run-up to July 23 — you had the Minister of Small Business saying: "We would consult with small business. We would consult if we were going to bring in an HST."
Lo and behold, the government brought it in anyway, and they didn't consult. They didn't consult with British Columbians, they didn't consult with the restaurant and tourism associations, they didn't consult with homebuilders, and they didn't consult with service sector providers. They didn't consult at all. Not only that, they did not provide any studies on the impact that the HST would have.
Not one study has been done by any ministry to look at the impact of the HST on the particular area that each of the ministers in cabinet is responsible for — what the costs would be to the ministry in terms of the ministry itself. Never mind program delivery. Never mind the impact on individuals, businesses, organizations and on the policy area that each ministry is supposed to service. None of that was done — not one.
Nowhere has that been more exposed than when one asks questions about the Tourism Ministry. One is given: "Oh, we've spent so much money related to the Olympics." That's the response, but not one study on the impact of the HST on the tourism and restaurant sector in British Columbia, a huge employer — a huge part of today's economy and the future economy in this province. One would have thought that they would have done a study on that, to look at the impact. But they didn't. They failed.
That's not something that should be taken lightly. A government that was really concerned about the impact, about the economics of the HST, would have done that. They would have been able to go to the public and say: "You know what? We've done studies on each of the key areas of the provincial economy, and we can tell you exactly what we think is going to take place."
They would have done studies on the impacts on each of the ministries of government so that they could say: "Here's how it's going to impact on health care. Here's how it's going to impact on tourism. Here's how it's going to impact on labour. Here's how it's going to impact on children and families. Here's how it's going to impact on all the service delivery responsibilities of governments." Again, they failed to do that.
We see it again and again and again as the opposition. The public asks questions on: "How is the impact going to impact individuals? How is it going to impact my family? What exactly is covered? What's not covered?"
Do you think you can get a list? You can't. There is no list. They say: "Go check out the website." You check out the website, and there are some pretty sort of selectively edited frequently asked questions, no doubt prepared by PAB, the public affairs bureau. I like to avoid acronyms when I can.
But, you know, people want to know how it is going to impact them. Unfortunately, there's no list. So they're set about going: "Okay, how is that going to impact?" I mean, just off the top of my head, I know…. I've been talking about tourism, and I find myself asking: "Well, okay, let's look at it. How would it impact on a particular minister? Or how would it impact on a particular homeowner?"
Now, the Minister of Tourism has said that the HST is going to be great for tourism in British Columbia. He was very much a proponent of the Olympics. I started thinking, because he said he was inspired by the Olympics. He's inspired at how great things are, and I picture the Minister of Tourism going down to his local bike shop, because he's been seized by the spirit of the Olympics to improve and to take good care of himself. That's what we want to encourage. One wants to encourage people to get into a healthy lifestyle.
So the Minister of Tourism goes down to a bike shop and decides to buy a bicycle. Well, previously, ever since 1983, bicycles were PST- and GST-exempt. Now all of a sudden, the Minister of Tourism, who's buying himself a new bike, has to pay 12 percent more.
That's a shame, because I gathered he was going to get on his bike and bike down to his local fitness centre. I heard yoga classes, Pilates, one of those things. The trouble is the Minister of Tourism…. He's got his bike. He's gone down to his local yoga centre, Pilates centre, and wants to enrol in a Pilates course. Whereas before he didn't have to pay HST, now he's going to have to pay HST on that. HST on a healthy lifestyle and yoga.
It doesn't stop there. So he's having to pay HST on a bike to go ride, in his new healthy lifestyle, down to the community centre or the fitness centre to take a Pilates class. Then the Minister of Tourism, realizing that, oh, he's got to get new yoga gear…. He stops off at the Lululemon shop and gets the latest yoga gear. The Minister of Tourism gets the latest new Lululemon yoga gear to take his Pilates class, and yoga mats and yoga runners, and all of those things have become more expensive. They've all become more expensive.
That's just one example of someone wanting to take advantage of deciding to get into a really healthy lifestyle.
Anyway, the minister does the yoga. He's all set, and what happens? He realizes: "You know what? This ex-
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ercise has been really great." He decides he needs a refreshment.
After finishing the yoga class he gets on his bike, and he pedals down to a local coffee shop. Once there, he decides to order a coffee. This being Kamloops and the Minister of Tourism, he decides to order…. I know. What is it people drink? An uber-grande, non-fat, soy, organic, fair trade, extra-hot steamed latte with….
An Hon. Member: Skim milk.
M. Farnworth: No, not skim milk, but hydrogenated, non-dairy topping with extra sprinkles.
The point being, the price has gone up more than what he thought it was the last time he had one — again, because of the HST.
Now I was going to say that after he's had his coffee, and he's had a really nice time, and he's realized…. He decides: "You know what? I need to get a haircut."
Now, I am not going to make any jokes about hair, because both he and I have the same issues when it comes to that, and we wonder why it is that we get charged the same price as the member from Vernon there, who has a full head of hair. We think we should get a discount, but the fact is that we don't get a discount. We pay the same price as everybody else.
In fact, we end up paying the same HST increase as everybody else. That is shameful. I mean, you'd think we'd get a break, but we don't.
So here we go. The HST hits again. It's hit on the bike. It's hit on the membership fees. It's hit on a coffee after you've had a workout, trying to get yourself into a healthy lifestyle because you've been so inspired by the Olympics and working hard.
Then what happens? Well, you know, you've been dealing with things for yourself, but then you decide, "We've got to maybe take the family to a movie or a play," and take advantage of some of the wonderful cultural institutions that are still able to function, because of the government's cuts to arts and culture programs, which the Minister of Tourism is responsible for.
You go see a play, and guess what. The HST applies to that as well. It applies to that. It applies to all these cultural things. So whether you want to go see a big budget production like Avatar, you'll pay the HST, or whether you want to see something produced more locally at home like the Kamloops variety players, you're going to be paying more. You're going to be paying the HST on that. These are things that you didn't have to pay in September, but you're going to have to pay come July 1.
Anyway, this is getting really exasperating for the Minister of Tourism. I can tell. All of a sudden all these things he's having to pay for, and he didn't before.
So he goes home, and he sits down and he goes: "You know what? It's getting awful expensive. Maybe we need to move. Maybe we need to move and buy a new house." He's had his eye on a place and decides to go pay for it. It's a nice house. And lo and behold if the HST doesn't turn around and jump up and bite you in the backside there too.
The government in its wisdom tries to say: "Oh, well, there was an embedded PST in there. That's not there." The bottom line is that a typical house now in the Lower Mainland is approaching $800,000. You're paying a lot more tax than you did before. In fact, the government's own figures — selective, I might add — say that you'll pay about $13,000 on that house that I just mentioned.
The bizarre thing is that you can only take $20,000 out of your RRSP to put as a down payment. So when I bought my house and took $20,000 to put it down as a down payment to buy a place…. Now $13,000 of that $20,000 is going to pay HST — increased HST costs because of the policies of this government.
The Minister of Tourism is rapidly, I assume, coming to realize that this is a really bad deal for people. This is a really bad deal, and this is not good at all. So he may actually vote against it. He might vote against it. I mean, after all, members of the government are very fond of saying that they're here to represent their constituents.
The line that I think is most interesting and the one that I always get is that governments aren't elected, as speaker after speaker said, to make easy choices. They're made to stand and make tough decisions based on conviction. Well, the public doesn't have a problem with that. They just wish the government had had the conviction of its ideals prior to the election.
The government's approach to the HST leaves people scratching their heads. I'd like to…. And I'm digressing a bit, I know, but I'd ask you to bear with me. In Penticton, in one of the local papers a letter-writer wrote — and I find this quite fascinating, actually: "How odd that the B.C. Solicitor General says it will take until November 2011 to get regulations in place for snowmobile use when it only took this government two weeks following the last election to implement the dreaded HST. Why so long on snowmobile legislation? Does it require more consultation and debate than the HST?"
Well, I think that just about says it. It just about says what people already instinctively know about this government. It was not upfront when it came to the HST. It failed every step of the way when it came to doing impacts and analysis on the different public policy areas that are within government and on the different areas on B.C.'s economy. You find it when you ask questions of the ministry.
I know, for example, that if we were to ask questions about the impact of the HST on the Ministry of Environment, they would have no studies. The Minister of Environment would not be able to point to a single study that has been done by either his ministry or the
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Finance Ministry or any other ministry in government on the impact of the HST. I think that's unfortunate. I think that's unfortunate, because I think people want to know that government has thought these things through.
In the same way, on a microscale, in which we can see how the HST impacts on individual members of this chamber — I mentioned the Minister of Tourism, because so much of what he's responsible for is impacted by the HST, and I thought that would be an interesting vignette to paint, as it were, of how the HST impacts on an individual — to the very fact that when you ask ministers about the impact of the HST on their ministries, they are not able to tell you….
That is something that we have heard over and over again from the public. We have heard it from business owners. We have heard it from whole sectors of the economy in this province. That's unfortunate.
The public deserves better, and the public should get better, which is why I think it's important at this particular time that we take that opportunity afforded to us here in this Legislature to exercise the responsibilities that we have as legislators to give the public that opportunity to ask questions. Therefore, I move the following motion.
[Be it resolved that Bill (No. 9) not be read a second time now but that the subject matter be forwarded to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services and further that the committee be empowered to invite witnesses to appear before it to assist in its deliberation.]
On the amendment.
M. Farnworth: In speaking to the amendment, this amendment would refer this bill to a committee, the Standing Committee on Finance…
J. Horgan: That august body.
M. Farnworth: …that august body, as my colleague from Juan de Fuca so aptly puts it, where we can hear and we can come and hear experts, the public, make presentations, where we can ask questions and we can thoroughly examine this issue so that we can see just how much work went into policy analysis, for example. Or was this just the brainchild…? As my colleague from Juan de Fuca so ably put it today….
J. Horgan: That was "apt," wasn't it? Now I'm able?
M. Farnworth: Able and apt. Did this come out of the office of King Lear?
J. Horgan: Maybe.
M. Farnworth: "Maybe," he says. But you know what? It will take, I think, a referral to the committee to look at that.
It will give the committee the opportunity to thoroughly examine this issue, to thoroughly engage in discussion about the impacts of the HST, to be able to ask questions that the public has, to be able to ask questions that the restaurant association has, the tourism sector, the cultural sector, forestry — you name the sector — and be able to engage in some thorough committee work that is so key when considering a policy change like this.
M. Farnworth: I'm speaking on the amendment. And my colleague from Juan de Fuca reminds me that I have 29 minutes.
J. Horgan: Able, apt and attentive.
M. Farnworth: Able, apt and attentive — that is correct.
M. Farnworth: No, I'm not available, unfortunately. I'm not available, but I am more than happy to offer some comments and some thoughts on this amendment and the legislation in the hopes that members opposite may recognize this is a unique opportunity to get themselves out of what is, for many of them, I think, a very uncomfortable position, an extremely uncomfortable position — an opportunity to step back, to show that they have been listening to their constituents.
M. Farnworth: Ah, the member says he wants to take a step forward, not back. Well, I will tell you right now that a step forward would have been to be upfront with the voters prior to the election. A step forward from the pattern of this government would be to say to the public of British Columbia: "You know what? We made a mistake. We need to take a second look. You've asked questions; you deserve answers." That would be a step forward.
To ignore this amendment would be to say: "We are taking a step backwards — a step backwards into the same way of doing things that this government has operated under for the last nine years." How else can we explain the comments of the Minister for Citizens' Services, who has been going on about how bad the regulatory framework is, how difficult it is and how uncompetitive we are under the existing…
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M. Farnworth: I'll come to that in a minute.
…PST way of doing business in British Columbia?
I mean, after all, doesn't he realize his party's been in power for nine years, apparently pursuing an agenda of deregulation and making things easier? And here they are nine years later, and they're still saying: "Oh, it's really tough and extremely complicated. We have to do this to streamline things."
What was their entire deregulation process about seven years ago, if not to do that? Well, clearly, that failed, and just like the rest of this government, their policy has been a failure. Why? I would argue, in part, because they fail to be upfront with the public. They fail to let the public know about important things such as due diligence, about the need to look at impacts on significant changes like that.
If they don't want to do it prior to the introduction of the HST, if they don't want to give an indication during second reading, then they should recognize that the opposition has extended a hand to them, has extended a lifeline — an opportunity to listen to their constituents, to talk with their constituents, to talk with the restaurant association, to talk with the funeral association.
I'm not talking about the political funeral association. I have a feeling that if they don't take this opportunity, then they will be…. As the Minister of Citizens' Services said a few moments ago, before I spoke, this is "a game changer."
Well, guess what. The public has news for him. Come the next election, it will be a game changer, and that's the side of the House that will be benched. They won't be sitting over there. They will be back in their constituencies wondering: "What on earth happened, and why didn't we listen to the public?"
We on this side of the House are nothing if not generous, and that's why we are extending this opportunity to the government to take a step back from the brink. It's an opportunity to, as W.A.C. Bennett once said, take that famous second look — to realize that even though he likes to think it does, all power does not rest in the Premier's office, that the backbenchers of the government do have a voice. They do have the ability to be heard. They can say loud and clear: "Our constituents are mad, and they are telling us that they are not going to take it anymore. They do not like this HST bill, and they want it stopped. Here is a way for us to do it."
If they support this amendment, hon. Speaker, we will be happy to give them full credit. I will personally praise the member for Parksville-Qualicum if that member supports this amendment. I will personally praise the member for Burnaby North if he stands up and recognizes the concerns of his constituents and votes in favour of this amendment. In the same way that I praise the member for West Vancouver–Capilano, I will be quite happy to do the same thing if that member also stands and says: "You know what? We have an opportunity here, and let's support this amendment."
This government finds itself at a crossroads. It finds itself at a crossroads. It can go down the path that it seems to have embarked on — of secrecy, of not being upfront, of hiding things from the public, saying one thing before an election and doing something completely different after an election — or it can repent. It can take this opportunity and repent and recognize the error of its ways.
Do they have the courage? Do they have the courage to see the opportunity in this amendment that has been extended to them by the opposition that, by extension, is from the public, who are saying: "Look, we don't like this. We don't want this. You said you wouldn't do it prior to the election"? I see members there shaking their heads.
Well, we've got the signature of the Liberal Party on documents saying that they wouldn't do it. We've got the words of the commander-in-chief himself saying he wouldn't do it. The public thought they could take that to the bank. Well, they sure had the rug pulled out from underneath them — didn't they? They sure learned in a hurry that this government was not about being upfront. It was about saying whatever it took prior to the election and doing something completely different after, which brings us again to where we are here today.
If they feel so strongly that it was the right thing to do, to repeal those wonderful green initiatives that in some cases were put in place back in 1983 under the days of Social Credit, if they think that that was the appropriate….
If that was the appropriate thing to do, if they feel so confident in that, if they feel so confident in repealing those measures of the green budget that we had in place that they trumpeted loudly and, I gather, proudly in different parts of the province, that doing away with them is the right thing to do to bring in the HST, then you know what? Let's have the courage of their convictions and support this amendment, because to listen to the government side, no one is going to be impacted.
The Minister of Finance says: "Oh, it will be a little bit. It will be a little bit, maybe, on the rent — less than 1 percent. Oh, and your condo fees aren't subject to the HST." To be fair to the Minister of Finance, technically that is correct. But what he forgets to say, and what regular people know and understand, is that condo fees and strata fees are not something that's just set out of thin air by the strata council.
"Oh, let's have some fees" and, "Oh, let's make them, you know, $250, $300 a month for the sake of having some fees." No, those fees are there for a reason. They are there to cover costs incurred by the strata in the provision of services to the maintaining and the running of the strata organization. All those costs, those input costs,
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go into making those fees, and those are what will be hit by the HST. Significant numbers of those fees, those input costs, will be hit by the HST.
The result is that, yes, it will have an impact, and that's what the public deserves to know. They deserve to know exactly how they will be impacted. While the government's saying, "Oh, don't worry. Everything's going to be just fine. Oh, don't worry. The bright and rosy economic future lies in front of us if we just adopt the HST. Oh, don't worry. You know, this is such a wonderful thing that your kids are going to listen to you and do their homework without having to be told," the fact is that the public doesn't trust this government. That's a terrible thing.
They should know on an initiative like this that the government has done the work, that they've done the public policy work, instead of having to listen to platitudes about: "Oh, don't you worry." The public's not stupid. The public gets it.
When the government says that these changes are going to take $2 billion in a tax shift, as they like to call it, someone's paying the $2 billion. It's not magic fairies out in the ether that somehow are absorbing this $2 billion tax shift. It's real people and real families. They're the ones who are going to be hit by this tax shift.
They deserve to be told the truth in that regard, and they deserve to know exactly how it's going to impact them. They deserve something better than a website of selected questions and answers, and they deserve to know a full, comprehensive list of all the services, all the ways in which the HST is going to impact them.
They can sit down for themselves and go: "You know what? We do this, and we that, and we go here, and we go there, and we eat out this many times a month." They can sit down with a calculator and figure it out for themselves.
They can figure it out for themselves, and they can say: "You know what? I don't need the government to tell me what I already know is not going to be good for me and my family. I don't need the government, which didn't do a single study in any ministry to say what the impact of the HST is going to be, to tell me that the person who's going to be getting the short end of the stick is me and my family."
That is why we need this amendment passed — so that we can bring forward the tourism sector; the restaurant association; funeral directors; veterinarians; lawyers; the parents who coach your kids at hockey, minor baseball, ringette, curling — you name it; bike shop owners; coffee shop owners. Those are small business people.
If the HST was as great as this government said, those people would not be out on the street right now collecting signatures on an initiative on a bill and a tax that they know instinctively is going to hurt them. They would be lining up behind this government to say how great things are.
The fact is they're not, and every single member in this chamber knows they're not. Every single member on the government side knows it, because if they've been back in their constituency for even one minute outside their constituency office, they would have heard it loud and clear.
They can muster all the bravado they want in here, but they know deep down inside them. They're all honourable people; they're all honourable members.
Even though they're on the government side and they're doing the bidding of the Premier's office, I know that away from the darkness of the west annex they talk amongst themselves. They talk amongst each other about what's going on back in the constituency. They talk about what their neighbours are saying, what their friends are saying. They talk about things they read in the newspapers. They talk about the numbers, and I'm not just talking about the numbers of signatures required to make an initiative petition a success in a particular riding.
I know a number of them can see the writing on the wall. They're worried, and rightly so they should be worried. As the Minister of Citizens' Services said, this is a game changer. It is a game changer, and they know that.
What they should do is take the opportunity to recognize that they can say no to the darkness over in the west annex over there. They can say no to the eminence grise and the minions that are over there that decide these things. In the same way that they thrust this policy upon you, and most of you didn't know it was coming, the same ones will turn around and do something else again.
Well, you know what? Now it's your time, Members, to stand up and take advantage of an opportunity, to stand up now for your constituents, to say: "Yes, we will support this amendment. Let's refer it to the committee. Let's refer it to the committee so that we can ask the questions that we weren't able to ask prior to July 23, when we were told this wasn't even on our agenda, when we went out in an election campaign and told people we wouldn't do this."
R. Chouhan: And they can ask questions too.
M. Farnworth: They can ask questions, as my colleague from Burnaby-Edmonds says, and they should ask questions. They should be asking questions of the west annex. "Why didn't we? Why didn't we, as a party, go out and be upfront with the public of British Columbia? Why didn't we do any due diligence on the impact of the HST on key sectors of British Columbia's economy?
"Why do we have to stand or sit in this House as the opposition asks questions and we are not able to answer them, other than to give the platitude in estimates of
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saying, 'Oh, this is all being handled by the Minister of Finance,' and when you go to the Minister of Finance, it's: 'Oh, they didn't do any studies on those things'"?
How embarrassing must that be for someone who ran for election in 2009, came here as a bright, shiny new MLA in their first term, wanting to do good things, which is why they got into public life, why they ran for office. They ran, and they are honest people in their community, and they are upstanding citizens.
They came here to do the right thing, and they had the rug pulled out of them from a government that came up with a policy that they said they wouldn't do during the election campaign. Now they are members in this House, and they have to defend it.
You know they don't believe in it. You know they are not happy. You know they don't like having to face their constituents and try and explain the indefensible to them. They know that, hon. Speaker. Now is an opportunity to say: "You know what? I'm going to do what I know is right."
If they need to rationalize it this way, they can. They're only supporting an amendment right now. It won't defeat the bill. It will put us in a break, a pause for a time for a standing committee in this House to hold hearings, to hear witnesses, to hear their very constituents, who have been angry at them for having sprung this on them, who are angry at them because they know the government didn't look at the impact on their own segment of B.C.'s economy.
Those wonderful towns on the Island or in the Okanagan that depend so much on tourism, which this government has said for years on end is part of the backbone of B.C.'s economy — what do they do? They saddle them with increased costs, and they don't even acknowledge it in their answers during question period.
The Minister of Tourism stands up and says: "Oh, how wonderful it will be for the economy." The Minister of Finance does the same thing. They don't even give this industry and others like it the respect of saying: "You know what? You're going to get hurt. But we think that's okay, because we think that in the long run, you'll thank us for it." They don't even have the decency to say that. They don't have the courage of their convictions to acknowledge.
At the same time they're trying to say: "Oh, we think it's great." They don't even have the courage of their convictions to acknowledge that there are industries in this province who have a huge, real concern about the impact of the HST. They have ignored it. They have ignored it from day one.
In case some members think I'm just overreacting, I would like to assure them that I'm not. I know there are some statements by a number of people, and I would like to paraphrase one of them because it's quite long. The restaurant association: "We'll have dialogue. Let's have some dialogue. Let's talk about this." They were looking to this budget that we've just dealt with to find some indication that the government was listening, to find some relief that the government recognized the challenges they're going to face under the HST.
Did they find it? No, they did not. The government didn't even listen. So it's even more important that members take this opportunity to vote in favour of this amendment. It's not that difficult. It will give you an opportunity. It will give a committee an opportunity to do some work that should have been done by government prior to the introduction of the HST.
You know what? At the end of it, if you want to go out and vote in favour after you've heard from the people in your constituency, hey, great.
Go ahead and do it. At least then you'll be able to look your constituents in the eye and say, "You know what? I'm still voting in favour of it, but at least I gave you a chance to come to the Standing Committee on Finance and ask questions and for the members of the committee to engage in a thoughtful, rational discussion and an examination of the impacts of the HST," which is something the government should have done prior to its introduction but failed to do. Had they done that, things might be different.
At least, Members, you would have the satisfaction of knowing that on the campaign trail in the future, you could stand up and say: "You know what? I listened to you. I listened to you as your MLA, because that's what you sent me here to do. I took your message back, and I voted for this amendment to send this to a committee."
I think there are members in this place who came here bright-eyed, wanting to do the right thing. Now is the moment of truth. Now is the test. It is a test of their convictions of what got them into public life in the first place. It is a test of their convictions to serve their constituents in their ridings by recognizing that there's nothing wrong with taking a step back, taking a reasoned and sober second look at an issue. You will not be criticized for that. You will not be criticized at all. In fact, you will be surprised, I think, at the reaction of your constituents, because they will know it's not you. You didn't spring this upon them.
They know this came out of the dark recesses of the west annex. They know that's where this came from, in the same way that grants to minor hockey, minor baseball, came. It's where back in the distant reaches of this government in its early days, the idea of "let's take away bus passes from seniors" came from or, what was even more remarkable, the idea that we should do away with books for the blind.
Public uproar and, no doubt, pressure from a number of members of this chamber at that time resulted in those policies being changed, because good members knew a bad policy. Here we have another opportunity
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for government members to say: "Hold it. Let's step back. That anger in our constituents, the anger of our supporters — we need to pay attention to it."
Nothing disconnects government from the people more than the sense that government doesn't give a hoot or give a thought — I almost said something else — for what the general public thinks. That is one of the great dangers to our democratic system. If you want to talk about how to increase voter participation, just try being a government that does what it says. If you want to increase public support in the democratic process and reduce cynicism, just try doing after the election what you said you would do before the election.
M. Mungall: What a novel idea.
M. Farnworth: As my colleague from Nelson-Creston says, what a novel idea. I'll disagree with her on this. It's not a novel idea; it's the right idea. For this government, it's a novel idea, though. But if you want to increase public cynicism, if you want to turn people off from political debate and discussion in our province, then this government and the members supporting it in this House should just continue to go down the path that they are going. They are doing nothing but increasing the levels of cynicism that turn people off from voting, and that's not healthy.
Now, if that's what they want, they're going about it the right way. But if it's as I believe all people in this chamber feel — that we need to encourage people, that we want to increase participation in our democratic process and that we want to increase voter turnout — then let's show the public and the voters, our constituents, that we listen. We really do listen to what their views are, and that's what I keep coming back to.
This resolution is an opportunity. It's not something to be afraid of. It's something that government members should seize with enthusiasm to stand up and do what they came here to do, which is to represent their constituents, throw off the shackles imposed on them by that darkness in the west annex and take a stand for their constituents, to say: "You know what? We've got to send this to committee." It's not going to hurt anybody. It's not going to cause problems.
In fact, it'll be really refreshing. It'll be really refreshing for this chamber, for members as individual MLAs and especially for the public, because they will see, I believe, what they believe the Legislature should be doing, which is paying attention to the issues that matter to them, paying attention to the fact that when a family sits down at the dinner table and talks about where they're going to go for vacation, whether or not it's new bikes at Christmas or for a birthday, whether or not they can afford to buy that new home they were looking at that maybe they've always wanted to have, with room for a dog or, if you're in Langley, room for a pony….
I see a minister over there doing mock tears, but the reality is that it's that incremental impact, one after another after another, which in many cases puts these dreams out of reach. As we already know, we have the highest housing costs in the country. I mean, the idea in the Lower Mainland that a new house is now averaging close to $800,000 — in fact, I think the assessed value of a home now in the Lower Mainland is $1 million — is unbelievable. It is absolutely unbelievable.
To somehow say and seem to imply that an additional $13,000 in HST impact over the others is somehow negligible or that you really shouldn't worry about it, that it's nothing, to me shows a government that is out of touch, has lost its way and has become arrogant. As the Minister of Citizens' Services so aptly put it, in fact, that attitude is very much a game changer. It is a total game changer.
I sense that I'm coming to the end of my time on this particular amendment. Maybe I am making progress. I hear the member on the other side say that he's listening, and that gives me hope.
L. Krog: Inspiration.
M. Farnworth: Inspiration, as my colleague from Nanaimo says, that there is an opportunity here, that they do….
An Hon. Member: There's no hockey game this evening.
M. Farnworth: The member says there is no hockey game, and I am so glad he mentioned that, because that reminds me. While we have the Minister of Tourism on his bike…. He's going to his Pilates class in Kamloops. He's getting his new Lululemon yoga gear, and then he's going to go have the nice coffee drink after. And there's the HST impact on that.
Then there are other members in this House who may have been lucky enough to get hockey tickets to see our Vancouver Canucks defeat Los Angeles and then the other teams, on the road to the Stanley Cup. Well, hon. Speaker, there are lots of people who want to do that this year, but next year, when they're defending the Stanley Cup, guess what's going to happen.
It is going to cost you more money under the HST to see a hockey game in this province than it does right now. If that isn't a reason to support this amendment and send it to a committee to look at the impact of this bill on everyday British Columbians, I don't know what is. I don't know what is.
We have waited long enough in this province to see a Stanley Cup winner without this government pulling the rug and making it more expensive for ordinary people to go and see.
[ Page 4500 ]
If not from the member from Kamloops, at least think about those who want to go see a Stanley Cup winner and not have to pay the HST on hockey tickets. That's another reason. Vote for the amendment. Vote to represent your constituents. At least, do it.
Hon. B. Penner: Nike commercial.
M. Farnworth: The Minister of Environment says "Nike commercial." Well, here's another reason. I can see it now. The Nike commercials running in British Columbia: just do it, because after July 1 you're going to pay 7 percent more.
I definitely see by the green light on the Clerk's desk that my time of attempting to convince the members on the government side to support this very thoughtful amendment is almost over. I will ask you one more time. It's not difficult.
It's the right thing to do. It's the right thing to do for your constituents. It's the right thing to do for yourselves as MLAs here. It's the right thing to do to avoid the HST being a game changer at the next election, even though it pains me to say so. Vote for the amendment, and vote for the right thing to do.
Deputy Speaker: Hon. Members, the amendment is in order and reads: "Be it resolved that Bill 9 not be read a second time now but that the subject matter be forwarded to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services and further that the committee be empowered to invite witnesses to appear before it to assist in its deliberation."
J. Slater: Speaking to the amendment, I'm certainly not going to support the amendment. I still want to support Bill 9. For anyone who is watching and does not quite know what Bill 9 is, it's the introduction of the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act, which will eliminate the current provincial sales tax. This delay tactic — and that's all it is — has nothing to do with Bill 9.
I would also like to clarify that the additional hotel room tax will be levied on behalf of local governments, regional districts and destination marketing organizations to raise revenue for their local tourism marketing.
Like my colleagues, I have received many e-mails and have read the letters in local newspapers in regards to the proposed HST. Some stand out more than others. A constituent from my riding wrote: "I'm in favour of the HST because I want my children to keep their jobs, because the companies they work for will be saving enough money to continue operating."
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
For example, the company that her daughter works for will save enough money to put another shift back to work that was eliminated when the recession hit. That's 30 people back to work.
She goes on to say: "Also, I would like the government to have some tax revenue so that I can continue getting my old age security pension supplement." Then she goes on to finish with: "There are a lot more examples, if petition signers would just take the time to find out the truth."
That's a problem. There has been so much information come out about the proposed HST that the average individual hasn't taken the time to find out how the HST is going to affect them. They listen to the myths put out by the anti-HST campaign where they continually say: "It will cost you more. It will cost you more."
To a low-income family, seniors or anyone who doesn't like to pay taxes, that is all they hear. What they don't know is the positive side of the HST and what it means to them. Most individuals will experience little or no difference after the HST is implemented. It is simply the amalgamation of sales taxes that we currently pay. HST will apply to the same goods and services that are taxable under the GST. If there's no GST on a product or service, there is no HST.
I have taken the time to list out the pros of the HST. We will not be paying any more for embedded PST on products. People say they don't like to pay taxes. Well, with the PST we are paying tax on tax on tax. Currently PST is applied at every step in the creation of a product. Those multiple PST charges are embedded in the price you pay at the store, even though you can't see it. Then, of course, you pay PST on the final purchase price.
With the implementation of the HST, the PST will be removed, thus lowering the price of the product. These savings will be passed on to the consumer in a lower price. The business owner will have the ability to either hire more people or pay their employees higher wages, as referred to in the letter.
Noting the hour, I move adjournment of debate and reserve my right to speak at the next sitting.
J. Slater 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 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 6:22 p.m.
[ Page 4501 ]
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
HEALTHY LIVING AND SPORT
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); H. Bloy in the chair.
The committee met at 2:28 p.m.
On Vote 38: ministry operations, $52,103,000.
The Chair: Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to the Douglas Fir Room. If I could just remind people in the gallery that they're the same rules for this gallery as they are for the big House: no audio sounds on your electronic devices and no talking to any members across that invisible wall in front of you.
Hon. I. Chong: If I might begin, hon. Chair, with some opening remarks. I will keep them rather brief. I just wanted to say that I appreciate all members, in particular the critic, participating this afternoon in this estimates debate for the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport.
I am accompanied by a number of ministry staff today. I'll introduce those who are present now, and those who will join us from time to time, I'll endeavour to have introduced as well.
I have, to my left, the deputy minister, Mr. Grant Main. To my right I have the assistant deputy minister for population and public health, Andrew Hazlewood. I have behind me, to my far left, the Assistant Deputy Minister for Sport and ActNow. That's David Galbraith. Beside him I have Mr. Wes Boyd. He's executive financial officer for the ministry. Then, to my right I have Dr. Perry Kendall, our provincial health officer.
It's been a while since we were in estimates — last fall — and perhaps ten months, I guess, since I've had the pleasure and distinct honour of being responsible for this ministry. I just want to say at this time that certainly, over that time….
I hope the critic, who has had an opportunity to receive briefings from time to time from ministry staff, has found that useful. The ministry staff do endeavour to work hard each and every day to contribute to the work of government, the work of the ministry in ensuring, on behalf of the people of the province, that we do look at the population and public health aspects and continue to promote and protect our public health at all times.
In addition, over the past number of months I've had the pleasure of meeting with a number of our stakeholders — certainly with some of our regional health authorities — and I worked with our medical health officers in particular over the last fall, when we were dealing with a rather important issue here in terms of our public health.
I've also had the honour and, certainly, pleasure of meeting with people who are dealing with the promotion of good health and healthy living outcomes and, of course, those in the sports organizations and those who are concerned about physical activity. After all, those are the areas that this ministry takes great pride in and responsibility for.
As I said, we do have responsibility for a number of core public health programs that address immunization and the prevention of injury and communicable diseases. We are also responsible for population health policy. For the benefit of those who are watching or listening at this time, just to let them know that when we are dealing with population health policy and legislation, we do work with our health authorities.
We work with other ministries, and in particular the Ministry of Health Services, collaboratively to improve the health of the population through our health programs and our services. We are able to achieve that by connecting a strong, sustainable public health care system with a focus on health promotion, both physical and mental; disease prevention; health assessment; and disease surveillance.
In addition, our ministry is responsible for policy enforcement to ensure that British Columbia's food is safe and that our air and water quality remain to the highest standard. As well, through our tripartite First Nations health plan, we're moving toward the establishment of a First Nations health care governance model in British Columbia which will, in fact, work towards closing the health gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal British Columbians.
Including the added benefit of sport promotion in this ministry, we're committed to making British Columbia — and we were committed to ensuring that we were named as — one of the healthiest jurisdictions ever to host an Olympic and Paralympic Games, which many would agree was satisfied.
To this date we still do remain committed to encouraging all British Columbians to be their very best health care manager in their own respect. We will continue to encourage physical activity in that regard.
All of these pieces are moving us forward in giving British Columbians the tools to be more informed than ever before about the benefits of good health and leading healthy lives. It's through the work of the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport that we have made great strides in achieving healthier outcomes for British Columbians. We will continue to do so going forward. I hope that all of the members in the House will agree that that is a goal that we should all strive for.
[ Page 4502 ]
With that, I thank you, hon. Chair, for those comments and welcome questions from the critic.
J. Brar: I would like to thank the minister for the opening remarks and the kind of brief snapshot of the service plan and the priority of her government. My sincere thanks to each and every staff member who is here today and working with the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sports, and my sincere thanks for their hard work serving the people of British Columbia.
At the same time I would like to thank my team as well, the people who have been working with me to prepare me for this debate, although we came to know about this last Friday. That's the way it works in this House.
My special thanks to James Harada-Down, who is a research officer that worked with me; Caitlin O'Brien Meggs, a legislative intern; Gurbrinder Kang, who is a legislative assistant; and Ruby Bhandal and Peter Leblanc, who both work in my constituency office.
Keeping in mind the very limited time as compared to what I expected and probably the minister expected — the minister probably would like to have a short time — I would focus this debate today on three key areas. The first one is community sports. Then we have population and public health, and the impact of HST on many sports organizations and their membership. We do have some other questions as well, but these are the three key areas that I would like to focus on during this debate.
With that, my plan is to start with the Sport file. Is it okay to proceed?
Now, we have a process in the province where a committee from both sides goes out and involves people of British Columbia in the budgetary consultation process and gets input from the people of British Columbia as to what, as far as the people are concerned, are their priorities. I'm aware that many people have written during that process, asking for the restoration of sports funding to the level of 2008-09. That's one of the key questions which people are raising.
Particularly, I would like to mention in that area the B.C. Athlete Voice, for example, a group representing 3,500 B.C. athletes, which launched a campaign before the Olympics to restore 2010 funding for sports to the level of 2008. They have made a submission, and similarly, many other organizations have made that submission as well.
My question to the minister is: what is the response that the minister has to those people who want the funding to be restored to the level of 2008, as far as sports funding is concerned?
Hon. I. Chong: Perhaps I'll preface my remarks by saying that I acknowledge that while he spoke of one particular organization, I know there will always be many organizations that write in that are, you know, looking to be back in a position where we were a number of years ago when, certainly, our financial situation in this province was much more robust and where we were able to look at a number of areas and to provide financial support in a number of areas.
However, having said that, I think it's also fair to say that last year in particular and then this year going forward, we know that our province is still facing economic challenges. For that reason, decisions with regard to where funding would be provided were done in a way that we would focus on areas that would deal with youth and deal with disabled sports.
Also, we would take a look at how we would be able to increase sport participation incrementally as well as support athlete development and coaching development, because those are all integral parts to ensuring that we have a strong sport system.
We continue to take a look at the needs that are there, but as the member will know, to return to a position where we were when we had a much stronger financial balance sheet is not possible until we have that stronger balance sheet. The decisions that have been made and will continue to be made will ensure that we continue to provide supports for a number of organizations but, at the same time, focus on desired outcomes, which I know that organizations also are appreciative of.
J. Brar: I want to add something. In that case, I would like to probably move on to the newly announced legacy fund. Can the minister provide some details about the sports legacy fund as to what we know now?
Hon. I. Chong: I'm pleased that the critic has raised what I think is an important budgetary item that was introduced in Budget 2010. There was a $60 million sports and arts legacy fund created, of which half would be provided to facilitate increased participation in youth sports and improved athlete and coach development. That is, as I say, a fund that is being provided to our ministry over the next three years, as I understand it.
We are still developing some of the areas which require specific support and incremental value in terms of increasing participation in sport. However, there are a number of options that we are looking at or that are being considered. I want to ensure that the member knows that these are not absolute at this time. They are still under consideration.
Certainly, we're looking at enhancing after-school programs and funding for coach development. We're also looking at expanding, if possible, KidSport programs. I think all members of the House are familiar with this program. It has received considerable favourable response from a number of communities, so we are looking to expand that KidSport program. As I say, it deals with reducing the financial barriers that are faced
[ Page 4503 ]
by families whose children wish to participate in organized sport.
We're also looking at possibly establishing a program that we haven't yet named, but for the sake of another, I guess, title, we've called "Sports on the move." And that is about helping school teams, particularly those in remote areas, with travel costs and possibly, as well, creating new regional sports academies that expand the role of B.C.'s regional centres and focus on the province's next generation of elite athletes.
Those are some of the general areas that we're looking at. Again, I don't want to leave the impression with the member that we have absolutely defined how this will be. We are still consulting and discussing and working with our stakeholders to ensure that we have, in fact, the best programs about incrementally increasing sports participation, which is what the fund is really designed to do.
J. Brar: The minister mentioned that the minister is in the process of consulting stakeholders. I would like to know: who are they? Who is the minister consulting with at this stage? How much time will that process take?
Hon. I. Chong: About a year and a half ago three groups came together to form what we call the B.C. Sport Alliance. They are Sport B.C., the Canadian Sport Centre Pacific and the B.C. Games Society. Overall, these three organizations represent, I would say, a majority of the organized sports that take place here in the province or provide a venue and opportunity for which competition can take place. We have been speaking with them and meeting with them.
In addition, I have over the last number of months met with the representatives of the various provincial sports organizations — our PSOs, as they're called — again, speaking with them and determining what it is that will help strengthen their sports organization and help them increase sport participation. As you can appreciate, there are some sports which have found that there are more youth interested and others which have declining participation. So I have met with those organizations, and they continue to provide information.
I can assure the member that as a result of Budget 2010 and the announcement of the sports and arts legacy fund, a number of sports organizations have already been in contact with us with a view to offering ideas and suggestions, and those are all being considered at this time.
J. Brar: My understanding is that the minister is consulting with the B.C. Sport Alliance. In addition to that, the minister is going to consult with different sports organizations. I did hear from some organizations that they are not part of the process, so I would like to confirm with the minister that all those different sports organizations will be invited to take their input into the process.
Hon. I. Chong: With respect to the member's comments of those sports organizations that have felt they have not had an opportunity to dialogue with our ministry, I just would say that if he's aware of those, I would not hesitate to suggest that they should certainly contact our ministry. If they want to do it through the member, that might be a helpful way for the member to ensure that they have an opportunity to meet with staff and provide the input that they wish to.
I don't want to undervalue the importance of the B.C. Sport Alliance and the three umbrella organizations that I mentioned. Sport B.C. represents the interests of all our provincial sports organizations. Through Sport B.C., all the provincial sport organizations have an opportunity to feed information up to them, who then meet regularly with our ministry branch, the Sport branch, my assistant deputy minister, who I introduced a short while ago, through Canadian Sport Centre Pacific.
This organization represents some of our high-performing athletes, so again that group has opportunities to funnel some of their ideas or suggestions back through to us. The B.C. Games Society, as we know, is the organization that provides that opportunity for our young athletes — those still in school, who participate in the Summer or the Winter Games, exactly as they've indicated — throughout the province and are able to experience athletic competition which eventually takes them on to higher competitions if necessary.
We believe that the Sport Alliance…. Because of the umbrella organizations they represent and the wide-ranging ability for them to meet with organizations, there is an opportunity for them to come back to us with suggestions.
I do want to just very quickly read into the record a letter that was posted on the B.C. Athlete Voice website on March 8. At the time, just a few moments ago, I was not able to retrieve that letter, but I think it's important, because again it speaks to how sports organizations actually are paying attention to Budget 2010 and what has been occurring.
So on March 8, 2010, this was posted on the B.C. Athlete Voice website. It says "Dear Premier," and lists his name.
"On behalf of B.C. Athlete Voice, its members and the thousands who have given their thumbs up in support of sport, we would like to thank and commend your government for its continued investment in sport.
"Over the past month, the province has played host to the world, and the public has shown its pride and support for our athletes. We have all seen how athletes can inspire our province and its youth. We have experienced the power of sport to change the way that we perceive ourselves, our province and our nation.
"We are delighted to see that the 2010 budget provides the sport system with the resources it needs to ensure that B.C.’s current
[ Page 4504 ]
and future athletes can progress from playground to podium. We are pleased to see that the budget supports both young developing athletes and those competing at the elite level.
"We thank your government for its confidence in sport and the difference it can make. Please know that your funding continues to make a huge impact on the hundreds of thousands of athletes, coaches and officials that participate in sport within British Columbia.
"Sincerely, Bruce Deacon, B.C. Athlete Voice"
Again, this is one message that has come back as a result of people paying attention to what has happened with respect to our commitment to sports. As we receive other letters and as we receive ideas, that is all being taken into consideration as we move forward with the legacy fund.
J. Brar: I just want to add to those comments that the minister just made about B.C. Athlete Voice. I understand that they support the announcement of a new sports legacy fund, but in fact they've also been asking about the restoration of funding to the level of 2008-09, and that has not happened, as the minister just confirmed.
I read only one of those organizations, and I would like to read probably one more to make my point. That was not the only organization writing in to the funding consultation process. In addition to B.C. Athlete Voice there was, for example, the Kamloops Sports Council. It is extremely concerned for other sports groups, service providers, as they strive to cope with the ramifications of the funding cuts they are facing.
Kamloops sports groups have made it very clear to the Sports Council that the burden of these cutbacks will impact the delivery of sports services and events in Kamloops. There are a number of other groups that have made submissions to the committee in asking for the restoration of funds to the level of 2008-09.
Having said that, I will move on to the question focusing on the sport legacy fund. I would like to know: can the minister tell us under which department the Legacies Now program is now located, and who is in charge of this program?
Hon. I. Chong: The amount that was announced currently is residing — I guess to best describe it — with the Ministry of Finance, in the sense that it's in contingencies where we have been given access to that until such time as we develop that.
It's pretty clear that we have not, as I indicated to the member. We are working with our stakeholder groups to determine how best to distribute the funds that are made available to us, and how we can increase sport participation, looking at coaching development. Until such time as we have that all determined…. That will be when we're able to access those funds.
If the member was looking for it in the line item in the ministry, I would agree that he wouldn't find it. We have not yet made that determination on how that distribution of those dollars will be made. But it is established and made available for us, and we're going to then access it through the contingency vote.
J. Brar: It's interesting to me, to understand this process. The minister is already in the process of consulting with the organization without having this program and without having somebody in charge of this.
So I would like to know: who is running the show? Who is running this consultation process? And if not yet, where would this program go? Where would this program be located in the ministry? I think those decisions must be already either made or in the process of being made.
Hon. I. Chong: I'm sorry if I misunderstood the question from the member. Ultimately, the decisions and who is going to be running the program will be this ministry, the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport.
J. Brar: So at this point in time do we know who is in charge of this program, or is there any specific individual in charge of this sport legacy program, or is there nobody in charge of the program?
Hon. I. Chong: At this point — because we are, as I say, holding a number of meetings — it would be our Sport branch, through our ministry, that is, I guess, in charge, in the sense that they're handling all the consultation and receiving input. When all of that is available, then certainly I will be in a position to roll out that plan and provide information to everyone concerned.
J. Brar: How much time, if the minister can tell us, will it take to complete that process?
Hon. I. Chong: I'm advised that a number of meetings are still underway and are scheduled and, for reasons of scheduling, may not take place until late May and June. So for that reason, until all those meetings have been concluded, where we can gather that information and then make an appropriate plan as to how the funds should be spent, I'm not able to provide the member with an accurate date. Some of these meetings have been, as I say, scheduled, and some are underway currently.
Obviously, I am sure he is as anxious as I am, as well as the sports organizations, to see exactly what would be available. But in terms of a comprehensive plan, there are still a number of meetings that need to take place — discussions on what kind of financial support is available, what kind of program, what kind of outcomes, the expectations that are there.
So I can't give the member a definitive date, but we are certainly hoping that over the next number of months
[ Page 4505 ]
we'll be able to come up with a pretty clear outline of what's to be expected of these financial commitments.
J. Brar: Just a few minutes ago, responding to my question, the minister mentioned four different areas where at this point in time the deliberations are going on, where this legacy sports fund may be used.
One of them is after-school programs and KidSport, expansion of that. We have Sports on the Move, and my understanding about that is that it will provide some transportation kind of subsidies or funding to the people who are going to participate in sports. Then the last one is sports academies. Can the minister elaborate a bit more about the sports academies? What is the concept there, or what will be done to develop the concept?
Hon. I. Chong: Perhaps the best way to describe it…. Again, these are areas that, as I've indicated, are not yet concrete and finalized. They are still under consideration. But what we are attempting to achieve here is working with our eight sport centres that currently exist in British Columbia. These eight sport centres currently provide training and development for some of our older athletes, those that are competing at the higher level — international and national levels, Olympic level and such.
What we're wanting to do is work with these eight sport centres to see if they have the capacity as well to train younger individuals, the ones who will be the next generation of our higher-performing athletes, which is not something that they are all currently doing right now. So again, the idea of this legacy fund or some dollars of this legacy fund is to be able to use it to work with our sport centres to do something new, something incremental, something that would be of benefit to the sports organizations and communities, in particular to enhance and increase sport participation, as I say, at the youth level, at the high-performing levels.
That's perhaps the best way to describe what we're working on. Again, those discussions haven't yet concluded, which is, again, why I cannot give the member a definitive answer as to when we will have a plan in place. Those discussions are still ongoing right now.
J. Brar: It's very interesting to find out how the dollars are allocated in this process. My understanding from all the answers the minister gave to me is that we don't know about this funding, what this funding is and why it's coming kind of stuff. There's no detail at this point in time as to what this funding will be, where this funding will go, who will be in charge of this — all of that. I wonder how this funding was even allocated in the first place.
There must be some sort of proposal submitted by somebody. There must be some sort of submission made by somebody about this funding. In the absence of that submission, how come this funding just appeared in the minister's budget? It was also part of the throne speech as well. I'm asking for very basic details.
Another question I would like to ask is: who is in charge of this program at this stage? Who is in charge of all those consultations? Who is in charge of maybe deciding about this funding? Who is in charge of developing the concept of those four pillars as to where the money is going to go? There must be somebody in charge, a person, a committee, to develop all that.
Hon. I. Chong: I regret if I've not been clear or made it clear as to what is occurring here. The member indicates that he's not sure what it will be. Well, it will be $30 million over three years. That is what has been set aside in Budget 2010. Where will it go? Again, I've indicated to him that it will go to enhancing youth sport participation, coach development. He indicates, as well, that it's not in our budget specifically. Well, that's the reason why we are developing the various areas that we are able to enhance.
I have to stress that the sports organizations, the sports community, are actually very excited about an opportunity here to do and provide programs that incrementally increase sport participation and youth participation in sports to increase physical activity. I know the sports community wants to engage and offer ideas about it. It is not about doing the same things with the same dollars that they've had in the past. This is about moving forward with new programs or new ideas, such as I've mentioned with respect to the sport centres.
Our ministry is the lead ministry in this. If I've not made it clear, I will do so now. It is our ministry that will be responsible for the $30 million over the three years as to how we increase youth participation in sport, how we deal with coach development and, also, our high-performing athletes.
J. Brar: I would just like to repeat my question. Is there any individual official in charge of this program at this stage?
Hon. I. Chong: Well, as the member will know, the minister is ultimately responsible for all programs through their ministry, and that would be myself. However, currently the persons involved in conducting the dialogue, the conversations, receiving recommendations, suggestions are persons in our sports branch. There are a number of people in our sports branch who receive, on a daily or weekly basis, letters or ideas. The person in charge of our sports branch, of course, is the assistant deputy minister who I've introduced, Mr. David Galbraith.
J. Brar: I would like to move on to a little different topic here. I also understand that the ministry has gone
[ Page 4506 ]
through a kind of thorough review when it comes to sports funding and the direction of sports in the future, that kind of stuff. I would like to know why the minister has decided to conduct a thorough review of the existing sports structure.
Hon. I. Chong: I would like to advise the member that the B.C. Sport Alliance — which was established a year and a half ago, I believe it was — entails the three major organizations that, as I've indicated earlier, have been engaged in this discussion of the sports community for that time period.
They came together with our ministry to talk about the sports structure, to talk about moving forward, to talk about the sustainability of sports. They had acknowledged that in the past, dollars were provided for capacity purposes but not necessarily for specific other outcomes, not specifically for increasing sport participation or any other measures or outcomes.
They did agree that it was timely to have a look at how government can continue to provide support for sports and how government can, as well, help increase the opportunities that are there, not the least of which is looking, as well, at opportunities for increasing infrastructure, which we have done over the past number of years.
So it's a discussion in terms of how sports can be less reliant on government, more sustainable yet, also, at times do more incremental work and programs. In looking at that, there has been a determination that….
When we're looking at, perhaps, funding and eligibility criteria, there has been a discussion on whether we would focus on maximizing the long-term benefits of participation in youth sports activities and what those outcomes might be. That's one of the reasons why, you know, programs have been in existence for a number of years with no change.
I hope the member will agree that from time to time you do need to take a step back, take a look and see: is this the way we're going to continue to fund, and will that funding be sustainable in the long term? When you have people who are willing to engage with you and these sports organizations willing to engage, it presents itself with an opportunity to take a look at how we move forward in a different manner, one that I hope the member will agree is going to be for the benefit of sports for British Columbia.
J. Brar: How many organizations have taken part in the assessment interviews? I know that those were conducted by the B.C. Sport Alliance. Was there any organization that refused to be part of that process?
Hon. I. Chong: I don't, unfortunately, have the exact number. I'm advised that there are approximately 60 PSOs, provincial sports organizations, and ten MSOs, the multisport organizations, and that all have been advised they are welcome to dialogue with us and to speak with us. I believe that a majority of them actually have made contact with our ministry to talk about moving forward.
I can't ascertain as to whether there's anyone who has refused, because it wasn't as if we demanded people come and see us and then they refused to. The offer was made: "This is what we're doing. This is what we're hoping to achieve, and we want your input."
For some sports organizations, whether a multisport or provincial sport organization, if they found that they no longer wished government to be involved or to support how they're moving forward, they may have very much decided not to meet with us. So it's not a refusal in that way, but perhaps: "Well, we don't need government to be involved. We don't need to have a meeting with you." That might have taken place.
I can get the number for the member. My assistant deputy minister believes he has met with as many as 50 at this time, but the exact number, I don't know.
J. Brar: I wouldn't mind that number and the list of organizations which were consulted for this process. I'd appreciate that information.
I think — I don't know — there was a final report due when this whole review process is complete. When will that report be ready, and if it's ready, can I get a copy of it?
Hon. I. Chong: Perhaps I could seek the member's clarification. I'm advised by staff that there was not a report per se that was due to be completed or released. If the member has something specific that he's aware of, maybe he could share that with us, and then we could at least respond to that.
J. Brar: My understanding is this. The B.C. Sport Alliance was made responsible to conduct a thorough review of the existing sports structure and subsequently provide a report for future directions or recommendations. That's my understanding. If that's not correct, the minister can say so.
Hon. I. Chong: No, I'm afraid that's not correct. There was no report forthcoming.
J. Brar: I'll go back to the budget. I see, in 2008 and '09, that STOB 77 indicates transfer grants, $4.112 million, and then STOB 80 indicates transfer agreements, $9.761 million. But when we come to the year 2010-11, then STOB 77 suggests transfer grants at $2.496 million, which is roughly half of what it was in 2008 and '09, and STOB 80 indicates transfer agreements, $9.047 million, which is a little less than what it was in '09.
[ Page 4507 ]
Can the minister provide some details as to where the shortfall actually landed? Which organizations were cut or received less funding this year which we're talking about, 2010 and '11, as compared to 2008 and '09?
Hon. I. Chong: Just for clarification, is the member comparing '08-09 and '10-11, or did he mean to compare '09-10 to '10-11? There is a missing year there. I'm wondering if he's hopping over a year — just so that I can gather that information.
J. Brar: This is a follow-up question, as I said before, about the budgetary consultation process. The request was made by different sports organizations to restore funding to the level of '08-09, so I'm just comparing, in the light of those comments, to where we are now.
Hon. I. Chong: I don't have all the details of the previous year with me, but as the member will know, for fiscal year '08-09 and the dollars that were distributed through the two STOBs he referenced — STOBs 77 and 80 — they are in the public accounts. He can find those himself, but if it's easier we could try and pull that and provide that to him.
The '09-10 public accounts have not yet been published, but when they are those, too, will be available. I know last year we provided the member with a list partially of what we knew was distributed. I think that was from April '09 to October '09, as I recall. The letter that we had sent to the member also listed a number of areas.
We will endeavour to get those available lists for the member so that he's aware of what dollars were flowed out other than those STOBs for those two fiscal years.
J. Brar: My understanding is that the minister will provide that list later. Is that true? How much time will it take? I would appreciate it if the minister could clarify that next time, when I ask the next question.
My next question will be more specific. How much funding was given to B.C. Blind Sports last year, and how much is being given this year? That's a pretty simple question.
Hon. I. Chong: As I say, for the '08-09 year, I think that it should be fairly quick to pull out, simply because it's already been published in the Public Accounts. For '09-10, I think, as we're closing up the year-end and getting all of that information, that should be relatively quick as well. We will certainly endeavour to get it to the member as quickly as we can to make sure that we have all the figures. With regards to the comparison he's wanting to make year by year, once we get those lists for him, I think he'll be able to see what was available in each year.
I would caution that in some cases funds were given to an organization in one year for a specific event. It could have been for a specific tournament or it could have been for a specific activity, so there could be variations in amounts because there could have been variations in requests. It will be based on that, and as the member can appreciate, those numbers can fluctuate from year to year depending on the organization and what endeavours they have in place.
J. Brar: I am going to repeat my question. How much funding was given to Blind Sports? Last year I'm talking about — just last year that we're finishing. And how much is being given in the current fiscal year?
Hon. I. Chong: With respect to the specific organization the member is referring to, we don't have that amount. My understanding is that for B.C. Blind Sports the funding they receive is through Sport B.C. We grant the dollars to Sport B.C., who then in turn provide the amount to that particular entity.
We're endeavouring to find that out for him, but I don't know if we'll have that in the next couple of minutes. If we do, I certainly will convey that to him. But that's how that distribution is made.
J. Brar: I have a couple of other organizations, so I can list those, too, at this stage. How much funding was given to SportAbility B.C. last year, and how much is being given this year? How much funding was given to B.C. School Sports last year, and how much is being given this year? That's a pretty straight number.
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I apologize. We don't have all the figures that the member wants, and he has listed three. My staff have indicated they'll be able to get that information to him in a very, hopefully, brief time frame as to specifically those questions, those three organizations, to ensure that we have the complete figures that are available for those three specifics.
If he has any others, if he wants to either send them to us or write through a letter, we can, again, try to fill in the boxes for him, if that makes it helpful, rather than spend the time going through each and every one here. As I say, and I apologize, staff don't have all the information available right at their disposal currently.
J. Brar: Again, I'm very mindful of the time available for these budget debates. I'm going to read the organizations into the record, and I will appreciate if the staff can pull out the information. I'm not asking for massive boxes of information. I'm asking for a figure last year, which is a dollar figure, as compared to this year.
This is basically a list of sports organizations and the minister is aware of…. I'll start with the B.C. Archery
[ Page 4508 ]
Association. My question applies to all — how much funding each organization received last year, last fiscal year, and how much they will receive this fiscal year.
So I will start with the B.C. Archery Association, Badminton B.C., West Coast Minor Ball Hockey Association, Baseball B.C., Basketball B.C., B.C. Wheelchair Basketball, B.C. Games Society, Bowl B.C., Boxing B.C., Coaches Association of B.C., Curl B.C., Cycling B.C., DanceSport BC, B.C. Wheelchair Sports Association, B.C. Deaf Sports Association, B.C. Blind Sports and Recreation Association, Cerebral Palsy Sports Association of B.C., B.C. Disc Sports Society, B.C. Diving, Fencing B.C., Field Hockey B.C., Football B.C., Sport B.C., B.C. School Sports, B.C. Golf Association, Gymnastics B.C., B.C. Rhythmic Sportive, Surrey Minor Hockey, B.C. Hockey, North Vancouver Minor Hockey Association, Cloverdale Minor Hockey Association, Chilliwack Minor Hockey Association, Squamish Minor Hockey, Horse Council of B.C., B.C. Taekwondo, Judo B.C., Karate B.C., B.C. Netball, Surrey–White Rock Ringettes, Rowing B.C., B.C. Rugby Union, B.C. Sailing, B.C. Speed Skating Association, B.C. Alpine Ski Association, B.C. Freestyle Ski Association, B.C. Snowboard Association, Surrey Breakers, B.C. Softball Association, Softball B.C., Special Olympics, Squamish B.C., Surrey Knights Swim Club, Swim B.C., B.C. Table Tennis Association, Tennis B.C., B.C. Athletes, Triathlon B.C., Volleyball B.C., B.C. Weightlifting and B.C. Wrestling Association.
Greater Victoria Baseball Association, Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey Association, Victoria Minor Hockey Association, Sunshine Coast Minor Hockey Association, Nanaimo Minor Hockey Association, Penticton Minor Hockey Association, Lumby Minor Hockey Association, Winfield and District Minor Hockey, Westside Minor Hockey Association, Williams Lake Minor Hockey Association, Salmon Arm Minor Hockey Association and Dawson Creek Minor Hockey Association.
I will provide the list to the minister with all these names, and I would appreciate if I can get the information about that. Here is the list. I will hand it over to the minister. Do you want to make any comments about that?
Hon. I. Chong: I appreciate the member being cooperative and giving us that list. Certainly, we want to provide as much information as possible, but I will note that a number of the organizations he mentions like Curl B.C., Tennis B.C., Baseball B.C. — these are all PSOs under the Sport B.C. umbrella. As I indicated earlier, dollars were given to them for which they then made a distribution, so we will need to go back and check with them to get those accurate figures.
In addition, I notice he listed a number of organizations, which may not be provincial in nature but more local in nature, which may have received gaming grants. Again, it may take a bit of time to get that information available to him, whatever we are able to receive.
However, I don't know whether he asked those questions of the Minister of Housing and Social Development when he did his estimates last week. He may have been in a better position to provide that information. We will see what we can do in terms of helping provide as much information based on the list. I appreciate the member with his list.
J. Brar: I just want to make it very clear that my question is related to the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport. That's what information I am looking for in this process.
There may be some organizations which did not receive funding from this ministry. I understand that, so that information will be fine as well. I'm just looking for information as to how much money these organizations got through the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport. That's basically the question.
I would like to know if the minister can briefly explain to me where…. There must be some sort of database somewhere which can provide very quick access to that kind of information. I would like to know where the information is, how that information is actually kept, how the database is maintained and who maintains it. That will be helpful for me to understand the process.
Hon. I. Chong: As I indicated in my previous response, a number of the organizations that the member listed are member provincial sports organizations through Sport B.C. What this ministry has provided is an amount to Sport B.C., who in turn distributes to the various organizations. They in fact have their database, and they are able to report out to us as to the distribution. That is the list that we will endeavour to provide.
We don't, in many of those situations, provide the direct grant or dollar amount to the organizations. That is largely handled through Sport B.C. Again, that's perhaps the best way I can describe how the information is kept.
J. Brar: I understand the funding goes from here to Sports B.C., and funding goes to B.C. Games from this ministry as well, which organizes all kinds of provincial games throughout the year.
The question I want to ask is…. My understanding is that B.C. Games charges $150 per participant as a fee for participating in the B.C. Games. That covers transportation, accommodation, meals and competition. The overall cost for each participant is roughly about $600 per participant. My question to the minister is this: will there be any increase in this per-participant fee, which is $150 per participant at this stage?
[ Page 4509 ]
Hon. I. Chong: What I can tell the member is that the B.C. Games Society is an entity with their own board of directors, who are in the position to make decisions as to whether there are changes in their participant levels and costs associated with that. I'm not able to say definitively whether there will be an increase or even a decrease, for that matter.
[J. McIntyre in the chair.]
That is what the B.C. Games Society board will provide. However, I understand that they endeavour to keep costs at a minimum so that they can allow for as much participation as possible.
I think the member is also aware — whether they're B.C. Summer Games, B.C. Winter Games, Northern B.C. Winter Games — that the society works with the local community that puts on that particular event and also receives support from the community and private sector involvement, all with a view to keeping the costs sufficiently reasonable so that as many young people can participate as possible.
At this time I'm not aware of any changes to the fee structure or the participant fee structure — unless the member is aware and he wants to share that with me. I'd be happy to raise that with the board.
J. Brar: My role is to ask questions, not to provide answers. I will take that as at this stage there's no change where the per-participant fee is concerned by B.C. Games.
In that case, I would like to know how much funding was given to B.C. Games last year and how much it will be this year.
Hon. I. Chong: I understand that last year $2.228 million is what was provided. This year $2.3 million is being provided, so just a slight increase.
I wanted to also clarify for the member that based on the previous question with respect to B.C. Games and the decisions that they may make surrounding costs of what they charge participants, a large percentage of their expenditure is travel. If they experience higher travel costs because a community is further away and getting more participants, they may have to adjust their fees based on that.
That is generally what they'd all get, because the majority of the costs associated with helping young people participate in those games is related to travel. Again, not knowing which…. Not always aware of which city is going to be the successful city that hosts the games, I can't always be as clear as to what that is.
I hope that provides some sort of insight for the member with respect to B.C. Games.
J. Brar: I think one of the factors which we don't know how much the impact of that will be at this stage…. Particularly in the Winter Games, for example, there will be an impact of HST. It's going to cost more. The ice cost is going to go up significantly in that situation, so that could be a factor as well. If their budget remained the same, how are they going to basically recover the extra cost? That's a question which we need to ask, but I will move on.
Just a few minutes ago I gave the minister a list of different organizations, asking how much funding they're receiving. There's a purpose for that. Last year we made a submission for FOI to the ministry to find out which organizations are being funded, which includes sports and recreation organizations as well. That request was made: to give us the list for the year 2008-09 for all those organizations which were funded by the ministry.
However, the FOI request came back with a huge fee. This would cost a significant amount of money, and we were asked that we narrow down the request. The subsequent request was quite narrowed down, which was basically a list of organizations getting funding. Even after that, what I have here is that after we made the submission, the minister still refused to provide any information and stated that they could only provide the information if a certain organization was named.
You have to name each and every organization, and that's why I have given you all the names of the organizations. But I would give the minister the opportunity to say why it will cost thousands of dollars, if you make a request through FOI, to just access the list of organizations receiving funding.
So I would like to understand that. If the minister can tell us why it's going to cost thousands of dollars to the people of British Columbia just to get the list, which would simply be in a database where you print the name of each organization and how much money each organization received.
Hon. I. Chong: I'm not completely clear as to the reference he's making to the FOI request, as to what it was that he had requested and why the ministry and the staff who were trying to put that information together needed him to narrow the scope generally. The persons involved with FOI — I don't have them with me here.
I'm not familiar with specifically that particular request that had come in. But I think it's important to note that oftentimes there are FOI requests that come in — FOI requests that are very broad. Because they are so broad, they do require some time and work to put together information.
While it may appear to, I guess, outside individuals that there must be a list that is sitting somewhere, that is not always the case, as was just evidenced in our debate a few moments ago — that we did not provide direct funding to a number of organizations. Rather, we gave it
[ Page 4510 ]
to Sport B.C., and they're the ones that distributed it and also were decision-makers in that regard.
There might also be other funding sources that come from government, from another ministry. I don't have complete access to that information. It may be for those reasons that these requests are asked to be narrowed — so that we can specifically look at what's available.
Again, I apologize. I'm not familiar with the specific requests that the member is referring to. However, when a request is made specifically for a list of those organizations that we did provide funding for, that we had a reporting ability to put that out…. That's why I've indicated that we will do our very best to provide that to the member so he has a list.
However, if he's suggesting he wants a list of everyone that possibly could be funded, we don't have the capacity to list all those people. Nor would it be available as to all the proponents who may have requested dollars, because that, certainly, is their private application.
What we are able to provide is a list of those organizations that we did in fact directly transfer dollars to or that we provided dollars to. That's what I will commit to the member — that we will provide over the time period that he's requested. I will, as I say, endeavour to get that to him as quickly as possible.
J. Brar: Just to clarify that. I am willing to respond to questions if the minister has questions about that, because this is simply what we did. Our researcher submitted FOIs to the ministry to find out — I'm going to read it exactly — which organizations they are funding in population and public health and sports and recreation for the year 2008-2009. That was the request. To me, that's very simple, straightforward.
The response came back from the ministry: "You have to narrow it down." That was the response, and we did that as well. When the request was narrowed and resubmitted, they still refused to provide any information and stated that they could only provide the information if a certain organization was named. In other words, you have to name the organizations first.
How can the critic from the opposition know what organizations the ministry is funding at this stage without knowing that? We need to know from the minister, because the minister knows about those organizations, whether it's being provided through Sport B.C. or B.C. Games, whatever, and similarly for population and public health.
We were just asking that. That was the request made. It was going to cost the people of British Columbia thousands of dollars. I was very surprised to see that this simple information would cost thousands of dollars, and then I doubt how the information is organized and how the database is kept in the ministry.
Minister, if you have any questions, I am willing to clarify that. I would appreciate it if the minister could commit to providing that information without spending taxpayer dollars.
Hon. I. Chong: As I've indicated to the member, we will endeavour to provide information as to the distribution that we made through our ministry for those areas that he has indicated. However, I do want to say that the information that's specifically for '08-09 would have been made available through public accounts, so that information is available.
We will, with all due respect, gather that information and have it made available. That was for '08-09. That's already out in the public domain. For '09-10, I think that is being prepared as public accounts are being wrapped up in time for the June-July deadline. We, again, will endeavour to see what we can provide to him as quickly as possible.
Basically, the information that we will provide to him and that I want to be clear he's familiar with is the fact that we will provide information as to what we provided to a particular organization. How they then distributed it further is not necessarily something that is readily at our disposal, which is perhaps one of the reasons why it may require some additional time.
That may have been the reason, in part, as to why it was difficult to gather that information, but I have made the commitment to the member that we will provide information based on what we have available as to how we distributed some of those dollars through those STOBs that I think he was specifically referring to.
J. Brar: I would move on to a new topic. I would like to properly understand from the minister the impact of HST on community sports. The minister is aware…. I think this has come up in question period as well. There are a number of reports out there in the media. Particularly, I will suggest some…. I have got letters from the Abbotsford Minor Hockey Association, talking about the impact of HST. Particularly, I would like to make it very clear that they say that it's going to cost them equivalent to almost $60,000, the introduction of HST, because ice is going to be very costly for them.
What they say in the letter is that to make up for the losses, the association has stated that they will be left with no alternatives but to increase the registration fee. It's just going to cost more for people. The same has been said by the Abbotsford Skating Club. We have received a submission from them saying that their costs are going to go up as well, and the same with the costs for many other organizations. For example, Victoria Minor Hockey is suggesting the same on their website — that because of HST, it's going to cost more to the people of British Columbia, and the minor league soccer association has made the submission suggesting that as well.
[ Page 4511 ]
So my question to the minister in the light of those submissions and those comments made by different organizations…. They probably will send letters to the minister as well. The Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport service plan states that it is responsible for leading the way to achieving the Liberal government's second great goal, which is to lead the way in North America in healthy living and physical fitness.
I would like to understand how the introduction of HST is going to help achieve that goal, because it's going to cost more to the people, and it's going to make it difficult for people, particularly the young kids, to participate in sports because of the rising cost.
I would like to ask the minister to respond as to how this introduction of HST fits into the ministry's or government's goal — great goal — which is leading the way in North America in healthy living and physical fitness.
Hon. I. Chong: I firstly want to say that physical activity and healthy living is dependent on a number of areas, not the least of which is the opportunity to be able to participate in a sport program and to have a place where people can actively participate. The fact that we have invested over $600 million in a number of venues around the province provides an opportunity for individuals to participate in sport, provides opportunities for people to compete as well as to train.
In addition, I've indicated to the member that through this new sport and arts legacy fund — the $60 million fund of which our ministry will be entitled to utilize up to $30 million over the next three years — we'll be looking at things like after-school programs. After-school programs, as well, will be an opportunity for increased participation in sport and increased participation in physical activity. So there are a variety of ways that we would continue to advance that great goal that we have, because I do think it's an important goal.
It will achieve better health outcomes, as we know, with our young people who currently are not as physically active as they could be. It's about having that opportunity to do so and, also, to do so in a safe way. That, again, is another reason why our legacy fund is going to take a look at how we can increase coach development, because when you want your young people to participate in sports, you certainly want them to do so in a safe manner and have good coaches available for them.
There are a variety of programs and services that our ministry is responsible for and that we'll continue to work with organizations on, to continue to advance the great goal No. 2 — or 3.
J. Brar: I think the issue is not whether we have more coaches or fewer. That's not the issue. The issue here is the affordability — affordability to the people, to the kids — to participate in sports. The reality is that the introduction of the HST is going to cost more for our young kids, our young people, which is the focus of the ministry.
It's going to cost more because the cost of ice and many other items is very, very high. It's going to cost thousands of dollars to different sports associations, particularly minor hockey associations. So it's the cost issue, and that's where the minister didn't make any comment.
Other ministries and Crown corporations have done some analysis to figure out the impact of the HST on their clients. I would like to ask the minister whether the minister has done any analysis as to how much of an impact the introduction of the HST is going to have on sports, particularly on the participation of young people because it's going to cost them more. Is there any specific study conducted by the ministry?
Hon. I. Chong: The member specifically references affordability in sport. I should say that affordability in sports amounts to a number of areas, not the least of which is in the area of travel. Oftentimes youth participate in sports. They want to compete, and there are travel costs associated with that. Again, I would say that our sports legacy fund, which I mentioned earlier…. We will be looking at whether or not we're going to be able to assist in that.
The other area that prevents people from participating in sports, or youth participating in sports…. Oftentimes it's the financial barriers for low-income individuals, which is why KidSport program…. We're looking at expanding that, and that has received tremendous support from around the province. Private sector groups have been involved in it. Communities have been involved. For all intents and purposes, I think there is great optimism about the fact that this can be, again, expanded around the province.
Over the last number of years — I believe over the last four years — as much as a million dollars to date has been invested in KidSport. Again, depending on the interest that is available out there, we'll be able to take a look at how we expand that program.
In terms of affordability, I don't think it's fair to always characterize that it is one particular area. There are lots of factors that contribute to affordability in sports. Our goal in this ministry, especially with the increased dollars through the legacy fund, is to allow for more youth participation in sport, and that's what we're going to be doing, going forward.
J. Brar: As I said, I understand the legacy fund, but the reality is that there are a number of organizations saying almost every day in the media that the cost of HST is going to make it more costly.
So my understanding is…. The minister can correct me if I'm wrong. What they're talking about, specifically,
[ Page 4512 ]
is that they are going to raise their registration fees. So is the minister suggesting that the minister is going to help them to bring it down? Is there any help, or is the answer no? That's basically the question.
My understanding at this stage is that the minister hasn't made any comment as to helping those organizations to bring their registration fees down so that people can participate in sports as they were before. So that's where I bring the question of affordability and access to sports.
Hon. I. Chong: I think the member, as well, is aware that there are, as I say, a number of costs associated with sports. There are, as I say, travel costs; there are costs associated with coaching; there are costs associated, as he's indicated, with registration.
However, oftentimes registration is base on a number of factors. It does entail the cost of equipment, as well, at times and what is provided in things like games and that — like baseball, where you have to, you know, buy equipment that you need for the officials and for the fields.
Those items will have, embedded with them, a cost associated. The provincial sales tax is already in those costs. What will happen, of course, is that those costs can now be reimbursed, as I think the member has heard from the Minister of Finance on a number of occasions. With so many areas where PST has in the past been embedded in costs and then from that just added on and marked up and passed on to the ultimate consumer, those can in fact be claimed back as an input tax credit and, as a result, reduce those costs and therefore help mitigate any of the associated potential changes in fees.
I know that the member would disagree, and I guess this is fair enough. We're having a debate currently that the HST is an initiative, the implementation of which most economists have said is very much an important part of government policy to stimulate the economy and therefore create jobs. Through the creation of jobs, we're able to ensure that people have income which they are able to use to support their families in a variety of areas. If there are no jobs, there is not going to be a lot of participation, whether that be at the retail store, in sports or in travel.
It is important that we also are mindful of the fact that we are going to be continuing to grow our economy, to ensure that there are jobs, that there are investments and that there are dollars available and disposable income available for people to invest in whatever they choose to invest in.
J. Brar: I don't think we are here to discuss the HST. I'm more than happy to do that. My question is the impact of HST on people who want to participate in sports. That's the thing. The minister is saying that it's not going to cost them more. The last question on that, if the minister can just make it simple.
What we have heard from different organizations — and I will mention again…. We got from the Abbotsford Minor Hockey Association…. They are saying that the implementation of HST is going to cost them more. It will cost them around $60,000 more, and therefore they have to raise their registration fee.
Same as the Abbotsford Skating Club. They're saying it will cost them roughly $6,300 to $8,000 more. The same as the Victoria Minor Hockey Association. They are suggesting that it's going to cost them more as well. So is the minister suggesting that they can claim and get that extra cost which will be there as a result of HST — that they can apply and get that money back? Is that what the minister is suggesting, or did I understand that differently?
Hon. I. Chong: I'm sure the member is not asking that I give him an accounting lesson. Essentially for a number of businesses and a number of entities, for those who have registered as a GST registrant, they will be able to continue to charge the HST when that is in place, but they also will be able to claim back all the input tax credits which will now include any PST amounts that have been paid.
[D. Hayer in the chair.]
That in itself will permit a reduction in some of the costs that were perhaps previously associated with that business or that entity. Again, it depends on the particular enterprise on how that will affect them. But again, I do want to say that a number of organizations will certainly have a look at all the costs they have, costs that currently may have the embedded PST added onto that.
I would hope that they are able to factor in those, the rebates they receive on that, and reduce their costs and keep their fees as low as possible to encourage more participation. At the end of the day, if they have greater participation, then they are able to mitigate any potential changes in fees for a greater number of people involved.
I think increasing the number of people involved in your club, whether it is by way of reasonable fees or of increasing members, will go a long way to making that club or that enterprise a success.
J. Brar: I would like to move on to population and public health. If we look at the budget, that February 2009 budget to the September 2009 budget update, there's a 42 percent reduction in their budget, which is a significant reduction in the budget. The same if we look at the 2008-09 budget to the March 2, 2010, budget — a 34 percent reduction. Can the minister explain where this funding was cut and which organizations got cut under this significant funding cut?
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Hon. I. Chong: I think the member's question with respect to the population and public health line item is from '08-09. We had canvassed that, I believe, quite extensively last year. My remarks at that time were that a good portion of the dollars allocated in that were for discretionary grants and for items which we had not yet determined would be required.
Of course, when we were faced with the financial situation that we were, the potential to partner with outside agencies no longer appeared. We did in fact have a reduction from '08-09 to '09-10, based on the decision that we were not in a position to partner with a number of organizations or to look and seek other organizations.
However, I do want to point out — and I'm sure the member has seen in the blue books — that the population and public health budget for '10-11 has actually increased — last year at $24.8 million and this year at $27.6 million. So there is in fact an increase of 11 percent going forward in this particular year.
J. Brar: How many FTEs do you have in population and public health this year, and how many did you have for the last fiscal year? If you can give me those numbers, that would be helpful.
Hon. I. Chong: There has been no change in the FTEs for population and public health in this year from last year.
J. Brar: You didn't give the number, though.
Hon. I. Chong: Sorry. The number we have currently is at 120.
J. Brar: My understanding is that the number of people working full-time — you're talking about FTEs — remains the same this year compared to last year. I just want to be absolutely clear about that.
Hon. I. Chong: The FTEs remain the same. In fact, I think there were some vacant positions which have now been filled, but the number of FTEs that have been allocated last year and this year remains the same.
J. Brar: I understand that the minister just spoke about the increase this year, which is $2.7 million in this area, and that $1.5 million out of that is dedicated to salaries and benefits. I would like to know about the remainder of the money, as to where that money is going to go, if the minister could provide some details about that money.
Hon. I. Chong: I'm not exactly clear, but I'm going to attempt to provide some clarification as to what the member is requesting. Of the $27.6 million budget for population and public health that he's referencing, about $12.8 million is for the salaries and wages, about $7.5 million represents operating costs and about $7.3 million represents grants and transfers. I'm presuming that's what the member is trying to get in terms of a breakdown — no?
J. Brar: I will repeat my question. What I see here in my note is I'm talking about the increase in funding this year, which the minister just mentioned a few minutes ago. My understanding is that amount is $2.7 million, not $27 million, in this area, which is population and public health. My understanding is that out of that, $1.5 million is salaries and benefits.
I would like to know what the remaining amount of money is for. That's what my question is. It is $2.7 million minus $1.5 million, the remaining money. What is that money dedicated to?
Hon. I. Chong: I apologize for that. The difference one year over the other, the extra $1.2 million that the member is referring to — about 900,000 additional dollars — was provided to this ministry for operating costs, and approximately a $300,000 increase in our amount for grants and transfers.
J. Brar: Thanks for the answer.
I would like to get a bit more detail about the $900 million operating cost — what that includes, if there are any subcategories in that.
Hon. I. Chong: On the $900,000. I think the member said $900 million, so I better correct that for the record. It's about an additional $900,000 for operating costs.
Hon. I. Chong: Yes, it would be nice to have $900 million extra to provide. I'm sure the member would like that too.
Approximately $700,000 of that is provided for what we say are operational contracts. That, again, is additional dollars we can provide it with. We have not yet made a determination whether we will need to spend that, but we had put that as a provision, and of course, the Minister of Finance has given that to us.
What I mean by the operational contracts is that we may have to contract outside persons in the population health field who might have expert advice and that we don't have people on staff who can deal with that. So it will provide for that.
Another about $200,000 was provided in our office and business budget in this operating cost. That is to support a number of publications that this ministry provides for.
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Again, I want to caution the member that these are not items already spent. It's just that we have been provided these additional amounts if we need those. If not, of course, they would be allocated back or would be considered as savings found.
As the member will know, this ministry does provide a number of publications, whether it's for seniors or young moms or things like that. From year to year you may have enough on supply that you don't have to do a reprinting of a guide, and you may be able to go a year without, because you have enough stock and supply and inventory of that.
It must have been a situation where we thought we were running short on some publications or support for some publications that we didn't need to last year but we may this year. So another $200,000 was provided, approximately, for that amount. That comes up close to the $900,000. There are some rounding errors in a few other spots as well.
J. Brar: Last year we had a couple of budgets because of the election, and in the September budget the minister cut population and public health almost in half. It was a huge, massive cut in this very important area of population and public health. In this budget we do see some increase but very small and nowhere close to the restoration of the funding we had before.
So my question to the minister is: has the minister done any analysis about the impact of this massive funding cut in population and public health? These are very, very important programs.
Hon. I. Chong: I hesitate to engage in areas that we actually canvassed quite extensively last year. Let me just say this for the record. In the September budget that was introduced, there was indeed a change from the budget that was presented in February 2009.
In February 2009, clearly we were in a different fiscal position than we were after the election in May 2009. I think it has been made quite clear that as much as $2 billion vanished from government sources and revenues, which did require that whole-of-government approach where all ministries had to take a look at where they could find savings in discretionary spending.
Discretionary spending really was that. Allocations had been given for ministries with which we had the opportunity, if it were possible, to partner with other sectors to deliver government services or programs. When our financial circumstances changed, then clearly it was not possible to seek out and partner with organizations to provide additional services and programs. For that reason there was a reduction in this category when the September 2009 budget was produced.
Within that program area there had been an intention that there would be increases, for example, in seniors parks that would have been developed around the province. That would have been in the population and public health budget.
Well, after we were presented with, as I say, our fiscal challenge — as well as municipalities who are partners in this were faced with their fiscal challenges…. They were not all coming out and saying, "We would like one of these," because they were looking at limited dollars that they wanted to spend on other areas of infrastructure.
That was one example of things in that category of discretionary spending that we no longer had to provide for, because there had also been a withdrawal of participation from those organizations. There were a number of those.
There were also people who were hoping to partner with government, for which plans had not yet been finalized and which again, given the situation we were in financially, we were not able to proceed with.
I do want to say to the member that those areas of our population and public health budget that we identified as crucial going forward, as core, were maintained. We did keep those available as we moved forward in 2009 and now in 2010.
J. Brar: I will just repeat my question. Has the minister done any analysis to figure out the impact or the effects of the cuts that were made last year? And how is the minister going to mitigate, if there are any negative effects of those cuts? That's a very simple question.
Hon. I. Chong: The member is implying that there were cuts, when I clearly just identified that in some cases they're not cuts per se. Rather, they were programs that had been identified in the February 2009 budget as a possibility of partnering with non-profit organizations or possibly with UBCM going forward. Because those were not identified as programs that we had made distinct arrangements with, they were no longer going to carry forward.
Clearly, we're not talking about cuts here in that sense. They were opportunities which we were not able to continue on with.
So the question about having a report with respect to impacts in this regard, I don't believe is pertinent because the program area or the population and public health area that we are speaking of did not entail, as I say, things that had been assured and therefore were not items that were defined within our core area that we needed to carry on with.
J. Brar: It's very interesting. You know, I would like to formally put this on the record. This is from the ministry's service plan. If you look at the numbers in February 2008-09, the total budget for this area, which is population and public health, is $43.413 million. When
[ Page 4515 ]
we go to February 2009-10, the total budget is $43.647 million. Then we come to September 1 — 2009-2010 — and it goes down from $43 million to $24 million.
This is the service plan of the ministry. Is that not a cut? The minister is saying that this is not a cut. This is a cut. I would like to know: if these numbers are not a cut, then what is it? If the minister can define and clarify it for me, particularly these figures, as to what these figures are, which are part of the service plan.
Hon. I. Chong: I will attempt to once again clarify for the member that within the line item for our population and public health are grants and contributions, which are not necessarily core or vital to ensuring the areas for population and public health. There were grants and contributions that were provided because we were in a very different financial circumstance.
When those financial circumstances changed, we had to take a look and make a determination on what areas we needed to continue to fund fully or even partially. I believe last year I did indicate to the member that there were some areas that we felt were critically important to continue to fund.
One of them was, for example, the QuitNow program through the B.C. Lung Association, because we were making very good progress towards smoking cessation, and having the lowest smoking rates in all of Canada was a pretty important outcome and one that we wanted to maintain.
We continued providing some supports to our Action Schools healthy eating program. We provided some supports and continue to support our B.C. Centre for Disease Control, our immunizations and vaccination programs.
Those areas are just examples of what are critical. But for some other areas, where grants and contributions included things such as payments — for example, to UBCM for the delivery of a program or to municipalities to provide seniors parks — as valuable as they are, they were not core to maintaining our population and public health risk going forward. For that reason, those were a number of the areas that we were able to reduce.
Yes, there was a reduction in the budget, but it was not a cut to any core, vital programs that we wanted to maintain. There may have been some reductions in some of those, but we continue to ensure that we did provide support in a number of areas that were vital to our population and public health. I did state that last year, and that remains the same this year. I hope that satisfies the member. I have nothing more to add to that.
J. Brar: The minister is suggesting that this massive cut includes grants and contributions, and this was not part of the core program. That's what I hear from the minister.
I would like to know, in that case, if the minister can provide me a list of organizations which were being funded under the so-called grant and contribution programs. Is that all the dollars which were cut from this funding, and were they all dedicated towards grants and contributions? I would like to know the list of those organizations and programs towards which this money was allocated.
Hon. I. Chong: If the member is looking for those items that were in previous years, again I would refer him to Public Accounts. However, last year after the estimates debates we did provide a letter providing information that, I think, covered the period of April 2009 to October 2009, because that was last fall. I'm happy to provide an update on that, which will complete the rest of the year for him.
J. Brar: If the minister can provide a timeline on that, that would be helpful.
Hon. I. Chong: I don't expect that should take too much longer. What generally happens is that we get all the questions that the member has and package it all up. Rather than doing one letter on one piece and one letter on another, we will endeavour to get every item that you have and put it in one comprehensive package to him as quickly as possible. I think that last year we were fairly quick in providing that to him, and we will continue to do that.
J. Brar: I would like to move on to another topic, which is air quality. This ministry is somehow attached to it. My understanding is that the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport works in partnership with the Ministry of Environment to set standards for air and water quality, including monitoring and reporting through the division of population and public health.
We've seen an issue come up, I think, just a few weeks ago in Prince George. In that particular light, I would like to ask a couple of questions to the minister, if the minister could clarify that.
What I know about that is that air quality tests were taken in playgrounds and parks, and they found dangerous levels of toxic chemicals in the air. They should have triggered immediate action when they got that information, but instead the B.C. Liberals kept quiet for almost two years on that issue. The people of Prince George and the people of British Columbia need to know that their government will take these issues seriously and that they will take actions to protect the health of people of the province and particularly kids in this situation.
I would like to ask the minister if the minister can explain: what was the role of this ministry? What was done by this minister to ensure air quality, and what actions were taken on this case?
[ Page 4516 ]
Hon. I. Chong: I think for purposes of clarification, this may help the member so that if he wishes to canvass this more thoroughly, he may wish to do so with the Minister of Environment. Our job in our protection of public health and air protection, in particular, is that our ministry is responsible for setting the standards, the health standards, that affect public health.
The Ministry of Environment is responsible for monitoring that, and with that we work closely with that ministry, and we provide advice on the health aspects of it. However, the enforcement and the monitoring are the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment, so I would ask the member to defer specific questions with respect to that to that ministry.
We deal with it from the public health aspect to provide advice, and we work with that ministry in providing that information as well as by setting the standards so that there are standards to be followed and for the Minister of Environment to then, therefore, enforce.
J. Brar: My understanding is that, including what we call air testing, the role of the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport is to set standards and not to do anything after that. If that is precisely the case, I would like the minister to confirm it for me. I'm talking specifically now about clarifying the role the ministry has when it comes to air testing.
Hon. I. Chong: As I've indicated, air testing is the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment. Our ministry provides information in terms of setting the standard for the health impacts. In addition, health authorities are also involved, in that they act as advisers to the Minister of Health or Ministry of Environment, as well as to the general public, with respect to health impacts.
Again, the member is particularly interested in this situation that occurred and the events surrounding this situation. The Minister of Environment would have that information, as that's not the area that we would have responsibility for.
J. Brar: From a commonsense point of view, in any given situation like this, the party responsible to set standards must know what's going wrong and how it went wrong in order to make sure the standards are set and set right. In that respect, what I hear from the minister is that they set the standard, and then it's up to the Ministry of Environment to look after the implementation, the monitoring, and all that.
Is the minister suggesting that in a case like what we are talking about in Prince George, the minister has no role at all, even to look back at the standards to make sure the air quality and safety of the people of British Columbia are kept? If that's the case, I would like the minister to confirm that the minister has no role in that case, and therefore I need to go to the Minister of Environment.
Hon. I. Chong: I would like to again make it clear for the record that this ministry does work closely with the Minister of Environment with respect to dealing with air quality in terms of dealing with the public health impacts that are associated with it. The air testing is generally done through the Ministry of Environment, or they may contract someone to deal with air testing.
At the end of the day, however, because we set the standards for air quality and because we deal with the health authorities directly, as well, for information to be made available as to what the results may suggest in terms of the impacts it has on public health, we stay very much involved in that respect. But the actual physical work that is done in terms of the enforcement as well as the testing — those are the areas that the Ministry of Environment would have responsibility for.
As I say, we continue to provide advice that is important and relevant to whether, based on those health impacts, the standards are sufficient — whether they need to be modified from time to time. That is a role that this ministry, in fact, does have.
As I say, we work very closely with the Ministry of Environment. If the member has a specific question surrounding this particular incident in this particular city, he will need to canvass that more directly with the Minister of Environment.
J. Brar: The question I'm asking is to the Minister of Healthy Living and Sport, and the answer I got is pretty vague at this stage. I will repeat what I said earlier. From a commonsense point of view, the standard-setting agency would know when things are not working — to make sure the standards are set differently so that those kinds of things don't happen again.
Let me make it a more, probably, focused question. In light of what happened in Prince George, does the minister think that she needs to go back and look at the standards and make some important changes to make sure that the people of British Columbia are safe?
Hon. I. Chong: I think it important to put on the record to clarify some of the comments that I heard from the member. If he suggested that there were problems with the standards that were set, I want to disagree. That is not what is the issue here.
The standards that were set through this ministry were not the problem. We set those standards, and therefore, it is the responsibility of the enforcing agency, generating through the Ministry of Environment, to ensure that those standards are maintained and to do the appropriate testing should that be necessary.
[ Page 4517 ]
The issue, of course, is that when we are advised there is a problem, we provide information with respect to the impacts on public health and ensure that the Ministry of Environment is able to work with our ministry to enforce the standards, which are sufficiently high, to ensure that there is no danger to the public health.
From a commonsense point of view, as the member has indicated, certainly this ministry has a role to ensure that the professionals in our ministry, working with the health authorities, have the expertise and the opportunity to provide the input as to what is necessary to protect the public health with respect to air quality.
I trust that that's sufficient for the member, and as I say, if there are specific questions surrounding this incident, this city, then he will need to canvass that with the Minister of Environment who will have more specific details as to what the chain of events were that he may be looking for.
J. Brar: Does the Minister of Healthy Living and Sport take any action — or is she required to take any action — when standards set by the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport for the air quality testing are not met?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I'll try to make it clear as to the role of the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport with respect to air quality. This ministry does participate in the development of standards for air quality. The monitoring and enforcement of those standards is the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment who, as a result of their efforts in monitoring and as a result of their efforts in enforcement, have the ability, if they choose, to levy penalties and/or fines that they deem are necessary in the circumstance.
Our responsibility in this ministry will continue to be that we provide advice as to how the public health is impacted should there be circumstances that require us to provide that advice. But at the end of the day, we do depend and rely upon the Ministry of Environment to do the monitoring and the enforcement that's necessary to maintain the standards that we set here in this ministry for air quality.
J. Brar: I would like to ask one more question. I understand that the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport is responsible to set the standard and that the Ministry of Environment is responsible to basically enforce and monitor the situation. I understand that.
Is there any reporting mechanism between the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport when, as we've been talking about, something like what happened in Prince George happens? Is it reported back to the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport? Is there that kind of communication? And if that's the case, did that happen and when did it happen?
Hon. I. Chong: I'm cautious not to engage in the specific circumstances that the member has raised, because all the details surrounding the monitoring and the enforcement will be much more familiar to the Minister of Environment. So again, I would ask that he canvass that with the Minister of Environment when his estimates are up for debate.
However, perhaps I can provide this level of understanding or comfort to the member. By setting the standards for air quality and having developed those, we work closely with the Ministry of Environment so that, in their monitoring and enforcement of this, should they determine that there is an exceedance….
Whether it's in air quality, whether it's in a liquid spill or whatever that may be, if there's an exceedance of that, they work closely with us and advise our medical health officers, our professionals, who then can provide advice on whether and how the general public needs to be made aware and advice as to perhaps what steps may need to be taken by the general public. We continue to provide that role.
However, the responsibility, as I say, of that monitoring and enforcement remains with the Ministry of Environment. They do have an obligation to advise if there is a problem associated with impact on public health so that we have the right professionals in place to provide advice on how we go forward on that. Again, I hope that provides some measure of understanding of how our ministry does work with the Ministry of Environment in areas of air quality.
J. Brar: With that, I will leave it there. I will move on to another topic, which is H1N1. I know Dr. Kendall is here.
Two simple questions on that. I would like to ask: how were the decisions to distribute H1N1 vaccine made, and who made them?
Hon. I. Chong: As the member will note, I'm now joined by Dr. Perry Kendall, our provincial medical health officer, who played a very key role in what was obviously a very difficult situation last fall in dealing with H1N1.
To the member's questions, what I can say is that the decisions made with respect to the distribution of the H1N1 vaccine were made in a national way, a national sense, in that medical health officers across the country were consulted so that all opportunities could be presented as to how the best distribution was to be made. The member will know that our medical health officer, Dr. Kendall, was very much involved with the national committee that did lead the H1N1 grouping of medical health officers.
They also took a look at the Canadian pandemic plan, which has been in place for a number of years. The
[ Page 4518 ]
Canadian pandemic plan had two primary or two very important goals that were very much at the forefront as to how to roll out this kind of a vaccine.
One of the goals was to decrease morbidity and mortality or, in other words, illness and death — how the distribution could be made to reduce possible illness, possible death and, secondly, how to distribute with a goal of decreasing the least amount of disruption to society. Because as you can imagine, if there was a widespread panic, we would have difficulty in maintaining civil society.
So we were guided by the Canadian pandemic plan. The medical health officers across the country were very much involved and discussed how the distribution of the vaccine would be made available and to whom it would be made available. I'm trusting that is the basic information that the member is wanting.
J. Brar: Thanks to the minister for the response. My understanding is that there were some guidelines developed under the Canadian pandemic plan. Further to that, the Minister of Healthy Living and Sport reviewed those guidelines or made some adjustments. So the key is that the guidelines were coming from the Canadian pandemic plan, with some adjustments locally. That's my understanding from the response given by the minister.
Having said that, I would like to pose a more specific question. How many doctors were provided with the H1N1 vaccine in addition to public vaccination clinics?
Hon. I. Chong: Firstly, if the member is wishing to have an actual list of all the doctors, we'll have to get that to him, because it would be, I think, a fairly large list and a very detailed list. But just to say for the record, every physician who wanted to have the vaccine was able to get the vaccine. Perhaps not everyone at the same time.
As the member will recall, we did not have the entire supply of vaccine available on day one. We were receiving doses every week as they were being produced and manufactured and then distributed to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, who then repackaged and distributed them. So not every physician received them at the same time and in the amount or supply that they wished they had. But every physician who wanted them eventually was able to receive them.
Every health authority around the province was also given a supply so that they could distribute it in the best way that they felt was necessary in their unique circumstances. As the member will know, some of our rural, remote communities had other challenges and wanted to distribute them differently.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control was the receiving organization with the vaccine and then had to repackage them into allotments that could be distributed out. As the member will know, it was certainly the largest immunization program ever in the history of this province. There were areas and challenges that we had. We certainly learned from that. But all in all, I think we did a substantial job in ensuring that everyone who wanted access to the vaccine would eventually be able to have that.
J. Brar: I would like to put on the record that I would appreciate the number at this stage, whatever the number is. I would like to have a list of doctors provided to me later on. I will appreciate if that's available — which doctors got the vaccine for H1N1.
Hon. I. Chong: I think we are able to supply the number of doctors and perhaps the areas that received it. I'm not yet clear on whether we can actually supply the list of the names of the physicians. If we are able to, I will. I only say that as a cautionary note, whether there are any issues of privacy matters, but I don't suspect so.
But if the member will indulge us, I know what he's trying to receive in terms of information. What we are able to provide, we will supply to him. But I didn't want the member to leave the debate thinking that we were able to provide a list and not have issues of privacy dealt with previous to that.
J. Brar: I do respect all the privacy laws. Given that, I would like to have information about the doctors — if not the names, the clinic names or whatever, keeping in mind the privacy laws.
Having said that, the most specific question I would like to know if the minister has the answer to at this stage is: how many private clinics got the H1N1 vaccine? And what were the checks and balances to make sure that they abided by what we call the Canada Health Act?
Hon. I. Chong: Every physician in the province who is registered to practise was entitled to receive and access the vaccine. Again, not each and every physician received the amounts they wanted on the same day or in the amounts they requested. However, every doctor was permitted to receive a supply for their patients. Whether they were doctors working in hospitals or in small clinics or whether they were in private clinics, all doctors who had patients were entitled to receive them.
To be clear, doctors were required to follow the same guidelines and protocols throughout the province. There were not to be any exceptions. However, had there been any and had we heard about them, we would have immediately contacted them.
Secondly, every doctor who provided that vaccine was to do so without charge.
J. Brar: I understand that the minister is saying, about the charge, which was a standard charge for this…. Or
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there was no charge for delivering the vaccine? My understanding is that they have a standard fee to vaccinate people when it comes to H1N1 and that that standard fee applies to everyone, hopefully equally. That must have been the rule. I would like the minister to confirm that.
Hon. I. Chong: The guidelines and the protocols with respect to the distribution and administration of the H1N1 last fall were such that there was a recommendation as to who should receive it at what particular time based on the amount of vaccine that was available.
There were also clear guidelines that the vaccine would be made free of charge to the patient, to all the doctors' patients. However, doctors, like for other services they provide, were reimbursed for their costs associated with the administration of the vaccine. But no patient was required to pay for receiving the vaccine. That was made very clear.
J. Brar: I would also like to know how many doses of the H1N1 vaccine we received in total and how many were used. How many were required in the situation where they were not used in a timely manner? If that information is not available now, I wouldn't mind getting it tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.
[H. Bloy in the chair.]
Hon. I. Chong: With respect to the number of doses for H1N1, the province ordered 4.3 million doses through the federal government from the manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline. The member will know that. We ordered that many so that there would be enough for every British Columbian who needed or wanted to be immunized.
Unfortunately, not everybody wanted to be immunized. Approximately 1.7 million British Columbians did, in fact, receive the H1N1 vaccine — about 40 percent of the population — leaving approximately 2.5 million doses left that were not utilized.
We certainly wish that more people would have been immunized. We were not clear on what the interest would be, but we did make every effort to tell people that it was available to them.
J. Brar: I just want to inform the minister that we are going to wrap up the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport part pretty soon. Then I'm going to ask some questions related to the Olympics, and then we are going to move on to the Minister of State for the Olympics. So if you want to inform the minister, that would be helpful so that she is here in a timely manner.
I just want to ask, probably, one more question on the H1N1. I didn't hear, first of all, the minister saying how many H1N1 vaccines were spoiled because of not being used before the expiry time. If the minister can respond to that, that would be helpful.
The last question I want to ask on the H1N1 issue is: were there any doctors in violation of the guidelines given to them with regard to H1N1? How many doctors were in violation, and what kinds of actions were taken to correct the situation?
Hon. I. Chong: Through to the member, I'm not trying to change his words, but I don't want to characterize what his last comments were, that there were spoiled vaccines. Indeed, 2.5 million doses were not utilized because individuals had chosen not to be vaccinated here in British Columbia. As I said, I wish it had been more.
About half of that amount is still with the manufacturer, and another half is currently at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. As the member will know because of reports recently in the media, there will be an expiration date. So unfortunately, we will not be able to use some of those doses.
But at the time they were ordered, the shelf life we were given was that they would go longer than what we have now been told and would have certainly been utilized by the end of this year if the virus were to have resumed.
In addition, I also want to make it clear that when we ordered our 4.3 million doses, it was to ensure that every British Columbian who wanted one could have one. It was a requirement, as well, that Health Canada had asked of all governments across the country — that we all had enough on hand so no one should be left without.
Certainly, while it was unfortunate that not more people availed themselves of the vaccine, we certainly kept within the guidelines and protocols and recommendations that we were required to with Health Canada.
With respect to the doctors in violation, I'm advised that there may have been two or three. I think the member is aware, as we were as they became known to us. The member will also know that immediately upon becoming aware, we made contact and readvised all physicians of what the rules, the protocols, were. We also then advised the College of Physicians and Surgeons, which is the disciplinary body responsible for whatever actions they want to take with respect to those doctors — not something that we as government would do.
I provide that information to the member and hope that's sufficient.
J. Brar: This is the last piece on H1N1 — really the last piece. This is about another FOI request. I just want to bring it here so the minister is aware and understands the situation.
On December 24, 2009, we sent our original request for any and all records related to the decision to distribute the H1N1 vaccine to doctors' offices in addition
[ Page 4520 ]
to public vaccination clinics, as well as the conditions placed on doctors in exchange for receiving a supply of the vaccine. The time frame of this request was January 1, 2009, to December 24, 2009.
We excluded any personal information as well as any records that had already been publicly released from the scope of this request. On February 4, 2010, we received a fee estimate of $73,882.50, to be very precise. That's a huge amount of dollars we received in response to that request. We are in the process of responding to that.
What I would like to probably ask the minister is that despite this being a very straightforward FOI request, the information could not be provided to us. This is a matter of serious public concern. I would like to ask the minister: can the minister commit to provide me with some of this information so that I can better understand the conditions that were placed on doctors in exchange for receiving the H1N1 vaccine?
Hon. I. Chong: From the comments from the member it would seem, yes, quite an unreasonable amount of a fee to be charged for what would appear to be a simple request, but I'm advised by the medical health officer that, in fact, because the request had said "any and all," there were as many as, I think, 12,000 documents with respect to pieces of information that had come in — and e-mails and things for himself and from other persons within the ministry, other health officers — and another 14,000 to 16,000 pieces of information.
Some 30,000 pieces of information had to be reviewed and looked at to determine whether there was "any and all," as the member suggests, information that needed to be extracted for the benefit of his request.
Perhaps what would be easier, if the member is agreeable, is that after these estimates debates I ask the provincial health officer whether he would be available to sit down with the member. He can provide a briefing specifically to some of those questions that may not require as extensive information as what appeared in writing to the ministry.
If that would be useful to the member, then certainly the provincial health officer would be happy to provide a more thorough briefing for some of the areas or questions that he has.
J. Brar: I think the question I have now is pretty simple. I'm more than happy to sit with Dr. Perry Kendall and talk about many things, but the requests are pretty simple now. The question which we were saying…. Rather than wasting $73,000 of taxpayers'…. This is a simple question, and I think the purpose of the budget estimates is actually to offer information.
I am just simply asking the minister: can the minister commit to provide some information so that I can understand better the conditions that were placed on doctors in exchange for receiving the H1N1 vaccine? I think doctors in B.C. must have received some letter or some documentation from the minister's office saying: "If you want to receive vaccine, these are the conditions." I don't think that will be 40 documents or 40 binders landing at each doctor's office. That's a pretty simple request we are making.
Having said that, I would appreciate if the minister can provide that; otherwise, we will continue pushing the FOI and see how much money the taxpayer will have to pay for this very simple information.
The last part I want to probably ask the minister is about what we have as executive support. As I look at the budget, there is about half a million dollars more this year under that. I would like to ask the minister: given the probably diminishing role of the Ministry of State for the Olympics, which is part of this ministry as well, can the minister explain why executive support will receive an increase of roughly half a million dollars more this year compared to last year?
Hon. I. Chong: To the member's initial part of his comments with respect to H1N1, I will commit to his simple request as to what he's referring to, as opposed to the FOI request, which included a much broader scope of information and made it difficult to comply without exorbitant costs associated with it.
We will try to accommodate the request that he did ask for just now in these debates as to what information was provided through to doctors. If we need to contact him specifically, we will, just to get that correct and provide him that information. I think that should be easily accommodated.
With respect to his final question, I just want to make it clear that the $500,000 increase was not to a minister's office specifically. We're referring to what corporate services are. Corporate services involve the office of the deputy minister. They involve corporate support planning, legislation division, strategic financial services, operations division — a number of support services that the ministry is responsible for.
That's where the increase has been attributed to, but not to a minister's office. I think that that clarification needs to be made.
I'm sure the member has another question.
J. Brar: I appreciate the answer, but the answer is very broad. As the minister was saying about my FOIs…. Just like that, it will cost $73,000 to understand that — right?
I would appreciate it if the minister can provide specific information accounting for half a million dollars. That's a huge increase. What categories is this money going to? If that information is provided, probably that will be the last question.
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Hon. I. Chong: Specifically, about $330,000 was to go to salaries and wages for these positions, and approximately $155,000 went for operating costs — office, business expenses, some operational contracts, things such as that. So there's roughly the $500,000.
J. Brar: So $330,000 for salaries, is my understanding, and $155,000 for operating costs. That doesn't make $500,000. That's a little less — roughly about….
J. Brar: Roughly $331,000. If the minister can clarify the salary part of it — what salary, and whose salary is it?
Hon. I. Chong: I understand that there are about five positions that are vacant currently which we had not been able to fill. So the additional funding that we received was to be able to fill those positions in the corporate services area.
J. Brar: What are those positions? The minister can just make it simple.
Hon. I. Chong: They are to provide, as I say, corporate policy and legislative branch — but in particular, some support for the financial services and to provide…. Some positions aren't specific to one department but provide support for the entire ministry or different parts of the ministry, whether it's sport or whether it's for population and public health.
I don't really have the…. They're very strange titles here. One to help in the financial…. There was an aboriginal intern position that I think they were looking to fill as well. If the member wishes the specific titles, we can try to get that to him, if that's what he's interested in.
J. Brar: I would appreciate it if the minister could provide the specific titles of those positions and what their role will be, in a timely manner. That would be appreciated.
Having said that, once again, I would like to thank the minister at this stage — we will come back tomorrow — and all the staff members for their meaningful contribution to the process. I would particularly note — this is nothing against other people — Dr. Perry Kendall for his excellent role as the provincial health officer, particularly in dealing with the H1N1 issue. I appreciate that. So thanks to the minister.
My colleague is going to ask questions about the Olympics, and then after that my other colleague will take over when the minister is done. Then we are going to move to the Minister of State for the Olympics, and then we'll see. We'll come back tomorrow as well, is my understanding of that. It depends on the time. We may have some questions related to the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport tomorrow.
Having said that, thank you very much.
K. Corrigan: Before I ask these questions, I'm wondering if the minister would be so kind that when I say Olympics, I mean always Olympics and Paralympics, because sometimes I forget to say that.
I do have a couple of questions about the Olympics for the minister before we have some questions for the minister of state. My question was about Olympic costs in this ministry, either in the preceding year or in the coming year. Did the minister receive Olympic tickets for the minister herself, or were there other tickets, as well, in this ministry that were paid for with taxpayer dollars?
Hon. I. Chong: The tickets that were provided to me were in fact provided through the province. I attended five events. I attended three sporting events and two medal ceremonies.
K. Corrigan: Did you take any guests with you?
Hon. I. Chong: No.
K. Corrigan: I have a question, as well, about the employee loan program.
Perhaps I could just back up a little bit. My question was for the minister, and I also asked about the ministry. Does this include tickets that would have been included for the Minister of State for the Olympics? I'm assuming not. I guess I could ask those questions separately of the minister of state.
Hon. I. Chong: The tickets I referred to were just for myself.
K. Corrigan: I wanted to ask about this ministry and the employee loan program. Again, I guess I'd better preface it with an assumption that we're talking about the whole of the ministry, including the minister of state.
My question is: how many employees were involved in the employee loan program for this ministry? How much would it have cost if that time was charged to the Olympics for the employee loan program, including benefits? How many people were there, and what were the costs of that?
Hon. I. Chong: If I could ask the member for clarification. Is she referring to the employee loan program to VANOC? Is that what she is questioning?
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K. Corrigan: Yes.
Hon. I. Chong: Then the answer is no, we did not send anyone.
K. Corrigan: Just for clarification, that would include the minister of state as well. This would be for the whole of the ministry.
Hon. I. Chong: That's correct.
K. Corrigan: There was also a program called the volunteer leave-matching program, wherein the government would contribute an equal number of hours of paid leave to the number of hours the employee contributed of their own leave to volunteer for the 2010 Olympic Games. I'm wondering how many ministerial employees received additional time off to volunteer for the games.
Hon. I. Chong: It's my understanding that there were none from this ministry.
K. Corrigan: Did this ministry incur any other Olympic costs through hosting contracts or other Olympic expenses?
Hon. I. Chong: I apologize for the delay. I'm just trying to determine specifically what the member is requesting, because it's a rather broad statement, with respect to providing her with the accurate information she wants. If she could be more specific as to what costs she wants us to provide information on with respect to the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport, that would be useful for us.
K. Corrigan: Well, for example, any hosting contracts. That would be one example. Were there any expenses related to hosting? Any hotel rooms, any meals, and so on, that were related to this ministry wherein people were hosted by the ministry and incurred expenses for things like hotels and travel or anything like that?
Hon. I. Chong: I wanted to ask for clarification because I wanted to ensure that I provide the correct information to the member. With respect to this specific ministry, there were no costs incurred that were directly related, or no direct costs related, to the hosting during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
However, the member will know, as everyone will know, that there was in fact hosting that took place because we had international visitors and dignitaries here and an opportunity to engage with them. There's certainly no question there was hosting that took place, but with respect to the specific ministry we're referring to, there were no direct costs.
The hosting program itself, as the member will know, is its own distinct program, the details of which I don't have. I know when the member wishes to canvass that with the minister of state, perhaps there will be additional information she can garner from that. I hope that's helpful for the member.
K. Corrigan: This will be just about the end of the questions I have for the minister. I just want to make sure that when we were talking about the employee loan program, that would have included anyone who was seconded or spent full-time for weeks or months or a good portion of their time working on the Olympics.
Were there people from this ministry who were seconded to do that kind of work, and if so, can we understand how much time was spent on the Olympics by this ministry and the cost associated with that?
Hon. I. Chong: The member will appreciate why I asked for the clarification earlier. The employee loan program to VANOC was certainly very distinct. There were a number of individuals in our ministry who, with their sports-related background, did provide support to various provincial government operations during the games.
There were approximately six people who were there during the games period. Some were there for the entire time during the games period and some only for a partial amount of time, depending on their expertise, their sports-related background and why we needed them to be there.
K. Corrigan: I appreciate that. I understand that it would be difficult to provide a number, but I'm wondering if I could get the minister to agree to provide an estimate of how much time and what expense was associated with those people that the minister has referred to that were working on the games.
Hon. I. Chong: I'm advised that there was approximately $20,000 associated with these six individuals. As I say, they were not there for months. It was during the games period where government had a specific role and required the expertise of staff, particularly in my area, in meeting with sports officials that were required to be there. The cost is relatively minor in that regard for the six individuals.
K. Corrigan: Would it be possible to get a short report in writing on those individuals — how much time they spent and the approximate cost for each of them — so that I can have some idea of what that was?
Hon. I. Chong: I'm advised that yes, we would be able to provide that information, although it may take a
[ Page 4523 ]
couple of weeks, simply because staff are busily doing a number of other things right now.
K. Corrigan: I would appreciate that. So in a couple of weeks I can expect that.
J. Brar: If we just went to the same line of questions, just to make it very clear…. The minister mentioned six employees. I just want to clarify whether that includes Sport B.C. and B.C. Games employees, or is that not part of this employee loan program, because those positions are funded by the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport?
Hon. I. Chong: Firstly, the six employees I referred to are individuals that are employed through this ministry. Sport B.C. and other organizations that may receive funding from this ministry are not employees of this ministry. As the member can appreciate, we provide grants to other organizations, and in no way would they be considered our employees.
If other organizations that receive funding from government provided assistance, that would be under their purview. There would, as I say, be a number of organizations, non-profits, that receive dollars from government. They may themselves have provided services. That is not a responsibility of this ministry or government directly, because they are not directly government employees.
J. Brar: My understanding is that Sport B.C. and B.C. Games…. For those organizations, their significant funding comes from this ministry — maybe 100 percent; I'm not sure. If the minister can clarify if 100 percent of the funding comes from this ministry. Although they could be an independent entity. I understand that.
But all the financial support they get, in terms of their salaries and benefits, is offered by this ministry. That's my understanding. The minister can correct me if I'm wrong.
Hon. I. Chong: The two that the member specifically mentioned — Sport B.C. and B.C. Games. As I indicated in my previous comments, these organizations that have their own board of directors and are governed based on that are not directly employed by government.
Sport B.C., in fact, does not receive the majority of its funding from our government. I'm advised that if 25 percent of their funding, even, came from government directly, that would be a relatively high number. They receive other fees and memberships. They have other opportunities to leverage funding from other sources, and that's where they primarily have funding available to them.
Both of those agencies that the member has referenced do in fact have their own board of directors, have their own CEOs who report to their board of directors, and I do not have a direct role in their hiring, so they're not direct employees of government.
K. Corrigan: That's an understandable response. I just wanted to ask the minister whether or not there was any funding that went to either B.C. Games or Sport B.C. or any other organization that was directed to those organizations with the idea — or perhaps in the title of the grant itself — that the money was to be used for the Olympics for employees or for money to support the Olympics in anyway.
Hon. I. Chong: I just want to ensure that I give the member the accurate information. I will attempt to paraphrase but not doing so in a detrimental way. My understanding is that her question to me was whether we had provided any funding to any organization which then specifically funded an employee to work through the Olympic Games. If that is the question she's asking me, the answer is no.
K. Corrigan: Those are all the questions I have, and I would thank you very much, as well, for your assistance today on this.
Hon. I. Chong: I thank the member for Surrey-Panorama and the member from Deer Lake for their participation in these estimates. At this time, I'll take a quick two-minute recess and change positions with the minister of state.
The Chair: Committee A will recess for two minutes.
The committee recessed from 5:50 p.m. to 5:51 p.m.
[H. Bloy in the chair.]
K. Corrigan: I'd like to welcome the minister of state. I do have a number of….
The Chair: Member, the minister would like to make a statement first.
K. Corrigan: Absolutely.
Hon. M. McNeil: Before I start, I would like to introduce the staff who have worked so hard with me to deliver the most successful Olympic and Paralympic Games in history. We have Dr. Philip Steenkamp on my left, who has been president and CEO of our 2010 Olympic Games secretariat, and he's now Deputy Minister of Advanced Education.
On my right I have Wes Boyd, who has been the assistant deputy minister of finance and corporate relations with the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport and the 2010 Olympic Games secretariat. He is now with the Ministry of Housing and Social Development. Behind
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me, David Galbraith, Assistant Deputy Minister for Healthy Living and Sport.
As I mentioned, we have just experienced the most successful Olympic and Paralympic Games in history, and I'm absolutely delighted to have an opportunity to quickly talk about this. By any measurement — athletic achievement, medals won by our Canadian athletes, public engagement and participation, tourism, economic benefits, global television audience, safety and security — they were incredibly successful.
We have met a new standard. Before these games Canada had never won an Olympic gold medal on home soil, and we ended the games with 14 gold medals, the highest number for any country ever at a single games. In total, our athletes won 26 medals, more than any previous Olympic Games. Our Paralympians made us proud as well, winning ten gold medals. In total, they captured 19 medals.
Canadians were watching — 85 percent of the Canadian public watched on television during the gold medal men's hockey game, a total of 16.7 million people — and so was the rest of the world. Worldwide we were told that over 3.5 billion people tuned into our games, and that means more than half the population of the world viewed the games on TV, Internet or a mobile device.
The 2010 Olympic Winter Games propelled British Columbia onto the world stage, thanks to unprecedented international marketing exposure and outreach. Not surprisingly, 92 percent of Canadians believe that the 2010 Olympic Winter Games had a positive effect on the nation, according to an Angus Reid poll. The U.S. firm Competitive Edge Research and Communication recently released a study which named British Columbia as one of the big winners from the 2010 Olympic Games.
Robson Square was at the heart of the games in the centre of the host city, and it was the province's key celebration site. I spoke about this in our last estimates in October, and I'm pleased to say that our projections at that time were far exceeded.
During the 27 days of the Winter Olympic Games the B.C. Pavilion located at the Vancouver Art Gallery welcomed over 140,000 visitors. We had 15,000 people ride the zip line during the games and over 30,000 people skate at the GE Plaza.
The B.C. International Media Centre was the most successful unaccredited media centre in games history. The B.C. Media Centre hosted about 3,900 domestic and international media representing a cross-section of media unparalleled to any previous Winter Olympic Games unaccredited media centre.
This facility hosted 23 media groups that set up permanent newsroom locations and broadcast locations, including CBS, Global TV, ABC, CTV, FOXTEL Australia, Fox News USA, Associated Press and USA Today; 65,000 athletes and team officials from around the world, 2,600 registered Olympic athletes, over 500 Paralympic athletes.
The games directly engaged 50,000 workforce members, and of that total, 25,000 were volunteers. And there was 47 percent more global television coverage of these games than the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games. This represented 24,000 hours of coverage.
The games were more than just about sport. Over 2.2 million people took part in the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad. More than 4,000 artists contributed to 600 events over 60 days at 60 venues. And for the first time in Olympic history, aboriginal people were full partners in hosting these games.
Our provincial healthy living initiative, ActNow B.C., is building on the games legacy as it continues to spread the healthy living message across the province. It has helped British Columbians make healthier choices by reminding them that even simple changes can make a difference. The Olympics and Paralympics provided us a once-in-a-lifetime, elite-level exhibition of sports, but we all know that sport is truly rooted at the community level.
ActNow B.C. became our vehicle as we strived to become the healthiest region ever to host an Olympic and Paralympic Games. The success of ActNow B.C. has clearly been reflected in the health of our people living in communities across our province, and our statistics and accolades speak for themselves. In fact, the World Health Organization recently released a report dedicated to ActNow B.C. which showcases its successes.
I'm proud of the work we have done, and I think we will all look back at the Olympic and Paralympic Games as a landmark event that changed the province for the better. We will all look back at these past few months fondly, but also as a time when the generations of Canadians fell in love with their country.
K. Corrigan: I've been going to the various estimates, and I or somebody else has been asking questions about the hosting program, about tickets and about events that each ministry has been involved in, or minister or MLA. I've been getting varying responses back about who is responsible for what, who has paid for tickets, and so on. I thought the minister could perhaps provide some clarity at this point.
One of the answers I have been getting repeatedly is that there will be this report that is going to happen about the hosting. I'd like to ask a couple of questions about that report. Who is responsible for putting together the final report?
Hon. M. McNeil: The Olympic Games secretariat is responsible for producing this report, working very closely, however, with STED and IGRS.
K. Corrigan: When will the report be released?
Hon. M. McNeil: We have committed to releasing a comprehensive and transparent report on the province's integrated hosting and ticketing program by late spring. The report is in progress. Staff are working diligently to ensure that it is comprehensive and accurate. There's a lot of information that needs to be compiled, and the program staff are working diligently to ensure its accuracy and that it is comprehensive. We actually anticipate its release within the next couple of weeks.
K. Corrigan: That's very good to hear, because late spring could include after this House isn't sitting anymore. I think we probably will have further questions that we'll be asking either publicly or in question period or with other mechanisms, so I'm pleased to hear that. Next couple of weeks would mean probably before the end of May.
J. Brar: Fifteen days.
K. Corrigan: Fifteen days, yes.
Hon. M. McNeil: That is correct.
K. Corrigan: We've also been asking a lot of questions specifically about the distribution of Olympic tickets throughout all the ministries. Again, I've had a little bit of inconsistency from the ministers, so I have a couple questions about that. I'm not suggesting that they're trying to mislead, but I think there's a lack of knowledge from some of the ministers or not knowing exactly where things were coming from.
None of the ministries canvassed included in their budget the cost of the tickets for ministers and MLAs to attend, and many could not say how they were paid for, although different ministers seemed to have slightly different answers about who they thought was paying. Which ministry or what body paid for the tickets for ministers and MLAs to attend Olympic events?
Hon. M. McNeil: The Olympic Games secretariat purchased the tickets.
K. Corrigan: Was that part of the Olympic secretariat budget?
Hon. M. McNeil: That is correct.
K. Corrigan: Was the cost of those tickets and the hosting program generally included in the $765 million that was budgeted for the games?
Hon. M. McNeil: No.
K. Corrigan: The ministry press release stated: "Decisions about tickets allocated for hosting will be based on recommendations from senior government officials, led by the deputy minister of the Olympic Games secretariat; the Deputy Minister for Small Business, Technology and Economic Development…."
Can we have a full accounting of how the decisions were made to allocate tickets, and will this be included in the report?
Hon. M. McNeil: The actual process was that staff working on the hosting program would make recommendations to the three — the deputy minister of the Olympic Games secretariat; the Deputy Minister for Small Business, Technology and Economic Development; and the Deputy Minister for Intergovernmental Relations — who then would discuss this with the ministers.
K. Corrigan: Was there a plan, a written plan, about how the hosting program was being put together, what the goals were? And were there any accountability measures about: "This is what we want to achieve, this is how we're going to determine if we achieve it, and this is how we're going to report on whether or not we have achieved what our goals were through this hosting program"?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, there were criteria where the deputy ministers would work with STED to identify significant trading partners that we have and folks that we wanted to take advantage of this opportunity in front of the government. Also, through IGRS, we looked at the various dignitaries who the province could then continue relationships with or, in some instances, start relationships with but in others further those relationships any further. That's how the criteria were played out.
K. Corrigan: Will that information be included in the report? If not, I'm wondering if it's possible to get that information about what the plans were and how it was decided that certain programs, certain hosting events, would happen, and so on.
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, the objectives will be outlined within the report, and the outcomes as well.
K. Corrigan: Will the report list the 9,000 participants that were involved, according to the plan? And will it list, specifically, all the MLAs or staff or anybody in government that received tickets, what tickets they received and what the aims were for all those individuals receiving tickets?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, the ticketing report will have a ticket allocation summary, which will itemize tickets used for the various purposes, including hosting, contesting and tickets for community groups. They, as well as the ministers and MLAs, will be listed.
[ Page 4526 ]
K. Corrigan: Well, okay. When I've gone to the various ministries and I've asked about who went and who they were hosting and so on, I often didn't get a specific answer and was told that everything would be in the report, and now I hear the word "summary."
I like to hear that the names of all the MLAs are going to be in there, but what I am interested in finding out is: what information specifically is going to be included with regard to the people who were hosted? So if a business person or somebody from another country was hosted and taken to a hockey game, is that information going to be in the report?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, it will.
K. Corrigan: I guess, for tonight, probably a final question. I'm very pleased to hear that. Just to be very clear, does that include the names of people who received tickets?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, it does.
I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:11 p.m.
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