2010 Legislative Session: Second Session, 39th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Volume 15, Number 1
Orders of the Day
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 9 — Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act (continued)
On the amendment (continued)
Hon. S. Thomson
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport (continued)
Hon. M. McNeil
Hon. I. Chong
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TUESDAY, APRIL 20, 2010
The House met at 10:03 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
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
On the amendment (continued).
J. Slater: Speaking to the amendment, there are many myths about the HST. It will increase the cost to heat your home, fill your prescriptions and put gasoline in your vehicle. HST won't increase the cost of heating or powering your home, filling your prescriptions or putting gasoline in your vehicles.
[C. Trevena in the chair.]
There are point-of-sale rebates for books, children's-sized clothing and footwear, diapers, children's car seats, children's booster seats and feminine hygiene products.
In addition, like the GST, the HST will not apply to basic groceries and residential rent, two items which account for a large portion of total expenditures for the average family. Any goods or services that the consumer does not pay GST on today, they won't pay HST on either.
Another HST myth is that the HST adds $2,100 to your yearly costs. In reality, you would need to spend $30,000 on currently PST-exempt items to reach $2,100 — like haircuts, movie tickets and restaurant meals. That is a lot of entertaining, which I believe would be way more than the average family or senior.
Another myth is that you're going to pay more for car insurance, home insurance, home heating, gasoline, electricity and more. The HST won't change the price of any of those items. They are either exempt, rebated or currently subject to PST and GST. Many of what they have listed as HST-exempt, including car insurance, home insurance, home heating oil, gas for vehicles, natural gas for your home and hydro — none of those will be affected.
The benefits of the proposed HST. Everyone will receive a $230 tax credit for individuals making up to $20,000 and a $230 tax credit per family member for families with incomes up to $25,000. This means $920 for a family of four.
Bicycles, memberships, team sports, etc., have been talked about by the opposite members. They would have to spend $15,000 a year on those types of items for the HST to cost them any money in their families. Basic personal tax credit increases to $11,000 on January 1, 2010, put another $80 into your pocket.
We all know how challenging it can be for first-time homebuyers purchasing a new home. A rebate will ensure that on average, purchasers of new homes up to $525,000 do not pay more tax due to harmonization than is currently embedded as PST in the price of a new home. Purchasers of new homes above $525,000 will be eligible for a rebate of $26,250 on the first $525,000. And note that buyers of used homes will not pay any HST.
The province is also proposing an enhanced rebate on new rental housing, similar to the enhanced rebate for new homes, to support the construction of substantial renovation for affordable rental housing in B.C.
Madam Speaker, I would like to refer to another letter from my constituency. He states: "Information supporting the HST tends to be technical and dry, while those opposing the tax can rely on trite sound bites and slogans to generate fear and anger." There is truth in what he's saying. It is easier to chant, "HST will cost you more" than to chant all the benefits of the HST.
He has a small business, and he goes on to say, "When the HST was first announced, I crunched through the numbers. Compliance reporting and tax remissions are reduced. The elimination of the PST on my inputs will also save me significant dollars, so I can choose to pass those on to my charge-outs to my clients," thus making his business more viable and sustainable.
He finishes his letter with saying: "Finally, every day I see some group or another claiming that all levels of government are not spending enough on health care, education, law and order, roadbuilding, parks, etc. We as a society have developed an enormous sense of entitlement and expectations. We want these items, yet we don't want to pay for them."
As an inducement to switch to the HST from the old PST/GST, the federal government is forwarding B.C. $1.6 billion. That's about $4,000 for everyone that lives in B.C. The anti-HST lobby should tell everyone signing their petitions what other taxes they propose increasing or services they propose cutting to replace the $1.6 billion.
A common complaint about the HST is that it benefits big businesses. The more important part of that state-
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ment is that the employees of those businesses are the true beneficiaries. When companies gain competitive advantages, they can grow and expand, hiring more people for the long term. If companies have more money because their overhead has been reduced because of the embedded PST being removed, it gives them more money for profit, which enables them to expand their business, hire more people and pay higher wages.
The long-term benefits for businesses? The HST will make B.C. one of the most competitive jurisdictions not only in Canada but in the industrialized world. This means B.C. will be an attractive place for investments to create long-term, stable employment. Moving to a value-added tax such as HST is necessary to keep B.C. competitive in a global economy.
More than 130 countries, including 29 of 30 of the OECD countries, have adopted similar tax policies, and British Columbia will be one of six other Canadian provinces with a similar tax system.
It will reduce administrative and compliance costs. This is estimated at $120 million for the businesses in British Columbia. Compliance and paperwork costs will decline for tens of thousands of businesses. Under the present system separate provincial and federal taxes have to be collected and reported. Tax-filing, compliance and other regulatory costs will be significantly lower under the HST, which should be beneficial for all businesses.
It will attract new investment. Adopting the HST will stimulate. Experience in eastern Canada or Atlantic Canada and other jurisdictions confirms that shifting to the value-added sales tax, like HST, paves the way for increased capital spending on machinery, equipment, structures, new technologies and other productive assets.
Additional business investment should lead to faster economic growth, more jobs, higher productivity and greater exports, all of which are good for the workers and consumers of British Columbia.
We will have increased productivity. We're going to create jobs and long-term economic growth. "Harmonization of B.C.'s sales tax with the federal GST is one of the most important policy directions we can put in place today to position us for a strong recovery at the end of our current economic difficulties." This is a quote from John Winter, the president and CEO of B.C. Chamber of Commerce.
Another quote from John Schroeder, president of Valleybrook International Ventures: "As a small to mid-sized business owner and farmer, I believe the move to the HST makes good economic sense and will be good for all British Columbians. No one likes taxes, but the HST makes a lot more sense than the PST it's replacing." As a business owner with operations in both B.C. and Ontario, he supports the HST as being a "long-term positive for our company and our employees."
Throughout the 1990s punitive personal and business tax policies drove people, companies and investments away from British Columbia. Since 2001 the B.C. Liberal government has been working very hard every day to build a more nationally and internationally competitive business environment, starting with the significant personal and business tax cuts — a 44 percent reduction in the small business corporate income tax rate, a 39 percent reduction in general corporate income tax by 2011, 37 percent average personal tax cuts, and eliminating provincial income taxes for an additional 325,000 low-income earners in British Columbia.
Those tax cuts directly stimulated our economy by bringing investors back to British Columbia. The HST is the next step in building a stronger B.C. economy.
Combined with more than 120 tax cuts since 2001, the proposed HST means British Columbians will continue to pay among the lowest taxes in Canada. B.C. lowered the small business tax rate from 4.5 to 2.5 in 2008, the second-lowest rate in Canada. By April 1, 2012, the tax will be cut again to zero, the lowest level in Canada.
Since 2001, B.C. has eliminated the general corporation capital tax and reduced corporate income tax by one-third to give B.C. one of the most competitive tax regimes in the country. B.C. will raise the small business corporate income threshold from the current $400,000 to $500,000, the highest in Canada, on January 1, 2010, saving small businesses a total of $20 million a year.
As you know, I represent many rural communities in my riding. Many of them, through this economic downturn, have suffered, and there is a turnaround beginning.
In August 2009 Interfor opened the Grand Forks mill that currently employs 75 workers. The owners of the Midway mill are scoping opportunities for value-added in order to open their mill.
The forestry sector is expected to benefit to the tune of $140 million with the implementation of the HST. Other major industries such as mining, oil and gas and transportation provide thousands of jobs for rural communities. B.C. resource and manufacturing sectors are expected to benefit significantly from the HST as their business inputs and exports will no longer be taxed. The transportation and construction sectors will benefit from the removal of the PST and will, over time, be on a level playing field with their competitors in Alberta.
The idea of harmonizing sales taxes has been brought up for years. A compelling opportunity did not exist until last year with changes and new flexibility introduced by the federal government. The transition funding of $1.6 billion will assist greatly in the providing of necessary funds to provide our core services with health care and education.
The other opportunity that didn't exist before was the opportunity to allow the province to have point-of-sale
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rebates and other measures to help offset the impact of the provincial portion of the HST as needed. The HST is a consumptive tax. Those who pay it, use it. Those who don't pay will reap the benefits — the benefits of removal of the PST, increased tax credit programs and a viable and sustainable economy.
Deputy Speaker: Member, may I remind you that we're talking about the amendment. If you could refer your speech to the amendment.
J. Slater: Our government is working hard to ensure that B.C. recovers from the economic slowdown in the shortest time possible. The ongoing scrutiny from investors and bond-rating agencies reminds us that we can't afford to become complacent or delay this act. We need to remain prudent with our fiscal plans in order to effectively manage through the downturn and into recovery. The choices we have made have enabled us to maintain our triple-A rating, the highest bond rating you can receive, since 2006.
In conclusion, I would just like to refer the members opposite to the support that is indeed out there. The B.C. Agriculture Council, the B.C. Business Council, B.C. Chamber of Commerce, B.C. Lumber Trade Council, Coast Forest Products Association, Chartered Accountants of British Columbia, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, Certified General Accountants, the Mining Association of B.C., B.C. Trucking Association, New Car Dealers Association of British Columbia.
They make it sound as if nobody is supporting this HST. These organizations represent thousands and thousands of workers that want to go back to work in British Columbia, and I think the 120,000 people that could be estimated to go back through this regime deserve a say as well. That's why I'm supporting the motion and not supporting the amendment.
Deputy Speaker: I'd like to remind all of our members that we are talking about the motion, which is: "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."
L. Krog: "And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. And all went down to be taxed, everyone into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be taxed with his espoused wife Mary, being great with child."
Taxes have been around for a very long time. We don't have Caesar Augustus in British Columbia right now. We have an elected government. The good citizens of the Roman Empire didn't have that opportunity.
This government was actually elected by the people in an election, which is an opportunity for voters to say whether they approve of the policies of one party or approve of the policies of another.
The problem and the reason for this amendment proposed by the member for Port Coquitlam are really very simple. This isn't just a minor shift of policy. This isn't something sort of simple and straightforward. This is a major change in British Columbia's taxation policy, and there was absolutely no consultation with the people of British Columbia whatsoever before this government announced happily that it was going to bring in a harmonized sales tax.
In my community I spend as much time as I can out on the streets talking to my constituents, going to public events, listening to what they have to say. I think that's an important role for an MLA — to represent the views of their constituents, to understand what is important to their constituents, and to reflect those viewpoints and give them voice in this Legislature.
It's fairly clear, I think, given the polling numbers and even if you allow for a range of inaccuracy, that the people of British Columbia appear to be somewhat distressed by the imposition of the harmonized sales tax. Give or take, I think the number is around 81 or 82 percent of the population that don't think this is a really good idea.
They haven't quite seen the benefit of the HST yet. They don't understand why it's such a good thing, notwithstanding the eloquent defence of the HST that we have heard over and over again from the government benches in the last few weeks. I suspect that for most British Columbians, it is eating the fruit of the bitter tree, as they say — or the bitter fruit of the tree or something to that effect. But whatever it is, British Columbians don't appear to like the taste of it whatsoever.
What's more remarkable is the timing of this. We go through an election campaign in which the government, to its credit, asserts in its own policy…. Indeed, in a letter to the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association it says quite directly that the B.C. Liberals are also mindful that a harmonized GST would reduce the provincial government's ability to unilaterally adjust sales tax credits. It goes on to conclude that, in short, a harmonized GST is not something that is contemplated in the B.C. Liberal platform.
The government would have us believe there was some epiphany on the road to Damascus, so to speak — that at some point the Minister of Finance was swept over
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by this brilliant revelation that the HST was going to be the best thing for British Columbia's economy, bar none, in the history of the province. We can forget about the dams. We can forget about income tax. We can forget about roads and transportation and B.C. Rail. Just give us the old HST, and things will be great. What's more important is how zealously the government has taken up this cry. We know it was an epiphany, and it all happened at Meech Lake.
Now, those of us familiar with the history of constitutional issues in this country know what a wonderful, resoundingly popular move the Meech Lake accord was. I would have thought the Minister of Finance, when he was there, would have been aware of what was referred to, I think, in the west as the curse of Meech Lake.
What he said in this House on November 23 last year was:
"The very first indication that anyone in the federal government would have had that British Columbia was reconsidering its previous opposition to the HST was a comment I made to the federal Minister of Finance during a break in the deliberations of the Finance ministers' meeting that was held at Meech Lake at the end of May. It was only subsequent to that that there were discussions that commenced at the officials level."
The miracle at Meech. There it struck the Minister of Finance. There it occurred. There was the germination. Like the rock struck in the desert, it all spouted forth from that — that if only British Columbians would respond positively to the concept of an HST, things would get good. We would be led to the promised land by the imposition of the HST. Things would improve, British Columbians would be happy, workers would have jobs, businesses would make profits, and everything would be grand.
Well, I'm afraid the Meech Lake revelation — the epiphany at Meech Lake, as I call it — was really more of a bit of a horror story. None of us were there. The Minister of Finance was, and some government officials, but the people of British Columbia weren't consulted.
They weren't asked, and that is the substance of the motion before the House — to give an opportunity, at last, for British Columbians to make submissions to their duly elected government, to all of the MLAs, to an all-party committee representing British Columbians rich and poor, north and south, east and west, islanders, mainlanders, dwellers of the Interior, and to give them all an opportunity to say something about the HST.
What could possibly be more reasonable than that? This isn't like deciding to plant roses in a different part of your garden. And this isn't like deciding to wear a different-coloured suit one day and a different-coloured suit the next day. This is a fundamental change in British Columbia's taxation policy. We are in the process, if this government wins the day and the vote in this House, of imposing it on British Columbians without the opportunity for them to express alternative views, without the opportunity for them to be heard around what is probably — I think I'm safe in saying this — the most unpopular tax in British Columbia's history.
I have never in my lifetime in this province seen such a reaction in the streets, in malls, on the doorstep as I have over the HST. You know, there is nothing wrong with the government taking a tough stance. You can look back to the Second World War, and don't you wish the Canadian government had had the guts to resist the cry of many who were racist in our society, who called for the internment of the Japanese? If they had had the political courage to stand up and stop that, what a wonderful thing that would have been.
So it's right for governments to go against the majority of people on occasion. There is a time to stand up for principle, but we are talking about a matter which is not really a matter of principle. We're talking about a matter of taxation and a tax that is being brought in without the consultation that is important.
The remarkable thing is that this government, by bringing in this bill, the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act — there's a mouthful for you — has managed to perform a miracle of biblical proportions.
Bill Vander Zalm left this chamber with a cloud of disgrace over his head. He has tried to revive his political career in various ways since he left office in 1991, and what this government has done is performed a miracle. Like Lazarus risen, Bill Vander Zalm, I dare say, is probably one of the most popular politicians in British Columbia today. I want to give full credit to the Minister of Finance and the B.C. Liberals for reviving Bill Vander Zalm.
Whoever would have thunk it — that Bill Vander Zalm could go around this province, to hall after hall, being greeted by cheering crowds and seen as the champion of the people? I guess Bill Vander Zalm takes it quite seriously. He does regard himself as his brother's keeper, because clearly the government isn't looking out for ordinary British Columbians on this one. They have chosen instead to push ahead with this unpopular tax without the consultation that is contemplated by the motion before the House.
It's all about credibility. If you're going to do something of a fundamental nature, you have to consult. You can't just drop it in the people's lap. You can't go through an election not talking about it or indeed, even worse, saying one thing during the election and before the election and then doing something different after. You can't do that.
Well, I shouldn't say that. Grammatically speaking, you can. It's just that you probably shouldn't, because it's not very good politics, and it doesn't do much to enhance the important work that is done in every legislature in the country.
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What it does to your credibility, what it does to public trust is quite striking. Referring back to the polling numbers, the government's down — what? — 18 percent from where it was during the election campaign. The language being used to describe this government is anything but complimentary, and it's not complimentary for a very good reason — because the people feel that they were betrayed, that they weren't given the straight goods.
Notwithstanding how many members can stand up and say such charming things as the member who preceded me…. In his remarks he referred to it as a compelling opportunity. I'm not suggesting it's a perfect analogy, but it's like finding a thousand dollars on the counter of the bank and grabbing it and running. Now, that might be a compelling opportunity, but the member for Boundary-Similkameen, when he uses that kind of language to describe a $1.6 billion payoff from the federal government…. I'm not sure that's the language I would use.
For a government in trouble, facing a significant deficit, that may truly be a truly compelling opportunity. As my granny would have said: "If you're going to be hung, you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb." I guess if we're talking about a thousand bucks on the counter of the bank versus a $1.6 billion payoff, that may in fact be where the money does talk louder than anything else. It's one thing to have opportunity knock, but to describe this as an opportunity, a compelling opportunity, is just so far off the mark as to be ridiculous.
The reason British Columbians need to be consulted is, firstly, I would suggest, to restore credibility in public process generally and, secondly, to remind the politicians who will be sitting on that committee, if this amendment passes, that they are there to represent the people, that they are there to listen to the people.
When 80 percent of the population, on a tax issue, speak with such a strong voice as they are doing in every corner of this province day in, day out, signing the initiative, then you should sit up and listen, because if you don't sit up and listen, there's a price to be paid.
The last thing I want is an opportunity for this government to get re-elected again in 2013. That's the last thing I want. But I would have thought that with all the paid minions over there in the public affairs bureau, with all the talent that's been hired by this government, with all the legislative experience of the members opposite, somewhere, somehow at some point somebody would turn to the Premier, to the Minister of Finance and say: "I don't think this is working."
Here we are in the opposition, as usual, doing what New Democrats always want to do when they see someone in trouble, and that is to reach out and try and save them. As this government is in the eddy of the river, their hand held up, looking for assistance, looking for someone to reach out and give them a little safety and security, what do they want to do? They want to say no.
So here we are doing, if I may say it — and I don't mean this mockingly — the Lord's work on this side of the House, and they…. Well, we know where they want to go. They want to go to a political place that isn't heaven. It isn't heaven. They want to be reduced to such minuscule numbers that they'll make the old Socred Party that was left after the '91 election look like a majority caucus.
I want to remind the members opposite that when I was elected in 1991, the great Social Credit Party that had dominated British Columbia politics since 1952, except for three short years of good government under Dave Barrett, was reduced to seven seats — seven seats, hon. Speaker.
I can see that the Minister for Mining is about to start talking about the 2001 election. I can hear the gears in his brain working as he's about to say: "Your party was reduced to two seats." Well, even if he's not going to say it, I'm going to say it, because I think there's a lesson in this.
When you're seen to be, whether you are or you aren't is almost of no consequence. When you're seen to be out of touch, when you're seen to be arrogant, when you're seen to be a government that has stopped listening to the people, the people exact a pretty remarkable price.
Now, I don't like the concept of stone throwing — and you know the old line, something to the effect that let he amongst you without guilt cast the first stone — but there are a lot of people chucking rocks, and it's not just the opposition. I would have thought that rather than meet the grisly fate that awaits this government, they would, having had this motion thrown to them — a lifeline, if you will…. Having had this lifeline thrown to them, you would have thought they would have grabbed it, that they would have stepped back.
I mean, just yesterday we saw the Premier of the province flying up there with an entourage, like the flight of the Valkyries — up to the great dam, the W.A.C. Bennett dam that backs up Lake Williston. We saw them flying up there to announce something that, hopefully, will get them out of the political glue.
They were up there to associate themselves with the legacy of W.A.C. Bennett. If I've said it once in this House, I've said it twice. I've said it three times. I've probably said it more times than the members opposite care to hear it. W.A.C. Bennett was a wily old politician who dominated the politics of this province for 20 years by always remembering and always being willing to take his famous second look, and that's all we're asking the government to do with this motion. We're asking the government to take the famous second look that kept W.A.C. Bennett in power for 20 years.
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Because Bennett, better than anybody, with the exception of maybe Dave Barrett and Bob Strachan, had a sense of what the electorate felt. What the electorate is feeling now is not the milk of human kindness. It is not warm and fuzzy thoughts for this government. They're not going to be presenting them with teddy bears.
They will not be bringing them gifts of figs and dates and offering cold cloths for their foreheads as they feel the fever pitch of a government that is truly literally sick with power because it believes so strongly that it can manage to jam this one down the throats of the people of British Columbia and somehow come out the other end, in 2013, and be government. It is not going to happen. It is not going to happen.
You know, I think I could safely paraphrase something Mencken said about his countrymen. He said very unkindly — H.L. Mencken did — of the Americans that they were a country that went from barbarism to decadence without a comparable period of civilization in between. Very unkind.
I don't wish to associate myself with those remarks, but I must say that I'm tempted to remind this government that we have gone from a really big deficit to another really big deficit without a comparable period of prosperity in between that was actually distributed to the very British Columbians who needed it most.
We have seen an increase in homelessness like never before. We have seen, notwithstanding what the Minister of Education and the Minister of Health tell us over and over again in the House, a strain put on our health care, our public health care system and our education system. It's no more or better reflected than in the remarks this morning of the member for Boundary-Similkameen when he talked about the long list of tax cuts, all the long list of tax cuts, as if somehow just cutting taxes was such a good thing.
Now I go back to where I started, when I talked about Caesar Augustus — not a popular guy.
Hon. I. Black: He was just misunderstood.
L. Krog: The minister over there says that he was just misunderstood. Well, I hate to tell the Minister for Small Business, Technology and Economic Development, but I think that lack of understanding might, indeed, extend to the government benches.
The member for Boundary-Similkameen bragged literally about the significant reductions, mainly in corporate taxes. I'm thinking to myself: "Why is this government bragging continuously about tax cuts when we've gone from this enormous deficit when they first came in — after inheriting a surplus budget — to another enormous deficit that would be even bigger if we hadn't taken the 30 pieces of silver, so to speak, from the federal government — to be bought?"
I mean, we have sold out. We have given up our sovereignty for $1.6 billion. Now, I suppose with inflation, maybe 30 shekels is worth $1.6 billion. I have no idea. I haven't done the math. But then again, I'm fairly satisfied the government never did the math on the HST either. It's fairly clear to me. If they didn't do the math for the money, I can tell you one thing for certain: they didn't do the math around the popularity of this. As my old campaign manager constantly reminds me, the most important thing in politics: you've got to know how to count.
Hon Speaker, it's pretty clear to me this government didn't count very well. Because you've got the member for Boundary-Similkameen bragging about the tax cuts, and we're sitting at the other end of a nine-year regime now, with an enormous deficit that would be even bigger if we hadn't taken the $1.6 billion bribe from the federal government — stealing, if you will, from the people of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and Ontario and Quebec and Saskatchewan and Manitoba — in order to get us to buy into this incredibly unpopular and demonstrably, I would suggest, likely unsuccessful tax regime.
So the government wanted the money, and it took it. Now the opposition wisely, graciously, kindly, in the best spirit we can possibly muster, being Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, have said to the government: "Refer it to a committee." Is there anything wrong?
It will be a wonderful forum, if the government is to be believed, a wonderful forum for them to demonstrate with numbers and through presenters and all of those people they keep talking about, that huge number of ordinary British Columbians. You know, the head of the B.C. Business Council, the head of the forest industry, the heads of all the major companies in British Columbia — the ordinary British Columbians.
It will be a wonderful opportunity for them to come forward and say to Betty in Port Coquitlam, making $24,000 a year working at Burger King — or to Ralph in Prince George who has been laid off for eight months — that this HST is going to be good for them, that it's actually going to help them. It will be that opportunity, hon. Speaker, but this government seems absolutely hardened, like Pharaoh's heart, hardened to the possibilities of actually listening to common sense.
You never corner a rat. That's an old cliché. And I'm not suggesting government's a rat. You never corner any wild creature. You have to give it a way out, unless you're prepared to kill it, of course. So we in the opposition are saying that as the government here is cornered, in the full political sense of the word, there's a graceful exit here.
We can let you scurry out of the corner to the Standing Committee on Finance and offer an opportunity to gracefully back away, to maintain some dignity, to indeed evidence that politicians who have no trust any-
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more — certainly on that side of the House — in whom the British Columbian population proposed no love, faith or trust.
It is an opportunity for them to demonstrate that they've — how shall I say it? — been born again, born again in a spirit of openness and transparency, that their ears that were once filled with sand have cleaned and emptied and they are now prepared again to listen to the people of British Columbia.
What a wonderful opportunity. And yet, I am sensing here in this chamber this morning that my words are falling on deaf ears, that the government is hardened to its purpose, notwithstanding the opportunity it has to save itself, to be rescued by the extended hand of the opposition's motion, by the member for Port Coquitlam who on behalf of the NDP caucus has given them this great, singular opportunity to save themselves.
One gets the feeling that they are pushing away that proffered hand, that they would rather, as I said of this bill — the longest political suicide note in British Columbia history — commit political suicide, that they would prefer to disappear beneath the waves.
In the heady ocean of B.C. politics, in the rushing river — well, the ones that aren't, how shall I say, destroyed by an independent power project, in any event — when they're sinking, when they're in trouble, they don't want to take this opportunity to step back. Because we know, with the way the money has played out, that they could actually step back. They've got that opportunity.
You know, the people of British Columbia will forgive a couple more hundred million on their big fat deficit. After all, if you're in for $1.8 billion, what's another $200 million, I suppose, arguably speaking from their side? I mean, they just committed to a $6.6 billion dam yesterday. They don't have the money for that either.
Come to think of it, because of their wonderful tax policy and their great management of the economy, British Columbians don't have money for health care. We don't have it for education. We don't have it for children. We don’t have it for the Nanaimo Women's Resources Society. We don't have it for all kinds of organizations.
Given that, clearly, money can't be that much of a priority for this government, because they're running this big deficit and they have run so many big deficits, why would they turn down this chance through this amendment? Why would they turn it down? It is beyond me.
I suggest politely to the minister that rather than let his name be associated with that monster from Meech Lake, with the curse of Meech Lake, when he had that epiphany at the water cooler, or maybe it was over the coffee cup — GST-exempt, I'm sure…. Maybe we've given him a chance to realize that he listened to the wrong voice, that it wasn't the voice of who he thought it was whispering in his ear, that maybe it wasn't Nicodemus in the night coming down to say something. Maybe it was a voice he should have ignored.
I don't know if the government is listening, but out there beyond this chamber there is a mighty roar. It is coming from the mouths of over 80 percent of British Columbians, and they're saying to this government: "Do not do this to me. Do not do this to me."
I simply want to say to the Minister of Finance and to the government and to the Premier and to all those who sit around the cabinet table: you can play around in what is jokingly referred to as the Nile, the river denial, and pretend it's not happening, but this government is headed for political oblivion. It will make the political oblivion suffered by the Socreds in the 1991 election look like child's play.
Do the right thing, government. Step back, and cancel this.
Hon. S. Thomson: I'm very pleased today to take my place in the Legislature to oppose the proposed amendment and to support the continued direction for the passage of Bill 9, the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act, and the steps required for the implementation of the harmonized sales tax in British Columbia. The passage of this will allow the HST to take effect to the very significant benefit of B.C.'s agriculture sector, providing a more streamlined taxation system for B.C.'s primary agriculture producers, food processors and the B.C. aquaculture industry.
At a time when many of our sectors in agriculture are facing significant challenges, the benefits of a more competitive environment could not come at a more important time.
I know the members opposite and the members on this side of the House are aware of the very significant challenges facing parts of our agriculture industry — the ranching industry, parts of our horticulture sector, the hog industry. Some of the horticulture sector, tree fruits and many parts of that sector, are facing very, very significant challenges as they compete on a world market against international prices that challenge this sector at this very important time in our province.
This is a measure that the industry has been asking the government to take for some time — in fact, for many years. The industry, through their farm organizations, has over these years made representation to the government and to the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services for a harmonized approach, recognizing that the current, antiquated system results in additional cost, administrative burden and reduced competitiveness internationally and interprovincially.
I know that, because I've worked for these farm organizations and associations for many years and was part of that representation by those organizations to government looking for a change in the current system,
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looking for that harmonized approach. The current system was very, very challenging for the industry.
It was a patchwork of some exemptions from PST. It got to the point where many retailers were not providing the PST exemptions that were even available to the industry because the list became so antiquated. It didn't keep pace with current technology, with changes in the industry, and the industry recognized that a harmonized approach between PST and GST was the answer to the many problems they were facing with the current system.
The systems we put in place today will have a direct effect on the next generation's debt and the ability to feed a growing population. A harmonized sales tax will help us manage provincial debt. We're not only thinking about ensuring farmers are still profitably producing food for the next generation, but we're planning so that the next generation is not overburdened with debt.
That is why the B.C. Agriculture Council, representing over 10,000 primary producers, said: "This will have a significant and positive impact on agriculture overall and is consistent with what our members have been calling for." They further said: "We recognize the fiscal challenges facing the province, and we are pleased that creative measures are being taken to help agriculture contribute to B.C.'s economic, environmental and social fabric."
B.C. farm-gate sales total $2.3 billion, and the food-processing sector accounts for $6.6 billion in revenue. Over 60,000 people are employed by the primary agriculture and processing sectors. It's a very, very important sector for British Columbia. We produce over 250 different commodities. It's very diverse. It is a contributor to the economy in every region of the province, to many of our rural communities, and it's very important that we take measures that will help strengthen the competitiveness and the profitability of this sector in the long term.
The member for Saanich South and the Agriculture critic said, in commenting on the 2010 budget when the provincial budget was tabled: "Yesterday's budget offered nothing new for the farming community in British Columbia."
That really leads me to wonder why, then, the B.C. Agriculture Council…. As I said, it's an organization representing over 10,000 producers in every region of the province; every commodity sector; the whole scope of producers, which includes small-lot producers, family farms, larger operations. They said at their recent annual meeting of B.C. farm organizations, their annual meeting where all those farm organizations are represented by their delegates and by the representatives from those organizations….
I wonder, if the indication is that we weren't doing anything for the agriculture industry, why the Agriculture Council representing those farmers and ranchers from across the province would say: "The BCAC has long requested PST reform. HST gives us everything we asked for and more. This is an ongoing annuity of $15 million to $23 million a year of direct benefit to the industry."
Madam Speaker, that is not offering nothing new. That is providing support to assist an industry on a consistent, ongoing basis. An ongoing benefit, improving their competitive position, direct to producers, direct to their bottom lines and, as I said, on an ongoing, consistent basis every year once the harmonized sales tax is implemented.
That is why the B.C. Food Processors Association, the organization representing a wide range of B.C. food processors, said: "We welcome the announcement from the B.C. government. It will help stimulate the food-processing industry and help processors become more competitive."
This is especially significant in these difficult times. That is why the B.C. Grain Producers Association, the organization representing all those grain and oilseed producers in the Peace River region, said, "This will make it easier for us as business owners, with reduced paperwork and clear guidelines on what can be claimed back," and it will reduce costs.
That is why we received correspondence from the B.C. Shellfish Growers Association that said: "For many years the association has lobbied to get more farming items to be PST exempt…. The HST will be paid on purchases, but farmers can file for input tax credits to fully recover the amount of tax paid. Getting more tax back is good for the shellfish industry."
That is why the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association has endorsed this initiative. This is positive for aquaculture. It's positive for agriculture. On the aquaculture industry, that's over 3,000 jobs, $500 million in economic activity, employment in rural and coastal communities, many of it with First Nations communities. The economic development in the aquaculture industry has reduced unemployment by 50 percent in many of those communities.
That is why the B.C. Cattlemen's Association, the B.C. Greenhouse Growers Association, the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, the B.C. Milk Producers Association have all applauded and endorsed this decision and this initiative.
As I noted, this measure will result in an estimated $16 million to $18 million in direct benefit to the bottom lines for B.C.'s primary producers and $24 million to B.C.'s food-processing sector.
These are the direct benefits. This does not include the benefits or the removal of layers and layers of provincial sales tax costs that producers pay on equipment and farm input costs — costs all the way through the manufacturing value chain, a tax upon a tax upon a tax, a cascading tax.
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The benefits to the agricultural industry will increase beyond those numbers when that embedded provincial sales tax is removed from the cost of farm equipment that they purchase. It's charged multiple times during production, a cost that is passed on to consumers. HST will eliminate $2 billion in embedded provincial sales tax costs, and these savings will be passed on to consumers.
We want to make sure that our grandchildren can enjoy B.C. food products and that we continue to build on the farming and food systems that we have here in the province. That starts with making sure that farming, ranching and processing operations in this province are able to remain financially viable.
Farmers will continue to pay no tax on the majority of inputs purchased, such as feed, seed, fertilizer, certain farm equipment and machinery, but not all. Zero-rated for GST means zero-rated for HST.
Farmers and ranchers will be able to claim input tax credits on many items currently taxable under the provincial sales tax system, such as farm trucks, computers, freezers, pesticide storage systems, office supplies and other equipment.
If a food processor needs a consumable item to create their product such as a meat slicer or simply the electricity to run it, they will be able to claim the input tax credit.
One of the things that we've been working on, and one of the key policy areas for the agriculture industry, is to diversify, to create added value in their operations. As we work with farm organizations, looking at those kinds of initiatives, a harmonized sales tax approach will add much value to those kinds of initiatives.
When you look at a farmer who wants to create a farm market stand to be able to market directly to the consumer from his operation, taking advantage of the growing support for local food production, that farmer will be able to claim all the PST input tax credits, what would have been provincial sales tax previously and now under the harmonized sales tax system, under an input tax credit for the construction of that farm market stand…
Deputy Speaker: Minister, I would just like to remind you that we're about the amendment.
Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you.
…or the canning equipment or the processing equipment or the kitchen equipment as they work to add value to their primary products.
This initiative, and this is the reason why I'm standing to oppose the amendment, needs to move forward to provide that value to producers at this very important time as quickly as we can.
It's estimated that food processors, as I said, will save up to $24 million in provincial sales taxes that they are paying right now. This value, this initiative, helps support many of the initiatives that we're working on in the agriculture sector, to diversify, to build value, to add value to primary products. The farmer who builds a barn for $2 million will now be able to claim $140,000 in PST input tax credits that he would have been paying today. A greenhouse grower with a million dollars in costs for a new greenhouse will have the potential savings of over $70,000 in input tax credits.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
This initiative will put B.C. farmers on a more level playing field with farmers in other provinces that have harmonized sales tax and in the 130 countries, including 29 in the OECD countries, that have a value-added tax and that these farmers compete directly with. Ontario, Quebec and the three Maritime provinces represent approximately 70 percent of the Canadian economy. The HST means that B.C. will be on a more even tax footing within Canada and that investment dollars and jobs are not lost to other jurisdictions.
There are some other keys to the future of the agriculture industry that this initiative will significantly enhance and benefit. I talked about diversification and value-added activity, farm-gate stands and direct farm marketing. Now we can claim the input tax credits on things like advertising, equipment that is needed in adding that value to primary products — the cooler unit, display cases, packaging, advertising — all of those kinds of things that help support building value-added activity and diversification on farm operations, even building capacity for local slaughter and processing operations, mobile abattoirs.
One of the things that we're working on in regions of the province is building mobile abattoirs to help build capacity for local slaughter and processing. I had the great opportunity to do the ribbon cutting on a mobile abattoir up in Quesnel.
I know we're also working very actively on an initiative in the Okanagan, on a mobile abattoir. All of the manufacturing costs, equipment costs and everything for building those mobile abattoirs and getting them started — we'll be able to claim the input tax credits, significantly reducing the cost of building that capacity, building that value for the industry and building those facilities that help support the industry.
We're also working on alternate energy opportunities for the agriculture industry, converting waste to energy, which is seen as one of the future economic opportunities for the industry to help add value to their operations, to help contribute to the economic viability of their operations and to benefit the environment by being able to utilize waste in other streams of alternate energy.
Things like anaerobic digesters, gasification systems for poultry waste — feasibility work is being done on
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those. We're also looking at opening the first anaerobic digester on farm in the near future.
All of that is significant capital investment on the part of producers, and they'll be able to claim the input tax credits on the PST that they would have paid on that investment. They'll be able to claim the full harmonized sales tax input tax credits, significantly reducing the cost, again, of implementing those systems on farm. That contributes to the longer-term goals of greenhouse gas reduction and creating further economic opportunities for producers.
I want to talk about one specific operation in my riding that really does demonstrate where the value is of a harmonized sales tax approach to the industry. This is a very large cherry operation in my riding in Kelowna. This operation is very diversified and has export sales internationally, selling to many countries in the world. It has sales to western Canada. It has local sales at the farm gate during the season. It has a U-pick operation that goes along with it.
This operation has invested in new varieties that have been developed at our Summerland research station, at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre, bringing in some of the new varieties of cherries — the later-season, split-resistant varieties, the Staccato and Sweethearts and Lapins — that are very, very important new varieties for the cherry industry. This operation employs a very significant amount of people, both full-time and seasonal.
Last year cherry returns were impacted by…. The international market dropped by over 40 percent compared to previous years in terms of returns, really challenging the industry. This operation will benefit significantly from the harmonized sales tax approach, because there are many, many farm inputs that this operation is required to have that aren't currently covered by PST exemptions and that are not eligible for the input tax credits.
This operation also has to meet certain standards because they're in the international market. They're called Euro-GAAP standards, which they have to meet. That requires very, very high standards of food safety on the processing side and packing side of their operation — things like hydro coolers, which they need to be able to access the market, where they have to get the cherries immediately out of the field and cooled down quickly so that they can make them available for the international market; safety equipment to meet WCB requirements; bird control systems, and a whole range….
This operation is using very innovative methods of controlling birds using falconry and other things like that that attract PST costs and that they'll now be able to claim input tax credits on. Food safety requirements are demanded by the regulatory agencies; portable sanitation — hand-washing facilities, cleaning equipment; fuelling stations; spill containment; chemical storage systems; spray chemical filling stations.
All of these farm inputs — which are required by these operations to meet the current high demands of food safety and consumer demands and to allow them access to international markets, to meet the certification requirements into Europe — demand capital investments and costs invested in their operation, which they'll now be able to claim the full input tax credits on.
The HST is going to be a more simple system for farmers and processors, and it's going to save them money. The Ranching Task Force is in full support of the harmonization of provincial and federal tax. We know that the livestock industry has faced and continues to face significant challenges. The HST is one piece of the response as we work on a comprehensive response to that report.
It was very interesting, when we went through the estimates process for the budget of the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, with the questions and comments from the member for Cariboo North…. He asked during the estimates process: "How can we help farmers and ranchers understand it?" That was referring to the harmonized sales tax. He said: "Most of these operations fly by the seat of their pants."
I'm not really sure that that's how ranchers and farmers would want themselves to be portrayed. But to me, this sounds like someone who recognizes and understands and agrees that the harmonized sales tax provides those benefits to farmers and ranchers in his riding and wants to make sure that we get that information out to ranchers and farmers and that we communicate it to them so that they fully understand and can take advantage of those benefits.
The questioning was certainly not along the lines of saying that this isn't a benefit for the ranching and farming industry in his riding and throughout the province. It's recognized that this is a significant benefit for the agriculture industry in B.C., and I support it because I want to see agriculture operators able to afford to keep producing amazing B.C. food for this generation and the ones to come.
This is part of the policy that will ensure that we are able to do that. It's not the only piece that we need to put in place to make sure that we can do that, but it's a very, very important one and an important part of the response that we need, to make sure that the agriculture industry and the food-processing industry stay strong in this province in the future.
You may have heard that HST will hurt small business. HST will be good for business. It will replace the hidden sales tax, and small businesses will get additional tax cuts. Currently PST is applied at every step in the creation of the product. The multiple PST charges are embedded in the price you pay at the store, even though you can't see them, and of course, you pay PST on the final purchase price.
Under the HST system, most of those embedded costs are removed, and savings can be passed on to the consumer. It will increase capital investment and jobs and incomes, and it will continue to lead us to being one of the most competitive economies in Canada.
Let's look at some of the key conclusions of the Mintz report, often noted in the Legislature. HST will reduce the marginal effective tax rate on capital investment from 25 percent in 2009 to just over 11 percent in 2010 and under 10 percent within the next eight years.
Deputy Speaker: Minister. May I remind all members that we're speaking to the amendment to Bill 9.
Hon. S. Thomson: Okay. Thank you, Madam Speaker.
In making the comments, in opposing the amendment to Bill 9 and making the arguments of why we need to oppose it and to continue to move forward in implementation of the harmonized sales tax as quickly as we can…. That's why I'm standing to oppose the amendment to the bill and the amendment that's been proposed. It's my view that we need to continue the debate on implementation and to move forward to implement this because of the significant value that this has for the economy of British Columbia.
The effective tax rate on new investment will decline from 29½ percent in 2009 to 18 percent in 2018. This will encourage capital investment of $11½ billion and 113,000 new jobs before the end of the decade. It's the small businesses in British Columbia that are the job creators, and that is what harmonization is about: creating an economic climate and a foundation for growth and job creation.
It is these businesses that employ over one million people. That's over one million jobs in British Columbia supporting families and providing revenue that will support health care, education and social services.
That's why the B.C. Chamber of Commerce supports this initiative. "The measures save business money and reduce government expenditures while providing protection for those on low income. In addition to these savings, the consumer will also be the winner, as business will pass on savings…such as the $150 million annually in compliance costs." That's from the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.
That's why the Retail Council of Canada supports this measure. "Harmonization will result in a simpler and more efficient tax system for businesses. This will help smaller retailers in particular. They find administering two separate systems difficult and costly."
That is why the Chartered Accountants of B.C. support this measure. They have said:
"Harmonization will reduce compliance costs for business, 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 harmonization for several years, and there's no better time than now to take this important step."
Organization after organization, representing all those workers and all those people, including the B.C. Agriculture Council and all the farmers and ranchers and their employees in the province, understand the positive benefits of this measure.
It builds on tax relief that has been brought into place since 2001: a 44 percent reduction in small business and corporate tax; a 39 percent reduction in general corporate income tax; a 37 percent average personal income tax cut, eliminating provincial income taxes for an additional 325,000 low-income earners. B.C. now has the lowest personal income tax rate for anyone earning up to $118,000.
When I decided to run as a new MLA in the riding of Kelowna-Mission, I decided to run because I wanted to run on a platform that focused on the economy and I wanted to contribute to the future of the agriculture and food industry in British Columbia and to the economic future of our region and the province.
I know that there are very, very significant concerns being expressed about the harmonized sales tax, and I'm certainly hearing those in our constituency office. We're currently dealing with them and responding to all of them. We continue to meet with constituents, continue to respond, and we'll continue to work diligently through our office to provide factual information, to discuss concerns and to listen to the concerns that are being brought forward by the constituents.
I've been actively engaged in that process. What it is teaching me is that these are very, very important decisions, difficult decisions. I'm learning quickly that making the correct longer-term decisions is not easy politically, but I am confident that this is the right decision for the future of our province.
The Okanagan has benefited from the strong economy and the foundation and framework that have been put in place. We have investments in infrastructure, in transportation — the Bennett Bridge, Highway 97 — investments in transit.
We have significant investments in our health care facilities at Kelowna General Hospital, Vernon Jubilee Hospital, the new cardiac care centre; in UBC Okanagan at Okanagan College; in supportive housing units. Billions of dollars in investment were made possible by strong economic leadership.
Strong economic leadership is continuing with the decision for the harmonization of GST and PST, the correct policy. It's challenging politics locally, but it is a decision that I will be pleased to support when the opportunity comes.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to provide my comments.
[ Page 4538 ]
N. Macdonald: I've already spoken in the second reading debate on Bill 9, which is the HST bill. This speech is going to be focusing on an amendment that was put forward by the NDP House Leader yesterday afternoon. The motion refers this HST bill to a committee of MLAs, and it asks, then, that these MLAs, made up of a mix of members from the House, go out and consult with British Columbians.
To me, it should be self-evident that the people of British Columbia who we represent want to be heard on this issue. That should be completely self-evident to anybody who is here, anybody who's in British Columbia.
In the time that I have available to me, I want to speak on two points that reinforce that idea that the amendment speaks to, which is the idea that we go and have the conversation with British Columbians. The two points that I want to focus on are around democracy and around tax fairness — social equity and how tax policy impacts on that.
Let's maybe start, then, with the democracy piece. It has been said many times, not just in this House but since this initiative was announced last summer, that one of the fundamental flaws with the initiative is that it comes without a mandate.
However MLAs on the B.C. Liberal side want to frame it, the facts are very clear. There was an election promise by the B.C. Liberals around the harmonized sales tax. It was specific. It was written. It was unequivocal. The B.C. Liberals were elected on a promise to not introduce the HST, and that should mean something. That should mean something.
What we know now — this is just in recent weeks — and what the public has come to know is that within three days of that election the HST negotiations began. There have been different explanations from the government about what initiated that, but for a public that looks at that and sees that, it creates very quickly — I mean, it was already there, but it creates — the impression that the public was fooled by the B.C. Liberals and that that was intentionally done. So there is a strong public sentiment already around the imposition of this tax to begin with, a strong sense that there is no mandate.
There's a strong sense that the B.C. Liberals made no attempt to get that mandate. They instead, having achieved power three days after getting elected, moved to implement a piece of tax policy that they know does not have the support of the vast number of British Columbians, and it is vast. This is not even close in terms of where the public sits on this issue.
That lack of trust is reinforced by other promises that the B.C. Liberals made. I think this is important, and it's why we as elected officials need to really think about the connection between those of us who are elected to represent people and the wider public. This amendment allows a discussion to take place with the public, and I think people are looking for that opportunity. The context for the HST proposal needs to sit with other B.C. Liberal election promises.
As we see the health system dismantled in many places, we think back to the B.C. Liberal promise that they were going to strengthen health care. It hasn't happened.
There is a crisis in education, and everybody sees that day after day in their own community. Yet this is a government that came to power promising to protect education. Clearly, that hasn't happened.
This is also a government whose leader, the leader of the B.C. Liberals, promised that the deficit would be $495 million — I think that's what it was — guaranteed it, maximum. Yet he knew and the Finance Minister knew that was in no way an accurate number. It came in at eight times that amount — eight times.
So the public has every right to be cynical about the idea that this government was not planning to introduce the HST. I think it's pretty clear that it was on the radar.
Now, there are many members here that probably didn't know about it. We know how this government works. A bit of a one-man show, or maybe two, and the rest are asked to just follow along and do exactly what the Premier says, even if, to the wider public, it represents electoral malfeasance.
Having committee hearings gives people the opportunity to come to a committee, to speak to MLAs of both parties and to express their concerns. I think that since we have gotten to this place without any democratic mandate, that is the very least you would do to show some level of respect for the wider public.
I think you would also look perhaps to see if the B.C. Liberals — with all of the tools that they have in place, all the government resources they put towards their information services — have been able to convince in any way the wider public. You could look to that and say that maybe there is a case to proceed. But no member in this House thinks that's the case.
Everybody knows that the public has not been convinced over the past number of months by any of the arguments that the government has made. They've tried a number of them. All of them have failed comprehensively.
There was a poll done by Ipsos-Reid, and Ipsos-Reid has been pretty accurate on a number of the things that they've polled on. This was in August 2009, in the middle of the summer, shortly after the government finally announced that it was going to proceed with the HST. Just 2 percent of British Columbians strongly agree with the government's position on the HST — one in 50.
Now, after months and months of effort from the government to explain to the wider public about the HST, we have another measure of public support. Ipsos-Reid did another poll in December 2009, and it
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had grown to 2 percent. It hadn't grown at all. There has been no growth in support for the government's arguments — absolutely none. It seems to me that it makes complete sense that you would go to a committee, that you would meet with the people that you've been elected to represent and have a discussion around why that's the case.
I want to be careful here about characterizing the 2 percent that are supporting this, because I don't want to disregard their opinion in any way. We've had the opportunity to hear from some of the speakers on the other side, who speak quite eloquently. I just listened to the Minister of Agriculture and Lands. I did not discount his opinion at all. I thought he brought up a number of good facts. It was a good speech.
Whenever I hear the professor, the Harvard-educated member for West Vancouver–Capilano, I cannot listen to him, on these issues especially, without treating them with respect, and I do. The member for Shuswap — again, a very good speech.
We've had the opportunity…. We've met with Jock Finlayson. You hear the gentleman. He has a different world view on many things but is clearly an eminent person with a point of view you want to respect.
But there is still an onus on legislators to listen to what the wider public says. It is impossible to me that any member of this House represents an area where the vast majority — even a small majority, even a small number of people — think that the HST is the way to go. In a democratic system that has to mean something.
I think most people recognize that over the past year economists have not been batting perfect in terms of what they say the economy is going to do. It's not a perfect record. And besides that, we don't live in a technocracy. We live in a democracy, which means that the views of the wider public have to mean something.
That's why we have elections. That's why we are all here. That's the process that gives the Premier and his cabinet power. To disrespect that, to not enter into a meaningful dialogue with the people that we represent, is fundamentally wrong. There is not a member here that doesn't know that. It's fundamentally wrong.
All that this amendment does is gives the opportunity for legislators to go out and have that discussion. What could possibly be wrong with that? I know that for me and for the people that I sit with on this side…. I know that I'm a democrat. I know that…. Well, I believe that wisdom sits with the people that we represent. I know that to be true. Our job as elected officials is to provide information that's accurate and to listen and to take that wisdom and put it into public policy here, to be conduits of that wisdom.
During the election I sat in Invermere. In Invermere we were having a public hearing, and somehow the question came up around where decisions should be made, because one of the big issues in my area was the removal of local control on IPPs.
The point I made, and continue to make, was that the wisdom actually sits here. When I think back to that time in Invermere, there was a woman sitting on one side who had had a serious injury. She was recovering from that, running a business and was on the Invermere District Council — a very capable person. Beside her, a gold-medal winner in Olympics. Beside her, a gentleman who was the first to climb each of the highest peaks in each continent in the world, the first to do that, Pat Morrow. Beside that person, another who ran a successful business.
I could see each one of them. The idea that comes through sometimes in some of the comments that other MLAs have made here on the government side that somehow that this is a gathering of the brightest minds…. That's not what we are. We are a representative group here to represent the views and interests of people who elected us. We're not a technocracy. We're a democracy, which means that if we have a good idea, we have to convince people that it is a good idea. If you haven't done that, then you have not done your job.
To date B.C. Liberals have convinced hardly anyone that this is the direction to go — hardly a soul. That has to mean something. This amendment gives you the opportunity. If there is a case to be made, it should have been made before the election took place. Failing that, get out, meet with people, understand their concerns, and answer their questions. A pamphlet won't do it.
Now the government is talking about — what? — hundreds of thousands of dollars they're going to spend on a pamphlet. How is that going to be received? You won't go and listen to people, but you're going to prepare a pamphlet. This government is going to prepare a pamphlet and try to sell the idea of the HST.
Well, good luck. Good luck on that. What another waste of public funds to do that. Hundreds of thousands are going to be spent.
To show disdain for the 85 percent of people who are against the HST is fundamentally wrong. It's fundamentally undemocratic. So that's one piece.
The other piece that is quite interesting is how people have chosen to react to this. People are agitated in an unprecedented way.
The initiative act is a very difficult tool. Bill Vander Zalm — I mean, really no organization. There's a gentleman who stands up when most think that it would be impossible. Imagine the guts to stand up and start this. He really has no organization. I don't know if he's come to your…. Well, he's come to everyone's area. He has no organization. Yet people are flocking in, trying to form an organization around him. It's a very interesting process, and I give him full credit.
[ Page 4540 ]
There was a friend of mine, Lillian, who phoned to see if he would help out. It is that grass-roots. Yet it has every chance of sending the strongest signal possible on this issue.
You have in Peace River North 25 percent of registered voters already. You hear in the media that 12 ridings already have reached 10 percent. Now, whether it will be a success or not, I don't know, but that says a lot about where people are on this issue.
In Cranbrook, just south of Kimberley, 700 people signed up on the petition in one gathering. It's significant. That does not happen every day. I was out with a gentleman in Kimberley, and he was signing up people. He asked about 150. About 20 of them were Albertans and couldn't sign; 130 did. So out of 150, 130 signed. They waited in line to sign.
What they were saying was…. For some, it was just reactive to taxation. An awful lot just felt betrayed by the process, betrayed by a government that ran on one promise and then, days later, turned and did something dramatically different. I think what all members here know is that there is deep, deep disappointment in the direction that the government has gone and in the contempt for the democratic process that they see. They're right on that. It is a complete contempt for the democratic process that put them here.
The HST is an initiative that lacks a mandate. People know it; they also know that it doesn't make sense. The region that I represent is not dissimilar to Peace River North in that we're a border community or a series of border communities. Even Revelstoke, which is maybe an hour and a half into British Columbia has a tremendous amount of business with Albertans. It's important. So the contrast for people in these sorts of border regions is pretty profound.
They know their business. We have a lot in tourism, a lot in the restaurant industry. So when Panorama ski resort writes on this topic, they know what they're talking about. They profoundly know the impact on their business. They have been clear on it, as has Revelstoke Mountain Resort, as has Kicking Horse Resort, as has Resort of the Canadian Rockies in Kimberley. They know it will damage their business. They know they are competing with jurisdictions that don't have the additional 7 percent, and they know where their client base comes from.
You're hearing the same thing from restaurants, people who understand their business completely. Gerry's Gelati. He wrote a letter. I think I've quoted from it in the past. He knows exactly where his money comes from and where it goes. And he has laid it out. You hear person after person saying that, expecting that elected officials are going to listen and do something about it — not tell them that they somehow know better, that they've thought it through.
Let's be clear on this issue of the HST. The best-case scenario for this government is incompetence. That is the argument that the minister is actually making — that this was a decision made over a water cooler. That's the best case, that we would believe this. So to stand up and say that members on the government side somehow know better than these business people, than the people who are going to be impacted, is just inaccurate. It's not the case.
Very often the minister will stand up and talk about forestry and say that this is going to create jobs because of a $140 million tax cut. Even if I accept the government's figures, let's just think this through for a while, because that is the argument people stand up and make. Many members on the government side don't understand some of the facts that they stand up to repeat.
I mean, let's be clear. The forest industry does not pay PST already on an awfully large number of items. That was introduced in around 2002 or 2003, early in the B.C. Liberals' first mandate. That was to save forestry about $110 million a year.
There were also cuts to the corporate tax. More recently there's been a 50 percent cut in school tax that provides $50 million per year.
Has the impact of those tax cuts been studied by this government? We asked directly. They have not been. So you hand over $160 million a year in tax benefits, and you don't study it. Sheer incompetence. Then you stand up and make the argument that an additional $140 million is going to somehow create jobs.
Let's look at the record from the first tax cuts, because since those tax cuts were made, 30,000 forestry jobs have been lost. Have any jobs been created? So 30,000 jobs lost and 71 mills shut down.
There may be an argument to be made around tax cuts leading to more jobs, but before you make that argument, you'd better study it. You'd better have some facts. None of that exists. Instead, the minister stands up, and for some reason, what didn't work before is now going to work. That is purely ideological at best, but it certainly smacks of incompetence. Who would do that? Who would make a $140 million investment per year without studying?
You know, other people understand, as well, that the $2 billion that is cut from industry has to be paid by someone. The people who are going to pay are often people who are already challenged in their lives. In the past nine years there has been one tax measure after another after another from this government that has inordinately benefited the wealthy and has disproportionately punished those on fixed incomes.
It is absolutely true, and the facts speak for themselves.
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N. Macdonald: Now we have the member for Kamloops–North Thompson who wants to speak. Here's somebody who would not have been elected if the truth on the HST had been in front of the people of British Columbia. That's true. The member knows it.
Deputy Speaker: Member, I'll draw you back to consideration of the amendment.
N. Macdonald: The amendment allows us to speak with the public. It allows us to have that discussion, which we should have had before the election. Conveniently for some, we didn't, and they're here — inconveniently for the people that he represents.
There's no question, though, that the B.C. Liberal tax policy has disproportionately benefited the wealthy. That's a discussion that I think, if you actually met with people in communities, they would tell you. B.C. Liberals' fees and cuts to services have disproportionately hurt lower- and middle-class people. The facts speak for themselves.
B.C. did not have the highest rate of child poverty until this B.C. Liberal government came into power. For the past six years, there it is — the past six years. The gap between the rich and poor has grown year after year. You have clear policy decisions leading to predictable results. Those are things that I think the public has a clear view on.
In any discussion on tax policy, people intuitively understand their own interests, and they intuitively understand that taxes pay for good things. They know they pay for schools. They know they pay for roads and parks. They protect us from crippling health bills. They know that taxes provide health facilities so that when we need them, they're there. People know that.
They know that they have to pay taxes, but they want a tax system that is balanced and fair. That's not an ideological discussion. That's one of common sense that the people can participate in. They know that they have to pay taxes. They want a balance. They want people to meet them face to face, be honest about what's going on and have that discussion.
They know that taxes give us social stability. They know that. They know, as well, that tax policy is, above all else, a democratic process that they should be involved in. But where have the public been involved? They're struggling to be involved. They're trying to use the initiative act. They are phoning MLAs of both sides and trying to get them to represent them, but somehow B.C. Liberal members feel that they can ignore that, that somehow they know better than the wider public about tax policy and the impacts. I see no sign of that.
I know for sure that the wider public sees this as an unfair tax. They see this as a deception. People are right. People are right to think that. Even the members opposite are confused about the list of items that are going to cost more.
An interesting exercise for people is to actually google B.C. Liberals and the HST list. Google it as interesting reading. I did look for the list on the government site — didn't see it. I know that we're going to spend hundreds of thousands — apparently, the government thinks it's appropriate to spend hundreds of thousands — on a pamphlet to people, and I've heard members on the opposite side stand up and say, "Well, we have to give them the facts," as if the facts are somehow something that the public doesn't have.
N. Macdonald: The public has facts. I'll tell you the fact that they're most aware of. The member for Kamloops–North Thompson is questioning the capability of the wider public to actually understand facts, but here's a fact. There was a written promise not to introduce the HST. The member ran for that. Three days after the election, the government changed its mind and introduced the HST. So maybe the member can have a discussion. Maybe you can meet with the public and have the discussion.
Oh, and here's the Minister of State for Mining. The Minister of State for Mining wants to have a discussion. Here's the minister of state who stood up and talked about the PST impact on forestry. Unbeknownst to him, they don't actually pay PST, so you don't even have the facts right on your own side, yet you stand up and criticize the wider public with a degree of contempt that is kind of shocking, but it's a contempt that we've become used to from this side — complete contempt for the democratic process.
Deputy Speaker: Member. Member.
N. Macdonald: That is your legacy, sir. That is your legacy: complete contempt.
Deputy Speaker: Member, you will address your remarks through the Chair.
N. Macdonald: Absolutely.
Hon. R. Hawes: Be factual. The HST wasn't introduced three days after the election.
N. Macdonald: The minister of state wants facts. Here's a fact. The minister of state was elected on a promise not to introduce the HST, but here he sits do-
[ Page 4542 ]
ing exactly that. Three days after the election. Three days after the election, it all changes. It all changes.
N. Macdonald: Can the minister tell us? No. Hopeless.
Deputy Speaker: Members. Members. You will come to order.
N. Macdonald: Let's see what an additional 7 percent will be added to. Let's have a look at this. Let's see what the 7 percent is going to be added to.
Maybe the Minister of State for Mining can enlighten us, because he's so great at enlightening people, you know. He knows all the facts. He hasn't got them quite straight when he stands up to speak, but he's excellent.
I googled B.C. Liberals and HST, and I got…. I mean, there are a number of websites. Here's one: www.bcliberaltaxgrab.ca. I don't know if it's the official Liberal site. I don't know, but maybe the minister can tell us.
We'll do a little test. What are the things that are going to cost 7 percent more? The minister can just give a little check. Restaurant meals? Check, yeah. Hockey tickets? Yeah. Hair cuts? Check, 7 percent. Movies? Check. Magazines, it says here? I don't know. Check? Check. Taxi fares? Check. Golf fees? Check. Skiing? Check, 7 percent more. Massage therapy? Check. Parking? Yes, 7 percent more. Fast food? Yeah, 7 percent more. Repair and maintenance? Yeah, 7 percent more.
It's a long list. We'll get to it next time. Thank you very much for the opportunity.
R. Howard: I rise today to speak in opposition to this referral motion, the referral motion to this very important and, I think, historic piece of legislation, Bill 9, the Consumption Tax Rebate and Transition Act.
I would first like to thank the good citizens of Richmond Centre who have bestowed upon me this great honour. It's a remarkable opportunity to represent them in this Legislature. I am truly humbled every day and honoured to serve my constituents.
The member just before me, for Columbia River–Revelstoke, spoke and said: "What's to gain from moving forward?" I would like to say that certainty is to be gained from moving forward. The last thing we need to do is create continued uncertainty, refer this back to a committee, have the investors ask, "Are we going to proceed, or are we not?" and watch Ontario reap the benefits of swift action.
I want to talk today on a number of topics that tie back to Bill 9 and this current motion to refer in different ways. At first, I'd like to talk about the two different visions for this province that this debate seems to highlight. In some ways it's representative of the many differences between government and opposition. Then I'd like to talk about credibility. I'd like to talk about confidence and then about HST facts and why this needs to proceed now and not be referred. I would like to close with some real-life examples, but first to the vision.
During this debate and others I have watched to see the alternate visions that government and opposition have for this province. This government talks about the vision for a future and what it will look like — a growing economy.
That's what this tax and this motion are addressing: jobs for families; capitalizing on our strategic location as Canada's Pacific gateway; clean energy leadership, and a leader in climate action; assisting and supporting families with children; modernizing our education system; opportunities for early learning; innovation and health care to ensure sustainability of our health care system and expanding patient choices; and working with partners to create a better British Columbia.
These words are crafted to paint a picture of the type of province this government is striving to create. You can evaluate these words and compare and contrast them to what the opposition has to say about the kind of province they want to create. To that I say, "Good luck," because the only words you have to compare are words that oppose our plans. They do not seem to have any plans of their own. They don't have a plan for anything. They just have a vision for more money. They want more money. They want more of your money.
This legislation before us allows new tax measures, and the referral wants to put it all off. We want to make sure our economy is competitive so that we can feel secure in our jobs and our children can have a strong future in this province. Let's contrast that to the vision of the opposition, which is to take us back to the '90s.
I remember then the brain drain, higher taxes and regulations — regulations that had grown to such a level that jobs were lost and we had people leaving this province because they could not find work. They couldn't find a job. They felt uncertain about the future of this province.
Just imagine. With all of our natural resources, our super, natural beauty and our diversified human capital, we were a have-not province in the '90s. People were leaving to find work elsewhere, leaving because there were no jobs here. Our socialist friends, the NDP government, were having to ask the federal government for payments. There's a comparison for you.
Contrast that have-not province with this Olympic province. What a difference a few decades and a new government make. It's a government that has a vision versus an NDP government that dug itself such a deep
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hole in the '90s that people had lost hope and were leaving the province, seeking jobs elsewhere, seeking prosperity elsewhere.
Our government recently had to make some tough decisions as a result of the worldwide economic meltdown. The evidence is accruing suggesting that we will emerge from the worst economic climate in generations even stronger than before, in even better shape than most if not all other jurisdictions on the continent and perhaps even the world.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
The HST is a fundamental part of this strength, and it needs to proceed now. It does not need to be referred. It will make our economy more competitive. Our investment tax structure will be lower than most provinces and competing countries. This will have strong, positive results, and we need to start it now.
These increased investments create jobs — jobs for us; jobs for our children and our families; and, looking further into the future, jobs for our grandchildren; jobs that will provide a measure of wealth and security for families and future generations. It is not just us saying this.
There is a huge and growing list of major economists, business groups and think tanks who are saying the same thing — the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Conference Board of Canada, to name just a few. They agree that a harmonized sales tax will protect and create jobs, so we need to get on with this legislation.
I must also say that I sought election to play a part in ensuring that this province plays a leadership role in sustainable practices. This tax is about a sustainable tax policy and, as a result, a sustainable economy, sustainable jobs, sustainable prosperity. I have sought to be part of a government because I believe that it had the courage to do the right thing. This government has the courage to do the right things and to do them now.
As I said in my opening, if we sat back, referred, caused uncertainty, watched Ontario and the rest of the world progress, we would suffer for that.
Note to the hour, I would move adjournment of debate and reserve my right to continue my remarks at the next sitting.
R. Howard moved adjournment of debate.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported resolution, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. R. Hawes moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 this afternoon.
The House adjourned at 11:54 a.m.
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 10:07 a.m.
On Vote 38: ministry operations, $52,103,000 (continued).
K. Corrigan: We finished off yesterday with a commitment from the minister of state that within two weeks or so, give or take a day or two, the hosting report will be available which will talk about all the tickets and all the hosting that has been provided by government and, therefore, taxpayers' dollars.
I just want to confirm — I think this was implicit in the statements made — that this report will be released to the public in its entirety?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, it will.
K. Corrigan: I also want to confirm that this hosting report will include all tickets and hosting activities undertaken by Crown corporations or other government-controlled entities?
Hon. M. McNeil: No. It's just for the government's tickets, not the Crowns'.
K. Corrigan: Those Crown corporations or other government-controlled entities are spending taxpayers' money. I am wondering where the reporting is happening on the tickets being spent by the Crown corporations.
Hon. M. McNeil: No, the Crowns report to their own boards and to other ministries. We will only be dealing with the tickets that OGS has purchased.
K. Corrigan: Does government have the ability to require that Crown corporations provide that kind of information to government?
[ Page 4544 ]
Hon. M. McNeil: Apparently. I'm advised by staff that ministers can request information from Crowns, yes, but through to their own ministries.
K. Corrigan: Does the minister have any idea whatsoever how many tickets were purchased by Crown corporations and will not be part of this report?
Hon. M. McNeil: I'm advised that the Crowns have already published what tickets they have purchased.
K. Corrigan: You know, I'm a little flabbergasted, to be honest, that the government report about the tickets that were going to be purchased using taxpayers' money does not include this very significant component. Frankly, I think that the public would consider that to be somewhat misleading, to have such an incomplete picture. So I'm wondering if I can get a commitment from this minister to provide me with those reports.
My understanding is that this ministry is supposed to be the overall ministry coordinating and tracking government expenses. I think that the people of B.C. would expect that at the end of the day there's going to be transparency and accountability about the overall cost of the games.
I guess I'm seeking help from the minister about how it is that we can get this information without having to go to each and every government entity and seeking it ourselves.
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, I've been advised by staff that some of these purchases of tickets were commercial transactions and actually not a cost to the taxpayer, but again, it would go through their own boards of directors to the other ministries.
K. Corrigan: So every transaction that you have within government…. I'm trying to get this straight. Sometimes it's a buying and a selling and there's a contract. Why would a Crown which is spending money that ultimately comes from the taxpayers on Olympic tickets not be considered an expenditure of taxpayers' money just because they're bringing money in?
The government of British Columbia brings in money as well — it does it in a different way; it does it through taxes — but we all expect that the government is going to be accountable for the expenditures on the Olympics. I'm trying to understand why it would be any different for the Crown corporations, and I think the taxpayers of B.C., who support the Crowns, would expect the same thing.
Hon. M. McNeil: The Crowns also have their own reporting requirements, and they'll be coming out with those. Their method of accountability is through their annual reports and their service plans.
K. Corrigan: Is the minister saying that the Crowns will all be reporting on their hosting activities, including Olympic tickets, in their annual reporting structure? Is that built into the requirement, or is it just that that is the way they would report if they chose to report that?
Hon. M. McNeil: I cannot speak on behalf of the Crown corporations, but I do understand that they do have a mechanism for reporting out.
K. Corrigan: Okay, I'm going to just try to get an example here of why I'm concerned and why I think that taxpayers would be concerned. It was reported in the Tyee within the last few days that B.C. Hydro billed the ministry for a hotel room for a specific member, for one of the government ministers. I'm wondering where that transaction is going to show up and what report that transaction, that payment, will show up in on behalf of government in reporting on the Olympics.
Hon. M. McNeil: That is not my ministry, and it would be up to them to speak on behalf of their own.
K. Corrigan: Okay, I'm going to go back to the Crown corporations. I'm going to ask a question about a specific organization. It's not a Crown, but it is government-controlled. If Partnerships B.C. were to purchase tickets or host an event or have some hosting activity around the Olympics, where would that be reported, if it's reported?
Hon. M. McNeil: It's my understanding that Partnerships B.C. is accountable to or is part of the Ministry of Finance. I cannot speak to that. I'm here to speak to Minister of State for Olympics and ActNow B.C.
K. Corrigan: I think what the minister of state is saying is that a percentage, a limited amount, of the tickets that were purchased directly or indirectly with taxpayer dollars is going to be in an admittedly comprehensive report, for what it's worth. But when it comes to all those tickets — we don't know how many; thousands — that were purchased by Crown corporations or other government-controlled entities, we may or may not ever have a report on that, and government does not feel it's government's responsibility to gather that information and provide it to the taxpayers.
I just want to make sure it's clear that that's what the minister of state is saying.
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Hon. M. McNeil: Again, the Minister of State for the Olympics and ActNow B.C. has committed to releasing a report on the cost of the hosting activities and ticketing allocations that the Olympic Games secretariat has purchased. As I mentioned yesterday, we had committed to releasing this report in late spring, but it's anticipated that it'll be ready in a couple of weeks.
K. Corrigan: I'll take it from that that the minister of state is thereby confirming what I just said.
I wanted to go back to an earlier statement that was made that all the Crown corporations have reported. Maybe you could just clarify that. Where has that been reported? What tickets have been purchased by the Crown corporations, and will that reporting, whatever form that is in, include other hosting activities as well? Or is it just strictly tickets that were purchased?
Hon. M. McNeil: As I mentioned earlier, I can only report on those that we were responsible for. The Crowns have their own reporting requirements, and those questions will have to be addressed to those Crown corporations.
K. Corrigan: I don't remember the exact words, but my understanding was that about five or ten minutes ago the minister of state said that the reports had already been done on the Crown corporations.
Hon. M. McNeil: No. To clarify my remarks, I said that the number of tickets that they had purchased and the cost had already been reported out.
K. Corrigan: Okay. So we're talking about tickets as opposed to other hosting, then. I assume that's the difference. So the number of tickets that they had purchased was reported out. Where is that reported out?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, it's my understanding that these were published in the media last fall. There were media news releases published in the fall, and they contained those numbers.
K. Corrigan: You know, the problem that the taxpayers of this province face, then, is that if VANOC and the Olympics budgeting was in trouble as it was about a year ago — that was very clear from reading VANOC's third-quarter report and other media reports and general reporting — one way to try to correct that, to put it in the words of, perhaps, the way the media would frame it, would be to hide costs in the Crown corporations.
If the people of B.C. cannot get at, and there is not a gathering of the information about how much of the costs of the Olympics are in the Crown corporations, then we're not getting a true picture of the cost of the Olympics.
It's absolutely possible, I suggest, for government — which essentially controls the board, appoints the boards of the Crown corporations — to direct, strongly suggest or negotiate that significant costs of the Olympics are buried in the Crown corporations. So I have a real concern about the fact that we don't know what the costs are associated with the Crown corporations.
The Minister of State responsible for the Olympics has repeatedly talked about tracking costs of employee loans, tickets and all of those other things. But is the minister of state saying that the minister of state has absolutely no control or responsibility to report on costs that are in the Crown corporations? That really upsets me.
Hon. M. McNeil: You know, I can't speak on behalf of the Crown corporations, as I'm sure you can appreciate. But as an example, I know that B.C. Lotteries is a commercial Crown and not taxpayer-funded. What I can speak about is all of our costs, and that I've been very forthright on.
K. Corrigan: Just sort of as a preliminary to some other questions that I'll be asking later, can I assume that when I ask questions about, for example, the employee loan program, when I ask questions about the number of people seconded to working in the Olympics, and when I ask questions about the employee volunteer program, that the answers I receive will not include any people who are working for the various Crown corporations or other government-controlled entities?
Hon. M. McNeil: If they were not taxpayer-funded, then no.
K. Corrigan: I guess we get back, then, to what Crown corporations are. What's becoming very clear to me is that the minister of state is saying that Crown corporations are not taxpayers' money. I'm not going to have time to go through that argument. I would argue that it is ultimately taxpayers' money that's involved there.
I'd like to just go back to what the minister said earlier — that government would have the ability to request that information through various ministers, the ministers responsible. I just want to clarify that that's what was said earlier.
Hon. M. McNeil: The member would have to raise those issues directly with the ministers responsible.
K. Corrigan: I understand that this would not necessarily be this ministry — that this information is not being gathered by the Olympic secretariat or this ministry, which I thought was the ministry responsible for tracking the costs of the Olympics.
[ Page 4546 ]
But is the minister of state, then, still of the belief that yes, we would have to ask those ministries but that those ministries…? This is, I guess, drawing on your knowledge or your staff's knowledge. Would those ministries have the ability to ask those Crowns for or require that those Crown corporations provide that information?
Hon. M. McNeil: It's my understanding that the ministers do have the ability to ask the Crowns for information.
K. Corrigan: I'd like to go on to more global questioning about the costs of the Olympics, and reporting and transparency about the costs of the Olympics.
I'll just mention a recent report that was put out by the city of Vancouver, where it stated that the cost to Vancouver is $554 million to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. I certainly understand that that has nothing to do with the present ministry, but I'd like to read what Coun. Geoff Meggs said on being transparent with costing. He said:
"Some people will disagree with whether some of the projects were truly Olympic in nature, but the report serves a useful purpose in putting together in one place projects and services that were in one way or another used by the games. Better to be more transparent than less. I think staff have gone an extra mile…to include everything that was expedited or has an Olympic dimension to it."
I'm wondering if the minister of state, as the minister responsible for the Olympics, plans to produce a report as fulsome and as complete as the city of Vancouver's report on the Olympics, which included all sorts of capital costs and operating costs associated with the Olympics.
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, I have seen the city of Vancouver's report. It certainly is fulsome. I may disagree whether or not to include a swimming pool as a Winter Olympics cost, but having said that, all of our costs are going to be accounted for in the ministry budget and government's '09-10 fiscal plan. They'll be fully published in the public accounts, and they're going to be reviewed by the Auditor General.
K. Corrigan: I'd like to clarify a couple things that the minister just said. You said "all the Olympic costs." Would those costs include other costs associated with the Olympics — for example, ones that we have gone over in estimates in the fall and a number of items in addition to the $765 million, some of the ones that we went over?
Also, maybe as an add-on to that, will the report from the minister include items such as the Sea to Sky Highway? I could mention even the Canada Line, although I believe I know what the answer is on that one.
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, all costs incurred by the government will appear in the public accounts, and as I've mentioned before, they will be published there and reviewed by the Auditor General.
K. Corrigan: Okay. I'd like to ask a specific example, then. Will the costs of the Olympic secretariat be included in that report?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, they will be included in the public accounts.
K. Corrigan: Included in the public accounts. That is reporting. It's not a report. I guess I'm wondering whether or not the government and the ministry responsible — it would be the minister, I would assume — plan to issue a report that gathers all the costs to the provincial government, of the Olympics, in one place?
Hon. M. McNeil: There will not be a separate report, but as I've said, all expenses will be published in the public accounts, and they will be reviewed by the Auditor General.
K. Corrigan: I've been at this job for a little less than a year now. I've looked at the public accounts. I'm on the Public Accounts Committee. Is the Minister of State assuring me that the average citizen will be able to take a look at those books and have an understanding, without any kind of special training, of what this government spent on the Olympics? I mean, for example, will it be all in one place in the books, and will it be line items in the books?
Hon. M. McNeil: The Office of the Auditor General has committed to a separate report on Olympic costs as a part of their commitment.
K. Corrigan: You know, the government has repeatedly talked about the costs and benefits of having the Olympic Games. I would think that it would be for the benefit not only of the people of British Columbia to take a look at what the costs and benefits are but of the government itself to have an understanding and to share with the public exactly what the costs versus the benefits were.
I'm wondering why this government is not planning on issuing a separate report or an easy-to-read report on all the costs that were associated with the Games. The reason I ask this minister, of course, is because this is the minister responsible for the Olympics. I would have thought that you can't do a cost-benefit analysis unless you understand what all the costs are in an easily identifiable way.
Hon. M. McNeil: As I mentioned previously, the Office of the Auditor General has committed to a separ-
[ Page 4547 ]
ate report, so there will be one on Olympic costs, and I think that's the report we need to see.
K. Corrigan: I'd like to move on to some questions about the employee loan program.
When we were in estimates last fall, the minister of state committed to providing information about the employee loan program and also stated that the employee loan program was being tracked by the ministry through the secretariat and I think even made some commitments in terms of providing some information to me. I haven't seen any of that information. I think the understanding was that we would get that information and that it would be tracked and, of course, that it would be an ongoing process.
Having not seen any of that information yet, I'm wondering if I could receive a confirmation from the minister of state that for the whole of government we will be getting the information about the employee loan program — how many people were involved in the employee loan program; how much; what their hours were; the amount of time commitment there was; and in addition, what the cost, including benefits, was associated with that.
We've been going through ministry by ministry and asking that question. Some of the ministers have been very forthright and very helpful; some have been less so. I'm wondering if we could make it easier on all of us. I wouldn't even have to go to those ministries and ask those questions if I could get a commitment that we are going to get that very specific comprehensive report, broken down by ministry, on the employee loan program.
Hon. M. McNeil: You know, this was not only a hugely successful Olympics; it was also a very complex series of events. We are really proud to have supported public service employees who wanted to contribute to this. From all stories that I've gotten back, they've had wonderful experiences, as you can as you can appreciate. It just was a very successful initiative for the province.
The voluntary secondment program between the B.C. public service and VANOC resulted in approximately 249 seconded employees from the B.C. public service and the Crown agencies. We are still finalizing. As you can appreciate, we want to be accurate with the information. VANOC is still working very hard. It's only been four weeks since the end of the games, if you will. They're working hard at finalizing the numbers. From what we can tell right now, the number is approximately 249.
K. Corrigan: Will the minister be providing that information that was committed to last fall? In other words, will I be getting a report that says how many employees there are, what the costs of them were and the number of hours associated with them? I have been getting that from individual ministries. I'm happy to go into each and every ministry and ask for that information, but I'm just wondering if I can get a commitment that I will receive that, broken down by ministry as well.
Hon. M. McNeil: I will certainly discuss this with my colleague the minister responsible, the Minister of Citizens' Services. What I can say and what we did discuss when we announced this program back in the fall is that this would be no additional cost to the taxpayer and that no front-line services would be cut. I'm pleased to say we did achieve that. In addition, we allowed around 249 seconded employees to really gain a tremendous amount from such an incredible organizational experience.
K. Corrigan: I've talked to a couple of those people, and they would certainly agree, some of them, that it was a wonderful experience.
I'd just like to read from the estimates in October of 2009, wherein the minister said, with regard to the employee loan program: "These are ongoing recruitments, so we'll have to do periodic updates." I asked: "How many provincial employees will receive additional time off to volunteer for the games?" She said: "The ministry of public service is tracking this number, and we can get it from them."
I asked, "If that's being tracked, I'm wondering if we could also find out what the total expense of this employee volunteer program is. In other words, what would have been the costs associated with that," and the minister responsible said: "Yes, when we're through the process, we will have those numbers."
I then went on to ask about the employee loan programs and whether or not that could be achieved as well, and the minister also said that that information could be provided, I do believe. I don't have that quote in front of me, I must admit, but I will find it.
I was talking about the employee loan program when I asked those earlier questions. I'm simply asking for the minister of state to provide the information that the minister has already committed to providing.
Hon. M. McNeil: As I've said, we've approximated the number at 249, which is about the estimate that we had back in the fall, and we are still finalizing the details with VANOC as to actual numbers. Again, I repeat the approximate 249, but I certainly will discuss with my colleague what information we can give you further to that.
K. Corrigan: I assume, when the minister of state gives me a commitment in estimates that information is going to be provided which hasn't been provided yet — it's about six months later — that at some point the minister will provide that information.
[ Page 4548 ]
What it sounds like to me is that the minister is now backtracking. After having made a commitment to provide not only the hours, the number of people, periodic updates and the costs, I'm now told that you will discuss it with the minister. I'm seeking a commitment that I will receive that information.
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, it's been six months since you asked, but the event has just happened. I would hate to put information out there before the actual facts. We have just completed a hugely complex event, the largest the province has ever done, and I'm very pleased with the incredible success, including the success of the employee loan program, which we've talked about.
Our estimates back in October were very close to what we're finding was the actual number, 249. Again, that's an approximation. At the end of the process, after we finalize details with VANOC and everything, I will commit to you that I will absolutely discuss this with my colleague to see the information that we can bring forward.
K. Corrigan: Well, you've answered the question, and I'm going to assume that what it means is that either the minister is going to give me the information that was promised, committed to earlier and will follow that commitment, or the minister, after discussing it with the minister, will not give me that information which was committed to earlier. We'll wait and see what happens with that.
I sort of mixed together two different concepts here, but I just would like to have confirmation. We talked about the employee loan program, but there also will be a similar process with regard to the volunteer program, which was a different program. Many ministries that I've gone to have separated the two, have given me the information for the two.
I believe the program was that they would be at the Olympics for two weeks, one week paid and one week as a volunteer. Can we get the cost to government associated with that?
Hon. M. McNeil: Again, I guess the one comment I can make is that there were no net new costs to the government, and that's an important point to make on this. These numbers are being tracked by the Ministry of Citizens' Services. As you can appreciate, we've just completed this hugely complex event. Those numbers are being tracked by that ministry.
K. Corrigan: Well, the minister of state in October also made a commitment that that information would also be provided to me. I'm just seeking a commitment that that information will be provided to me.
Hon. M. McNeil: I don't see a problem with providing that information.
K. Corrigan: Just got a little off-the-wall question here that I'm just going to add in. It's nothing to do with what I've just been asking. I heard recently that a thousand tickets for the first round of the Canucks playoffs — and this is just rumour — I believe for the first game, were given to VANOC as part of the agreement between VANOC and GM Place.
I know this has nothing to do directly with the minister, but I'm just wondering if the minister is aware of this agreement and whether or not any of those tickets went to anybody in government — if, in fact, this rumour is true.
Hon. M. McNeil: No, I have no knowledge of that — interest, but no knowledge.
K. Corrigan: Actually, I've missed a little section. In the previous section I was asking questions about the employee loan program, about the volunteer program. The much larger piece, possibly, is…. I'm wondering if the ministry or government is tracking the number of people and the amount of time that was spent by people who are working in various ministries for the Olympics and whether or not that's being reported by government.
Hon. M. McNeil: Not to belabour the comment, but you know, this was the biggest event ever hosted by this province, in addition to being the most complex. It's a huge, huge priority for the government — rightfully so — and this was a major focus of government business. These were government employees. I think, as we do, we focus on our priorities in the government, and I think that's an important point to make. Again, there was no net new cost, so I think that's also another important point to make.
K. Corrigan: I would argue, and I think the taxpayers would probably agree, that if you had a ministry or a government that was entirely devoted at the far extreme to spending time in preparing for the Olympics, we would want to know how much time that was and what activities were not being done by the employees when that was going on.
Surely the minister of state is not suggesting that all those employees that either were seconded to VANOC, spent time working on the Olympics or were volunteering for a week do not spend their time in a valuable way when they're not working on the Olympics.
Hon. M. McNeil: You know, as I've mentioned, government mobilizes its resources to work on different
[ Page 4549 ]
priorities from time to time. This is just how government works. We are always looking for things that are of priority. This was a huge opportunity for our province, as we know, and we'll benefit for decades.
I think that this is consistent with other priorities that government has from time to time. A specific example would be the Commonwealth Games. Again, that happened at that time as well.
K. Corrigan: My question, then, is: did government, through your ministry or other mechanism that you might be aware of, attempt to keep track of how many resources, including time spent by various ministry employees, how much time and energy was put into the Olympics, so that the public can understand what that devotion of resources was?
Hon. M. McNeil: No, that's almost impossible to track. I mean, we mobilize our resources and deploy them as per the government's priorities. I think that's exactly what happened here, as it did in 1994 with the Commonwealth Games here in Victoria.
K. Corrigan: Is the minister of state aware…? I appreciate that the minister of state was not here prior to May of 2009, as I wasn't, but in this ministry was there any analysis done of what resources would have to be marshalled by government, including human resources, in order to put on the games?
Hon. M. McNeil: The government put together the Olympic Games secretariat for the coordination and oversight role. All other ministries are expected to adapt to government priorities from time to time.
You know, all requests for leave to volunteer at the games were subject to the home ministry DM's or designate's approval, and they reserve the right to ensure that local operation requirements are met during the games. That process was in place.
As I mentioned earlier, back in 1994 — I believe that was in the NDP time — a similar process was used for the Commonwealth Games here in Victoria — very successfully, I might add, in both cases.
K. Corrigan: There was an analysis done. It sounds like there was an analysis and that there would be requests. Is that information available to the public, about what kind of resources would be necessary? I guess I'll leave it at that at this point.
Hon. M. McNeil: That information is in the ministry service plans, as to what resources are required.
K. Corrigan: I want to go to some questions. I'm checking the time, and I know that I'm going to have some of my colleagues that are going to want to come in and ask a few questions towards, probably, about 11:30.
[J. Thornthwaite in the chair.]
Given the time pressures that I have, I'm wondering if I could get a commitment from the minister of state to provide some of the following information, not necessarily right now.
I have been going into the various ministries and asking the minister, vis-à-vis this ministry, about the number of Olympic tickets that the minister had, whether or not the minister took any guests that were paid for by the taxpayers and whether there were any staff or other MLAs that the minister is aware of attending events with the minister. I'm not expecting, of course, that there'll be a full report on everybody else's activities, but I am interested in what the minister attended, what the purpose was and any other expenses associated with this ministry and minister with regard to hosting, so that would be hosting events.
I'm also interested in expenses incurred by this ministry and minister with regard to things like tickets, hotels, travel and other costs associated with the ministry. I don't necessarily need all that information today. I'd be very pleased to have a report, you know, within a specific time period, if that would be preferable.
Hon. M. McNeil: Hon. Chair, welcome. Yes, on behalf of the province of British Columbia, I was honoured to be able to host the U.S. delegation at one event on February 27. That was the only one event that I attended as a host, using a ticket paid for by Olympic Games secretariat, and that was at the exhibition gala figure-skating event on the 27th of February. It was the U.S. delegation.
I'm actually really pleased to be able to say that we had the Secretary of Health for the U.S. delegation, Kathleen Sebelius, who I had heard about but then had the pleasure of meeting.
I will say that the first thing she said to me is that she wanted to talk about ActNow B.C., which was great for me to hear. It was obviously someone that knew about one of our prime initiatives here for the government. We had an opportunity to discuss it during the event. We've since followed up with correspondence and are hoping to have future meetings to continue this dialogue even further.
That was the only event I attended using one of the tickets purchased by the province.
K. Corrigan: There was some discussion going on over there, and I just wanted to find out if the minister of state had also heard that I was requesting information about hosting, if there was any other hosting or items like hotels, meals, travel or other costs that were
[ Page 4550 ]
incurred by this ministry or minister related to the Olympics. If there is, I would appreciate getting that information as well.
Hon. M. McNeil: I'm sure that the member opposite is aware that I am actually doubly fortunate in that the hub and the heart of the Olympic Games were in my riding, which was great. I live within walking of B.C. Place, GM Place, Robson Square, all of those venues. So there were no costs for me personally, because it was my riding. I stayed in my own bed every night, which was lovely, thank you.
K. Corrigan: Yes, that was wonderful. I was just a SkyTrain ride away, so it wasn't bad for me, either. I wasn't just talking about the minister's personal expenses. I was wondering about ministry expenses, expenses incurred by staff or any hosting, and so on, that would include any meals, hotels, travel, tickets or other costs as well.
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, there were additional costs through the Olympic Games secretariat, and they are all within the ministry budget and accounted for within that budget.
K. Corrigan: Well, can I find out what those costs were, then? Would the ministry be able to provide me with that information?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes.
K. Corrigan: I didn't ask a very basic question. Which ministry paid for the government tickets?
Hon. M. McNeil: I think we discussed that yesterday, but it was the Olympic Games secretariat.
K. Corrigan: So I assume this report that is going to be available within a couple of weeks will include all the costs, then, that are associated with all those tickets for all the different ministries — correct?
Hon. M. McNeil: That is correct.
K. Corrigan: I keep remembering little pieces that I want to tie up from previous sections. I just wanted to clarify that reporting that is done on the employee loan program and on the volunteer program and anything that we find in the various ministries, however we get at it, with regard to secondment or resources that are expended for the Olympic Games…. Would those include resources within the Crown corporations?
Hon. M. McNeil: The ministry tracks public service employees, and that's who would be included in the report.
K. Corrigan: I have a couple of questions on a completely different matter, various questions at this point. I wanted to talk about the reporting requirements of VANOC.
When VANOC signed the multiparty agreement, which included the province of British Columbia, it committed that it would provide parties with quarterly financial updates and forecasts within 60 days after the completion of each quarter of each fiscal year, with no exceptions. In May 2007 VANOC reiterated that pledge of transparency, including the publication of quarterly financial reports. VANOC's last regular quarterly financial report was for the period ending October 31, 2009.
I'm wondering: did the secretariat agree to amend or waive section 4.4 of the agreement, which requires these quarterly reports? If it didn't, when will we see the next one?
Hon. M. McNeil: The last budget update, I've been advised, was in January of this year. It's my understanding that as their financial year ends on July 31, 2010, and the fact that they've just done an incredible event and are still working at closing out everything, I don't anticipate hearing much until July 31, where it would be a completion of their activities.
K. Corrigan: The agreement did say every six months — no exceptions. So I just don't see an exception for during the Olympic period, and I appreciate that a huge amount…. Okay, so the report that was produced in January of 2010. I'd just like confirmation. Does not that cover the period up to October 31, 2009?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, it does, but the budget update is what we were talking about — every six months. January was the last one, and the next one will be July.
K. Corrigan: So we will be getting a report in July — the end of July — or in the following October to cover the period to July?
Hon. M. McNeil: It's my understanding that we'll get it after the books close on July 31, 2010.
K. Corrigan: I don't want to be obtuse, but "after July 31" means from August 1 through to infinity. So I'm just wondering about when it is that we're expecting to get that report. You said "after." Does the minister mean immediately, or…?
Hon. M. McNeil: I've been advised as soon as the books close, which is what we want to have. We want the report to be fulsome, so it's after the books close and after the board has done their due diligence as well.
[ Page 4551 ]
K. Corrigan: I think I'm going to skip a little bit in my questions here. I do have a question, though, about the Paralympics. We've talked a lot about the Olympics, and yesterday I said that when I say "Olympics," I hope that the minister will understand that I also mean Paralympics. The $765 million and all this discussion about the employee loan program and all those things — does that include Paralympics?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes — games, as I call them.
K. Corrigan: I appreciate that, because I'd hate to have to start all over again.
I have a question about B.C. Housing. In the fall of 2008 B.C. Housing announced that it would partner with VANOC to disburse portable units from the Whistler Olympic village to communities like Sechelt and Surrey for social housing but not until the quarter ended.
Did VANOC receive funds from B.C. Housing in the amount of $8 million? I just want to make…. I'm curious about how that money was spent by VANOC. Did it go fully towards the social housing program, or was any of it diverted into the VANOC ticket account?
Hon. M. McNeil: You know, I don't know the answer to that. I think that's a question either for the Ministry of Housing and Social Development or VANOC.
K. Corrigan: Fair enough. The tickets that were being committed to various community groups were part of the Inner City Inclusivity promises, so I thought that perhaps the minister would be aware of that because the secretariat was so involved and the ministry is overseeing the Olympics. But if the minister isn't aware, that's fair enough.
I wanted to ask a couple questions about the commitment to repay any deficit that VANOC had — the commitment by government to repay the IOC. There is the early agreement that said that if VANOC was in deficit, the provincial government would indemnify the IOC.
My question for the minister of state is: is there going to be any indemnification by the province to the IOC as a result of these Olympic Games?
Hon. M. McNeil: Currently all signals are that VANOC is going to balance and be within its budget, and we remain confident that that will be the case.
K. Corrigan: Recently VANOC said publicly — and I'm paraphrasing here — that it believed it was going to balance its budget, thanks to and relying upon the commitment…. I believe it was $30 million — the money that had been forwarded by the IOC. It was relying on that in order to balance its budget.
Given that this was such an unprecedented event, I guess my ears pricked up when I saw that. I thought: "Well, the B.C. government has committed to make the IOC whole."
Is the minister of state saying that the province is not responsible for that money — $30 million or whatever it is? Is anybody responsible for that money? Is it going to end up being a gift from the IOC?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, that $30 million is part of the IOC's commitment. We're not responsible for that, but what I would say is that VANOC is still collecting revenues. As you know, they were extremely successful with respect to the merchandising and the ticketing and the various other…. They exceeded their expectations. So again, all signals are that VANOC will balance its budget, and we are confident that that will be the case.
K. Corrigan: Well, there was an agreement that the B.C. government would make the IOC whole, and when the money was forwarded to VANOC, the understanding was that it was…. I thought it was unclear whether it was a gift or whether it was a loan.
Now VANOC is saying that it is relying on that money being a gift, and I just wanted to get an assurance from the minister of state that there is no commitment and that there have been no suggestions by the IOC that the province of British Columbia is in any way responsible under that agreement for the money that was forwarded to VANOC.
Hon. M. McNeil: No, we are not responsible. That was a negotiation between the IOC and the Vancouver organizing committee, and it is the IOC's contribution.
K. Corrigan: Well, that was an agreement between those two, but we also had an agreement that was signed by the province that said that if there was a deficiency in the budget, the province would make the IOC whole. I'm assuming from what the minister says that the minister is not aware that the IOC has in any way come to the province to try to collect that money and that it is the minister's understanding that it will not.
Hon. M. McNeil: That is a contribution from the IOC. It has nothing to do with the other.
K. Corrigan: I had a couple more questions. I wanted to ask about the arrangement that was made a while ago to extinguish the responsibility for security in exchange for, essentially, giving up $165 million in infrastructure money.
I'm wondering if the minister of state can tell me what infrastructure project did not happen or had to be forgone and the matching moneys associated with it, which
[ Page 4552 ]
would be the federal government and the local level of government, that would add up to $500 million or so that could perhaps pay for something like the Evergreen line.
Is the minister aware of what kinds of infrastructure costs were given up or what infrastructure changes there were as a result of that decision?
Hon. M. McNeil: There is no infrastructure project that was forgone. The province will pick up the costs of the infrastructure within that commitment.
K. Corrigan: I would assume, then, we should be expecting an announcement of a project in the near future, or perhaps it's already been announced, wherein the province will be paying two-thirds of an infrastructure cost and a municipality…. Under the matching program, there'll be a two-thirds payment by the provincial government and a one-third payment by the municipal level.
Hon. M. McNeil: Again, no infrastructure project will be forgone as a result of this commitment. But I think this question really should go to the ministry involved.
K. Corrigan: I just wanted to finish up. I'd just like to ask a couple of questions about the PricewaterhouseCoopers report that was issued. Several phases of it were released in the fall. The report said quite clearly that the….
Well, I'll quote from it. "The tourism spending projected in the earlier InterVistas report envisioned that for the high scenario" — in other words, high level of tourism dollar increase, the revenue increase — "a coordinated and effective marketing plan would be in place before the 2010 Winter Games and that the plan would leverage the award of the 2010 Winter Games to attract visitors during the pre-games period."
What in fact happened was that there was very little increase of revenue in the tourism industry. Instead, there was an increase of activity because other levels of government went over their projected spending on some of the venue sites.
I'm wondering why it is that there was not a coordinated and effective marketing plan that could have brought in the benefits that had been predicted of somewhere in the range of $500 million, I believe it was. In fact, the government's own report says that tourism improvements were between $1 million and $5 million during that period.
Hon. M. McNeil: The worldwide recession really had an impact on tourism all over the world, and I think that is something that was an impact that no one back in the early part of this decade really knew was going to happen. What I can talk about is the absolutely unprecedented success of the marketing that we did do.
We got response from all around the globe, impressive response. I think it's something that 85 percent of the Canadian public watched TV during the gold medal men's hockey game.
As you know, I was in estimates back in October and giving my best guesses at numbers estimates that we had figured out through speaking with media that had been at previous Olympics in other jurisdictions. So we gave it our best guess. Well, we exceeded in all of those areas. I'm really pleased to be able to be here today and to be able to say that.
So 3.5 billion people tuned in to our games, either on television or via the Internet. Those are huge, huge numbers, and I think they need to be recognized. Not surprisingly, according to an Angus Reid poll, 92 percent of Canadians believe that the 2010 Winter Olympic Games will have a positive effect on the nation and will help us with respect to tourism.
I think I mentioned it yesterday, but it's worth repeating. There was a recent report by a U.S. firm called Competitive Edge Research and Communication, and they were talking about who the real winners were of the Olympic Games that we went through. They put, up with snowboarding, you might appreciate…. Snowboarding became the big bonus, but also they felt one of the real winners was the province of British Columbia. The president I think actually said, and it's essentially a quote from Competitive Edge president John Nienstedt, that we essentially have improved our tourism prospects by a whopping 25 million Americans.
I think these are things that we need to continue to work on. We do have a strategy working forward, benefiting from the tremendous viewership that we had. The focus was on our province for a long time, and that's very exciting for all of us.
I think what also needs to be mentioned is that the InterVistas study examined projected impacts, whereas the PricewaterhouseCoopers study is doing the actual impacts hindsight. They actually know what's happened.
I think we cannot not recognize that there was a worldwide recession. But for me, a glass-half-full type, the Olympics couldn't have come at a better time for our province. We will benefit, and I think that's what we need to look forward to in the next PricewaterhouseCoopers report.
K. Corrigan: I have one more question. I'd love to get into this subject, but I don't have time because I have some colleagues that want to ask a couple of questions in the limited time we have left. Perhaps in advance I will thank the minister of state very much for answering all of my questions in this rather long session.
My final question is: can the minister please tell me when we can expect to see that next report from PricewaterhouseCoopers?
[ Page 4553 ]
[H. Bloy in the chair.]
Hon. M. McNeil: PricewaterhouseCoopers is going to continue. As you know, we've got them looking right through to 2013, and it's my understanding that the next report will cover the next period and will be released in late spring.
The Chair: We'll call a one-minute recess while we switch.
The committee recessed from 11:32 a.m. to 11:33 a.m.
[H. Bloy in the chair.]
J. Brar: Yesterday I did ask a number of questions about the issue of H1N1. I have one final question, if the minister can respond to that. Will there be a full review of the provincial H1N1 response and pandemic plan, and will it be made public?
Hon. I. Chong: What we had conducted during the H1N1 pandemic last fall was that the provincial health officer conducted a series of meetings with the media and those interested where he provided updates on a regular basis — I think it was daily — for a number of weeks. Then as things progressed, he was able to provide weekly updates.
We then conducted a final news conference around, I think, the end of January, wherein we did conclude and provided some remarks about how we felt the H1N1 planning went and how the rollout and the distribution of the vaccine was made.
I think, to be fair, all that information has been out in the public, has been provided. We've identified, as well, lessons learned. There's information on our website with respect to H1N1.
At this time I wish to advise the member that there will be no further formal report other than what the provincial health officer may deem necessary from time to time in consultation with other health officers across the country as they decide to move forward and discuss this in a more profound way.
J. Brar: I would take from that that there will not at this stage be any review about the H1N1 response, so I'll move on to the next question.
Recently there has been some debate about some people demanding to put what we call defibrillators in our school system. I would like to ask the minister: when will the ministry decide on the matter of defibrillators in our school system, if there's any decision about that coming?
Hon. I. Chong: I was just trying to retrieve some data, but I think perhaps the best way to respond to the member is this. The issue of having the automatic external defibrillators, I think, has been discussed for some time. The difficulty that providing these provincewide, whether they be in schools or in sporting rinks, has not…. A consensus has not been made as to what would be the best way to move forward.
I have had some discussions with a number of groups, who have suggested that they only be provided in certain institutions and certain-sized rinks — things such as that. At this time it's really left for local communities to make a decision, in particular for sporting recreation centres such as that, to decide whether they too would want them.
It certainly is recommended where there are large audiences or large participation. I know there is no sort of nationwide consensus as well. Some provinces do provide incentives for some communities, but again, I don't believe there are any provinces in Canada that currently have it as a provincewide initiative.
I can tell the member that it's certainly worthy of looking at. The member will probably recall…. When we were first elected in 2001, we did ensure that defibrillators were installed in all of our ambulances, which at that time, strangely enough, were not made available. I think it's fair to say that it continues to be an area of interest. At this time, however, there are no plans to bring in a provincewide regulation or requirement until we have further information.
There are different kinds of defibrillators, different costs associated, different maintenance requirements, different people trained in varying degrees. The last thing you want to do is install a piece of equipment and then not have the people trained to operate it and then have a tragic circumstance occur when, in fact, it was not meant to be. We need to have all that information in place before we are able to consider it, but I appreciate the member's interest.
J. Brar: Keeping in mind the time, I would like to just put on the record a few questions, because my fellow members want to ask questions as well. I hope we can accommodate them — so very quickly.
I got this e-mail from Peter Haugan, who is the president of the All Native Basketball Tournament, and this is what he wrote.
"My name is Peter Haugan, and I'm the president of the All Native Basketball Tournament, which is held annually in Prince Rupert. We have just completed our 51st annual tournament. This event is the largest basketball tournament in B.C. It is three times larger than the AAA boys championship.
"We as a board and committee run this event without help from government. It is getting so costly to run that we think it is time for government financial support. It is also the largest native cultural event held annually in our province. There are 50-plus teams in four divisions that come every year, and there are 600 to 700 athletes."
My question I want to put on the record to the minister: will the minister commit financial support to this
[ Page 4554 ]
largest basketball tournament that we have in the province of British Columbia?
The other. There have been a number of e-mails coming to my office, and those e-mails also went to the minister's office. I'm going to read that e-mail and then conclude my comments.
"I'm writing today to inquire about the completion of a number of the Ombudsperson's recommendations that the government committed to fulfil by March 31, 2010. Specifically, please confirm that the steps below have been taken:
"(1) Require all residential care facility operators to post the resident bill of rights at the entrance of the facility for residents and visitors.
"(2) Require that a liaison person be designated at each facility and in each health authority to assist and respond to resident and family concerns.
"(3) Include time frames for responding to resident and family councils.
"(4) Provide guidelines for all operators of residential care facilities on the type of support they should offer resident and family councils.
"Finally, I urge you to begin immediately to ensure the full and timely implementation of all ten of the recommendations outlined in the Ombudsperson's report. Thank you."
There have been a number of e-mails coming to my office and to the minister's office, so I will appreciate if the minister can respond later to both the questions I've raised.
I will conclude once again with saying thanks to the minister and staff for their support in this very meaningful debate for the last couple of days. I'll ask my fellow members to ask questions.
M. Sather: I have a question for the minister on the B.C. air action plan. One source of concern is particulate matter, particularly with regard to outdoor burning and wood stoves in urban areas.
The ministry website says that particulate matter is a serious health concern and can cause emphysema, chronic bronchitis, asthma and lung cancer. The plan says that it is supporting people to replace old wood stoves with cleaner alternatives. How is the government supporting people to replace wood stoves with cleaner alternatives?
The Chair: If I can remind all members to make their questions short and the answers short, pertaining to the limited amount of time.
Hon. I. Chong: To the member for Surrey-Fleetwood, I apologize. Yesterday I referred to him as the member for Surrey-Panorama.
The two questions he asked we will respond to in writing, specifically the latter part. The first part I think I can just say for the record that I have met with the Aboriginal Sports, Recreation and Physical Activity Partners Council on a number of issues with regards to aboriginal sport. We are looking at a variety of ways that we can help them increase sport participation and what kind of supports they are looking for, whether they be in kind in terms of human resources or other.
At this time, though, I should say for the record that there is no financial commitment. But again, we are speaking with them and seeing how other arrangements can be made to assist them.
With respect to the member for Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows on the air action plan initiatives that he refers to, we do have the wood stove exchange program. It does provide financial incentives for homeowners to replace their old, smoky wood stoves. It's $250 per stove, a provincial incentive, and it's further leveraged by rebates from the federal ecoEnergy program of $375 and another $150 in rebates from appliance retailers. In some communities additional local incentives can range anywhere from $50 to $500, so that is currently in place.
The other is that we have a three-year $1.28 million program. It's administered by the B.C. Lung Association. They allocate grants to communities each year, and in the first two years the program was able to replace 1,600 old appliances, which will remove as much as 100 tonnes per year of fine particulate matter pollution. That's just an example of a couple of programs we are using to assist in these communities.
M. Sather: A couple of questions to put on the record for the minister. One is about the Trees for Tomorrow program, a large urban afforestation program. I'm sure the minister is aware, I would think, of the Ecosystem Restoration Associates' work. I wanted to find out if the work they're doing in communities is part of the Trees for Tomorrow program.
Finally, I had a question for the minister on residential care regulations — to wit, the Maple Ridge Seniors Village. The September '09 report listed a number of shortcomings, which I won't repeat here. I'm sure the minister can find those, with regard to that. But I wanted to know, if the minister can respond in writing later today: what follow-up is being done to make sure there is compliance at that facility?
D. Donaldson: Hon. Chair, thank you for making time to ask this question, and thank you to the minister and the staff.
I have a letter here that the minister received last month. It's from the Northwest Premium Meat Co-op in Smithers, in my constituency. It's a specific issue, but it relates generally to the ministry's approach to health protection.
The meat co-op was created in response to the government's legislation around new regulations restricting the selling of beef, especially in rural areas. This co-op is one of the types of facilities developed in response to the new, more restrictive legislation brought in by the government.
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The meat co-op is in trouble. They've written to the minister. The board president is describing the situation where the co-op will have to be shut down May 1, and it's going to the co-op members' AGM April 28, just a week or so away.
They say in the letter: "Our region needs your help to save this provincially inspected facility for our communities." They're asking for the minister's help. They wrote to you close to a month ago now and haven't heard anything back from you or the Minister of Agriculture.
My question to the minister is: can you describe the kind of help you can offer as Minister of Healthy Living and Sport to these dedicated producers from as far afield as Haida Gwaii to Vanderhoof and Dease Lake — an incredible size in the province?
Hon. I. Chong: Firstly, to the member for Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows. Certainly, we will ensure to get back to him regarding the concerns that he raised and put on the record.
To the member for Stikine, with regards to the Northwest Premium Meat Co-op, I just want to say that our government has provided support to this co-op in its desire and its mission to provide locally raised meat to consumers in the northwest part of the province since 2001. Three ministries — the Ministries of Healthy Living and Sport, Agriculture and Lands, and Community Development — have also collaborated to provide financial support and technical expertise to keep them operational.
But unfortunately, despite considerable support from a number of agencies and from government, they have been unable to mobilize the market that's required to be profitable. Unfortunately and quite simply, their sales have been insufficient to provide operational costs and the debt financing that they've accrued. I know that the NDI, the Northern Development Initiative fund, has recently called in their business loan guarantee. It's an unfortunate situation.
However, given that that is the case, the funds and the support government has committed to date to this particular entity and venture…. Neither I nor this ministry or the Ministry of Ag and Lands can support the provision of additional funding to this co-op.
I do want to say, though, for the record that government absolutely currently still strongly supports the role of licensed and inspected slaughter in the processing services. We do hope that the co-op is able to look at restructuring and find a way to permanently reopen. We will continue to work with this co-op, but unfortunately, we're not able to contribute any further funding to support their business.
I thank all the members for their participation and the critic for this lead-in. Noting the hour, I move the motion.
The Chair: Wait a second. Just one moment.
J. Brar: I would like to thank the minister and all the staff members for their support once again during the last two days. I appreciate the Chair from the bottom of my heart for accommodating my two colleagues and going beyond the time limit. I appreciate that. Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thanks to the minister and staff.
Vote 38: ministry operations, $52,103,000 — approved.
Hon. I. Chong: I move that the committee rise, report resolution of the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 11:50 a.m.
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