2011 Legislative Session: Fourth 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
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Volume 25, Number 4
Introductions by Members
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Role of teachers
Jumbo Glacier resort proposal
Community Living Month
Animal Health Week
Community living services and group home closings
Hon. C. Clark
Hon. S. Cadieux
Community living services review
Hon. S. Cadieux
Court system funding and cameras in courtrooms
Hon. C. Clark
Hon. S. Bond
Orders of the Day
Throne Speech Debate (continued)
Hon. M. McNeil
Hon. H. Bloy
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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2011
The House met at 1:34 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
S. Fraser: Hon. Speaker, it's good to be back in these precincts. I went for a walk at lunch today. I was lucky; I got out of the building. I always stop on Wednesday at the cenotaph because there's a group there standing for peace for the province of British Columbia, for this great country of Canada and for the world.
The Wednesday peace vigil meets at the cenotaph on the lawn from 12 to one every Wednesday, and I've seen them pretty much every Wednesday since I've been elected. Today is their tenth anniversary, hon. Speaker. Would you please join me in making them feel very welcome and wishing them a happy anniversary.
D. Hayer: It gives me great pleasure to introduce some very special guests. They are one of my constituents, Linda Feldhaus, who lives in the Port Kells area of Surrey-Tynehead, as well as her cousins who are visiting from Germany, Mr. Ludger Krampe and Mrs. Martina Krampe, here to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.
Would the House please make them very welcome.
M. Elmore: I'd like to introduce my friend Jennifer Mabugat, who is here today, and also ask everybody to congratulate her and her husband, Tim Chan. They're newly married and just returned from their honeymoon in Jamaica. They had a great time.
Also, welcome her — a new resident here in Victoria. So everybody please extend a warm welcome to her.
B. Stewart: I would just like to introduce to the House my father, Dick Stewart, who is here today in the gallery. He's here observing his son doing some of the work that I think he was very passionate about growing up but now has turned over to another generation.
M. Coell: I would like to introduce to the House some constituents of mine. They are the Probus Club of Brentwood. They were here for a tour of the Legislature and a lunch, and they're now here to watch question period. Would the House please make them welcome.
(Standing Order 25B)
ROLE OF TEACHERS
L. Reid: I rise today to honour World Teachers Day. I stand before you as a former teacher. It was my absolute pleasure to engage young learners, enjoy their curiosity and be energized by their awareness and their humour. I taught children with autism, children with learning disabilities, children with a myriad of interests and pursuits. I wanted the children I taught to see all sides of a question, to seek fairness and to possess tremendous humanity.
My students are adults today, many of them parenting their own children. It is a joy when they stop by to say hello. I couldn't be more proud of their accomplishments or their achievements.
The teachers I had the privilege to work with are magical — Max Caroll, Marlene Jurchuk, Basu Gill and countless others.
It was my privilege to attend the 45th reunion of David Thompson Secondary on Saturday last. Teachers came out to acknowledge a grad class that they last saw as students in 1966. The memories were fresh. The stories were wonderful. Students and teachers alike shared stories of events that transpired 45 years ago.
Schools and teachers will always have the ability to inspire future generations. It is generational work. Whether it is the teacher I met last year in Cairo or the plethora of international students and teachers that come from across the globe to Richmond, teachers understand that students desire a sense of belonging. Schools and teachers assist in building civil societies.
Thank you to all the teachers across the globe. My daughter wants to be a teacher. She will have wonderful colleagues who today are celebrating World Teachers Day.
R. Austin: October 5 has been designated by UNESCO as World Teachers Day, a time to celebrate the important role that the teaching profession plays in every society from the time when we enter school and, hopefully, onwards to lifelong learning.
The role of a teacher is both unique and incredibly important. Aside from one's parents or primary caregivers, there's no adult that we meet in the journey of life who spends as much time with us and who has as great an impact.
I am sure that if I canvassed every member of this Legislature and asked them to share an anecdote of a teacher who was special to them, I would receive a variety of fascinating stories because there's probably no one present who does not have that one special teacher — or, if they were very lucky, two or three special teachers — that changed their lives for the better.
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Indeed, hon. Speaker, I would venture that none of us would be where we are today, privileged to serve our communities, if we were not the recipient of a quality education provided by dedicated people who chose this profession, as well as all those who work alongside teachers in support of what they do.
In less complex times it was enough for teachers to just stick with writing, reading and arithmetic. But society has moved on, and now we expect to also learn other languages, a range of sciences — both applied and social. We also want our kids to be engaged in the arts and music and be supported in sporting activities during school and after school.
If that wasn't enough, we now include lessons on nutrition, the benefits of exercise and a host of social challenges that we want our teachers to assist us in solving.
School is where we learn to be civil to one another — the values of democracy, inclusiveness and diversity. In short, the task of a teacher is both vast and varied, and I ask today that everyone join me in thanking teachers for what they do and think about ways in which we as legislators can support this important work.
JUMBO GLACIER RESORT PROPOSAL
B. Bennett: Yesterday we heard a very nice tribute to the late Jack Layton and also a tribute to former B.C. Premier Dave Barrett. In that same spirit of generosity and in line with the custom that these short statements are to be non-partisan, I'm also going to say something nice about some NDP leaders and the wisdom that they showed in relation to the Jumbo Glacier resort project.
In fact, I'd like to go on the record here today saying that I agree with the current president of the B.C. New Democratic Party when he said, when he was Environment, Lands and Parks Minister: "The proponents of this project have shown a great deal of understanding and cooperation while awaiting the completion of the land use plan."
I agree with the former Premier, Glen Clark, no doubt counselled by the current NDP leader, when Mr. Clark said: "The East Kootenay land use plan includes Jumbo Valley within the special resource management zone category, a designation which allows this type of development."
I agree with the former Premier, Mike Harcourt, when he said: "I hope that you will be able to proceed with this project and that one day we will be able to see this international venture realized. May I wish you good luck with the further formal review and assessment of your project." They definitely needed the good luck.
I've had a little fun with this today. You know, sometimes all you can do is just have a good laugh.
But let there be no mistake. My position on this and what I believe is that although I have full confidence in the current leader on this side of the House and the minister in charge of this file, the twists and turns in government process over the last 20 years on this project are a disgrace. All members should be embarrassed by the unjust way that this proponent has been forced to tread water for 20 years by both political parties in this House today.
I ask, on behalf of my region: please, let's have a decision.
COMMUNITY LIVING MONTH
N. Simons: This month British Columbia celebrates Community Living Month, a few weeks when we can reflect on the value and contribution that people with developmental disabilities make to our communities. The people I'm talking about, our fellow citizens, are far more than the labels we give them. Yes, they have challenges and they have special needs, but their lives are defined by the contributions they make to our society.
They are athletes competing in Special Olympics against their peers, doing their best to challenge their own physical and mental strengths, always trying to improve — exactly what all athletes try to do. Sometimes they win; sometimes they lose. But like everyone, they love to participate. They compete, they make friends, and they have fun. They remind us of the value of sport beyond winning and losing.
They are artists who paint and sculpt and draw the world from their unique perspectives, reminding us all that all of our differences actually make us one.
They are the proud employees of progressive businesses, where their skills and abilities are practised and demonstrated, where their efforts are always equal to others. They are self-advocates, making sure their community is one where they can live in dignity, stability and safety.
They are our brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. They are our children — different in many ways but so similar where it matters most: in their love of life and their desire to be full and valued members of our community.
Our fellow citizens with development disabilities teach us every day the value of patience, the strength in perseverance, and most importantly, they remind us of our frailty, our common needs and, ultimately, of our humanness. Most importantly, we're reminded of the adage that a measure of the strength of our society is in the way we care for our most vulnerable.
To the parents, caregivers, family members, group home workers, advocates, activity coordinators, all the organizations that dedicate themselves to improving our collective quality of life and to those who make our communities welcoming places: happy Community Living Month.
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ANIMAL HEALTH WEEK
J. Thornthwaite: "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members" — a quote from Mahatma Gandhi.
This is Animal Health Week all across Canada. Organized by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, Animal Health Week has been celebrated since 1985 by veterinarians and their health care teams, pet owners and animal enthusiasts right across the country. The goal of this annual campaign is to promote animal health, veterinary medicine and responsible animal ownership within our local communities.
Like many British Columbians and many of my fellow members on both sides of the House, I too am a proud animal lover. And like all of you, my kids and I consider our dog, a beautiful Labradoodle named Maximus, to be a member of our family.
Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets. People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without, and pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
Animals are a big part of our lives here in British Columbia in so many ways, whether it's the pets we share our homes with, the animals being raised on farms around the province or the ones living in the wilderness. That's why I'm proud to live in B.C., a province that takes the health, safety and welfare of all animals very seriously. This past spring we amended legislation to give British Columbia the toughest animal cruelty laws in Canada, with higher penalties and greater accountability.
I would like to wish all of you a happy Animal Health Week and hope you will join me in taking this opportunity to thank the hard-working men and women who are dedicated to promoting the health and well-being of all animals in British Columbia.
J. Horgan: I rise today, as many members of this House, to speak about an extraordinary young person in my constituency, Mr. Ravi Parmar. Ravi is a quiet, strong supporter of his community and his school. He has been working tirelessly, this in his last senior year at Belmont, to raise issues of great concern not only to the students of today but to the students of the future.
Last year I had the pleasure to table a petition of 2,500 signatures that Ravi had collected between his jobs as a supervisor at the local Tim Hortons; delivering the local newspaper, the Goldstream Gazette; and also as a volunteer swim instructor at the local pool in Juan de Fuca.
I tabled that petition prior to his meeting with the hon. Minister of Education, who graciously acquiesced to have Ravi come to see him to talk about the importance not just for this year but for future years and Ravi's vision and goal for a new school in our community.
I want to say that Ravi has been recognized not just by the Minister of Education and people in his community but also by the Save-On-Foods extraordinary kid foundation, which awarded a $1,000 prize to Ravi for his extraordinary work as a young man in our community. Ravi is going to take that $1,000 and put it towards meeting some of the tuition costs of his first year of post-secondary education, the first in his family to achieve that.
I ask all of my colleagues and all members on the other side of the House to join with me in congratulating Ravi for his extraordinary work as a 16- and 17-year-old to raise awareness of civic activity in our communities. Ravi's goal is to be the Prime Minister of Canada. I have no doubt he will achieve that goal.
COMMUNITY LIVING SERVICES
AND GROUP HOME CLOSINGS
A. Dix: My question is to the Premier about the government's and her government's throne speech commitment to families. She will know that the per-client funding at CLBC has been cut dramatically in recent years, that her government has closed 65 group homes in British Columbia.
A.J. Sidhu is a young man who received CLBC services in Surrey. Mr. Sidhu has seen his funding cut, or has been told that his funding will be cut, by 30 percent. Their family has been told that. Now, the family has made an enormous contribution in this case. They've mortgaged their home to make a solution happen. Mr. Sidhu has not only issues with developmental disabilities but mental health issues. The solution keeps the community safe, the family together, and it's a great solution for A.J. Now it is under threat.
Will the Premier make her commitment to families real in this House by putting a moratorium on CLBC group home closures?
Hon. C. Clark: I thank the member for the question, because the issues that he raises, when they are experienced by families, particularly by individuals who are vulnerable in our communities, are very, very serious. Change is a very difficult thing for anyone, in particular for people who are vulnerable.
Now, I know that CLBC has been working through some issues, and it has been a difficult time for many clients. We've certainly heard some of the stories in this chamber. I've heard some of them personally, and I am certainly deeply, deeply sympathetic to the issues that families and individuals face.
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The government has put almost $9 million in new money into the ministry to try and help them work through some of the changes. We are continuing to find ways and focus on how we can help clients better deal with the changes, manage through changes, and, where changes are found to be unnecessary or inappropriate, to make sure that we are addressing those absolutely as quickly as we can. It's a very legitimate issue that people experience, and our government is deeply sympathetic to the people that are feeling it.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
A. Dix: Well, I'm sure the Sidhus will appreciate the Premier's sympathy, but when the Premier wants to put certain trials on TV, she acts to put those trials on TV. In this case she could act to put a moratorium on group home closures. She could do that today. That is within her power.
The fact of the matter is that the solution that the Sidhu family worked on — the solution that has worked for 11 years — is under threat now in real time. What they've done is a real B.C. success story. You don't have to imagine it. It's actually happening, and it's under threat now.
What I'd like to hear from the Premier today is that she followed the advice of the B.C. Association for Community Living, of Moms on the Move, of the Sidhu family and put a moratorium on group home closures so that the Sidhu family can not only get the Premier's sympathy but get some actual action from the Premier.
Hon. C. Clark: The member raises a legitimate question. Certainly, I know the minister would be happy to meet with the Sidhu family and talk with them and see if we can figure out a way through the issue.
There are group homes that have closed — there is no question about it — as we've been in the process of service redesign. Part of that has been making sure that individuals are in the most appropriate form of care for them. For many clients who have experienced this change, although change is always difficult, it has resulted in a better situation for them.
Now, it hasn't been perfect — there is no question about it — and we need to make sure that we are paying attention to every single one of those individuals and make sure that they're getting the treatment they deserve.
You know, the fact is that British Columbia, despite what's been going on around the world, remains a rich society. We have an obligation to look after the most vulnerable in our society, just as we look after the least vulnerable in our society.
The Sidhu family, I know when the minister meets with them, will have a chance to make their case, and hopefully, we can find a solution for them.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.
A. Dix: Well, what service redesign means in this case is a cut in service, to services that are working. The Sidhu family lives in the minister's riding. There have been four ministers in less than 12 months. It's not about ministers here; it's about a government policy that is simply failing that family.
The B.C. Association for Community Living about the Premier's throne speech, which she said was about family: "We were disappointed with the throne speech's lack of substance and its failure to acknowledge or commit to addressing the real problems of people in the community living sector." That's what they say, and that's what's going on.
It's not like the Sidhu situation is unique. The Premier is right. They've been cutting services to lots of families — 65 group homes closed, the average per-client-family funding cut by 20 percent since 2005 and 30 percent since 2001. Families are paying the price for the Premier's policies. She has a choice, and she can make that choice today. She can, hon. Speaker. She can.
Well, you know, hon. Speaker, I know that the Premier is impatient and all. I know that she's impatient and all. The Sidhus are impatient. They've been waiting for a long time to get an answer from this government. So the Premier, hopefully, will provide that answer today by putting in place a moratorium on group homes so that families like the Sidhus don't have to continue to suffer from the instability caused by her government.
Hon. C. Clark: I hope the Sidhus, if they're watching today, feel that we've got the beginning of an answer for them. A meeting with the minister will certainly help get them there. I don't think we are going to be able to solve this today in question period. But I will say this, in addition to the answers I have given previously. I just don't want to go too far down the road on NDP math here. We saw where that took us in the 1990s, and we don't want to go back to that.
Let's remember this. We have increased the budget for CLBC every year since it was created in 2005. The government provides $3.5 billion to support people with developmental disabilities in British Columbia. That is a very significant amount of money, and it's money that's well spent for vulnerable people who need support.
We announced recently $8.9 million to bring this year's budget to $710 million for services for about 14,000 people who have developmental disabilities — just so we can be clear and be on the record with what the real numbers are here, because I know that the opposition likes to make political hay of some of these things.
I think we should be clear about what the numbers are, because $3.5 billion spent to support people with
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developmental disabilities is a very significant commitment. It's a commitment from a government that cares about families, trying to support families across the province and making sure that they can cope as well as they can, particularly when they have vulnerable members of the family.
I'll add this. In the long term the way to be able to continue to support people with developmental disabilities, health issues and children with special needs in classrooms is to grow our economy. That's to make sure we have a plan to create jobs all across British Columbia, attract investment, get people working, increase the tax base. Ultimately, that's the math that's going to lead to better services.
J. Kwan: The fact is the Sidhu family actually went to the former minister and went to the current minister for help, and none was offered. So we hope that the minister will take action today and actually ensure that the Sidhu family gets the stability they need to ensure that A.J., who is the victim here, gets the funding support that he requires.
The Sidhu family is not the only family who is suffering from the chaos created by this government in CLBC. Diane Birmingham has been given notice that Nancy Greene Way, a group home on the North Shore where her daughter Robin has lived for some 20 years, is closing at the end of this month.
Diane contacted the former minister and her own MLA, the member for North Vancouver–Seymour, who happens to be on the Premier's family-first committee. No help was offered to her either. To date no appropriate alternative has been offered to Diane, and the closure is looming.
We know there are at least 1,200 people on the wait-list for a group home. It's simply illogical for this government to close group homes.
Will the Premier commit today that she will put an end, a halt, to the closure of group homes, and to say to the families that the chaos will stop now and that we will put a plan together that really puts families first?
Hon. S. Cadieux: I am very aware of the concerns of the community, of the public in regards to the situation related to group homes and in our communities. I also know very well that living with a disability on a daily basis poses challenges from the moment one gets up in the morning. I am not content that families are feeling added anxiety as a result of situations that have been brought to my attention.
That said, I had my first meeting with CLBC yesterday. I expect there will be many more. I am more than happy to meet with the families or the members opposite if they are concerned about individual situations, and I will be continuing to look into the issues.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
J. Kwan: I appreciate that the minister says she's very concerned and that she's sympathetic. The Premier just said those words as well. So did the four previous ministers of Community Living B.C. They all said that they were sympathetic, that they were looking into it, that these problems will go away.
Guess what, Mr. Speaker. None of these problems went away. They got worse and worse and worse, to the point where families are now in crisis, and they're reaching out and calling for help.
The minister and the Premier and this government said that they want to put families first. So just because the Liberal government is in chaos and has grossly mismanaged the Community Living B.C. file, it doesn't mean that families should be living in chaos as well. They shouldn't suffer the consequences of this government's inability to manage the file.
I'm asking the Premier again: will she put a stop to these group home closures and put a real plan forward that will prioritize the families with developmental disabilities, put their needs first, ahead of the budget cuts that this government is driving?
Hon. S. Cadieux: Again, I take my responsibilities as minister very seriously. I am diligently working to get an understanding of all of the concerns that have been raised and are being raised. I am happy to meet with families. I have met with some already, and I will meet with more.
I will look into the issues, and I'll be working with CLBC to consider how we're going to best address those issues.
N. Simons: While it's appreciated on this side of the House that the members on the government's side are concerned, that's not the first time we've heard that. In fact, we heard that four ministers ago. The same minister, four ministers ago, said they wouldn't force group homes…. Three ministers ago, they said they wouldn't force group home closures. Two ministers ago, said they weren't forcing group home closures.
We've seen 63 group homes close in this province in the last two years. That's the fact of the matter, and it's all because of a service redesign, a carefully veiled attempt to cut budgets and cut the services to people across this province.
Empty promises and words that can convince a few people, one at a time, that maybe their issues will be looked after is not good enough. This goes to the core of bad government policy. They don't want vague assurances.
People in this province support those living with disabilities, and I would ask this minister or this Premier to stand up in this House and say to the people in this province that the moratorium will be put on the closure of group homes in this province.
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Hon. S. Cadieux: These are complex issues. But let's remember a couple of things. People are not being left out in the cold. There are circumstances where people are being relocated. CLBC's residential options program was created in response to a demand from individuals for choices in their living arrangements.
Changes can be required for a number of reasons, and we're not going to solve any of these issues in the House today, Mr. Speaker. But transitions, I admit, are difficult at the best of times, and I am certainly committed to ensuring that families and individuals are adequately consulted on any transitions that are going to affect them.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
N. Simons: Indeed, change is difficult, but change is even worse when government policy makes the change chaotic, unplanned and surprising.
The ministry oversaw Community Living B.C. go around the province and reassess the disability level of every person on their caseload in an attempt to reduce the costs associated with each client. That resulted in the closure of group homes. That resulted in the cuts to funding to home share programs. That resulted in the shortening of day programming and a lack of support for people in employment programs.
It's an overall government policy that is leaving people with no possible services, and that is what needs to be addressed by this government. It's not simply about change and our inability to adjust to change. The change this government forces is bad change, and we're asking the government to do the right thing and change course and do what's right for people with developmental disabilities.
Hon. S. Cadieux: Just as most of us have moved homes many times in our lives, sometimes the circumstances around people who receive services from CLBC change as well. There are a range of care options available for people, and we are committed as a government, and CLBC is committed, to ensuring that people are supported in the best way so that they can live the lives they want to live in their communities.
Although there's an awful lot of commentary from the other side of the House today about group homes, in fact I'd like to let people know that there are about 2,400 people in the province living in group homes. That number is up about 2 percent from last year.
COMMUNITY LIVING SERVICES REVIEW
S. Simpson: We heard about two desperate situations today where families are facing situations that are going to become untenable for them. We heard the Premier and we've heard the minister talk about agreeing to meet with people on one-offs. This is not a situation of one-offs, of individual cases. This is a systemic problem with Community Living B.C. that needs to get addressed.
The service redesign is all about money. While the Premier might want to create numbers, let's talk about the numbers we have. The Developmental Disabilities Association in a July 2011 study pointed out that the per-client funding for adult community living services has been reduced from $65,368 in '01-02 to $45,320 in '11-12. That's the reality of service redesign.
The minister will know that the B.C. Association for Community Living has called on her and called on this government to put forward an external review of Community Living B.C. and a full moratorium on the service redesign process, including group home closures, until you can get this fixed.
Will you respect the B.C. Association for Community Living, do the review and put the moratorium in place?
Hon. S. Cadieux: We do have a system that is focused on providing innovative solutions that allow individualized supports for people living with disabilities in our province and that encourage inclusion in our communities. Today CLBC is serving more than 13,600 people with a budget of over $710 million.
I recognize that there are challenges. I have heard the concerns, and I have had my first meeting with CLBC. I will continue to look into issues that are presented and look to work with CLBC to find innovative solutions to the problems.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Simpson: The problem is this. We have had a revolving door of responsible ministers for this, and every one of those ministers has failed the people with developmental disabilities in this province. Every one of those ministers has perpetuated the demise of these programs, the erosion of these programs. That's the reality.
It started with the Government House Leader when he was minister, who said: "We're not forcing anyone to move." We know that commitment was never kept. That commitment was never kept.
The B.C. Association for Community Living represents all those organizations in this province that deliver those services day in and day out. They are the most knowledgable people on this issue — more knowledgable than Community Living B.C., more knowledgable than the people in this ministry.
They are saying an external review is necessary. They are saying there need to be more voices involved in this and more thoughts. They're calling for a responsible action by the minister. Will the minister be responsible, put the review in place, including the moratorium, and announce it today?
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Hon. S. Cadieux: There are challenges. I am committed to having continued discussions with advocates, with individuals, with families. But these challenges are not going to be solved here in the Legislature today.
I have had what has been my first meeting with CLBC to address the issues of concern that have been raised to me. I will continue to have discussions.
COURT SYSTEM FUNDING
AND CAMERAS IN COURTROOMS
K. Corrigan: Yesterday we spoke about Edward Ellis, another alleged criminal that walked free thanks to the Liberal government's failure to properly resource our courts. And while he walked free, the Premier was scribbling her riot TV idea on a napkin.
In Monday's throne speech this government's priority, instead of properly funding our courts, was to turn the Stanley Cup riot trials into Hollywood-style televised proceedings. I fail to see how this idea will help ensure the riot cases will be tried effectively and in a timely manner.
To the Premier: how much is riot TV going to cost B.C. taxpayers?
Hon. C. Clark: Let me quote from October 4 — no, from September 29: "I'm going to be positive. I'm going to be propositional. I'm going to say how we're going to pay for things. I'm going to provide alternatives…. It's not going to be negative every day, because we want to bring change." That was the Leader of the Opposition just on Thursday.
And you know, today I have this list of tweets that have gone out for the last six or seven hours. I think there are 11 tweets. Ten of them are negative. One of them was a retweet. The Leader of the Opposition, every single time he's gotten up in the Legislature, has been negative, negative, negative. He's the same angry man we've seen for so many sessions in this Legislature, but he says he wants to change his ways.
Not only does he refuse to change his ways; his members refuse to change their ways either. Has the Leader of the Opposition failed to tell his members that they're trying to be positive, that they're trying to be propositional, that they're trying to keep people up to date on how they would pay for things and where they would get the money? I haven't heard any of that in the last couple of days.
Maybe it's time. Maybe it's time for the members across the way to remember that if the NDP would like to propose an alternative, British Columbians would love to know what it is.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
K. Corrigan: Well, I'd really like to thank the Premier for answering a serious question that may matter to the taxpayers of this province.
We have trial delays that are allowing alleged criminals to walk free in B.C., putting families at risk. Clearly, the Premier did not consult with the criminal justice branch or the prosecutors before talking about the riot TV idea. They would have told her this is a wasteful endeavour that won't do anything to bring the rioters to justice.
To the Premier, will she admit that the riot TV idea is a gimmick, a poor priority for spending of taxpayers' dollars and a diversion from…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
K. Corrigan: …the real issue, the serious issue, of a shortage of resources in our justice system?
Mr. Speaker: Member, just take your seat. Member, take your seat for a second.
Members, we want to be able to hear the question and hear the answer.
Hon. C. Clark: Well, you know, here's the thing I don't get about the NDP. On our side of the House we're committed to three things: creating jobs, making life better for families and opening up government. Opening up our courts is a part of opening up government.
Putting cameras in our courtrooms is something I know that the NDP apparently oppose. I know that the NDP don't like this idea of starting with the rioters in the courtroom.
But you know what? The reason we've made this request is because those criminals committed those crimes in public. They had no problem doing it with cameras flashing and videos on as they lit cars on fire and looted stores. They had absolutely no problem with that, and they attacked our fundamental sense of community safety in doing so.
So what is the matter with them being tried in public as well? What is the matter with opening up the courtrooms beyond the people who can just physically attend? Why not make it open to the public? My question for the member opposite is: what is she so afraid of? Why is she afraid of opening the courts and allowing the public in to see how they work?
L. Krog: Cameras in courtrooms aren't going to make trials any better. Criminals aren't walking free in B.C. because there weren't cameras in the courtrooms. They're walking free because trials have been delayed or cancelled due to a shortage of sheriffs and judges.
B.C. Provincial Court Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree, who I think knows more about the courts than the B.C. Liberals, said: "The backlog of cases which has been
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accumulating due to judicial vacancies is now so great that the temporary use of retired judges will not resolve the problem."
So I have a proposition for the Premier. Will she take the issues facing our courts seriously, take the advice of the chief judge and hire the judges so that no more court cases are delayed or cancelled?
Hon. S. Bond: I'd like to take the member back to a date — March 19, 2010 — particularly after the member opposite's comments yesterday. "I don't doubt that many British Columbians think this is probably a good idea. It's a way of opening up the justice system, which is a good concept. Openness and transparency are always good." In fact, it was the member opposite on cameras in courtrooms.
Let me take him back to March 3, 2011. "I like the concept of cameras in courtrooms." Where's the consistency?
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
The member has a supplemental.
L. Krog: But I really love the concept that criminals get prosecuted in British Columbia in a timely way.
The Attorney General well knows that the mere presence of cameras in the courtroom is not going to make up for this government's complete failure to fund the justice system appropriately, to hire the judges, to pay for the prosecutors and hire the sheriffs necessary to do that.
Samiran Lakshman, president of the B.C. Crown Counsel Association, says that the idea to temporarily use retired judges "doesn't fundamentally address what needs to be done, and that is increase the capacity of the court system to actually hear more cases in a more timely way."
So while the Attorney General can take us down other roads, drug dealers are still dealing, drunk drivers are still driving, and the Premier is still focused on turning the riot trials into a TV show. What we need are real answers here today.
I'm looking to the Premier. Will she get away from the cameras on this issue, take the issues facing our courts seriously and hire more judges?
Hon. S. Bond: Well, consistency certainly isn't a strong suit. Let's listen to one more quote. In fact, you know, Mr. Speaker, this government believes that it's important for us to have the opportunity for British Columbians to understand and to observe how justice takes place in British Columbia.
Let's face it. The member opposite, on March 19, actually said: "The notion of cameras in the court I don't think is a bad one." Shame on the member opposite for his lack of consistency and the comments he made yesterday in the media. He should withdraw his remarks.
[End of question period.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: I call continued debate on the Speech from the Throne.
A. Dix: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Introductions by Members
A. Dix: A member of the press gallery became a dad last week. Jonathan Villeneuve, the cameraman for Radio-Canada, became a father on the early morning of September 27. His wife, Andrea, delivered, after six hours of labour, a beautiful son. Samuel Villeneuve weighed 6 pounds 13 ounces — it's not a race — has blond hair and is thriving. I hope everyone in the House wishes Jonathan and Andrea all the best.
J. Yap: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
J. Yap: In the gallery today — actually, he just left — and watching question period is my constituent Jerry Muir and his B.C. Hydro colleague Cam Matheson. They were both here today for meetings with the bioeconomy committee and took advantage of the opportunity to catch a great question period. Would the House please join me in extending a welcome to Jerry and to Cam.
Throne Speech Debate
B. Bennett: I'm going to carry on from where I left off yesterday. I think I was talking about taxes. I think I was saying that it is this government that reduced personal income taxes from the highest in Canada to the lowest in Canada. I don't know if I said that yesterday or not for sure, but I want to make sure that I say it today.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Of course, you know who had the highest taxes in Canada, and which political party of the two that are represented in this House raised taxes in B.C. to make them the highest in the country. It wasn't us.
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Winston Churchill once said…. This is a quotation from Mr. Churchill. We all like to quote Mr. Churchill. This is a good one. "I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle."
If you listen to what the other side of the House says here day after day and year after year, as I have for ten years, that is exactly what they're suggesting. They seem to believe that you can tax British Columbia into prosperity, and it just doesn't work. It hasn't worked anywhere in the world.
Taxes actually lead to debt. When tax levels get so high that job creators can find a better place for their investment outside of British Columbia, they leave, which is what they did a decade ago. It's this government that managed the finances of this province such that B.C. has amongst the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio in the country.
Our economy over the past ten years has grown far more than our debt, unlike many jurisdictions in the western world, and frankly, it's something that I think the opposition neither understands nor cares about. In fact, it's one of the ways, one of the important ways, that this government has earned the triple-A credit rating and to this day retains the triple-A credit rating despite the massive economic uncertainty around us in the U.S. and in Europe.
I note that yesterday members of the opposition were actually making jokes about the province's triple-A credit rating, as if it were unimportant, something that only accountants care about.
They should, in fact, go ask Greece or Spain or Ireland or even the U.S.A. about how important their credit rating is and how much more interest in the hundreds of millions — in fact, in the case of the U.S., hundreds of billions in extra interest — that their citizens are paying on debt because they don't have the credit rating that we have earned here in British Columbia.
Yesterday my colleague from Richmond Centre said in his remarks about the throne speech that the promises that the opposition have made to date add up to about $15 billion. Again, I noticed that the opposition members made jokes about that. They thought that was funny.
They do think it's funny. When you ask them where the money is going to come from to do all the things that they always want to do, they never seem to have an answer. They always seem to think that it's a joke. I don't think that they're fooling anyone. I don't think they're going to fool the people of B.C. a year and a half from now.
Although a decade has passed since they were in government, I consider it my personal responsibility — and I think my colleagues share this on this side of the House — to warn young people, young people in particular, in this province about what kind of threat the NDP is to them as they start out in life trying to get ahead.
We on this side of the House will ensure that the young people of British Columbia know what to expect from the NDP. You can be sure of that.
Under an NDP government, their taxes will be higher, investment and job prospects will diminish, and quite likely they will not be able to stay in B.C. and earn a good livelihood for their families.
That's what happened to my two sons when the NDP were in power. They both had to move to Alberta to find jobs. This government was elected in 2001. Three to four years later my two sons were able to move back to British Columbia with good jobs. We need to make sure that that doesn't change.
Despite what I'm saying, the opposition seems quite cocky these days, actually. I think they think that they're riding some kind of a wave and that the people are going to trust them in the next election, but the electorate has a long memory. The voters of B.C. know who created this solid fiscal foundation that we're blessed with today. It's a foundation that will sustain us through this economic downturn.
At a time when nations are defaulting, when the most important economy in the world, the U.S.A., is in tatters, the people of B.C. understand the value of being responsible, of balancing the budget when we say we're going to balance the budget, in 2013-2014, being reliable and being businesslike. Those are two things that the opposition party, when it was in power, was not: businesslike or reliable.
I believe that the world is in for a prolonged period of uncertainty and many difficult choices. In some ways, the financial chickens have come home to roost. My generation, the baby boomers, have been living it up for our adult lives, and to be blunt, we have been borrowing from our children and our grandchildren. Young people in this province now expect those of us in elected office to make the tough decisions so that the borrowing from them stops.
In the western world, governments have spent lots and lots of money over the past 40 years. In Canada we have a mostly publicly funded health care system that will soon eat up half of the provincial budget. A modest increase to that budget is felt by the health care industry as a cut, and of course that's how it's represented by the opposition — as a cut.
So be it. That's the nature of politics. But the public needs to know that the increase in health spending can't be sustained by a smaller workforce as we baby boomers retire.
Education. While the number of students in our K-to-12 schools is declining overall, the cost of education is rising steadily. Teachers. Teachers want a raise. We'd all like to give them a raise. Other public sector union workers will want a raise, and yet there's no money. There's no money to give them a raise. It isn't a matter of whether one party cares more than the other party; it's a matter of there's no money.
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Infrastructure. Provincial infrastructure doesn't last forever. Highways and bridges must be replaced, new roads and mass transit constructed.
In my riding I've been fortunate. I think we've been fortunate in lots of places in the province. We just finished resurfacing Highway 43, which leads to the coal mines north of Sparwood — a very, very busy highway; a booming, booming industry — and we just replaced the last bridge on Highway 3 that hadn't yet been replaced in my riding. There are about half a dozen bridges. They've all now been replaced at great cost.
Schools must be restored. They must be replaced. Colleges and universities must have the capacity to compete for students around the world, and important research must be done at B.C. schools. All of that costs money.
On the social side, I think it's fair to say we'd probably all like to provide more money to CLBC, to raise social assistance rates, to inject resources into our justice system.
I wrote this speech yesterday. I could have written it ten minutes ago, listening to question period.
But if we elect an NDP government, they'll take care of all those needs easily and quickly. They'll just raise taxes — particularly raise taxes on the job creators, the people in our society who actually generate the jobs for families. That'll be their solution. That's always their solution. They did it before. They'll chase those job creators out of the province, leaving fewer taxpayers to pay the costs of all the social programs they can hardly wait to implement.
Now, I'm usually a pretty half-full-glass kind of guy. It doesn't come naturally to me to be quite so glum about the circumstances we find ourselves in, in the western world today. But I really think that the Pollyanna approach, or the ostrich approach, is not responsible. All western nations have been living beyond their means. Government is too big. It's too expensive.
Now that we're experiencing what it can be like and may be like for a long time, with revenues falling like a stone and previously solid jurisdictions inching towards default, it's our moral responsibility here in B.C. to hold the line, to work as hard as we can as legislators to find innovative ways to grow the economy and also to spend less on some things so that we can spend more on others.
That will be the challenge. Frankly, the alternative — a failure to balance the provincial budget, increase more debt — is just not something that this side of the House can abide.
I was caught by another line in the throne speech. It said that the government wants to ensure that we don't leave a legacy of debt for future generations.
I've mentioned younger British Columbians. A couple times I've mentioned my two sons. We actually moved to B.C. in 1992 and spent a couple of years in Kelowna and then moved over to Cranbrook in 1994.
If there's anything that has driven me personally to get into public life and remain in public life, despite the ups and downs that we all experience in this business, it is my belief that we have to leave the province in better shape than we found it. I don't believe that we will leave it in better shape than we found it if we leave increased debt for our kids and our grandkids.
Before I finish, I just want to say a little bit about the riding of Kootenay East. I'm just going to focus on one thing. I've said this before in the House, but it bears repeating. I think that we need — in the beltway here in Victoria, in the House — to recognize and even celebrate the metallurgical coal industry in this province.
During a time when good jobs are really hard to find — they're extra-precious — and at a time when export dollars are crucial to sustaining these social programs that everyone needs and wants, and at a time when all of us, both sides of the House, ought to be searching for opportunities to enable the creation of good new jobs, the metallurgical coal industry is a shining opportunity that we should exploit.
Asian economies are willing to pay top dollar right now for our high-quality steelmaking coal. Government needs to ensure that transportation infrastructure can carry the larger production that the mines want to bring on and that new coal mines will bring on in the northeast. That's why our investment in the Port of Prince Rupert, both our past and current investment, is so important, and our investments in the Vancouver ports as well.
I've heard in this House, over my ten years, members of the opposition deride the British Columbia coal industry. I guess it's easy to do that. You try and get people to buy into the Mr. Peabody's coal train stereotype, but it's worth reminding those members, and the public as well, that without metallurgical coal, you don't have steel.
So you actually don't have the steel for your Toyota Prius car. You won't be able to have the nickel-cadmium batteries that exist in those Prius cars. You won't be able to have the wind farms that depend on steel. We need this commodity in the world to support our economy and to support the things that are important to us.
As I say, opposition members, sometimes to my absolute amazement, have been quite derogatory to this industry. What that means to me as the representative from Kootenay East is that they are being derogatory to the people who work in that industry. Those are my constituents.
In terms of direct employment, where I come from in Kootenay East, the metallurgical coal industry employs directly around 3,500 workers, and the average annual wage is over $100,000. Those are pretty good jobs.
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I can't tell you how many people in my riding that I've spoken to lately have been displaced from other jobs — maybe forestry jobs or retail or some such thing. Now they're driving a big truck up at Fording River, or they're doing something else at one of the five coal mines there, and they're making really good money that can support their families.
There are also thousands of other workers that support their families in some of the indirect businesses that support the coal-mining industry. Finning is a great example — and the welding shops, the pipefitters, the power pole contractors, the restaurants, the non-profits in my region that benefit from that high disposable income.
So when we criticize an industry and say, "Well, that's a dirty industry, and we shouldn't have that industry…." Our non-profits would be out of luck, out of business where I come from, if it wasn't for the wages that are earned by the people who work in the metallurgical coal industry.
I did want to get on the record with that, Madam Speaker. I don't know how much time I have left, but I'm finished. I'll give way to the next speaker, and I thank you for the opportunity to have a little fun with this. I hope nobody on the other side was offended. It's always a pleasure to get up in the House.
G. Gentner: It is a real pleasure to follow the esteemed colleague from Kootenay East, and I'm certainly not offended. The esteemed member for Kootenay East once said that the HST was the best thing since powder skiing. I guess the 61 percent of his constituents who voted yes to extinguish the HST probably voted that way because they didn't like powder skiing.
I'd like, first of all, before I begin, to thank my family — the sacrifices they make. All members here have families who give up a lot of their private time for us to do our work in this Legislature. I'd also like to thank my friends and, of course, my constituents — the constituents who are not afraid to come to my office and talk to me about issues, have a cup of coffee and discuss everything from the HST to…. One of the biggest issues in my constituency right now seems to be education.
I also have the opportunity at this time to thank my staff — Sheryl Seale and, of course, Renee Poley — who do a grand job relative to all the casework and also put together something that we call the Matrix, a community directory that I challenge all MLAs to follow. This is an extensive directory put out by my office, which also lists a thousand businesses in my constituency, 60 percent of which, of course, are at-home businesses that pay taxes and are an essential part of my community and, through those taxes, pay for many amenities that support my community.
You know, it is great to be back. It's great to be here. I thought, having read the statements of the Premier, that there would be some reference in the throne speech to the view of axing the Senate. That was made earlier by her, but I guess someone told the Premier that (a) it's not in our jurisdiction, and (b) the Senate actually sits most of the time, while here in the Legislature it seems to be a convenience.
So 112 days is the time we've spent in this Legislature since the last election, about 900 days ago; 112 days — that's all we've sat here. You take away the half days, the Wednesday, and it really amounts to about 98 days. That's quite remarkable. But it's great to be back. It's great to be here.
I know the Premier talked about the Senate and suddenly recanted it. But speaking of flip-flops, I was also expecting something in the speech about cigarette prevention. That's because last week the Minister of Health said that the province would institute a surcharge on MSP premiums for people who smoke, and 24 hours later the Premier said: "I think it is a slippery slope for government to start applying MSP premiums based on people's personal behaviour." We expected to see it in the throne speech, but it's obviously another flip-flop from the government that seems to be rudderless, hon. Speaker.
It's also great to see so many members, particularly on the opposite side, who are going to have a job for at least another 17 months. I wish some of my constituents in North Delta could have that kind of security. I know we have a place of work called BEL-PAR. Workers, my constituents, are worried about that, because some of the furniture they make for the school district or for the Ministry of Education is now being made somewhere in California. So I have some great concerns on the job front.
I also have to say that I'm really curious why we're even having a throne speech. I was sitting in my office last Monday when we began this, before all of the pomp and ceremony began. I looked across the way at the boutonnieres. The members opposite were wearing this wonderful floral display, and I thought about all the jobs it was creating, the jobs created by simply the throne speech itself.
You know, I was listening and sitting down in my office, and I heard the 15-cannon salute. There was lots of powder and lots of smoke, which is what we can expect from this government. It's typical when you talk about gunpowder, for example, which was used for bringing forward the throne speech — a mixture of sulphur and charcoal and potassium nitrate, all the natural resources to enhance our jobs. Yet again, like most of our natural resources, they go somewhere else, and the gunpowder came from somewhere else to introduce our throne speech.
When it comes to value-added jobs, it seems to be lost in this government. You know, hon. Speaker, the guns
[ Page 7986 ]
were blazing, and the marching band was playing. We had the singing of God Save the Queen, and by the third or fourth gun — the third sound, the fourth sound — we started having O Canada. A 15-gun salute — and where there's smoke, there's fire.
No, the thundering that tested the seismic order of this Legislature, the pomp, was really welcoming us all back. It's more, really, a question of firecrackers lit prematurely before Halloween, an explosion of happiness, of wonderment and delight. Or is it really a symbol of the detonating or the imploding of the B.C. Liberal government?
Didn't we have a throne speech last year, earlier? I know there's a reason for all this pomp, but wasn't it a little over the top? Like, what was in the throne speech? Nothing, nothing of any relevance. We've heard it before from the Liberals.
Budgets — let's talk about previous throne speeches. September 2005, we had the improved support for seniors. What has happened? We're still in chaos, relative to our support for our seniors. In 2006 we had a throne speech that concentrated on the children of B.C., and to this day we have the highest poverty rates in all of Canada. Disgusting.
What do we do? We regurgitate something new. We're going to call it families first.
In 2007 we had a throne speech that was all about housing — how the housing starts were going to bolster the economy — and here we are today. You know, housing is in the ditch. Then in 2008, on the back of a Premier's napkin, we came up with something called the climate change. What a joke that has become. In 2009 the recession was starting. We had the "building stability and confidence" budget and throne speech — increased taxes. It didn't happen. Instead, we are running a deficit over the next five years.
In the following throne speech, 2010, it was "building on the momentum of the games." Well, what a joke that turned out to be. Where is that stimulus? Where is it? We also had in 2011, this spring, the need for a prudent, cautious, far-sighted budget and throne speech, and we learned that the CEO of B.C. Ferries has these huge, exorbitant salaries.
So the status quo is still there. It currently exists. Who wouldn't want to admit that? The B.C. Liberals. But I dare not call them B.C. Liberals anymore. It isn't a throne speech by the B.C. Liberal government. No, it's the Premier's party's throne speech. I mean, they're changing names sort of like Teddy Roosevelt did with the Moose Party. No, I think it was called the Bull Moose Party. But we're not going to talk about bull here in this Legislature. No, no — not at all.
We're here because we didn't have an election. We are here for a throne speech instead. There is very little in this throne speech about the environment. You know, I'm sad to hear that the member for Chilliwack-Hope is no longer going to run, but he's doing great work in the view of the incineration file. I didn't see that in the throne speech — about how the asthmatic conditions up the valley are going to now, perhaps, change. What a real shame.
He did really good work on the Species at Risk Act, but I think it's the B.C. Liberals that are at risk, the B.C. Liberals that should be red-listed. They're the ones that need protection. They are the species, I think, that are dying.
B.C. Liberalsaurus — I think that is what we should call it now. Forget the new name of the party. It's attacked by a new malignancy called B.C. Conservatitis. It's taking them on. That is why the band played on, that's why we didn't have an election, and that's why we have this phony throne speech.
The Premier really doesn't have a mandate for the throne speech. I guess we did have an election. It was called the HST, an election and subsequent polling that show the B.C. Liberalsaurus can't fight against its own induced political climate change. Lots of guns and lots of smoke on Monday.
In today's Vancouver Province the editorial said the following regarding the throne speech: "The legislative program is nothing more than a patchwork of disconnected, off-the-cuff trivialities rather than a serious vision for the province and its citizens." That sums it up. That's what this throne speech is.
Let's talk about the HST. The government has spent over two years defending the HST, and the public has lambasted this government's position and handling. The government believed that father knew best, and what we have today is a lack of trust.
Where is the plan to execute, to move on with the people's mandate and finally get rid of the tax? This throne speech prides itself on families and on jobs. But why does it not move quickly to not only restore trust but restore the economy and give families consumer room to enhance the retail economy?
Regarding the housing market, where is the movement to remove the HST on housing sales and material to get the market moving again and create real jobs?
Jobs. Remember the 2007 throne speech and the budget for 2007 — "building a housing legacy"? Oh, the accolades, the promise. Yet we had more smoke on Monday, regurgitating something that has already failed. No action on the HST — therefore no jobs.
Why is it taking so long? Here's what the Premier said regarding quick turnarounds. "You know, when I talk about change, one of the changes people are going to see in government is we are going to move fast." That's what the Premier said. She said that as a newly elected leader of the party. "We will move fast." And here we have an HST that's mired in slow controversy.
I guess the B.C. Liberalsaurus is a clumsy, awkward animal. It can't move according to the political change.
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Regarding housing, there is no way buyers are willing to wait for change. We need jobs now. We have empty subdivisions that sit with foundations poured and that are ghost towns. In North Delta we have infill lots that sit idle. Throughout British Columbia thousands upon thousands of workers could be working today if the B.C. Liberals could adapt and become swift.
Framers, electricians, plumbers and drywallers sit waiting. Retailers with building inventories are stagnant. We want jobs, so let's start the wave. Let's not wait for 2013.
You know, in my community we have a store, Home Hardware. It was there for 20 years. It shut down. It shut down a month ago.
The throne speech talked a lot about jobs. I quote: "Education and skills training should allow…British Columbians to earn a living in their own town. We are establishing regional workshop tables with seats for community, industry, First Nations and labour representatives to collaborate."
Since the Industry Training Authority was created in 2003, labour has not had a seat at the table. The government has yet to address many systemic issues with the ITA as identified in the Auditor General's report of 2008.
The budget this government is currently working under has cut the funding for the ITA, the training authority, by $3.3 million. It talks about the need for skilled workers and how they're going to come forward with all this training. Well, obviously, if you don't have the budget, the throne speech is all fluff.
ITA has failed this. The Red Seal program has collapsed because of this notion of modular training. High-skilled sector workers have told us in Delta…. We have a huge industrial area in my community. They've told us that they can't find the skilled workers. They have to train themselves.
You know, there's a lot of snorting going on over on the other side, but really, that is a species that cannot adapt to changing times.
We're talking about jobs. In the throne speech it talks about the B.C. jobs plan and through which the B.C. jobs plan has now changed the name of what the government has been proposing — the foreign trade zone into the international trade zone.
Jobs in my community are somewhat port-related. But what's happening here is that the supply chain industries are good jobs in support of the Asia-Pacific. What the government is proposing is a free trade zone, a state within a state that's going to have its own regulations, its own authorities, its own deregulation of labour standards and environment, and less corporate taxes.
Now, I only want to talk briefly…. The Premier has said and the throne speech says: "We will reach out to help B.C. companies entering Asian markets. We will be better equipped to welcome foreign investors through a new hosting and business development program. The Premier also will lead a provincial trade mission to…China this fall to build and strengthen relationships forged over the past decade and to identify opportunities for the next" decade.
Yet HD Mines, a joint venture recently formed between the Huiyong Group of mines — this is from China — has six months to bring workers to Tumbler Ridge before the LMOs expire. Now, HD Mines near Tumbler Ridge has already received permission to hire 92 foreign workers from China for their proposed coal mine — trained in China. So where are the jobs for British Columbia? You're bringing this investment from Asia, but the foreign workers are coming from China. Is that the new job plan for British Columbia? That is the job plan.
The province is responsible for enforcing labour standards, but we know what's happened. We know what's happened to the forest tree farmers up at Columbia, you know. They were scammed by labour contractors. We know what happened to the mushroom workers. They weren't protected.
The second pillar to the throne speech of the B.C. job plan is "making sure that the right connections are in place through investments in smart infrastructure. Building Canada's Pacific Gateway will continue to be a massive project, performed hand in hand with local governments."
Local government — what a joke. There's a freeway running through my community. There was no consultation. They're just ramming this thing through. They've put a new alignment that's supposed to go somewhere down by the river. They're now pushing it up in the back doors of a community that had no choice but to buy into it.
You know, it goes on to say: "Our province has a special duty to ensure that marine ports and airports linking Canada to Asia and the rest of the world are the best they can be. The government is making significant new investments…at Deltaport."
What are those investments? It's going to be an international trade zone, foreign trade zone — deregulation, zero taxes, on and on. That's the blueprint behind the throne speech. And what are we seeing here? I quote some of the language. The foreign trade zone will need "guest workers" to survive. They're not calling them foreign workers. They're calling them guest workers.
So where are these jobs for British Columbians? The temporary workers program is alive in B.C. with little protection for those workers. The Sauder school of economics has referred to this so-called international free trade zone as a race to the bottom. So those are the underpinnings of what this throne speech is all about.
Now, on the health front the throne speech talks about helping families. But as the government states: "Families can extend beyond bloodlines to one's support
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network of friends and mentors. How we define them is a personal choice." A personal choice. Tell that to the challenged adult who, at the age of 18, moves from one ministry to the next.
How we define families is a personal choice. But what about the elderly grandmother whose children unfortunately are on the street — they're addicts — and she has no support? She's part of a family, but her position in mainstream society may not fit the criteria. Her husband is gone, but she still has to pay the bills. Define the family.
Take the case of Verna, 98 years old, in my community. Privatized health care workers won't even make her a pot of tea because they are afraid that her son might take a sip. Yeah, that's what is going on out there. Home care has been privatized. And the other part of it is that the son has a part-time job trying to make his way through it all. It's jeopardized, because the scheduling is not meeting the needs of his mother.
We're seeing the continual loss of Meals on Wheels, and therefore a lot of seniors are forced to take care outside the home into assisted living, costing us more money.
Let's talk about health care, families and jobs. There is nothing new in the throne speech regarding health care. All the comments are simply reiterations of past commitments. The expansion of Surrey Memorial Hospital was announced before the 2005 election by the then Premier, who said shovels would be in the ground by 2007. The expansion has been re-announced countless times by B.C. Liberalsaurus.
Oh, and let's not forget the former Minister of Health's commitment in June 2010 that by 2015 there would be a doctor for every British Columbian. Currently the BCMA estimates that a quarter of a million British Columbians don't have a doctor even today. Families and jobs, and the hatchet job in home care.
The private sector jobs — probably the end of our health care system, as we know. In Delta we had something called Delta Home Care, a non-profit. It used to be small and community-based. Delta Home Support Services was changed over a year ago, reduced the number of organizations. They had control of a budget. Home used to be excellent. Delta was a community-based system. It was contracted out to Saint Elizabeth and to Comcare and now over to Riviera, where we're seeing a great loss of jobs.
A new contract for the Fraser Health Authority, Riviera — Surrey, North Delta, New West, Burnaby — a huge U.S. corporation. It's changed, and the wheels are now falling off the system — and the loss of jobs. Scheduling is based now on profit and therefore will change with no respect to the client needs.
So we're talking about family. Yes, but this side believes in only one family, and that's the needs of the corporate family. Riviera-operated home care is run like a franchise and is losing their workers. There are no performance audits regarding the organization scheduling, and the accounting department and the call centres are located in Toronto.
No supervisor to check out the scene. It has been so depersonalized. Everything is automated — voice mail. Patients are in need. These are patients that need real need. The right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. Lots of turnover. Loss of morale.
Now, workers only get a few gloves at a time to commute to their different homes. That may be good. They have to go back and forth on their own time to get the medical gloves. Think of that.
It's all right, I suppose, if the gas attendants are going to fill their cars. That means more jobs for them. But the system is falling apart.
Delta Home Care used to be locally controlled, could talk and persuade and get them going relative to their personal needs. Now there's no local control. It's understaffed, and the people there are overworked. Training has decreased, and scheduling is dispatched on availability and not on personal care needs.
There was one person, a lady in my constituency, who needs range of motion in the morning — she has MS — to get going, but it's all rescheduled. Sometimes she's lucky that that person comes, and when the person comes, the person's untrained.
The Premier better redefine family and the notion that all jobs come from the private sector, because if you have no oversight, no compassion, you have no family or any healthy workplace.
Now I'm going to conclude by talking a little bit about the throne speech and its reference to bullying. It states: "Important anti-bullying policies in our schools will be expanded to include a comprehensive training regime, on-line reporting tools and advanced threat assessment tools and protocols."
Anti-bullying is necessary, but so are so many other things, as well, in our curriculum. We have to re-enhance physical education, for we're seeing children who are becoming obese. The arts have been cut. We need creative minds. Today we have over 16,000 classes that have over 30 students or more than three IEP students.
On the anti-bullying, I held many forums in my community over the years. I have a real good understanding what it means. Anti-bullying is going to be part of curriculum, which is wonderful, but let's not forget what the slogan is. "Bullying stops here."
Bullying stops right in this House. The Premier has been touting an anti-bullying agenda but has yet to take action to protect the victims of bullying across the province. Victim service has been cut to the bone.
The budgets…. You know, it's all now up to Crown prosecutors. They have very little resources. If you're lucky, you have the local police, which may give you some assistance.
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But who is the bully? "Bullying stops here." What is it called? IhateJohnCummins.ca? I'm sorry. Ican'ttrustJohnCummins.ca? Unprincipled? Can't trust? Hate ads, negative ads? Who's calling the kettle black here?
"A new beginning. A new start. We're going to have no negative advertising." But this province, the provincial government, is going to run an anti-bullying campaign, and it's got its own cyberbullying going on at the B.C. Liberal website. Go check it out. That's where the bullying really starts.
Under the municipal auditor general, also mentioned…. Our provincial Auditor, in his last report, said that the government's own bookkeeping is unacceptable — accounting errors, information not auditable or misleading.
We've seen what happened with the massive creative bookkeeping with the Olympics, the megaproject not cited as part of the deficit, and now we have a government that's extolling the need for a municipal auditor general, when our own Auditor General says that for a government that strives for transparency and unaccountability, its own recordkeeping is "unacceptable." It's pointing fingers.
Let's define the municipal auditor general, define who interprets, because some of the most compelling arguments by the Auditor General go unheeded by its own government.
In conclusion, the throne speech proves that the Premier's plan is largely an exercise in repackaging existing plans and programs, heavy on self-promotion and light on real action. This is a government, frankly, that is out of gas. It's out of ideas. It's regurgitating the old, having spent the past two years completely consumed by the debate on the HST.
I want to describe what this government is. I'm going to give you these words. "More and more, it's abundantly clear" — in the approach of this government, or of this leader opposite — "that…positions are simply not credible, and it shows that she has no real plan for our province, our economy or our families. On these significant issues, the public wants certainty and clarity, not more doublespeak and misdirection."
That was from the current Minister of Education on February 2, 2011, during the B.C. Liberal leadership…. So we knew. Even on that side most of the members had projected where we're going to go with the leadership of the current party.
This is a budget that lacks clear job targets. It leaves vital investments in people out of the equation. It fails to offer anything for many sectors, such as forestry, tourism, communities and the green economy.
In conclusion, hon. Speaker, I'm hopeful that in the next six or seven weeks we'll get some substance when we debate the throne speech further and what it really means, debate some of the bills. Let's get onto the real job here in making this province work.
J. Yap: Thank you, Madam Speaker, for this opportunity to take my place in the debate on the throne speech. It is an honour and privilege of all of us to take part in this debate, and I'm certainly honoured to have this opportunity, as other members of this House.
For the benefit of those who are tuning in around the province to Hansard TV and watching the comments of different members, we've just heard a member of the official opposition go through his comments about the throne speech, which I was listening intently to — the member for Delta North. I believe that before I get into my remarks, I do need to address a few of the points he attempted to make, just to bring a little balance, because viewers around the province who are tuning in might be wondering.
First of all, I think, quite frankly, that it's the height of irony that the NDP are trying to be the defenders of jobs. Why I say that is because when they last held the levers of government — that, coincidentally, is the period of the 1990s, from 1992 to the year 2000 — per-capita economic growth fell to dead last in Canada in British Columbia. We became a have-not province. It's important that we remind ourselves and British Columbians of that decade.
We know that the NDP prefer not to be reminded about that period of time when they were in power. During that decade British Columbian businesses recorded the worst rise in business bankruptcies in Canada. That was between 1994 and '98. Business bankruptcies grew 12 percent in our province while, actually, they fell 13 percent nationally.
It's been said — and, again, worth repeating for the record — that the '90s were a time of growth, of expansion around the continent of North America and the world. But here in British Columbia, thanks to that NDP administration, B.C. was falling further and further behind economically. Jobs were being lost. We were last in job creation between '96 and 2000, and we were, for that decade…. Truly, that was a lost decade.
The other point I'd like to specifically refer to. The member for Delta North decided to make reference to certain political ads. I should suggest, respectfully, that he look in the mirror, because I do recall a certain advertising campaign referring to a crunchy cereal that is on the Internet, which is clearly very much a personal attack ad that the NDP have themselves put out there. So they should look in the mirror, respectfully.
I'd like to get to my comments on the throne speech. I'd like to start off, first of all, as all members do, with gratitude. I'd like to give some thanks, first of all, to the people of the constituency of Richmond-Steveston for giving me the privilege of representing them here in Victoria.
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I'd like to thank the people who make it possible for me to carry out my duties as an MLA, both here in Victoria and in Richmond. The staff in Victoria are top-notch.
The people that help me — including Mario Miniaci, my research officer; Jeff Melland, my communications officer; Rob Scherf, my new legislative assistant, who do a great job for me here in Victoria. And I'd like to say a word of thanks to my departing legislative assistant, Andrew Leyne. He's moving on to a new opportunity, and I thank him for his great service.
I'd also like to thank my staff in my constituency office — Paige Robertson, PoWah Ng and Christiana Wu, who do just a great job on my behalf serving the people of Richmond-Steveston in Richmond.
They do a great job, whether it's in preparing for events, attending events on my behalf, accompanying me at events, preparing newsletters — all of the work that a constituency assistant does, especially in helping constituents who need our help at the constituency office.
I'd like to also thank the members of my riding association, who help me on a personal basis to be a candidate and a member of this House, including a few that I'd like to mention specifically — John Taggart, who recently moved on from being my riding president; Michael Chiu, who is my riding vice-president; Ray Holme, who is the new president of my riding association; Paul Dufour; Nina Graham; and Marnie Plant, to name a few — who go above and beyond the call of duty in volunteering their time to serve all of us through this political process.
Last but certainly not least, I'd like to thank my family — my wife, Suzanne, my daughter Lisa and my son Michael — for their love and support as I discharge my duties on behalf of the people of British Columbia and the people of Richmond-Steveston.
Madam Speaker, in thanking my family, I am reminded that at its core this throne speech is about families. It is about families throughout the province of British Columbia.
The throne speech is about helping families to have more time to spend together, about improving the education of our children, about defending and creating the jobs that help to sustain families in neighbourhoods, communities, towns and cities around the province. And it's about helping those who are most vulnerable in the extended families that we call communities.
Our new Premier has made families and jobs that sustain families the central core priority of our government. Our new Premier, our government, provides — and this throne speech outlines — a positive and optimistic vision for our province. I'd like, as I go through some of my comments, to highlight a few of the key parts, from what I see, of the throne speech that tie back to this great vision, this positive vision.
I'm very pleased that the throne speech makes good on the Premier's promise to add a new holiday, very appropriately called family day. This will be a great opportunity for all of us in the province to spend a bit more time with our families and to remember our loved ones just a bit more during that time of the year in February.
This new statutory holiday will be phased in, with the first one to happen on February 18, 2013. This will allow business to prepare and plan for this transition to this new statutory holiday.
On education. As a father, I can tell you, as any parent can tell you, that a good education, a great education, for my children is a primary concern. Especially, as we all know, we are in the period of our history that is commonly referred to as the knowledge economy at this juncture in the 21st century. That's why I find the promise in the throne speech, the promise to modernize our education system, to be so exciting.
In the highly competitive environment of the 21st century we cannot afford to stand still. B.C. has to be competitive. B.C., our people, has to be given the opportunity to be competitive, and we must always improve.
We have a great school system in British Columbia, as you know, Madam Speaker. I've had the opportunity, as MLA, to visit all of the schools in my riding. I meet so many dedicated, passionate teachers who all care about developing their students, who are the leaders of tomorrow throughout our communities.
In Richmond, as I reflect back on the experience of my own children and their time in our K-to-12 system, I can think of so many great teachers who've touched their lives and have helped shape them — as you have shaped, Madam Speaker, in your past experience as an educator, young lives that will be one day our leaders.
As I thought back to those teachers, one, for example, stands out in thinking of the teachers that helped to educate my children. Teachers like Ms. Rebeca Rubio, who is a teacher at my children's high school, McMath Secondary in Steveston, that was the leader and the organizer of a great program called the Explorations program.
Many high schools have a similar program, where there's a focus on not just the regular curriculum but an enhanced and enriched program where the students are challenged to seek knowledge and to work as a team to have really great experiences in their education.
As I thought of the impact on my two children, the work of teachers like Ms. Rubio has really provided that great education which I know will stay with them for their lives.
There are many great teachers, like Ms. Rubio, with a passion for educating, and this throne speech holds the promise to help our teachers deepen their skills and further develop their skills. The skills our children need to learn from their teachers for the 21st cen-
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tury require a 21st-century curriculum and approach. We're going to help our teachers to gain these skills, and I'm very pleased that the throne speech makes that commitment.
It's also very important that we ensure that our schools are a safe environment, our communities are a safe environment. I'm pleased that the throne speech makes a commitment to two important initiatives in this area.
First, we're going to make sure that the thankfully very small number of individuals who abuse the authority and the trust that their students have in them will be removed from the education system — that these people will be removed. We'll make sure they will not return.
We'll also introduce measures to further reduce bullying in our schools, build on the important anti-bullying policies in schools and expand on them to include comprehensive training, tools for on-line reporting of bullies and advanced tools to enable advanced threat assessments. Our students, our youth deserve a safe and secure learning environment, and we're going to make sure they have that.
On jobs. This throne speech is very much a focus on jobs. Unless a family is very wealthy, it cannot possibly thrive unless there is a good job, and good jobs available is the key.
As we have heard other members of my caucus in their comments about the throne speech, it is so important that we encourage the creation of private sector jobs, good-paying jobs that will help sustain families, communities, regions and our entire province.
This is a crucial time for our province — indeed, a crucial time for the world, as events of the last few months have shown. Thanks to the good, prudent fiscal management of our government over the last ten years, B.C. is in a great position to weather this economic storm that is gathering. We saw the impacts of the very serious — well, probably the worst — recession since the great depression of 2008-2009 and the impact on families and communities.
We are just recovering from that and are now seeing that there is a potential for a slowdown in the economy. Whether it is in our largest trading partner, the U.S., or whether it is in Europe, the signs are very troubling: the economic turmoil that is gathering, the impact on potential investment, the impact on financial markets that have an impact on the ability of the private sector to create jobs.
This is a crucial time for our province, and yet this is a time of opportunity, an opportunity for B.C. to take its place, to build on the strengths that we possess. Here are a few of them that we all should acknowledge. I know we won't hear members of the opposition talk about them, but I'll recite a few of them.
We have great assets, including an educated workforce. We have great natural resources. We all know that. We are blessed with great geography, being right here on the Pacific, the gateway between the Asia-Pacific and North America and beyond. We have a strong fiscal position, a triple-A credit rating, prudent debt-to-GDP levels and, importantly, competitive taxes.
This throne speech builds on the jobs plan which was recently unveiled by the Premier. The plan, appropriately named Canada Starts Here: The B.C. Jobs Plan, is a great plan to bring together, in a very focused way, the resources and to be very focused on creating the environment that will lead to investment that leads to jobs.
We heard the member from North Delta belittle — that's the only word I can think of, belittle — the private sector and their role in job creation. The fact is that it is the private sector that creates jobs. Government doesn't create jobs. We enable the creation of jobs. This jobs plan, Canada Starts Here, will enable the creation of jobs in B.C.
There are three pillars to this jobs plan, also referenced in the throne speech. The first one is to ensure that we are as effective and efficient as possible, to allow business to get on with doing business. That means to ensure that the permitting process is as efficient as it can be without sacrificing standards.
This is evidenced by our great and important emphasis on helping major projects receive the review and the approval that they need through the proposed major investments office, which will allow some of the very fundamentally important projects that will lead to investment and job creation in our province to proceed, as well as the jobs and investment board that will help lead to the investments that we require in our province.
The $24 million that has been committed to support the natural resource ministries over the next two years will also help to eliminate backlogs in the authorizing of the very important projects that are being proposed.
The second pillar is the one on infrastructure. We need to ensure that we are able to move our goods and services efficiently and effectively through our province.
We know we have the advantage of geography. We know we are three days closer to the Asia-Pacific, a day and a half there and a day and a half back in terms of the normal sailing time. That's an advantage that we can take advantage of if we have the infrastructure to support the trade flows that will happen and will grow. It's not just imports but also in highways and bridges, and we're making these investments.
In our community we have a number of infrastructure projects that are contributing to the Asia-Pacific gateway, most importantly the airport. Canada's second-most-busy airport, the most important economic generator in Richmond and, indeed, one of the most important economic generators in our province, YVR, is a great airport, a great asset that is a vital part of the gateway.
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Of course, we also have the Canada Line, hugely successful, that has, way ahead of schedule, exceeded the expectations and is a successful public transit system, moving people efficiently within Richmond and Vancouver and beyond.
Another one that I have to mention, Madam Speaker, is the Highway 91 Nelson exchange, which recently opened and which you had a hand in supporting. It's a great project that now allows for the more efficient flow of truck traffic along the Highway 91 corridor — again, that smart infrastructure that will help us as we build our economy.
We need to continue to build on our assets, and one of our greatest assets is our diverse population. We know, we hear all the time, that we are blessed with having the most diverse population, here in B.C., in our country. The Lower Mainland is as diverse as it gets, and it is a great asset.
Many of the newer Canadians who are here in our communities are from the Asia-Pacific, and that provides a great base on which to continue to build cultural and trade links with the Asia-Pacific.
I'm very pleased that the throne speech talks about increasing the opportunities for immigration, in particular investor immigrants, and we look forward to a review of immigration so that we can continue to see the benefits of the needed flow of immigrants into British Columbia to help build our province.
Foreign students. They are a great asset, not simply because they're going to come here and get a great education and, potentially, move back to their home country. Even if they do, we have someone that will be familiar with British Columbia wherever they got their education, and it would be a natural fit for the B.C.-trained foreign students, when they go into business, to do business with British Columbia and Canada.
Madam Speaker, as you know, many foreign students choose to stay here after they gain their education — a great investment. I'm glad that the throne speech talks about increasing the number of foreign students by 50 percent.
The third pillar of the jobs plan Canada Starts Here is about opening up markets for our goods and services. We are and always will be an open trading economy of just over four million people, and our continued prosperity and continued growth as a society depends on ensuring that we provide continued opportunities to grow investment and jobs through trade.
The benefit of that is quite clear — more jobs, stronger communities, more revenues for government. We're able to use those revenues to further invest in the important services that British Columbians require, whether it is health care or education.
We have been and always will be trading, and the United States will always be an important trading partner for British Columbia. But we should always, as any prudent business will do, diversify our markets. I'm very pleased that while we already have historically strong ties with our Asian trading partners, our government is making a very focused attempt, a focused effort, to further build on those trade links.
One way is to open up Asian markets through the export of liquefied natural gas — LNG. Our government has committed to helping develop three LNG terminals by 2020 to supply the Asian market. We have the opportunity to supply the booming markets in Asia, and we should. British Columbians want us to take advantage of this opportunity.
We're also going to double our trade presence in such vital markets as China and India, the two fastest-growing economies in Asia, by making sure B.C. companies have the help, the support they need to enter these markets.
We have businesses that are already successfully exporting and will continue to work on increasing their business in the Asian markets.
For example, in Richmond we have a very successful seafood company called Tri-Star Seafood, led by their chairman, Claude Tchao, which is a very successful seafood exporting business, creating growth in employment in Richmond as they try to satisfy the demand for British Columbia seafood in the Chinese market. We're going to see more success stories such as Tri-Star Seafood.
The Premier's trade mission, which is coming up in a month, will be another great opportunity for British Columbia to showcase all that we have to offer, to really focus with the trade delegates that will go to China and to India with the Premier to further market our products.
It's part of this important pillar of the jobs plan — marketing our provincial assets, marketing what we have to export to the markets that are looking for our resources, for our services. I'm very pleased that the throne speech makes reference to this commitment.
As we continue to develop and prosper, it's important that we continue to help those who are vulnerable. I'm glad that the throne speech makes a commitment to partner with innovative non-profit groups to find new and creative ways to help those who are vulnerable in our communities.
There are so many examples. The one that comes to mind is the great work of the Richmond Society for Community Living and its high-energy executive director, Janice Barr, who has a great team that serves the people in Richmond — not just Richmond but primarily Richmond. I've had the opportunity to see the good work that they do at Richmond Society for Community Living and the real impact that they have on their clients in my community.
I have the privilege of representing the great constituency of Richmond-Steveston, and my community is blessed with so many people who care about community, who care about making our community a better
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place. I'd like to mention a few of the outstanding local groups. There are so many of them, but I want to highlight a couple of them who really work hard as volunteers to make my community a better place.
For example, groups like the Steveston Historical Society, led by tireless volunteer Bruce Rozenhart. This is a society that works hard to preserve the heritage assets within historic Steveston village, an important legacy for our children and their children.
Another group, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society, led capably by Ralph Turner and his wife, Edith Turner. This museum within Steveston's last standing fish cannery is a great testament to the historic contribution of the cannery industry to Steveston.
[D. Black in the chair.]
There is a group which includes the two that I've mentioned. There's a group of about eight that proudly call themselves, informally, the group of eight and that care about Steveston and meet on a regular basis as a cooperative group of volunteers in Steveston to try to improve things in the community, whether it's in seniors care or beautifying and improving our waterfront and the riverfront in Steveston.
I'd like to thank them for their volunteer service. This throne speech will allow us to continue to work with and to encourage non-profit groups.
In conclusion, I'm very honoured to have this opportunity to speak in support of the throne speech. This is a throne speech that looks to support families, with an emphasis on jobs — jobs that will sustain families and support neighbourhoods and communities and will help build our province. This is a throne speech that puts families first, and it's a visionary plan that will help British Columbia continue to move confidently forward.
C. Trevena: I rise to respond to the throne speech. I have to acknowledge that I'm very happy to be back here doing my job as one of the members of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. That's one of the things we're elected to do. We're elected to represent people in our constituencies, to talk to people in our constituencies. Many of us have critic roles that involve talking to people across the province as we shadow ministers.
Part of our job is to ensure that their voices are heard here in this Legislature and, when the government comes with ideas and with legislation, that we as the opposition can stand and question it, can challenge it, can sometimes agree with it, but we can actually be that voice of opposition.
Unfortunately, in the last year, as I think many people are aware — sadly, quite a few people aren't aware, so I thought I should reiterate it — we have only sat for 24 days. I know that B.C. has a somewhat skewed reputation in the political world, but I think that this has really made us the laughingstock across the country and possibly across the Commonwealth for the lack of sitting time, thanks to the government, in calling us back.
We have fixed sessions of the Legislature, and very sensible they are too: two months at this time of the year, where we're supposed to be discussing legislation, and then about four months in the spring, where we can have a very honest debate about the budget that the government tables.
Since I was elected in 2005 — and I am very honoured to represent the North Island and have been so honoured since 2005 — we have had about two fall sessions, and last spring went by the wayside completely. I'm very happy that we can be back here. We can be discussing policy ideas. We can be discussing legislation. We as the opposition can be holding the government to account, can be questioning them.
At this point, in the throne speech, it's our opportunity to talk about many things. I will be focusing on the speech itself. I shall also be focusing a bit on my constituency and, obviously, on my role as the critic.
I would like to take this opportunity to give a heartfelt thanks to my staff in my constituency office, who, whether I am there or not, are the people who make things work; who are the representatives for me when I'm not there; who are the faces, always smiling, for any constituent who comes in; who are there to listen to the troubles, to try and find solutions, to work as advocates.
For Lynne Stone, my full-time assistant, and for Sandra Doran, my part-time assistant, I give my whole heartfelt thanks. They make my life so much better, and they make the life of so many of my constituents so much better. So for Lynne and Sandra, thank you very much.
I am very pleased to be, as I say, standing here to respond to the throne speech. The previous speaker, the member for Richmond-Steveston, talked about the vision in this throne speech. I find that very interesting, because the Premier herself has been saying: "Let's use imagination." In the couple of days that we have been back in the Legislature, she keeps talking about imagination. I think that we really are hoping to see some concrete ideas rather than the ethereal imagination and vision.
What I have to say is that what we have been presented with…. This whole throne speech debate, in fact, is really one of huge ego and huge arrogance. This throne speech is completely unnecessary. We didn't have to prorogue the House. We haven't had an election. We haven't had a full year, as I've just mentioned. We have had 24 days since our last throne speech.
While I admit…. Going back over what I said in the last throne speech, I was talking about how thin that throne speech was. Well, this one has an equal lack of substance but a real lack of necessity.
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To have a throne speech when we have no reason to prorogue the House, when we haven't had an election and we haven't got a budget coming up, is purely for the Premier's own desire to raise her profile. It's yet another photo opportunity. Yet we have to question this, both for the reality of why we're having it and, secondly, for the cost.
We keep hearing from the government about how they are going to be looking after taxpayers' money, which I have to say is a phrase that really does distress me, because once you pay your taxes, it is the public's purse, so we are talking about the public's money. They are constantly talking about how they are very fiscally responsible and how constrained they are, yet we have a show of pomp and circumstance.
We have the boutonnieres, as my friend from Delta North mentioned. We have the parades. We have the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We have a Lieutenant-Governor coming through in his full regalia to come and address us. We have a reception.
For what? For something that was not necessary. For something that has no substance and gives nothing but a little bit of profile to a new Premier, who has actually been in the job for six months and is clearly running out of photo opportunities.
My colleague from Delta North spoke before me and quoted, as I intended to do, from the Province newspaper, surprisingly. It's very rare that we on this side of the House are going to quote the Province newspaper, particularly the editorials. But the Province actually does say this morning: "The legislative program is nothing more than a patchwork of disconnected, off-the-cuff trivialities rather than a serious vision for the province and its citizens."
It also states…. This is what I find very telling. It's not just myself as a member of the opposition who is trying to question the government's reasoning and rationale, but the Province newspaper says that the "minor initiatives" that are in this package "seem more focused on giving the Premier the chance to make announcements than any serious attempts to fix B.C.'s many problems."
There is absolutely no substance and no solidity in this throne speech. This is a time when people are…. We keep getting the question: are they optimistic? Are they happy? Are they smiling? Aren't they smiling? This is a time when people are looking for answers. People are unnerved by what's happening in Europe. They are very worried about their future.
I represent the north Island, which is a most beautiful place. It really is a gorgeous location, with very strong, resilient communities. But these communities have taken a hammering over the last years, particularly with the change in the forest industry — the fact that we now have no mills in Campbell River; the fact that we are seeing people leave the community and not come back, particularly young people. As they leave for post-secondary education, it's very rare that they come back. We're constantly having to fight to defend health care services, to defend education.
People are looking for more than photo opportunities. They are looking for answers. What we get instead is a few gewgaws, a few promotional things and a few things that are frankly very, very worrying, like the sudden decision to televise the Stanley Cup rioters when they get to trial, which has been described variously as political meddling and, I think, a dangerous move — for the executive to move into the sphere of the judiciary.
We have very distinct roles in our system: the role of the executive — the role of the Legislature and us, as I've described, in the opposition — and the role of the judiciary. The executive should not mess with the judiciary. It should be very clear that they can keep separate. I'd be very interested to see what the judges decide on whether to allow cameras in the court, but this public shaming of people is not the way that we should be going forward.
The Premier, in the throne speech, described the Stanley Cup riots as a "dark stain" on the province. I have to say that what is a darker stain on the province is the poverty levels in this province. Some of those poverty levels are a direct result of what the Premier did when she was in government before, when she was a minister in government before, when she was Deputy Premier before.
While we come in and we're supposed to have this great new voice, a new look — and hence, we have the throne speech — we have to remember that — there was an interlude on a local radio station, and we still get those sorts of radio station responses — the Premier had a very central role in government and paved the way through some of the actions taken when she was Minister of Children and Families and when she was Minister of Education that have left us in the situation we are.
Last week I had the privilege to talk to some students and some interns from Europe, across the continent — from the Czech Republic, Spain, U.K., Ireland, right across the board. Their first question wasn't about politics here. It wasn't about how our system works compared to the European system.
I was all prepared to talk about federalism in Canada compared to federalism in Germany and to compare our parliament to the Scottish Parliament and other analogies. Their question was: "How can you allow the poverty that you have in this country? How can you allow the poverty you have in Vancouver?"
A number of them that came said: "We came as Europeans to Canada to see this wonderful country. We came to British Columbia. We thought it was supposed to be a beautiful place, yet what we have seen is poverty. How can you allow that?"
It's a very valid question. How can we allow that? Unfortunately, with this throne speech, we are not go-
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ing to get any answers. What we're going to get is the continued entrenchment that we have seen for the last ten years of a government that has just given over the reins to the corporate sector, given up on the people of B.C. and given up on some of the most vulnerable in B.C.
That is why I'm doubly concerned when we keep getting this concept that we have a family-first agenda, that we are looking out for families before anything else. We have a cabinet committee on families.
This is a government that has seen — and I know they debate it — the worst level of child poverty for eight years now. It has gone up consecutively from 2002 through to today. I cite 2002 because that was the start of the cuts brought in by this government and brought in by the now Premier, the then Minister for Children and Family Development.
It's shocking that we have to try and defend…. We can't defend this level of poverty. To try to explain to people why we have such levels of entrenched poverty….
We talk about child poverty. Every child is a member of a family, and that's a mother's poverty, a father's poverty, a brother's poverty, a sister's poverty. It has become so much the norm, and this is what is so disgusting.
I was at a meeting in Port McNeill the other day, in my constituency. It's a wonderful organization, the Mount Waddington Health Network. It brings together people from across the region of Mount Waddington. It was brought together to work on public transit for the community, just to get people to their health appointments, and has expanded to be a very good conversation, bringing together not-for-profits, government organizations, part of the health authority — right across the area — to talk about health issues and other issues.
They were talking about housing when I was at the meeting a couple weeks ago. It went without notice, really, when someone from the school district commented that dozens of children go to school in Port Hardy hungry. It has become so bad that people don't stop and say: "That is so wrong." This is B.C. in 2011, and we can just accept that dozens of children go to school hungry? If this was Dickensian London, we would be shocked, but in B.C. it seems to be okay.
We get from the government this totemic call — families first. How can you put families first when you could ignore the most vulnerable, when you are doing nothing to fight poverty?
I have the privilege of being the critic for Children and Family Development, and it's a very big role. There are a lot of issues there, a lot of concerns and, I've got to say, a lot of gaps. I know that we have a new minister and a new deputy minister that have made big promises, but we have a lot of gaps. I think those gaps have been exemplified in this throne speech, because there was nothing there for the children who need it.
There was nothing there for those dozens of children who go to school hungry every day in Port Hardy. There was nothing for child care for the children with special needs, for the children with mental health problems. Across the board, there was a big, big hole.
We have heard the government talk about a family lens, and that means we're going to get more StrongStarts. Well, StrongStarts, I think, for most people, are an opportunity for parents or caregivers to go with their child to a play-based learning centre. They aren't child care.
I was talking, in fact, last night to child care workers who were saying that they know of people who are facing homelessness because of child care, because they cannot afford child care. They can't afford to give up their jobs, because they live in the Lower Mainland. They need to work. They are two people working. Their maternity leave is finished. They cannot afford child care.
The government will say: "Oh, we've increased our subsidies; there are more people claiming subsidies." But people who are working are not entitled to subsidies, and they are going broke because of the cost of child care. So we have a gap there.
We have, in fact, the failure to address a significant issue that would really deal with many families' concerns and would be a huge family focus. But there are in B.C. only enough licensed child care spaces for about 12 percent of the province's children — 12 percent licensed child care spaces.
If the government was serious about its jobs plan, which I'll get on to in a few minutes, and if it was concerned, really, about the fate of children and the fate of the province's future — because if you look after children and give them a good start in life, you're going to give a better future; I think that that is well proven — they would have been addressing that in both this throne speech and in the jobs plan.
But these were a big gap, a big concern, particularly when we keep hearing that this is families first, families first, families first. I don't know how often we're going to hear that it's families first, and I don't know how desperate the families have to be for any change.
A couple of other things on my critic role. Since the Premier has taken over as Premier, since she was elected by her party to be Premier, there have been a couple of very significant reports from the Representative for Children and Youth.
The Representative for Children and Youth, as I think everybody knows, is a non-partisan office of the Legislature, there to advocate for both children and young people up to the age of 19, for those who are in care of the government, to provide oversight for the ministry, and to investigate critical injuries and deaths of children and to review them.
A couple of the major reports that have come out since we have had the new Premier. One was entitled Isolated and Invisible, and it was about a special needs
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girl who was found alone with her dead mother — a very, very sad case. Another recently was about an infant death. It was a review about how this child and his mother…. The family moved, so the file moved from on-reserve to off-reserve care. So nobody really knew who was responsible for this family.
Both very different reports, both very significant reports, and that's why the representative investigated and wrote the reports.
What was at the root of the problem for both these reports was, again, poverty. Isolated and Invisible — the girl and her mother were severely poor. They weren't even getting income assistance. They weren't even getting welfare. They were living in a trailer park. They were lost from the system. They had been lost by the system. Likewise the case with the infant death; it was poverty underlying their situation.
While I'm not asking or expecting a response in the throne speech to those significant reports, I would have hoped there would be something to deal with the abject poverty, the systemic poverty, that causes so many problems — that causes the problems that the Ministry of Children and Family Development and the Minister of Children and Family Development have to pick up on to ensure that children can get a good start. But there was nothing in this.
Nor was there anything for the other families that I think the majority of people in B.C. would put themselves in — the middle class. If the Premier had really wanted to put families first and wanted to address the needs of families, one of the things she could have done is speed up the hand-back from the HST to the PST and the GST. This insecurity and the extra costs for another 18 months is going to cost families a fortune.
We've already seen, over the last year, the cost of this tax. Now people in B.C. have spoken, and whether you like the referendum process or not, whether you think this is the best way to have tax policy or not, this is the decision from the people of B.C.
Yet the government has decided simply to ignore it and has not given those families that would have benefited from it the head start, given them the advantage and said: "Okay, well, we know that we've got to move it back. It won't be overnight, but it'll be faster than 18 months, so you can have some certainty."
You'll know that when you're buying your kid's clothes, your 12-year-old who happens — because we have some healthy 12-year-olds — to have to wear adult clothes, you're not going to have to pay the HST on it. When you get that cup of coffee, you're not going to have to pay the HST on it.
Likewise, if the government had really wanted to do something for families, it could have done something to deal with the caseloads for those workers who deal with children with special needs.
We hear a lot of the time, obviously, about what's been happening with Community Living B.C. for the adults with special needs. It's quite traumatic what we hear daily about adults with special needs. But the parents of children with special needs are likewise finding huge problems with wait-lists just getting the special help that their children might need.
Again, if this had been addressed, if the government had looked and said, "We want to do something for families. We will help with the cases. We'll make sure that we've got trained people there. We'll make sure that we've got health workers in communities around the province. We'll make sure that families don't have to try and get to places well beyond their communities, well beyond their means because of the cost of transportation. We will ensure that we get that help in the communities," that would have been something for families. But again, it was ignored.
There are a couple other areas I want to touch on and then move on to talking a little bit about my own constituency and the lack of help from the jobs plan — a couple of other areas where families have been let down by this throne speech.
One is that there was nothing in this throne speech which helps families where there is a case of domestic violence. Somehow it's ignored.
If, and we only hope that it doesn't happen, a woman is killed — and it is so often a woman who is killed in a case of domestic violence — I bet you the government will be all over it, saying how bad it is. But it has done nothing, at a time when it could have done something, to stand up and say: "We want to ensure that there is good action to prevent an increase in domestic violence."
I say this in families because this has such an impact on families and it has such an impact on the children. Again, if we want to ensure that we have a healthy society, a just society, a fair society, a society that looks after everybody, we've got to look after the most vulnerable. It's missing.
Likewise, what's also missing — and I guess that I shouldn't be too surprised about this — is the loss of the unit that looks after, or did look after, trafficking of women and of peoples. Again, it's something that the Premier could have taken a good stand on and said, "This is something I care about. This is something that impacts families," because it does impact families.
Trafficking isn't just something out there in the ether. It impacts women. It impacts men, but largely, women and children are hugely impacted by this. So if the Premier had wanted to stand up and say, "I'm putting families first," she could have said: "I'm putting back the unit to deal with trafficking of peoples." But that wasn't there.
There was nothing there for those people who are living on welfare, never by their own choice and sometimes really desperately.
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I'd like to just quote from a letter that I received from one of my constituents in Tahsis. She is on disability allowance. It's an open letter to all B.C. MLAs. I'm not sure whether the other MLAs have heard it, but it's from Debra Conibear in Tahsis, who is talking about what it's like to be disabled. It goes on about living on the disability pension.
"We struggle to pay our bills, to survive on amounts that cannot provide decent housing, food or quality of life. Our voices are lost, and no one speaks for us.
"B.C.'s minimum wage will be raised to $10 an hour, yet we with a limited capacity to maintain ourselves must survive on the equivalent of $5.23 an hour — $906 a month, $10,872 a year. This allowance must cover housing; heat and hydro; transportation; food; plus medicines not covered by medical plans, equipment for living not covered by medical plans, dental care not covered by medical plans, let alone luxuries like new shoes, clothing or Internet and telephone access.
"There are 61,000 of us in British Columbia. To double our income would account for less than the recent 'family education package' announced by the new Premier. We survive barely, with little dignity and less self-reliance. Perhaps we should not."
I think that is a very telling letter from a woman who is trying to have a dignified life, who sees herself as a part of her community, who has a family yet cannot afford to live. Again, in this throne speech there was nothing for that type of family.
I would like to move on quickly to touch on the jobs plan. I'm sure we're going to have the opportunity as the session moves on, as we see the impact of the jobs plan coming through. The jobs plan, which was announced a couple of weeks ago, was as thin as the throne speech, so to include it in the throne speech, which is what the Premier did, isn't really surprising — to err upon err.
The Premier has been telling people to do their homework and read the throne speech. Well I'd like to tell the Premier that I have done my homework. I've read it several times. It didn't take long. It wasn't very engaging. I wouldn't say it sent me to sleep, but it really wasn't particularly helpful for a province that really needs or could do so much with a good jobs plan.
The community I represent I've touched on, and I now notice I only have a couple of minutes left to talk more about it. My community, the north Island, is a resilient community, but it could do with help from a serious jobs plan — a jobs plan that could ensure that young people from the north Island can get post-secondary education, can afford to have post-secondary education.
As official opposition, we are putting forward policies which would allow that — a jobs plan which would see the heart of the coastal forestry industry in the north Island actually use the logs that we produced, that are grown on Crown land — it's our timber — use it in our community for jobs for our people; a jobs plan that actually had some other innovative ideas.
We've got lots of new ideas in our communities. Let's work with them, work with the government on them, whether it's new technologies, whether it's new forms of aquaculture, agriculture, small business. We've got lots of ideas in the north Island but nothing that is being helped by this jobs plan.
I think that this throne speech was really a sad display from a Premier that does like the photo opportunity, does like the quick response, doesn't really see very far beyond the Lower Mainland and is willing to let down the large majority of people this this province.
I look forward to the coming weeks in this Legislature, where we'll have the opportunity to do our business, the opposition's business, and take on the government.
Hon. M. McNeil: I'm really pleased today to rise to respond to the Speech from the Throne and the course set out by the government to place families at the centre of decision-making across government. We're doing this within the context of setting all British Columbians up for success as we make our way through some really challenging economic times.
First, before I start, I want to talk about my own favourite family and to recognize their support. My husband, Rod — I don't think he quite understood what I was getting into when we got into it, but that's okay. He's there, and he is very supportive and has a new appreciation for what it takes to be in government.
I also want to recognize my four daughters. I do this as all four of them are in their early 30s, and they were, I must admit, very shocked when I did decide I was going to go into government, because for them it was something very scary. I was their mother, and to have someone that might talk badly about someone you love was very difficult for them. I really want to take time and appreciate their patience with my choice. They've been absolutely wonderful and supportive as well. I want to recognize Molly, Megan, Kate and Beth, and their husbands as well, because they're there for me.
I also want to recognize my 12, soon to be lucky 13, grandchildren. They're just great. For them, it's a little different, my being in government. Three of them got the chance to meet the Premier last week, and that was very exciting for them. So where I can educate them and bring them into the world of government, I think that's better for them as people. I'm very pleased to recognize them and what they mean.
I do want to also recognize my extended family who are there. I'm from a large family. I have 46 other members, other than my own family, headed by my mother, and my siblings, their partners, children and grandchildren. I'm very fortunate to have all of them living within two hours of me. There are 69 people in total; 25 of them are under 13. So picture Christmas dinner — chaos.
I do want to quickly say that when I was asked if I would become Minister of Children and Families and it was then announced on that Monday, the 14th, the first phone call I got was from my brother, who said:
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"Children and families, eh? Well, please start with us first." I think it's something where…. When you have a large family, you realize the strength of families and how important it is to have them near you but also how important it is to recognize that they're all individuals and that they all come with different concerns and different needs.
I also would be remiss if I didn't recognize the great partnership of Craig Jangula and Cris Garvey, who are my constituency assistants in the wonderful riding of Vancouver–False Creek. My constituents are served incredibly well by them each and every day, and I thank them for that.
Also, of course, the constituents. We wouldn't be here without the constituents, and I'm really honoured to represent Vancouver–False Creek. I'm grateful to them for their continued support.
As Minister of Children and Family Development, I was very pleased to see the government commit to the families-first agenda. Families will not only be at the forefront of the decisions made within my ministry but also in government, and I think that's really important for all of us. It means putting a family lens on the decisions made and getting to the heart of what families need, especially in a tough economic climate.
One of the things that we as government really need to do is, for each and every decision we make, stop and say: "All right. How is this going to directly or indirectly affect families? Let's make sure we do it the right way."
Of particular note to me are the commitments made to ensure that B.C. families feel supported and safe in their communities, and to make sound and thoughtful economic decisions. I think that's why the B.C. jobs plan, Canada Starts Here, is really important across this province. Families need jobs. Jobs are what keep us going and help us through these tough economic times, but they're also there to stimulate the economy and allow us to pay for the social services that we so vitally need.
Jobs are the foundations to protect our families, be it in large urban centres or in small, more rural communities. So I think it's really, really important that we focus on what we can do for families and to create the jobs that are needed.
In Vancouver–False Creek we're fortunate to have a dynamic network of individuals who are constantly attracting new investment and breeding new businesses. My constituents are an example of the entrepreneurial drive and spirit that are the hallmark of British Columbia.
As an example, Yaletown's digital media and technology industry is known around the world for attracting talented, energetic people who want to live, work and invest here. These businesses provide well-paying jobs and the spinoff benefits that will drive real estate prices, retail sales and the hospitality industry, creating thousands of jobs for people.
My constituency is also home to the newly renovated B.C. Place Stadium, which during construction created jobs for more than 5,000 tradespeople, and I think that is to be recognized. Thanks to their hard work, B.C. Place can now tailor the atmosphere for any event, from summer festivals in the sun to football games under the stars to indoor exhibits comfortably protected from the rain.
The renovated stadium will allow B.C. Place to add an additional 200 events. That will boost our economy by over $40 million, from $60 million to an estimated $100 million, supporting thousands of jobs across Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. B.C. Place alone…. They have upwards of 800 employees being hired to work at the stadium, and that's a 25 percent increase prior to the renovation. That's a tremendous example of our government commitment to creating and protecting jobs.
I also want to touch on some very important actions that will be taken and that were referenced within the throne speech. The introduction of the family law act this session will provide relief for many families across our province, as the new act will help resolve family law problems more quickly.
The proposed legislation will include provisions designed to strengthen the focus more specifically on children's safety, which is a commitment and value shared by the Representative for Children and Youth. The proposed legislation will also ensure that the child's best interests are to be the only consideration when parents or a judge make guardianship and parenting arrangements.
Another important part of the throne speech is the commitment made to families through education. We have just made an incredible achievement here in B.C. with the implementation of full-day kindergarten for all five-year-olds across the province, bringing the number of full-day kindergarten students to an estimated 40,000. I'm proud to say that Willem, my grandson, is one of those loving full-day school.
This government is improving early learning while reducing child care pressures on family. Research shows that high-quality early learning experiences benefit children throughout their entire lives. Full-day learning for five-year-olds is a positive, and it's in the natural progression for the range of child care and early childhood development opportunities available in British Columbia.
Also in the throne speech we have committed to expanding anti-bullying policies in our schools to include a comprehensive training regime, on-line reporting tools and advanced threat assessment and protocols. Our Premier, as you know, is passionate about a strong anti-bullying program in our schools and is fully committed to this program. That's why she made a commitment to restore funding to the Roots of Empathy program, which
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aims to reduce childhood aggression, bullying and violence by promoting empathy in children.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development, along with the Ministry of Education, has committed jointly to providing $800,000 to support these programs during the 2011-12 school year.
Another important introduction was the new family day. This holiday on the third Monday of every February will start in 2013. It will be a day that families can look forward to, a special day to spend together with our loved ones.
I want to hit on a couple of other items from the speech directly related to the Ministry of Children and Family Development. This government has made a commitment to work in earnest with non-profit groups to find new and innovative ways to provide services for the most vulnerable in our society. The provincial government will be hosting a social innovation summit later this fall with non-profit organizations.
Open, ongoing dialogue with many different groups always adds value and always leads to wonderful partnerships. There is no question that uniting in partnership with different groups is the key to getting things done and getting them done right. Strong networks and collaboration can add real value to our social sectors, in particular by building on already existing foundations and making them even stronger.
Our commitment to work with the non-profit sector encourages sharing new, innovative ideas, and it also encourages being open and honest about some real pressures that we all face in this economy.
We know that there have been tough economic times lately. We have been facing them for, actually, the past several years, and it hasn't been easy. That's why Premier Christy Clark restored the community gaming grants by $15 million in the spring. I'm also pleased that the program is currently under review to look at ways to improve it, because there are a lot of people that depend on the program in this province.
We appreciate the extraordinary work of many of our valued partner organizations and the strong partnerships that we have had with them. Even when challenges are presented, they keep the focus on children and youth in this province. We absolutely share this focus, and we will all benefit when the folks get together and have this summit in November.
You know, the member opposite just mentioned poverty. I would like to make another statement. Poverty is not okay, and we know it's not okay. Child poverty is a difficult issue that affects all of us, and we all play a part in finding solutions.
One of the things I've found in my reading on various different jurisdictions around the world that are working on the issue of poverty is that the one-size-fits-all poverty plan for a province such as ours is not necessarily the right way to go. That's why we've committed to working closely with the Representative for Children and Youth and municipalities to develop regional poverty strategies that will address real differences of circumstances and challenges that families face across metro, urban, rural and remote settings.
I've instructed my deputy minister to meet with the UBCM's healthy communities committee to begin work on the development of a results-oriented strategy that will provide practical supports and solutions that are effective and responsive to families' needs.
I really want to encourage the members opposite, especially the critic, to join us in those discussions, because I think one of the things that stops us from being really effective is that we all too often make it too political. Poverty isn't political, and it's something that we have to work on together.
Creating opportunities for jobs and developing strategies together to give families the keys to capability at the community level is what will give families the springboard they need. This is the beginning of our discussions, but I have high hopes for the business and non-profit engagement, as well, so that we can find new ways to complement the system of support that already exists, such as rental assistance, supportive housing, child care subsidies for over 54,000 B.C. children and the new nurse home visitation program for young moms.
Together we will be effective, but it doesn't stop just with government. We need to get the regions involved. We need to get the federal government involved. We need to get the non-profits, the businesses and all of the social service sectors within each of these communities to work together and figure out what's best for their community.
I am also pleased to hear in the throne speech that this government plans to work with aboriginal partners, the federal government and local governments to help develop an off-reserve aboriginal action plan to achieve better education and job training, healthier family life and to strengthen cultures and tradition.
The ministry is already taking many steps to enhance, improve and deliver programs and services in a culturally appropriate manner. Fundamental to this approach is a commitment to ensure the best interest of the child must and should be the primary consideration. This approach is supported by ongoing work with First Nations and Métis in developing and delivering a range of services based on their culture and their traditions. This builds on the ministry's work and support for the delegated aboriginal agencies. This charts a strong path forward.
Our government is committed to empowering families and the sectors that form the bedrock of our communities — non-profits, community groups and private
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sector. All together we need to be active participants, to be the co-creators and co-producers of the policies and the programs that affect them.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development helps thousands of families each year. We touch the lives of 128,000 children each year. We actually exist as a ministry not because government has a problem. It's because society and families have problems, and that's why whatever we do we need to do together.
This ministry continues to be focused on fostering the growth of strong, healthy families through early childhood development, quality child care, services for youth, assistance for children and youth with special needs, and support services for families.
I mentioned earlier that I come from a large family, and one of the things that happens when you do and when you have 68 people that you see on a regular basis…. There's always someone with an issue, so when people talk about autism, I can relate. When people talk about a child that might have a learning disability, I can relate. I think it's something that we all need to work together on, and I feel confident that the direction that the Ministry of Children and Family is heading in now will make a difference.
Over the coming year we will continue to build on our successes as we work with our many valued partners to deliver innovative services that support the families and children of our province. This would not be possible without the dedication and shared commitment of our partners and the ministry staff across the province. These are truly special people who work in sometimes very difficult situations, dealing with some of the province's most vulnerable children and youth.
As Minister of Children and Family Development, I've had the wonderful opportunity to get around the province and just see the various services that we do provide and meet the front-line workers that are there each and every day.
It isn't easy. They deal with 128,000 children each year, and they have to make judgment calls that aren't necessarily the easiest thing to make. So I just want to be able to take this opportunity to give kudos to each and every one of them and try and let them know that we're there for them, both sides of the House. We'll make sure that we can move forward together.
I look forward to working for and with British Columbians to build on our existing opportunities to bring to fruition our new commitments that will protect families in British Columbia and help them flourish.
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Minister. Just a gentle reminder to the Minister not to address people in the Legislature by their names.
G. Coons: It's an honour to be back in the Legislature for a Speech from the Throne and six weeks of scheduled work.
First off, I'd like to acknowledge a few of my colleagues, my friends back in my constituency: Pauline Woodrow and Anna Lamb-Yorski, who work for me; and newly working for me and a few other MLAs in the Legislature here, Andra Hahn. I'd like to thank them for their hard work in trying to keep me on the straight and narrow and for the great work that they do and will do for the constituents in North Coast and beyond.
I'd also like to give a special thanks to my family: my wife, Lois Elliot, and my daughter Breton, who are both teachers — so happy World Teachers Day to my wife and daughter — and my other daughter, Hannah, who graduated from UNBC about a year ago and had a job interview.
Good luck on your job interview, Hannah. Hopefully, it goes well. We really need the job. There are not too many around in Prince Rupert.
On that note, we've sat here for 24 days in the past 15 or 16 months. It seems this government has a tendency to avoid the real concerns and prevent those of us in the Legislature from having an opportunity to bring up problems and issues and try to resolve them.
At a time when B.C. and the world are grasping what's happening in today's economy, it seems odd that this Liberal government and this Premier would miss the perfect chance and a great opportunity to make a statement in the throne speech on the economic direction of this government. Imagine what could be if there was a vision, a plan or some targets. Instead of the speech that set forth a path or forged a vision on our economy, it led off with an imaginative array of various thoughts.
I want to look at some of those thoughts, because a lot of them need some scrutiny. I think we should analyze some of them — one of them a promise to try to get rid of cameras in the courts for alleged rioters at the Vancouver Canucks riot. Never mind that a government can't pick and choose which case will or will not be broadcast.
Yeah, more promises on funding for the Nevergreen line, where this government's mismanagement has already caused significant delays.
There was talk that a major investments office will be created, where investors will take projects on paper and make them reality. You know, it just seems a lot more imagery from the Premier.
One interesting note in the throne speech was the cellular coverage on highways across the province. Those in Port Ed and quite a few other communities on the north coast have been working with the minister and with TELUS and other sources to try to finish these connections and will continue to work on that. Hopefully, it will be done.
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Again, in the throne speech it talked about a commitment to sustaining its leadership in the fight against climate change. Now, that's a pretty interesting concept to make with this government, because this government's legacy of environmental hypocrisy continues to grow as they've pushed forward projects like the Enbridge tar sands pipeline, which threatens the very way of life of many of the coastal communities that I represent.
We have to remember that last year at the UBCM municipal leaders from across the province joined together to pass two resolutions, one of them opposing tankers on the north coast and the other one opposing Enbridge tar sands oil being piped through northern British Columbia. Yet this government, this B.C. Liberal government, is continuing to support the Enbridge tar sands pipeline, adding to the mountain of evidence that protecting the environment is not one of their priorities.
A key component, I believe, in their symbolism of where this government stands is having Enbridge donate over $55,000 to the Liberal coffers in last four years. So I can understand why this government doesn't support protecting the environment and is not opposed to tankers on the north coast.
When we look at this government talking about their strategy going to be grounded in cooperative solutions and a new web space that will be launched so people can see and access all the consultation and engagements…. No details, just more spin, while ignoring the real concerns of real British Columbia and those that rely on governments to come forth on their issues.
If we really want cooperative solutions, then we have the northwest regional hospital district board and the Queen Charlotte Hospital. There is a situation where this is the number one priority on the board list. Right now they're using, as we know — it was brought up in the Legislature last session — six different buildings. The morgue is a half of an ATCO trailer. The chemo drugs are being mixed in a wooden shed.
If any provincial cooperation is needed, this is where I think it should be directed.
Also we have the Port Ed school. The Port Ed school is one of those rural schools that are being threatened with a closure. They're trying to work with the school district to construct a three-classroom school with a library, administrative offices and facilities attached to the current municipal offices to keep this vital component of their community open. And if ever we need a cooperative solution, we need it in Port Ed.
We look at the legacy of this government. Cooperative solutions were needed before this government closed over 200 schools in this province, mostly rural schools. I think that when this government talks about cooperative solutions, we should be looking at keeping schools open.
G. Coons: Now, it's interesting. On World Teachers Day, being an ex-teacher, I can handle sort of the misbehaviour in the class and the outbursts from those students that need extra help. I'm sure that as we go through this session, people will eventually settle down, or we might have to send a note home.
In the throne speech, it says: "Because teachers make the difference between good students and great students, our government will dedicate funding to address issues of class composition in British Columbia." What a load is given there.
This is nothing new. This is just confirmation of the Supreme Court of B.C. in their ruling on class size and composition and forcing this Liberal government, against their will, to deal with the issue and do the right thing.
I'm sure many will remember out there that on April 13, 2011, the B.C. Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, struck down a 2001 and 2004 B.C. Liberal amendment to teachers' collective rights as unconstitutional and suspended that order for 12 months.
People will remember — I certainly do — that Madam Justice Susan Griffin ruled that Bills 27 and 28 were unconstitutional because they violated teachers' rights to freedom of association under section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These bills stripped teachers' collective agreements of class-size limits and guarantees of support for students with special needs, with disastrous consequences for teaching and learning conditions in classrooms across the province.
That's why we have this phrase in there: "Because teachers make the difference…." What this government did, with the current Premier as the Minister of Education…. They attacked not only teachers but the whole educational system with this unconstitutional action.
The significance of this decision can't be overstated. In 2010-2011 there were over 16,000 classes that had over 30 students and thousands of students with special needs whose basic rights were violated by this government's draconian actions. The illegal legislation allowed this government to underfund education and limit teachers' abilities to insist upon adequate resources.
It should be noted that children who were in kindergarten when these bills were imposed by the current Premier, who was a minister then, are now in grade 10, and almost their entire school careers have been in classroom conditions that did not meet their learning needs.
I remember Bill 27 and Bill 28 being rushed through on a weekend, and the current Premier was the Minister of Education. These bills were devastating to the whole education system. They constituted a theft of 20 years of work and sacrifice that classroom teachers worked to ensure that adequate funding, smaller classes and attention for kids with special needs were there.
It is wiped out by a government that violated the rights of thousands of educators. And an appeal even
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went to the United Nations. The International Labour Organization found this B.C. Liberal government, with the Premier as the instigator, in violation of international law. The Liberals of the day just smiled and let ten years pass. In the end, the court found that this government's working provisions, forced upon teachers by the current Premier, were unconstitutional and invalid.
So on World Teachers Day I would hope that one would expect the government — this government and this Premier — to respect the Supreme Court ruling by repealing the offending legislation, restoring constitutional bargaining rights and returning illegally stripped collective agreement provisions. That's what one would hope on World Teachers Day.
Of course, what do we actually get? Well, it wouldn't be a real throne speech without a holiday — a February statutory holiday in 2013. Now, I have nothing against holidays. I think it's good to spend time with your family. But when? When the key component of your throne speech is a day off, I think that's a major problem with this government.
There's nothing in this throne speech to balance the big jobs plan that was announced a couple of weeks ago — a jobs plan with no jobs. Then I hear about the three pillars. It reminds me of the three-legged chair, but there's one of the legs missing. And what have you got? You've got this whole B.C. Liberal caucus falling off the chair because of this throne speech and because of this Premier.
What was needed was a tone on the economy, most especially after the recent jobs tour and announcements, and all of that failed. You know, here's the sum total in this budget on job creation: "A jobs and investment board will be up and running in 50 days to hold government's feet to the fire." Well, I sure hope your pants don't catch on fire, you know?
Here's the Liberals' record on jobs. They have not delivered on jobs. We continue to lose full-time family-supporting jobs. The Liberal record on jobs is a loss of 21,800 full-time jobs in the last year. The unemployment rate in B.C. in August was 7½ percent, the third-highest in the country. If you take in the rural areas, you can double, you can triple that. You take in First Nations communities, and you're in the 80 to 90 percent range as far as unemployment.
And here is one that I really like. I do have to admit…. Along with the cellular coverage, I would say government is making investments in the Port of Prince Rupert. Now, we all in this room know the strategic advantages that the Port of Prince Rupert has. It's the closest North American west coast port to Asia by up to three days. It has uncongested rail and road access, which means efficient access to the entire North American continent, and it can get to Chicago in less than a hundred hours. It has the deepest harbour in North America, with year-round ice-free access. It has safe, sheltered, unfettered access for its shipping lanes. It has community and labour support. And there's significant growth.
Now, the recent announcement, the jobs announcement. It is considered to be the first part of a $300 million port development, and it has been funded $30 million from CN, $30 million from the Port of Prince Rupert. And the government put in $50 million and the $50 million contribution from the federal government. Now, as the Premier said on that, perhaps she sort of jumped the bar a bit, jumped the line a bit too quickly, because the federal government hadn't committed yet. The Premier in an interview says that the feds continue to work through its process, to determine its participation with respect to the remaining $50 million. So let's just hope that this $50 million does get there, contrary to the Premier coming out a bit early on making the announcements.
Now, it's good news. It involves new inbound and outbound rail lines, an extension of on-site rail and utilities, and the rail and utility corridor. And any funding coming to any community is good news. And it's good news for the new developments which might be coming to Rupert, including Pinnacle's wood pellet export facility, and Canpotex and their potential potash export facility. Of course, it's good for the current users at Ridley and Prince Rupert Grain.
It was interesting, when I was there listening to the Premier and attending the announcement, the big jobs plan. It started in Rupert, and it was a bit of a washout, with conflicting promises and, unfortunately, poor research. And here's a quote from the Prince George Citizen: "Unveiling a jobs plan without announcing a goal for actual job creation is quite original." That's what the Prince George Citizen says.
I guess those of us in Prince Rupert would have to imagine the jobs that would be created if they actually did something. The Premier's release that came out I found quite interesting. The release said: "It will create more than 570 direct construction jobs over the life of the project. It will also provide up to 4,000 operational jobs after construction is complete." I went: "Wow, 4,000 jobs after it's complete — operational jobs."
When you picture operational jobs, you would think that these jobs would be in Prince Rupert or perhaps, hopefully, in the region or in British Columbia. You wouldn't expect that they might be in China, because the operational job might be putting together some of the rails or whatever. But there was some real disagreement over the number, especially since the port's CEO, Don Krusel, estimated the job count to be much lower.
Krusel said: "Oh, no, no. The release must be wrong." He says: "…4,000 construction-years' worth of employment," not 4,000 operational jobs. He said that when the
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terminals are fully operational, we'll be providing "1,500 full-time, well-paying jobs in this community." So, a real disconnect. So when we have the Premier standing up with misinformation, saying 4,000 operational jobs and having to be corrected in the next minute or so, there's a real problem. I guess she has to start imagining better researchers. It is interesting.
As my colleagues from the north would know, there's a huge jobs shortage in the north, a huge skills-training problem. One would expect, if you are doing a jobs announcement, especially in the north, that there would be money put into the local colleges and training programs and some initiatives or strategies that would make this jobs plan work. There was nothing of that.
What are we actually seeing as far as jobs in the north? Well, recently the northwest transmission line was contracted out to companies outside of B.C. B.C. jobs and tax dollars were given to Alberta and Texas. What we had in the north was B.C. Hydro spending about $1 million to upgrade its transmission lines, but most of the work is being awarded to Alberta companies, owned by a parent company, Quanta Services, from Texas. That means millions in tax dollars are leaving British Columbia for Alberta and Texas.
Hydro also awarded the project to Alberta-based Valard Construction, owned by Houston-based Quanta. Now, as people know, and I'll rejig their memories, the transmission line involves about 344 kilometres of new power lines from a substation near Terrace, going north close to Bob Quinn Lake. This job alone will generate about 280 direct jobs per year and cost half a billion dollars. A B.C. company was qualified for this as a bidder, but they were later told by their parent company, which is also Quanta, to withdraw from the competition.
So here we have a B.C. company that would create B.C. jobs. Perhaps you could put it right out front for the B.C. jobs plan. But this paved the way for Valard to win with no real competition, and giving the jobs to Alberta and Texas. So this begs the question, to all of us: just how does that work as a job-creating plan?
Not only that. That's the transmission line in the north — jobs going to Texas, and B.C. money and taxes and taxation heading out of the province. Merv Ritchie has a Rupert daily on line. He lives in Terrace. He's a pretty good journalist, and he had this article called "Are B.C. Liberal Ministers That Out of Touch?" It says: "American workers take rare Canadian jobs." Now, this isn't the same story. This is another story. This isn't the transmission line. This is in Kitimat.
On September 16 in the Globe and Mail…. It's quoting the Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier. Okay, now who is that? Do you guys even know who that is? Well, that's the member for Chilliwack — the Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier. He had this statement on employment: "Everybody is looking for work around home, but they may not be aware that there are jobs available in Kitimat or in Terrace or Fort St. John. That's not for everybody, but if you are a young person looking for a job, maybe horizons need to be expanded a bit."
Well, that sounds pretty good if you're coming from the north — even from Rupert — and you're saying: "Oh, in Terrace and Kitimat there's lots of jobs." Really? There are jobs in Kitimat, but from all the reports — and this is in his article — to get one and to get fair benefits of the employment…. They're dismantling the smelters at the Rio Tinto Alcan site, and to get a job, you need to be American.
Canadians in Kitimat are being mistreated. For every one Canadian hired, at least three are from as far away as Florida. There's a job-creating situation if I ever saw one. There's the leg of the stool coming off.
"There are dozens and dozens of former Eurocan workers and ex-logging-company locals in Kitimat and the region who are struggling to make their mortgage payments. Watching all the American licence plates drive by, parked around at the bars and restaurants, sporting happy, employed smiles would be enough to send a poor longtime resident into a tizzy," says Merv.
And he says, in his article: "Safety standards are being sidestepped, and complaining might see you out of work while a compliant son or father of a supervisory staff member from Alabama will arrive to take your place."
"One just has to take a short drive around Kitimat and look at the licence plates. It's like taking an American geography lesson." That's Kitimat. And he finishes: "And, dear Mr. Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier, pray tell, where are those jobs in Terrace you mentioned?"
So when we have this government spouting a jobs plan, there's got to be some jobs with it — and not jobs for Albertans or for Americans, those from Alabama and Texas. We want our kids working in our communities and earning wages so they can stay at home.
As is often the case with throne speeches, the government is trying to make everybody happy. But by all appearances, as we saw on the throne speech, not too many MLAs on that side of the House were too impressed. It should be noted that not a sound was heard after the speech — not the usual desk thumping, the frothing at the mouth that you would normally see and hear at a throne speech. You know, it was very subdued, very quiet. I guess that shows the disarray that this government is in and an understanding that you can't have a jobs plan without creating jobs.
Now, a feel-good speech is not what was needed. I think everybody in this House agrees that what was needed were some hard truths, some real targets and gutsy plans for our shaky economy. Instead, we got a holiday. And again, I have nothing against holidays, but I think British Columbians expected more.
Also interesting is being the ferries critic, the advocate for the ferry system in British Columbia. I don't think I
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have to dwell too long into the ferries in the province with the commissioner's review and what's going on. But in the throne speech they talked about: "We also await a report on the operations of B.C. Ferries from the ferry commissioner. The government's response to the commissioner's report will be informed by consultations and engagement with coastal communities."
Oh, oh. Minister, are you going to be travelling around to the 28 or 30 communities like the commissioners are — like I did two years ago? I did a tour and listened to people and heard the issues and the concerns. Why would you waste…?
G. Coons: I don't know.
Anyway, dozens and dozens of coastal communities. The commissioner is travelling around. I hope this government and the minister acknowledge the mandate and the time and energy put into this.
What we heard….
G. Coons: I attended probably six or seven of these meetings on Haida Gwaii, Powell River and throughout other communities. What we are hearing is the social contract is broken. The service is not meeting the needs of islanders and those in coastal communities.
There's a huge concern, still, to this day, with executive compensation, secrecy, lack of transparency, fares up, ridership down, the huge impact that ferry fares are having on families, on students, on grandparents, on visiting friends.
I remember I saw a note placed on a bakery door. I think it was in Gabriola; I might be mistaken. It had a sign saying: "We're closing down. We want to visit our family, and we're shutting down the bakery that we've run for many years, because we can't afford the ferry fares." I think that's the highlight of the impacts they're having. A huge impact on businesses, tourism, the cost of goods and services.
Now, we have to understand that it's not going to be a quick fix. I know the minister understands that. The minister and I have talked about ferries. There is a solution, but we need to work together. We need to ensure that the whole Coastal Ferry Act gets revamped. It cannot be a tourism product. It has to be an extension of our highways, and we need to return it under the highways act. We need a safe, reliable, affordable ferry service that meets the needs of the people that rely on it.
But the best one-liner I heard was in Masset. There were probably 40, 50 people out, and people were saying to the commissioners: "You've got to go to the grocery store. You've got to look at the price of a four-litre jug of milk. It's $8. Go to the grocery store." I was there. We did a tour with the commissioner and saw the prices. But at the end of the session when we came back, somebody said: "You know, commissioner, the price of a bottle of gin in the Masset liquor store is exactly the same as the price of gin in Vancouver." If this government and governments can subsidize alcohol, then they can subsidize an essential service. You know, the business plan needs to be….
Again, just recently what's happening with B.C. Ferries…. Another concern is on Denman Island, the cable ferry for route 21. B.C. Ferries is proposing to link Denman Island to Buckley Bay by a cable ferry, which would set a world record, possibly, for the longest cable ferry. But there are issues and concerns. Two hundred people turned out. I'm getting hundreds of e-mails and phone calls, as I'm sure the minister and other MLAs are. This 2.2-kilometre cable ferry is a real concern. There was no consultation. There are concerns with reliability and quality of safety. There is community well-being.
The suggestions from the ferry advisory committee are that the business plan needs to be revisited with crewing that makes sense, and real consultation has to happen, not just two meetings and being told that this is happening.
Now, it is interesting…. I did mention David Hahn and the executive compensations. It is interesting, the snowball-rolling effect of the treasure chest rolling down the hill and somehow getting fuller and fuller as it reaches the bottom, with wages and bonuses and secondary pensions for life for the top three executives at B.C. Ferries.
I thought it was interesting that the Premier would come out and say she was having no more of this, no more "monkey business" at B.C. Ferries.
G. Coons: Well, it was her. She was at the table when she let the monkeys into the monkey house. We got the three last Ministers of Transportation — see no B.C. Ferries; hear no B.C. Ferries; speak no B.C. Ferries…. The monkey house isn't at B.C. Ferries. It's with this Liberal government.
I want to conclude now. As evidenced, this government has run low in the fuel tank, out of gas, no concrete ideas or solutions for the issues facing British Columbians. It was a real disappointment. The important issues facing communities and families were not even touched upon. Like the job plans, we saw nothing.
This is a government who spent the past two years consumed by the HST, and they should have dealt with the real challenges.
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Hon. H. Bloy: It is a pleasure to stand in the House again to respond to a throne speech. This is at least 12 throne speeches that I've had the opportunity to respond to. With our new Premier and families first, the same as some of my other colleagues, I wanted to talk about my family and my wife, Anita, and how much support she gives me in all the work that I do here. But it's not only me she gives support to. We have three children, and they support Anita when I'm away, because I know that sometimes she finds it quite frustrating when I'm not around as much. Even though I'm not very handy around the house, there's something about being there.
My son Jeremy and his wife, Jenn, and our two grandchildren James and Jackson bring a lot of joy to our lives. They are just great individuals. I know from other members around the House, including the Speaker, that I'm a real rookie at grandchildren, but we certainly enjoy the grandchildren.
Our daughter Katie and her husband, Travis, were married earlier this summer on Vancouver Island, and it was a great family event. There's my daughter Candice and her partner, Dave, who all provide support to me and to Anita, especially when she's left at home for so long.
There are lots of people who make this job possible for me to do, that I could never do alone. It's being out in the community. I have a board of directors for my riding association. Many of them may not officially be on the board of directors, but they come to the meetings, and they're there to help whenever help is needed.
But some of the people that are there, besides the riding, are great volunteers in the community — Bob Davies, Mark Hilford, Lindsey Le, Chanelle Jen, Silvester Law, James Pflanz, Barbara Spitz, Alex Zhu — who have always been there.
Then I have the staff in my constituency office. Barbara Spitz, who taught in the community years ago and was raised in Burnaby, is just an amazing person. She meets with clients that come into the office. She's out representing the office or myself and the office and the government at events where I can't attend. She's doing letters. She's just an amazing individual.
We have Brian Chung, who's new to the office — a graduate of UBC. He's doing lots of work in the office. We have a co-op student, Vicki Wei. This is probably the tenth co-op student I've had. I've had them from Simon Fraser University, of course. I've had one from the University of Toronto, and I've had three now from Vancouver Island University. They bring such a young vision to the office, a different perspective, and it's so nice to hear their enthusiasm for work. Many of them are not really politically active when they get there, and they're always amazed at the work that comes out of a community office.
I have my staff here in Victoria. With the new position, I have Mike Lee, who is my EA, and he worked for me in my constituency office for two years. He's been an amazing support to me. I have Linda Carey. I have all the comm staff and the new people that are coming on board. But it's only with support from people that are supportive of all MLAs in this House, that come out and support them, whichever side they're on, that makes it possible that we can do this job.
I have so many other volunteers in my riding that go overboard in helping, every time there's an issue or something that we have to do. From Jim Allard to Jan Carroll, to Lindsey Le, to Sepideh Sarrafpour, to Greg von Euw, to Cheng Zheng, to Chiharu Sato, Barry Parrish, Anesse Kim, John Park, Michael Hwang. It's just amazing the number of people that have come out in support of me over the years, and I just wanted to say thank you to them.
This throne speech contains the right plan for the right time and builds on this government's decade of sound fiscal management.
The last few years have seen many highs and lows. From the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games to the HST referendum, it has been a wild ride. Together we have braved the recent economic collapse and emerged relatively unscathed. In fact, just this past August Standard and Poor's confirmed B.C. will retain its triple-A credit rating despite the costs associated with transitioning back to PST.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
Unlike so many other governments around the world, we are still seen as a fiscally responsible government, and British Columbia is recognized as a safe harbour for investment. But once again, we are entering uncertain times. The fact that bad decisions made in other countries can and will affect us here has been made clear over the past several years.
We are not immune to the problems plaguing our friends in Europe and our neighbour south of the border. Now circumstances are making another recession seem more and more likely. It is now more important than ever that we protect ourselves and insulate our province. That's why it's imperative that we focus on further strengthening our economy and creating jobs, and that is exactly what this throne speech promises.
The Premier recently announced the B.C. jobs plan, Canada Starts Here, which is the right plan at the right time for British Columbia. It's designed to protect and create jobs for British Columbians, and we're going to do this in three ways.
First, we're going to expand markets for B.C. products. We're going to strengthen our infrastructure and, in doing so, our ability to get our products to market. Finally, we're going to work with employers and communities to enable job creation, keeping in mind that a
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trained workforce is one of the many ways we can combat unemployment.
We're going to be focusing on our presence in Asia, which is particularly important. It's where we're going, and as part of my new position as Minister of State for Multiculturalism, I'll be working very closely with the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation by hosting delegations that are coming here. I will be working with them to help them reach out to government and bring their proposals in.
I will be doing a lot of work in this area, and I look forward to it, because immigrant investment in the province of British Columbia brings dollars and creates jobs for British Columbians. The economies of China and India and other Asian countries have been enjoying extraordinary growth over the past years, and as more and more of these countries' citizens escape poverty and enter the middle class, so too will their desire to consume B.C. products.
Strengthening our infrastructure is integral to expanding our markets in Asia and around the world. That's why our commitment to the Port of Prince Rupert and Deltaport is so vital. The majority of shipping to and from Asia goes through British Columbia because we are Canada's Pacific Gateway. As our Premier has said, our transportation infrastructure is truly the backbone of our economy. Our ability to effectively move goods and people is the key to our future.
I'm proud of the numerous infrastructure improvements we've made over the last few years. The new Port Mann bridge is over 50 percent complete and will not only help meet the transportation needs of the Fraser Valley for years to come but also make it easier to move goods to the Asia-Pacific.
The Canada Line runs from downtown Vancouver to the international airport in Richmond and has the capacity of a ten-lane roadway. We were anticipating 100,000 riderships per day by 2013, but we have passed that goal well ahead — three years ahead — of schedule.
I watch the amazing work on Highway 1 and the Port Mann bridge, and I see all those people working along there, and the sections are being completed. It's the wow factor when people come into British Columbia and into the Lower Mainland. When they come across the new Port Mann bridge, they'll say: "What a progressive government — a government that looked towards the future, a government that was working hard to build infrastructure so that we could move people and move goods and services."
On top of all that, for the first time since the mid-'90s we will have bus service connecting Coquitlam and Surrey and points beyond.
In addition to the healthy transportation system, the B.C. jobs plan has set other hard targets. We aim to have B.C. in the top two in Canada for both job and real GDP growth by 2015. We aim to have eight mines in operation and expand an additional nine mines by 2015. We also aim to have the Kitimat liquefied natural gas pipeline and terminal operational by 2015.
Well, let me say about those three items again. I just want to repeat it because mining was dismal in the '90s. There's been no expansion. We aim to have B.C. in the top two in Canada for both job and real GDP growth by 2015. We're aiming to have eight new mines in operation and expand an additional nine mines by 2015. We also aim to have the Kitimat liquefied natural gas pipeline and terminal operational by 2015. These are gigantic steps to create jobs here for British Columbians.
Finally, we have a plan to increase the number of international students by 50 percent over the next four years. The last point is especially important for our post-secondary education system. Tuition fees paid by international students help increase capacity and opportunities for domestic students and provide money for capital improvements. Foreign students also boost our GDP, increase jobs and improve the diversity of the education offered to all students in British Columbia.
International education programs also provide lasting ties between B.C. and other countries. Students who come here to learn help create a bridge between B.C. and their home country.
When international students come here, they take the experience of their education and their life in British Columbia back home. They're the ones that go back home and tell their neighbours and their friends what a great country they've been to and what a great province they've been to, where multiculturalism is accepted as a way of life, where they were never shunned. They came here, and they became part of us, and that stays in their heart and soul forever.
They go back home and tell people what a great place British Columbia is, what a quality education system we have in British Columbia — the top, I would say, in North America right here.
We have all of this, and this is what the increase in international students does. They bridge a gap. They keep British Columbia alive. They come here. They keep their home flag flying when they're here. They're from China, Korea, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Europe. They come from all over the world. But when they go home, they bring that little Canadian flag with them, and they talk about that Canadian flag. You know, when they come here to go to school — whether it's for English language schooling for six months to a year or university for four to six years with a master's program — they take that home with them.
We train them, and some of them actually stay here and want to immigrate to Canada. They do, and they continue to contribute to the Canadian way of life. They are so happy for what we're able to offer them here. Their families are more likely to visit, and that helps increase our aware-
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ness of their culture and, in turn, helps grow our presence internationally.
By increasing the number of international students, we will help expand our existing educational system. According to a recent report done by Thompson Rivers University in 2010-11, international students contributed $1.2 million towards various expansion projects at the university. Because of this, the university was able to expand its offerings to Canadian students by as much as 25 percent.
You know, I've already talked about the co-op students that I've had. Some of them have come from China. Two have come from Korea, other ones from Canada here. But they all contributed.
By expanding services to international students, we expand services to Canadian students. Through this, we will begin to address the need to train and retrain workers, because behind this jobs plan is the commitment to ensure that skills and training programs are available to all British Columbians. It's not enough that we create jobs for tomorrow; we must make sure that our workers have the necessary skills to meet tomorrow's challenges.
Since 2001 we've created seven new university campuses and over 32,000 new spaces for students. You know, these universities — we've increased them. We've built the seats so that students could go to school. The original commitment was 25,000 new university seats. Now it's 32,000 new university seats.
We've increased places for doctors. First of all, we expanded the medical school for the first time in 30 years or something. We've again doubled the number of doctors that we're training in British Columbia, and we're expanding that training all the way around the province. We have doctors training now in Prince George. We have doctors in Victoria and now in Kamloops.
You know, we do so much. We've doubled the nurses spaces in British Columbia. We've invested over $22 billion in post-secondary education over the last decade — $22 billion. It is projected that over the next ten years, 78 percent of jobs will require some sort of secondary education. Having a trained, educated workforce will be vital to unlocking B.C.'s future and the economy.
When we talk about universities, I have to talk about the best university in Canada, Simon Fraser University on Burnaby Mountain in the city of Burnaby in the riding of Burnaby-Lougheed.
An Hon. Member: Victoria.
Hon. H. Bloy: Oh, I might be debated on some of that, but we have this university that's a pretty amazing institution up there. The amount of research that's done up there overwhelms me. But I know that for citizens in British Columbia, it's the best place they could be.
You know, over the last couple years I worked with a colleague on the other side of the House where we were able to put a public-private partnership together to open a new elementary school up on the mountain, which was pretty amazing. The government was able to open a school for about $7 million versus the other cost in the 20 millions.
We have an active school up there, from sports to the athletics and drama, but now we also have a city on Burnaby Mountain that's been developed over the last few years. UniverCity trust is headed by Gordon Harris, extremely well known and respected in the community. He's built that university city, and there are going to be 10,000 people living up there over the next five or six years. There are over 3,000 now, and it's brought the mountaintop alive.
There's now a grocery store up there — Nesters. There are restaurants; there are post offices. There are all the services, so it's not a place that's empty at night anymore. It's alive and moving along. And on top of that, you know, sometimes it's hard to get up the hill with the buses that we have, and when you get a little bit of snow, it slows the buses down. They've had to close the university more than any other university for small amounts of snow.
There's a gondola proposed for Burnaby Mountain, and we're working with the community. The university is working with TransLink and other levels of government, and we hope that one day soon there'll be a gondola to the top of Burnaby Mountain, which will take half the buses off the route that goes to Simon Fraser University now.
We are not only aiming to accelerate growth but to capitalize and enhance the inherent strength of our most competitive sectors. In the coming decade B.C. will be a major player on the international stage. The focus on jobs doesn't mean that we're neglecting other sectors. Health care remains the highest cost in the provincial budget. We have an aging demographic and a generation approaching retirement that significantly outweighs the generation seeking employment. As our population ages, the pressure on our health care system will continue to grow.
I wanted to talk a little bit about my new ministry, the ministry of state for multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is a way of life for us here in British Columbia. It's important that we recognize, honour and celebrate British Columbia's strong cultural diversity. Our government remains committed to multiculturalism in B.C., and as minister of state my focus will be entirely on this file, which will get even more attention than before.
With the rich diversity of cultures, faiths and languages, British Columbia is widely recognized as the most multicultural province in Canada. It strengthens our province and who we are as people. It puts us on
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the map for being a model society that values inclusion and cultural diversity. We have a population of over four million in British Columbia, home to more than 1,000 citizens that are immigrants to British Columbia.
I can tell you I'll be focusing on immigrants coming to British Columbia. I can tell you the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation looks forward to the immigrant investment dollars that they will bring to British Columbia, creating jobs for British Columbians. On top of that, more than 4,000 new immigrants from more than 180 countries are welcomed to B.C. every year. The top mother tongues in British Columbia are English, Punjabi and Chinese.
Hon. Members and hon. Speaker, did you know that 5 percent of B.C.'s population is represented by indigenous aboriginal people? So 120,000 British Columbians are represented by 200 First Nations. This diverse population speaks 34 distinct languages. And 41 percent of the population of Canada report more than one ethnic origin.
The province's EmbraceBC program provides funding opportunities for community-based antiracism and multiculturalism projects. These projects support urban and rural regions in their efforts to build inclusive communities and workplaces. EmbraceBC funded 33 community multiculturalism and antiracism programs all around the province last year. It was a wide range around the province from Abbotsford to Campbell River to Courtenay to Duncan, Enderby, Fort St. James, Hope, Maple Ridge, Nanaimo, Powell River, Prince George, Richmond, Smithers, Surrey, Terrace, Vancouver, Vernon and Victoria.
They have been out there reaching so that British Columbians are proud of the multicultural fabric that we've woven in British Columbia, so that everybody feels comfortable here and not afraid to walk down the streets. We want to inspire all British Columbians to welcome, accept and embrace difference.
Hon. Speaker, another reason I am so excited about serving as Minister of State for Multiculturalism is the logical extension of a great deal of work that I have done over the past years, first as an MLA for Burquitlam and now as the MLA for Burnaby-Lougheed. My riding has an incredible amount of diverse population with people from a great variety of backgrounds.
In my riding I have been involved in many ethnic groups and activities. That goes from the Korean community, where we have the Korean Heritage Festival every year. I've been there every year of the ten years. I've worked with so many great volunteers in that riding from the Vancouver Korean Dance Festival, with Eunice Oh, Michael Hwang, Senator Yonah Martin and Grace Lee. It's been an incredible experience in reaching out.
I've been a member of the Canada-Korea Business Association. I'm an honorary member of the Canada-Korea Foundation. I'm a member of the Korean Businessmen's Cooperative Association. I've been involved in many aspects of the Korean community, and in fact, I was acknowledged as a government liaison to the Korean community. I'm proud of my connection there.
You know, in my riding of Burquitlam, North Road is kind of the centre of the universe for shopping for the Korean community. They were pretty well there every weekend, shopping at the two supermarkets on each side of the street. Not only the Korean community, but the Vancouver Japanese Language School on Powell Street in Vancouver…. The members live all over the Lower Mainland. I was there working with them. I got them funding so that we were able to add additional — I believe it was 65 — daycare spaces, and I'm really proud of the accomplishment that we were able to get to that point.
With Lougheed Town Centre, I have worked with them on all of their Asian celebrations, and I've always represented the province. Again, back to the Korean side of the community, I worked very hard, and we provided about 40 percent of the funding for the peace memorial at Burnaby's Central Park, which is the centre of their celebrations each year.
This is an extension of the work that I've done for years, and I look forward to reaching this out all over the province.
There are different stories of where groups started. I was in Vanderhoof just a while ago, and there was a Tim Hortons that opened. There were 39 Filipino people that moved from the Lower Mainland. They created a community up there. They have a restaurant. There's so much to reach out to, and there are these ethnic communities all the way around the province.
There's another group from my riding that I've worked with very closely over the years, and that's the Professional Fire Fighters. I've had a long relationship with them. I was the government liaison to the British Columbia World Police and Fire Games in 2009. Before that in early 2005 former colleague Patty Sahota and I announced the first presumption of cancers, and that's grown from three to, I believe, seven or eight right now. The Premier just announced a few months ago an added presumption of cancer — esophageal cancer.
We've worked with the firefighters to protect them, because buildings today are built totally different. It's not just wood. There are lots of plastics and chemicals and other things in homes that were never there before. We've gone to great lengths to be able to protect our firefighters, our true heroes in fact, that are looked upon so highly in the community. I just can't say enough about the work they do.
I can tell you that because of the World Police and Fire Games, the amazing work that they did there. Every firefighter that worked and volunteered on the com-
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munity World Police and Fire Games never got paid a penny. The firefighters, when they do charitable work, do not get paid. They take it as part of their commitment to their communities. All over the province there are firefighters like that.
Jeff Clark and Miles Richie were the people that started to bring the World Police and Fire Games to British Columbia. They were awarded the B.C. Achievement award. It's just amazing the work that they did.
I see that I'm getting close to my end, and I have so many things to say. I'm sure everyone is happy, but there will be a monument honouring firefighters placed on the legislative grounds within the next six months.
Mr. Speaker, I must also say that as MLA for Burnaby-Lougheed I am so proud to have played a part in cleaning up the mess left behind by members of the opposite after the decade of decline that this province experienced in the '90s. We have our triple-A credit rating back, and our economic growth over the past decade has been the national average and not below it.
I am proud of our record as the government. We have achieved a lot in the last decade and have much to be proud of. Perhaps our biggest accomplishment is creating a competitive advantage. Not only have we received seven credit rating upgrades since becoming government, but our low tax rates, knowledgable workforce and abundant natural resources will pave the way for a strong economic future.
It's been my privilege to serve with my fellow MLAs. I'm excited about the direction we're heading. It brings me hope that the next generation of British Columbians will be better off than this generation and that their children one day may look back and thank us for the steps we've taken today.
With that, it is my sincere pleasure to say that this Speech from the Throne I totally support. Thank you for the opportunity to speak today, hon. Speaker.
B. Simpson: I was hoping that in this Speech from the Throne…. Given that we have two new leaders who have publicly indicated they want to see a change in what happens in this chamber and that the two House Leaders have stated publicly that they also wanted to see some change, I propose a moratorium: on the government side, references to the previous century as a justification for what they're either doing or not doing; and for the opposition side, the language of "arrogant, uncaring and out of touch."
If we declare a moratorium around some of the old language of debate, maybe we could actually move into some substantive debate of the issues that are in front of us today and with the legislation we have going on.
Very quickly, as others do, I want to give my heartfelt thanks to my staff. I think that if the staff in my constituency office knew what life as an independent was going to bring to them, they may have resigned as I moved away from the party system, because the workload has increased substantially.
So to Adam Schaan at home, who is holding the fort, my deepest thanks. Then my staff here in Victoria, who have the yeoman's task of managing me because I want to involve myself in everything and stick my nose into everything — they are the ones who have to backfill my lack of knowledge. To Tracey Janes in research and to Brian Kowalski in outreach and communications, again, I thank them for all their work and support.
I was surprised in a good way when I listened to the throne speech, because my expectation was that we would get the jobs strategy writ large and that it would be the substance in the throne speech. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised, and I think the throne speech is a reflection of the Premier and the stamp that she's going to put on the province.
I think there was an attempt there to go broader than simply the jobs strategy that the Premier had gone around the province sort of outlining for people in the weeks leading up to this session. The jobs strategy is there, and I do want to speak to that. There are issues associated with that, which I think we need to debate and discuss in this Legislature, but there were some things that I thought were good in the throne speech. I look forward to seeing that work being brought into this Legislature and for some committee work to be done around that.
One of those things is the commitment to a review of Crown corporations that is supposed to start in January of next year. My hope would be that the Premier stays true to her words that she wants MLAs' roles to be elevated. We see that language in the new Premier of Alberta — that she wants to change the role of MLAs in that Legislature. It's long overdue that all MLAs were legitimized in here, and I think the idea of looking at the Crown corporations is a good one.
My concern is that we have seen ministers being given the responsibility to examine Crown corporations in their area of management. So the Minister of Transportation has looked at Ferries, and the Minister of Energy has looked at B.C. Hydro, etc. I think taking that review of Crown corporations into a more holistic review is a good thing, but not if it's done behind closed doors and not if it's going to be done in a way that does not involve Members of the Legislative Assembly.
We have a committee, the Crown Corporations Committee. We already have a vehicle that exists that has a long history in the province of British Columbia of looking at Crown corporations. In fact, it used to be a committee that met on a regular basis, reviewed the service plans of Crown corporations and made comments on them. I think we have a vehicle to take a look at Crown corporations that does a number of things that I hear in what the Premier says publicly she wants to do.
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It would be in the full light of day, it would use a legislative committee, and it would engage MLAs in a meaningful work of public policy.
The second piece that I thought was interesting in the throne speech — and we've got the legislation in front of us now — is the whole issue of the freedom of information and bringing some of the tools of government into the information age and into the technology age.
I know there's some push-back on this around privacy issues, but I can tell you that it bothers me to no end that, in a world in which I can do my banking on line, in a world in which I can communicate with my family all over the world and share information, I have to physically still go and do a lot of the work at FrontCounter B.C. or other places.
Or even if it's on line, I update my address for my driver's licence, but the medical system and other functions of government, revenue services, etc., don't know that that has occurred. It puts a lot of onus on me to know where I'm supposed to tell government that I have changed my circumstances.
I think bringing that into one function is a good thing, and I think, as I see — and we'll get into legislation debate — there are checks and balances in there that will address the privacy issue. So I think that that's a good thing.
I also thought it was interesting — the idea of a single point of reference on the web for consultation activities that are occurring within government. That's, I think, a good idea. I hear a lot from citizens that they don't know, sometimes, that consultation is going on, either on a piece of legislation or on a piece of the government agenda. They don't know.
I would hope that the government would also put on there which ministers are coming into town and when, and what committees are travelling where, so that somebody who's interested in the function of government can go and find out how to interact with government on that website. I think that's a good thing.
The language used around this — "right to know, right to voice." — I want to speak to later on with respect to oil and gas development. But I do think British Columbians have a right to know what is going on in government, have a right to access government information — because it is the public's information — and have a right to their voice.
I'm not sure that 140 characters in a Twitter feed is necessarily the best way to communicate with government. Notwithstanding that, I think the idea of a single web presence for all consultations is good.
On the $30 million that was announced for recreational sites — although lots of people are saying that isn't great, there's not enough, etc., and some people have done the math — my preference would be that that is expanded as much as possible.
I know I have lots of very good ideas in my community for the expansion of recreational trails, various other sites, at a smaller community level, not at the municipal level necessarily. They are looking for ways to get some funds to make that happen, and because of changes in the gaming grants, they find themselves in a position where they can't do that.
So I do think that that's going to backfill, albeit a small amount, the activities of some of those folks that are making their quality of life in their communities improve or are improving their quality of life.
The $24 million for the forests, lands and natural resource operations — it remains to be seen what that is, and I guess we're going to have to see that later on into the budget cycle through estimates debate. But that I see as an admission that things are not working well. I've heard members of the government even speak to the fact that the issue of permitting in this province needs to be addressed and must be addressed as quickly as possible.
However, that's an admission that the last 11 years of this government's activities have dramatically undermined the ability of the so-called dirt ministries to get their work done in a timely fashion.
I'm told that it's three years to get a water licence permit in the Okanagan. It is a very long period of time, sometimes 18 months, to get a notice to work through the system for small claims mining, and cutting permits are bogged down. This is a lot of economic activity that is being stalled because the government does not have the resources in that ministry to do that work. That is a failure of this government's policy over the time that it has been in power.
As the member for Kootenay East pointed out when he went through his own turmoil with his caucus, there's a direct correlation between all of the budget cuts to the dirt ministries and this problem we have now of actually permitting economic activity on the land base.
I don't think $24 million is going to address that. I think it's a start. It's at least some money in the right direction, but there are structural issues associated with that. There are First Nations referral issues that are associated with that. There are job allocation, job responsibilities, streamlining of work associated with that.
I think, if I understand correctly the work of the member for Kelowna-Mission, some of the work that he is doing in looking into the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations' reorganization may help us to understand some of the other fixes that need to occur there. But it's much bigger than the $24 million and requires government to pay very close attention to what it did with that sector.
With respect to the auditor general for municipalities, I don't see a problem with that whatsoever. I think, in fact, that could be a very positive thing for local governments if they understand it correctly.
The situation they're confronted with just now, in this moment, is that they have lobby groups for the small
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business community, lobby groups in the construction community, saying that the tax burden of municipalities is too high and that they're spending way too much. But what they fail to take into consideration is the downloading to municipal governments from the province, from the federal government, and that part of the reason they're spending what they're spending is because they're now picking up responsibilities that were not theirs in the past.
A municipal auditor general, I think, could be a good ally to the municipal governments. There's the accountability component to it, but as we know in this House, the provincial Auditor General gives us advice as legislators. He gives advice to the Finance Committee, gives advice to Public Accounts about the functioning of government, about government programs — whether successful or not — and about whether we're measuring things correctly to even measure success and about whether or not the general principles that we're using for finances are correct.
I think a municipal auditor general, paid for by the province so that it's not an additional burden, could actually be a good ally and a good tool and an assistance to municipal governments in their own accountability mechanisms.
Now, it would be nice if the province listened to its Auditor General with respect to its accounting practices, because there's that issue that there's no point in having the function if you're not going to pay attention to the function.
There are a couple of interesting things in the budget that I'd like to speak to for a few moments, that have left the general public and others who are seriously looking at the throne speech wondering what the government's real agenda is.
The first one that stands out is education. What is the government's real agenda when they use the term "modernizing" the education system? Under the previous administration in the government's party, that was a euphemism for privatization.
It's clear that Mr. Campbell had a privatization agenda for education. It's clear at one point he wanted to look at the voucher system, schools of excellence, specialty schools and allow people to walk around with their tax voucher and fund schools that they wanted to do. If modernization is another euphemism for privatization, I think that the Premier is going to be given a real wake-up call, just like a predecessor was when he did his conversation on health.
He went out to the public with one agenda, believing that the public would buy the argument that the only way to fix the health system was to privatize it, and heard loud and clear that the public wants a public health system, not a private health system. So if modernizing the education system is about privatization, I suggest the Premier not even bother starting down that path.
However, if modernizing education is about trying to understand how we take a system designed in the 1800s and bring it into the 21st century, how to take children that are exposed to massive amounts of information, that have access at their fingertips to whatever information they want and turn them into learners that can make sense out of that — lifelong learners, literate citizens, numerate citizens with the context that they're in, with their demographic context, with the dysfunctionality of families and various other things that impact on the education system….
If we're going to look at that, then I think that that's a worthwhile endeavour. But having said that as well…. That seems to be my refrain. We always get trapped in little catchwords when we speak here.
There is another trap in there that I'm concerned about, and I know that ministers on the other side of the House have heard it clearly from the northern school trustees association, and that is that modernizing education can't be Internet service delivery outside of major population centres. That can't be what we're talking about. We have to be able to look at the role that schools still play in those smaller communities.
I have communities in my riding that are very small, that have school sizes that are from eight or ten students up to 27 students. But if we take that school out of that community, then all of their economic development activities, all of their social development activities are taken off the table. Because anybody who wants to move into that community looks and sees there's no school, that there's no health care capacity, etc. They're not going there.
We have to actually look at modernizing within the context of B.C.'s rural-urban divide and make sure that we are not going to give Internet — and in many cases the Internet won't work in those areas; there's not enough bandwidth — that Internet does not become a substitute for schools in rural British Columbia.
The second interesting part I found in the speech is this reorientation. Instead of a Progress Board, we're now going to look at a jobs and investment board. This is part of a trend, not just this government but governments that are more business-oriented, if you will — I don't like the right-left divide and that language; it doesn't make sense to most citizens anymore — ones that are actually proponents of the private sector, that see themselves as the government facilitating private sector development.
The idea of only getting advice on jobs and investment and not continuing with something like the Progress Board is an idea of progress that's outdated. Many jurisdictions are now looking at how they move away, for example, from GDP as a measure of progress and go to a genuine progress indicator of some kind, where they'll look at the social domain. If the Progress Board's work
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on the social domain, on the environmental domain is going to disappear in favour of just simply jobs and investment, I think that's a step backwards and a very significant step backwards.
I think the reason for that, notwithstanding who was on the Progress Board, is they gave good summary statistics, which I, in fact, as a candidate in the '09 election was able to stand and use to debunk the myths that were being propagated by the candidate from the Liberal Party. So if this is a way to avoid that kind of scrutiny, that is a step backwards. I would strongly advise the government that the social domain and the environmental domain still should be part of the work that that thing does.
There's also a sense of 1984 in this, where if you don't like something, you just change the name and pretend it's something else — right? — and some of that work is being done in here too.
It's the same with the tax review. The tax review that the government is doing is too narrow in focus. We've got ministers and members of government standing up and saying "most competitive tax regime." If that truly is the case, why do we have to go and look and see if we can make it more competitive? Why not actually go back and say: "Is it fair? Is it fair to our seniors? Is it fair to our middle class? Are we doing the right thing in taxation relative to expectations of what the citizens have of government?"
I'm concerned about that, which leads me into the third area that I find interesting, and that's the language around what the government is going to do to examine social innovation.
Again, that's a euphemism, in my estimation, for the government dropping the ball on that domain. It's a way to actually say: "Okay, what we're going to do as government is simply facilitate the not-for-profit sector being better fundraisers, and get more money from the corporate sector at their goodwill."
The reality is that the most vulnerable in this province are a creation of government policy. The most vulnerable in this province are a creation of government policy in the areas of income assistance rates, of disability rates, of what they do in terms of their tax policy and chipping away at disposable income, particularly in low-income earners, particularly in seniors on fixed income.
It's directly public policy that keeps a large portion of the province of British Columbia under the low-income threshold. You can't address that by going to the not-for-profit sector and saying: "Okay, you're not getting gaming grants, so let's teach you how to be more innovative in fundraising to get more money from the corporate sector, who we're not taxing anymore, so that you can actually go and address the issues that we're no longer addressing."
The sole purpose of government, in my estimation, is the public good — not private enterprise. The sole purpose of government is to balance what's happening in the marketplace by taking care of those who can't participate or by taking care of those who are in the position of vulnerability that the market creates. And the sole purpose of government is to build a tax and infrastructure framework so that we can enjoy economic activity.
With the time I have remaining here, I want to take a look more closely at the jobs strategy and then some concerns I have about the overall position of government.
With respect to the jobs strategy, I'm reminded of Einstein's phrase of the definition of insanity being using the same thinking to solve a problem that created the problem in the first place. My sense is that the government still hasn't quite grasped what is going on in the world economy.
They talk about recession. They talk about the fragility of Europe. They don't talk about the fragility of India and China because, of course, they're banking on India and China for their job creation strategy. But what they don't talk about is the fact that four decades of free market economics are what has created this precipice.
The United States is a bankrupt country, not because it is a social welfare state but because it is a free enterprise state and it has given away all of its capacity to actually do what it needs to do. And instead of bailing out citizens and helping citizens, it bails out corporations because they didn't know what they were doing.
If that's the case, the jobs strategy in that context, I think, is wrong-headed in a macro sense because it simply is the same thinking that created the mess that we're in. One aspect of that is that the jobs strategy, and the government's overall agenda, I think, is going to cause us to be in a position here where we have laws, laws that were passed in this Legislature, that are going to be broken by government in order to attempt to achieve job creation.
The first law that is going to be broken is the greenhouse gas emissions legislation. This government tied itself to very deliberate greenhouse gas emissions reductions in 2020 and 2050. There is no way that that law will be adhered to with this jobs strategy unless the government has in parallel to it a very sophisticated, very deliberate strategic plan to get greenhouse gas emissions down.
The oil and gas industry alone, at its current level of development, completely negates any work that is being done on greenhouse gas emissions reductions. One plant alone in the Peace region, EnCana's Cabin gas plant, when it comes on full stream next year, will put three times as many new greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere as the entire public sector that is being penalized and taxed to get those emissions out — three times.
The industrial policy the government has means we will be forced to break the law. And it is all of us together here, because we all passed the law together. We will be
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forced to not meet those targets. We will then break the law, because those targets are in law. How we treat slash in the bush alone negates the possibility of achieving those targets in 2020 and 2050.
It's not like these are fuzzy targets. It's not that these are nice to-dos. They are in law. We are lawmakers. This is the House of law of the province of British Columbia. Why did we pass the law if we're now going to break them, and why does the government feel it can embark on an industrial strategy that will make sure we never attain those targets?
The second law that I think is going to be broken is the responsibility of the government — the duty to consult. That is a legal requirement the government has. Now, there are many court cases, in particular against this government, for attempting to pass the duty to consult on to the corporations. Each time the court has said the duty to consult rests with government, not with private enterprise.
In one case alone, the announcement that there will be eight new mines by 2015, nine mine expansions and ten First Nations agreements is an indication that the government has full intention of blowing past their duty to consult. How can you announce, if you're going to go consult with First Nations, that there will be ten agreements and there will be eight new mines? Negotiation requires sitting at a table and negotiating those agreements.
Two cases in point to illustrate this. Mount Polley Mining was just given a permit to expand. I'm not sure if it's one of the expansions that's counted in here or not, but that permit to expand was given over the expressed concern of the Williams Lake Indian band and the Xats'ull or Soda Creek Indian band.
But more than that, the Williams Lake Indian band and the Soda Creek Indian band were at the table in discussions with the Mount Polley Corp. about what they needed: to take a look at the expansion permit, to comment on the expansion permit, to get the resources they needed, to comment on the implications for First Nations and to talk about revenue-sharing.
They were promised by a function of government, by a person that represents government, that the permit approval would be delayed because that was in process. And on August 13, unbeknownst to the two First Nations, the permit was approved, and there was no need for that dialogue that was going on.
If that's the way the government intends to get eight new mines and nine new expanded mines, then what they're asking First Nations to do is take to the streets in direct protest or bottle the government up in court. That's no jobs strategy. Again, it is a deliberate breaking of the law of the land in order to achieve an economic goal.
The third area that I believe that the government is going to be in a position where it's going to end up breaking a law is the balanced budget law. I do not believe for a second that this government will be able to balance its budget by 2013, which is required by law. I don't believe that that's possible.
I don't believe that if there was a fall election and the NDP got in, they'd be able to do it either, but I do believe that both sides would use it as political fodder to beat each other up around whether it could be achieved or not. Let's take the politics out of it.
I think that in a boom-and-bust economy, in an open economy like British Columbia, we need to go back and ask the question as to whether or not balanced budget legislation actually makes any sense at all. Because what balanced budget legislation does is cause you, in the down cycle, to go in and gut your public services. It gives no certainty to the public service. It gives no certainty to the public that they will continue to have good delivery of public services.
Now, I'm not saying that we spend like mad all the time. I'm saying that there's a different way of doing that than legislating the balanced budget and causing you to do that because, of course, government's books end every fiscal cycle. You can't carry over.
What we need to have as a discussion in here — rather than, you know, using it as a political sledgehammer — is that if the government says we're not going to be able to do this and brings legislation in, then let's talk about what makes sense for British Columbia: a debt management strategy, the possibility of a heritage fund of some kind where we can moderate the boom-and-bust cycle and not go into a situation where we're gutting the public sector, and then what fiscal prudence is in an open economy.
Let's have that debate. I would hope that as the Premier looks at her tax panel, she also asks them, because I've heard the same from the business community. They don't like that we have handcuffed ourselves in that way either.
I think this is a throne speech that has interesting components to it. I think some of those things are good, and I look forward to the debate in the House around some of the legislation. I do hope the Premier uses the committee system to advance some of these agenda items, but I am concerned that we are too much focused on private interests at the expense of the public interests. We're here to serve the public not the private sector.
I do fear that this strategy of government, this agenda of government, will put us in a position where we're going to end up being lawbreakers and, in particular, those three laws that I outlined. We will not meet our greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. We will not meet our requirement and duty to consult. And we will not meet the balanced budget legislation. So let's talk about how we adjust those laws before we end up breaking them.
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B. Stewart: I am honoured to rise in the House today to respond to the throne speech. It continues to be an honour to represent the constituents of Westside-Kelowna here in the provincial Legislature.
That wouldn't be something that's possible without the support of my family — Rosemary and Dick Stewart, who are here in the gallery today; my brother Tony, who actively runs our winery business; and my two sisters, Cynthia and Andrea, and their husbands. But more importantly, my family — Ruth; Llane and Jan, my daughter and her husband; Kitson and Jen, son and daughter-in-law; and Patrick.
More importantly, I even have staff that help make everything happen: my staff in Kelowna, Cheryl Doll and Erica Macnab; and here in Victoria, Rick Orlando and Kevin Dixon.
I'm delighted to be able to speak to the throne speech, focusing on job creation; building stronger, safer communities; and continuing to open up government to British Columbia families.
You know, the Premier's job plan met with great approval and gratitude from some of British Columbia's business community. John Winter of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce said: "We need to make sure that jobs continue to be created, and the fact that she has publicly stated that the government does not create jobs, that the government's role is to help create jobs, but they stand back and get out of the way…. That's a pretty good strategy."
Employment expert David Litherland said: "I would think that if I was an unemployed person living somewhere in Canada, I know what province I'd move to. I know that I would want to come to British Columbia."
Greg D'Avignon of the B.C. Business Council said: "If it takes nine months to get a permit approved, then we have often lost that opportunity. The strength of the plan is that it really builds on our assets and creates the opportunity for us to be an investment location of choice."
I could go on and on. The Premier's job plan meets with overwhelming support. Of course, our friends across the aisle do not support the jobs plan. What alternative do they have to offer? What do they know about jobs? What do they know about business, employing people, meeting a payroll?
What do our friends across the aisle know about trade missions abroad? I can tell you from personal experience, in having travelled to London to go and sell product that I created in 1992, 1994, 1996; and on to Asia, into Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan. The fact is that there was no real support out there. I can tell you that part of our jobs plan includes support for economic development abroad, especially in the growing Asian economy.
Whether our friends across the aisle want to admit it or not — and they usually do not — the simple fact is that jobs come from businesses. It can be politically convenient to vilify companies and corporations, but at the end of the day if we make it too difficult to conduct business in British Columbia, it either folds or moves elsewhere.
As you may know, I speak from personal experience. A couple of decades ago I had an opportunity, I thought, and I mortgaged my farm. I put everything I had into starting a new business called Quail's Gate Estate Winery. I didn't know anything about corporate capital taxes back then, but I soon learned. The harsh lesson came after the first year of operations.
Of course, it would have been nice to have a profit in the first, second, third, fourth year. But the reality was that I sat down expecting that — you know, we still were developing the business — I would be exempt from that, other than the taxes I paid, such as provincial sales tax.
When I sat down with my accountant, I was shocked to learn that the provincial government had implemented the fact that they were going to have a corporate capital tax. This was an incestuous tax that taxed the cash that we had, the land that we owned and the equipment.
We had borrowed everything that we could to help develop a new business. Frankly, it was one of those things that was an obvious setback — to have to pay taxes on assets that we had just acquired and still owed money on.
In other words, my company was penalized because I had saved and borrowed money to invest in it. Actually, penalized is a good word. But it wasn't just me who paid the penalty. The corporate capital tax was introduced by the Leader of the Opposition's old boss, Glen Clark, in 1992. He said it would be a temporary measure. Right. Four short years later Glen Clark said it was here to stay, and stay it did, driving businesses like mine to the verge of bankruptcy until the B.C. government eliminated it.
I was lucky. I managed to stick it out. I had family that believed in it and supported me. But many others did not survive, and countless other businesses and investors simply stayed away. When many businesses applied for loans in the 1990s — and I can attest to what it was like trying to get a loan in British Columbia in the 1990s — simply, we were told no, not with the wrecking crew of the government around.
The economic uncertainty of the NDP government was harder than the recession of the 1980s. What a great way to discourage people from starting a new business. If I had known about this unfair tax at the time, I'm not sure I would have taken on the huge task of founding and building up the company. What I can tell you, from my perspective as a business owner, is that the corporate capital tax caused Quails Gate to grow way more slowly under the NDP in the 1990s and to create fewer jobs than we would have under a fairer system of taxation.
I can say that one of the best things that ever happened to Quails Gate was the day of the government's elimination of the corporate capital tax, which this opposition
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party still advocates today is the way that they're going to return stability to the government's financial picture, if they were to take the reins of power.
It was a major drag on our growth. No longer paying a penalty for having cash and assets, we were to be able to invest more, grow more quickly and create far more jobs in our community than ever before. Let me spell it out. When we were taxed more, we hired fewer people. When we were taxed less, we hired more people.
Today Quails Gate happily employs some 180 people. To my friends across the aisle: that is job creation. Those are real jobs. That happened because this government created an environment where businesses like mine had a chance to succeed, where businesses flourished.
The former government had created an environment that tried to suffocate businesses. But no, they don't agree. Their former leader said there is absolutely no tie between tax breaks for industry and creating jobs here in British Columbia. Well, my employees know different.
I think many of the people in the House today will remember the heady days of 1986, when we started out with Expo 86. I look around, and I think about the optimism coming out of the early 1980s — high interest rates and what that created in terms of the traction that we were able to collectively invest in our province. It wasn't because the world economy had immediately changed overnight. It was the fact that we believed we could do something. And we did it.
That's why, between 1992 and 2000, under the NDP's watch, B.C.'s capital economic growth fell to dead last in Canada. We had the least private sector investment of any other province. From 1996 to 2000, B.C. was dead last in job creation in Canada. What's the common word in that record? Last. That's their jobs plan. Canada did not start here. In the '90s it was the place where dreams came to die. In the '90s Canada ended here.
I mentioned that government's role is not to create jobs, and that's true. But a misguided government has the power to kill jobs. The grossly unfair corporate capital tax and the suffocating amount of red tape that existed under the B.C. NDP in the '90s did great harm to small businesses and discouraged entrepreneurs from starting new ones.
The record of this government contrasts far more favourably with that of our predecessors, and the record of sound fiscal management has given us a very real competitive advantage. It's why our trading partners today look at us with envy.
We have the lowest corporate and small business tax rates in the G7. We have the lowest income tax rates in the country for people earning up to $118,000 per year. We have cut personal, small business, corporate income taxes in every budget since 2001. For those who pay, since 2001 the provincial income taxes have decreased by 37 percent. You know, that is $403 for somebody earning just $15,000. For somebody earning $50,000, that is $1,457, and it is $2,297 for somebody earning $70,000.
For small business owners, the foundation of our economy, we did still more. We cut the small business tax rate from 4.5 to 2.5 percent, a reduction of 44 percent, and it will still go down further, all the way down, so that most small business owners will consider the ideal rate zero in 2012. We also considerably expanded the scope of those small business tax cuts. The financial threshold for small business was increased by 250 percent.
Large businesses also employ many British Columbians. We helped them too. We cut corporate income taxes four times since 2001, down to 10 percent today, a reduction of 39 percent. By 2012 B.C.'s corporate income tax rate will be the lowest in the G7.
I've heard some of our friends across the aisle in effect say: "So what?" I have heard some of them say worse. I have heard the former Leader of the Opposition say that there is absolutely no tie between tax breaks and creating jobs. I have also heard the current Leader of the Opposition say that the lowest tax jurisdiction in North America is not something we should strive for. How is that possible?
Of course, I've also heard his former boss, former Premier Glen Clark, say that it's important that B.C. remain competitive in its taxes. Well, that's a change of his opinion. Surely that has nothing to do with who he works for today, one of British Columbia's most prominent and successful businessmen.
Why is it important to the former NDP Premier, who knows that bad government tax policy jeopardizes jobs? Why bring this up? Surely our friends across the aisle have learned the lesson of British Columbia in the '90s, New Zealand in the 1980s and, more recently, places like Greece. No, their 2009 platform called for over $1 billion in new taxes.
Smart policy doesn't end simply by lowering taxes. We constantly ask business how we can get out of their way, and that's why we recently announced a three-year extension of the B.C. training tax credit, which offers tax credits for employers who are paying wages to eligible apprentices and gives personal income tax credits to the people who are working as apprentices. This program costs about $31 million a year, but as an investment into apprenticeships and real on-the-job training, it more than makes sense.
How does this help small business owners? Ask them, and find out. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said that these types of tax credits can make the difference between a small business owner's taking on new staff and training them up or not taking on new hires. Extending the tax credit…. While it's not big money, the investment it is, is far more important and one that has the potential to make a big difference to small business owners.
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The Premier also recently announced an additional $3 million towards the small business venture tax credit. It's an interesting program which effectively invests in investment. This credit encouraged angel investors to invest their own money eligible into small businesses. I think anyone here who has watched the Dragons' Den knows how that works.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
I can speak to that personally, because I helped participate in setting up a small venture capital fund, and frankly, it's got a huge risk. You know what? You need to incentivize people to take their own capital and put it into other people's ideas. That is one of the things we're helping encourage.
Like it or not, this government's record of sound fiscal policy — including low tax rates for individuals, small businesses and corporations — enabled B.C. to weather the global downturn better than most. While the economic uncertainty continues to plague the world, the situation here is improving. That's why employment in British Columbia continues to increase.
Madam Speaker, 2.261 million British Columbians are currently employed in full-time employment here in British Columbia. Do you know that that is a 58,000-person increase since March of 2009? It may not sound like a lot for a large province like British Columbia. Considering the context, some may scoff at comparisons with places like Greece or Spain. Well, in roughly the same amount of time B.C. saw a net increase of 58,000 jobs, and by some estimates, the United States has lost more than 8.8 million jobs.
B.C. managed to add jobs and, crucially, to maintain our triple-A credit rating because of this government's proven record. We can't forget what the alternative is. B.C. used to have governments that believed in high taxes and reckless spending. In 2001 British Columbia had the slowest per-capita growth in Canada. Today we are among the leaders. British Columbia was a have-not province receiving equalization payments from our friends in Ottawa. Well, today we can proudly and accurately say: "Canada starts here."
Most alarming of all, people left British Columbia in the 1990s. The net population actually decreased by 50,115. That's amazing for a place generally acknowledged to be the most beautiful province in the most beautiful country in the world. Those people didn't leave because they wanted new challenges. They left because other places offered them a better chance of making a living and raising a family.
Deputy Speaker: Excuse me.
Members, Members. Will the members please come to order.
B. Stewart: This isn't a partisan opinion but observations made from other provinces, where British Columbians were fleeing in the 1990s. "Undoubtedly, the B.C. situation is a disaster. It has helped Alberta," said the president of the Alberta Merit Contractors Association in 1998.
That same year the Times Colonist quoted a member of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce as saying: "Glen Clark is best thing that ever happened to Alberta." I'm happy and proud to say that that's no longer true. Since 2001 people started to come back, and today some 450,000 more people call B.C. home than they did in 2001. I'm proud to be part of the government that's created an environment where they can thrive.
Businesses, even big corporations, employ thousands of British Columbians, pay generous benefits and contribute towards their pensions. If we chase them away, those jobs, benefits and pensions leave with them. B.C. has weathered the global economic turmoil better than most because of the responsible fiscal policy and not trying to milk business dry.
One of the aspects of the jobs plan that I feel deserves attention is the goal of attracting 50 percent more international students to the province. As my staff can tell you, I'm enthusiastic about this idea for a lot of reasons. In my own community I've watched the creation of a brand-new university in the last six years — at full capacity, with many international students.
Let's start with basic economics. What a lot of people don't realize is that international education actually represents British Columbia's fifth-largest export. Last year 94,000 international students spent more than $1.8 billion in British Columbia, directly supporting 22,000 jobs. That also generates $70 million in government revenue.
Impressive as those figures are, there's every reason to anticipate that they will increase dramatically. Why is this? Well, with the rapid economic expansion in Asia-Pacific countries, more parents than ever want their children to receive a high-quality English language education. Perhaps more importantly, more parents than ever in Asia-Pacific countries have the means to send them abroad to receive it.
Where will they choose to send them? Well, B.C.'s education is recognized as one of the very best in the world, so it's only natural that many of them will choose to apply and study here. This will actually help our students.
Education is not a zero-sum equation. With a limited number of seats, studies have demonstrated that international students don't take the space away from B.C. students. Actually, they create more space.
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Why is this? Well, let me explain. Let me use some math that you'll understand. International students aren't subsidized, first of all. They pay the full cost of their education here. Domestic students pay for one-third of the cost of their education. The rest is subsidized with tax dollars. International students actually pay more, and the extra revenue that they bring in can actually, and does, create additional seats.
That's not just more chairs in the existing classroom, as it was in the 1990s. That extra revenue creates entire classes, because the international students there help create courses that are offered there that weren't previously available because there wasn't enough demand from domestic students.
That's not theoretical. We've already seen this happen right here in British Columbia. According to a report done by Thompson Rivers University, international students contributed $1.2 million in the '10-11 calendar year towards TRU's construction activity.
That report went on to conclude that TRU is able to expand its offering to Canadian students by at least 25 percent as a result of the international student enrolment — 25 percent more opportunity available to British Columbian and Canadian students. Again, it's not just more spots in some classes but different opportunities that meet different needs. For example, TRU's ability to offer a useful summer school course menu to Canadian students rests on the international student demand.
These are compelling reasons, and they would probably have been enough to convince me, if I needed convincing. But I also believe that attracting more international students is worthwhile for other reasons. When the Premier launched the B.C. jobs plan, it referred to some infrastructure investments as it pertained to the international gateway. This was an apt description.
For many of the same reasons, I like to think of attracting international students as the social gateway. Aggressively pursuing immigration and building enhanced relationships with new and emerging economies will be absolutely fundamental for B.C.'s continuing prosperity.
Consider this. When these international students graduate, many will return home. But with the benefits of a well-regarded, quality British Columbia education and the relationships they've developed, many of these students will go on to great things. They will become business and political leaders in their home countries — leaders who enjoy familiarity, contacts and fond memories of B.C.
Those advantages and benefits, I hope, are self-explanatory. But consider for a moment those international students who choose to stay and build careers in British Columbia. Who could blame them? Not anyone lucky enough to have been born here. This is simply the best place on earth.
I hope many of them do decide to stay. Their contributions will be immense and crucial. Knowing the challenges that we face with the fact of declining birth rates and an aging population, we need immigration into the province of British Columbia for those jobs that we're going to be creating. They will help offset the impacts of our health system for our aging population. They will help ensure that our employers continue to have access to young, highly skilled workforce personnel.
This is nothing new. Canada and British Columbia have always relied on immigration. Increasing international students in B.C. is a smart way of continuing to attract the world's best and brightest.
I'm also enthusiastic about helping young people create businesses and new jobs. I had the privilege of seeing an innovative, new government program get started in my home area in Kelowna. The Youth Skills B.C. entrepreneurship pilot program is designed to assist unemployed youth between the ages of 15 and 29. It will support young people by enhancing their entrepreneurial employability and occupational skills through the development of a formal business plan, mentorship and training.
Community Futures, which is a name familiar to most here, has been awarded $212,500 to help 25 local youth develop their business ideas and entrepreneurial skills. The project is part of a new $1.65 million pilot program introduced by the B.C. government and funded through the Canada–British Columbia labour market agreement.
These are great examples of the positive role government can play, not in raising taxes to pay for ill-conceived promises and grand schemes but in making prudent investments. I can think of no smarter investment than investing in things like entrepreneurship skills and training and increasing the number of international students to British Columbia.
I am proud to have had the opportunity to respond to the throne speech. As a businessman, I am proud of this government's record on tax and fiscal policy, which has made British Columbia the envy as an investment location around the world.
As a husband and parent, I'm proud of the Premier's dedication to putting families first in every policy decision that we make. I continue to be extremely proud of the privilege accorded to me by the residents of Westside-Kelowna, who I am serving here in the Legislature, and it will always be humbling. Thank you very much for this opportunity.
S. Simpson: I'm pleased to have the opportunity to stand in my place — it's been a while since we've been here — to come back and be able to respond to a throne speech. It has been quite a while. We've talked a little bit earlier. We saw some news reports about how infrequently
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we make it to this place. It's always good to get back, even if it is only for a few weeks.
Before I make my comments related directly to the throne speech and the situation in the province today, I do want to acknowledge again my constituency of Vancouver-Hastings. Having been elected in 2005 and re-elected in 2009, it's a great privilege for me, as I know it is for every member for the constituencies they represent. It's a great privilege to represent the people of British Columbia and, more specifically, the people of Vancouver-Hastings.
As certainly all members know, it's sometimes challenging for families, so I very much appreciate the support I get from my family — from my partner, Cate, and my daughter, Shayla, who just turned 20 and moved out for the first time. Who knows how many more times, but for the first time she's moved out, so we're having that empty-nester experience for the first time. The house is cleaner. I'll give it that. But it's great, and she's doing very well. I'm looking forward to and excited about her having the opportunity to start experiencing another aspect of being an adult.
I want to thank my staff, particularly my staff here — Susan Vasilev and Erich Nahser-Ringer, who work for me here — and in my constituency: Brenda Tombs and Rachel Garrick, who are my constituency assistants. It's a very exciting time there. Rachel is going to be taking a leave from us to go and have a baby here in a couple of weeks. She'll be gone for a year, and I'll miss her terribly. She's so great, but we have a young man, Jarrett Hagglund, coming in to fill her shoes for a year. I'm sure he'll do a great job.
I really want to thank them for all the work that they do and for the support that they provide me and for the support that I know Jarrett will provide me over the coming year as Rachel's replacement.
They have a very tough job in Vancouver-Hastings. It's a challenging constituency. It's a complex constituency. It's probably close to about the second-poorest constituency in the province in terms of income, yet it has some very expensive neighbourhoods as well. About 40 percent of the constituency is Chinese-speaking, so we're always looking for innovative ways to provide services to those people where there are language challenges. It's hard sometimes. We're trying to get at that. We have our little victories and some not so good victories, but we're working on that.
It has a very large urban aboriginal population. I'll speak to that a little bit in a bit as it relates to references in the throne speech. That's a community where I know there's an awful lot of work being done with the friendship centre and Urban Native Youth to try to find ways to meet the needs of that community and, most particularly, the needs of some of the young aboriginal community.
We have some real challenges there and levels of gang activity that I know are very concerning for the families and the community itself, issues in relation to drugs and other things. I know they're trying to deal with that. It's very challenging. It really is often about a group of young people who are feeling alienated from opportunity, alienated from the chance to find their way and find their place, and the reaction to that is this activity and involvement in gang activity and some of the negative aspects of that.
I know that there's a lot of hard work being done. We need to, here in this place, provide greater amounts of support, whether it's through the friendship centres or through other kinds of supports in terms of an urban aboriginal strategy that provides the assistance so that that population — it's almost 70 percent of the aboriginal population in the province that lives largely off reserve and largely in our urban areas — has the opportunity to succeed and to find its place.
We have many challenges that we talk about in the place. Many of them reflect as well, I know, on areas that I work in around my critic responsibilities, which are Housing and Social Development. I want to talk a little bit about those areas and about some of the challenges that I see — challenges, sadly, that I didn't see much about in the throne speech; challenges that I didn't see much substantive in the throne speech, if even references, as to how we begin to deal with these issues.
First is housing. Housing is a very difficult situation in this province. As members here from both sides, of course, will know, for many, and especially for families, the cost of housing is prohibitive — the cost of home purchases.
For those of us who live in urban areas, in Vancouver and Victoria, in parts of the Fraser Valley, in Kelowna, housing ownership is very, very challenging. Million-dollar homes are not that rare anymore. There was a day when nobody would have imagined that. Now a million dollars for a house in Vancouver…. You get shaking your head on how on earth that's worth a million dollars, but the market will bear that, and that means they're just not available to people.
It's not just the cost of home ownership, but it's the lack of affordable rental housing for those folks, for families who are looking to rent, and we have a very big challenge here. We have a growing number of people who are in that area. I'm not talking about people who are at the very low end, but when you look at families in the $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 range, for them to find a home…. We hear from CMHC that roughly about a third of your income should be the amount that you should pay for housing in terms of affordability. Well, that starts looking like $1,200 or $1,300 a month for a place.
You try to find a three-bedroom place in Vancouver or in Surrey or, I know, in the Speaker's community in Richmond. If you try to find a reasonable three-
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bedroom place for $1,200 a month, you're not going to find it to rent. It's pretty hard to find.
We're not getting at how to support that community. Those are people who, among other things, certainly would no longer qualify for the rental assistance program that the government does have in place. They would have an income that would be too high for that. We need to start talking about that and about innovation and about what government does, probably working in partnership with the private sector, to begin to get at that. But there was no conversation about that, no discussion of that in the throne speech.
I'd acknowledge that the government has done some things as it relates to homelessness and as it relates to frail seniors. But once you get past that group, it becomes very challenging for families and very challenging for youth. When you look at the homelessness figures that have come out, one of the areas where we see exceptional growth in homelessness is with youth. That's concerning.
I know that when I talk to youth workers, when I talk to people working on the street in Vancouver trying to connect with young people who are living on the street or who are in Vancouver and who may be at some risk, they almost without exception will say that if we can find a way to stabilize a young person's housing, then we can open the door to creating opportunities for them to get back and to integrate them back into society, if they've started to drift, and we need to do that.
Yet this is an area where we simply have not done the work that we need to do to get at that area. Again, as I said, it's an area where we didn't see support in the throne speech for that.
Another area is — and this is a broader question that certainly integrates housing into it — the whole broader question of poverty generally. We know in British Columbia, and we've certainly had the debate in this House many times, about the fact that we have consistently had the highest rates of child poverty. We have the highest rates of overall poverty of all the jurisdictions in this country.
We have about a half a million people in this province, depending on whose standards you want to use, who are there in poverty, and almost a quarter of those folks are kids. They're kids. We all know, and everybody in this place would agree, that children don't get poor by themselves. Poor kids is poor families. That's the reality of the situation.
The other thing is…. We'll talk a little bit about income assistance in a minute, but one of the most troubling things here is that over half of those families, over half of those people who are living in poverty, have an income. They have a full-time income coming into the household. It's not a question of income assistance. They're earning money.
We know that for about ten years we didn't see any increase in the minimum wage, and I'd acknowledge that the Premier increased the minimum wage. But even as that increase plays itself out to get to the $10.25 an hour, we know that that helps, but it doesn't get people to where they need to be.
We know that if you were going to get to the low-income cutoff, you'd probably have to get another dollar and a bit on that. But so be it. It does help some, and I would acknowledge that. But we have not addressed the challenge, and we have not addressed the bigger challenge here, which is not just throwing money at poverty.
When you do that, you ultimately will end up back in the same place at some point if you simply look at it as a question of money, though the money is important. You need to determine how you break that cycle and break it for kids and for families. It's a very challenging thing.
I reflect on my own experience. I grew up in the Downtown Eastside. I grew up in a public housing project with my mother and my sister — on assistance and then my mom on a minimum-wage job. My friends there….
I spent all my teenage years there in Raymur housing project. When I first was nominated and was knocking on doors in 2005 in my constituency, in one of the public housing projects, I ran into four people in the Wall Street project — about 70, 80 units — who were my peers from Raymur and who now are taking care of their grandkids or whatever, their kids and their grandkids.
These are smart people. They weren't bad people. They didn't do things terribly wrong. They just could not break that cycle. They could not break that cycle, and their kids didn't break it. Sadly, it may be that their grandkids won't break it either.
We need to figure out how we get at that, because that's our responsibility — to give them tools, to create opportunities and tools to break that cycle. They need to have the initiative. They need to have the drive. They need to be prepared to do the work, but we need to create the tools and opportunities because they're not here today.
It is getting tougher and tougher, and the problem we see is that inequality is growing in this province. We know that. What the statistics are telling us is that the inequality between the top and bottom continues to grow. It's spreading, and that's a big problem.
The member for Westside-Kelowna talked about population growth, but as we saw — and I saw a news report about this the other day — for the first time, in the last year or year and a half, in fact population has declined in British Columbia. We have lost people. When they talk to people who are moving — young families, largely — they're moving away, and they're moving away because of the cost of living in British Columbia.
What we know is that we have the highest cost of living in the country, largely driven by housing costs, and
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we have some of the lowest average family incomes in the country. So that's creating pressures, and young families are looking elsewhere.
Stories about a family that's…. The husband and wife and a very young child are going to Newfoundland because he's able to find a job there, and while they don't want to leave, they can afford to buy a house there, and they can afford to live.
We have to find ways for those young families to have opportunities, and we have to find ways to break that cycle of poverty for those who are living in poverty.
We've spoke in here before. We know the challenges around people who are living on disabilities. We have a responsibility here.
I believe that everybody in this place would agree that those people who are particularly vulnerable — whether it be people with developmental disabilities or significant physical disabilities or other health issues…. We have a responsibility to make sure our most vulnerable citizens, like our children, are protected and have opportunity.
We're not getting that job done. We've seen recent research done out of the University of Calgary. It was remarkable research, as they measured incomes in British Columbia and Alberta and Ontario for people on disability. Interestingly, they used a number of measurements, but the base, the lowest measurement they used, was one from the Fraser Institute.
I'm hardly ever one to quote the Fraser Institute. But the measurement they used on what was the subsistence, the base level of support that they believed a person on disability required to meet their needs….
If you looked at that and measured that particular rate versus a number of other rates done by other groups and organizations, like the National Council on Welfare and others, the Fraser Institute rate was considerably lower than a number of the other rates. Yet British Columbia did not meet the Fraser Institute rate — 94 percent of it. Both Alberta and Ontario were significantly above the rate. British Columbia couldn't meet the rate.
We have to be concerned about that. You can be assured the Fraser Institute rate was the subsistence rate, if there was one, yet we couldn't figure out how to meet that standard. We have to ask ourselves questions about that.
We had the conversation earlier today in question period, and we will have this conversation more in the weeks to come, about the situation for people with developmental disabilities and about the state of Community Living B.C. and about whether those people's needs are being met.
At the end of the day, we know, and many of us will know…. I'm sure all of us have met people and have had them come to visit us, to look for our help, or we may have personal relationships with people with developmental disabilities and their families. People who have significant disabilities — you know that almost without exception I've seen their families are working hard to support them, to love them, to make their lives as good as they can be.
Sometimes, though, whether it's that their parents or their loved ones are aging and it's just getting to the point where they no longer can provide the direct support in the same way, or whether the complexity of the disability is such that they can't manage it anymore, they need to know that that support is there.
We're hearing time and time again that in fact the levels of support that are there just aren't sufficient. They aren't adequate. The question we have to ask ourselves in this place is: is that acceptable for us in British Columbia? Is it acceptable for us to not do enough for people with disabilities? I say it's not. I say that we need to meet those needs, and we need to move forward.
In the throne speech we heard it for the second time. After the first time we kind of incorporated…. The jobs plan of the Premier was reiterated again, but it didn't deal with a number of issues, I think, that need to be dealt with. The reality, of course, about economies is this. I heard, again, the member from Westside-Kelowna talking about the economy. We would all know that largely, our economy in the province….
Provincial governments probably have a limited amount of ability to control the economy, good or bad. We can take the edges off. We can help to support. We can help to stimulate. But the reality is that global markets and the value of the dollar and interest rates probably have a whole lot more to do with how our economy works in British Columbia, positive or negative, than things we actually do in the province itself. That is just the reality.
What we can do is decide how we support people in dealing with that. The plan that we saw put forward by the Premier looked a lot like…. When I looked at the plan and looked at the pieces, mostly what I saw there is….
I was thinking back through the days of Premier Campbell. It seemed to me that most everything that I saw in that plan probably was a not-quite-fulfilled commitment of the previous Premier that had been put together in a cut-and-paste package to create the jobs plan — a very nice booklet but a cut-and-paste package for the jobs plan. That was the reality of what it was.
What we didn't see in there, I believe, was we didn't see enough emphasis on the key pieces that I think actually would deliver the support that we need in British Columbia. There are the things we can do.
First and foremost, probably, is the question of education and providing the best-educated and prepared workforce — young people and folks we're transitioning into new opportunities with the skill sets for new opportunities.
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That education piece is probably one of the biggest things that we can do, to provide that. The problem of course, and we hear this time and time again, is the cost of that education is getting increasingly prohibitive. We continue to hear from students about how prohibitive it is.
Now there are students whose families have the ability to support them. That's a good thing, and we should do that. I know my daughter and school, and I have the ability to provide support. That's a good thing, and I should do that. I'm proud to do that for my daughter, but there are young people whose parents don't have that ability. We need to figure out how we provide that support.
We of course, on this side, have called for a grant program that would support those families and those young people so that they can move ahead, they can work hard in school, they can realize their dreams because they have the education. We need to provide that support.
I didn't see that support in the jobs plan that we saw released earlier. I just didn't see it there.
I didn't see the attention to apprenticeships that we need to see. We know the construction industry, and we spoke about that the other day, is in a pretty tough time now — particularly residential construction and renovations in a bit of a tough time now because of the uncertainty over the next 18 months as they wait for the HST to play itself out. New-home ownership will hopefully become appealing to people again, and renovations will be done that are being put on hold.
When all that is said and done, whether it's residential or it's commercial and industrial construction, we know that's a sector that's aging. The workers, the journeymen, the carpenters, the electricians, the plumbers — the people working with the skilled people with trades in that sector are aging. We're not finding and moving people through the apprenticeship streams to be able to put them in place to replace those workers. We need to do a better job of that.
I didn't see in that plan the level of attention to apprenticeships that we need to provide in order to move that forward and to have some success there. That's unfortunate, because construction plays a very large role. It is an important role, and those are very good jobs. Those are family-supporting jobs. They're important jobs. They help run this province, and we're starting to see a gap there that I worry that we're not filling.
We need to do more in terms of working with that sector and working to ensure that there's opportunity there and that we're in fact encouraging that opportunity by providing some incentive.
As we look at the plan, we look at what's not in the throne speech. We don't see the level of support for vulnerable British Columbians that I believe has to be there. It's simply not there.
We don't see the education component there that will create probably the biggest single thing that we can do to support the economy of British Columbia, which is to have the best skilled workforce possible. That means paying more attention to our education system to improve that skill set there.
We're not seeing the reduction in levels of inequality in this province. We're not seeing strategies to reduce the inequality in the province that will take the pressures off in terms of cost of living that we're now seeing leading to younger people, young families starting out, looking to leave the province and go elsewhere because the pressures of cost of living are such here that they're not able to find the opportunities or afford the opportunities in British Columbia.
All of these are challenges that we need to pay more attention to. All of these are challenges that as government we need to focus on and pay attention to. They are all challenges that the throne speech did not address. They are all challenges that the throne speech was largely silent on. Because of that, you have a level of concern about whether this government is seriously looking at the issues that face British Columbia.
We've seen that commentary starting to grow. I think it was reflected…. We saw it in a Province editorial today that talked about whether the Premier was being serious enough about the important issues in this province. It's not just the Premier. I think that's a fair comment on the cabinet and the government generally — whether there are new ideas or whether this government has run out of gas. That's the question that's now in front of British Columbians.
Increasingly, when they look at the initiatives, and they look at the throne speech that's supposed to be the plan for the future, they're not seeing the pieces that build confidence, I believe, for people in this province. Without that confidence we will begin to see that growing discrepancy. We'll see more people leaving the province. We'll see more concern about what the future holds for people's families. All of that is where we're going. All of that is the reality of what we're going to see.
Over the next few weeks we'll get to debate this in more detail. We'll look forward to see what kind of legislation the government brings forward to try to put some flesh on the throne speech. Some of it was vague enough that it's hard to know, so we'll look to see what kind of flesh gets put on that in terms of legislative initiatives that come forward, whether they are initiatives that actually advance the cause of British Columbia or they're more of the gimmickry kinds of things that we've seen so far from the government. Time will tell. We'll see what that looks like, and then we'll move forward from there.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
I look forward to the next few weeks. It's always great to be here. It's great to be in this place. It's great to be
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doing the job here that my constituents expect me to do as a Member of the Legislature, to be in here debating the issues that are important to the people of British Columbia and important to the people of Vancouver-Hastings.
I look forward to that, and I look forward to the opportunity to engage this debate with members of the government and to be able to do this in a way that, hopefully, allows the people of British Columbia to continue to make their determination about who best represents the future of British Columbia.
I'm confident about what that decision is. I'm confident and look forward to an election in 2013, when that determination will be made by the people of British Columbia and when we'll have the opportunity to bring forward real progressive government in British Columbia for the first time in over a decade — government that is meaningful and puts British Columbians first. It'll be a great day. I look forward to May 2013.
Mr. Speaker: Noting the hour, Member, do you want to adjourn debate?
S. Simpson moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. M. Polak moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 6:49 p.m.
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