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
Monday, October 17, 2011
Volume 25, Number 8
Introductions by Members
Service to Legislature by MLAs
Introductions by Members
Hon. I. Chong
Introductions by Members
Introduction and First Reading of Bills
Bill 11 — Greater Vancouver Transit Enhancement Act
Hon. B. Lekstrom
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
J. van Dongen
International Day for the Eradication of Poverty
Homelessness and housing initiatives in Kamloops
Groups participating in Missing Women Inquiry
Waste reduction and recycling
Worker layoffs and workplace incident in Kamloops
Termination of CLBC CEO and community living services review
Hon. C. Clark
Group home closings and community living services review
Hon. C. Clark
Hon. S. Cadieux
Community living services for children in transition to adulthood
Hon. S. Cadieux
Recognition of 20 years service to Legislature by member for Richmond East
Hon. M. de Jong
Hon. C. Clark
Hon. C. Clark
B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, annual report, 2010-2011
B.C. Ferry Commission, Annual Report for the Fiscal Year Ending March 31, 2011
Orders of the Day
Throne Speech Debate (continued)
Hon. C. Clark
Hon. M. Polak
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 3 — Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act, 2011 (continued)
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MONDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2011
The House met at 1:34 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
L. Reid: Mr. Speaker, my first introduction, actually, is on your behalf. Visiting the gallery from Penticton is Derek Badger. Derek has had the distinction, Mr. Speaker, of working as your constituency assistant for many years. He is visiting today with his associate, Jo-Ann Stuart Chatterley. Would the House please make them both very welcome.
I have guests in the gallery today who have actually known me longer than my husband. They have been with me close to 20 years. I have Tanya Deutsch, Bill Jones, Debra Danny, Alex Danny, Shelley Leonhardt, Laurie Sewell, Cathy Reid, Dr. Joan Hansen, Laurence Scott, John Wong, Elsa Wong and Kelly Guichon. I'd like the House to please make them welcome.
C. James: I have two guests here from my constituency who are also, as you may recognize from the last name, related to a member of the press gallery. I have today the daughters of Keith Baldrey — Kate Baldrey and Madeline Baldrey — in the legislative precinct. They're here with their cousin Meredith Baker from Owen Sound, Ontario, and their friend Bronwyn Thompson. Would the House please make them all welcome.
Hon. D. McRae: I have some guests here from the Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia. I have Mary Forstbauer, who is the president of COABC; Kris Chand, who is the vice-president; and Annie Moss. What I ask the chamber is to please make them welcome.
SERVICE TO LEGISLATURE BY MLAs
H. Lali: When the member for Richmond East got up, I think she was being a little modest. I thought she might have made a little mention today. But today is a real special day. It's October 17 today. A lot of folks sitting here might be wondering: "Well, what's so special about October 17?"
Well, 20 years ago exactly, to this day, a number of people that are still sitting in this House today first got elected as members of the Legislative Assembly in 1991. The member for Richmond East — it's a 20-year anniversary for her. I might add that the member for Richmond East is the reigning queen of the Legislature, the longest-serving member of the House right here today — 20 years.
There's also my colleague, the member for Port Coquitlam — 16 years today; the member for Surrey–Green Timbers — also 16 years today; the member for Nanaimo — it's 11 years he's been a legislator and was first elected in 1991. And of course, the former member for Yale-Lillooet, who now occupies the seat in Fraser-Nicola — that would be me — joins that group as well.
We were all elected on October 17, 1991, for the first time to this Legislature.
Introductions by Members
M. Sather: I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce our grandson to the House, who I believe is the most recent addition to the MLA family, although I haven't had the chance to check with the minister from Chilliwack to see if he's added to his double-digit tally. Thales Moir Rowe was born on October 7 at 6:08 a.m., weighing in at 8 pounds 9 ounces. Would the House please join me in welcoming Thales to the world.
Hon. I. Chong: Last week, on October 11, we were saddened to hear of the passing of a proud Canadian, a generous philanthropist, a distinguished entrepreneur, one of Victoria's homegrown heroes — Alexander A. Campbell, the co-founder of Thrifty Foods.
Everyone who knew Alex, everyone who had ever met Alex, spoke of him with fondness. He was an incredible businessman, quiet in nature, and yet his actions were loud and profound.
I was fortunate to speak with Alex on many occasions and was even more fortunate to hear him speak when he received an honorary degree from Royal Roads University several years ago. In a statement released last week by the Premier, I think she, perhaps, summed it up best.
She said: "While there is no doubt he had a knack for business, it was his philosophy of treating everyone with respect and kindness that made Thrifty Foods such a huge success. The enduring admiration of his many employees is perhaps his greatest legacy."
Mr. Speaker, I ask that you convey every British Columbian's deepest sympathy to his wife, Jo; to his three children — Alex, Lorne and Bonnie; and to their families.
Introductions by Members
M. Elmore: Joining us in the House, I'd like to introduce a number of members from Canadian Auto
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Workers Locals 111, 114 and 333 based in Victoria. They're here at the Legislature rallying, raising concerns around the issues of the Canadian-European trade agreement and are joined by members from the human rights committee, the women's committee and also the lesbian-gay-bisexual committee.
I'd like to introduce the vice-president, Carlos Moreira; the women's committee chair, Ruth Armstrong; Julie Young; Jean Lamond; Velia Laval; Agata Matyszczuk; Chris Hammond; Eileen Ryan; Adam Ryan; Ella Ryan; Steve Buckton; Paul Hudson; Lee Stebner; Gerda Schultz; Kathi Wallace; Desiree Gill; and also friends Lolita Cantuba, Daireen Palmes and Marilou Villarr. I ask the House to please make them welcome.
L. Krog: Also joining us in the gallery today is a constituent of mine, Jim Sadlemeyer. Would the House please make him welcome.
R. Chouhan: In addition to my colleague the member from Kensington, I would also like to introduce some of the members from the Canadian Auto Workers Union, from Locals 111, 114 and 333: Yvonne McNeice, Wendy Ratcliffe, Sandra Montgomery, Ashleigh Rennie, Lori Ducharme, Kevin Daine, Gian Sahota, James Krickan, Dru Phillipe, Thomas Harwood, Erin Murphy, Jim Sadlemeyer, Kori Malcolm, Noel Kristoff, Jennifer Nguyen. Welcome.
First Reading of Bills
Bill 11 — Greater Vancouver
Transit Enhancement Act
Hon. B. Lekstrom presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Greater Vancouver Transit Enhancement Act.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Mr. Speaker, I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Bill 11 amends the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Act and provides consequential amendments to the Motor Fuel Tax Act. At the request of the Mayors Council on Regional Transportation, the amendments being introduced today will help Metro Vancouver raise money to expand priority transportation services and upgrade existing infrastructure in the Lower Mainland.
The Mayors Council has requested that the province raise the regional motor fuel tax by two cents per litre, starting April 1, 2012. The additional two cents will generate $40 million for vital transportation services in Metro Vancouver, including the new Evergreen line rapid transit project in Burnaby, Coquitlam and Port Moody.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 11, Greater Vancouver Transit Enhancement Act, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
(Standing Order 25B)
J. van Dongen: I'm pleased to speak to the House today about National Organic Week. This week helps bring awareness of organic food products and the benefits of sustainable organic farming.
Eating healthy has become part of our Canadian consciousness. Starting in elementary school various programs are helping kids develop healthy lifestyles, from exercising regularly to eating five to ten servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
By raising awareness of healthy choices, we've raised consumer demand for healthy, organic food products. In 2008 the value of organic food products sold in Canada was estimated at $2 billion. Despite the global economic downturn, the demand for organic products has increased.
There are over 475 organic farms in B.C., with more making the transition to organic every day. Certified organic farmers follow nationally recognized farming standards, avoiding synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and growth enhancers.
It is important to note that organic food production will not replace low-cost, safe and efficient commercial food production, but organic farmers have given consumers additional choices which may better reflect their personal views about how food should be produced. On my own farm we made the transition from a low-input commercial milk production format to organic milk production about five years ago.
Despite the organic sector's growth, demand is still increasing. About 80 percent of organic food products sold in B.C. stores come from the United States, but we all know that our first choice in food is food that's grown closest to home. By buying locally, we can help support our own organic farmers, which will in turn help our local farming industry and local economy.
So this week, hon. Speaker, I'd like to encourage everyone to buy local and support our own B.C.-based organic producers.
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FOR THE ERADICATION OF POVERTY
S. Simpson: I'm pleased to stand today to recognize October 17 as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. This is the 19th time this United Nations resolution has been recognized globally. This resolution's intention is to cut global poverty in half by 2015. The UN has identified a number of rights that all citizens should have, including the right to health, housing, education and adequate food, to a decent standard of living and to decent work, among others.
As a province, it is critical that we not only recognize this important day but commit to doing what we can to support these initiatives. We need to advocate with our federal government that they continue to support global matters. We also have to look within our own borders and recognize our own challenges. Some 12 percent of British Columbians live in poverty — that is more than half a million of our citizens who need our help; 120,000 of these are children.
Addressing poverty is a challenging and complex issue. It requires real commitment if we are to break the cycle of poverty and give these children the opportunity for a different future than the one that too many of them face today. Voices are growing across our nation calling on elected representatives to take action, calling on us to blunt the growing inequality that the Conference Board of Canada has recently warned us about. We cannot be complacent.
I believe these concerns were reflected this Saturday in the Occupy Vancouver action and in similar events across Canada. These are British Columbians and other Canadians calling on us to have a plan and to take action, calling on all of us as legislators to look at our priorities and to talk about them with our citizens.
I believe the majority of MLAs understand these challenges and would agree that we need to work together to reduce inequality and, with it, poverty. I believe the majority of members would also agree that we need to put our united voice of support behind the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, and I am hopeful that a majority would embrace our collective responsibility as legislators to do everything we can to support the half a million British Columbians who are looking for the opportunity to escape poverty here at home.
HOMELESSNESS AND HOUSING
INITIATIVES IN KAMLOOPS
K. Krueger: Homelessness is a debilitating condition that deserves the focus of every member of this House. Together, our work has provided housing for thousands of homeless or at-risk people with stable housing.
In Kamloops the province contributes housing assistance to 1,850 people. Last week Kamloops took part in Homelessness Action Week. Volunteers with the AIDS Society of Kamloops Wellness Centre searched the city for the fourth consecutive year to record the number of people who are homeless. The 2011 homeless count in Kamloops was 45 people — less than half the number counted in 2010 and the lowest number they've counted in the four years. It's a direct result of the community devoting ever-increasing amounts of time and resources to address this important issue and to the phenomenal success of the approaches of the Minister for Housing and this government.
Everyone agrees that this challenge needs action every day of the year, and Kamloops is demonstrating that leadership. Organizations such as ASK Wellness Centre, the United Way, the Elizabeth Fry Society, John Howard Society, New Life Mission, Canadian Mental Health Association, Thompson Rivers University, Interior Health Authority, city of Kamloops, Kamloops Indian band, B.C. Housing and the private sector are raising their voices and dedicating their resources to end homelessness in Kamloops by 2015.
The Kamloops homelessness action plan was conceived two years ago, and a leadership council was formed, with representation from many of the agencies I just mentioned. The Kamloops MLAs are honoured to be witnesses to and participants in this amazing energy and community spirit and its results.
One of the exciting, unique and innovative programs emerging from this initiative is the adult addiction supportive housing program. The ASK Wellness Centre, CMHA and Kamloops have partnered with Interior Health in providing housing to those individuals who have gone through detox and want further assistance to improve their lives. Once they've lived in transitional housing with supports, the agencies find market rental housing and mediate tenancy agreements in partnership with the landlords. Even hard-to-house tenants have been provided suitable housing agreements directly with these agencies.
GROUPS PARTICIPATING IN
MISSING WOMEN INQUIRY
J. Kwan: The Downtown Eastside Women's Centre and the February 14 memorial march committee are amongst the groups granted full standing as participants in the commission of inquiry into missing and murdered women. The inquiry's proceedings will not just examine the past but recommend measures to prevent this tragedy from ever happening again.
Many of the groups granted full standing had close connections with the women at the time they went missing and were amongst the first to raise the alarm that women were going missing and suspected that there was a serial killer in our midst. They have cultivated trusting
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relationships with the women who are still at risk today, which is integral to facilitating the testimony that is so vital for the inquiry.
Now, they are amongst the groups that say they feel shut out from the process. They say that the very structure of the proceedings fails to include the voices of aboriginal people and women who have been and continue to be targeted by violent and systemic discrimination.
The groups say they fear that the current process deepens systemic discrimination against aboriginal community and women, who are already marginalized by poverty, violence, homelessness and racial discrimination and are hindered from informing the very policies that would prevent the mistakes from the past from recurring. They want to have equal treatment to other entities granted standing which enjoy full legal representation of their choice.
The Downtown Eastside Women's Centre and the February 14 memorial march committee have prepared a joint submission to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women regarding an inquiry into the missing and murdered women in Canada. B.C. has once again turned to the UN for justice. The world is now watching to see what measures we take in Canada. I'm in full support of this, sought by the organizations, and I hope that the members of this House are too.
WASTE REDUCTION AND RECYCLING
J. Yap: I rise today to discuss Waste Reduction Week in British Columbia, which runs from today through October 23. It raises public awareness about the importance of recycling and what we can do to reduce waste in other ways. Reducing waste and recycling help divert products from our landfills and recover increasingly scarce resources needed to make new manufactured goods.
The Recycling Council of B.C. began sponsoring October Waste Reduction Month back in 1996. In 2001 the Recycling Council teamed up with organizations across the country to establish Waste Reduction Week, which is now a national event.
When it comes to my city of Richmond, I'm very pleased to say that we are making great strides when it comes to recycling. In July of this year the city of Richmond, the Canadian Beverage Association, Encorp Pacific and Nestlé Waters Canada launched Go Recycle!, a pioneering initiative making recycling easier for people in places such as parks, transit stops and on the streets throughout Richmond, including my riding in historic Steveston village.
Richmond schools are pitching in. All of the schools I have recently visited in my riding, for example, have recycling programs, many of them led by students. As we participate in Waste Reduction Week, it's great to see the examples set by municipalities such as Richmond and by companies and organizations such as the Canadian Beverage Association and Encorp Pacific and the Nestlé Waters corporation. Most of all, it's inspiring to see the commitment to recycling on the part of our children and youth.
I hope all of us in this House will learn more about Waste Reduction Week and how we can all help out in this important endeavour.
WORKER LAYOFFS AND
WORKPLACE INCIDENT IN KAMLOOPS
G. Gentner: In tough economic times many organizations, businesses and many, many families are struggling throughout B.C. around the world. Although cutbacks may be real, there must be sensitivity and understanding of what workers who may be laid off will go through.
I knew Jim McCracken personally, but horribly, on October 15, 2002, trouble struck in the regional offices in Kamloops of the then Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection.
As a regional supervisor, Jim was following his assignment to discuss changes, cutbacks and downsizing. The meeting later that day with shop steward David Martin was interrupted and the unimaginable happened. Jim McCracken, David Martin and Dick Anderson lost their lives. The details of that day were left to history, but we do know that many lives were changed, affected for years to come, and some would never be the same.
Through tragedies like that of nine years ago this week and subsequent investigations, businesses and governments can learn how to manage work assignments and downsizing, how to diffuse volatile situations and give emotional and psychological support when tough economic times hit the workplace. The actions that day can never be condoned, but let us not forget that what started out as just an ordinary day, at least in the light of a workplace adjustment, became a real tragedy.
As legislators, we must insist that workplace sensitivity and understanding are commonplace for workers and for their families as they face the economic turmoil and possibility of cutbacks and downsizing.
TERMINATION OF CLBC CEO AND
COMMUNITY LIVING SERVICES REView
A. Dix: My question is to the Premier. On Friday evening, eight hours after the minister responsible said, "The CLBC was a pretty fantastic system," the Liberal-appointed board fired Rick Mowles, the CEO of CLBC. Can the Premier explain to this House why Mr. Mowles was fired?
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Hon. C. Clark: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It's nice to be back in the Legislature after a week away. I trust that everyone had a good Thanksgiving break with their families and in their constituencies in their communities.
Mr. Mowles's departure was a decision that was made by CLBC, by their board, as the member knows. They are independent of the government. They make those decisions.
Nonetheless, I certainly, on behalf of the government, welcome the change. I think the organization is ready for change. We certainly welcome the change and look forward to what that will bring in the future for CLBC and the clients who depend on it.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
A. Dix: Well, the Premier and the minister are responsible for CLBC, to this Legislature, and it seems to me they can answer to this Legislature as to why Mr. Mowles was fired. After all, it's Liberal policies that left 2,800 people on wait-lists. It's Liberal policies that are making it hard for youth transitioning into the community living sector. It's Liberal policies that have closed 65 group homes.
So will the Premier today agree to our proposal for an independent review of CLBC so that we can get to the bottom of the crisis there?
Hon. C. Clark: You know, it is B.C. Liberal policies that have meant that the budget for CLBC has been increased every single year since its inception. And it is B.C. Liberal policies that mean that clients receive — on average, across the province — about $50,000 each in support across government.
Now, the government spends a significant amount of money supporting people in British Columbia with disabilities, as we should. People with disabilities are often the most vulnerable people in our society. We live in a wealthy society, and we should be generous. We do our very, very best to support people with disabilities all across the province.
The system is not perfect, and it may never be perfect, but we certainly are doing our best to make sure that people across the province with disabilities get the support that they need so that they can live with the dignity that every Canadian deserves.
Mr. Speaker: Member.
The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.
A. Dix: One of the former ministers speaks out, hon. Speaker. How out of touch can the government be? Out of touch with parents, out of touch with families, out of touch with self-advocates. There's a crisis going on at CLBC, and the Premier seems to be completely unaware of it — out of touch.
She's even out of touch — and this won't be a surprise to anyone — with her own caucus. The member for Abbotsford-Mission today called for a top-to-bottom examination of CLBC — top to bottom. He said that we should immediately move to provide service for those needing it — appropriate service, which to the greatest extent possible honours both the vision and mission of CLBC. That's what we need to do.
He goes on to say: "We need to give them hope, and we need to give it to them now." He understands that there's a crisis at CLBC. Parents understand it. Families understand it. Self-advocates understand it. When will the Premier finally understand it and bring in an independent review of CLBC?
Hon. C. Clark: As I said, CLBC is getting a new CEO, and that CEO is certainly going to be making sure that CLBC is doing everything that it can and making sure that its services are absolutely appropriate for the individuals who are receiving them. We as a government have an absolute duty to look after the people who are most vulnerable in our society, and we have an absolute duty to make sure that CLBC is doing its job in making sure that happens.
Now I will say this at the end, because the member does like to talk about the fact that he thinks the government should be spending a lot more money in a lot of different areas. He may be right about some of them, but I would ask this. Where would he get the money to do that?
His plan, which we haven't seen yet, doesn't talk about enabling the growth in jobs. It doesn't talk about growing the middle class. His plan, which we haven't seen yet, only talks about putting people out of work. How can we continue to be a generous society? How can we continue to be a more generous society, which we'd all like to continue to be, if we aren't making sure we are producing the revenues that government needs to look after the people in society who are most vulnerable?
GROUP HOME CLOSINGS AND
COMMUNITY LIVING SERVICES REVIEW
N. Simons: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm not surprised that the Premier wants to change the subject. There is a crisis in British Columbia facing many families in the north, in the Interior and on the Island, and the Premier knows it. Most of the members of the government know it. When will this government recognize the crisis, recognize that the chaos is causing stress to families throughout this province and do something — call for an external review of CLBC services?
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Hon. C. Clark: I'm happy to answer that same question again to say this. There is a new CEO coming in at CLBC, and I believe that will make a difference. That kind of change in the organization will certainly make a difference in the way that the organization runs.
But let me say this. While the organization provides excellent service to many thousands of people across the province, as I said, it absolutely isn't perfect. We always have to be making sure that we are striving for excellence in every area of government, particularly those areas of government where we are serving people who are incredibly vulnerable.
Having said that, though, change also happens. Change, I recognize, is very difficult for people who may have a disability and who may feel very vulnerable. One of the primary jobs of CLBC is to make sure that when change happens, they work through it with clients and make sure that clients who feel vulnerable when they are experiencing change can find a way to also feel safe because they know what's coming next.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
N. Simons: There are 2,800 people on wait-lists. There are 1,200 people waiting for residential services, and the minister last week said that there's no need to place a moratorium on group home closures. There's a disconnect between the needs of people in this province and what the minister is saying. The minister has said there won't be any moratorium.
The province recognizes the crisis; everyone in the province recognizes the crisis. Will the minister or the Premier finally do what's right and say to the people who have developmental disabilities and their families that they're going to stop the suffering that this government is causing, call an external review and call for a moratorium on group home closures?
Hon. C. Clark: You know, I want to be really clear. The government, of course, needs to meet a higher standard than, clearly, the members of the opposition feel they need to. That's with respect to people's privacy.
We cannot discuss the specifics of individual cases in this House, as the members across the way feel free to do, but I do want to say this. When it comes to group home closures, for example, some group homes in British Columbia have closed, or some people have had to move group homes because they've gotten old enough that they are in wheelchairs. In a group home that has stairs, they need to move. Now, that's not the case in every case, but it's certainly an example of some of the cases where we've seen change.
I recognize that change is really difficult, even though sometimes it's necessary and sometimes it would provide a better service. But I do think the member needs to be clear about the full story here.
I know that they are quite willing on the other side of the House to throw up information and paint just one half of the story for the public, knowing that the government is bound by confidentiality and protection of individual privacy.
We will continue to respect our obligations with respect to privacy, but I would caution the members opposite to make sure that when they want to tell the story about what's going on out there, particularly as it impacts vulnerable people, they should try and be honest and make sure that they offer all the facts.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
I remind the Premier to be careful in her choice of words.
C. James: I'd like to say to the Premier that if I had a choice of who to believe, I would believe the families and the caregivers before I'd believe this government. Day after day, month after month we have been bringing forward cases to this House that have shown that this is not about change. This is about a lack of support and services for the most vulnerable in British Columbia.
We heard the current minister say that there was no need for a moratorium, that group homes would be there when we need them. We know that isn't accurate. We heard the former minister say the same thing — "People aren't being forced out of group homes" — and then CLBC itself had to admit that the former minister was wrong.
Well, it's no wonder that families are feeling ignored by this government. It is long past time for action. I would like to ask the Premier: will she do the right thing now? Will she order an independent review of CLBC and stop the group home closures?
Hon. C. Clark: I'm still waiting for the constructive tone that the Leader of the Opposition and the former Leader of the Opposition once promised us. However, in the absence of a constructive tone, I'm still delighted to answer the question, and I'll say this.
You know, we are bound on this side of the House to respect individuals' privacy, and I know that the members on the other side don't hold themselves up to that standard. But let me say this. Without speaking about individual cases, I'll give an example so that people can have some context.
Sam lives in a group home that costs an average of $117,000 a year. He's involved in community programs that cost $26,000 a year. He receives $10,000 in disability benefits a year, MSP premium assistance of $700 a year, Fair PharmaCare that supports his medication. In total,
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that's about $150,000. Now, no one on this side of the House begrudges Sam or anyone like him the amount of money he's receiving — absolutely not. He deserves it; he needs it. We live in a wealthy society, and we need to make sure that we provide for him.
I offer that as context for the other side of the story so that we can clear up this impression that the former Leader of the Opposition and the current Leader of the Opposition would like to leave, which suggests that people with disabilities don't receive any support from government whatsoever. They do. It isn't always perfect, but in many cases it is exactly what individuals need, and in many cases it's very generous as well.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
C. James: I don't know where this Premier has been over these last number of months, because anyone who has been listening, anyone who has been paying attention in British Columbia over the last number of months has heard not impressions but heartbreaking stories from families about a lack of care for their children.
While the Premier talks about numbers, this is about real people. These are about individuals, families like Robin Birmingham's, who are dealing with the closure of a group home that Robin — she's now 44 — since she was 25 years old has been living in. Robin's mother, Diane, knows that her daughter needs more care than a home-share program. The Premier's family-first rhetoric obviously doesn't apply to this family or families of the most vulnerable.
I would like to ask the Premier again today to commit to an independent review of CLBC and to put, immediately, a moratorium on the closure of group homes.
Hon. C. Clark: As I said, not all group homes are closing for the reasons that the opposition would lead people to believe. Some close because the people who operate them retire. Now, it's pretty hard to put a moratorium on those kinds of closures of group homes, but of course, it's typical of the opposition to stand up in this new, constructive tone that they purport to have and to offer just one-half of the story.
You know what? I don't necessarily begrudge them that. I used to sit as Children and Families critic. I know the game the member is playing.
But I will say this. It is important for families, particularly, who are looking after vulnerable people to have the full set of facts. It's important for people who are living with a disability to know the full suite of services that is available to them. And it's important that we talk honestly and fairly with the full set of facts in front of us when we're discussing these issues, because you know what? This isn't just politics. It isn't just politics. It is people's lives. It is individuals who could be easily frightened by some of the stories that the NDP tell.
It's important that we talk about the full set of facts and that we do it in a constructive way. And when the CLBC budget is at an all-time high, the government is going to continue to do our best to support families with disabilities.
J. Kwan: To the Premier: this is not a game. These are real lives, people's lives. We, the NDP, are telling the story of the families' lives. The B.C. Liberal policies have thrown their lives into chaos. The people with loved ones with developmental disabilities are in crisis. This is as a result of the government's policies. Make no mistake about that. They are crying out for help, and it's not outside noise. Sixty-five group homes have closed to date, and more are still slated to be closed.
The minister and the Premier say that there are legitimate reasons why group homes are closing, that some of the folks might be aging out, that the operators might be aging out. Well, let me tell you this. In Williams Road none of the residents there are aging out. They're happy there. They've lived there for 20 years, and they want to stay.
Mrs. MacLean — she's 87 years old. Her son Brian has been in this group home for the last 20 years, and yet that group home is being forced to close.
My question is to the Premier. Will she stand up today and respect the families and the residents of Williams Road and many other group homes like it, keep those group homes open, and put forward a moratorium on all group home closures and conduct an independent review immediately?
Hon. S. Cadieux: I'd like to recognize that every day, day after day, month after month, the fact remains that CLBC provides residential services of a number of types, one of which is group homes. In fact, there are over 700 group homes operating in the province. They also provide other residential services — shared living arrangements, live-in support and other options. They provide community inclusion activities, employment supports, respite for families who care for their loved ones in the home, and other professional and behavioural supports.
Our community-based system of supports is one that was derived from the passion of individuals, advocates, family members and a partnership with government, because we all believed that there was a greater opportunity to provide greater inclusion for people with developmental disabilities in our communities. We all benefit from that. In fact, CLBC is doing that, and they've done that with a budget that has grown every year.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
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J. Kwan: CLBC is in chaos, and as a result of that, they have thrown the lives of the families with developmental disability into crisis. People are being forced out of group homes. In the case of Williams Road it is driven by funding. Make no mistake about that.
At a meeting earlier this month this is what CLBC had to say: "Just get it done. Move the residents out, and get the budgets under control." There is no mistake about that message. There is no compassion about that message, and there's no consultation with the families about that message.
My question is to the Premier. She is the head of this executive council. Will the Premier put a stop to this closure and all other closures like this, put a stop to the chaos in CLBC and conduct an independent review today?
Hon. S. Cadieux: As I've said before and as we've already heard in this House today, we're not going to talk about individual cases in this House for reasons of privacy. Again, I say that I have had contact with family members of folks at the Williams Road home, and I am also aware of the plans that CLBC has. I would be happy to have those discussions with the member in my office.
There will always be group homes in this province for the folks with the highest level of need who require group home care, but there are all sorts of options for people. Not everyone wants a group home. We want to be able to provide options for people in this province, and we'll continue to do so.
COMMUNITY LIVING SERVICES
FOR CHILDREN IN TRANSITION
K. Corrigan: Well, the minister repeatedly asks for people to bring forward cases that need attention. We have been bringing forward cases for months.
Several months ago we raised the case of Dave and Kathy Martin's son Jonathan. Back in May we raised that case. Jonathan's schooling ended in the summer, and he turned 19. CLBC actually did have a plan for Jonathan's needs, and it said in part that Jonathan "requires significant supports in virtually all areas of personal care needs." Well, guess what. Since we've raised those concerns several months ago, CLBC has not been able to provide any supports to Jonathan.
The Martin family was back before the Finance and Government Services Committee hearings last Friday, telling their story again. Kathy Martin told the committee: "We feel an unending sense of pressure, if not anxiety or guilt, to do more for him. But there is only so much we can manage."
Families want to do everything they can, but their government is failing them. Will the minister take action to finally provide hope to families like the Martins by committing to an independent review?
Hon. S. Cadieux: Once again, I will reiterate that we're not going to discuss individual cases in this House, because we have to protect people's privacy, unlike the members of the opposition, who feel that this is the best place to raise those conversations.
CLBC is a recognized leader worldwide in providing innovative supports for community inclusion. I know that personally from my years in the disability world outside of government.
Government is very supportive of CLBC's vision. We demonstrate that vision with an annual budget of $710 million.
There is going to be increased demand for services. That's a good thing, because it means that CLBC is actually delivering on its vision and people are feeling more able to be more involved in their community. That's a good thing. We have challenges. We will work through them, but this is not a crisis.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
K. Corrigan: Surely the minister is not saying that this is not a crisis for the Martin family and the hundreds of families that are in similar situations. Kathy Martin is at her wits' end. She works graveyard as a nurse at Children's Hospital, and she cares for Jonathan during the day with very little sleep.
Kathy told the Finance Committee hearing: "I don't see how I can meet the demands of work, home and caring for Jonathan, and I worry about making a critical mistake at the hospital from fatigue and stress. I drove through a red light for the first time last week, endangering myself, Jonathan and those on the road. That tells me I'm not okay, and this is more than I can take."
Kathy and hundreds of families like hers need help. But what they hear instead is that they're just outside noise. Would the minister take action now and order an independent review of CLBC so people with developmental disabilities and their families start getting treated with the dignity they deserve?
Hon. S. Cadieux: Well, once again I will remind the member opposite that I am not going to discuss individual cases in the House, in order to protect people's privacy, as I am required to do by law. But I again will make the offer that if the member opposite is concerned about an individual case, she most certainly can come and speak to me about that in my office and, provided she also has the requisite release for privacy, I'll speak to her about the case.
But let's talk more in general terms about the fact that CLBC provides a range of services to over 13,000 people in this province with a range of individual needs. Not every person is the same. Not every person requires the same things, and I would suggest very strongly that if
[ Page 8107 ]
there are individuals who feel that their needs aren't being met, they can raise those with CLBC directly through the Advocate for Service Quality, who has an excellent record of resolving circumstances that people bring forward, or with my office.
S. Simpson: The minister talks about people's privacy. These are people who are in these situations who don't necessarily want to speak, but they have no choice. They are anxious. They are desperate. The government is ignoring them, and CLBC is ignoring their needs, so they're speaking out. We're hearing this more and more.
Young people — they receive services from MCFD. They turn 19. That envelope of services disappears. Kirsten Eikenstein's daughter Corrine turned 19 in March. There has been no meaningful plan for her. Kirsten believes she is on her own. She is worried, and she is speaking out. While the chair of CLBC may consider her outside noise, her concerns are real.
My question to the minister is this. Is the minister listening to Kirsten, or does she believe that she's outside noise too, just like her chair?
Hon. S. Cadieux: I find it really surprising that the opposition can't understand that I cannot comment on individual cases in this House. I'm not sure how many more ways we can say that we must abide by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in our dealings in this House, and without express consent to discuss those, I cannot.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. S. Cadieux: I understand that transitions are really difficult. They're difficult for anybody. Transitions are difficult. They're stressful, and these are certainly challenging times for families that are also then coping with the added challenges and financial stresses that a developmental disability places on a family.
That's why CLBC and the Ministry of Children and Families do have a protocol in place to ensure that transition planning starts with the family as early as age 15. If, in individual cases, something is going awry, then certainly we'd like to hear about it.
[End of question period.]
Point of Order
J. Horgan: A point of order. Hon. Speaker, I'm just wondering. It has been a week since we were here, and the Premier was consulting her BlackBerry. I thought that the rules of this place prohibited such behaviour during question period, and if we're going to amend that, then perhaps you could advise all members of that change.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. Members, the rules haven't changed. All the members realize that the use of BlackBerrys during question period or during speeches by the Premier or the Leader of the Opposition is prohibited.
RECOGNITION OF 20 YEARS
SERVICE TO LEGISLATURE
BY MEMBER FOR RICHMOND EAST
Hon. M. de Jong: Members, the year was 1991. The Prime Minister was Mulroney. The Premier was Rita Johnston. The Cold War was drawing to a close. The highest-grossing movie was Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Hon. M. de Jong: Hasta la vista, baby.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. M. de Jong: October 17, 1991, was also the day that a school administrator from Richmond was elected for the first time to this chamber. Since that day we have had four Prime Ministers and six Premiers. The Vancouver Canucks have been to game 7 of the Stanley Cup final twice, with incredibly consistent results.
But the member for Richmond East has endured in the service of her constituents. Who knows what possessed her to place her name on the ballot in what many considered a hopeless and lost cause back in '91? Who knows what prompted her to irresponsibly consider risking a split in the free enterprise…? Sorry, that's a different speech.
She was not alone in entering the chamber for the first time. As we heard earlier today, the members from Nicola, for Port Coquitlam, for Nanaimo and from Green Timbers joined her in that honour.
She alone amongst them, however, is the only that has served for 20 consecutive years in this chamber, and she joins today an exclusive group. I've only known two: Emery Barnes and Colin Gabelmann. There have been others in our history, but not many others. It is an exclusive group.
[ Page 8108 ]
She has served in numerous capacities: as an opposition critic, as a minister and also as a servant of this House as Deputy Speaker. She has, I believe, always done so with honesty, with professionalism, with dedication, with distinction and with civility. Along the way she managed to get married and have two beautiful children.
If I may be permitted this breach of parliamentary protocol, Mr. Speaker. Linda, you are much loved on both sides of this assembly — much loved for the humanity you have brought to the fulfilment of your duties and to your constant recognition of the fact that whatever the debates are that separate us, we are all linked by a common desire to represent the people of British Columbia to the very best of our abilities. You have fulfilled your responsibility in that respect with great distinction. All in this House count you as our friend and are honoured to have served with you along the way. God bless. [Applause.]
Hon. C. Clark: Along that same note, the minister has spoken so eloquently about what the member for Richmond East has achieved in her time here. I simply want to say this. When she ran in 1991 in, as he said, what appeared to be a hopeless cause, I was working with her on that hopeless cause. I went on to become her researcher here at the Legislature — a plum patronage appointment that paid about $18,000 a year at the time.
From the day that she first got elected, she devoted herself to public office like very few do. She devoted herself with a willingness to listen, to be open to new ideas, with a real profound depth of caring for what happens in families in British Columbia.
It's tough. You know, 20 years in politics can change people a lot. It never, ever changed the member for Richmond East. She always stayed focused on the things that she believed in, and she never, ever forgot the reasons that she decided to run for office in the first place. It is difficult to stay true to what you believe in, in any walk of life. It's tough to be consistent, but she has managed to do that throughout her career.
I will say this. The minister has talked about how she has, over the years, brought members together around various causes. People on both sides of the aisle respect and like her. Many will remember the party that she organized, with the former member for Vancouver-Hastings, where they brought something that danced into the party. But since then she has continued to serve with great distinction.
The thing, I think, that I will hold as her achievement most of all is something that many might think is a small one. I have dedicated a great deal of my time to the cause of anti-bullying in British Columbia over the years. The member for Richmond East was there supporting that cause long before anyone else here was, and she was doing it by supporting a program called Roots of Empathy. She brought that program to British Columbia. She invented the Seeds of Empathy, which came from it, and she has continued to support it throughout her time in public office.
I hope the member for Richmond East will be here in this chamber for many years to come. But on the day when she finally does decide to retire, people will look back and say: "She made a very, very real difference."
Hon. C. Clark: On a more sombre note, if I could say this. We all — many of us in this chamber, particularly on the government side of the House — will know Gail Roberts. She worked for ten years in the Premier's Vancouver office. She was the first face that people saw when they came in the door, and no matter who they were, she treated them exactly the same. It was with the same kind of sunny optimism and the same kind of welcome she offered to the most senior minister as she would for the young person that came in to water the plants.
Gail Roberts was a woman who also made a very real difference in people's lives. She lost her fight with cancer, but she does leave a legacy for all of us who knew her, of love and laughter and warmth. On behalf of this entire House, I'd like to extend to Don and her children our heartfelt prayers and our thanks to them for letting us share Gail.
H. Lali: I seek leave to present a petition.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
H. Lali: I have a petition with 243 signatures from the community of Spences Bridge, Save Our Spences Bridge Committee. They're asking government to follow the Buckland and Taylor engineering report's ten-year plan to keep the bridge open.
M. Elmore: I rise to table a petition.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
M. Elmore: It's a petition raising concerns about the Canadian–European Union comprehensive economic and trade agreement signed by 265 members — many are here today — from the Canadian Auto Workers Local 111, 333 and 114, initiated by the human rights committee, the pride committee and the women's committee.
[ Page 8109 ]
They're joined, as well, by protests in Ottawa on the same issue. They're asking the Premier to raise concerns about the lack of transparency and to advocate to the federal government to protect our public services from privatization and deregulation, and to ensure that municipal purchasing is upheld and our public health care and environmental regulations are protected.
N. Macdonald: It's a petition as well. Five hundred members and supporters of the Revelstoke snowmobile society have written letters to the Premier's office on an issue of great importance to them. They've yet to receive a response. They have asked me to present this petition today, appealing to the Premier to consider their concern.
Hon. S. Bond: I have the honour to present the following reports today: the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal annual report, 2010-2011, and the B.C. Ferry Commission Annual Report for the Fiscal Year Ending March 31, 2011.
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: For next couple of hours, approximately, we'll be debating the Speech from the Throne. At that time we will probably move into Bill 3, intituled the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act, second reading. Should we complete that today, we would then move to second reading of Bill 4, the Offence Amendment Act.
Throne Speech Debate
Hon. C. Clark: It is an honour for me to rise today in response to the first throne speech delivered in this chamber since I became Premier. I have to say, as I start, that I am proud to respond to the throne speech, but I am even prouder to stand here with the members that I do, on the government side of the House — a group of people who don't sit back and sit around and say: "I wish somebody else would do this." A group of people on the government side of the House who consistently get up and say: "What can I do to make my community better? What can I do to bring hope to communities when they may be struggling? What can I do to leave a better British Columbia than the one I found?"
I am surrounded by people who are optimistic, by people who are hopeful and by people, heaven forbid, who even sometimes find a way to smile. They are people — we are people — who want to bring change in British Columbia. We are people who want to make sure that we protect our clean air and our clean water — the majesty of British Columbia.
We want to be generous with those who are less able, and we want a thriving, growing middle class in every community across the province. While others may choose to be negative and pessimistic and divisive, that is not the path that this government will choose.
Of course, the opposition has the right to critique, and that's part of democracy. I was there; I understand it. But they also have an obligation to put forward a plan — ideas. Tell us where they stand on the issues. They have yet to do that. They have yet to come forward with any concrete ideas about where they would take British Columbia.
They talk about wanting to make sure that people are working. They talk about wanting to make sure that we are supporting those who are more vulnerable. But they never tell us how they would do it.
They have yet to come forward with a plan for defending and creating jobs in British Columbia. They have yet to come forward with any suggestions — I would argue, even a single suggestion — of how they intend to pay for all of the promises they make. It's important that they do that, because British Columbians will surely be disappointed to discover that the opposition, with all of the promises that it makes, has no plan to figure out how we could pay for them.
They're anxious to make those promises, but they don't seem to be concerned if they turn out to be empty ones. I am. I am concerned that we restore the credibility of government. I am concerned that British Columbians know that when we make promises, we're prepared to stand behind them and find a way to keep them.
That is why I am so proud to stand with this group of people who sit with me on this side of the House — and a few on the other side too, thank goodness. It's a group of people who are committed to making sometimes tough decisions, a group of people who will sometimes have to make the very difficult decision to say no, a group of people that wants to live within our means.
Respect for taxpayers. Make sure that when we make promises, we can keep them. That's what the members on this side of the House stand for.
When I say we are in a season of change, I mean that it's a season to proceed with new jobs and a plan that actually looks forward, rather than one that takes us backwards to the 1990s.
It's a season to focus on putting families at the front of the agenda, to recognize that families do the most important thing in the world, and that's raise children. It's not government that raises your children. It's not schools that raise your children. It's not other institutions that raise your children. It's families that do that. It's families that instil character and give children the moral guidance that they need, the ethics that they need to grow up and build great neighbourhoods. When they build great neighbourhoods they build a great province,
[ Page 8110 ]
and that's how you get a great country like Canada. Woe be it to the government that forgets that families are the most important institution in any society.
When I say it's a season of change, I also mean it's a season for government to open up to citizens, to listen to British Columbians. There's already evidence of that change. I know the member for Nanaimo must be very happy that we've decided to put forward funding to support the E&N Railway. I know the members for Esquimalt–Royal Roads, Victoria–Swan Lake, Saanich South and Victoria–Beacon Hill will be happy about the money that we've invested in the shipbuilding training centre and Camosun College. Or maybe not.
I know that they will be even happier — the members on the south Island, the members on the North Shore and people all across British Columbia who depend on shipbuilding jobs — when 6,800 new jobs come to their communities when Seaspan is awarded the shipbuilding.
Now, they don't like to show it, and we all know they're engaged in politics, for sure, but I know that the member for North Coast must be happy because we're helping to develop a road and rail corridor at the Port of Prince Rupert. The construction alone of that project will create 570 new jobs, and once….
Hon. C. Clark: There is more. So 570 new jobs, and then once the terminal expansion is complete, there will be 4,000 new jobs at the Port of Prince Rupert.
As one of the members of the longshoremen's union said to me: "Christy, we are grateful." They are grateful that the government understands that the growth of a thriving private sector economy supports the growth of private sector jobs — some of them non-union, some of them union. But that's the basis of a thriving middle class in any country, and that's why we're focused on it.
Now, I saw that the member for Skeena is still here, and I was up in that member's riding just a couple of weeks ago. I met with the Haisla First Nation. They are really excited about liquefied natural gas, and they have a big problem up there. The Haisla have a big problem. Liquefied natural gas is going to create more jobs than their community can fill. They're really struggling with that. You know, it's a problem that a lot of communities would like to have, and it's a problem that we on this side of the House would like to create for a lot of communities in British Columbia.
This is our chance to turn the page and move forward with an agenda for change that will allow British Columbia to weather what is a very unstable international economy and move ahead united, confident, optimistic and excited about what we can do if we can come together and get behind a plan for jobs.
Now, the throne speech laid out an agenda, one that was focused on defending and creating jobs here in British Columbia. It's one that will, by creating jobs, put families first, make it easier for families to put food on the table for their kids, make it easier for government to be able to provide and support the essential services that families depend on from government and one that will open up government.
It was a vision for the future — one that is designed to make sure that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past, because we cannot go backward. We cannot go backward to when the Leader of the Opposition sat in the Premier's office and B.C. lagged behind or missed the economic boat altogether. Don't forget that in the 1990s North America underwent one of the biggest economic expansions in its history, and British Columbia sat it out. While other provinces across this country were growing and thriving, while jobs were being created in communities all over Canada, they weren't happening here.
When we were undergoing the biggest economic expansion in Canadian history, 50,000 people fled this province in search of jobs. British Columbians went from being in a have province to being a have-not province when the Leader of the Opposition last had his chance at looking after B.C.'s economy. British Columbia became a have-not province, and British Columbians became ashamed of their own government and what it was doing. We can't go back to that. We can't go back to that era, when government decided who was worthy of being rewarded and who deserved to be punished.
Ten years ago British Columbians turned the page. They turned the page, through a government that offered an agenda of prudence, and British Columbia discovered that a little common sense goes an awful long way. Now we're going to turn the page again. We're going to build on that platform of the last ten years, and we're going to set aside those divisions of the past, set aside those divisions that we saw in the 1990s that set British Columbia on a path for failure.
So 2001 wasn't an easy year for British Columbia, but it was a year that was full of hope because it was a year of change. Finally, British Columbia's economy was free to grow again. Finally, families in small communities in every corner of the province had hope that they could find work again, because they had a government that cared about making sure that our private sector economy was thriving.
They had a government that understood that if you pick winners and losers, everybody loses; that if you decide you want to raise taxes through the roof, everyone loses; and that if you decide you want to make sure you're spending more than you're taking in, you can't look after the people that are most vulnerable in our society.
Our jobs plan has one focus. That's good, stable jobs for B.C. families. It's called Canada Starts Here, and we called it that for a reason. We believe that we can
[ Page 8111 ]
reach out. We believe that this is our chance to lead Canada like we never have before. It's about optimism. It's about having hope for the future. It's about a belief that we can go forward if we decide to focus on doing better. If we believe we can do better, if we believe we can be positive about the future, then we'll go forward instead of back.
The plan is built on three pillars. The first one is enabling job creation, getting government out of the way when we're often in the way. The second is about continuing to build smart infrastructure, so that once we get out of the way, we can get our goods to market. The third is about opening up new markets. Every single member on the government side of the House, every member of cabinet, knows that they have a specific contribution to make to making the jobs plan work.
Never before has a government come together around a plan where the energy of every part of government has been harnessed behind it. This is the most comprehensive job plan any government in my memory has implemented. It is a jobs plan that we are going to stick with.
There will be tough decisions, and I'm sure there will be controversy. There will certainly be naysayers, who are all about what British Columbia can't achieve, and I'm looking at a few of them right across from me right now. But nonetheless, we'll persevere, and we'll stick with the plan because we have a duty to that next generation of British Columbians to do better, not worse. We have a duty to go forward, not backward. We have a duty to leave a British Columbia better than the one we found.
Now, there's one thing we know on this side of the House that I hope the members on the other side can learn from — that government does not create jobs. Let me repeat that. Government does not create jobs. The private sector creates jobs. Government can impair the creation of jobs. Government can enable the creation of jobs, but government doesn't create jobs. It's the private sector we need to depend on to do that.
We need to be out there making sure we are doing what we can to enable that thriving private sector economy. We see it with the LNG plants, with the new mines reopening, with mills reopening across British Columbia.
Twenty-seven mills reopened across British Columbia because government did as much as it could to enable them to do so. We did as much as we could to enable them to do so, and now a lot of families are putting food on the table that weren't before. A lot of families are finding ways to support their kids. A lot of families are supporting the rest of the private sector economy through the wages they earn at those jobs.
It's important that we make sure our citizens have jobs. It's important that we create jobs all across the province or that we enable the creation of jobs all across the province, because when we strengthen the economy, we strengthen families. I think one of the things that members opposite need to understand is that the economy doesn't exist as an abstract concept simply to be attacked. The economy exists to support families and communities. The economy exists so people can go to work every day and provide for the people they love.
That is why we want to have a thriving private sector economy. The economy isn't something that just exists as a set of numbers to get angry about every time Statistics Canada issues a report. The economy exists to support families and make sure they're able to do the job that only they can do, and that is to raise their children with character.
There are two things, though, that need to underlie this plan. The first is a skilled workforce, because if we are enabling the creation of thousands of jobs across the province — and that is clearly our intent — then we need to make sure there are British Columbians ready and trained and able to take those jobs.
The second is to make sure that we maintain the fiscally prudent course that the government has charted over the last decade. When you look around the world at the chaos that has unfolded, you realize that investors are frightened. Capital is mobile. We need to send a message around the world that British Columbia is a safe place to invest. We have a triple-A credit rating, we have some of the lowest taxes you'll find anywhere in North America, and we have a stable, predictable government that meets its targets. Those are all things that we can sell about British Columbia to the world.
It's not the only thing we can sell about British Columbia to the world. We also have our proximity to the biggest markets on the globe. The fastest-growing middle class in history is in India. The biggest human migration ever undertaken in the history of humanity is in China. We're three hours closer in our ports to theirs.
We have an incredibly diverse population — look around you — that has been connected for over a century across the ocean. We have world-class infrastructure. We have those sound fiscal fundamentals, which were tough to achieve, which required some difficult decisions but which are serving us well now.
We have a wealth of natural and intellectual resources that the world is very hungry for. We have a chance to build on this position of strength now. I believe that this is a unique moment in British Columbia's history for us to do more than our fair share for the rest of Canada. It's an opportunity for us to lead, an opportunity for British Columbia to build an even greater country.
We are the only Pacific edge that this country has. We are literally facing the future of the world across the Pacific Ocean. The B.C. jobs plan represents a change, an opportunity to take advantage of that.
[ Page 8112 ]
Now, the throne speech noticed that we are looking at all of the decisions that government makes through a family lens. I call it putting families first. I was particularly proud that in the throne speech we recognized that families are as diverse as British Columbia. There are all kinds of families. You'll find all different shapes and sizes everywhere across the province, and every one of them is bound by this single thing: a group of people that supports each other through the difficult times in life.
Our government is very much focused on making sure that we put all of those families first. We provided a much-needed break for families during the long haul between New Year's and Easter through a family day holiday.
We raised the minimum wage. We're reviewing all Crown corporations, aimed at making life a little bit more affordable for families. As we did with the B.C. Hydro review, we cut planned rate increases in half. That's the kind of change that I'm talking about when I talk about change for British Columbians.
We'll modernize the education system so that our students are getting the skills that they need for the next century, not for the last one. We're going to make sure that students feel safe in our schools by making sure we are focused, plain and simple, on anti-bullying policies in every school across the province.
Our goal is to make sure, as well, that British Columbia is the most open government in Canada. We will listen to British Columbians as our jobs plan unfolds. We'll look for ways with our citizens to make government services more effective and more economical. As the job plan unfolds and evolves, we'll continue to add to it and change it, based on the feedback that we get.
We'll respect taxpayers — taxpayers at all levels — through the introduction of a municipal auditor general, a decision that I am very disappointed to see the members across the aisle oppose. It's just common sense that all levels of government should be subject to value-for-money audits.
I am interested. At first, I was delighted. Since then my delight has been diminished just to being interested — however, I hope to get back to delight — in the Leader of the Opposition's promise that he will be optimistic, that he will be positive and constructive. I hope that will continue and maybe, perhaps, we'll even see him smile every once in a while. Good for him. Maybe smiling has become the new black for the NDP, and maybe we can encourage lots more of them to find reason to be optimistic about the future of this incredible province.
But you know, if you want to be optimistic, you need to find a way to be constructive. So I'll look for some constructive comment from the members across the way. Maybe they'll have a plan, as well, at some point, and maybe we'll be able to work with them on their plan to help make our plan even better.
But there is a difference in this House. That is that we do have a plan and that we have a plan that is based, founded, rooted in our belief in the greatness of British Columbia, our belief in the people of British Columbia, our belief that if you focus and work hard and you are optimistic about the future, you can make a difference.
We believe that change can happen in British Columbia if we can find a way to do it together. So during this session and in the months to come we'll bring an optimistic attitude, Mr. Speaker, because we really do believe that Canada starts here.
I really do believe that we can lead this country like we never have at any time in Confederation. This is our chance to do more for Canada than we ever have, and we can't afford to miss it, because families in every corner of British Columbia are depending on us.
M. Karagianis: I rise to address the throne speech that we heard here in this Legislature a couple of weeks ago, and I have to say that I'm very, very fascinated by this new rebranding process that's going on. We've just heard a 30-minute pep rally here, rebranding a government that's been in power for ten years; that has a proven track record; and that has very clearly established its policies, its principles and its priorities after a decade of running this province.
I know that the people of British Columbia are not fooled in any way by this attempt to try and claim that somehow this government is new, that it's offering us anything new, that it has done anything in the last number of months except repackage promises that we've heard over and over again by the previous Premier and that are now being repurposed and repackaged again by the current sitting Premier with a lot of hype.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Sure, that's pretty understandable here, but when you look at the substance, the depth of this, you will realize that this is a hollow shell. This is lots of rhetoric, lots of pomp and ceremony but no substance involved in here. So I want to talk today a little bit about the content of the throne speech.
Before I talk, I would like to take this opportunity, though, to offer special thanks to my constituency staff, who work tirelessly every single day in my community. Jayne Ducker and Heather Gropp do an amazing job. They interface every single day with members in my community.
They're the front-line services that actually hear the real stories of what's happening to British Columbians and deal with helping those people try and navigate their way through the fractured services that are now available in this province and the lack of real supports for family, and they try and find ways to help these families navigate the system.
[ Page 8113 ]
I'd also like to welcome the newest member to my staff, and his name is Andrew Barrett. Yes, for those of you who can put that name together with a historical character, that is Dave Barrett's grandson, who is now taking his place, working in my office and doing a fantastic job in my constituency office.
I would also like to take this opportunity to mention that a good friend of mine received a fabulous award here a few days ago, and that is my friend Crystal Dunahee, who has been awarded the Order of B.C.
I was really struck at that ceremony by the contrast of others receiving the award and, really, the sacrifice that Crystal Dunahee has made on behalf of missing children across the country and in this province and the personal commitment that she has and how very worthy she was to receive the Order of B.C. and how very humble she is about that honour. It was a great privilege for me to be involved in nominating her and to see her get that award.
I would like to talk a little bit here about the throne speech and what it means in real terms for real people in real communities. Despite all of the hype we've heard in the last half-hour here, the reality for most people is entirely different on the front lines.
The jobs plan that the government has rolled out seems to be more one of imagination than reality, and too many communities have, over the last couple of years, suffered incredible job losses that they have been unable to recover from.
You know, under this government we saw a loss of 21,800 full-time jobs in the last year, full-time, family-supporting jobs gone and replaced by part-time jobs or in the case of many young people now, a series of jobs that they go to — three and four jobs.
B.C.'s unemployment rate in August was 7.5 percent, the third-highest in the country. So the reality is that when you hear the hype about a jobs plan that is going to deliver jobs years in the future or imagine how those jobs will look in 2013, 2015, 2020, it doesn't help communities at all. It certainly doesn't help the people in my constituency. It does not help any of those young people who are patching together enough money to support themselves on two and three different jobs. It seems to me….
M. Karagianis: It seems to me, other than the heckling from the other side, that when the government claimed they do not create jobs, I guess that's true. Again, we'll have to imagine that all of this hype will deliver something tangible from the private sector in the years to come.
In my community we are looking for real job opportunities, and I'll tell you right now that there is one very low-hanging piece of fruit that the government can seize on now. It has been repeatedly in the media, and that is to do something about getting rid of the HST in under 18 months. That will create and ensure real jobs in my community and communities across British Columbia.
We know that the homebuilders are saying that they are in a crisis mode right now because the HST has paralyzed that industry. Those are jobs people could have tomorrow, building homes in our communities, if the government would speed up the process of getting rid of the HST.
Now, the HST has been a debacle from day one — from the time it was brought in under a shadow, every single day since then, a public initiative like nothing we have ever seen in this province and then a referendum that was a colossal vote of non-confidence for this government. Yet this thing is still dragging on, hanging around our neck like an albatross. We will have spent almost four years paralyzed in this province, in real terms, of real jobs in many sectors because of this disastrous HST.
In the south Island I know that we could be building homes. We could listen to our homebuilders, listen to their plea right now for the government to speed up this process. We could make sure people were really working, not in 2013 or 2015 or 2020 in an imaginary job but right now in real jobs in communities that would feed families and ensure that our economy was thriving here.
Also, in my constituency we need a couple of very real, tangible capital projects that could be invested in, again, that could start jobs right now — real jobs for real people in my communities. We could build Belmont School.
We have, time after time, petitioned this government to get on with building this school. It is falling down around the ears of our students in the Western Communities, and yet the government says: "No, we don't have any money to invest in that. That's not a high priority for us. We're going to go off and invest in things in other parts of the province, and we're going to ignore the young people in this community and the need for this school to be replaced."
Real jobs right now in my community that could happen like that — a flick of a switch from the government to say, "Yes, we're going to build Belmont School. Let's get it started," and we'd have real jobs.
Transportation solutions. This government categorically refuses to deal with the crushing transportation issues that face our communities every single day. Again, these could be real jobs, family-supporting jobs, in my community.
Now, the Premier talked earlier about the shipbuilding contracts. I sure hope we are going to get those, because if there was ever a time when we needed that kind of investment, long-term investment, and capital
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here in this province, it is now. This government has decimated parts of our shipbuilding industry by a vote of non-confidence when we sent shipbuilding jobs to another country.
I did hear the Premier earlier talking about jobs in China and India. You know what? We want jobs in British Columbia. We want jobs on Vancouver Island. I sincerely hope we're going to hear an announcement very soon on these shipbuilding jobs, because I know of the vast number of people in my community who are depending on and waiting for those jobs to come in, to ensure that for the next ten or 15 or 20 or 30 years we have opportunities to grow the shipbuilding industry and to once again take our place in the world as leading shipbuilders.
I am hoping that the government…. Because they were late coming to the game, because they were clumsy, as always, in their attempts to try and get a part of this, I hope that we have not found ourselves missing out on this. I am waiting very anxiously to hear the announcement there.
A decade of this government, of B.C. Liberal government power. And when the government tries to stand up and tell us that they are somehow a remade entity at this point, you only have to look back at ten years of action and inaction and misplaced priorities in this province to see what it has resulted in.
The reality, other than the sort of glossy picture that the Premier wants to paint, is that we now have the highest rate of child poverty for the eighth year in a row. It says something very critical about this community and about this province that we would continue to lead the country in child poverty.
We have in the last decade coined the words "the working poor," where people who hold down full-time jobs are the poor, have managed to slip below the poverty line and struggle every single day to make ends meet. Now when in our lifetime did we imagine that by working two full-time jobs in a household, you would be below the poverty line and struggling? That is what has been delivered after ten years of B.C. Liberal government.
We have user fees. We have increased costs every single day just for simple services in this province. MSP has gone up. Hydro has gone up. Tuition is through the roof. We've got the added burden of the HST that we've had for two years and will have for another 18 months.
Repeatedly, we have seen services — vital services — cut time and time again as the government struggles to balance off the corporate interests. Let's be clear. I think that when we talk families first in British Columbia under the B.C. Liberal government, we talk corporate families first. If you dig down into every single essential policy this government has made, it benefits the corporate families long before it benefits the families in our communities, in my community.
Privatization has been their answer to many of the challenges here that we have been faced with — how to provide better and more opportunities in British Columbia to improve things like a greener, cleaner hydro future. We've seen the mess that the government has made there. But each and every turn of the screw here results in more costs to families, more hardships for families. And I'm not even going to, at this point, touch on the really vulnerable. I'm talking about the working families in British Columbia.
I'm talking about the fact that we have a growing inequality here that has, over the last ten years, been magnified over and over again. We have families and seniors regularly going to food banks to feed themselves — that in a prosperous society that brags and boasts about it being a great place to live? We have families and seniors who regularly go to the food bank in order to feed themselves and make it through the end of the month.
A crisis is here in our community. Our local Mustard Seed Food Bank has run out of its capacity. They now have to borrow against their own property to keep the doors open, when there is a huge and growing demand for food banks, for families to come and access food. That is the real picture of what's happening in British Columbia.
This growing sense of inequality is manifesting itself in this whole Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria. Now, I know that the Premier kind of blew that off, saying: "Oh, nobody will really go there. We're happy in British Columbia." Well, we saw the very opposite of what the Premier expected.
Thousands of people turned out to talk and gather and try to come to grips with the growing inequality in this province. That's what we've had. Ten years of B.C. Liberal government, and we now have such a state of inequality that we have people standing in the streets, asking to be heard.
Perhaps the upshot of that is that they'll pay more attention at the polls the next time. Perhaps they will get out and vote. They will pay more attention to who is running their city, who is running their province, who is running their country. If nothing else comes out of this mass movement, mass awareness about the lack of equality in this province, I am hoping that it is re-engagement with the system.
We know that lots of voters have disengaged themselves from the system. They have become jaded and skeptical about governments, and why not? At every turn we have a government that says, "We're being really good to you; this is the best place to live," yet they are suffering more and more with costs that they cannot get under control.
To get a simple education now you have to come away with a debt that you will take perhaps 20 years to pay
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off — a $30,000 debt coming out of university right now. I know. I have children who have been working in the workforce for ten or 15 years now and who are still paying off student debt. And that has only grown worse.
We have created an environment of a huge have and have-not society, and that inequality will be there and will magnify itself and grow exponentially in the years to come, because we will have a workforce that is not competitive.
We're busy looking to bring international students into this province when we can't even guarantee that every single person in this province who wants an education can afford to do so. The real solution to poverty and inequality is education, but we have not seen an investment or any kind of statement by this government that that's a top priority — none whatsoever. Instead, it's all, as usual, about the private sector.
I'd like to talk a little bit about the other side of the government's activities and ten-year legacy in this province, and that is this history now that is emerging of such gross ineptitude and mismanagement that we are seeing Crown corporations in dire economic straits.
B.C. Ferries. B.C. Ferries has now come out and said: "We have a huge financial problem." Why? Well, because we have had the government put in place someone who got paid a million dollars a year to manage the system, not for the people of British Columbia but to manage the system in a way that added costs and expenses to families and reduced the ability of even tourists to come to this province and use the ferry system.
We find ourselves in a crisis now — an economic crisis with B.C. Ferries — after ten years of the experimental management plan of this government, and we're now saying: "We're going to have to cut services."
I spent a number of years in business, in retail business in the fashion industry, and rule number one is that when business starts to slow down, you don't reduce the amount of your stock, and you don't reduce the hours you operate and keep your doors closed, because that is a sure route to absolute bottom end, into the gutter, close your doors, go out of business.
We are not providing B.C. Ferries as an extension of the highway system. We have basically priced ourselves down in the marketplace, and now we're talking about cutting services, vital services to communities that need that as their economic lifeline.
How can you be planning to create jobs and pat yourself on the back about some kind of jobs plan when on the other hand your B.C. Ferries system is crushing jobs in small communities and ferry-dependent communities up and down the coast?
You can't have it both ways, Madam Speaker. If you're going to put up the banner and say, "This is our…."
Deputy Speaker: I remind the member: through the Chair.
M. Karagianis: Thank you, Madam Speaker.
So if you're going to put up a banner and say, "This is our new slogan of the month," you have to look and make sure that everything else you've done is not hypocritical to that.
B.C. Hydro. We talked about that a little bit, but we look at the other history here of the big projects this government has taken on. B.C. Rail — that became a legend that I'm sure will go down in history.
We'll look back at the story of B.C. Rail…. I can't wait for the movie to come out. In fact, that in itself is such a historical disaster, from the time the government misled voters about what was going to happen with that company, to the way they sold that company, to the ensuing corruption trial and corruption investigation that went on, to its final culmination in a payoff of those that did the most corrupt work in that, where taxpayers paid off a legal bill.
We'll juxtapose that against the questions that have been raised in this House in the last few weeks, which is the lack of services for the most vulnerable in this province, for the developmentally disabled. While we have stood in here and communities have stood on the doorstep and in offices of MLAs across this province asking for pennies, asking for a small amount of money, we've watched the government manage to write off $6 million in B.C. Rail payoff for the corruption trial without so much as a blink of an eye.
The convention centre went grossly over budget. The roof on B.C. Place. I raise this, Madam Speaker; I raised it even this morning. The people who come to me with developmentally disabled children who are looking for services that don't end the day their child turns 19 have said to me: "How can the government spend half a billion dollars on a roof?"
To my calculation today, it leaks and has some kind of limited warranty, we heard from the manager, and we're still investigating to find that out. Does it have a limited warranty? Is that what we bought? We bought something that doesn't even have a long-term warranty. I mean, talk about buyer beware. When the province can't get it right, then what can the voters of British Columbia expect in the way their tax dollars are spent. Now it turns out that if there is a sudden rainstorm, you can't open and close this thing, and yet we spent half a billion dollars.
So when families come to me and say, "My children are aging out, and I've been told there will be no services for them. I've been told that their whole life now will be put into crisis, as will mine, and their safety and security for the future is definitely uncertain…." They say: "Yet we watched the debacle of this roof, which we spent half a billion dollars on, that may or may not do what we said it would do."
We have seen a huge piece of educational software written off — another absolutely bad deal years in the making,
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hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars, invested. That goes along with many other things. I guess the HST brochures that the government printed up but could never use because they hadn't registered to be an opponent of the HST went into the shredder.
How are families supposed to look at the government with any sense of confidence when they see the way dollars had been squandered, the way serious matters of governance have been so brutally mismanaged, and they are told that the savings will be made on the backs of their developmentally challenged children?
I have raised numerous cases in this House of people who are asking simply to be treated in a decent way, in a humane way. We have asked for a moratorium on the closure of group homes. People can see very clearly when they look at the way the government has conducted itself after ten years. They see that the price that is being paid for mismanagement, at the end of the day, will be on the backs of the vulnerable. Is it any surprise that people are skeptical about what their vote means, about what their politicians that they send here are doing?
People are now standing in the streets saying this cannot continue. Greed at the top end cannot continue. Mismanagement and ineptitude by government cannot continue at this rate, because more and more people are struggling; more and more people are having difficulty making ends meet.
I was fascinated to hear the Premier talk about the myths that the government has created about the 1990s. I just really want to get it on the record here, some information from Stats Canada — not from me, not from this side of the House, just some straight-up data from Stats Canada.
I know that the B.C. Liberal government likes to create these myths, and they like to speak them frequently. They like to be loud and proud about it, but the reality is that Stats Canada tells us that the economy in the 1990s was little bit different than the way the government likes to paint it. That is sheer, hard numbers from Statistics Canada, not from this side of the House.
Economic growth in the 1990s in this province was at 3 percent. Under the B.C. Liberals, economic growth for the last decade has been 2.4 percent. Which is less, Madam Speaker? So when the Premier and members on that side of the House like to stand up and talk about the myth of the economy in the 1990s, Stats Canada says it is simply not true. Growth was better in the 1990s under a New Democrat government than it has been under the B.C. Liberal government.
Job growth. Let's talk about that because, you know, the jobs plan is the flavour of the day. Let's talk about job growth. Under the B.C. Liberals, job growth has been slower, just 1.5 percent growth per year on average compared to — wait for it — 2.2 percent in the 1990s. So in fact, job growth was greater in the 1990s.
When we hear these myths talked about loudly, we can actually go and look up the data, and the proof says to us something entirely different. The reality is that over the last decade we have lost jobs. We have created more inequality, and we have seen such a gross mismanagement of Crown corporations and of the government's own assets that I think it is time for change. I heard the Premier say that. I heard the Premier say it's time for change.
I know she wants more smiling, but so many of these issues are so serious that when you are standing in this House day after day trying to get some justice for those who get community living services or who have been cut off services; when you stand in your office and you listen to seniors who talk about the struggles they have to make it from day to day; when you talk with young people who know they have to work three or four jobs and their chances of buying a home are very, very remote; when you meet with community members and they tell you about the erosion of services around them; and when you meet with families who are struggling every single day, then yes, I sincerely think it is time for change.
I think that what has happened — the phenomena here — over the last year with the HST has shown us that the voters of this province are ready to stand up and be counted and push back against a government that has not put their interests first. Time after time we have seen that private interests come before public interest. We have seen that cost savings, when the government has mismanaged or misrepresented the budget, will come on the backs of those that are least able to stand up and fight for themselves.
What it's painted is a picture of a decade of a government that has been so callous towards the needs of young people, of seniors, of the most vulnerable, that it is time for a change. It's unfortunate that we have to wait 18 months for some of these things to play out.
I do believe that people in my community are not getting a fair share from this government. I believe that people across this province are standing up and saying that they are not getting a fair share.
You know, we have seen a continual erosion of everything from our education system — the needs of special needs students in our education system, the fight that the government has had to undertake with educators in this province, who had to take the government to court to get a fair deal because the government wouldn't voluntarily give them a fair deal and even now is in dispute with them about that. But what is happening in real terms in the classroom today is that all of our children are being compromised by the refusal of government to do the right thing.
And I have seen, over the last six years of standing in this place and debating with this government, that over and over the government is so reluctant to come to terms with doing the right thing, that in every single case it has to be forced upon them. When we saw the en-
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tire province stand up and resoundingly vote against the HST, I thought that it would send a message to the government that the people of British Columbia had had enough and that things had to change.
So I was greatly disappointed, and I continue to be greatly disappointed, that all we have really seen is sort of repackaging, an attempt to rebrand and try and take what was old and call it new again and sell it to the people of B.C. I think the people of B.C. know better. I think they have learned. And I think that in the next 18 months we are going to see that it is time for change, because despite the taunting by the other side of the House, people of British Columbia do want a change.
It's time for a fair and compassionate government. It's time for a leader and a Premier who is caring, competent and actually has the confidence of the people of this province. I believe that time will come, and I look forward to it.
D. Hayer: Thank you, Madam Speaker, for this opportunity to respond to the throne speech delivered by His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor. This was the first throne speech from our new Premier. It conveys the importance of families and the need for jobs to keep those families strong and healthy and, by extension, keep our province and our future strong and healthy. It was certainly clear to me from the throne speech that families are at the heart of the Premier and our government's agenda. Our blueprint for the future will ensure that families will be supported through job creation.
Nowhere in the province is it more clear that jobs are the key to our future prosperity than in my city of Surrey. We have seen over the past decade enormous job-creating projects throughout Surrey and within my constituency of Surrey-Tynehead. Driving along Highway 1, we can all see the thousands of jobs building our future today, the construction of the new ten-lane Port Mann bridge and widening of Highway 1 to four lanes each way from Vancouver to Langley.
Every day construction workers are building new overpasses, rebuilding old ones and improving traffic routes throughout Surrey, Langley, Vancouver area, Burnaby and Coquitlam. This month we're opening the new pedestrian overpass in Tynehead linking Tynehead Regional Park to the Fraser Heights area of my riding. This pedestrian overpass and bike connector will allow people from north of the freeway, Highway 1, easy walking and cycling access to the rest of Surrey and vice versa and to the Tynehead area, Guildford area, Fleetwood area and Port Kells area.
This is family friendly. It creates jobs in construction. It is environmentally friendly. It is good for health and will improve the connection between communities.
One of the biggest advantages of all the freeway and bridge construction is that it will greatly improve the air quality for everyone in Surrey and throughout the Fraser Valley. Our government's expansion of highway infrastructure will clear up day-long traffic jams that our commuters currently face with the old Port Mann Bridge. With the extension of the highway infrastructure, it will get our traffic moving again.
Many times to go to the Port Mann Bridge from my office, it takes 45 minutes to an hour and 25 minutes. When there's no traffic, it only takes five minutes. Most days, almost 14 or 15 hours a day, there's a traffic jam. We will be extending SkyTrain right there to the Guildford area, to Fraser Highway, 168th Street in Fleetwood, to Langley and to the Newton area.
[D. Black in the chair.]
This is important because Surrey is the fastest-growing city in Canada, and over 1,000 people are coming to live in Surrey each month. When the construction of the new ten-lane Port Mann bridge and widening of Highway 1 to eight lanes will be complete, tens of thousands of cars and trucks each day will move through the region quickly instead of stopping, idling or crawling slowly through the area spewing emissions and polluting the air while stuck in traffic.
The movement of traffic will also have a significant economic boost. It has been estimated that $1.5 billion is lost each year to the provincial economy due to the traffic jams at the Port Mann Bridge. Moving vehicles quickly means less cost to individuals and to businesses and cheaper transportation costs and possibly even cheaper consumer goods as a result.
Improving the ease of traffic flow will also create opportunities for more jobs in the transportation industry because of the incentive that this incredible highway improvement project provides to my residents and to people of the Lower Mainland and in British Columbia and Canada.
It isn't just Highway 1 that is creating a better future for Surrey and for British Columbia. We have over the past few years widened 176th Street, also called Pacific Highway, to four lanes from the U.S. border to Highway 1 in my constituency. The newly widened route eases congestion and encourages and increases cross-border trade. The new route is better for tourism, making it easy for Americans to tour our great province and spend their money here in British Columbia and in Surrey and the Lower Mainland.
This means more jobs for Surrey and for our province. We have widened the Fraser Highway. We have widened Highway 10 to four lanes, and all of these projects create jobs with high wages to support families. At the same time, these projects have made life easier for Surrey families. They allow moms and dads to get to work faster and home quicker to be with their families.
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We built the 192nd Street overpass to Port Kells area. We also built the 156 Street underpass to give easy access to Fraser Heights from the Guildford area and to the rest of Surrey. These all created jobs and improved the quality of life for Surrey residents and families, especially my constituents and the people of Surrey.
We are building the South Fraser perimeter road, which is worth more than $1.2 billion, which will greatly improve commercial truck traffic from Deltaport to the rest of Canada. Its construction is creating more jobs, and the improvements to transportation will create many more. At the same time, the new route will take heavy container trucks out of the residential streets, where safety of children and families is an issue, and reduce congestion along the other major routes.
These incredible, far-thinking investments made by our government over the past ten years are creating a legacy for the future and the future of all British Columbians. Surrey is an important part of British Columbia, and I'm happy that our government recognizes this fact. Surrey residents will benefit today and a long way into the future from the vision of our government.
Surrey, Madam Speaker — as everyone knows and you know — will soon be the largest city in the province and one of the largest in the country.
As I've said before, we will also be expanding the SkyTrain and the light rail to Guildford mall, Guildford area, to Fraser Highway and 168th Street in Fleetwood, to Newton, to Langley and, probably later on, to Abbotsford. That's good for everybody.
Our government, through its investments, recognizes that growth in Surrey and understands the need to ensure that Surrey residents receive the best services and value possible from the expenditure of their tax dollars.
Our government's commitment to Surrey does not end at transportation infrastructure improvements. Recently the $237 million Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre hospital opened, on time and on budget. It was opened on Fraser Highway and 140th Street in Surrey. It is liked by every constituent in Surrey and people living in and around the area.
It is the first of its kind facility in B.C. It offers day surgery, diagnostic procedures such as lab, X-ray, CT and MRI scans and biopsies, and specialized health programs all within one building, and many more services that our constituents need for their health care.
Surrey is also the beneficiary of the largest investment in health care in British Columbia's history — close to $600 million — with the addition of a new eight-storey tower to the Surrey Memorial Hospital. This project will add more than 150 new acute care beds to Surrey Memorial Hospital.
The new tower at Surrey Memorial Hospital will expand many services, including 48 children's neonatal intensive care beds, specialized mental health and geriatric units. The new tower is projected to cost more than $600 million and will contain a new emergency department that will be five times larger than the existing facility at Surrey Memorial Hospital. That is welcome news for everyone.
Many people thought that this facility should have opened 20 years ago, but finally, we are working on it, and it will be opening. At least our government is doing that.
This emergency will include a separate children's emergency and enhanced minor treatment unit, a maternity department that will have 13 new birthing beds, private rooms for moms and their families. This emergency and this tower are welcome in Surrey.
It will also include additional academic space for new doctors and other health care professionals in partnership with the UBC Medical School and Fraser Health. The new tower will also have a new rooftop helipad to deal with emergencies.
This is just one of the many investments we are making in health care throughout Surrey, creating thousands of jobs. All this is coming on the heels of 73 new acute care beds we opened at Surrey Memorial Hospital not too long ago.
As well, there was a $10 million expansion of Surrey Memorial Hospital's kidney dialysis unit which increased the availability of stations from 18 to 30. It was also part of a $30 million upgrade initiative at Surrey Memorial Hospital that we began back in 2005.
The project aims to build capacity, expand services and ease congestion at Surrey Memorial Hospital. These additional beds represent a 26 percent increase in acute care beds in Surrey — 491 of them since Fraser Health was created by our government.
For the cancer patients, this government has spent $12.5 million for renovations to the B.C. cancer centre in Surrey. The renovations have vastly improved services for cancer patients in Surrey and surrounding communities, improving quality of life for them and for their families.
The expansion of the Surrey Memorial Hospital is part of the $1.9 billion health sector capital plan to modernize health facilities and purchase new medical equipment across British Columbia. These large health projects not only create jobs during their construction; they are part of the legacy of health that will serve Surrey residents and many other people throughout the Fraser region with leading state-of-the-art technology and the best health care available in the province and in our country.
We have not forgotten our seniors in Surrey either. This government recently opened the residence at Morgan Heights, a new campus of care providing seniors with 40 assisted-living units and 116 residential care beds. An annual subsidy of over $670,000 for 36
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assisted-living units is provided by Independent Living B.C. Fraser Health will provide over $533,000 annually towards personal care and hospitality services for the 36 assisted-living units and the $5 million annually to operate 90 residential care beds.
We also recently opened The Harrison at Elim Village, a 118-unit, $30 million residential care facility for seniors. Fraser Health will fund 80 of the 118 residential care beds and, in partnership with B.C. Housing, will also fund 53 assisted-living units at this campus of care.
In addition to this, our government also provided $365,000 for Fraser Health's three new stroke prevention clinics — located at Surrey Memorial Hospital, Royal Columbian and Abbotsford Regional Hospital — as part of the B.C. stroke strategy.
In South Surrey the Fraser Health Authority contributed $2.4 million for the new state-of-the-art MRI machine at Peace Arch Hospital, bringing the total to 22 MRI scanners in B.C.'s hospitals, and 13 new MRIs have been introduced to B.C. since 2001, resulting in more than 91,000 MRI exams completed just in 2007-08. It's a 165 percent increase since 2002, and we have increased that number to much more now.
Families are truly at the heart of this government agenda, from children to seniors, because we need families to feel supported and safe in our communities and throughout the province. In regard to children, our government introduced full-day kindergarten to foster a strong education foundation for a generation of learners across British Columbia.
To support this transition, we provided a $144.5 million capital investment fund to ensure 709 new classrooms were available to meet the needs of all-day kindergarten learners. In Surrey alone 58 new classrooms have been added at six elementary schools through new additions or energy-efficient modular buildings.
In addition, we committed $280 million to all school districts to support provincewide full-day kindergarten. We also contributed $500,000 for the ten new StrongStart B.C. centres — these centres provide free, drop-in early learning activities for preschoolers accompanied by their caregiver or their grandparents — and allocated $1.3 million for the Halls Prairie Elementary seismic upgrades.
We completed renovations or seismic upgrades at Guildford Park Secondary, Johnston Heights Secondary, Ellendale Elementary and Green Timbers Elementary and also worked on upgrades at Surrey Traditional School, Clayton Elementary, AHP Matthew Elementary and McLeod Road Elementary. We also built the new $17 million Adams Road School.
Currently I'm working with the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Education, our Premier, our MLAs for Surrey-Panorama and Surrey–White Rock, Surrey board of education, Surrey Chamber of Commerce, the parents, students, community organizations and teachers to get more funding for the Surrey district capital projects for schools, for new schools and to eliminate portables in Fraser Heights Secondary School and to help solve the problems of portables in other schools. We will soon have an announcement on that.
We have worked hard on this, and I appreciate our Finance Minister, our Minister of Education and our Premier for looking at it, because we do need a lot of money in Surrey for schools.
Our government also initiated $1.7 million immigrant youth in schools pilot program in Surrey, in addition to ten other school districts. The program addresses the needs of immigrant youth in grades 8 to 12, providing services to enable immigrant student success.
We did not forget post-secondary students. In Surrey we built a $70 million Simon Fraser University campus, the Surrey campus, and invested a further $10 million in its expansion at the Podium program. We also built a $39 million world-class trades and technology campus of Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Cloverdale. These superb additions to post-secondary education make higher learning more accessible, less expensive and closer to home for our students and for their families.
We also opened the Aboriginal Gathering Place at Kwantlen University. This $600,000 project is part of the province's $13.6 million investment in creating gathering places at the public post-secondary institutions. Aboriginal enrolment has more than doubled in the past five years at Kwantlen University and increased by 26 percent in B.C. public post-secondary institutions since 2003.
On top of all of this, we contributed $10 million for the fantastic new $36 million, environment-friendly Surrey centre public library. There were thousands of people who were at the opening recently, and they were all saying thank you to the city, the province and the federal government, working in partnership to build this new facility, which is worth more than $36 million. That is because our government has created a strong economy over the last decade. We have created a lot of jobs, and that has paid off and allowed us to invest this money into the project in Surrey and in the rest in the province.
This beautiful new library will provide everyone — from children to students, to parents, to seniors, to non-profit societies and to the SFU students — with tremendous access to educational material, research information and general entertainment. Literacy and learning make us all better people and contribute to the personal satisfaction, better health and improved preparation for our jobs and for the future. The new library will be a significant factor in improving access to those opportunities for all Surrey residents.
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Our government has also focused on affordable housing needs in Surrey, ensuring that vulnerable, low-income and less fortunate individuals have a home and a place where they feel welcome and comfortable. Ground was broken last year on the new seniors care facility at Kinsmen Place Lodge, a $33.7 million building project providing 157 residential care beds. We also opened a second phase of the $17.9 million Maxxine Wright Centre in Surrey, providing pregnant women and their children safe and supportive housing that includes prenatal and postnatal care.
Surrey was also one of the five communities selected for the distribution of 320 modular homes used by Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in the Whistler athletes village. The modular homes will be configured into 156 permanent, affordable rental homes for low-income persons in Surrey. These will truly be a lasting legacy of the 2010 Olympics for Surrey residents.
Our government provides $15.4 million for a cost-shared housing renovation partnership between the province and the government of Canada to renovate and retrofit Surrey social housing anywhere it is necessary. New employment services, worth $1.8 million annually, were made available for people with learning disabilities and mental health and other neurological disabilities.
A total of 11 contracts throughout the province were awarded and signed, and that included CBI Consultants Ltd. in Surrey.
We opened Freedom Place at $7.3 million in development, providing 20 assisted-living units for young adults with disabilities in Surrey-Tynehead and invested $32.9 million for two new supportive housing developments, creating 211 jobs.
We provided $2.7 million to help open the Phoenix Centre, a $10.9 million integrated addiction service centre offering continual support for individuals that are recovering from addiction and mental illness.
We helped individuals at risk for homelessness and mental health and addiction issues. We provided a $15 million grant to build Quibble Creek health and Phoenix Transition housing centre in Surrey. The facility will contain 52 supportive housing units and 15 short-term traditional recovery beds. The building will also include the Fraser Health recovery and assessment centre with 25 beds for men and women requiring 24-hour recovery and assessment services and a primary care, substance abuse and mental health clinic.
When we went for the groundbreaking ceremony for this, people in Surrey were really happy. We had people from all backgrounds, all walks of life, there for the groundbreaking ceremony. They were really looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to the completion of this project.
We also provided $10.9 million to develop Alder Gardens and $21.9 million to develop the Creekside health and housing centre. These accomplishments, these investments for the future of Surrey residents and for all of British Columbia are but some of the many that have occurred and will continue to occur to benefit all of us.
The throne speech continues that legacy of growth and promise for the future. With the throne speech, we are dedicating to growth and security of families through job creation. This is our focus, and it is our way of ensuring prosperity and security for decades to come. Jobs, good-paying jobs, are critical to the strength of families. With this, we are making sure we have a lot of good-paying jobs in the future.
It delights me that the throne speech of our new Premier supports the creation by 2015, in concert with the private sector, of eight new mines and nine upgrades and extensions to currently operating mines, and at least one LNG, liquefied natural gas, pipeline and terminal in operation in Kitimat and three in operation by 2020.
When the Finance Committee was visiting more than 12 towns and also listening to at least six other towns, many of the people were happy to say that our government is listening, and they were happy to see both sides of the committee were there listening to people to provide input to the Minister of Finance for the next budget.
So many people up north, and especially in the northeast, were really happy about the opening of the mines and also opening the LNG, liquified natural gas, pipeline and the terminal in Kitimat.
Our government is also committed to cutting the red tape in the mining sector by reducing the mining permit backlog by 80 percent by August 31, 2012, and the Water Act and the Land Act permit backlog by 50 percent by December 31, 2012. The lessons that our government learned from selling B.C. lumber to China, which created more jobs in our sawmills and forest industries, will be used for other industries, other commodities and in other countries for such as international education, mining, gas, tourism, clean energy and agriculture food.
By marketing B.C. products, we will create the jobs of the future. Lumber companies in my riding, like the Teal-Jones Group and S&R Sawmills and Mill and Timber Products and many other mills, are great assets to B.C. and to our city of Surrey because they provide great jobs. They pay good money to the workers and that helps us to provide our health care, education and social programs.
These positive actions will mean more jobs, more good-paying jobs throughout the province. The positive actions that our government is taking mean economic prosperity and a secure future for all the families in British Columbia.
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The speech also details plans for new legislation to modernize our educational system to ensure that our teachers have the skills and the support necessary to provide children with the skill set for a prosperous future. New legislation is also coming to modernize the B.C. College of Teachers.
Our government will also bring forward legislation this session to create a streamlined process for traffic fine violations that will resolve disputes and free up Provincial Court time. To further assist families in times of dispute, our government will introduce the new families act during the session to promote early resolution of family law problems.
The throne speech contains the commitment to work with non-profit groups to find new and innovative ways to provide services for the most vulnerable in our society. Non-profit societies are very important to our province, and their volunteers are worth more than gold to us.
These volunteers contribute millions of dollars' worth of volunteer time to the many non-profit societies. I have always appreciated all the volunteers for the great work that they do and also the volunteer work they provide for our communities. I have personally belonged to many community organizations and non-profit organizations before getting involved in politics, and I always encourage everybody in the community, including the future generation of students, to volunteer, because it's good for everybody. We have to always thank our volunteers and non-profit organizations.
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. This is all part of making our schools more important, safer, providing the latest education technology available to the students so they can have the best education right here in British Columbia.
Another strong, important aspect of the throne speech is a plan to keep British Columbia on a sound economic foundation and to continue to promote an open government agenda, such as reviewing the operation of all Crown corporations to begin in January 2012, and a major investments office created to work with investors to take projects on paper and make them a reality.
A jobs and investment board operational within 50 days to hold government's feet on the fire, clearing the way for job creation. We have to make sure all those projects that are in line are worked on and not just sitting on the papers.
A $24 million investment across our natural resources ministries over two years to eliminate backlog is a key authorization that will allow these projects to proceed.
I am also very encouraged by the decision to introduce legislation to create an official municipal auditor general, and changes to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and to ensure new on-line tools and a dedicated website to enhance the public engagement opportunities for citizens.
We are on good footing in this province. With all the investments and future planning our government has taken over the past decade, the stage has been set for a prosperous British Columbia, and this throne speech ensures that that legacy will continue. Madam Speaker, I fully support this throne speech.
In the 1990s it was difficult to find jobs in British Columbia, but when I was travelling up north — the northeast of British Columbia — they were saying there are so many jobs in the Dawson Creek area, Fort Saint John and many other areas, including Fort Nelson, that they can't find any workers. So any British Columbians, including I told my children, if they're looking for good-paying jobs, if they want to move outside a little bit, there are a lot of jobs available. But also, we're working on, with the jobs, to make sure that we have lots of jobs available right here in British Columbia and in every area, so people can stay in an area and make good money.
We want to make sure we have good-paying jobs. It's only when you have good-paying jobs that you pay taxes. If you're earning less than $20,000 a year, you pay zero provincial taxes. We want to make sure that you have a high-paying job so that the government can get its share of taxes. We want to make sure that businesses are successful. When they are successful, there are a lot of jobs available.
Madam Speaker, we want to make sure everybody prospers. Thank you very much for allowing me to speak in response to the throne speech. I'm sorry that I ran out of time.
L. Krog: It's a very sentimental day, as has been pointed out during introductions earlier and the kind remarks of the Premier about the member for Richmond East. So I may start in a kinder vein than I usually do when it comes to responding to the throne speech.
L. Krog: The member for Kamloops very kindly recognized my offering of a peaceful gesture, and I appreciate that.
I want to thank all of the members of the House who have taken on the job that they have. I particularly thank the member for Richmond East, who has served here a very long time indeed. Twenty years is a very long time.
My time here was interrupted by the loss of an election in 1996 to a man who now seeks again to become the mayor of Parksville — most interestingly, a strong former member of the Liberal caucus.
Before I go on too much at length, I think those who choose public life move to seek a high calling, and I
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want to recognize today in my remarks a few folks in Nanaimo. Coun. Bill Holdom, Coun. Merv Unger and Coun. Loyd Sherry, the longest-serving member of council, have all announced their retirement and won't be running again.
I wish to pay respect to them here in this Legislature and to note their names on the record because all of them have given a substantial period of time — Councillor Unger, the shortest; Councillor Holden, both on council and on school board for many, many years; and Loyd Sherry is probably one of the longest-serving councillors in the history of British Columbia now. He got his 25-year pin several years ago. I want to pay my respect to them.
I also want to recognize three school trustees who are not running again: Ron Dale, Carol McNamee, Andrea Bonkowski — again, who have taken up public service in what is probably the least appreciated and least paid occupation in terms of electoral office, and that is the local school board.
This Speech from the Throne recognized the deaths of many prominent British Columbians, but I want to recognize the deaths of two of them who I knew, both of whom I held in high regard and great respect. One was Coun. Jeff Thomas of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, a man who worked tirelessly on behalf of his people and who was a strong advocate for them for a very long time.
I also want to recognize the passing of Merv Wilkinson. Merv was on the other side, so to speak, in the early '90s when my party and my government were struggling to deal with contentious land issues in this province. Merv was one of those protesters who got arrested — the protest at Clayoquot Sound — but no one for a moment doubted Merv Wilkinson's incredible commitment to the environment, his incredible commitment to his province and the great deal of public service he rendered without remuneration. He was a man of enormous stature and needs to be recognized.
I also want to recognize some of my constituents and friends who were recognized earlier this year by the government through the Community Service Award. That was Pamela Mar, a most ambitious and tireless volunteer in our community, in many ways a woman for whom I have great respect.
Also, just a little while ago, the recognition of Dr. Ellen White with the Order of British Columbia. I have known Ellen White for 35 years, and she, like Jeff Thomas, has worked tirelessly on behalf of her people and tirelessly in order to preserve the language of her people and their culture, traditions and history.
Hon. Speaker, what's the throne speech all about? Well, the throne speech, as usual, is not the most impressive document, from my grateful perspective over here on the opposition benches. I want to point out just a couple of things that struck me as I was reviewing it earlier today.
Talking about the economy, of course, and talking about what had happened a couple years ago when the government set its zero net mandate for public service negotiation, one of the things the government said was: "At that time it was hoped by both sides that the global economy would rebound and that stronger economic growth would take place, providing greater financial flexibility."
Now, I'm going to go a little bit out on a limb here today. That language isn't heard by young people. They don't understand that concept anymore. They understand that the world is in a perilous state, that climate change is having an incredible impact, that it will have a greater impact as time goes on. So for us in politics to continue to talk about economic growth as being the solution…. It isn't something they believe in anymore.
I grew up in a world — post-war child, baby boomer, born in '53 — where everything got better year after year after year. Wages went up. The economy improved. The minimum wage, when I was getting it, had real purchasing power. Back in 1991 the minimum wage should have been $11 to have the purchasing power that it did when I was getting it in '69 and '70 and '71. We thought that we could just continue to grow and improve and improve.
There were mutterings at that time. Dr. Paul Ehrlich was talking about the "population bomb." The population of Egypt continued to grow exponentially. That was a great example taught to us in geography class that this thing couldn't continue.
If we in politics continue to talk about economic growth as the solution, we're not being entirely straightforward. We recognize — all of us need to recognize — that economic development will continue to take place. That is just the nature of the world. But in terms of growth being the solution, eventually we will run out of hillsides to cut, eventually we'll run out of minerals to mine, eventually we'll run out of fish to catch, and people understand that.
So when the government continues to talk about economic growth and its management of the economy, the young aren't listening anymore, and they don't listen in great numbers. We see the continual reduction in voter turnout.
For that reason, I am so impressed, indeed buoyed and cheered, by what's been happening around the planet in the last few weeks — the Occupy Wall Street. We had an event in Nanaimo. Occupy Nanaimo they called it. One person started twittering or tweeting or sending out e-mails. There were probably 300 people gathered there — many young people, a lot of middle-aged folks, people who have a vested interest in the economic system.
They were all there speaking about social change, about the economy and about the environment, many
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of them. There were animal rights activists. There were people concerned about smart meters. There were people very, very concerned about the great disparity between the rich and the poor.
The solution, I suggest therefore, is not in economic growth. It's not even in this chamber. It is, to some extent, out there in the streets of British Columbia today, just as it is out there in the streets around the world: people finally waking up and saying that the way we've been doing things just can't continue.
I guess, for me, that's why the throne speech is such a disappointment. We got a new Premier, we've got a new leader, an opportunity for change, and instead we're talking about what I would suggest is a solution that today hasn't entirely passed, but it's not the solution anymore. And it's even more amusing to hear from this government that the solution is its jobs agenda.
The throne speech says: "Maintaining our province's hard-earned status as a safe harbour for investment is critical to our central mission — defending and creating jobs."
L. Krog: And, hon. Speaker, the predictable response from the government benches when I talked about defending and creating jobs. How many times have I heard the members opposite say that government doesn't create jobs; the private sector does?
L. Krog: And, hon. Speaker, again, the predicted response.
I just have to ask: which is it? Because I think we're being offered a choice here. I was going to suggest that if the government really wanted to create jobs, it might want to create some jobs in CLBC and look after the most vulnerable amongst us.
The economy creates jobs in this sense, public demand — demand for goods, demand for services. The needs of people create jobs. Governments can do their best to attract investment. But when this government now is telling us, after years of saying the private sector creates jobs, that it's going to create jobs, I'm sorry. It stretches my credibility just a little bit too far.
K. Krueger: Your credibility was stretched a long time ago.
L. Krog: I must say that if they're going to criticize my credibility, I would think they'd pick a different member to do the heckling.
The government brags in the very next paragraph: "In British Columbia fiscal prudence and one of the most competitive tax regimes in North America have inspired confidence and preserved our province's triple-A credit rating."
L. Krog: You know, I don't want to suggest for a moment that this is kind of like one of those TV comedies where they've got the applause lines and they laugh and clap regardless of what you say, but we're pretty much there.
By the way, according to, I think, KPMG in a recent report, Canada now, within the industrialized nations, has the lowest corporate taxation, business taxation, across the board. British Columbia may well be the leader in the pack amongst the provinces, and what good has it done us?
We just spent a whole question period today — a whole question period — talking about the most vulnerable British Columbians, who can't get the kinds of services that every British Columbian believes and knows they deserve. Indeed, that position was supported most eloquently by members on the government side earlier this morning on the debate around the motion.
What good does it do us if we have this incredible number of homeless living amongst us? What good does it do us if our unemployment rate is where it's at? Nanaimo has finally started to see a reduction in its unemployment rate — finally, after having the highest unemployment in the province.
What that tells us is that this government's audacity to suggest…. It took all the credit for the economy when it was good in the middle of the last decade, when oil and gas prices were through the roof. The audacity of this government to suggest for a moment that it has control and now tells us that they're going to defend and create jobs…. It really does take a level of audacity that is just shocking and surprising.
The fact is that this government doesn't have a real plan. The empty rhetoric of this throne speech demonstrates that so very clearly. It is all over the map. The fact is that this government is in the position of any government at this time in its term. It's run out of gas. It doesn't have much to say anymore. They're all looking at each other, wondering who is going to come up with some bright idea to save the political bacon before it's fried in the frying pan in the next election.
They're just hoping, hoping that some miracle will turn things around. Maybe it will be an increase in resource prices. Maybe suddenly the opposition will say something dramatic and shocking and blow the whole thing apart. But what I smell in this chamber is what I've seen before, and that is a government that's on its way out.
They can talk about their three pillars in the throne speech till the cows come home, but the truth is that, as
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I said earlier, the young aren't listening. They don't believe them. The unemployed in this province don't believe them. The seniors don't believe them, and the people who require the services of CLBC don't believe them either. When nobody believes you anymore, it's a hint in politics. It's a big hint that it's time to go. It is time to go, and I just don't get the sense that this government has actually caught on to that concept.
In my critic role as critic for the Attorney General, what did I hear in the throne speech? Well, we're going to solve the incredible problems we have in our justice system in British Columbia, particularly at the Provincial Court, by hauling some judges out of retirement.
The chief Provincial Court judge, the Law Society, the Canadian Bar Association, the Crown prosecutors, the sheriffs. Everybody who has direct knowledge of and participates in the justice system in this province has made it absolutely clear. That is not going to do it.
On the other end of the scale we have a Legal Services Society that is struggling. We have lawyers in this province who are basically going to go on strike as duty counsel in an acceleration from a week per month to four weeks, ending in April of next year.
The fact is that our justice system is in crisis. When you see an individual who, it would appear, based on the allegations — and we have to be fair here; you're innocent until proven guilty — rammed a police officer's car and walks free because of delays…. And this government has the audacity — I come back to that word — to suggest that things are great in the province of British Columbia and that a little tinkering, hauling out some retired Provincial Court judges, is going to solve the crisis, the bulge of nearly 2,000 cases that are all in that time range where they may well be dismissed. No one believes that.
The fact is that the tax-cutting agenda of this government over a decade has not produced the results they promised us it would. They call it the Laffer curve, I believe — some U.S. economist who said if you just keep cutting the taxes, in fact over time you will grow government revenue. Well, hon. Speaker, we are ten years into this government, and what do we see today? A government that can't support the most vulnerable amongst us. A government that sees the highest rate of child poverty in Canada year after year after year. I just don't understand that.
What does this government try to do in response, instead of stepping forward to help? They try to divert attention. The throne speech itself talks about the rioters in Vancouver. "This breakdown in civil order requires that justice be done and that it also be seen to be done." We're prepared to pay for cameras in the courtroom, but we're not prepared to pay for the judges, the prosecutors and the sheriffs. Now, what kind of a commonsense approach is that?
What does that say about a government's ability to manage its resources appropriately when it can't staff the very courtrooms that it wants to televise? In fairness, it might be quite wonderful if some British Columbians got to hear those judgments read off the bench by the numerous Provincial Court judges who have taken this government to task in language that, with over 30 years at the bar, I have never heard from judges before.
They have openly attacked this government and its failure to fund the justice system. Hon. Speaker, that is a shocking embarrassment for any government. I don't know of another government in this country that is facing that kind of public criticism from judges.
This government says close to the end of the throne speech: "We will not lose sight of shared goals — supporting job creation, defending the jobs we have, protecting the environment and providing support and protection for the most vulnerable amongst us." Now, back on that kind note I said I'd talk a little bit about today, if that doesn't express what all of us in this chamber feel, then I don't know why we're here. We all want that — every one of us. But the high rhetoric needs to be matched by action, and it needs to be supported by honesty. It needs to be supported by money and programs and commitment.
It needs to be supported by real leadership, leadership that is prepared to say to the business community, "You know what? Maybe we need to roll taxes back to the level of a few years ago," leadership that says: "Maybe we have to consider that those of us who are well paid in this province and who have benefited through this process deserve to pay a little more income tax."
When you have Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world, saying publicly — in what has to be, I think, one of the best lines I have heard in the last decade — that a rising tide lifts all yachts but not necessarily all boats…. When you've got the Warren Buffetts of the world saying that, there's a message. When you've got the richest woman in France, Liliane Bettencourt, saying: "Tax more…."
I'm not suggesting for a moment that you're going to win an election campaign by promising higher taxation, but until we in this chamber can have an honest discussion about revenue versus needs in this province, nothing is going to improve. Certainly, it's not going to improve as long as this government is in power, because I think you have to acknowledge, if you're a member of this government, that things are really rather broken.
Things are really rather broken. Voters don't turn out to vote. Young people take to the streets instead of political parties. Everybody is full of good intentions, but nobody wants to do anything sensible. You know, hon. Speaker, even something as simple as you yourself have suggested happens in Ottawa — even something as simple as making the committee structure of this place work,
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to give MLAs the opportunity to speak on behalf of their constituents, to do meaningful work around legislation, to try to work on real solutions — would be seen as a signal from this government that they're actually listening to people.
We're not going to get that. We're going to continue to have a committee structure where they call a meeting, they pick the Chair or the vice-Chair, and then everybody goes to sleep until the end of the session — except for a few actual working committees.
Now, I don't think most of us ran to come here and not do a job effectively. I think most of us came here with the hope and intention that we'd do something effective. This government has had ten years to do something about that.
This government could also elevate its chances of surviving the next election by doing something really basic: ban corporate union donations. Do what Jean Chrétien did, for heaven's sake. Follow the lead of a federal Liberal, a real Liberal, a Liberal the way I used to understand them. But no, we're not going to see that from this government either.
We're not going to see it because this government — and I come back to my point — has run out of ideas, and it has run out of gas. It's feeling desperate. It has no plan. It's hopeful. The minister responsible for forests is really, really hopeful that the Chinese are going to buy up enough of our wood that things will start to boom in the forest industry again.
L. Krog: I'm always delighted when the government is interested in what I've got to say. It's very flattering for me.
We know now that there are more raw logs leaving British Columbia than at any time in its history — more raw logs than we've ever seen leave this province, and less reforestation. That's the dumb thing in all of this.
We've got wood lying in the hills that doesn't get hauled out because of government policy. We've got raw logs leaving. We've got some loggers working, and we've got mills begging for fibre, including the one real success story of the last years in this province that the government loves to take credit for, that everyone wants to be associated with, and that's the Harmac mill in my community. Everybody says that's the model, but they struggle constantly for fibre.
If the government had a real jobs plan, I would have expected something in this throne speech that would have outlined that great scheme or plan, that would have given hope to the forest industry as opposed to just saying: "Well, you know, China is going to buy more, and things will be great." I would have expected something quite clear.
I mean, after all, I appreciate that Horace Greeley could advise 100-plus years ago, "Go west, young man," and it was acceptable commentary. But when the member for Chilliwack comes into my town and says, basically, "Go to Terrace, young man. We've given up trying to create jobs in Nanaimo," I'm sorry, but it's not exactly an acceptable bit of advice for the people in my community who want to build Nanaimo, who want to make Nanaimo prosper, who want to see their families supported in a way that's appropriate, who want to see their schools operate appropriately with actual libraries, with classrooms where the composition is not so outrageous that they know their children can actually get a decent education. That's what my constituents are looking for.
Agriculture. You know, it's always interesting to me. I mean, if you actually step out of this chamber and wander around the building, those four beautiful murals are still there in the rotunda — the murals that depict fishing, logging, mining and agriculture.
I remember the former member for Delta South, who always used to talk about how we have to eat to live. Hon. Speaker, you would have thought at a time when food security is becoming a growing issue for people that they really understand it. We know that on Vancouver Island, for instance, we've got about enough food for three days in a crisis situation.
You would have thought this government would have said, "Let's do something dramatic. Let's actually say something really honest. You know what? The Buy B.C. program was a really good idea. Just because it had the NDP label on it…. Maybe we'll take it right back and say: 'You know what? That was a good idea. We're prepared to do it.'"
We don't see that. We don't see the kind of regulatory framework. For agriculture on Vancouver Island what we saw was a government that wanted to go in lockstep around meat regulations, which was a really tough thing for small operators on Vancouver Island to handle. But the government, no, had to push ahead, because this government got itself to a stage where it wasn't listening anymore.
I come back to my point: when you haven't got a plan, when you don't listen and, indeed, people don't even want to talk to you anymore, it's a signal. It's a signal that it's time to step aside and let another party take your place, and this government can spend some time on the opposition benches learning its lessons. That's exactly what's going to happen, because the throne speech is an empty document.
There was a time when we used to talk about the New Democratic Party really just being nothing but a bunch of Liberals in a hurry. That was the kind of sarcastic comment. Now, of course, we've seen the great demise of the federal Liberal Party. The provincial Liberal Party in British Columbia, as we know, is that unholy alliance between old Socreds and Conservatives and genuine Liberals who, frankly, are only all in bed
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together because, well, the NDP is over here, and if we didn't exist, they wouldn't have to exist. They would just merrily go their own way.
We have over there a tired old coalition that is starting to show its age. One member acknowledged it just as I'm looking across the aisle now. You know, hon. Speaker, the seams are giving out, and the bear is starting to lose its stuffing. Maybe it's time for the Antiques Roadshow. Let the old Liberal bear go to the antique roadshow in the sky. Let them finally fall apart until they figure out that what you really have to do if you want to be government in British Columbia is to tell the truth, to stick to your guns, to be people of principle and to offer real solutions and good government.
We've had the ten-year experiment. The taxes were cut across the board…
L. Krog: The member for Parksville-Qualicum is banging his desk away.
…particularly for the benefit of high-income earners. They got the best deal. The fact is, what do the BMW and Mercedes-Benz dealers in Vancouver tell you? They can't get enough product. That's in the same city that has the Downtown Eastside. That's in the same city where women continue to disappear.
We have a great disparity in this province. This government can continue to pretend that it has a real solution. We on this side know it doesn't. The people in the streets know it doesn't. The people who participated in Occupy Nanaimo and Occupy Vancouver on the weekend know it doesn't, so my simple advice is this. There's a tide in history. The tide is over on our side. This government is going to get swept away, so it might as well do the right thing: get out of the way, and let the people of British Columbia have their say.
Let's restore decent, competent, honest government. Let's put energetic people in office, and let us see this government finished once and for all.
Hon. M. Polak: It's a pleasure to rise in this House again and respond to a throne speech that is about new jobs, about new economic opportunities and, indeed, about brighter futures for families in British Columbia.
I want to begin, though, by thanking some very important people who do their best to make sure that I can do my job every day in this Legislature and in my community in Langley. Here in Victoria I am supported by a wonderful team made up of Frank Costa, Cayley Brown, Cindy Flesh and joined today, her first day on the job, by Holly Tally.
I'm also joined in Langley by my long-suffering CA, Cathy Gibbs; her fellow CA Keeley Cavanagh; and a new addition to our office, Todd Hauptmann. Todd is my social media coordinator. I'm sure, when I joined the Legislature in 2005, I would not have imagined having a social media coordinator. As a special shout-out to him, I want to make sure that I tell everyone who's watching that if they wish to follow me on Twitter, they can do that at @MaryPolakMLA.
Thank you, Todd, for putting that new opportunity for communicating with our riding into my hands in my office.
It's been very successful. I raise it here today because of course as MLAs, as representatives of our communities and as those who work for the betterment of our province, we're all always looking for more and better opportunities to connect with our constituents. Why? Because it allows us to hear from everyday people the types of things that concern them.
We in our office have now held three Twitter town halls. I never would have even imagined doing that. Yet here's a new opportunity to engage with British Columbians, in particular in my riding, and discuss the issues of the day that are important to them. They've told me some pretty key things about life in Langley. They have the same kinds of concerns as are across the province, the same kind that the jobs plan seeks to address, that the throne speech seeks to build a future to solve.
It has to do with affordability, everyday living that families do — the people who do the work, who pay the taxes, who are supporting our economy every day in their businesses and in their family lives. It's affordability of living. It's support for their children and education. It's the ability, in the Lower Mainland, to travel freely on public transit and not be delayed by a system that isn't large enough or responsive enough to their needs. Those are the kinds of things that this Premier and our government have laid out a plan to begin to resolve.
There's no question that it's going to take significant work. It's going to take all of us, pulling together. But I know from my community in Langley, I know from the people that I interact with around this province as I travel to First Nations communities and non–First Nations communities alike, it's the kind of thing that people across British Columbia are concerned about.
I'll tell you a little about my community of Langley, because of course it frames much of the perspective that I bring to this discussion. Langley is a place where we are very fortunate to work really well across all levels of government. I want to give a special thank you to both mayors, Peter Fassbender and Rick Green, and also to my area Member of Parliament, Mark Warawa, and to our school board in the township and city of Langley.
In Langley this affords us the opportunity to do some really great things in our community. I know that it's something, when I'm at community events, that very many people raise to me. They're so pleased to see all levels of government in Langley working so well together for our community. In essence, that's what it's all about.
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In Langley we have a very high level of volunteerism. You cannot go to any event in our community and not be confronted by the amazing outpouring of support that our community organizations receive from volunteers. It really is quite encouraging. They tell me how they feel that they are a part of what is going on in the community. They feel as though they are another level of contribution, beyond government, beyond businesses, and we all know that that is entirely true.
In our communities, each and every day, it's those volunteers who support community organizations who are the ones who make our communities tick, who give it heart and who are the ones who care enough to put themselves out for the betterment of others in our community.
Langley is a community that is growing. It is growing with very many young families. Of course, that means that jobs, family-supporting jobs, become increasingly important in a growing community like ours. It's one thing to have the growth in development — in residences that are being built, in new community areas that are now thriving — but they're not going to thrive without family-supporting jobs.
I was a bit dismayed to hear that the member for Nanaimo has given up on the idea of British Columbia taking part in resource economic development through things like forestry. He doesn't seem to understand or believe that forestry is important anymore, or mining. It was quite dismaying to me. It seems that perhaps he hasn't heard of the term "sustainability."
I know that when I talk to my daughter, who's 24, to her friends and to people that I encounter on my Twitter town halls, they are very aware of sustainability. They understand that we can't stop all resource extraction. They understand that British Columbia depends heavily on its resource sector, and they understand that in many communities around British Columbia it is indeed what they are going to depend on in the future.
What they add to it, and what the member for Nanaimo missed, is that what young people are adding to the debate and the discussion is the importance of sustainability and the importance of building communities around the economic growth that we need to support what families and communities need. That's what young people bring to this debate.
I don't want to oversimplify for the member, but he might want to check out the fact that in British Columbia we actually plant two trees for every one that we cut. The math isn't so difficult for the member to understand. But perhaps this speaks to something different, something that underlies much of the opposition that we've heard to the throne speech, to the jobs plan. That's this theme that seems to be creeping into much of the discussion we hear from the other side.
It's a theme that says: "We don't want you to grow revenue by growing investment and creating greater economic growth. No, no, we don't want you to do that. We want you" — according to the member for Nanaimo — "to stop forestry, stop mining, stop oil and gas production. For heaven's sake, we can't keep doing that."
Instead, perhaps that theme tells us something a little different about the planning on the other side. It begs the question: if you're not going to continue to support those industries in a sustainable way in British Columbia, then how on earth are you going to grow the revenues you need to spend on all the programs that the NDP wants to spend on?
It's an interesting question. It was one that I spent significant time pondering. When the Leader of the Opposition was responding to the throne speech, I took extensive notes. I noted all sorts of areas where the Leader of the Opposition says that he intends to spend money, and not just little bits of money — rough calculation, probably in the area of adding hundreds of millions of dollars to the expenses of the province of British Columbia.
Now, no one would argue that the kinds of causes that the Leader of the Opposition wishes to spend money on are good ones. We want to spend money on education. We have done. We want to spend money on health care. We have done. We want to spend money on community living. We have done. But what was missing in the response of the Leader of the Opposition was any example of where they would generate the revenue — not one; not one suggestion about how they would grow the revenue to pay for all of those projects.
Now, I understand there are different philosophies as to how one should approach government, but there are really only a couple of ways that you can raise the revenue to deliver the programs that British Columbians want and that the opposition seems to want to spend even more money on. There are only two ways. You either grow the tax base by increasing investment, increasing the number of people who are working, and you therefore increase the amount of taxes that are coming in, or you raise taxes.
With a pretty good amount of evidence from the speeches from the other side, I suspect that the plan the NDP has yet to produce has a lot more to do with raising taxes than it does with raising the hopes and aspirations of families who need family-supporting jobs in British Columbia.
In fact, we already know that this is the track record the NDP had. In fact, in the 1990s the NDP said that they wouldn't raise taxes, and guess what. They imposed $2 billion in new taxes — $2 billion.
There's been an awful lot of insinuation from the other side that somehow the government has gotten the economy wrong, but in reality what's happened is that the
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NDP have gotten their economical calculations backwards. I thought perhaps we should lay out a bit of the simple economics here and some of the indicators.
For example, when you have your credit rating rise, that's a good thing. When your credit rating drops, that's a bad thing,. The NDP, unfortunately, during their tenure, saw the bond rating agencies downgrade their credit rating in 1997, and in 1999 they downgraded it again.
Let's try another one. When you have a deficit budget and you miss your budget target, that's a bad thing. When you meet your budget target, that's a good thing. Not only did the NDP bring in eight consecutive deficit budgets — and left us, by the way, with an almost $4 billion structural deficit — but those didn't even reflect their targets. They missed their targets each and every time. That's a bad thing.
When your debt doubles in a ten-year period of time, that's a bad thing. On this side of the House when your debt-to-GDP ratio is significantly lower than the national debt-to-GDP, which is significantly lower than in the U.S. and most places in the world, that's a good thing.
It's important that we pay attention to this, because very often the NDP stays at this ideological level, and they don't get down to the impact of their decisions. I mentioned before that the NDP promised that they would not bring in taxes, yet they brought in $2 billion worth of taxes.
Well, there's something else about that that they didn't say. In all the rhetoric we hear about wanting to protect the poor and the vulnerable, do you know what happened then, Madam Speaker? In that time in British Columbia those very vulnerable people, those poor people, were paying income tax to an NDP government. That's what they were doing.
It was this government that saw to it that income tax was eliminated for those earning $16,000 or less. Under the NDP they actually paid income tax. So don't tell me that you want to be able to support the poor and the vulnerable if what you're going to do is tax them.
What they tend to do is they get the economy backwards, which isn't surprising, because of course that's where they want to take us. They want to take us backwards. They've already been hinting at what they plan to do with taxes. We've already seen the evidence from their speeches that the only plan they have to generate revenue is to raise taxes. The very idea that you would create jobs by raising taxes, that you would create wealth in our economy by spending us into huge debt, is absolutely backwards.
Instead, when we look at the success we've had in making sure that people are working, even in a tough economy, in British Columbia, there are a few reasons for it.
One of them is our support for small business. I heard the Leader of the Opposition talk about the importance of small businesses in his community, and members on both sides have very often in this House talked about the value that small business provides to our economy. They are the job generators. They are the ones in our community who make our economies work.
If you take a look at the contrast, it's quite startling. Since 2001 we've reduced small business income tax by 44 percent. That income tax money is the kind of money they can put back into improving their business — investing in it, expanding, hiring more people.
I remember the 1990s, and there was a great joke that went around. It was one that was told by those who were of my political persuasion, but boy, things got so bad it was told by pretty much everyone on either side of the political spectrum.
That was: how do you start a small business in British Columbia? Remember, this was in the 1990s. You start with a big business, and you wait, because that is what happened as business and investment fled British Columbia, as workers fled British Columbia because they didn't have jobs. Why? Because taxes were too high, because spending was out of control and because there was no accountability in budgeting.
You could miss targets, and it didn't matter. You could play with the numbers and come back next year and make the same promises and raise taxes all over again. That's why there were credit downgrades. That's why there wasn't trust in the economy, and that's why there wasn't investment.
If you are going to support the kinds of things that families need in this province, you have to generate revenue. You have to decide whether you're going to do that by raising taxes or by producing jobs and expanding the economy. Let's be clear that this side of the House has decided we are going to do that by growing this economy, by giving jobs to families, by making sure that there are more and more jobs, that there is investment coming in, that there's new money coming into British Columbia and that we're not just recycling the money that is already here.
We have increased funding each and every year for important programs like health care, like education. In fact, in health care we've more than doubled the number of doctor training spaces, and we've given out 17,000 more nursing degrees since 2001. In education — something I had a lot of experience with during the 1990s — we have increased our funding for education each and every year, 33 percent, since 2001. There is only one government since in around 1995 — that was when it happened — that has actually cut a budget for K-to-12 education from year to year.
Hon. P. Bell: Who was that?
Hon. M. Polak: Well, let me tell you.
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I was on the Surrey school board at the time, and not only did they reduce the education budget that year, but they did it in the middle of the year when school boards' budgets were already set. And you know what they called it? They called it an efficiency reduction — an efficiency reduction. It was right across the top.
I remember being elected in 1996 and still dealing with the challenge in our district of trying to meet the targets that government had set for us, to drop the budget in the middle of the year. That hasn't happened here. That hasn't happened with this government. We have had challenges, but we have continued to increase the K-to-12 budget so that it's at the highest point in British Columbia's history.
Of course, there are other reasons why it is important to have our jobs agenda go forward, and I think it would be a welcome thing if the NDP would suddenly decide to support a growth and jobs agenda. But of course, there's reason to believe that they probably won't. It's not just the things they've said in the House. It's the effect of their policies, going back to their record in the 1990s.
Let's take a little comparison. I heard some of the members on the other side heckling and responding with respect to our jobs record. Well, Madam Speaker, they should be awfully careful about that. If you take youth employment, for example, youth employment dropped from a high of 17.4 percent in — when? — 1998 to 13.8 percent in 2010. Is it still high? Sure it is. But it's still not as high as it was when they were in government. So they ought to be careful about how they heckle.
Let's take a look at the overall unemployment rate, for example. Prior to the global economic crisis, our unemployment rate between '05 and '08 was under 6 percent for the first time in 30 years.
Not only did the NDP rank last in all of Canada in private sector job creation per capita in the years they were in government, but they also had the highest unemployment rate of all the western provinces from 1991 to 2000. The rate they reached was 10.1 percent in 1992, and it remained above 8 percent for the entire 1990s.
It's getting a little quiet over there now. Getting a little quiet, because those are difficult pieces of evidence to listen to.
No matter how challenging our economic time has been since the downturn, even in spite of that, the evidence shows that we have still retained jobs at a greater rate than when the NDP were in power for their entire terms.
Certainly, the evidence is there to show that when you have the drive, as our Premier and our government does, to run the economy in a fiscally prudent manner, to generate jobs in a economy that will support families with family-supporting jobs, that is the way that you produce the ability for our economy not only to survive an economic downturn but to turn the corner and to thrive.
We've laid out a jobs plan that is going to turn that corner. We've laid out a jobs plan that is going to see British Columbia take a different path than almost any other place in the world. While everyone else is acting frightened, while everyone else is acting in a protectionist way, we know that we've got something to offer in British Columbia, and we're going to offer it around the world.
We are going to offer it to the growing economies in Asia. We're already seeing success in our forest industry, in terms of exports to China, which has seen mills reopen across our province. We know that to do that we need to have investment from outside.
We also need to have a good working relationship with our First Nations communities, and I am very proud of not only the record we've had in the past, but already in this term we have shown that there is momentum in our work with First Nations and that we can open up the province together with First Nations for economic investment. When we take a look at what the province has done, I have to express my gratitude to the Premier of this province for her immediate interest in resolving First Nations issues and for her immediate attention to it.
Members of this House will remember that the Yale treaty was ratified in March and that by the time we were in this chamber in May, we were bringing that legislation forward to be ratified here in this chamber. That's faster than that has ever happened in British Columbia. That was not only an indication of the Premier's support for the work we're doing with First Nations, but it's also an example of a new approach that we are taking.
We recognize in British Columbia that treaties aren't going to work for every First Nation. We recognize that in some cases, where they are in treaty talks, we need to be reinvigorating that process by the use of some incremental agreements. We've created a very healthy and flexible toolbox for that.
We now use incremental treaty agreements, reconciliation protocols, strategic engagement agreements, economic benefit agreements, and forestry consultation and revenue-sharing agreements, just to name a few. These are ways in which we can resolve elements that would have had to wait for years in treaty ahead of finalizing treaty agreements, and get economic development on the ground very quickly for the benefit of not only First Nations communities but the communities around and about them.
One really great example of this is the work that has taken place in the northwest of the province. It's probably the best example of where we have combined not only the jobs agenda but the important priority that the Premier has placed on families.
In the northwest of the province not only have we developed land use plans and strategic engagement agreements, we also have been looking toward the plans and
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agreements we can make to support families. We have a child and family wellness agreement with the Kaska, the Tahltan, the Taku River Tlingit, and it is that which has formed the basis of the non-treaty agreements that we have made with them around land use planning.
Now, these First Nations are still in an advanced state of treaty negotiation, and we intend to get there as well. But we understand that in order to do that, we have to be paying attention to the immediate needs of the economy in that area, and that means paying attention to the immediate needs of those First Nations.
Another really great example is what has happened with the Haisla. The Premier has spoken many times about the success of the planning for the LNG plant there. We know we're going to see even more expansion of opportunity. When you take the LNG plant and the Pacific Trail pipeline, and you take a look at the opportunities that they present, those two projects alone will create approximately 1,500 person-years of work during construction, and the export terminal will create 120 to 140 permanent positions once it is in operation.
Those advancements wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for the work in partnership with the Haisla First Nation and under the leadership of Chief Ellis Ross.
First Nations around the province want to take part in the mainstream of our economy. First Nations around the province aren't interested in sitting back and taking handouts. They want to be part of the economic development. As outlined in the throne speech and as outlined in the jobs plan, our approach is going to be to invite them to be part of this great province with us in a more real and substantive way than they ever have in the past.
When you take a look at the opportunities that there are, in particular in the mining sector, to revenue-share with First Nations, to make sure that there are training opportunities there for their young people so that they are the ones who are getting the jobs…. There is no better way than to involve First Nations in the mainstream economy.
That is what is not only going to strengthen First Nations communities and deal with many of the unresolved issues of the past, along with some of the socioeconomic burdens of the continuing lifestyle impacts of the past…. But it has to be having First Nations work in partnership with us.
It also has to be without compromising environmental values. We've heard the Premier and many other speakers address the concerns that are out there in the community around what development in the resource sector really means. Here is where our leadership on the environmental file really comes into play. Here is where the kinds of regulations, the kinds of assessments that we have in our province really support the jobs agenda in a real and effective way on the ground.
We know that we have to get in there and make those processes work better. They need to work better not only for industry proponents and for communities, but they also need to work better for the environment. A streamlined process, one that works more effectively, is not only helpful in that it turns things around more quickly, but if it's done right, it can also better support an environmental agenda. In order to have an environmental agenda go forward, it needs to be effective. It needs to be something that people will use. It needs to be something that people have a high regard for.
We are determined to have the most effective environmental assessment processes that you could find anywhere in the world. We are going to have that, and we're going to make sure that not only does it protect our environment, but it also protects industry and protects investment by making sure that projects aren't delayed and money isn't spent just on wasting time.
There are many pieces of work for us to get underway with. It's going to take all of British Columbians together. But at the end of the day, this throne speech is about delivering on three commitments: new jobs, new economic opportunities and brighter futures for families.
It's a disappointment to me that the opposition doesn't want to come on side and support it. But on this side of the House we know that those are the three things that British Columbia families are counting on us to do.
Madam Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to speak.
Hon. M. Polak moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. T. Lake: I now call for second reading of Bill 3 to continue.
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 3 — Freedom of Information and
Protection of Privacy
Amendment Act, 2011
D. Routley: As designated speaker, I have a little bit of time left, and in this time I would just like to summarize what I was able to speak about the last time I was able to stand here and speak to Bill 3, which was a week ago this past Thursday.
The act purports to support the modernization of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act, and no one disagrees with the notion that modernization and efficiency is something that we should be striving for.
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However, what this bill does with great haste is bring forward a set of amendments which do nothing to address the core issues that were brought to the attention of the review committee that reviewed the legislation two years ago and, in fact, the many recommendations of the previous committee of eight years ago that were never followed.
Some of the most politically contentious issues around the bill are on the freedom-of-information side and the long delays that have characterized this government's record when it comes to open governance. Section 13 of the act, which allows the government to exempt any information that forms part of the options or alternatives presented to government…. This government has extended that to include all material, all information used to formulate those decisions, which is wrong.
There's a standing joke in government and in research circles that anything the government doesn't want to share with the public simply gets loaded onto a trolley and wheeled through the offices of the cabinet and thereby becomes a recommendation to cabinet and exempt. That's one area of the act that wasn't addressed in this amendment act that could have gone a long way to improving the openness of our democracy.
Section 25, the public interest. The wait times were not affected by this act, and wait times were one of the chief difficulties that presenters to the committee brought forward. These are obstacles to people's participation in their democracy. They're obstacles to the public knowing fully what government is doing and how they're doing it.
Other obstacles to freedom of information have been the fees. I talked about the exorbitant fees that have been charged and have become obstacles to people's access to government's information.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
This is no small matter. The right to information in a democracy is core to the functioning and health of the democracy. The right to the protection of privacy, the other side of the act, is a core right in a democracy, every bit as important as the right to free speech, the right to a fair trial, the right to the presumption of innocence.
These are essential rights. This bill, brought in such haste without due consideration, is seeking to amend the rules and the regulations that government should abide by when it handles people's private information — when, in effect, it handles people's basic rights.
The committee asked for public consultation. The committee itself was a form of public consultation. The committee before it eight years ago was an act of public consultation, mostly ignored by the government for the intervening eight years, mostly ignored by the government in this act.
Unfortunately, the government chose to form focus groups through B.C. Stats that no one on this side of the House and no one in this sector found out about until the first reading of the bill. This past summer, basically in secret, these groups were formed, and they had input into the formulation of this act, where many of the experts in the field in this province, some of them the most authoritative in our country, didn't even know that this bill was coming forward.
As critic and co-chair of the committee who reviewed the act, I waited and waited for any sign that legislation would be coming forward to address the recommendations the committee made. There was no indication of that until the weekend, three or four days before first reading of this act. That is, I think, to say the least, not open government. That is, to say the least, a lack of public consultation.
The other avenue for consultation that the Premier chose for open government was to form a cabinet committee — the irony of that being that a cabinet committee is exempt itself from freedom of information. It seems ridiculous on the face of it, and it is.
In the words of James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, the right of a people to popular information in a popular democracy is essential. The failure to access popular information in a democracy is a prelude to farce or tragedy or both. Those were wise words that were given to us by the chief author of the U.S. constitution — unfortunately, also the president who led the War of 1812 against Canada, but nonetheless wise words.
These are essential issues of principle that need to be carefully and duly considered. The people who are to be affected, the public of British Columbia, need to have a full understanding of the implications of what their government is doing. None of that has happened.
In fact, this bill, brought forward with such haste, is implemented upon proclamation, even though the rules and regulations won't be in place — essentially the architecture by which this bill will function, the architecture through which people's privacy rights and their freedom to the information of their government will be managed.
In fact, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is given new roles in assembling and approving those rules and regulations, and yet the bill will be implemented before they're ever brought into being. So this is a failure, and this is a shooting from the hip. This is something that is failing to treat such a serious issue with serious consideration. The people of B.C. deserve more.
What has happened in this province, as a matter of record on the part of the B.C. Liberal government, as we heard in the committee that reviewed the act, is the development of a sophisticated culture of avoidance,
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using the rules of the act, extending them and bending them to the point where the act becomes largely meaningless.
In fact, the rate of requests under the Freedom of Information Act has consistently declined due to the delays, the large fees and the gymnastics with which the government will engage in order to avoid its responsibility, employing section after section to avoid the disclosure of important information.
A perfect example is the sea lice data from the fish farming industry, where the government for years and years fought on one section to avoid sharing the information. Once they were ordered by the courts to share that information, rather than do that they reverted to a separate section to extend that debate and that refusal to share the information. Even the fish farming industry, during the Cohen Commission, advocated for the release of that information, while the government itself refused to do so.
It's a record of avoidance of the responsibility to be open, and on the privacy side it's a record of absolute mismanagement of people's essential rights, the Wainwright scandal being chief among them, where 1,400 vulnerable British Columbians had their essential personal information shared because it was stolen by a government employee. The government didn't even make itself aware of that until the RCMP brought it to their attention, even though 26 public servants were aware of the breach. But no one reported it up the chain.
This points to a lack of understanding of their role under the act, and that was one of the main themes of the acting officer of information and privacy protection in B.C., Mr. Paul Fraser, when he submitted to our committee.
He pointed out that the existing act had every flexibility necessary to provide the expediencies demanded by the government's ministries, demanded by its data-sharing goals, but that the real falldown was in the area of education, that public servants weren't aware of how the act could help them and what their obligations were under the act. Now, we can change the rules, but if people aren't aware of the rules, and if they aren't brought up to speed and educated as to how the act should work, we will continue to have these failings.
This bill rushes forward to address the expediency demands of the ministries. It rushes forward to allow the Premier a quick hit, something that the Premier can point to and say: "Look, I've done something. It's called open government. At least, I call it open government."
"I'll call it proactive disclosure," the Premier tells us — proactive disclosure. In fact, in the words of Vince Gogolek, from the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association of B.C., it's reactive disclosure.
Essentially, what it says is: "Once there's an FOI request, after three days we'll throw up it up on a website." That is a deterrent to the freedom-of-information requests, because journalists and even opposition parties, who spend money, who are charged exorbitant fees for those requests, are less likely to make the request if they know that it will be shared with their competitors three days after they receive it.
That is reactive, and it is not in the spirit of true proactive disclosure. So this bill did nothing to address that roadblock to a functioning and healthy democracy.
Expediency trumping principles. That was the theme of what was presented to us by the acting commissioner at the time.
He used a very good story of two moose hunters who had shot a moose. They were dragging it backwards out of the woods, struggling, stumbling, falling, hurting themselves. A game warden came along and checked their licence, saw that they were legitimate hunters, then suggested that they get on either side of the antlers and pull the moose forward. They'd make better progress. So they did, and they did make better progress. They weren't stumbling. They weren't falling. One hunter said to the other: "That guy was right. We're doing much better here." The other hunter replied by saying: "Yes, but we're getting further and further away from the truck."
That's an example of how expediency can drag us away from our original purpose and principles. The expediency that the government seeks in this bill drags us away from the basic principles of protecting people's privacy and providing them access to their democratic right to information about their government. That is a shame.
When we look at this act and see the haste with which it's being brought forward…. In fact, when second reading started it was imposed on this side of the House and on the people of B.C. at exactly the same moment I was supposed to be having a ministerial briefing on the act itself. We pleaded with the government to delay second reading of the bill so that we could have an adequate briefing and be able to speak on behalf of the people of B.C. to our concerns about this act.
In their typical haste and arrogance, in which they are willing to cast aside the proper functioning process of democracy, we were rushed in here for second reading. That's a haste that can make waste — make waste of people's rights, make waste of public dollars. When this government has rushed with haste towards data-sharing initiatives that threaten people's privacy, it has cost the province, the taxpayers, millions upon millions of dollars to redo the wrongs, to redo the wrongs in terms of the systems and re-engineering the systems.
But the wrongs that were done to the people who lost their right to privacy will never be undone. That information is out there, and they are vulnerable because of it, and we can never undo that. That points to the imperative that we take time, that this government step
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back and take time to consider the implications of this act, to work with the Privacy Commissioner, to work with the various experts in the field and not rush towards what they want. This is something we teach our children, and I think it's a lesson that the government should listen to.
In speaking to the current Privacy Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, she has shared her great concern that the devil is in the details. The devil is in the details whenever it comes to issues of managing people's rights, of managing information. The architecture, the structures with which this bill will operate, the rules and regulations — those have not even been designed, have not been introduced in this House. They never will be subject to debate, and yet this act will be implemented upon proclamation.
This is an undue haste. It is unwarranted, and it is not prudent. It is hardly conservative. It is an embarrassing rush that could end up harming people and costing this province more millions upon millions. So who did they listen to? Well, I don't think they listened to their commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, when she warned them about the work that's still to be done on this bill.
They imposed all sorts of new obligations on to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, but no mention of any extra funding. In fact, every year that office must go to the government, the Finance and Government Services Committee, and plead for their funding. The only increases they've received in recent years have been to meet the exorbitant costs of litigating their own decisions against the government.
Did you know, Madam Speaker, that the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia is the most litigated office in Canada, and that this B.C. Liberal government litigates, challenges in court, its own officer of information and privacy more than any other province in this country?
Therefore, the commissioner is repeatedly going to this committee, asking for more funds. And yet, now they add more duty with no guarantee of funding. So this is a very serious consideration that this bill doesn't address.
This whole subject is brought to us with the stated intent of modernizing the act and bringing us forward in the way we serve citizens. That implies an understanding that we exist and operate in a more and more complex and technical world. That means that the decisions and the investigations of the office of the commissioner are ever more complex and ever more technical, requiring ever more complex and technical advice, ever more expensive advice. Yet funding is not even touched with this act, but more duties are added. It seems wrong. It seems seriously flawed.
So as we see, with not only the role of the commissioner and the role of the act, this government continues to carve out portions of its own operations away from oversight by the freedom-of-information and privacy commissioner and this act.
In the health services so many aspects of the handling of private information are not overseen by this act anymore because of recent changes by this government. At the recent convention of physicians in this province, this past January, the physicians were warned by their own governing body that they should counsel patients that once this government's data-sharing initiatives are implemented, they can no longer take responsibility for their patients' personal information. Once it's entered into their record, the physician loses control of it.
Now, what kind of chill will that put on patients seeking counselling for such issues as substance abuse or mental health issues — stigmas that could have a huge implication on their ability to gain employment or even receive government services? These are incredibly serious issues and something that this government is handling in a reckless fashion, as is its custom — rushing with haste towards what it wants, rather than taking the time, the serious time, to seriously consider the implications of what it's doing.
So who did they listen to? Well, their committee, their cabinet committee, their B.C. Stats focus groups. Who didn't they listen to? They didn't listen to the review committee of eight years ago or the one that I sat on two years ago. Yes, they cherry-picked pieces, but there were significant recommendations that remain unaddressed.
The citizens of the province, many of whom echoed the experts…. We had ordinary citizens come in and talk about the need to educate front-line bureaucrats. This is echoed by the acting commissioner and his recommendation to educate the bureaucracy. There's nothing in this act that helps us address that problem.
Madam Speaker, I'm sure that many of the members will have a lot to say, and I'm encouraging members who sat on the committee — on the government side and on our side, the opposition side — to express, on behalf of those people who came to our committee, the concerns that they must have around this act and the haste with which it's being brought forward.
I will end my comments on Bill 3 with the hope that in the spirit of the committee — in which people cooperated to the highest level on both sides of the House — the government will step back from this reckless haste to address very serious issues and allow time for due consideration of the implications of what it's doing.
Deputy Speaker: I thank the member and recognize the member for Parksville-Qualicum.
R. Cantelon: Thank you, Madam Speaker. If you would allow me a small personal indulgence to extend my felicitations and congratulations on the Speaker's long and arduous and conscientious perseverance in
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serving the people of British Columbia, I know that all members of the House congratulate you in your efforts and thank you for them.
It's my pleasure today to take my place to discuss this bill. I sat as Chair of the Special Committee to Review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. I want to acknowledge that the member opposite for Nanaimo–North Cowichan sat as Deputy Chair, and I agree with his comments that basically it was a challenging subject for us to engage in.
Basically, it's a dichotomy. It's almost like the yin and the yang. When I first read it, can this be one act — freedom of information tied to protection of personal privacy? They seem to be two concepts that would be in direct opposition to one another.
In that context, I want to very much thank Josie Schofield, who is the manager of committee research services in the Office of the Clerk of Committees, who managed to untangle our syntax and put together our discussions in a way that made more sense, I think, at least to us. And it was, as the member opposite reported, basically a very constructive discussion and one that moved forward.
We put many recommendations forward. We were discussing a huge subject — very appropriate, I think, to our times. The latest headlines, for example, of all the BlackBerry users — what horror, what a tragedy — suddenly becoming disconnected from their lifelines around the world. We truly live in an amazing electronic age.
I counted computers in my household the other day, and I came to five. I was astounded. I can recall that there was a time…. I can recall Commodore 64. That may not be a brand or phrase that many people would remember, but that was sort of a revolution in computing, and now that doesn't count.
Both of my children — in fact, all of my children, all five of them — have hand-held devices with which you can text to each other back and forth. This communication is a good thing. My son was in Victoria. I was able to find when he got on the bus and pick him up. We're very much part of this communication age.
Imagine if we had to, at your household, suddenly cut off the Internet. What havoc that would be. Or if you cut the MLAs off from Internet, we might have to rely on letter writing or other forms which you now regard as extremely primitive methods of communication.
This committee had a huge task to try to bring the information age into the Legislature, to update and modernize how we deal with documents. There's still much, much work to be done, particularly how we handle documents internally, but that was our challenge. We did listen to 118 submissions, and I think, again, we discussed them thoroughly, and I think the conversations were always very proper and amicable. We didn't always take the same viewpoints on them, I would say.
When you consider it, there's an amazing clause in the new act. I'll just read it. If the applicant has requested a copy under section (2) "in electronic form" — my goodness, what a concept — "and it is reasonable to provide the record in that form, a copy of the record or part of the record must be provided in that form with the response." What a revelation.
Now, of course, the old act, going way back, didn't have the word "electronic" anywhere in it. It seems hard to believe today, bearing on what I just said of how married we are, how dependent we are on electronic forms of communication, how helpless we are without them, that the word "electronic" would not even appear in the previous legislation. So this, to me, is a momentous step forward.
We heard from, as I mentioned, 118 submissions, and they didn't tell us — I beg to differ from the member opposite: "Hold up and wait. Don't do it now." They wanted open access now, and I agree with the member opposite's saying that open information is a critical part, a critical tenet of democracy. People deserve to know, they need to know the workings of government so they can comment on it.
There are no members in the press gallery for me to offend, but frankly, the kind of bizarre, to me, circumstance where one member of the press could get a scoop by going to a freedom of information and thereby having access, because of his initiative, to information that perhaps other reporters don't…. We've now levelled the playing field. Nobody can get a scoop by their diligence of digging into information. I don't think that's wrong. It's right; it's fair.
All the information should be electronically available as soon as possible to the people. The people deserve to know. This government under this Premier intends to run an open government, open to all the citizens of British Columbia so that they can view what we are doing and make their own decisions accordingly.
I want to tell that you we have considerably improved the response time. Now 93 percent of all responses are on time; 99 percent of responses to the Premier's office are delivered on time. That's a considerable improvement.
We want to change the culture. We want to have a culture of open government that allows the people of the province to understand — to see what we're doing and to participate in it. That's all consistent with all the modern tweeters and Facebook and all those blogs and all those wonderful electronic devices to encourage people to become part of the dialogue, part of the discussion, part of framing the thoughts of government as we move forward in these challenging times of great opportunity.
So as one of the first steps — it seemed pretty routine, really — we just opened up 2,500 data sets. Why not do that? This again was spoken of in the discussions we had
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at the committee meetings. Why hold back routine information that can just go out? Why not just make it available on the website? We have done that, so 2,500 sets of data, sets of information, are now open to the public. They don't have to file an FOI request. It's just there on the website.
Now, our back-end computer services, computer systems, aren't quite there yet. But this act will do a lot to enable us to build a new internal electronic structure to respond better to the needs of our citizens, because before that the act didn't actually permit it.
It kind of created silos. If you had a silo here, you couldn't cross to another ministry and get that information, even though the purpose might be, in many cases is, to serve the citizen better.
Now we've allowed the concept of consent, which is extremely important in delivering services to the citizens of the province. So if you're looking for services, whether it be in public health or something else, the ministries are able to communicate with one another, so long as it meets the intent of the original request, to share information that will help deliver services, whether it be housing or health care or whatever, to the individual citizen. It's going to make it better and easier, this open access.
In the same way that you give consent when you're applying for credit or something, of course, that information can only be used in the context in which the application is made. Similarly, it will be protected within the government. But still it will enable people to obtain the services they need faster, quicker, from various government agencies. This is all a very, very good thing.
I know that the member opposite was quite fond of…. He quoted — I think it was Madison, was the last time — President Madison. We have a quote in our executive summary. I know I didn't present it, and I don't think the member opposite would contradict the fact that he presented a quote from a president.
In this case President Barack Obama pledged to increase government openness, accountability and transparency. Immediately after taking office in January 2009, he issued a memorandum to the heads of the executive departments and agencies, directing them to "take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for a specific request from the government. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their governments. Disclosure should be timely."
I would thank the member opposite from Nanaimo–North Cowichan for presenting that quote. I respect his diligence in informing us about how other members of state are treating openness. Well, we intend to do no less.
Another comment made by the member for Nanaimo–North Cowichan was that in disclosure of routine information, we were dead last. Well, I want to tell you, being last is not what British Columbia is about. We want to be first. We're going to be first in the economy, we're going to be first in creating jobs, and we're going to be first in disclosing information and making it open to the public.
There's much work to be done. I certainly don't think, however, that we should be concerned about going too fast. Au contraire. We need to move forward fast. We need to get information on a routine basis, electronically, as soon as we can.
I think that so much discussion and misunderstanding and mistrust — certainly, mistrust is something that all governments are being accused of — is a fact that we need to dispel. The way you dispel mistrust is by making the information open and easily accessible, by cutting out the waits. This has been a commitment by our Premier, and I'm very excited to say that it's having a great effect, both within her office and throughout the government.
Now the cabinet committee on open government has been accused of being some place that we would hide information. Obviously, that is a direct contradiction in terms. The purpose of a cabinet committee on open government is to commit, is to change the culture from one that might be cynically taken to be one of holding back information to be one of putting the information out. I think we've seen that from our Premier in the way she's engaged people in town hall meetings, and the Minister of Finance has done that as well with other discussions. It's been amazing to see the reaction of people who phone in and listen and have the opportunity to communicate directly with the government.
This is all a good thing. This is very healthy for democracy, and I think that if both sides of this House should be concerned about anything, it is the health of our democracies. We can only improve the health of our democracies by being more open, by sharing that information, because people, I've found, are quite wise. We may think we know more than they do, but I trust the will of the majority implicitly. They'll figure it out, and they'll let us know where to stand and give us clear direction — if we engage them.
I think the other point I had touched on and I'll come back to is that the individual — one of the new sections — "has consented in the prescribed manner to that collection, and (ii) a reasonable person would consider that collection as appropriate in the circumstances." This enables governments to serve their citizens better by enabling them to share the information across ministries.
One of the great things about this will be a new B.C. services card. One of the things that you often hear — complaints that I get — is that they can't get to the information about themselves. In our constituency office — and I'm sure this is shared by all of them — people
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come in, and they just want to know something about themselves. They can't get it. They can't get their own health information.
So the B.C. access card will enable them, for example, to access their own health information and lab tests on line. They don't have to wait. They can just punch in the number and go on line. It opens up a wide range of services to them that they can expediently and quickly get directly from the government. Also, the secondary benefit of this will be the elimination of tons of forms, tons of paperwork, tons of delay and costs in doing this.
I again come to the previous speaker who wants it. "Don't go fast. Don't go too quick." We must move forward with this. We must improve efficiencies about how we deliver our services. It costs us money to do that. Waiting will cost us more money.
So you can confirm your eligibility for health care service in a quick and easy way. How about this: changing your address in your driver's licence? Simple things like this that can be an annoyance to constituents can now be done or will be able to be done on line automatically.
All of these things are very, very beneficial, and I think we need a change. I'm sorry to hear that the culture of secrecy…. That is something we want to change completely, and I'll reiterate again that the Premier's office has replied 99 percent on time to requests to the Premier's office. I think that makes a statement to this House, to every MLA in this House and to every person in the public service that we don't hold back on information that should be displayed and proactively put forward. We want to encourage it.
There's been some discussion about the role of the Privacy Commissioner. I just want to read a couple excerpts from Elizabeth Denham's letter to us. I think to suggest that she's anything but supportive…. Well, here are her words: "I am very supportive of the requirement in the proposals for public bodies to implement open government initiatives. It is my stated intent to work with public bodies to develop timely and easily accessible information without the need for a formal request. I will also evaluate whether public bodies' proactive disclosure programs reflect best practices."
That comes to the second part, the other — the yang — part of the act, and that's at the protection of personal information. I touched on it briefly that, with consent, they will be able to share information, but that will be judiciously guarded and can only be used for the intent of the service to which the citizen applies.
She does say this: "Strike a workable balance between the government's operational needs to share data for the purposes of integrated service delivery with appropriate oversight by the Information and Privacy Commissioner." So she will oversee how that information is shared and how that will work and "the new information-sharing code of practice and new regulations for data linking as well as other matters to be prescribed in regulation."
It's the intent of the Privacy Commissioner to have a prominent role in that, and I think that's exactly as it should be — that someone outside these chambers, with an independent view on the concerns of privacy, monitor that very, very closely.
I think her letter to us clearly expressed her enthusiasm for it. I think we certainly have good faith in her ability to carry out her mandate.
The member opposite said that the devil is in the details. Well, that may be true, and that is why we have added strong new oversight powers for the Information and Privacy Commissioner. The commissioner has the authority to review and comment up front, before programs are designed, to ensure that we are operating with a high level of privacy awareness.
Again, I credit the members of the committee, both sides, who recognized that as we develop case management systems, new integrated computer systems, that we have to look up front, before the systems are designed, with an eye to make sure that we don't inadvertently leave back doors or side doors that someone could come in and access information — that information is still secure, that the individual's information will be kept private and confidential.
Not to say that the old system was good. I mean, there was nothing particularly safe about paper records. We all know that. They can be put in boxes and moved, as unfortunately happened. Electronically you can keep your information much more secure than you can with paper that people can walk in a file. My friend was mentioning his doctor's office. If someone walked in, they could probably walk in, without question, say "I'm a doctor," and pull a file out at random and get information. Electronically it can be designed with security in mind so that it can be much more airtight.
These are many of the issues that I wanted to bring forward. The Privacy Commissioner also indicates that the proposed mandatory requirements for privacy impact assessments and prior notice of integrated program and data-link initiatives are critical to ensure privacy risks are identified and properly addressed.
I'm very happy to say that we've got a new Privacy Commissioner, that she's very alert to these concerns and that the privacy impact assessments must be done before programs are developed to make sure that the integrity of the information is maintained and that integrated programs and data-link initiatives are critical to ensure privacy risks are identified and properly addressed before new systems are put in place.
There's no question that we're entering a new era. Being last in that information openness is not good. This province wants to be first. It will be first. I salute that the Premier's taken a lead, and establishing the cabinet
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committee of open government sends a strong statement that we want government to be open to the people, and we want to be interactive with the people. There's no other way to operate.
I'm very reassured by the enthusiasm, really, that I've seen from the Privacy Commissioner that she embraces this, that we must make routine things open to the public, but at the same time, we must be very careful to protect the privacy and integrity of individual information. We have given her a strong oversight role in doing that.
Wait? Wait for what? Wait for more demands? The 118 people we heard from, and many more, said: "Give us the information now. Make government open." We're doing that. They also wanted better service, and we're doing that by integrating and linking information with consent.
This is going to greatly affect — and save money — how we deliver services of the government. It's a huge improvement, and 22 of the 35 recommendations are adopted. That's a significant accomplishment. We must move forward with this. Certainly, the regulations will give teeth to the implementation of this, but they will follow the guidelines and principles set up in the act. The Privacy Commissioner will do that.
In conclusion, I want to add my enthusiastic endorsement of those. So often when you do these reports and chair these committees — I've chaired several — you spend hours and even years doing these things, and they go up in a file somewhere, and nobody ever sees them.
As a former Chair, I'm absolutely delighted to see this hit the light of day. I think "light of day" is an appropriate phrase to use with respect to this act because we're going to make so much information see the light of day.
G. Gentner: I stand up to talk about my objections to Bill 3, the amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, following the Chair of the select standing committee, FOIPPA, the hon. member for Parksville-Qualicum. It was quite an intense time we spent together as a group, hearing different delegations.
The member talks about a new era, and I think with this bill we could be seeing a quite frightful era. As Paul Fraser stated in his submission to the, I suppose, non-partisan select committee reviewing the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act: "Our view is that there is no need to add or amend any of the privacy rules in FIPPA and that they are already sufficiently broad and flexible enough to accommodate integrated service delivery."
So why are we having an amendment act? The technology is changing, but the basic principles of privacy remain. In many ways…. I've been reading this, and I think it should be called, maybe, potentially, the piracy act before that of the privacy act.
I sat on the FOIPPA review committee, and I am shocked — shocked — that the government members over there are sitting on their collective hands. They say they are standing up for freedoms and their liberties and the rights of the individual. But you know what? The examples we're seeing amongst ourselves on both sides of the House are quite dubious, in my estimation. Let me explain. Maybe this might stir some things up, and maybe somebody should take note.
What if I knocked on a constituent's door, that according to the membership list I had in my hand, showed she was a member of the B.C. Liberal Party and also a member of the B.C. NDP? Let's say — hypothetically. What if she persistently denied it, swore up and down that she never joined any political party, Liberal or NDP, and was befuddled that she was on any membership list — not that this would ever happen — never signed any application form — none, nada — and by the tone of her voice and of her reaction, it was very clear that she was quite genuine, that she had not signed a membership in any political party?
Could you imagine? That's identity theft. Could it be — and I say this rhetorically, of course — that I, the member for Delta North, could knock on a door with a B.C. Liberal membership list in my hand? Could that possibly happen? Talk about getting it into the wrong hands. After all, we know what happens. We know it happened in the leadership contest. We had cats voting for a B.C. Liberal candidate, and maybe…. I wish there could have been more cats that could vote. Maybe we'd have a different result.
But the point I'm trying to make is that it was taken sort of as a joke. Well, I don't think it is a joke, how we mess around with party memberships, how we run around with our affairs. You know why? Because that is a testament of how political parties may judge themselves, in the zealousness to create and sign members up. Not protecting the rights of individuals. I don't think it's a laughing matter to run around and say you are signing up a cat. It's identity theft.
You know, how we conduct our party…. I know there are lots of jokes on the other side. But how we look at ourselves and conduct ourselves as a political party reflects on how we'll govern ourselves as a government. Now, this is all hypothetical, of course, because in our political process it's such that we shouldn't be trading memberships as though they're some kind of baseball card. How can we instil that sense of privacy with government?
We talked about some of this stuff, and we're not here to change the Elections Act. Now, I knocked on a constituent's door, and he asked me how it could have been that he received a political newspaper from a political party that identified him as a member of that
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political party. This actually happened. Well, he claims he never joined that party. He never signed.
His rights were violated. He believes his identity has been seen as something that it really isn't. He feels he's on a list, and he knew not what to do about it.
In politics, success is built on lists. And you know what? With e-government and the way we're going, who knows how those lists will be traded?
We talk about misidentification, misrepresentation, through the social media. We just had a case this weekend. I'm sure you are well aware. Last week Mr. Garnet Ford on Facebook — he's identified — claiming that he was the one involved in stabbing someone by the name of Jamie Kehoe. His picture went viral, and his name went viral, and his privacy and identity were misappropriated. Consequently, he lost his job.
The power of social media and now the weakening of privacy through a bill that I believe encourages unchecked data sharing and data linking amongst all public bodies.
Now, I went back this weekend, and I decided to do something I really haven't done for a long time. I went to my library and picked up the old…. I reread George Orwell's 1984. I know you're going to be cynical on that, but you know, it was quite an interesting read — to go back to what I had read, I guess, 30 or 35 years ago. The truism that was coming out back then is applicable here today.
I want to read something here from Orwell.
"It was terribly dangerous to let our thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself, anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality or having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face…was itself a punishable offence. There was even a word for it in newspeak — face crime."
Face crime. Facebook. Book 1, chapter 5, George Orwell, 1984. Thank God Mr. Ford got his job back.
Recently I had a constituent complaining to me about a false entry into a criminal records check that prevented him from employment. He was never charged with any offence, but the subjective entry on the form suggested he had been involved in an incident. A clean record, but a little tick in the wrong box, and his life is destroyed. Is this the future? Hour upon hour — and in my office it's day after day — we're trying to correct it, but he's been tagged.
We can talk later about the health sector. The member from Nanaimo had mentioned about e-health and where we're going. I think we better look out. We better look out where we're going with that one.
Elizabeth Denham, the commissioner of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act, said:
"I'm concerned that new data-linking rules do not apply to the health sector. We recognize the unique needs within the sector, but rules for linking personal health information are needed, perhaps in stand-alone health information legislation. During further consultation with government, I will push for the highest standards of health privacy and will report publicly on our progress."
That's all well and good, but we're putting the cart ahead of the horse. I think that maybe there's a little bit too much of blind trust to the Ministry of Citizens' Services and Open Government — or, as Orwell would call it, Big Brother, the party and the ministry of truth.
This is what the Premier said about the use of private data: "Government's data is the people's data, and making that data available, using open standards, unlocks enormous potential for private sector innovation." Vancouver Sun, January 2011.
Wow. Look out. The ministry of truth, pervasive government through surveillance, incessant public mind control — these are words you can take lightly. You can laugh about it. Secret surveillance and manipulation of the past in service to a totalitarian political agenda. You can say: "It's not going to happen here." Public mind control. We know the Premier's portal already failed, and we know the propaganda machine is well and alive in the bureau.
Interesting how it is that when you get to the Legislative Assembly's website and you move to the government's link, the "back to the legislative home page" is somehow disabled. You're stuck there. You can't get back. Manipulation. Manipulation of the past and service to totalitarian political agenda.
Now, we have the revisionists, who are very active these days in the bureau, talking about B.C. Rail — it didn't happen — the HST. We see the rewards for it — the Ken Dobells and the Gordon Campbells of the world who are recipients of the Order of B.C. That's all revisionist. It's all changing the history.
This bill is, in sorts, about Big Brother. It's about identity management that you will lose control over. The government will control your entity. But worse, it will allow the politicization of private information through its own public relations and communication management systems and consultants. That's the potential.
E-government is also about the invasion of privacy. So convenient, isn't it? The technology is changing. It's taking us somewhere else. But the basic rights of privacy have got to remain. In British Columbia we recognize that privacy in this party, this side of the House, is both a right and a value. Privacy is the ability of any individual group to seclude themselves or information about themselves, and thereby reveal themselves selectively. That's their right.
Now, I agree there is need for aggregate research, but only insofar as it does not invade the privacy of the individual. Increased contact between government and citizens goes both ways, though. Once e-government begins to develop and become more sophisticated, citizens will be forced to interact electronically with the
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government on a larger scale. This could potentially lead to a lack of privacy for citizens as their government obtains more and more information on them. In a worst-case scenario, with so much information being passed electronically between government and citizens, a repressive-like system will develop. It's the nature of the beast.
Like my friend Mr. Ford or my constituent who has been improperly filed as a criminal or the communication snow job of, shall we say, the cyberbullying that's going on now by the B.C. Liberal Party website, I don't think authoritarian governments are confined in a certain political geography. When the government has easy access to countless information on citizens, personal privacy is lost.
Privacy differs according to cultural norms. The degree to which private information is exposed therefore depends on how the government will receive this information, which differs between places and over time. Our privacy culture depends on the never-ending change in technology. Who would ever have thought 20 years ago what was meant by saying, "Let's google it" or "Let's go phishing or hacking" or a third-party picture on Facebook that can suddenly destroy you?
Privacy partially intersects security, including, for instance, the concept of appropriate use as well as protection of information — appropriate use. That's subjective. That's scary. There's the nub of it, I think — appropriate use.
AT&T was sued for its role in aiding U.S. government surveillance a couple of years ago. Border crossings. We are now dealing with the Homeland Security Act, on Stateside, and the hypersecurity. What information will actually be in your driver's licence or your health card? And what's next? If you're tagged, what's next?
Now, Paul Fraser, commissioner of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, when he was such, spoke to the special parliamentary committee regarding the importance of privacy, and his words should be taken very seriously: "Personal privacy is part of every citizen in British Columbia's DNA. It's as important as free speech, as the presumption of innocence, as the right of equality, as the right to a fair trial. All that has become trite because of the usage over the years, but it's something that we should not lose sight of in terms of coming to defend and recommend the changes to the legislation which enshrines those principles."
He mentioned appropriate use of personal information. "But that must be trumped on what is reasonable and the right for a citizen to control his or her personal information over the collection of and disclosure of his or her personal information. The question is: will the government or its entrusted contractor manage your information in a way that safeguards your privacy and lessens the chances of falling into the wrong hands?"
My God, could you imagine, hon. Speaker, if an NDP MLA knocked on the door with a B.C. Liberal Party list? It could happen. B.C.'s new high-tech CareCards and combined CareCard–drivers' licences — this is a problem. This is the heart of the matter. Government will be able to control or be able to use electronic health records, age verification, proof of residency, driver's licence details, electronic coding and even, perhaps, school registration for kids. I mean, where are we really heading here?
"Determining the link between data breaches and identity theft is challenging, primarily because identity theft victims often" — this is Mr. Fraser here — "do not know how their personal information was obtained." Identity theft is detectable by the individual victims, according to a report done by the Federal Trade Commission. It should be detectible. This is in the U.S.
Identity fraud is often but not necessarily the consequence of identity theft. Someone can steal or misappropriate personal information without then committing identity theft using the information about every person, such as when a major data breach occurs. A U.S. Government Accountability Office study determined: "Most breaches have not resulted in detected incidents of identity theft." The report also warned: "The full extent is still unknown."
Now, we seem to have this arrogance here, this culture here, like we saw with the government opposite with the HST — you know, not really listening to the middle class. We're seeing a reaction today in the streets of Vancouver, throughout the world, to the arrogance of the elite that seems to know better, and we seem to see that same culture here today. We're jeopardizing privacy while, I believe, freedom of public information has been hidden. We can go back to 2005 — the B.C. Systems Corporation dismantled. It was in control of the data. We had a chance, but we destroyed it because of ideology across the way that corporate greed is better than....
"The people's data opens enormous opportunity for the private sector." That's what the Premier says.
TELUS is now in control, and we're going to see more concentration. Information is now put into silos, presented to this private sector. Regarding data, we aren't handing over just the car but the whole highway, and where that information goes, nobody knows.
Either the government information…. It should be shared, but in consideration we also know that the government will delete, delete, delete its information, while not necessarily protecting your privacy. Privacy, I think, by government, by any government, can very quickly become a commodity. Shared services, and the government cannot control where it goes. Accumulations of all kinds of data — we don't know where it's going to go.
Now, I have not worked with the company since the first milestone was successfully achieved, but I do know that there are members who have seen B.C. Systems
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when it was dismantled. The start-up company continued as PureEdge, until IBM purchased it in 2005. The company was then known as IBM Workplace Forms. Then we know what happened, of course: the litigation delay of the IBM contracts, the dispute around IBM's contract with the B.C. government pertaining to "the nuts and bolts of the unprecedented contracting out of core services to a large corporation" which occurred during the B.C. Liberals' first term.
I'm not going to get into the mechanics of it, but FIPA applied to view the more-than-600-page contract signed by IBM, well worth a billion dollars. IBM complained about the potential release, and the government then refused to release records. We're talking about data and how it's being controlled, and we do not have access. It's scary. And now what's the agenda? In 2020 — and this is worldwide — IBM, through government interactions, will require "perpetual collaboration" across all transnational agencies, societies, governments and consultations. Shared information will be shared, borderless. IBM's agenda is to meet that objective by 2020.
Expedience has conveniently trumped privacy — information that's not properly managed. So how does that portend to the future?
My colleague from Nanaimo mentioned that, basically, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But now I think it's going to get a lot worse.
Does this bill limit public servants or the private sector collecting information which is necessary for a given program or activity? No. Deliberation of our personal data will go unchecked. The current faux pas is generally, I think, too generous. But more harm is on the way.
I want to continue to quote Mr. Paul Fraser, who was acting commissioner at the time:
"In the past three years we have investigated, for example, 248 breach reports in both the public and private sector combined. Our most recent investigation report related to the theft of personal information of 1,400" — 1,400 — "of B.C.'s most vulnerable citizens…. Our findings in that case were consistent with many of the breaches that we have investigated in the last three years.
"First, government ministries never noticed that the database reports containing the personal information of these 1,400 citizens was even missing. The RCMP had to advise government that they'd found the reports in an employee's possession."
Now we are in a process to weaken personal privacy protection, our freedoms, our rights, and we have a Premier that says the opportunities are for the private sector.
Twenty-six government employees were aware of the breach, although the majority failed to recognize the situation as a privacy breach, and it took seven months — seven months — for the government to notify individuals affected by the breach. When notification occurred, the letters were sent to the wrong addresses, resulting in further inappropriate disclosure of personal information.
I quote Mr. Fraser again. "We concluded that the results of the investigation illustrated that the government had not yet established what we call a culture of privacy."
Culture of privacy. Do you really think that this government or any government will beef up training and security for privacy while it's constantly cutting programs today? A stroke of a pen? A financial so-called expert, trying to find the bottom line? Do you really think this government gives a real hoot about the majority of people?
As Mr. Fraser said, culture of privacy is not "just a buzz word. It's a real expression of concern. We recommended this become a goal of government. In order to achieve that goal, the government must demonstrate that privacy is distinct from, and as important as, other security concerns."
I think this bill flies in the face of securing that culture of privacy. Such an opportunity occurred in 2004 to get it right. It was chaired by the Liberal member from the South Peace, now a cabinet minister, who actually once sat over here. Against the arrogance of the culture of the HST, he removed himself from his caucus. But like the rest of the other side, today he's also sitting on his hands.
We know in 2004 what happened. It was flagged. There were real problems, but the government then didn't listen. In the area of e-health, the investigation occurred into the lack of protection with the e-health system that was derived by the Vancouver Coastal Health. Then the issue of the privacy that the commissioner's office determined was eroded because of the large number and serious nature of the deficiencies in the security.
He says: "We are actually unable to publicly report in any detail the nature of those deficiencies." There was no attempt to investigate it. There was no real culture of privacy then. There is not today, and there will not be after this bill has passed.
We must hold our standards the highest in the land if we truly respect our citizens. I don't agree with any government — a government this side, a government that side, any government — that says: "Trust me with your data."
Fraser went on to say:
"The examples of the e-health and the example with respect to 1,400 patients illustrate that in our experience public bodies in British Columbia have not learned how to build privacy into their projects. Understandably, they have service delivery goals that they wish to meet. Unfortunately, expediency has consistently trumped privacy, and it puts the privacy of British Columbians at some, I'm bound to say, significant risk."
Mr. Fraser started his legal career primarily for that, relative to the protection of the individual. He spent a career building that reputation. Are we just suddenly disregarding his concerns? Until we enshrine a culture of privacy in British Columbia, expedience — I repeat this — will always trump the primary privacy concerns that are at the centre of all that we do in terms of protecting the privacy of citizens in this province.
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Expediency means so many things. It also means outsourcing. It means outsourcing the protection of your liberties, your rights and your privacy. We saw what happened with Accenture. Remember when it first came here? We were discussing something called Maximus, a Virginia-based company that handles the MSP and PharmaCare services. We had a public policy collective agreement basically torn up.
We also know there's EDS collections, also known as provincial or B.C. revenue services to the Ministry of Finance; TSSI, a TELUS subsidiary that does the payroll; ISM workstation group of Victoria that does management services, desktop standardization technology, Ministry of Labour, Citizens' Services. We know the disaster of duties recovery through Solicitor General.
All of these things…. In every element of government, the data is no longer at our disposal. Now, the government can cut staff significantly before turning MSP systems and operations to Maximus, so that today, when people compare how bad delivery was before or how it was as bad as compared to today, the services that were cut first in order to accommodate the private company, we will never be able to fully do that comparison. Yes, the data has been leaving, but our ability to do the proper freedom-of-information checks on these privatized companies in control of our data is lost.
We're looking at alternative services — land titles B.C., B.C. consumer practices, Oil and Gas Commission, B.C. Ambulance, the BCLCB back then. With private contracts for information-gathering and data storage, how can we access what a breach of performance is?
The freedom of information cannot be given out, because of protection of business interests. We have seen that through the P3 projects. We don't have a handle on what the performance is. It's none of our business anymore, because we are protecting the interests of the contract.
Now, the government fined Maximus for breach of performance, which may very well have been data but was reluctant to release how much. After all, it has also become now just part of doing business. With sophisticated electronic systems to collect, share, store and analyze, our information should be available. Our digital cells — it's a good word, isn't it? — will be available. Bill 3 opens us up to violation after violation after violation.
Digital profile is a new world order, an order whereby personal information stored on data, however false, can be stored in the so-called name of national security enforcement in the States or here in Canada. We have no control over that.
As my time begins to wind down, hon. Speaker, let me put it to you this way. I quote Mr. Fraser:
"The concept is known by many as data sharing. By data sharing, I mean the programmatic or planned disclosure of personal information by one government agency to another, by one government to another government or by a government to a private sector organization. These disclosures might be one-way, two-way or multifaceted. They may be one-off disclosures or regular planned exchanges of data. Data sharing is likely to occur between or among network or connecting databases."
How will citizens even know where their information is or what has been done to it? Answers to those questions must be found. Those answers have got to be found before we pass this bill.
C. Hansen: I believe, in terms of Bill 3, that we have to make sure that we fundamentally protect individuals' privacy of information and data. I think that computer technologies, as we've seen them evolve over the last number of decades, actually help us do that.
I can remember, going to the late 1990s when I was a Health critic, going in to visit hospitals where you see the banks and banks full of file folders with the little colour codes down the sides of them. There was no data protection there. We actually have better data protection today and privacy protection because of the computer technologies that we can engage in. But let's never let up our guard in terms of the protection of personal privacy and data.
I think we always have to make sure that we are leading the best standards that are available, and we have to make sure that our citizens have their privacy protected to the fullest extent, because I think they deserve that. But what I want to talk about today is how we're not using our data enough and how we are not empowering individuals to access their own data about their own information so that they can make personal choices and personal decisions.
About six weeks ago I went in for my biannual checkup at my family doctor, and she ordered the usual blood tests for me. I went off to the LifeLabs facility on Broadway in Vancouver to have this done — first time I've had to have blood work done in two years. But there was something different this time.
I was given a little card, and it said that if I was interested in going on line and looking at the results of my blood tests, I could get the little code. When the technician was there drawing the blood, with all of the little data strips that she puts on those samples so that they can be properly protected and properly traced back to me and provided to my doctor, she also provided me with one of those little stickers with a little access code on it that only I would have and only I could access, going in and using my personal health number.
This was a Friday that I went in and got the blood work done. I went in on Sunday morning, just out of curiosity, on my computer at home, and I went through the whole procedure to log in with all of the various privacy protections that were there. I logged in this magic little code that they had given me. It had also said that I had two weeks to do it. If I didn't exercise it within two weeks, I wouldn't get access to it.
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Well, I was quite fascinated. In the bottom of a drawer in my bedroom at home I had some of the blood tests I had done ten years ago. So I was able to pull some of those out and, there on the screen, compare what the results were ten years ago to what they were today. It was actually pretty good news.
I get the phone call from my family doctor a few days later, and she leaves a message for me on my voice mail, basically saying what I already knew because I had gone on line and found this.
What I think is interesting about that is that it gave me the information. It empowered me, as a citizen and a consumer, with information. I could make judgments and decisions about my own health care and my own future based on the information that I could access.
I want to jump back a few years to something that happened in our family. I think it was 1998. My father, who has since passed away, was travelling from the Comox Valley down to Victoria to see a cardiologist. Actually, interestingly, five years later, after we had been in government for a couple of years, he wouldn't have had to travel that far because he could have got access to the same cardiology service in Nanaimo and, even more recently, in the Comox Valley itself.
What happened is that Mom and Dad were driving down. They got as far as Duncan, and he remembered something. He forgot the list of all of the medications that he was taking, and unfortunately, he was on a few medications. So they had to pull over and find a pay phone, and they phoned my sister. My sister got in the car and went over to Mom and Dad's house. Sure enough, right where Dad said it was, in the third drawer down in his dresser was a yellow sheet where he had meticulously copied down the names of all of the medications that he was taking.
Well, you know what? Even in 1998 that was available through information technology. I'll give the NDP government of the day credit for introducing PharmaNet. It's one of the best collections of health data anywhere in the world, actually, because as a result of the PharmaNet data, we have in a database every prescription that has ever been filled in British Columbia.
It was about ten years ago, while I was Health Minister, that we provided access to the PharmaNet data for family doctors. That cardiologist today would be able to pull up that list of medications for any one of his patients that comes in.
The same thing is true for emergency rooms. If I'm in a car accident, no matter where I am in the province, if I get taken into an emergency room, they can pull up all that data about what medications I might be taking. It is a goldmine of information.
Why shouldn't I have access to that — in a way that's secure, obviously? Why can't I have access to it? My doctor can. The emergency room doctor in the hospital can do that. My pharmacist can pull it up. Why can't I pull it up? Why can't I get access to my own health information so that I can properly manage that thing?
You know, I remember.... Again, it was probably about 1998. I was the opposition Health critic, and I met with a company that had its headquarters in the Lower Mainland. They were developing a system whereby individuals could get access to their data about their health.
It wasn't a big repository. What this was, was a portal so that I go in and voluntarily subscribe to this service. Then if I wanted to get access, say, to my vaccination records, it would get them and pull it for my use. They don't store any of that data, by this company.
If I want to get access to, say, MSP data about myself, my own records, it could do that and retrieve it. I could enter other things in it for my own records, and I could, if I wanted to, pull it up and share with my family doctor. It would be password-protected but, again, giving me access to it.
Well, I guess you could say…. I was Health Minister for just shy of four years altogether, and getting access like that didn't happen. This particular company — at the time they had already landed their biggest client. Here was a Vancouver-based company, Vancouver software technology. Their biggest client was Kaiser Permanente in California, with eight million subscribers.
I would bet today that in California individual citizens have better access to their health data and their health information than we do in British Columbia because of software that was developed right here in British Columbia.
I was intrigued with this model. It was something that when I was Health Minister I raised with the Privacy Commissioner of the day. He said that as long as it's initiated by me, then it is not a problem. It's not a privacy concern if I initiate the action and it's done in a way nobody else can access, without my permission, that particular information.
Yet I found so often, in the time I spent as Health Minister, that whenever you raised anything about the use of data, there was sort of an initial knee-jerk reaction. "Can't do that. You're going to violate somebody's privacy."
Actually, no, that's not the case. It's about how the information is accessed, and it's about making sure that privacy is protected. We have those safeguards in British Columbia, and Bill 3 today enhances those safeguards even further as we go forward.
I think one of the problems is that so many people, without going and talking to the Privacy Commissioner, just take that knee-jerk reaction — "Nope, can't do that because of privacy concerns" — when in fact we should be actually facilitating better access.
The other side of data that I think is interesting to watch is around the development of electronic health records in Canada. To date we have committed, as governments
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across Canada, something like $1.6 billion towards the development of electronic health records.
As I was thinking about this in the context of Bill 3, thinking back over these last many years with the development of electronic health records, I bet you that history will show that hundreds of millions of dollars are wasted.
I think one of the big mistakes that is being made in Canada today around the development of electronic health records is that it's being developed as a top-down approach. It's actually being developed to provide information to government officials. It's being developed to provide information for doctors. It's not being developed to provide information for citizens.
I think when you look at what happened, for example, in the banking industry, where it was consumer-driven…. Today, with my bank, I can go on line and move money between accounts. I can pay my bills. I can take out a new mortgage, if I wanted to, on line. There are all kinds of things I can do on line. Quite frankly, if my bank didn't offer that service today, I'd switch banks.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Yet when it comes to our data that government holds, we actually say: "No, can't do that." I think the opposite approach should be…. We should be facilitating that so that individual citizens have better access.
I have a lot more to go through. I do want to talk also about how not only do we have an opportunity to use data more in British Columbia, but I actually think we have an obligation to, and it's because of the fact that we have some of the best health records anywhere in the world.
Now, we are the only jurisdiction in North America that has the PharmaNet data that I talked about earlier — a listing of every single prescription ever issued for 100 percent of the population. That's a phenomenal set of information. When you link that through ways that strip out identifiers…. Nobody can be identified as to that being their personal information, once all the identifiers are stripped out. That's through the linked data sets that are talked about in Bill 3.
Through those linked data sets, where you actually take the PharmaNet data and you match it up with the MSP data…. It's a wealth of information. There are mysteries in health care that could be solved that nobody has even thought about today.
Mr. Speaker, when we reconvene on this bill, I do want to talk more about that opportunity that exists for British Columbia — for us to be part of solving some of the medical mysteries of the world using the data that we have in British Columbia but using it in a way that provides 100 percent privacy protection for individual citizens, in accordance with legislation.
C. Hansen moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. T. Lake moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 6:22 p.m.
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