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
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Volume 30, Number 5
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Orders of the Day
Government Motions on Notice
Motion 27 — Committee of Supply to sit in two sections
Hon. R. Coleman
Budget Debate (continued)
Hon. N. Yamamoto
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2012
The House met at 10:02 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Orders of the Day
Government Motions on Notice
MOTION 27 — COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY
TO SIT IN TWO SECTIONS
Hon. R. Coleman: Given that, as the schedule works out, the budget vote will take place on Thursday at noon and in the afternoon we will go into debate on the estimates, I move the motion standing in my name on the order paper for moving into Section A.
[Be it resolved that this House hereby authorizes the Committee of Supply for this Session to sit in two sections designated Section A and Section B; Section A to sit in such Committee Room as may be appointed from time to time, and Section B to sit in the Chamber of the Assembly, subject to the following rules:
1. The Standing Orders applicable to the Committee of the Whole House shall be applicable in both Sections of the Committee of Supply save and except that in Section A, a Minister may defer to a Deputy Minister to permit such Deputy to reply to a question put to the Minister.
2. All Estimates shall stand referred to Section A, save and except those Estimates as shall be referred to Section B on motion without notice by the Government House Leader, which motion shall be decided without amendment or debate and be governed by Practice Recommendation #6 relating to Consultation.
3. Section A shall consist of 17 Members, being 10 Members of the B.C. Liberal Party and 6 Members of the New Democratic Party and one Independent. In addition, the Deputy Chair of the Committee of the Whole, or his or her nominee, shall preside over the debates in Section A. Substitution of Members will be permitted to Section A with the consent of that Member’s Whip, where applicable, otherwise with the consent of the Member involved. For the fourth session of the Thirty-ninth Parliament, the Members of Section A shall be as follows: the Minister whose Estimates are under consideration and, Bill Bennett, Marc Dalton, Dave Hayer, Richard Lee, Norm Letnick, Pat Pimm, John Rustad, Donna Barnett and Jane Thornthwaite, and John Horgan, Shane Simpson, Harry Lali, Mable Elmore, Michelle Mungall and Sue Hammell, and Vicki Huntington.
4. At fifteen minutes prior to the ordinary time fixed for adjournment of the House, the Chair of Section A will report to the House. In the event such report includes the last vote in a particular ministerial Estimate, after such report has been made to the House, the Government shall have a maximum of eight minutes, and the Official Opposition a maximum of five minutes, and all other Members (cumulatively) a maximum of three minutes to summarize the Committee debate on a particular ministerial Estimate completed, such summaries to be in the following order:
(1) Other Members;
(2) Opposition; and
5. Section B shall be composed of all Members of the House.
6. Divisions in Section A will be signalled by the ringing of the division bells four times.
7. Divisions in Section B will be signalled by the ringing of the division bells three times at which time proceedings in Section A will be suspended until completion of the division in Section B.
8. Section A is hereby authorized to consider Bills referred to Committee after second reading thereof and the Standing Orders applicable to Bills in Committee of the Whole shall be applicable to such Bills during consideration thereof in Section A, and for all purposes Section A shall be deemed to be a Committee of the Whole. Such referrals to Section A shall be made upon motion without notice by the Minister responsible for the Bill, and such motion shall be decided without amendment or debate. Practice Recommendation #6 relating to Consultation shall be applicable to all such referrals.
9. Bills or Estimates previously referred to a designated Committee may at any stage be subsequently referred to another designated Committee on motion of the Government House Leader or Minister responsible for the Bill as hereinbefore provided by Rule Nos. 2 and 8.]
Hon. R. Coleman: I call continued budget debate.
D. Thorne: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to thank you for this opportunity to respond to the 2012 budget speech. As always, it's a great privilege to stand here today — well, to stand here anytime really — and represent the residents of Coquitlam-Maillardville.
[D. Black in the chair.]
Unfortunately, if any of my constituents were looking forward to this budget to address some of the real issues facing British Columbians right now, they would be disappointed. There is nothing in this budget to assist working families or students. The Liberals have had 11 years in government, and for 11 years they have turned a deaf ear to the concerns of hard-working British Columbians.
Where is the commitment to protecting vulnerable children, to helping those who are out of work and need real jobs with a living wage, or families who need safe and affordable housing? Where is the commitment to improved access to post-secondary education and training programs and support for our beleaguered health care system?
The environment is once again ignored. Arts and culture continue to be left behind in this budget, and I see nothing that addresses child poverty. It's one thing to say families first. It's another thing to actually put children and families first. In fact, the Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, calls this budget harsh, callous and a U-turn from the families-first agenda. "This will hurt people who are poor or vulnerable," she said. "It's a very harsh and punishing budget."
B.C. has a poverty rate of more than 12 percent. A third of food bank users are children, not surprising when you consider that this province has had the worst record of child poverty of any province for eight consecutive years, 2002-2009 — incidentally, what has been called the golden decade. I think it's the golden decade of broken promises, corporate tax cuts, mismanaged pet projects with huge cost overruns and dismantling of public services.
A common theme with this government appears to be talking about putting vulnerable people first but not actually doing it. Instead of providing the supports needed for children at risk, for people with disabilities and for seniors, this government has systematically dismantled our social programs. This government has managed to introduce a budget now in 2012 that ignores far more pressing issues than it actually addresses.
The Minister of Finance talks a lot about prudence and fiscal discipline but doesn't like to talk about the $2.2 billion in debt his government has piled onto B.C. Hydro. Of course, that's on top of billions of dollars in contractual obligations for P3 projects that this province is now burdened with.
Where was this prudence and discipline when this government paid $6 million in legal fees for two government aides in the B.C. Rail scandal or the $30 million payout to Boss Power because this government broke the law? How about the $1 billion to install the fiercely opposed smart meters or the more than $5 million for pro-HST advertising?
This leads one to question this government's spending priorities. This government has budgeted $15 million for jobs plan advertising, and even more money for promoting British Columbia in Europe and Asia. I thought that was the goal of the Olympics, Madam Speaker.
On the subject of priorities, I'd like to talk a little bit about health care, which is almost everybody's main concern — certainly my constituents. For the fourth year in a row this budget contains yet another hike in MSP premiums — this time 4 percent. In 2013 families will be paying an additional $732 per year than they did in 2001. That's an 85 percent increase. Individuals will pay another $366 per year. Under this government, their MSP premiums have more than doubled in the last 11 years.
Meanwhile, my constituents continue to be worried about whether a trip to the emergency room will end up with a detour through the nearest Tim Hortons or if they'll end up behind a privacy screen in the Royal Columbian Hospital lobby. On a Tuesday night in early January patients who arrived at RCH by ambulance did find themselves in the hospital lobby. The emergency department and the overcapacity area adjacent to emergency were full, and five stretcher patients brought in by B.C. Ambulance had to be treated behind privacy screens in the hospital lobby. I guess that's a bit of an improvement over last year when overflow patients did find themselves in the Tim Hortons dining area.
Hospital officials report that emergency visits are up over 6 percent from last year. No surprises there, as winter means more flu cases, more falls and more car accidents. But I have to ask: doesn't this happen every year? How can this come as a surprise to Fraser Health? Let's see. We've used the Tim Hortons and now the hospital lobby. I guess next year we'll be looking for patients in the parking lot.
It's only a matter of time before the next crisis in the emergency department at this busy hospital, and I and my constituents see nothing in this budget to address this overcrowding at RCH. I'm also wondering what has happened to the plans for the expansion of the hospital. Fraser Health has submitted a concept design and is waiting for approval from the province. The Health Ministry says, "Oh, money is tight," and it needs to weigh the RCH expansion against other capital priorities.
RCH is this region's tertiary care centre — one of only two, I think, in the province — and it sees an average of 70 to 100 emergency patients every day. The overcrowding at RCH is now an everyday occurrence. One of the reasons that seniors need long-term-care beds and support services that will help them stay in their own homes is that overcrowding and the fact that they are taking up beds in the hospital.
Initially, the Fraser Health Authority had the most seniors of any region in British Columbia. When these options aren't available because funding has been slashed or never materialized in the first place, the only option for seniors and for other emergency patients is the emergency ward. Again, I cite the lack of planning and the setting of priorities.
Not quite a year ago when I was doing my budget response in 2011, I pointed out that Eagle Ridge Hospital was built with great fanfare in Port Moody to accommodate 200 beds, especially for the Tri-Cities, but has never reached that goal. Folks in the Tri-Cities, some of whom are my constituents, want to know how, with 215,000 residents and expected to grow to 290,000 by 2020 — only eight years away — this area continues to lack maternity facilities, as well, at this hospital. I wonder the same thing, and I note this budget does not address this very real need. No mention at all of this.
The Fraser Health Authority has stated it will be identifying "preventative strategies" to keep people who don't need to be there out of hospitals, which is of course the most expensive form of health care. Fraser Health is looking at a shortage of more than 1,000 acute beds in the next eight years. Their plan is to improve access to home-based and residential care along with support for community-based physicians to treat patients with chronic illness.
Madam Speaker, I'm sure you, as well as other people in the House, remember the protests when Fraser Health
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cancelled the Chimo Achievement Centre funding for therapeutic day programs for adults with physical disabilities — a program that did exactly what Fraser Health now says it must do. This well-respected program with an annual budget of only $160,000 was slashed despite warnings from the men and women who use it, their families and the program staff that there would be increased hospital time as a result.
This government claimed it was all about the bottom line, but as far as I know, the health authority has never released any value-for-money evaluation for the closure of the Chimo Centre. So how do we know that we're not spending ten times more money, as I suspect we are? I have heard anecdotal comments from some of the ex-clients of the Chimo program about the time they're spending now in the emergency ward and in hospital for different problems that they're having.
I would like, for one, to see some kind of value sheet on what money has been saved by closing Chimo. I suspect we've saved nothing, and it has cost us a lot. We need more attention to priorities and less rhetoric as we move forward with health care planning.
Talking about seniors taking up beds in the hospital, Ombudsperson Kim Carter has released a scathing 400-page report on her office's three-year — three year, Madam Speaker — investigation into seniors care. The report has come up with 143 findings and 176 recommendations to fix the problems created by the current Liberal government. You wouldn't know anything about it by reading this budget.
The Liberals have been in charge of this system for 11 years. Over this period of time they have made sweeping changes and deep cuts and, as a result, have completely failed to protect seniors, the largest growing number of people in our province — especially, obviously, as I said a few minutes ago, in the Fraser Health region.
It seems this government's approach to caring for seniors has been to cut home support services, to increase MSP, to reduce or cut subsidies, to implement convalescent fees and to cut funding to important social services within our community.
If you remember when the Ombudsperson first started her investigation, she said the response to her was unprecedented. Her office received more than 600 responses to an on-line questionnaire, spoke to over 300 people on the phone and opened more than 200 individual complaint files. This to me indicates that people are upset about the treatment seniors are receiving here in British Columbia. They want something done about it, and they want it done now. Unfortunately, there's nothing contained in the budget that would indicate that's going to happen.
Earlier this month the Minister of Health made a commitment to appoint a seniors advocate. The opposition has been advocating for a seniors representative since 2007. The government has the opportunity to act now. My colleague from Kootenay West reintroduced a bill last fall to bring in a representative for seniors. Twice we have tried to get second reading on that bill here in the House, and twice the government has turned us down, voted against it. They obviously prefer to delay or not act at all on the seniors representative. One wonders what is going on with that.
What's worse is that the Ombudsperson's office even gave this government a head start by releasing their report before they released it to the general public. In fact, this government has yet to act on recommendations contained in the Ombudsperson's first report, which was released back in 2009, three years ago. They still have not done all of the recommendations. They've kind of played around the edges of that.
It doesn't make me or the members of this House — certainly, the members sitting on this side — feel very hopeful. My constituents are worried sick about it. I have a lot of seniors in my riding, and I hear a lot from them about this issue.
I'd just like to speak for a moment, when I'm talking about health, about my concerns and of many thousands and thousands of people about the future of the Riverview lands, which is in my riding of Coquitlam-Maillardville. I have in the past, a couple of years ago, tabled a petition with about 14,000 names of people who are very, very concerned about the future of these lands. They're concerned that it will be taken out of public ownership.
The Finance Minister now says in this new budget that the government plans to sell some $700 million worth of what he calls non-strategic surplus assets, which include land that is not being used but is owned by government, by health authorities and by school boards. This asset fire sale is a clear indication of how desperate this government is for revenue, and it raises all sorts of red flags.
Imagine you are a school district or a health authority that actually planned ahead and set aside land for future growth. The government swoops in and sells it, and then you have to go cap in hand when the land is needed in the future. That happened to us in Coquitlam before, Madam Speaker, and I'm sure it's probably happened in your riding and in other ridings, but now it's a wholesale fire sale being planned by this government.
If the government is that desperate for revenue, I and many of my constituents and people outside of my riding who have been concerned about Riverview are very afraid that the government may be looking at the Riverview lands. We cannot get a list. We don't know if Riverview is on there, but it is the last largest undeveloped property in greater Vancouver, so the silence is putting fear into the hearts of many people.
This irreplaceable heritage and ecological site has been on the Liberals' radar for years. In 2007 my community was stunned to read in a Vancouver Sun article that the
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government was considering developing the Riverview site for up to 10,000 units of market housing. I well remember the public outcry and then the following ominous silence from this government.
Let me say it again. The Riverview lands must be protected for their botanical and ecological value and be kept in public ownership with enhanced services for mental health and wellness. The site is ideal for centres of research, education, innovation, and heritage, arts and culture endeavours.
These lands are now listed on the heritage registries municipally and provincially, and the city of Coquitlam is working very hard to complete an application for federal status as well. They are having trouble getting the provincial government to sign off on the application, and so far there has been no movement forward on the heritage designation for the federal government.
If we lose the Riverview lands to development, this whole province, not just my riding, will lose part of our heritage and treasured green space. We will never, under any circumstances, be able to get it back. There is nothing like it anywhere else.
I'd like to move on now to talk about the Premier's job plan, which began with great fanfare, a catchy slogan and the layoff of a thousand B.C. Hydro workers. Now, there's a job plan that workers in this province can do without — a thousand layoffs at the same time. That's a unique jobs plan, I would say.
The Premier's plan is to help the private sector and leave the job creation to them. This sounds a lot like the former Premier's plan. Unfortunately, after 11 years of B.C. Liberal tax and regulatory reform, the fundamental issues troubling our province remain the same. There's a saying: "The only real mistakes are the ones from which we learn nothing."
Unfortunately, this budget does nothing to address the shortcomings of the jobs plan — so-called jobs plan. Perhaps if the plan had more detailed measurable targets, my skepticism and that of many others would not run as deep, but this government's track record on saying one thing and doing another speaks for itself.
Now, I'd like to move on and talk about education. I think, next to health, this is the area that most people in the province want to see action on and are very worried about — what this budget contains or, conversely, doesn't contain on this topic.
On the topic of jobs, this budget does not address the skills shortages that we are facing here in B.C., particularly in mining and forestry, which I think ties into the so-called jobs plan very well. In fact, 80 percent of new jobs in B.C. will require some post-secondary education or training. Under this government, the province's apprenticeship program really is a mess, and tuition and student debt for college and university students have skyrocketed. This does not bode well for the future of our workforce. Yet surprisingly, this budget fails to adequately support those seeking post-secondary education or skills training. In the Premier's jobs tour across the province she failed to address the fact that jobs in the new century will require skills that can only be achieved with some form of post-secondary education.
The government's deregulation of tuition fees in 2002 has led to astronomical increases, and for the ninth year in a row tuition in B.C. has increased. Our young people have among the highest student debt levels in Canada, averaging $27,000 — an increase of $10,000 since 2001. Over the years, funding cuts have forced colleges and universities to cut programs and staff, with students unable to get the classes they need. They're also forced to spend more time in school, which adds, of course, to their student debt.
This budget asks our post-secondary institutions to go further and cut even deeper with approximately 3 percent cuts over the next three years. The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators estimates that inflationary cuts since 2001 are approximately 9 percent, which is very frightening if you have children who want to go into the system or if you want to retrain and can't afford to do that. There is no increase to student support services despite repeated calls from students, faculty and administrators.
Currently B.C. provides the least amount of student aid in Canada. With 2.5 percent above-prime loans, the student loan interest rate is also the highest in the country. There is no new funding for skills training, and the Industry Training Authority, known as the ITA, will be cut by 9 percent, or $9.45 million, between 2011 and 2015, reducing the budget from $105 million to $94 million.
Underfunding of apprenticeship and trades training is an ongoing problem with waiting lists that grow longer and longer. I have to wonder who will fill all those new "jobs" that the Premier is talking about if we continue not to offer training in exactly those areas.
I guess we will continue, as we have in the past, to bring in people who, although they need the jobs, are from other countries, poorer countries, to do the work that supposedly we are expanding the jobs plan for — people from British Columbia who don't have jobs at the moment or who are just graduating from school.
You have to wonder if somebody has thought this through. When you look at the budget and look at the jobs plan, there doesn't seem to be a lot of correlation between the two. "Oh, let's have a jobs plan. Let's create a whole pile of new jobs and get everybody in B.C. working, but let's not give them any training so that they can actually do the jobs."
I hope I'm not being sarcastic, but I don't understand that. I can't understand how members on the other side of the House can understand that, if they think about it at all. I'm just wondering how in their minds they think:
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"Oh, what a good idea, but let's kill it before anything happens that's good for the province." You know, I hear some grumbling from the other side, because they obviously think I am being sarcastic or that what I'm saying is not true. Madam Speaker, one only has to look at the budget, look into the skills training and advanced education, and one can see that you don't get training by magic to do the jobs, if the jobs are created.
I beg the pardon of the people on the other side of the House, but I think in their hearts they know I'm right. They either care or don't care, or they don't believe in the jobs plan, either. So we'll see.
Now, looking at education, kindergarten-to-12 education, public education is a huge concern for my constituents, especially since the overall funding increases to education fall below the rate of inflation for 2012. It's problematic on many fronts, but in particular, in response to the Supreme Court ruling that substantial portions of Bills 27 and 28 were unconstitutional — the bills that were, of course, introduced by our Premier, who was the Education Minister at the time.
We have in this budget the establishment of what is being called the learning improvement fund to deal with that court case. We have a commitment of $165 million over three years for special education. Unfortunately, back in 2002 when the legislation was introduced, the budget for special education was cut by $275 million. Again, I hope I'm not being sarcastic, but it seems to me that that isn't — as the courts have said this government had to do — re-establishing the class size and composition that we had nine or ten years ago, when we're not even talking about inflation, when $275 million was cut and ten years later or nine years later $165 million is being put back in.
Something has to suffer. We're not working here with magic. There is no Easter Bunny going to run in with a basket of golden dollars to shore up the systems. The money is not going to be there. Yes, it's a start in the right direction, but only because the court said this government had to do it. They lost the court case. But it still doesn't nearly begin to reach the levels that are needed and that the government said had to be put back in. Once again the families-first rhetoric continues, but once again services for our children take a back seat.
Continuing on the subject of taking money away from schools and ignored in the budget is the Pacific Carbon Trust, which is a Crown agency owned by this province. Schools and public government agencies are required to be carbon-neutral. They must pay $25 per tonne for carbon emissions generated from fuel, energy and paper consumption. These funds go to the Pacific Carbon Trust. However, the payment of offsets goes to profitable corporations like EnCana, Sun Peaks and Intrawest, as three examples. School districts across British Columbia have paid more than $6.3 million for these carbon offsets — money that I believe and this side of the House believes should have stayed in our schools for the benefit of our children.
I've also heard recently from many representatives of public libraries in British Columbia. I, too, am highly suspicious that funding for public libraries has been cut, as the funding has been rolled into the overall education program. Whenever funding is hidden in a new place, I'm very concerned that it has been slashed and that that's why it's been moved and hidden.
Now, moving on to a totally different topic — although, one could say there is a correlation between the justice system and education — I think we're all very aware that our justice system is in a crisis at the moment. Legal experts are speaking out about backlogs in B.C. courtrooms reaching crisis levels. Judicial stays have almost doubled since 2010, which is not that long ago. Yet when you look at this budget, Madam Speaker, you see very little that will solve the growing backlog in the justice system, which is in shambles after years of systemic cuts.
This government closed 60 legal aid offices across B.C., the Vancouver Pretrial Centre, ten jails and 24 courthouses. According to the Premier, the justice system just has to try harder to find efficiencies, and all problems will be solved — that, of course, and yet another review.
I think we have almost as many reviews now in British Columbia being run by this government as we have Liberal MLAs. It's probably around the same number, or we'll be there by the end of the week if any more reviews are called.
This budget does nothing to address the immediate need for more judges, sheriffs and Crown prosecutors, which are desperately needed. Looking ahead to 2013-14, there is no new money for justice services, prosecution services, court services, policing and security programs or victim services and crime prevention.
As well, the new money for Corrections is not sufficient to keep pace with the projected costs of federal crime legislation, and the new money for policing is to cover the one-time federal government funding to hire 168 more police officers to fight organized crime and gang violence.
We have cuts to legal aid. We have hidden taxes. There are supposedly, according to the Premier, no tax increases in the budget. Well, there are many hidden taxes — increases to ICBC, B.C. Hydro, B.C. Ferries, MSP. Those are all tax increases to consumers and to my constituents, which they can ill afford. The only tax we all know about, of course, is the HST, which we now understand will be another 14 to 15 months before it's gone. So consumers know about that tax increase because we're all still paying it. It's very, very hard when you watch the government spending money on superficial things, things that are not necessarily as needed.
Thank you, Madam Speaker, for allowing me to make my comments on the budget. I look forward to any
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changes that might be made.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I am pleased, obviously, to speak here in favour of the budget, which positions B.C. as an even better place to work and raise a family. People often ask us why we do the job we do as MLAs. I think I can speak for both sides of the House when I say that we do this because we care. We care about our communities, and I think members from both sides of the House are genuinely committed to making our communities in B.C. the best we can.
We as MLAs cannot do what we do without the support of our family and our friends and, of course, our wonderful constituency assistants. I'd like to take the time right now to recognize Erin Rennie and Matthew Naylor, who take care of North Vancouver–Lonsdale when I'm away from my riding. Thank you both.
Building a strong economy and creating jobs for families is a key priority for our government. On that note, I'm actually very proud of the budget that the Minister of Finance and this government have brought forward. This government is committed to protecting the economic future of British Columbia and ensuring that it remains a safe harbour for investment not only for our natural resource but for our people as well.
The budget that the Minister of Finance delivered is a steadfast acknowledgment to continued fiscally conservative politics. The aim of this government, and one that I support wholeheartedly, is to control spending, keep taxes low, keep our triple-A credit rating and balance the budget in 2013-14. Why are we doing this? We are doing this not just for the benefit of British Columbians of today but for the British Columbians of tomorrow.
There are many outside of government who recognize the sound fiscal plan that this government has brought forward. I will share just a couple of the many examples with the House right now.
Jock Finlayson, the executive vice-president of the B.C. Business Council, said on February 22 on CHNL radio: "We were looking for a budget that would reinforce the province's strong fiscal position and return to a balanced budget in a timely manner. I think the Minister of Finance has delivered that with his budget."
Here's another quote, this time from an editorial in the Vancouver Province that was published on February 21, last week, the day after the budget: "There are those who argue for higher taxes so that even more money can be spent by government, but that's no way to treat taxpayers, attract investment or build the economy. As a group, British Columbians only have so much money."
Before talking about this government's continued record investments in post-secondary education, I would like to share with the House some of the highlights in Budget 2012 that are important to the people of my riding.
The carbon tax is really important to the people of North Vancouver–Lonsdale because we need to be accountable today for the environmental impacts of tomorrow. I'm very proud of the leadership that British Columbia has shown. Our carbon tax is hailed as a model for progressive jurisdictions that care about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, care about clean air and care about clean water.
The new children's fitness credit and the children's art credit mean that all British Columbian families will be able to claim up to $500 in eligible expenses, per child, per credit, per year for any eligible sport or arts program.
I know that a lot of people choose to live in North Vancouver because they are able to enjoy the outdoors as well as the arts, which is why I'm happy that this government is continuing to encourage parents to engage their kids in sports as well as the arts.
I'm also very pleased to note that the K-to-12 education remains a priority for this government. School districts will receive $4.7 billion annually in funding for the next three years, as well as an additional $165 million over the three years to establish a fund to deal directly with class composition.
Budget 2012 continues the record investments in post-secondary education. I'm incredibly proud of the fact that this government annually invests $1.9 billion in our post-secondary system. That's over $5 million a day. This funding on behalf of B.C. taxpayers is helping to keep tuition fees the fourth-lowest in the country — in fact, fourth-lowest in the country for six years running — and it's offering our students a world-class education.
This funding is, of course, on top of the more than half a billion dollars our government spends annually on labour market and training programs to meet our regional needs, as well as funding for full-time students at $10,000.
All of this programming takes place in buildings throughout the province, and Budget 2012 delivers over $460 million in capital funding over the next three years for the post-secondary sector. That's not all, as $392,000 is being invested to improve our student aid financial system, providing students with even higher levels of service.
Since taking on the role of the Minister of Advanced Education, I've had the opportunity to visit over 25 of our universities, colleges and institutes, both in the public and private sectors. I've had the chance to sit down and talk one-on-one with students and parents, instructors, administrators, faculty, mayors, councillors and members of the business community about what's really important to them. I've been able to let people know that even during these challenging economic times, our investment in post-secondary education is the largest in this province's history.
I have many stories to tell this House about the hundreds and hundreds of students that I've met, but here are a few highlights from the past year. I visited the trades
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school and the longhouse at Northwest Community College in Terrace and met Paula, a First Nations art student who has a promising future ahead of her. I've seen how the College of New Caledonia has taken a nearly half-century-old trades facility and transformed it into a modern-day technical education centre.
I've chatted with nursing students in the Kootenays about their passion for caring for people. I've watched culinary students at Vancouver Community College at work in the classroom kitchen who have told me that they know there are jobs waiting for them as soon as they graduate.
I've sat alongside arts and science students, engineering students, nursing students, business students, agricultural students at UBC at their kickoff of the new year. It was a student rally, and the enthusiasm and the excitement that filled the arena at UBC was contagious. Every single person there that day was excited for the promise of the future.
I'm excited for the students that were there that day and for the students across B.C., because the future is theirs for the taking. Over and over again these student have said how important their education is to them and how proud they are of the schools that they're attending.
From surveys done by students who've since graduated, we've seen overwhelming evidence that they're satisfied with the quality of that education, that our schools have prepared them for the world and the work world and readied them for those dream jobs they've spent many sleepless nights studying towards. I've heard how their education is making a difference in their lives and how their local campus is making a difference in the life of their community.
Most recently, I've had the chance to meet and talk with Danielle. Danielle is a costume design student at Capilano University, and I was at the official opening of the new Nat and Flora Bosa Centre for Film and Animation. Our conversation took place in the centre, which was acknowledged January of last year with an award of excellence by the Canadian Architect magazine. The building was described by the magazine as "a machine for film…a device in support of the teaching of film…based on an understanding of where architecture and cinema merge."
Danielle, the student I was talking to in the costume design program, said that she knows she's getting the skills and the training that she needs to have a successful and long-lasting career in the film and television industry. She knows that she's actually quite lucky and privileged to be at Capilano University. It's a fantastic program, and I know that her confidence and the skills she is learning will certainly set her up to be successful when she graduates.
The motion picture and animation industries are predicted to continue to grow in B.C. The industry contributes more than $2 billion annually into the provincial economy, and I don't think Danielle is going to have a hard time earning her share of that.
Last fall the Premier introduced the B.C. jobs plan Canada Starts Here. The jobs plan has three pillars. The first pillar is to open up new markets. The second pillar is to invest in infrastructure to expand and support our capacity to get our exports to the markets. The third pillar is to enable job creation and ensure that we have the skilled workforce. As Minister of Advanced Education I know that my ministry is working extremely hard to deliver on its share of the plan.
There are two areas that I would like to speak to specifically, and they're skills training and international education. I think it's important to once again put this government's achievements on the record for the members opposite, because we often hear them misleading the public on what this government does on a daily basis to support students in their post-secondary education.
The Ministry of Advanced Education has a mandate of helping to deliver the skilled workforce of tomorrow. Advanced Education worked closely with the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation on this file, as JTI is responsible for the Industry Training Authority.
Just as students who are going through our high schools today are beginning to think about their future schooling and their future careers, in government we also know how important it is to be prepared for the future. It's helping to build diversity and helping to grow more talent to meet our looming job shortages. It's also helping to give young British Columbians work opportunities in their home communities. With the million job openings in the next ten years and over 70 percent of those needing a post-secondary education, it's crucial that we are ready to respond.
I'd like to point out to the member opposite from Coquitlam-Maillardville that you just don't turn on the tap to create an instant workforce. This government has been working on meeting our future labour market demands for several years, and we're continuing that work each and every day. In fact, our provincial nominee program has 3,500 skilled workers and entrepreneurs that were nominated in 2011. That's almost 40 times the 88 that were nominated in 2001.
Government has also committed over $100 million to ITA this year, up 39 percent since 2004. We have more apprentices involved in the trades today than in 2004. The number of total registered training participants has grown from approximately 14,000 in 2004 to about 36,000 total participants today. Almost 33,000 active apprentices as of December of last year, and that's just apprentices. That's double the number registered in 2004 when the ITA was created.
Madam Speaker, let me tell you about one very exciting part of the jobs plan that's going to benefit British Columbia and my home of North Vancouver–Lonsdale.
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I had the honour and privilege of being at Seaspan, who won the $8 billion national shipbuilding contract. Seaspan is an important shipbuilding company in North Vancouver, and in July of last year I was delighted to join other local MLAs and our Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation to announce the $40 million in support from this government for B.C.'s marine shipbuilding industry.
I will tell you a quick story about Chris. Chris is an apprentice at Seaspan. I met him for the first time about a year ago, and then I met him again on that day where we realized we had won the shipbuilding contract. He's an apprentice with Seaspan; he has been there for several years. It was looking like, a year ago, there wasn't a good prospect of him getting a job with Seaspan, although they'd invested a lot of time in his training. There just wasn't enough work.
After Seaspan won the $8 billion contract, he was elated. He knew that he had a future in shipbuilding. But the first thing he did was he called his brother-in-law, who lives in Alberta now, who'd moved to Alberta from British Columbia, and he said: "Get your butt back to B.C. There's a job for you in North Vancouver." I thought that spirit and enthusiasm is quite contagious.
This key investment by our government, the $40 million training tax credit, demonstrated our commitment to the shipbuilding industry and each and every one of the workers who will benefit from the 3,000 jobs that will be created. Madam Speaker, 85 percent of the work is going to be performed at Seaspan's North Vancouver shipyard, creating family-supporting jobs for the North Shore for generations to come, with the remainder happening right here in Victoria.
This was such a great example of what can happen when government supports businesses to grow and prosper. This government is committed to helping business do what they do best, creating family-supporting jobs that benefit all British Columbians.
I would like to take a moment to thank Seaspan management, staff, union members, and the local and provincial governments, all working together to help Seaspan win this important contract.
At UBCM, I started a conversation with mayors and council members, and I know that they're excited for the conversation to continue, just as I am. That conversation and work is continuing, with the regional workforce tables as part of the B.C. jobs plan.
The workforce tables bring business owners and leaders together with educational institutes, community organizations, chambers of commerce and members to provide input on how we deliver our skills development programs regionally. It's part of our focus to ensure that we're training a skilled workforce today for the jobs we need to fill tomorrow.
B.C.'s education system is amongst the world's best. Those of us who've grown up in B.C. know it, and increasingly, the world is realizing that too.
We've all seen how small this world has become in the last decade or two. Technology has brought people closer together, changed the way we communicate and the way we learn. International economies today are tied so much closer than they were, say, at the turn of the millennium, never mind during our parents' generation.
Governments, like everyone, have had to adjust. We've embraced both the challenges and the opportunities that have come along with change.
I had the privilege of standing alongside the Premier last November in Kamloops. We were there to announce an important piece of the B.C. jobs plan, a plan which uses our province's strategic advantages, our natural resources, our highly skilled workforce, our multicultural communities and, of course, our gorgeous geography to position B.C. as the preferred destination for international investment and, ultimately, job creation.
We were on the grounds of Thompson Rivers University, a campus I've had the opportunity to visit on several occasions since taking on my Advanced Education portfolio. As anyone who has visited the city knows, Kamloops is a place where the North Thompson and South Thompson meet. TRU and, in fact, Kamloops have become an amazing success story of what happens when you open your doors to international visitors.
Right now there are more than 1,500 international students representing nearly 85 countries, all studying and learning on the TRU campus. They're from China and Saudi Arabia; they're from Brazil and Kenya; they're from India and Russia. While I was at TRU with the Premier to unveil our plans for an international education strategy, we had the chance to talk to some of those students. They told us how great it is to study in British Columbia, to get a top-notch, quality education and a chance to experience Canadian life firsthand.
I had the privilege of going back to TRU this month for their week-long International Days festival. I got to hear, once again, from students how welcoming Kamloops has been to them and see firsthand the connection between international students and the community that surrounds and supports them.
I know that my colleagues the members for Kamloops–North Thompson and Kamloops–South Thompson would agree that international students make our communities better places to live. International students make the communities they come to not just a place to study; they make these communities their home. They make their friends here, they experience our culture, and they share their cultures with us.
When their studies are done, we hope that many will decide to stay in British Columbia and that they'll use those world-class B.C. educations they've worked so hard for to help fill many of the jobs that we know British Columbia communities will struggle to fill.
With fewer people going through our K-to-12 system
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than there are predicted jobs, we know that in the coming decades, skilled workers will be in short supply and in high demand. Our international education strategy is one way we're going to help fill those jobs that we know are coming.
Kamloops is just one great example of a B.C. school embracing international education, but it's far from the only one. Here on Vancouver Island the University of Victoria is now playing host to some 1,700 international students, and Vancouver Island University is this year educating nearly 17 more students from abroad. In the Kootenays the College of the Rockies is teaching in excess of 200 international students.
There's no doubt about it. B.C. has been enormously successful in attracting international students, but for sustained growth and for continued success we need to work together and be better focused. We need to better target students from abroad who want to study subjects that are in demand and then bring them to the parts of the province where there's a need for their skills.
We need to work with our communities to make sure newcomers feel welcome and supported, and we need to work with our federal counterparts to ensure that we have a system in place that allows students who study here and who want to stay here to work an opportunity to do so.
In the discussions that I've had with institutions, large and small, across B.C., the one thing that I've heard over and over is this: we need to build and foster relationships. We need to show those would-be students why B.C. is such a great place to come and learn. The world competition for international students is fierce. By 2025 the number of students around the world looking to take their classes abroad will double. There will be an estimated 7.2 million students — mobile students.
Think of it this way: by 2025 there will be three times more students travelling the world and taking classes abroad than there are people living in Metro Vancouver right now. By contrast, right now in B.C. 94,000 international students are studying here. That's why our new international education strategy aims to increase our international student count by 50 percent over the next four years.
As I've said, these students bring cultural and social benefits to our communities and help fill those jobs that we foresee will need to be filled. But they also bring economic benefits. International students in B.C. right now generate 22,000 jobs and bring an estimated $1.25 billion into the provincial economy, an amount on par with the coal industry. Every 10 percent increase means an estimated 1,800 new jobs for British Columbians and $100 million more for our local economies.
In the process, international students also open up opportunities for our own British Columbia students. At TRU, for example, their international program has helped increase their capacity for our British Columbian students by 25 percent and added an estimated $64 million to the Kamloops economy.
I would like to share a personal story of the long-lasting positive benefit of international education. Vivian, also known as Vivi, came to Canada from Brazil for the first time when she was 14 to attend one of Vancouver's English-language schools. She fell in love with Canada. She fell in love with ice hockey so returned in 2001 at the age of 16 to attend a semester at Seycove Secondary School in North Vancouver, and she played hockey there as well.
Her homestay family in Deep Cove became her Canadian family — John, a good friend of mine, immediately assumed the role of her hockey dad; Lindi, her Canadian mom; and their one-year-old son, her little brother. For the six months she was here, she truly became part of their family. Vivi returned in July of 2004 to spend a three-week holiday with her Canadian family, spending time both in North Vancouver and on Vancouver Island, where Lindi's mom, Judi, relocated to in 2003.
They were all thrilled when Vivi returned in March of 2009 to stay with Grammy, and that would be Judy, in Parksville and spent time with her new little sister and the rest of her Canadian family on her visits to North Vancouver. Back in Parksville in the fall of 2009, she attended Vancouver Island University to pursue a degree in marketing. She returned to São Paulo in April of 2010, but we know she'll be back.
In 2014 her Canadian mom, dad, brother and sister plan on visiting her in Brazil to take in the FIFA World Cup and meet her Brazilian parents. It's my hope that at some time Vivi will find her way back to B.C. and bring the many talents that she has to offer to our country.
In the coming months, with the input from our institutions and our communities, you'll hear more about our international education strategy and its role in helping to position B.C. as a social gateway, a place where new relationships are formed between British Columbia and people from around the world.
Budget 2012 outlines how our government will build on all our advantages and makes clear that this government values the investment of taxpayers by building on all our advantages. This budget outlines our continually strong record of encouraging and defending jobs for British Columbians, despite the unsettling global economic times, how we'll support and protect or province's most vulnerable and improve the provision and access to health care, how we'll continue to engage with British Columbians as we go forward so that families not only feel supported in their communities but that they have a say in the process too.
I think it's time that I would like to say thank you to our taxpayers, the B.C. taxpayers, for the record invest-
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ment in our post-secondary education system. Thank you for the operating dollars alone. Every day taxpayers spend $5 million, or $1.9 billion annually, on our great post-secondary system. Thank you for the $2.1 billion capital investment for new and upgraded institutions in B.C. I'm very proud of this government's record investments in post-secondary. I thank taxpayers for the continued investments, and it's time members of the opposition did the same.
One of the highlights recently for me was to attend a post-secondary aboriginal forum. I was able to hear stories from aboriginal students that, frankly, brought tears to most of the people's eyes, and some laughter as well. I'd just like to tell you about three of those students.
Anton comes from a village outside of 100 Mile House. He loved going to school through K-to-12 because his home life wasn't great, and, actually, school was his safe place. He said: "The gathering place is like my second home." The gathering place is something that we have invested in at several of our post-secondary institutions. Anton now has a diploma and is getting his BA and is part of the aboriginal mentoring program.
Don is a mature student. He said he was sitting at home watching TV, and he saw an ad on TV that said: "Just do it." So he thought: "Well, why not? Just do it now, not tomorrow or next year." And actually, I do know the commercial he was watching. He thought — and this is what made people laugh — it might be better than being a criminal, which was the path he was taking. He never dreamed he would be where he is today. He's 12 years clean and sober now. He's going to be a pastry chef, and in fact his dream is to create a cream-filled bannock.
Lindsay grew up in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. He applied to post-secondary as a mature student at 21. He always wanted to be part of a community but realized that to make a difference in the world you have to make a difference in yourself, and he has the belief in himself that he can finish.
On February 3 there were more than 100 aboriginal leaders, students and educators, and representatives from public post-secondary institutions that came together to discuss the importance of aboriginal post-secondary education in B.C. and the draft aboriginal post-secondary education framework.
It's a fact now that over 21 students a year who enrol in public post-secondary education identify themselves as aboriginal, and that's a 17 percent increase since the government's aboriginal education strategy was launched in 2007. The number of credentials awarded annually to students self-identifying as aboriginal has increased from 2,075 in 2004 to 2,545 in 2009. We've made good progress, and we're going to continue to make good progress on that.
Finally, I'd like to close with a story that follows up on a story that the Leader of the Opposition told last session. He shared the story of his dad, and now I'd like to tell you about the journey that my dad took to get his post-secondary education.
My dad was born in Vancouver. His mother and father were Canadian citizens. But in grade 8, when he was 14, a student of Point Grey junior high school, the War Measures Act was implemented and he and his family, along with other Canadians of Japanese ancestry, were relocated to internment camps. The internment camp that my father and his family were relocated to was Lemon Creek, which is located in a beautiful part of the Kootenays in the southeast corner of British Columbia. Unfortunately, after being pulled out of school in grade 8, he missed a whole year of school. He started grade 9 a year later in camp after a school was built.
The war ended when he was 17 years old. His family moved around the interior of B.C., and he worked mostly at orchards for the next four years. He eventually moved back to the coast and worked at a mental institution for four years. He then moved up to Tuktoyaktuk to work at the distant early warning line, the DEW line, as a first-aid attendant, saving his money so that he could complete his education.
During this time he completed his grade 10, 11 and 12 — actually, there was grade 13 then — all by correspondence. He received the letter, though, from the Department of Education, as it was called back then, in Victoria while he was completing his high school education, and they cautioned him to slow down. They felt he was completing his education too quickly. He responded by letter, saying that he didn't have time to slow down. He was in his 30s, married and had three children.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
At the age of 32 he was finally able to enrol at UBC in the faculty of pharmaceutical sciences. Three years later he received his undergraduate degree and then his master's and then finally earned his Ph.D. I was seven years old when my dad earned his Ph.D. I clearly remember his graduation gown and his diploma.
I'm telling you this story, my father's story, because post-secondary education is very important, and those of us who pursue this path have uniquely different stories on how we've achieved our post-secondary education. I'm very proud of the challenges that my father overcame, and I firmly believe that this is the reason why I'm so passionate about post-secondary education, something we shouldn't take for granted.
The Ministry of Advanced Education plays an important role in the lives of British Columbians and all those who choose to come to B.C. to study. We know that post-secondary education has always been and will continue to be a cornerstone of B.C.'s economic success. By investing in our public post-secondary institutions, we are investing in British Columbians and their families, just
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like my father and our family.
The chance to stand and be heard in this House is a privilege. It's an honour to be standing here to speak on behalf of my constituents about this speech from the budget. Like all my colleagues, I look forward to continuing this work this year on behalf of all of them to ensure that B.C. is ready for the future.
We have withstood the worst recession since World War II. We are doing everything we can to be the best place possible, and we are ready to show the world that we're able to dream large and exceed our expectations.
C. James: I'm pleased to rise to speak to the budget, the first full budget for this Premier, but not pleased with what's in the budget. I'll get to a number of those areas and a number of those points over my time here. This really was, I think, as many people have talked about as the budget was getting ready to be prepared, the first full budget, the first chance for this new Premier to be able to make her mark in British Columbia.
People will remember that the budget that came in before this budget was simply a rollover budget. In fact, it was described that way. It was a continuation of the previous Premier, Mr. Campbell's budget. It was a continuation of that. So this was really the chance for the Premier to bring in her direction, her vision for the province.
We'll also remember, of course, before that we had an election budget. You know, I'm sure the other side doesn't really want to spend a lot of time talking about it, but I think it's important to remember that that budget went into an election with "$495 million, not a penny more, is the deficit." We all know what happened after that.
This was a critical budget for the new Premier to bring forward, a critical budget for her to be able to, as I said, make her mark on the province. I have to say — and those of us on this side of the House and the people of British Columbia and the people of my community, certainly, are saying — that this budget completely missed the mark.
I believe that government has two main roles, two critical roles for the province in governing. One is to spend the taxpayers' dollars wisely, to always remember that the taxpayer dollars belong to the taxpayers and don't belong to you as government and must be spent wisely. I'll speak a little bit about that as I go on.
I believe that the second priority that's critical for government, the second area that's critical is to make sure that you set directions that meet the needs of the people of this province. That's really what government is all about — choices, setting direction, making sure those choices meet the needs of the people of this province.
What is a more important document to come forward than a budget which identifies those priorities and identifies those needs? I believe that the B.C. Liberal budget failed on both counts — failed when it came to spending taxpayer dollars wisely and failed when it came to setting priorities that meet the needs of the people of this province.
I heard the previous speaker talk about supports for families and valuing taxpayers, and I'd like to speak to those issues directly over the next while. Let's start off with the first area that I mentioned was critical, and that's spending tax dollars wisely. I heard a lot of talk through this budget — a lot of talk by the Finance Minister and a lot of talk in the responses that people have made — that this budget is all about fiscal discipline, that it's all about the need to be efficient. It's critical.
In fact, as you go through the budget document, you can see that the document actually targeted certain ministries and areas for efficiencies. Just to look at one of those areas is the whole area of the previous speaker, the minister, in the area of post-secondary education, colleges and universities. They actually are targeted within the budget for cuts. It actually says right in the budget that they're expected to find efficiencies.
Now, those are areas, and I'll talk a little bit more about that as we go on, that we should be investing in, not cutting back on. Those are areas we need to put resources in. It's the basis of a strong economy. It certainly should be the basis of a jobs plan.
Yet again, here we hear the Premier talking about a jobs plan. We hear the members on the other side talking about a jobs plan. And we see a budget that comes down that makes it clear that that isn't really a choice for this government. They don't really believe that post-secondary education and training and apprenticeships are a choice. In fact, they actually identify them as areas where cuts need to happen. I think that was pretty surprising to most people out there, certainly to the people in my community.
Many of the individuals in my community, students and people who are looking for further training, attend Camosun College or UVic, the University of Victoria, here in our riding. Both are wonderful institutions that provide an extraordinary strength to individuals when they're looking at retraining, extraordinary support, and that benefit not only the individuals but in fact benefit all of us — benefit society as people attend, as they get training and as they come back into the workforce. Skilled workers really are key to a strong economy.
Now what do they face because of Budget 2012? Well, they face higher costs. They face more tuition. They face program cuts. Incredibly shortsighted when you take a look at a major investment that should happen, an underpinning of any jobs plan, I would suggest. I think most people you talk to out there would suggest that an underpinning of any jobs plan is a strong investment in post-secondary education, skills-training apprenticeships. But no. Instead, we saw a budget come forward that actually targets post-secondary education for cuts.
I think that's a theme that you'll continue to hear
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throughout the budget. The B.C. Liberals seem to believe that "you do as I say, not as I do." That seems to be the direction of this government. Spending dollars wisely, to the Liberals, means post-secondary education institutions get a cut but we maintain the Premier's budget. "We make sure that we hang onto that budget. We don't look for efficiencies there. Yes, as Liberals, we'll talk about efficiencies. We'll talk about making sure that everybody has to tighten their belt, but not us, and certainly not the Premier's office. We wouldn't want to look for efficiencies there."
Well, that's pretty tough medicine for the public to swallow. They understand these are difficult times. Believe me, the public in my community understand that, and they've tightened their belts as much as they could tighten. But when they look across to the other side and they don't see that the government follows their own direction to them, that they don't take reductions when they need to, that they don't look at the Premier's office or…. I mean, if you want to pick on something else, let's not just look at the Premier's office, then.
Let's take a look at government advertising. Again, difficult economic times, times to tighten our belt is a message that comes throughout this entire budget. Well, surely, one of the areas that you would look at for tightening your belt would be government advertising.
I believe, like most British Columbians, that when you sit and watch the hockey game on the weekend, you don't expect to see government dollars spent on advertising. You'd think that that would be an area that could be cut back on. Advertising a government's job plan that doesn't even invest in post-secondary education and training really is quite shocking.
Any cuts in the Premier's government spin doctors? No, no cuts there. You need those people, I guess, to be able to put together the advertisements for the advertising budget, to make sure that you're spending all of that, on the other side. Those are areas, certainly if I was looking for efficiencies, that you'd certainly take a look at before you'd take a look at something like post-secondary education and training.
That's not spending taxpayer dollars wisely, Mr. Speaker. That's not sending a message to the public that we're all tightening our belts. It's sending a message, as I said earlier: "Do as I say, not as I do." The message for efficiencies is for everyone else but not for the government, the B.C. Liberals, themselves.
What other areas were looked at for efficiencies, for spending tax dollars wisely by the B.C. Liberals in this budget? Well, one other area that certainly stood out for me and for the people in my commun-
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ity was the sell-off of public lands, lands that had been gathered over years, over different governments of different political stripes so that you had some land for planning purposes.
As we all know, communities change, demographics change. Where you need a school today, you may need a school somewhere else in another part of the community. You may need a hospital in a faster-growing area of the community. You may want to use that land for leverage for land somewhere else if things change in a community.
That was wise planning by past governments, to make sure that those lands were compiled and accumulated so that they'd be a great planning tool for communities all across our province. What's the government's response to that wise use of taxpayer dollars? "Let's sell it off. Let's get rid of it all. Quick, we need to look like we're balancing the budget, so let's make sure we sell off that land, and we'll just write it into the budget."
So the public's next question was, understandably: "Which lands are you looking at?" Again no response from the B.C. Liberals on the other side. So there's an area where, I have to say, it's not spending tax dollars wisely. The people in my community have said that those lands were bought for generations, for good planning, and we haven't seen that from the B.C. Liberals — "shortsighted," "fire sale," as we've heard some other people describe it. Those are resources that were there and that are going to disappear.
What other examples are there around a lack of spending tax dollars wisely? Well, I think everyone over the last while would point to smart meters as one of those areas where it didn't go through a proper planning process at the BCUC. It didn't have the oversight that it needed to, and so, understandably, taxpayers are angry. They feel their tax dollars weren't spent wisely.
Basi-Virk was another example over this last year. Again, if we're talking in a budget, as the Liberals are, about spending tax dollars wisely, I think it's important to remember the track record of what's happened with the B.C. Liberals over the last while. Two convicted individuals had their legal costs covered — millions of dollars that could have been spent in other places, a complete lack of spending tax dollars wisely.
Let's take a minute, then, to take a look at the second area that I believe is a critical area for any government, and that's setting priorities that meet the needs of the people of this province. Here the budget once again has failed the people of British Columbia and has certainly failed the people in my community.
I want to focus my next remarks around my community, because it's a real honour to be able to stand in this Legislature and represent the people of Victoria–Beacon Hill. It's a real honour to represent a community that I grew up in, that I raised my children in, that now we see raising my grandchildren in.
It's a real honour to be able to do that, and I feel a very deep, strong connection to my role to represent the people of my community. I take that role very seriously. So when a budget comes out or a piece of legislation or a direction from government, I think it's important to take a look and see how it impacts the people in my community and how they feel about it.
My community of Victoria–Beacon Hill is an incredibly vibrant, strong community. It's diverse. It has a large seniors population, families, entrepreneurs. And one thing that's very clear about Victoria–Beacon Hill is that it's an active, engaged community. It is not a community where things go by without anyone giving an opinion one way or the other. People like to be involved in Victoria–Beacon Hill. They like to have a say on issues that matter to them. They'll give you their opinion on the things that happen in our community.
It's exciting to be part of a community that is so strong and vibrant. What are the kinds of things that my community cares about? We'll take a look, then, in the budget and see how it meets their needs.
My community cares deeply about being a green community. We're very fortunate in Victoria–Beacon Hill in that we live close enough, in many cases, to be able to walk downtown, to not necessarily need a vehicle. There are a number of people in my community who don't own cars or who use a car-share co-op because we've got the flexibility. We've got a transit system. We've got the ability to walk and bicycle. We have a huge cycling infrastructure in the greater Victoria area, which is very valued by my community of Victoria–Beacon Hill.
People love their green spaces. We have community markets, the James Bay Market, the Moss Street Market, that see a huge number of people coming because people care about supporting their local farmers. They care about green initiatives.
I mentioned transit. Our community, again, is very active in standing up for more transit and more transit initiatives, because that's a deep belief in Victoria–Beacon Hill. My community is a community that cares deeply about strong public services, and that probably has a lot to do with the fact that we're a capital city.
We have a large portion of government employees in Victoria–Beacon Hill who live in this community, who understand the importance of strong public services — public health care, public education, social services to help people. Those are things that people care about in my community.
People in Victoria–Beacon Hill care about the most vulnerable in society. If you take a look at the number of not-for-profits across our community, Mr. Speaker, it's extraordinary.
I describe it as the fabric of a community or the not-for-profits that really hold it together and provide that heart to people in need or people who are looking for other services — whether it's the task force on homelessness, Our Place, Cool Aid, Umbrella Society, Single Parent Resource Centre or Bridges for Women. That's just to name a few not-for-profits that operate and provide support in our community for the most vulnerable.
We care about people struggling with mental health and addiction issues. We care about people who are living in poverty. We know that a society, as I always believe, is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. I'm pretty ashamed about what I saw in this budget and what I see in our province, and I'll get to speaking more specifically about that as well.
My community of Victoria–Beacon Hill cares about a sustainable economy. We care about support for small business and for tourism, which is a large economic driver in Victoria. We care about support for arts and culture, for entrepreneurs. We care about high-tech. Those are areas that matter to the people in my community. They care about support for families because we're a small enough community that they see day to day the struggles that families are going through.
Let's take a look through the lens of people in my community of Victoria–Beacon Hill to see how Budget 2012 met their needs. The people, again, in my community understand that we all have a responsibility to ensure that we live in a safe, healthy society. We all have a responsibility to help build a strong economy, to support people who are vulnerable. But government also has a responsibility. The people in my community don't expect government to do it all, but they certainly don't expect government to make it more difficult, to make things tougher.
They expect government to be there as a partner to work with them. All of the not-for-profits that I mentioned and many more in my community are looking for government to join them as a partner. They'll take on their part; they'll do their part. They're looking for a partner, and yet we didn't see that in this budget.
Support for families, I mentioned, was an area that my community cares about. Well, what did the budget do for families? I think the thing that stood out the most for me and others was that the budget offered a tax cut for airlines and offered an MSP premium increase to families — almost doubled over the last 11 years under the B.C. Liberals, almost doubled MSP costs to families. How is that supporting families?
Did we see in the budget that the HST would be gone as fast as it came in? No, we didn't — not at all. In fact, the HST is still there for another long while for families, after the people of this province spoke loudly and clearly. "Nope. Sorry, you've got to hang on. It's going to be there for a lot longer again."
We will see over this budget cycle, as we've seen over previous budget cycles under this government, an increase in ferry fares, in hydro rates, in ICBC premiums, in park fees. We'll see an increase in tuition. I heard the previous speaker talk about post-secondary education and the importance of post-secondary education. Well, what we've seen under this government is that tuition has doubled for students.
I talked to a number of students from my community who expressed the challenge of trying to work one and
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two jobs while they're going to school, having to take an extra year or a year and a half to be able to complete their education because they just can't manage the cost of tuition, the cost of living and the cost of the kind of fee increases that you're seeing. So is that an investment in families, to cut the budget for post-secondary education? No. It's going in the opposite direction.
I'm not sure that child care was even mentioned in the budget — another area where families struggle. If you take a look at the economy, and if you talk to employers, they'll say that productivity increases when parents and families have good, quality child care. We all know that giving a child the best start in life is good for everyone, including society. Good, quality child care provides that opportunity for children, for families and for employers. That's an area, again, where we didn't see support for families.
My community cares about a sustainable economy, so what did we see in that area? Well, again the budget missed the boat — arts and culture, an area that provides a huge economic support; the green economy; the new culture economy, a huge opportunity for the creative economy to grow.
In my area, Victoria, where we know the kind of economic impact that can happen when we increase funding in that area, we see that British Columbia still has the lowest per-capita funding for arts and culture in Canada. Budget 2012 did nothing to change that. The budget continues to show the lowest per-capita funding in Canada for arts and culture. That's a huge missed opportunity.
The green economy and green jobs — again, not a major investment, not a direction, not a goal. A missed opportunity for my community and, I believe, for communities around our province.
What about public services? A community that cares about public services will be looking in the budget to see what happened to public services.
Well, I've talked about post-secondary education. What about the K-to-12 education system? Well, again, we see a flat budget, which means more cuts, because just as families are impacted by hydro rates and MSP premiums, so are school boards. Those are downloaded costs, downloaded on to school boards, which then have to look for cuts. Where do the cuts come? Children and classrooms, because that's all that's left after years and years of a lack of support and a lack of investment in education.
You just have to walk into a school to know the struggle that teachers are facing, that counsellors are facing. Schools now that have no teacher-librarian, schools that have one counsellor that is shared between two schools, three schools, four schools — how does that support students? How does that ensure that a special education student gets the best opportunity? I certainly haven't seen it.
Now, the minister for post-secondary education said that you can't just turn the tap on for skilled workers. Well, it's been 11 years. That's a pretty slow trickle from this government if after 11 years they've just all of a sudden realized that you maybe need to take a look at skills training and post-secondary education as an investment. Again, public services are taking a hit in this budget.
What about health care? Well, again, we know the struggle that's happening right now in our health care system. We see it every single day. We all hear stories from individuals who are struggling to be able to get health care services and supports. I think the most damning report that I've seen that has come out over the last while was the seniors report that came out by the Ombudsperson that identified 176 recommendations.
I would have expected to see a budget come down and acknowledge that report and the need to address it. But I didn't see that, and, most shamefully, neither did the seniors in my community or in this province.
I would encourage members on the other side to all read that seniors report from the Ombudsperson. It points out things — neglect that has happened for years and years and years under the B.C. Liberals. I think the thing that stood out for me is that the report points out that this government doesn't even have basic information to make health care decisions on — again coming back to mismanagement and bad use of money.
One of the basic things that you need as a government to make a decision about where to spend the money is information. What are the wait times for seniors waiting for long-term care? What are the wait times for seniors who want home care support? What are the standards in those homes, and what kinds of standards are there from health region to health region?
Each of those areas was identified by the Ombudsperson as not being followed. A lack of information. Government didn't have that information. This isn't the first time that these issues have come forward. We saw an Auditor General's report that pointed out a couple of years ago the importance of basic information — wait-list information, information from the health authorities — that is inconsistent, that doesn't come in. Yet here we are again with the Ombudsperson's report, pointing out the same kinds of problems that after 11 years the government hasn't addressed, and they didn't address them in this budget.
I stood in this House a number of years ago to speak about Beacon Hill Villa and the challenges in the long-term care home that's right across the street from the Legislature. Well, according to the Ombudsperson's report, those kinds of challenges can still occur. The government didn't fix the problems that were identified then. Here we are with an Ombudsperson's report, and the problems are still there and still not fixed.
Support for public services — certainly not in this budget from the B.C. Liberals. And no support for seniors who — as individuals who built this province, as individuals who give back, who have not taken from the
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system — have paid their taxes all these years, and then in the last years of their life when they're looking for a little bit of support to make life a little more comfortable, they don't see it in this budget. Missed the boat in that area.
What about social services and supporting the most vulnerable, an area that again my community cares deeply about? Well, it's a shameful statistic to repeat in this House once again. The government likes to put out statistics, but they always seem to avoid this one. For eight years in a row British Columbia has had the highest child poverty rate in this country. If you take a look at those statistics, almost half of the children living in poverty have a parent working. That's the kind of situation, the difficulty, under the B.C. Liberals for the last 11 years.
How have other provinces addressed the issue of poverty? They've done it by bringing in a poverty plan. They've done it by making sure that they report out on the progress on children living in poverty. But no, not this government. They don't want to touch a poverty plan. They don't want to report. They don't want to be accountable.
Well, children living in poverty is a loss to all of us. Society loses out when we don't make sure that every child has the opportunity for success, and they don't under this government. Homelessness is another area where the government has failed. We know the high cost of living. We know the challenges.
What would I have liked to see in the budget? Wouldn't it have been wonderful if there was a recognition of the struggle that families, middle-class families, are facing and a plan to actually help people out — not make it more difficult with more increases? An investment in post-secondary education, not an identification of cutbacks. A poverty plan that won't be able to do everything overnight but actually will put in place measures to begin to address the deep child poverty that we see in this province. Children don't live alone in poverty; families live in poverty. A green jobs plan, something to actually address the jobs of the future.
Those are the kinds of things I was hoping to see in a budget, but this budget completely missed all of those. Instead, I saw a budget that identified 11 years of mismanagement by the B.C. Liberals, 11 years of ignoring the pressures that families are facing, 11 years of making it more difficult for families in British Columbia, and a budget that didn't spend our tax dollars wisely.
It certainly didn't set priorities that matter to families, so I will be voting against this budget because it doesn't represent the people of my riding.
C. Hansen: I want to use this opportunity in the budget speech not to talk about the short-term issues that are in the budget. I'd like to use this opportunity to share with you some thoughts on what I see as our role as government and political leaders and leaders in our societies and in our communities, in terms of what we should be facing and what we should be looking at as the challenges that are going to face anybody in public life, regardless of party, over the next ten years.
I think Bill Gates probably summed it up quite nicely when he said: "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten." I think there's a lot of truth in that comment.
When we think back to things that were happening in February of 2010, the time of the Olympics, and we think about how things have changed since…. There may have been great things that we think will change in the next two years, but odds are that we will look back on 2012, two years from now, and realize that perhaps things don't change as much as they do.
When you start to thinking back to ten years ago, to 2002, and some of the profound changes that have occurred in our society at all levels — federal, provincial, municipal — and the things that governments have had to manage through, I think it gives us a bit of a flavour as to just how much change we might see by the year 2022 going forward.
I believe that we spend far too much time as political leaders defending the world as it was. I think we need to reflect on history and we need to learn from history, but we need to do it in a way that actually helps us to anticipate the future — not to get bogged down with the arguments of the past but to learn from the past in ways that will help us govern and provide leadership for the future.
I think we also spend way too much time protecting the way we do things today. There is an incredible attachment to the status quo in so many areas of government. I know that was certainly one of my big challenges and, to a certain extent, frustrations when I served as Health Minister in the province for 3½ years.
There were so many people, in terms of the delivery of health care, that were wedded to that status quo and unprepared to change the way they did things, because that's the way they always did things, and not being willing enough to look at how things could be done differently, how we could actually deliver services better. I'm going to talk a bit more about some of those challenges for the future in a moment.
It's not even about trying to envision the world the way we would like to see it ten years from now, although I think all of us in this chamber and all of us that are elected to public life have some strong ideas of the world that we would like to see in the future. I think we have to focus in on…. In fact, I think if somebody runs for public office that doesn't have a vision for how the world could be a better place, they should really ask themselves why they're running.
I think that it actually goes beyond that. It's about recognizing that the world is going to change whether we
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want it to change or not. It is going to change in ways that we need to anticipate. It's about governments. It's about politicians and community leaders leading that parade. It's not about directing the parade or organizing the parade. It's about anticipating where that parade is going and making sure that as community leaders we can actually get in front of that parade and help to guide it in ways that will make our society a better place.
I want to share with you just some reflections on different aspects of the challenges that we have in government from that perspective: how is that world going to change ten years from now? What are the things that we should be anticipating so that, as we spend the taxpayers' cherished tax dollars, we can do it in a way that actually is going to help facilitate and guide that change in the future, that will result in us having a better society and a better place for our children and grandchildren in the future?
One of the areas that I think is going to change profoundly in the next ten years is in two areas in particular. That's in health care and education. It's, I believe, a switch from being focused as we have done in the past on bricks and mortar, and instead being focused on services.
I think that too often today in both education and health care — and education both at the K-to-12 level and at the post-secondary level — governments over the past century have taken the approach: "If we build it, they will come. If we build it, we will be serving the public. If we build a new school, our children will be educated. If we build a hospital in every single community, people will have good health care."
I believe that that is going to change phenomenally, because I think increasingly what is happening is that our citizens, our constituents, are looking for how their needs will be met in the future and how the needs of their families will be met in the future. What are the services that they are going to look to the provincial government to deliver, and how can we best deliver those services?
Now, it may be that those services have to be delivered in a building. Okay, then let's start with the service, and then let's plan the building around the kinds of services that we're going to have to deliver in that building, not just two years from now but ten, 20, 30 years from now and anticipating the kind of change that is going to be there.
I had a discussion just recently with one of the heads of one of our post-secondary institutions. She was talking about a new facility that they're going to be building. I said: "So how do you actually anticipate that building is going to be used for the life of that building?" Let's say the life of that building is 40 or 50 years. How will those particular education services be delivered in the future, and what work is being done by post-secondary leaders today to anticipate how that education service will be delivered in the future?
The same is true of health care, when you start looking at things like telehealth, which is changing phenomenally the way we deliver health care services to publics not just in British Columbia but all around the world. I can remember that when I first became Health Minister, one of the first initiatives that we rolled out in those first few months was a telehealth initiative around mental health services. What we did is that we set up two pilot projects. One was actually in Dawson Creek. Off the top of my head, I can't remember exactly where the second pilot was in British Columbia.
There were so many people that just said: "Oh, you know, there are lots of things that you can do with telehealth and telemedicine, but mental health is not one of them. For mental health services to be effective, you really have to have the psychiatrist or the psychologist sitting in an office in a clinical environment with the patient in the room with them so that there is that person-to-person contact." Well, actually, what that pilot study showed was that not only were mental health services as effective as that face-to-face, person-to-person contact in a clinical environment; in some circumstances that telehealth service actually generated better mental health services.
Particularly with children, they found that children sometimes were very intimidated when they would be going into a clinical setting in a building — in a hospital, for example — where they're meeting with a very highly trained psychiatrist, a specialist in children's psychology or psychiatry. It's pretty intimidating for a child or an adolescent, whereas if they're in their own community in a space that is somewhat familiar to them where they can actually engage with that health care professional via a monitor, where there's two-way telecommunication between the professional and the patient, in some cases it actually turns out to be even more effective.
I think when we start looking at areas around prevention…. When we look at chronic disease management, for example, which is something in Canada that British Columbia pioneered, we've shown tremendous results in changing outcomes as a result of chronic disease management, which is such an important part of prevention.
When people look at the shift from treating disease to preventing disease, it's not just about everybody eating better and getting out and doing their exercise routines. That's obviously important, but so are things like chronic disease management, where you have somebody who actually has diabetes or someone who has congestive heart failure and other chronic illnesses — to actually manage those in a preventative way so that those individuals don't wind up being hospitalized. The diabetic individual doesn't wind up needing limb amputation because of a preventive approach that actually makes sure they would get better health care as a result of chronic disease management.
The other thing that I think we're going to see a big change in, in the next ten years is around personalized medicine. I know when a lot of people started seeing
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some of the potentials out of genome research that's being done around the world…. Some of the genome research that's being done in British Columbia today is phenomenal. It's world-leading. It is definitely cutting edge, and I think the folks at Genome B.C. need to be credited for some of the significant advancements that are being made.
As we see the cost of DNA testing coming down dramatically — they anticipate that within the next ten years the cost of a DNA test, for example, will be under $1,000 — that's going to revolutionize the way that health care can be delivered and where better health outcomes can be provided for. It's by finding those unique treatments that actually identify what the unique problem is that a citizen has and fixes that unique problem rather than the wholesale categorization of illnesses. "If you have this illness, take these medications. It's been proven to affect a majority of 30,000 people," or whatever. This is actually going to be so unique.
I think that we have to anticipate that, and we have to ensure that we evolve our health care system to provide new forms of medicine. One of the things that I learned when I was Health Minister is that people often talk about change, the change that we need to see. Change is easy to do if, in fact, all you're going to do is do it in an incremental way, where you don't actually challenge anything that you've done before but you simply add new things and new costs to the health care system as new technologies become available.
The only way our health care system is going to survive in the future and be effective and meet the needs of British Columbians is if we actually say: "Yes, we need to fund new technologies and new treatments and new ways of delivering health care, but we also have to stop doing the things that are expensive and no longer have the kind of effectiveness compared to the new therapies that are available."
Education is also one that I think that is going to change dramatically in the next ten years. When I think back to when I was in high school…. How many years ago would that be now — 40-some-odd years ago? I don't really see where the way we teach our kids in K-to-12 has changed very much in that period of time. Yet our kids have sure changed, and the technologies that our kids look to have certainly changed. I think that some of the initiatives that the Ministry of Education and our Minister of Education are undertaking to try to incorporate and to provide for that change in technological ability are starting to happen.
Some of you may have seen a YouTube video that's out. I think it's under the title of "Magazine, My iPad Doesn't Work." It's a little baby who has got a magazine in front of her, and what she's doing is she's looking at the pictures in the magazine and trying to move the pictures with her fingers like she does on her dad's or mom's iPad.
You know, when you think about that little girl growing up with that technology available to her and that stimulation and that intellectual inquisitiveness that every child has…. When that child reaches kindergarten and grade 1, if she is going to be taught the way we are teaching children today, she is going to be bored. I think there are so many children that are getting such an exposure to technology before they hit grade schools. They're going to be looking for a different kind of education.
I think that the role of teachers is going to change in the next ten years, away from one that we grew up with, where we sit in the classroom and the teacher imparts knowledge to us and we have textbooks that impart knowledge to us. I think in the future the children are going to be able to teach themselves. They're going to need to learn how to learn, where to find information, how to use that technology in ways that really help them to grow and to achieve the maximum potential in their lives.
Also, when we look at the success we've seen in the last number of years around distance education. You know, it was not that many years ago when a child in a small town in British Columbia, if they aspired to become an engineer, would have a hard time getting physics 12 in their local high school, because there just weren't enough kids in the high school to justify having a class dedicated to just physics 12.
The same for a child that wants to go into medicine, to become a doctor or other medical profession. The ability to get chemistry 12 in all our high schools around British Columbia was simply not there.
Distance education has made that possible. So today in British Columbia you've got classrooms that are classes that are being presented by a real teacher in real time, but the students are spread around the province, and they're all being linked in by telehealth.
Again, it's going back to the issue of how we design our schools. It's not just about designing bricks and mortar. I think that the way we need to teach, the way that education has to change in the future, is to meet the needs of the students of the future, not the way that we have provided those services in the past.
Also, when you look at some of the other big issues facing us as government, there are issues around the Asia-Pacific. Now, here my involvement with Asia-Pacific goes back to the 1980s, when I was working with the Asia-Pacific Foundation, and there was great excitement about the potential opportunities for British Columbia and for Canada in the Asia-Pacific region. We saw export levels increase. We saw economies emerging in dramatic fashion.
Then the 1990s started to change that, and that was really because of what was happening with the Japan economy, and I think a lot of the governments in North America sort of took a step back, and a lot of companies, a lot of private sector interests, shifted away from the Asia-Pacific region.
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Well, now, when you think back to where we were just ten years ago, I don't think anybody could have imagined the emergence of the Asia-Pacific region and the way it has emerged in the last ten years. I think that we have to anticipate that the change in our relationship between North America and the Asia-Pacific is going to probably change even more dramatically in the next ten years than it has in these last ten years.
We as political leaders and as governments need to facilitate that and prepare for that. But again, it's not about leading the parade. It's recognizing the parade is happening, and we better find out where the front of that parade is so that we can make sure that our government programs maximize the benefits of that.
Another area is in First Nations. This is an area where, again, in the last ten years I think we've made phenomenal progress. It's not universal. It's not in every First Nations community around the province.
In many First Nations communities in British Columbia today they're starting to reap the economic benefits of that closer cooperation with government, working together to solve problems, working together to protect the environment, working together to find economic opportunities and jobs for young people in those First Nations communities. And again, I think that in the next ten years we can make even more progress if we allow the initiative to continue as we go forward.
Another one is the area in labour shortages. Today when we're looking at unemployment rates across Canada that are high compared to where they were four years ago, there's a lot of short-term focus on unemployment and job creation — which there should be. But in fact, I think when we start looking over the next ten years ahead, we should be anticipating that the labour shortages are going to come back in a major way, just as we experienced them four years ago in British Columbia.
I do want to take a little bit of issue with comments that were made earlier by the member for Coquitlam-Maillardville and also the member for Victoria–Beacon Hill about the state of apprenticeship training in British Columbia.
This morning as I was in my office I was listening to the member from Coquitlam-Maillardville, and she talked about how not much was happening on apprenticeship. Actually, the opposite is true. I quickly went into Stats Canada, and I pulled up stats on the number of registered apprentices across Canada for various years. First of all, I should point out that the province that's had the greatest increase in the number of apprentices is British Columbia.
If you go back to 1995, for example, there were just a little over 19,000 registered apprentices in British Columbia. You go forward five years to 2000 — that's a little bit more than ten years ago — and it had increased a little bit. It was actually just over 21,000 registered apprentices in British Columbia.
Then in the following years you start to see a significant ramping up of the number of registered apprentices in the province. By 2005 we had 31,000 registered apprentices. By 2006, a year later, we had over 40,000 registered apprentices. Fast-forward another year, 2008, we had 53,000, and we continue to see levels of apprenticeship training in British Columbia that far exceed anything we have ever seen in the past in British Columbia.
We need to make sure that the skills that are being focused on anticipate the skills that will be needed in British Columbia in the years ahead. I think that's exactly what the Industry Training Authority is doing.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
It's about recognizing that some skills aren't going to be in as great demand in the future as others, but some will be, and shifting the emphasis from one type of skill set to the new industries and new technologies that the apprenticeship programs need to serve.
The other area is around energy and fuels. I think here, we've seen over the last ten years considerable volatility in terms of the prices of different forms of energy in the world markets. But today what we're seeing is something that is going to be a trend for the next ten years, and that's the availability of relatively inexpensive natural gas for the next decade.
It is something that is a tremendous opportunity for British Columbia. We are so well positioned in this province to be that fuel provider for the future. I believe that over the course of the next ten years you are going to see a dramatic shift in North America from some of the high-fossil, carbon-intensive fuels, like oil and coal, for example, to the less carbon-intensive fuel that natural gas is. I think that is something that British Columbia is well positioned for.
I think that the next ten years in British Columbia and in Canada are going to be exciting years. There's going to be a lot of change, and I think even ten years from now, as we look back on it, we will probably be surprised at ways that society has changed that we really could not in any way anticipate today.
C. Hansen moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. I. Chong moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 this afternoon.
The House adjourned at 11:53 a.m.
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