Legislative Session: Second Session, 40th Parliament
This is a DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY of debate in one sitting of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. This transcript is subject to corrections, and will be replaced by the final, official Hansard report. Use of this transcript, other than in the legislative precinct, is not protected by parliamentary privilege, and public attribution of any of the debate as transcribed here could entail legal liability.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2014
The House met at 1:33 p.m.
[Madame Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
Madame Speaker: We'll start with introductions. Today I have the absolute pleasure…. Present in the gallery this afternoon are members of the independent panel on Internet voting, formed to consider the best practices of other jurisdictions around the possible implementation of Internet-based voting for provincial and local elections in British Columbia.
Please welcome Keith Archer, chair and Chief Electoral Officer; Lee-Ann Crane, chief administrative officer, East Kootenay regional district; Dr. Valerie King, professor of computer science, University of Victoria; and George Morfitt, former Auditor General of British Columbia. And not present today but a member of the panel, Dr. Konstantin Beznosov, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, University of British Columbia.
SWARN SINGH VIRK
Hon. C. Clark: It is my sad duty to inform the House that the Minister of Advanced Education suffered a very personal loss last night. His father Swarn Singh Virk passed away at the age of 86.
Mr. Virk arrived in Canada in 1969. Like so many immigrants, he made tremendous contributions to this, his adoptive home, not least of which were his two sons, both of whom have done their family very, very proud.
Canada and British Columbia are better places because of people like Swarn Singh Virk, and he will be sorely missed not just by his family but by all those of us he touched in so many ways.
I'm sure that all members of the House will join me in extending our sympathies to the Minister of Advanced Education and his family, in particular, his grieving mother.
HARRY DE JONG
Hon. M. de Jong: When I arrived here all those many years ago, I took my place on the other side of the aisle beside another fellow named De Jong — Harry. There are a few still here who served with Harry De Jong, who remember him: dignified, quiet, soft-spoken — all qualities I was not familiar with at the time.
Harry served in this chamber for nine years, but that was a fraction of the time he served his community — as a councillor, as the mayor of Matsqui. But his service didn't end on the political front. Long after he had left this chamber, he continued quietly and in a dignified way to serve on the Fraser Valley Exhibition board and in other areas of agriculture that were so dear to his heart.
He passed away, as I think members know, a few days ago. Tomorrow the celebration of his life will take place. He was, amongst other things, a neighbour of mine, though we're not directly related. For those of us who had a chance to work with him, to know him, his passing represents a loss.
I know all members of the chamber, and particularly those who can trace their roots here back to a day when Harry De Jong sat as an MLA, will want to — as I do now — convey our condolences to his family and our thanks to them for sharing Harry De Jong, a great British Columbian, with the entire province and country.
Hon. S. Thomson: I rise today to pay tribute to the life and the contribution of Mr. Rick Mayor of Dawson Creek.
As the current vice-president of the B.C. Wildlife Federation, Rick has been a friend and a colleague for many years. Whether in his capacity as vice-president of the federation or president of the Dawson Creek Sportsman's Club or president of the B.C. Wildlife Federation in region 7B, he has been a persistent advocate of science-based wildlife management. He has been diligent in researching wildlife issues affecting both his region and the province and holding governments accountable to his policies.
Rick's passion and exemplary commitment to conservation of B.C.'s fish and wildlife habitat through his many years of service to the wildlife federation is a legacy to be commended. He was instrumental in setting up the Peace agricultural zone wildlife management committee. He was instrumental in setting up the wildlife advisory committee to the treaty 8 negotiation.
Rick strongly believed in collaboration and has proven in all facets of his life and work that collectively we can accomplish so much more than we can do on an individual basis. One of Rick's favourite sayings was "To be seen to be doing good," and Rick lives this mantra in all aspects of his life. Whether through his community or conservation, his legacy of leadership, dedication and collaboration sets a direction for all of us. Our job is to ensure that his legacy continues.
On behalf of the House — members on this side of the House and, I'm sure, members on the other side of the House — we want to thank Rick and his family for his extensive contribution to the province of British Columbia. Our thoughts and our prayers are with you today.
L. Popham: I rise today to ask the House to acknowledge the passing of Gary Runka, a dedicated British Columbian who made significant contributions to land use planning and natural resource management over several decades. Gary was the husband of our friend Joan Sawicki, former MLA for Burnaby-Willingdon, Speaker, and Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks. Gary died suddenly and unexpectedly last July near their home in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park.
Gary is perhaps best known as the first general manager and, later, chair of the Agricultural Land Commission. As a professional agrologist, Gary guided the drawing of the original agricultural land reserve boundaries and remained a passionate defender of both agriculture and the ALR for the remainder of his life.
After leaving the ALC, Gary established G.G. Runka Land Sense Ltd., with over 680 clients, including all levels of government, corporations, NGOs, educational institutions and individuals. Gary was well known and greatly respected across a broad field. He was highly successful as a facilitator of land use planning round tables throughout the 1990s, which resulted in the doubling of parks and protected areas in B.C.
He was trusted for his incredible knowledge, sense of fairness, good humour and devotion to the public interest. At the time of his death, Gary was facilitating the central coast marine area planning partnership involving the province, First Nations and various other stakeholders.
With Gary's passing, British Columbia has lost a true leader, who approached everything he did with passion, commitment and integrity. In addition to his wife, Joan, Gary leaves behind two daughters, Shaundehl Runka and Cayla Runka, and grandson Marek Maji.
I ask the Speaker to send condolences to the family on behalf of this House.
Madame Speaker: It shall be done.
MESSAGE OF APPRECIATION
S. Simpson: I wanted to take this, my first opportunity since the House has come back, to say a thank-you to the surgeons and VGH and the Cancer Agency for all of the support that I received when I went through my challenge with colon cancer this summer. It was obviously a bit of a life-changing event, and I have nothing but the greatest admiration for our health system and for the remarkable care that I got. I'm very pleased at how it's turned out. I feel very fortunate when my oncologist says: "Yes, you can say you're cancer-free." [Applause.] Thank you.
I feel very appreciative to the hundreds of people from across the province who sent me prayers and well wishes. We know that at this time when you're facing this kind of challenge — and many members in this House have at different times — the need to be positive and to continue to have a positive spirit is really critical to winning the battle. I felt that across the province.
Today I especially wanted to say a thank-you to all the members of this House, not just my caucus here but the government side, who were very gracious in their prayers and their comments, and the fruit basket was great. Thank you very much — and to the Speaker as well. It made a huge, huge difference to me and to my recovery.
I know our colleague the Minister of Agriculture is facing that same challenge today around colon cancer. I understand he's had his surgery and he's in recovery now. I'm sure that we would all say that there are 84 people sitting in this place who are all cheering for him to have a full recovery and to be back here healthy and hearty, as soon as possible.
So thank you, everybody.
Introductions by Members
Hon. C. Oakes: Good afternoon. I have the introduction today of three fabulous gentlemen. I'd like to introduce to the House today: Anthony Everett, who is the chair of the 2015 Canada Winter Games board; Stu Ballantyne, the CEO of the 2015 Canada Winter Games Society; and also in the gallery today is Mike Davis, the director of marketing and communications for the Canada Winter Games. These three gentlemen are part of a team that will be hosting the largest sporting event held in northern British Columbia. They've travelled to Victoria today to celebrate that we're almost exactly one year away from the start of the 2015 Canada Winter Games.
It was my very great pleasure today to announce that when the Canada Winter Games flame comes to British Columbia for the first time, it will happen here in Victoria in front of the Legislature. So please mark your calendars for October 17. It's going to be a big day, and when it arrives in Prince George on February 13, 2015, the north will be rolling out our welcome mat.
Media, athletes, coaches, families, fans, volunteers and supporters will be flocking to British Columbia for the games, which are expected to have an economic impact of $70 million to $90 million. We'll be ready, thanks to this fabulous team. Please join me in extending a warm welcome to the House to Anthony, Stu and Mike.
G. Holman: I'd like to introduce a constituent living on my home base, Saltspring Island, Chris Abbott, who is president of the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers Union. I suspect ferries might be an issue that this House might be discussing later in this session.
Please give a warm welcome to Mr. Abbott.
Hon. T. Stone: It gives me great pleasure to introduce to this House my beautiful wife, Chantal, who is down here from Kamloops. Chantal and I have been married for almost 14 years. We have three beautiful little girls. We are partners in growing a successful business, and she is right there by my side as we embark on this new political journey.
I'm not sure if she was so excited yesterday because of the throne speech or if it's that the three kids are with grandma and grandpa up in Kamloops, but I'd ask the House to please make Chantal welcome.
M. Bernier: I would really like the House to help me welcome two people who have never had the opportunity to come here to the House. It's their first time and, actually, I would honestly say, the reason why I'm here today. My mom and dad have travelled here. I've spoken with them quite at length about what happens here in the House, and I said: "What better way than to come and watch with your own eyes what happens here?" I know the members will not disappoint them today.
Please welcome Roger and Veronica Bernier.
J. Horgan: It's a pleasure to follow the member for Peace River South. I saw Blair Lekstrom here yesterday. I thought, "Dude, you don't work here anymore." The member was buying him lunch.
I would like to take this opportunity to introduce in the gallery today Dana Larsen, who is known to most people in this House, certainly known to many, many British Columbians. He is here today to meet with legislators and watch our proceedings.
Would the House make him very, very welcome.
J. Thornthwaite: I'd like to recognize and welcome my very, very hard-working constituency assistant, Alysia MacGrotty, who is there waving. I appreciate all the work that she does for me here as well as in my constituency office.
Welcome back to Victoria, and good travels back home.
C. James: I see a constituent from my riding up in the gallery, an individual who is an activist, a great supporter in the community of individuals who are in need, someone who has been involved in politics at one time or another in the past. Who knows? He may come back again someday. Would the House please welcome Richard Fahl.
Hon. S. Bond: In the spirit of the other comments that have been made today, I'm very pleased today to have my husband in the gallery. I know that just over a year ago he was very ill, had open-heart surgery, and I, too, was the benefactor of very kind wishes from both sides of the House.
We're delighted to say that he's doing very well. We couldn't be more thrilled with the progress, and I would ask that you would welcome Bill to the House today.
R. Fleming: It's a pleasure to introduce a couple of constituents of mine who are joining us today in the gallery, perhaps for their first time. I'll have to ask them when we get together after this part of the session this afternoon. With us here today are Catherine and John Culley. They're very active in my community. I would ask the House to make them welcome this afternoon.
J. Sturdy: Today I have the pleasure of introducing representatives of Innergex power, a renewable power and energy company with 13 clean energy projects operating throughout British Columbia but concentrated in the Sea to Sky.
West Vancouver–Sea to Sky is very much an agglomeration of run-of-river operations, and I know that we will look to the area in the future to be a centre of excellence in order that we can share our knowledge, experience and lessons on how run of river can best contribute to renewable energy supply in British Columbia. Innergex has certainly committed to British Columbia. By 2016, generally in partnerships with First Nations, they will have deployed over $1 billion in capital investment in this province.
It is my pleasure to introduce Michel Letellier, Richard Blanchet, Bas Brusche, Colleen Giroux-Schmidt, Amrit Dhatt and Patrick Michell. Please join me in making them welcome to the precincts.
Hon. M. Polak: In the gallery today I would like to make welcome two grade 5 classes visiting from Langley Christian School, who are touring the Legislature and are going to be watching us in question period. Would the House please make them feel welcome.
K. Conroy: As we have established a custom of doing in this chamber, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to introduce the newest member of our family. My grandson Kaelin Ian Batchelor was born on January 2, weighing a healthy 8 pounds 15.5 — almost 9 pounds — ounces. He is the fourth child to our daughter Sasha and her husband Kirk, a little brother to big sisters Daira and Aydenn and big brother to Ryen.
I know I have a ways to go to catch up to the former member from Chilliwack, but Kaelin is our sixth grandchild, and our seventh is due in June, as our son Wyllie and Jayme are expecting. Would the House please join me in welcoming Kaelin.
First Reading of Bills
BILL 2 — ELECTORAL BOUNDARIES
COMMISSION AMENDMENT ACT, 2014
Hon. S. Anton presented a message from Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Electoral Boundaries Commission Amendment Act, 2014.
Hon. S. Anton: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. S. Anton: I'm pleased to introduce the Electoral Boundaries Commission Amendment Act. The aim of this bill is to preserve representation in the Legislative Assembly for northern and rural regions of the province that are most at risk of losing seats in the next electoral boundary revision process.
The contents of the amendments contained in this bill were released publicly by government in a white paper on November 14 of last year. The amendments provide additions to the existing instructions that guide the independent Electoral Boundaries Commission in its work.
Specifically, the commission would be required to preserve the existing number of electoral districts in the north, the Cariboo-Thompson and Columbia-Kootenay regions of the province. The bill would not make any other changes to the boundary commission process. The bill also includes a provision which would keep the existing number of electoral districts in the province, which is 85.
It is challenging to balance urban and rural representation in a province as large and diverse as British Columbia. The previous Boundaries Commission urged the Legislature to address this issue, and we're bringing forward these amendments in order to provide for effective representation for all British Columbians.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 2, Electoral Boundaries Commission Amendment Act, 2014, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
GOVERNMENT APOLOGY FOR HISTORICAL
WRONGS AGAINST CHINESE CANADIANS
Hon. C. Clark: For the past few months, as members know, the Minister of International Trade and Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism has been meeting with members of the Chinese community from all across this great province. She has heard many, many very powerful stories from those who were impacted by historical wrongs inflicted on Chinese Canadians.
This has been an exercise in reaching out and in confronting a painful time in our collective history. It's been an opportunity to educate ourselves and all British Columbians about a time that we cannot and should not forget. But it is also a chance for forgiveness, with Chinese Canadians displaying the remarkable resilience and spirit that have made the Chinese community such a vibrant part of our province today.
I'd like to commend the minister and her staff and all members of this Legislature who have participated in the process. It wasn't an easy one. There are two members, at least, of this Legislature that have a direct personal connection to this. However, all members showed a spirit of openness and understanding, and it is only by working together that we can move forward.
The hearings attracted large numbers of people, and the work of compiling those compelling stories continues. The minister, along with the opposition, will now work together on a formal motion that will be introduced in this Legislature as an apology for historical wrongs.
But, Madame Speaker, there is one consistent thread throughout all the hearings, and that was the need for education. That's why today I can tell this House that I've asked the Minister of Education to work with the Minister for International Trade and Multiculturalism and with members of the opposition to ensure that our school curriculum reflects our true history.
British Columbia has a long history with many things of which we can be justifiably proud. But our history also has to be accurate. We don't serve anyone if we choose to ignore the parts of the past we would rather not remember. The changes to the curriculum will ensure that every child in British Columbia grows up knowing our history, including those mistakes that impacted so many people. If society does not learn from its mistakes, then we are doomed to repeat them.
Curriculum changes take time, and we want to make sure we get it right. Teachers will guide the process as they always do in changes to curriculum and design. But it will also include voices from the communities that were affected. This is a great province, one that is made strong by all those who have come here over the years to contribute. We have a unique opportunity as a generation to create an even more successful society, one that embraces its diversity, one that welcomes people from across the globe to British Columbia. Diversity is our strength, and working together united, we can make it even stronger.
A. Dix: Members of the House will know that the opposition, from the beginning, has worked on these issues to ensure that British Columbians understand not just the need for apologies and the need for reconciliation but what we're apologizing for. It's why we held events like the one we held last Friday, which weren't just with the Chinese-Canadian community — although that's very important — but with a broad cross-section of young people who today are in public schools reflective of the province, because virtually all our public schools reflect that diversity.
In my constituency of Vancouver-Kingsway, where some of the students were from, we have public schools with people whose parents and grandparents and great-grandparents come from 60 countries, and others who are First Nations. They are, I think, setting an example and leading for us.
What they said to us — to pick up what the Premier said — is that before you apologize, you have to know what you're apologizing for. That's why we prepared a document to talk about the history of this place, a place we're all very proud to sit in, where legislators, between 1872 and 1927, passed — get this — 89 pieces of legislation that were racist — against Chinese Canadians, against Japanese Canadians, against South Asian Canadians, against First Nations, against others.
Most of those bills passed unanimously in this Legislature. We passed a further 49 motions. So determined were we as a province to engage in these sorts of actions, we even passed 24 bills that were effectively unconstitutional and disallowed by the federal government. It is important that we understand this history and that British Columbians broadly understand this history, not just in our schools but broadly in our communities.
What we've been calling for from the beginning, the reason that we've involved young people in our process, the reason why we participated in the government's process as well, is because of our genuine commitment not just to apology but to reconciliation. That requires, as the Premier suggested, excellent ideas, such as changes to curriculum, so that we can reflect on our true history, especially in this year, the 100th anniversary of the Komagata Maru; especially in this time, when our province has to some degree reached beyond these past issues. Our past is part of us, and to achieve our best selves, we have to understand it, want to understand it and want to speak to ourselves about it.
What we will be doing in this time is of course supporting efforts to have an apology, participating in that process as fully as we can but also insisting that there be a continuing process of dialogue and reconciliation, that we do better than even we've done in recent years.
I was so moved — I think everyone in this House was moved — when the member for North Vancouver–Lonsdale moved a motion of apology for the internment of Japanese Canadians in May of 2011. But I think we have to acknowledge that we, all of us, did not do enough on that occasion. It happened one day in the House. It was very moving. I was very proud to be associated with it. I'm very proud of the work that the member for North Vancouver–Lonsdale did. But let's face it: after that day happened, we didn't do enough to follow up on that action, and we need to, as well, correct that now. We have to do it better this time.
Hon. Speaker, as we begin this session, let me agree with the Premier. There should be an apology. There must be a reconciliation. We must have a continuing process. The curriculum, of course, should be part of that. And we'll work together to really give value to that, to have a unanimous vote in this Legislature that we can be proud of and a continuing process of learning and understanding that will help all of us and help our province be its best self.
(Standing Order 25B)
E. Foster: This week is Winter Carnival in Vernon, and this year's carnival theme is "Superheroes." Madame Speaker, today I'd like to tell this House about one of my personal heroes. My good friend Patrick Nicol passed away on January 15 after a ten-year battle with leukemia. Patrick was an innovative radio broadcaster, a dedicated public servant, a community volunteer and a passionate humanitarian.
After many job application rejections from radio stations across western Canada, he landed his first job, the graveyard shift at CJAT in Trail, in February of 1969. Subsequent brief radio stops included Powell River, Regina and Calgary. From 1972 to '76, Patrick hosted the morning show at CFGP in Grande Prairie and acted as music director under the mentorship of Wally Everitt. And 1977 marked a watershed in Patrick's life and radio career as he moved with Wally to CJIB in Vernon.
Patrick loved Vernon and the North Okanagan and diligently promoted and supported arts, culture, sports and other civic activities. First elected to Vernon council in 1986, Patrick served 22 years and at the time of his death was chair of the North Okanagan regional district.
He delighted in responding to the needs of all citizens, building a better community through such initiatives as the Vernon Performing Arts Centre, the multiplex sports arena, libraries, museums, local parks and sports facilities.
Patrick was referred to by many children in Vernon as Mr. Canada Day, as he organized Canada Day celebrations at Polson Park for many years and served as president of the B.C. Canada Day Committee for 12 years.
We have all heard the expression: "If you don't have something good to say about someone, don't say anything at all." Patrick lived this every single day of his life. Thirty years I've known him; I never heard him say a harsh word about anybody.
Canada, British Columbia and especially Vernon have lost a great citizen. I wish the House to send condolences to Patrick's family.
H. Bains: I rise today to honour a great British Columbian, both in size and accomplishments, who we lost November 15. Jack Munro was the president of B.C.'s largest union, the IWA, for 19 years. He will be remembered for being one of B.C.'s most prominent, powerful and larger-than-life personalities during the '70s and '80s and right up until his passing.
Jack will be remembered not just for his negotiating skills that, quite frankly, were watched by every industry and every worker in this province. Union Jack can be remembered for leading some of the toughest strikes in B.C.'s history. Jack will be remembered for heading the B.C. Forest Alliance and his commitment to forest communities.
A deserving recipient of the Order of Canada, Jack founded the Labour Heritage Centre, based on his desire to ensure working people were rightfully recognized for their role in building our province. Jack Munro was a true British Columbian and a man whose life was guided by his desire to make life better for all working people in this province.
That desire also drove him to stay active in B.C. politics. Jack understood that working people needed a voice not only at the bargaining table but at the ballot box and ultimately in the halls of parliaments and legislatures like this one. He inspired, guided and directed people like me and others to seek public office. And of course he will be remembered for his colourful language.
Jack Munro was a real leader. He said what he meant, whether it was popular or not, but always with the best interests of working people at heart. We are all sad to lose him but are so proud to have been part of his life, of the lasting legacy that he has left behind.
Please join with me in honouring and celebrating the life of a great British Columbian, a great labour leader and a great man who did so much for so many British Columbians. And he would say to me today: "Goddamn it, Harry. Shut up."
J. Yap: British Columbia recently said farewell to a hero. Frank Wong was born in Vancouver on May 16, 1919. This was a period in our history, as the Premier noted, when being of Chinese heritage in this country meant you were not a Canadian citizen but had status only as a resident alien and you would be subject to discrimination by mainstream Canadians.
This did not diminish Frank's love of Canada. When war broke out, in 1941, he volunteered to serve and fight for Canada. Frank was one of several hundred Chinese resident aliens who so volunteered. In June 1944 Frank was among the tens of thousands of brave soldiers who landed at Juno Beach in Normandy under enemy fire. He dug trenches, witnessed the horrors of combat and helped to liberate Europe.
When the war ended, Frank returned to Canada as a decorated war hero but was still not a citizen. This honour would not arrive until 1947. Frank was extremely proud to have served his country during its time of need, and over the years after the war he volunteered his time to speak with Canadian youth, especially those of Chinese heritage, about the contributions of those that served.
Frank was one of the founding members of the Chinese Canadian Military Museum Society, which is dedicated to preserving this phase of our collective history. He served for many years as the museum's treasurer. Members may recall my past references in this House to the museum and its great work.
Frank Wong — a proud British Columbian, Canadian, hero — passed away September 12, 2013, at age 94. I had the honour of attending a dinner in Vancouver celebrating his life.
Frank will be missed by his family and friends, and he'll be remembered by those who knew him for his courage, humanity, service to community and being part of the unique history of Chinese-Canadian veterans among the great generation of World War II veterans. We remember them. We remember Frank Wong.
CHINESE NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS
B. Ralston: The celebration of lunar new year among Canadians tracing their cultural origins to China is widespread and continues to grow in popularity every year in our province. Increasingly, Chinese New Year is a community-wide celebration attracting the enthusiastic participation of a wide cross-section of British Columbians.
In Vancouver the recent Year of the Horse spring festival parade saw the attendance of many members of the Legislature, including the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition. Federal members of parliament, mayors and councillors from a number of cities in the regions also joined the celebration, and the number of business sponsors continues to grow.
I wish to recognize the leadership of those groups who jointly organized the festival — the Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver; the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver; the Vancouver Chinatown Merchants Association; SUCCESS; the Chinese Freemasons, Vancouver branch; and Shon Yee Benevolent Association of Canada — and, also, the many other volunteers who helped make the events of that weekend a success.
According to the Chinese zodiac, we are now entering the Year of the Horse. Some Chinese astrologers say this year is considered a good year that augurs luck and good fortune. I'm sure all members of the Legislature join me in expressing wishes for prosperity and health in the Year of the Horse. Gung hay fat choy. Gong xi, gong xi.
TIM JONES AND NORTH SHORE RESCUE
J. Thornthwaite: "Do not stand at my grave and weep. I'm not there. I do not sleep." On January 19 the world learned of the loss of Tim Jones. He was the prominent face and voice of North Shore Rescue. Tim saved thousands of lives and led even more rescues across the North Shore and beyond.
Tim is survived by his wife, Lindsay; son, Curtis; daughter, Taylor; husky Abbi; and by his extended family at North Shore Rescue and North Vancouver paramedics. He is sorely missed, but his legacy lives on.
Tim was the paramedic in charge of the B.C. Ambulance Service of North Vancouver for 32 years. But that was his day job. His time with North Shore Rescue was all volunteer work.
I met Tim almost immediately after being elected in 2009. He was my constituent and a relentless advocate for the community gaming grant program. As current and past ministers responsible for that portfolio can attest, he prompted me to chase them down the hall of the Legislature, ensuring North Shore Rescue was properly taken care of. He had my cell phone on speed-dial, and I will miss his regular texts, always ending in "Roger."
Tim was a walking fundraiser for North Shore Rescue, and the media loved him. He never took no for an answer. He worked tirelessly for people on the mountain and lobbied all levels of government on behalf of North Shore Rescue off the mountain.
He received the Order of B.C. and the Queen's Jubilee, and the Justice Institute is collecting a memorial endowment fund in his honour. There is an initiative to name the second peak of Mount Seymour, a place he frequented and rescued people from, Tim Jones peak.
It was Tim's dream to fund a legacy fund to ensure the long-term stability of North Shore Rescue. Please help keep his legacy alive by donating to North Shore Rescue.
"Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not there. I did not die." Roger.
B.C. ATHLETES AT
2014 OLYMPIC GAMES IN SOCHI
S. Robinson: I thought I would rise in the House today to appreciate, acknowledge and celebrate our British Columbian athletes over in Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. So many of us are focused on the tally of medals, and our Canadian athletes are certainly making us all proud. As someone who has the competitive spirit of an athlete but the body of a ten-year-old child, I can appreciate the dedication and focus these individuals demonstrate to us as they compete at this highest level.
We need to remember that while their performance on the international stage garners medals, their efforts and sacrifices speak to so much more. They are role models for us all. They demonstrate good sportsmanship, hard work, patience and perseverance. They teach us what it means to be a team player and to make sacrifices.
As the official opposition critic for Sport, I want to acknowledge all 30 of our British Columbian athletes competing in Russia. Their mere presence at these games makes us proud of their efforts.
Jamie Benn, Victoria; Justin Dorey, Vernon; Rob Fagan, Cranbrook; Liam Firus, North Van; Dan Hamhuis, Smithers; Tandy Heinicke, Prince George; Jessica Hewitt, Langley; Kevin Hill, Chilliwack; Michael Janyk, North Van; Duncan Keith, Penticton; Justin Kripps, Summerland; Crispin Lipscomb, Whistler; Matt Margetts, Victoria; Kimberley McRae, Victoria; Denny Morrison, Chetwynd; Eric Neilson, Kelowna; Mercedes Nicoll, North Van; Spencer O'Brien, Alert Bay; Manuel Osborne-Paradis, North Vancouver; Carey Price, Vancouver; Morgan Pridy, Vancouver; Maëlle Ricker, North Vancouver; Kelsey Serwa, Kelowna; Georgia Simmerling, Vancouver; Elli Terwiel, New West; Marielle Thompson, North Van; Ben Thomsen, Invermere; Yuki Tsubota, Vancouver; Shea Weber, Salmon Arm.
A special mention for Kevin Reynolds. I know that North Van likes to claim him as one of their own because he was born there, but I want to be really clear: he was raised in Coquitlam-Maillardville. It's where he lives right now. He's coming home with a silver medal in team figure skating and has another chance at a medal in the men's individual skate.
I ask the House to please join me in wishing all of these fine athletes all the very best as they perform their little hearts out on our behalf.
Madame Speaker: Hon. Members, if I might draw your attention to the new timing lights located on the Clerk's table. I will look forward to your compliance tomorrow.
GOVERNMENT APPROACH TO
TEACHERS' COLLECTIVE BARGAINING
AND RELEASE OF COURT DOCUMENTS
A. Dix: It looks like Studio 54 in here.
A. Dix: You bet. The Minister of Finance is already dancing, and it's just day one.
On January 27 the B.C. Supreme Court, Madam Justice Griffin, ruled in an important case that concluded that the government did not negotiate in good faith after the Bill 28 decision.
One of the problems — I'm quoting the court — was that the government representatives were "preoccupied by another strategy. Their strategy was to put such pressure on the union that it would provoke a strike by the union. The government representatives thought this would give the government the opportunity to gain political support for imposing legislation."
A simple question to the Premier. Why did the Premier and her government attempt to provoke a full-scale school strike, all in order to impose unconstitutional legislation a second time around? Will she make public the documents submitted to the court that detail that strategy?
Hon. S. Anton: As the Leader of the Opposition knows, this is a matter before the courts. That's where this matter will be heard, and that's where we should leave it.
A. Dix: Well, the Attorney General, the Minister of Justice, lives in a world where it's not before the courts for the Premier to say on CHNL that Madam Justice Griffin's ruling does not represent the facts in the case. It's fine to answer questions from Pamela Martin in an infomercial. It's fine for the Minister of Education to send 40,000 letters out commenting on the ruling. That's not before the courts.
The Premier and her government conspired to provoke a full-scale school strike, and they should answer questions about it in here, in the Legislature….
A. Dix: The Premier has said that Madam Justice Griffin didn't get her facts right in the case. Let's see what the facts are.
Just quoting from the court record, Paul Straszak, the government's point man in implementing the cabinet's school strike strategy, was asked in court: "So your objective as government was to increase the pressure on teachers to have them go out on a full-scale strike?" Mr. Straszak's answer — and this is on September 17, 2013, at 10:51 a.m. — is: "Yes, I'll say that's correct."
In other words, the Premier is going around the province on CHNL saying that Madam Justice Griffin doesn't have her facts right. Madam Justice Griffin has her facts right. That's exactly what the government has already admitted to have done.
What I think the people of B.C. would like to see are the very documents that Madam Justice Griffin made her decision on. Can the Premier tell this House why…? If she can say it to CHNL, if the minister can talk about it all over the province, why can't she answer those questions in this House? Why did she act to provoke a school strike in British Columbia?
Hon. S. Anton: As this House will know, the appeal has been filed. The matter will be heard by the courts, and we will leave it to the courts to decide these matters and to draw their conclusions accordingly.
A. Dix: In the court transcripts — given that the Premier has stated publicly that the B.C. Supreme Court got its facts wrong — let's look at other parts of Mr. Straszak's sworn testimony.
He testified under oath how he shared with the Premier's deputy minister, John Dyble, that: "You need a social licence to legislate. It could be harder to obtain if there is a targeted strike versus a full-scale strike." This was part of documents filed with the court. Another — exhibit 14 in the court, cabinet working group on collective bargaining — talks about tools to increase the pressure on the TF to escalate the strike.
I think that it's reasonable to conclude from the evidence provided — not by teachers or by parents or by anyone else, but by evidence presented by government people in the court — that the Premier and her government set out to provoke a strike to stop kids from going to school to further Liberal political interests. And they have been found to have done so based on voluminous testimony and documents by their own officials in court. They have admitted to have done so through their negotiator, Mr. Straszak, in court.
The people have a right to know what their Premier and their government were doing when they were trying to stop children from attending public school in B.C. This is how far the Premier will go. Will the Premier tell us today what she knew and when she knew it and release the documents?
Hon. S. Anton: The Court of Appeal will consider the evidence which was led in the Supreme Court. It will consider the judgment that was made in the Supreme Court. It will hear the arguments of counsel, and the Court of Appeal will come to its conclusion. We must leave them to it.
R. Fleming: I can't help but notice the difference in the silence of the Premier and the Education Minister in this House and that which goes on outside of this House. Since filing the appeal, the minister and the Premier haven't missed one opportunity to go on open-line talk radio, TV every night and print opportunities. They even sent a letter to 40,000 teachers last week giving their view on why they think the court is wrong, and now they have nothing to say in this House.
We have sworn testimony in open court — this is not sealed — evidence given by government witnesses, and it deserves answers here in the House today.
After Mr. Straszak, B.C.'s chief negotiator, talked to the Premier's deputy minister in June, he then went on to advise cabinet about the need for a full-scale strike. He said in court, under oath: "Cabinet would be in an awkward situation in the context of a low-scale strike, meaning it's going to want to put an end to it, but the public won't necessarily see the need for the legislation because the kids are still in school."
In September of that year the strike the government wanted didn't materialize. Parents have a right to know how far this government was willing to go for their own political gain.
If she insists that she has nothing to hide — the Premier of British Columbia — why won't she table the document from court here in the House this afternoon so British Columbians can see it and judge it for themselves?
Hon. S. Anton: A number of documents were filed at trial. Those will be considered by the Court of Appeal. The evidence at trial will be considered by the Court of Appeal. The judgment at trial will be considered by the Court of Appeal. Arguments of counsel will be heard by the Court of Appeal. Let us let the Court of Appeal properly come to its conclusion.
R. Fleming: Since the Premier won't release the documents, apparently, this afternoon, let's talk about the evidence that was included in sworn testimony from government witnesses in an open session of court. Passages that were sworn into the record reveal that this government saw negotiations with the teachers not as a means to help students but as a means to get a full-blown school strike for political purposes.
I quote from this sworn record: "Managing negotiations, however, is more challenging. There's no indication that the BCTF is interested in escalating to a full strike this calendar year." The document then goes on to say this: "We have some tools to increase the pressure on the TF to escalate the strike."
This testimony is a bombshell to British Columbian parents and kids around this province. It's up to the Premier of British Columbia to tell this House today which tools the B.C. Liberals planned to deploy to provoke a full-scale shutdown to disrupt the lives of parents and kids in British Columbia.
Hon. S. Anton: The testimony which was before the court and the evidence which was before the court will be in front of the Court of Appeal. The judgment of the court will be in front of the Court of Appeal. The arguments of counsel will be in front of the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal will make its judgment accordingly.
C. James: Children, families and the public deserve answers in this case. The minister had no qualms in talking about this issue outside the House. In fact, the letter he sent to teachers was titled "Why the government is appealing the teachers ruling." No worries about talking to teachers and talking to the public then.
The Premier as recently as last night was talking through the media about reasons for appealing the teachers ruling." No worries about talking to teachers and talking to the public then. The Premier, as recently as last night, was talking, through the media, about reasons for appealing. It appears that it's in this House, on the record, that the government just won't say anything to the public. They deserve better than they're getting.
I also want to speak about testimony in court. Under oath it was said that some of the tools this government planned to use to provoke a strike included applying to the labour board to dock teachers' pay, to cancel professional development days. But there was a concern in government that school districts wouldn't support those measures.
My question is to the Premier. What was her involvement in a plan that included putting pressure on school districts to ensure compliance with her plan to ensure that a school strike would happen?
Hon. S. Anton: The testimony in its entirety will be in front of the Court of Appeal. All of the evidence will be in front of the Court of Appeal. The judgment of the Supreme Court will be in front of the Court of Appeal, as will the arguments of counsel. The Court of Appeal will make its judgment accordingly, and we must leave them to it.
C. James: The facts are the facts. They aren't up for appeal. The public will judge this government on those facts.
In court it was stated that the government considered cutting funding to school districts to ensure compliance with the Premier's hopes for a full-scale strike. On September 17 the government's representative was asked under oath if it was suggested that this government "short payments to school districts to encourage them." His answer was: "Yeah."
Again to the Premier: what was her involvement in this plan to withhold money from school districts to force a full-scale strike and shutdown of B.C.'s schools?
Hon. S. Anton: The testimony of the witnesses in its entirety will be part of the record which the Court of Appeal will be considering — the evidence of the witnesses, the arguments of counsel, the judgment of the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeal will make its decision, and we should leave them to it.
S. Hammell: We know that the only reason this B.C. Liberal government did not withhold funding from school districts was because the labour board did not go along with that part of their plan to create chaos for students and parents.
If the Premier is confident that her government has done nothing wrong, will she stop blocking the evidence that the court relied on to make their findings?
Hon. S. Anton: The evidence in its entirety will be before the court. The arguments of counsel will be before the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal will be considering the judgment of the honourable justice of the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeal will come to its decision, and this House should not be interfering with that.
S. Hammell: The B.C. Supreme Court made it clear that releasing these documents, the evidence the minister speaks of, represents "the public interest in an open court process."
If this government is going to tell the Supreme Court it is wrong, will the Premier at least release these documents so that British Columbians can judge for themselves whether the B.C. Liberal government was serving the public or themselves in their dealings with the children and schools in our province?
Hon. S. Anton: The documents which were before the court form part of the record. The evidence forms part of the record. The judgment, of course, is part of the record. Arguments of counsel will be made in the Court of Appeal. We must leave the Court of Appeal to come to their proper conclusion.
B. Ralston: In her judgment, Madam Justice Griffin in fact ordered the disclosure of cabinet documents. The principle on which she based that was — and I'm quoting from the judgment: "One of the reasons for the open court principle is to allow the public access to the same evidence that the court relied on, so as to allow the public the opportunity to critique the court's judgment."
The Premier felt free, apparently, at a Liberal fundraiser last night to say that the judge got the facts wrong, but she won't order the release of the very documents that would either support or not support the opinion that she expresses so bravely before her Liberal fundraising colleagues.
Hon. S. Anton: The member for Surrey-Whalley, as a lawyer himself, will know that when things are before the court, that is the place to leave them. The evidence is before the court, the arguments will be before the court, the documents are before the court, the judgment will be before the court, and the Court of Appeal will be making its decision upon considering all of the record, all of the arguments and all of the documents. We should leave them to it.
B. Ralston: Madam Justice Griffin, in her reasons, also advanced other reasons why the cabinet documents, which form the basis of the judgment that she made, should be released to the public. She said in the case: "This is a unique case where the government relied on assertions of fact regarding its conduct, alleging it had consulted in good faith. It was the testing of that assertion that made the documents highly relevant." In other words, the Premier is criticizing the judge, the court, saying the facts are wrong, yet refuses to release the very documents that the judge relied on to make that decision.
Will the Premier admit that the time to release those documents is now?
Hon. S. Anton: The documents are part of the court record. They will be considered by the Court of Appeal along with the record of the trial and along with the judgments from the trial. Let us let the Court of Appeal make its decision.
N. Macdonald: For 200 days this government has avoided accountability here in this Legislature. Let's agree that it's 201 today.
There is a Premier and a minister that can talk on CKNW. They can go on NL. They can talk about it in a letter to 40,000 teachers. They can talk about it in a fundraiser. But when it comes to the one place where they should have an obligation to speak about it and to answer to the people of British Columbia, they choose to sit and do nothing.
We have court documents that show that the government's own representative testified under oath in the court of law. He said as follows. He was asked first: "So your objective as government was to increase the pressure on teachers to have them go out on a full-scale strike." His answer: "Yes, I'll say that's correct." That is the fact, and yet the government wrote a letter to every teacher in B.C. saying that that government disagrees with the Supreme Court finding that the government tried to provoke a strike.
My question is to the Premier. Are you suggesting that the lead negotiator for your government perjured himself?
Hon. S. Anton: The evidence which was tendered in the Supreme Court forms part of the record which will be before the Court of Appeal — the entire evidence of each witness. The documents which are before the Supreme Court will be in front of the Court of Appeal — the entire documents. The judgment, of course, will be considered by the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal will come to its conclusion in a proper manner. We will not be interfering with its decision-making.
N. Macdonald: I think British Columbians would be interested to know the facts. I mean, we know that in court, under oath, the chief negotiator for this government, under instructions from this government, said that they were intending to provoke a strike. That is what was said under oath.
This minister, this government, sends out a letter to 40,000 teachers, misrepresenting the truth, basically saying that that wasn't the case. They are free to comment on it here in letters, but they will not comment on it where they should, which is here in this House.
Everything about this is reprehensible. Everything about it is wrong — to use the public education system as a plaything for political opportunity. Why does the Premier feel that she has the right to hurt students, to hurt parents and to hurt teachers for her own political gain?
Hon. S. Anton: As the member opposite knows, the appeal has been filed. The record in its entirety will be heard and read by the Court of Appeal. The evidence will be considered by the Court of Appeal. The arguments of counsel will be considered by the Court of Appeal, as will the judgment of the Supreme Court. Let us leave it to the Court of Appeal to come to its decision.
POSITION OF FORMER
LOTTERY CORPORATION CEO
WITH PV HOSPITALITY PARTNERSHIP
S. Simpson: Two weeks ago Michael Graydon announced that he was leaving his position as chief executive officer of the B.C. Lottery Corporation. We discovered days later that he had jumped to PV Hospitality as the chief executive officer for the new proposed casino resort in Vancouver. This is a company that is owned by Paragon Gaming and 360 Vox. The chair of the B.C. Lottery Corporation, Bud Smith, released a statement saying that he first learned of this on the 29th of January.
It's not believable that Mr. Graydon negotiated his agreement somewhere between the 29th of January and yesterday when he started his new job. It appears, for all intent, that Mr. Graydon must have been having some form of discussions with this new company about the terms and conditions of his new employment. That would be a conflict of interest, in my mind.
My question to the minister is: has he investigated this? Has he determined if Mr. Graydon in fact was negotiating without telling his board that he was involved in this process? Does he believe that would constitute a conflict?
Hon. M. de Jong: Welcome back, to the member. A couple of questions there. I'll try to answer them as best I can.
First of all, I don’t think the issue is that Mr. Graydon left his position. I don't think the hon. member has said that's the issue. People are allowed to leave. He leaves bound by certain conditions, some of them relative to the common law and his fiduciary responsibility to his previous employer, the B.C. Lottery Corporation, and some of them pursuant to the terms of his leaving.
The issue that the member has raised is a fair one, which is why I wrote to and directed the internal audit section of the ministry to examine that very issue — whether or not, during the lead-up to his departure from the corporation, any decisions by the corporation or Mr. Graydon or any actions by the corporation or Mr. Graydon could have been reasonably construed as having been influenced or advantaged the agency that he subsequently went to work for.
I have also sent a similar direction to the chair of the B.C. Lottery Corporation. I'm happy to provide the hon. member with copies of that correspondence and will await their findings.
S. Simpson: As the minister says, the key issue here is: was he, in fact, conducting business as president and CEO of this corporation without telling his board that he was in active negotiations for a new job?
So people will know, the Lottery Corporation guidelines are clear: "An apparent conflict of interest exists where there is a reasonable apprehension, which reasonably well-informed persons could properly have, that a conflict of interest exists…. This applies even where no conflict is found to actually exist." So it is an apparent conflict. I will look forward to the results of this investigation, because it clearly seems to be there.
There's a second issue here. The second issue is that, as the minister will know, the previous Deputy Minister to the Premier, Mr. Dobell, who was the deputy to Mr. Campbell at the time, put in place a policy. That policy was to enforce a one-year cooling-off period for senior public service staff, the intention being, of course, that the policy stipulated that a person must not accept an offer of employment or contract to provide services to an outside entity for a year after the end of employment if they had been actively engaged, as with a gaming corporation.
That policy was introduced in order to protect the integrity of confidential information. The minister will know that Mr. Graydon may have signed a confidentiality agreement, but he knows what he knows today, and it will influence his ability to make decisions, presumably, since he knows it.
My question is this. Why was this policy not adhered to? The policy can only be waived in one way, and it would need to be waived by the Deputy Minister to the Premier — in this case, Mr. Dyble. My question is this. Was this policy enforced? And did Mr. Dyble and the Premier's office waive the position so Mr. Graydon could move forward into this job?
Hon. M. de Jong: A lengthy question. Look, I do want to be cautious about and urge the member to be cautious about jumping to conclusions, and I want to say to the House that I am not aware of any circumstances that would suggest there was improper conduct here.
Having said that, the transition period covering the time when, apparently, discussions were taking place with a new employer while Mr. Graydon remained with the B.C. Lottery Corporation is a period of time where it is fundamentally important that there not have been any actual or appearance of conflict. We are looking into that. I have undertaken to provide the hon. member with a copy of the correspondence directing that.
There are additional guidelines that govern Mr. Graydon's conduct and his duty of confidentiality to the B.C. Lottery Corporation. We will utilize and the corporation will utilize the measures at its disposal to ensure that those guidelines are upheld as well.
I'll provide the member with the documentation I've referred to, but again, I urge him against jumping to conclusions prematurely.
Madame Speaker: Hon. Members, I have the honour to present the report of the independent panel on Internet voting in British Columbia: Recommendations Report to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.
Motions without Notice
LEGISLATIVE SITTING HOURS
Hon. M. de Jong: With leave, I move the motion that verifies the hours of sitting for the House. For the information of members, further to my conversation with the hon. Opposition House Leader, this enshrines in the standing orders this change, where the House will sit until 7 p.m. on Wednesdays and 6 p.m. on Thursdays — the practice that the House has followed through the past number of sessions. By leave, I would move that motion.
[That effective immediately, the Standing Orders of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia be amended as follows:
1. That Standing Order 2 (1) is deleted and the following substituted:
2. (1) The time for the ordinary meeting of the House shall, unless otherwise ordered, be as follows:
Monday: Two distinct sittings:
10 a.m. to 12 noon
1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday: Two distinct sittings:
10 a.m. to 12 noon
1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
1:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Thursday: Two distinct sittings:
10 a.m. to 12 noon
1:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
2. That Standing Order 3 be deleted and the following substituted:
Hour of interruption.
3. If at the hour of 6:30 p.m. on any Monday and Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, and 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, the business of the day is not concluded and no other hour has been agreed on for the next sitting, the Speaker shall leave the Chair:
until 10 a.m. Tuesday
until 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday
until 10 a.m. on Thursday
until 10 a.m. on Monday
subject to the provisions of Standing Order 2 (2) (b).]
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. de Jong: I call reply to the throne speech.
Throne Speech Debate
S. Gibson: In accordance with parliamentary tradition, I move, seconded by the hon. member for Peace River South, that:
[We, Her Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Legislative Assembly of B.C. in session here assembled, beg leave to thank Your Honour for her gracious speech which Your Honour has addressed to us in the beginning of this session.]
On behalf of my constituents of the beautiful riding of Abbotsford-Mission, it's a privilege to be the first member to rise here today and address the Speech from the Throne.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
Given my place here, I will refrain from using that familiar expression "our side of the House."
In the Lieutenant-Governor's speech she reminded us that the global economy is fragile. We know that; we read the business press. We know that the economy is still coming back, and we sometimes worry about that when we look in the business press. But our government, our enterprising government, is taking the steps needed to position itself for future growth. I think we're all excited about that in this place.
One of the three main priorities that we have heard and we're addressing as government is job creation. When people are working, they're contributing. Families are more successful, more contented when there are jobs created. Economic growth. There's a vibrancy, and people can feel that as the economy starts to turn around. It's exciting.
Controlling government spending is No. 3. This government is committed to controlling government spending. I think we're all very enthusiastic about that.
Seeking out new markets worldwide. I'll be discussing that in a moment in some detail.
Expanding the customer base for B.C. products abroad. Agriculturally…. We'll discuss that in a moment — hundreds of opportunities to get out into new markets around the global picture. Promote economic growth by investing in transportation infrastructure.
As a former chair of the Abbotsford-Mission Transit Committee, even in our communities we know how important transportation infrastructure is. We're excited about that, and I'm excited to speak to that today.
Ensuring tax dollars will be well spent by conducting a core review of government operations. Basic, very basic. Most companies do this. From time to time they review the services and products they're offering. It's great timing. It's very propitious that we're doing that. When governments do that, who benefits? The citizens benefit. They get better value.
Finally, strengthening our economy for families. Our families are the hallmark, the foundation, of our country and of our province. When families are secure, the province is secure.
Exciting news. Probably many of you have seen that the Conference Board of Canada predicts that B.C. will lead the country in economic growth in 2015, and that was affirmed by the Lieutenant-Governor's very eloquent speech. The Conference Board recognizes that B.C. is getting the basics right. They're affirming what we're doing. They're saying: "You know what? You guys are dong a great job. Keep going, and the economy is going to rock." We're excited about that.
Government does not directly create jobs. We sometimes say: "Well, why doesn't government do this?" But government creates the environment, the atmosphere, for jobs, and then the private sector follows. That's very encouraging.
As far as taxes, one thing we've been very proud of is keeping taxes down. B.C. gains a competitive advantage by adopting a low-tax regime, leaving money in the pockets of people to make their own decisions.
We've reduced small business tax by 40 percent — that's the plan for 2018 — and are reducing corporate income tax by 10 percent by 2018. Who benefits? The small business sector.
As well, we're driving small business by encouraging them. In fact, you'll notice, if you look at the statistics, that small business drives 55 percent of B.C. export — 55 percent.
As a former owner of a manufacturing company, I know how important it is to affirm small business. My company had 13 employees, but we worked hard, and we contributed to the economy. There are thousands of small businesses just like that all across every constituency represented in this chamber.
We're cutting red tape, cutting out the bureaucracy that's the obstacle for small business and larger business, which say: "You're holding back the opportunity for me to do business." Excessive red tape is a drag on the economy, and it costs jobs as well. Our goal is to become the most business-friendly jurisdiction in Canada.
Many of us are very excited…. I come out of a municipal background in the city of Abbotsford, where I was a councillor for three decades. Some of you have heard about the mobile business licence program. That's a very exciting initiative.
This program has expanded with two pilot projects in 12 Lower Mainland communities. The Fraser Valley intermunicipal business licence program involves nine municipalities — including the cities of Abbotsford and Mission, which I represent here in the Legislature. There are 58 communities around B.C. that now have these mobile licences.
It's a great thing. You don't have to apply individually. It all applies to an area — so very, very important.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business. We got a prize. Now, I give letter grades as a university instructor. I give out a few Cs, and I do give out some Bs, but I don't give out very many As. We got an A. We got an A for cutting red tape, and it's for the third year in a row. That's very affirming.
It makes me feel good, as a government MLA, to say: "An outside party like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said, 'You know what? You're helping us. You're not hindering us; you're helping us.' Good news." We're the only province in Canada to have that designation this year.
The kinds of things we're doing with the B.C. jobs plan also really excite me. As someone who teaches university students, I know how important it is to give students the skills so that they'll have the confidence they'll need to succeed, and that's exactly what the B.C. jobs plan does. It parallels beautifully what post-secondary institutions are trying to do today to get people out into the workforce.
Entrepreneurship. That's one of the keys to our society, for our success, and it was my privilege to teach entrepreneurship at the University of the Fraser Valley in the school of business.
So many of my students were passionate about getting into business. That's exactly what we want to affirm here in the Legislature. The goal of the B.C. jobs plan is to get young people excited about their career so that they can go out and raise their families, accomplish a lot and contribute to the economy.
Forty-three percent of future job openings are going to require trades or some technical training here in the province of British Columbia, and training programs have got to anticipate what companies are going to be looking for in the future. That's the tough part. We've discussed that here a little bit.
Trade missions to Asia. We've read that in the media. Very exciting, the results from that. Labour and First Nations were involved — it's very useful that we can get together — and 120 company representatives. Our government is out there around the world — in China, and the Premier in Korea and Japan — looking for new markets, working hard at it. The results will benefit business here in the province of British Columbia.
Investors want economic certainty, and that's what I believe our government brings. That was affirmed by that speech that we heard yesterday, that presentation by the Lieutenant-Governor, which was very affirming. Cooperation between business and government is the hallmark of what we're trying to do.
The Pacific Gateway. One of the interesting things that I really learned only recently is that the Port of Prince Rupert is two days closer to Asia than any other port in the U.S. Well, time is money, and if we can reduce that time to get our products across to the emerging Asian markets, it's very exciting for all of us and for all of our sectors. Since 2001 Pacific Gateway partners have spent $17 billion, including infrastructure on roads, railways, bridges and ports — again, a real asset to the province.
A little bit about agriculture. I come from a community, Abbotsford-Mission, which is just fantastic for agriculture. In fact, Abbotsford is the number one community in British Columbia for farm revenue for agriculture. And our productivity level is three times what it is in parts of Ontario — tremendous productivity. Blueberries, raspberries. Come out to Abbotsford — luscious, luscious raspberries out there.
I want to encourage you to think in terms of the excitement, the passion, that people have to get their products to the marketplace. We as a government want to make that possible. There is a real pent-up demand for a lot of our agricultural products. I was reminded by a previous Minister of Agriculture that we have over 200 agricultural commodities that can be sold around the world.
Our B.C. trade relations are going well, but the formula is changing a little. We used to depend on the U.S. exclusively in the old days. The paradigm is changing. In 2007, 60 percent of our exports went to the U.S., 13 percent to Japan and 5 percent to China. Today 12 percent went to Japan, 19 percent to China and 48 percent to the U.S. So it's dropping. The formula is changing, but it gives us diversity, which is very encouraging.
The Pacific Northwest Economic Region. Some of you know about that. That was alluded to as well. That's a partnership of the western provinces and territories: British Columbia plus the western States, which include Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho.
I have the privilege of serving on that committee and was just down in Olympia a few weeks ago hearing the governor's State of the State speech. I really appreciated the fact that we were introduced there, got to know the governor and actually met with him. Very exciting initiatives there, because it gives the opportunity, kind of a Cascadia model, of working together with other jurisdictions in the U.S.
We hear so much about balancing the budget. Sometimes we say: "Oh well, we just kind of hear too much about that." We underestimate sometimes, I think, the importance of balancing the budget. The example that I sometimes give to people is if a family is paying for their groceries with Visa, that's not a healthy family situation. It's a small kind of paradigm or metaphor which can happen in most provinces in Canada, and if we look around the world, we see governments that just don't balance their budgets.
It's exciting because our Premier and the Minister of Finance are committed to balance the budget, to make it a top priority, and I'm very pleased, as one member of this House on the government side, to be very enthusiastic about that.
Balancing the budget is not an easy thing to do. It doesn't come easily. It requires a lot of work. I had the privilege of serving on Treasury Board and seeing the challenges there. A very, very important initiative.
The balanced budget is committed to for the next four years as well. Each of the next four years the commitment is the balanced budget, and 50 percent of future surpluses will be dedicated directly to paying down the debt. So there's a plan here; there's a strategy. As the Premier has mentioned, we're focused. We're on task and on target. We're committed again to the balanced-budget law, which will entrench tougher penalties for ministers who miss their budget targets.
We still have — and it's tough — a triple-A credit rating. That gives us tremendous prestige in international markets, when our Minister of Finance can say we have a triple-A credit rating, and we're all very proud of that.
Investing in families. A little bit of technical information to kind of read to you here. The B.C. early childhood tax benefit will provide $146 million to about 180,000 families with children under six years old. The B.C. training and education savings grant, which has been very well received by British Columbians, is a one-time $1,200 grant contribution towards a child's RESP following their sixth birthday — an important initiative. The B.C. early-years strategy will invest $76 million over three years to support the creation of new child care spaces — very critical for the security of families today.
A commitment, again, to freezing personal income tax and the carbon tax for the next five years. Lower income tax leaves more money in the pockets of families, so they can make a decision on what they do with their own money. I think we would be enthusiastic about that.
The world is looking to B.C. right now with three letters — LNG, liquefied natural gas. It's exciting what's going on, the amount of money that's being spent just to get ready for LNG. We're committed to that. The global demand for liquefied natural gas has doubled in the last ten years, and it's predicted by experts to increase by another 50 percent in the next seven years. Demand is burgeoning. We're all, I think, looking forward to the growth there and the tremendous opportunities in the north, tremendous opportunities in the Peace River country — very exciting opportunities there.
B.C. is serious about becoming a stable and reliable source of energy on the global stage. This is one of our classic commitments and, I think, a defining moment for the government in many ways. LNG will diversify our economy and provide a significant source of public revenue for decades to come, and the B.C. prosperity fund will be established and used to eliminate, to pay off, B.C.'s provincial debt.
These are exciting times. There's a real passion that I feel our government has, and that energy is translating into an optimism that we find in all sectors of the province. In Abbotsford-Mission, I'm very pleased to say, there's a real ebullient mood. I'm really honoured to represent the people of Abbotsford-Mission, to begin the discussion today and to move the motion.
Now I'm going to turn things over, hon. Speaker, and turn over the floor to my esteemed colleague, the hon. member for Peace River South.
M. Bernier: It's an amazing opportunity and a privilege, obviously, to rise today and second the motion from my friend the member for Abbotsford-Mission. It's an honour to have a few moments, also, to speak to the amazing opportunities that we have here in front of us, as were mentioned in the positive and forward-thinking Speech from the Throne.
Before I get started, please indulge me. I want to have a few moments just to welcome a few guests again that I have in the House, a few people who have helped get me here today.
To start, I want to acknowledge my parents, Roger and Veronica Bernier, who are with us today. You know, they travelled here to Victoria. I was explaining to them how Hansard works and how what you say in the House is recorded in perpetuity and forever. I know that they would have wanted to go on the record to say I'm their favourite child. Unfortunately, they're not able to do that, so I just did that on their behalf. So thank you.
I also want to take a few moments and thank my constituency assistant, Cindy Fisher, who's back working hard in the constituency office, holding down the fort while we're in session.
One comment that I've constantly heard from people is that governments, just like people, have to have goals and we have to work towards them. We have to be giving people hope. We have to be leading.
We have to also sometimes make the tough decisions. With that, I just want to mention that I am proud of the group that I am working with and all the hon. members that are here in government who I say are doing just that. Since being elected to this seat, I have quickly grown respect for every single person in this House. I have witnessed firsthand the dedication that you all have for the people of British Columbia, and I want to say thank you.
The transition for members like myself who are also new and in our first term has been made a lot easier because of the amazing and dedicated staff that we have here in Victoria. So I want to take this opportunity to go on the record and say thank you to everybody here for all the help that they've given myself and all the new members.
Less than a year ago, on May 14, British Columbians and the people of Peace River South chose to vote for a strong economy and a secure tomorrow. The agenda of this government was widely supported by my constituents, and I was incredibly proud to stand for election and to support these values. Our government, under the leadership of our Premier, is committed to serve British Columbians every single day with a clear, direct and forward-thinking agenda that was outlined in our throne speech.
We're speaking of growth. We're speaking of change. We're speaking of opportunities, and we're showing British Columbians that we are moving in a positive direction, making sure that we actually have plans not only for this generation but for generations into the future.
British Columbia is the land of opportunity, and the people of British Columbia want vision. They want leadership. They want stability, and they want passion. They want to know that there is an opportunity for them and their families, and that is exactly what this government has not only promised but is delivering. Our government is putting forward an ambitious plan to help all British Columbians, and the busy legislative agenda this session, I believe, reflects this.
As mentioned, our commitment to balanced budgets and controlling spending will ensure that our economy will remain the strongest in Canada. Our future as an economic leader in the nation is based upon our ability to keep our fiscal house in order, which will guarantee that our children will not be burdened with debt.
Investing in infrastructure to further develop our natural resource is essential for the growth in British Columbia, for our economy and everybody in the province of B.C.
As was mentioned, we've been taking time to build our relationships overseas with the fastest-growing economies in Asia through our trade missions, which are bringing together government and private sector leaders to showcase B.C. around the world. We're creating those relationships, which will increase the demand for our forestry, our manufactured goods and our natural resource sectors, and we're making sure that we have buyers in place for our B.C. products.
In my riding of Peace River South I'm seeing firsthand all of the opportunities that are available to us and how diverse that resource sector is in British Columbia. More importantly, I can actually attest to the fact that we are seeing unprecedented growth and further opportunity in so many areas.
We have a lot of mining in Tumbler Ridge. We have the forestry sector in Chetwynd. We have the oil and natural gas development that's taking place around Dawson Creek. People are moving to my region at a healthy rate, but it's not just for the better wages. It's because their skills, whether in the trades or in post-secondary accreditations, are in high demand in the energy sector which is happening in my region.
My riding is witnessing what can happen when government promotes a free enterprise system. We have almost zero unemployment. We have hundreds of millions of dollars of private investment taking place. We have opportunities for businesses to grow and be rewarded for their initiatives, and we have communities growing and taking advantage of the opportunities that are happening because of the resource sector.
Even with all of this development that's taking place, we're still leaders in sustainability, and we're leaders in environmental initiatives and in regulations. Why do I mention this? I strongly believe, and the reason why I mention this is, it's not about one or the other.
Yes, it's about seizing opportunities, but it's about balancing industry growth and environmental concerns. It's about government having policies and regulations in place to promote environmental, sustainable development. It's about working with our businesses and our communities to make sure that we have best practices and that those are achieved.
The success of the natural resource development in my region is key in helping British Columbia become not only an energy leader in Canada but securing the benefits from these developments so that the future is brighter for all British Columbia and that it'll be full of promise for the next generation.
Saving our fiscal surpluses and using oil and gas royalties towards paying off our debt: we know that this will be one of the largest challenges that our province has ever had in our lifetime. But that being said, we know that the rewards down the road are well worth it. By eliminating this burden to our children, we will provide more room for the next generation of British Columbians to invest in the much-needed programs in the future.
Also, our First Nations communities will never be left behind from benefitting from the gains made from resource development. The future should be bright for every single British Columbian, and First Nations need to be included in job-training programs and all future job opportunities.
We're trying to show — and I believe we're being very successful in showing — British Columbians that our government is listening, that consultations are taking place. Our government has a priority, for us, of implementing and proposing changes. And with policy and legislation, as we do that, we will make sure that we're continuing on with that consultation.
As you know, with the B.C. liquor review, we are updating the provincial code to better reflect the needs of British Columbians.
Our disability white paper that we're working on is bringing together advocates, experts and the general public to create a white paper document for disability summit this spring, which will make British Columbia more accessible for everyone.
We have a vision. We are committed to making sure that the people of British Columbia receive the very best that we can deliver.
We talk about jobs. For me, this all begins with giving people the opportunity of a positive future, the opportunity of a good-paying job to be able to raise their family, to be a constructive and contributing part of our society.
Job creation is one of the main priorities of this government. We're working hard to ensure that the B.C. jobs plan fulfils its role, ensuring that British Columbians are the first in line for these new jobs. We know that this is our duty — representing British Columbians first.
We are committed to the benefits of growing our economy and creating opportunities for British Columbians in every single region of this province. We'll be investing almost $500 million in skills training, organizing trade missions around the world to attract new foreign investment to British Columbia, removing unnecessary red tape for small and medium-size businesses and standing up and supporting the incredible people and companies in the natural resource sector.
Our government has shown commitment to my region and to the people of British Columbia, and we are all going to realize this benefit going forward.
One of the most important industries, as usually is mentioned, from my riding is the natural gas industry. The rich assets found in the Montney and the Horn plays are playing a key part in the economic prosperity and well-being of our wonderful province, and we know that that's going to happen for years to come.
I'm proud to say that my riding is in the heart of British Columbia's natural gas industry. We have over 30 large companies operating in my region that are employing thousands of hard-working men and women who explore, drill, extract and process the natural gas to our North American markets. And soon this high-quality gas will be going to international markets around the world with LNG terminals, when they're built.
Our plan is that the royalties from the natural gas are going to be the foundation for a secure tomorrow, where royalties and other taxation revenues from natural resource production will be saved and deposited into our prosperity fund. These funds will be invested and withdrawn from only to be used to pay down our debt, and we are going to get to zero.
The well-being of our province is tremendously important to myself and my constituents and, I'd say, to all British Columbians. Our province has some of the toughest and most thorough environmental standards in regards to the natural resource industry — something we can all be proud of.
Northern B.C., and Peace River South, is the most beautiful part of our province. Ensuring that our landscapes and our environments are taken care of is something I take to heart. I have to say that. I know we'll all argue on our regions, but I have to throw that in anyway.
B.C. has been a leader for more than 50 years in safe natural gas development. As the growth continues and we work towards meeting our goals around LNG, we will continue to be world leaders, promoting stringent safety regulations. And we will continue to evolve those regulations as technology advances.
Our abundance of natural gas and our proximity to the Asian ports have rewarded us in British Columbia with the competitive advantage of LNG and that sector, and we must act upon it now. Because of our commitment to the industry, we are working during our trade missions. We are recognizing how fast-growing this industry is, and we're working with our Asian trading partners to make sure that we are ready for their investments in the industry. But we have to make sure that we're getting it right.
The economic benefits in British Columbia are immense, and we will reward all British Columbians in every region with new jobs, with procurement opportunities and with increased government revenues to invest in hospitals and in schools and in transportation infrastructure.
Stewardship and environment responsibilities will make B.C. global leaders in the energy market. By being responsible suppliers, through strict emission requirements and First Nations involvements, our buyers will realize that purchasing B.C. LNG is truly a sensible choice. We are seeing those opportunities in our communities already because of the LNG industry, with hundreds of millions of dollars already being spent. Our government is working on revenue-sharing opportunities so that local governments and First Nations can share in the benefits that will come with the growing resource sector.
We have to remember that in B.C. it's not just natural gas. We have 29,000 mining jobs in B.C., with 33 more applications in place, going through the environmental assessment. We have 56,000 people working in the forestry industry, with over $1 billion invested in the last three years.
Here in British Columbia we are seeing responsible development that meets the best environmental standards, and we're promoting world-class practices while helping build family-friendly communities. That is what this government is promoting, and that is what we are delivering.
Our government is committed to sending a strong, positive message that B.C. is the best province to invest in. We are sending a consistent message to industry that we want to make sure, though, that we have the best environmental practices in place as we continue to move forward.
I want to take this opportunity to thank you for the opportunity to speak to the throne speech. I'm looking forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the House as we bring forward many new ideas and participate in debates throughout this session.
I will also make the commitment to represent and inform this House of all the interests and concerns of my constituents who elected me to be here as we go forward.
I just want to end by thanking the Peace River South constituents; my wife, Valerie; and my family, who have given me the opportunity to fill this role, to be an MLA. It's a role that I take to heart, and it's one that I look forward to doing to the best of my ability as we go forward.
A. Dix: I have had the honour to represent the people of Vancouver-Kingsway since 2005. As a result of that, I've had the opportunity to see nine Liberal government throne speeches. There'll be better throne speeches in future. This, I have to say, is the thinnest gruel we've ever been served up — a throne speech without ideas, a throne speech that doesn't address key problems facing our economy and jobs, a throne speech that at its very core is pessimistic.
One is, I guess, tempted almost to make light of this effort — an effort that says plaintively at the end that in previous generations they could afford to go to the moon. That's from a government that doesn't think a ferry should go from Port Hardy to Bella Bella, a government that says that it's number one priority is controlling deficit and debt and a Premier who at the same time has overseen the largest increase in debt in history.
It's a government that talks about a balanced budget but only does it by making B.C. Hydro borrow money and give it to the government. If only we all had those situations. If only all of us could find such situations, such benefactors, except of course that the people paying for it are the taxpayers and the ratepayers of British Columbia. It's a government that when it says it has a balanced budget, frankly, is not telling the truth.
It's a government that spent $10 million, $15 million — oh — $20 million to promote its jobs plan and now barely mentions it in the throne speech. What happened? In the 200 days we were away, we lost 21,600 private sector jobs. You would think that in the throne speech somewhere the government would say: "We're going to do something about that." But no. No acknowledgement. Their only solution is to mention the jobs plan a little less and maybe to wait until just before the next election to run some more ads.
At its core, this approach to things, this approach to our time, I don't think is worthy of us as a province or as a legislature. At its core, what the government is, is pessimistic. It's not: "Yes, we can." It's not a government that views issues such as the highest child poverty in Canada, the highest levels of inequality in Canada, job losses and second-tier productivity or that sees Metro Vancouver 27th out of 32 metropolitan areas in household income, with more pressure on people everywhere and less opportunity for people.
A government that says, "We're going to, as a community, do something about that"…. You could not have more of a contrast between the State of the Union Address by President Obama and this pathetic excuse for a throne speech that we've got here in British Columbia.
We on the opposition side, we're not pessimistic. We're optimistic about what this province can bring, and we're going to put that optimism on display every day in this Legislature. There's good reason for that.
I was reflecting this past week with a friend of mine about a young woman I came to know in the midst of unbelievable tragedy — a tragedy beyond, I think, what we would generally understand as possible to respond to as human beings. She's a young woman who some members of the Legislature have met named Tracey Phan.
In September of 2008 her father, Michael, in Langley was organizing a birthday party for her younger sister. He was called to the scene of what became known as the Langley mushroom farmworkers tragedy and asked to go in and help his fellow workers. Michael's story itself is extraordinary. After this incident, when he was in hospital, his biological father, who is a U.S. Marine and a war hero, met him for the first time.
His story of coming to Canada and who he was and what he achieved in Canada is, I think, something to be admired. He was a hero. He saw danger, and he went towards the danger to help his fellow workers. He paid a horrible price. He's brain-damaged. He is not going to recover. He's at George Pearson.
I met Tracey for the first time a couple of days after that. My constituency assistant, Quetran Hoang, is Vietnamese Canadian. We met some of the families involved to try and help them.
Consider this situation on top of it. The family had been fundamentally let down by their employer. Their employer had created this unsafe workplace, for which they were eventually convicted in the courts. They were living on the farm. Father permanently disabled and they have to leave home, have to leave their school.
That's where Tracey was when I first met her. A lot of people helped. A former MLA in this Legislature, Chuck Puchmayr, who people will know, did a lot to help, and we tried to do some things to help. Eventually she got a new school, David Thompson, and then another new school, Winston Churchill. She continued on her path.
She at that moment could have been, I think, pessimistic. She could have taken that position and taken this huge step backward in her life and not continued, not succeeded.
But instead, Tracey and her mom, Phoung Le, did another thing. Phuong Le got work— work that she had never got. She had always been a farmworker. Work that she'd never got in her life — she got a job.
Tracey became a spokesperson to change employments standards law and to change WorkSafe practices. She forced an inquest into the issue and forced changes. She spoke at the B.C. Federation of Labour convention, and she spoke all over our province.
This June she's going to graduate from high school. Next year she's going to go to university. All the reasons in the world for pessimism, and yet optimism is what she displayed. It's that kind of optimism in everyday ways that is displayed every day in our province by people we represent to come here.
I don't think they would think it's okay to produce a throne speech that talks about LNG and liquor and nothing else in these times. I don't think they think that's okay. That is a pessimistic view. We've got to sit back and see if the resource rents come in, and if not, we're not going to address other problems. We're not going to invest in human capital in these times.
Frankly, we should be doing that. We should be doing that in these times, because the previous period…. This period that we're in, as we've noted, has been a time where we've gone backwards economically in our province. A throne speech that's taking place in a period since the Premier came to office, when more people have left B.C. for other provinces than have come to B.C. Every quarter, people are leaving B.C.
We saw the Premier's ads during the election campaign. She said: "I don't want you to leave B.C." People are leaving B.C.
They've lost private sector jobs — tens of thousands of them since their jobs plan was announced. On issues of productivity, the economy is getting worse and worse. Because of that, inequality is, in fact, growing. We have the highest absolute levels of inequality in British Columbia, and people are actually going backwards.
This is bad for our economy. What it requires is a government that will address systematically the issues facing the economy — not one sector but all sectors — and that will use the force of the community to address this problem.
When you think of it…. Ten years — the highest rates of child poverty in Canada. That is a deficit towards the future. That, of course, is terrible in our time but also negative towards the future. What it means is that we are not, for many of those children, a place of opportunity at all.
High levels of inequality lead to lower economic growth. That's what the evidence is. Higher rates of mental illness. Higher rates of alcoholism. Lower rates of productivity.
It makes sense. When you deny people opportunity in their early years…. Some of the most outstanding thinkers on this question are right here in British Columbia, people who worked with the late Clyde Hertzman.
When you consider that and you have a government that looks at that and says nothing about it in the throne speech — no plan, no idea, no initiative — I think that's not good enough. If your answer…. I don't believe that there are many people in British Columbia today who would agree with the Premier, essentially, that it's LNG — and let's give her liquor — and that's it.
We have a forest industry in B.C. that in the next generation should employ more people than it does now and bring strength to communities more than it does now. We've lost 30,000-plus jobs in the period the Liberal government has been in office.
Last year when two mills went down, the Premier's response to it was that things are great in the industry. "People are making profit. Sure, people are losing jobs, but people are making profits."
There are things we can do about that today. It would require reinvesting in the forest resource today. It would require ensuring that many mills that are aching for fibre get access to that instead of shipping raw logs off and celebrating it in the throne speech.
So many people in British Columbia…. There are so many opportunities, especially this year, in tourism. Is there anything about tourism in the throne speech? You know, hon. Speaker, in 2010 — you'll remember this — it was all about the Olympic Games and the rise of tourism and its long-term benefits and the government's long-term strategy. We spent a lot of money on that question.
Four years later there's another Olympic Games going on, and it's as if it didn't happen, as far as the government is concerned. No idea, no message, no plan for tourism. No mention of the government's own commitments in the election campaign to the industry — nothing. So nothing for forestry and nothing for tourism.
High-tech. There is kind of an oblique reference to the government's knowledge of high-tech. They said in their section on the liquor review that 76,000 people had been involved in the review. In fact, they had 76,000 hits to their website. Apparently, the government believes that their contribution to the high-tech sector is to create a minister responsible for high-tech — job creation for Liberals. Then their contribution to fighting crime is creating a parliamentary secretary for crime. It's all very interesting.
But there are enormous opportunities in this sector to promote investment and to promote jobs now, and there is, essentially, nothing here in the throne speech, except perhaps some discussion, some idea that's come to the government's mind that maybe post-secondary education should have something to do with employment.
When you look at that — forestry, high-tech, tourism…. Oh, and remember the creative industries — a pre-election discussion. It's disappeared. It's like the man they called Reveen. It's disappeared from the government's agenda. First in Terrace, then in Kitimat, and then he would tour the province.
Their idea of the creative industry, of its engine of economic growth that it can bring — not just in Metro Vancouver and here in the capital regional district but everywhere in British Columbia — has gone away. No mention in the throne speech. No mention of the film industry in the throne speech.
It's like the government believes somehow that as jobs are cratering, as productivity is in trouble, as they have failed for ten years to bring skills training to B.C. — in fact, they've gutted the system — they shouldn't mention these things because it's bad news for them. What is required is a little bit of action now to ensure that we address this jobs crisis now and we ensure people are prepared for the future.
Then, it's fair to say that most governments of British Columbia view our Crown corporations — in particular, B.C. Hydro and B.C. Ferries and even, if we may call whatever TransLink is a Crown corporation, for the purposes of this discussion…. These agencies, these Crown corporations, have been, under Social Credit and NDP and even under Liberal governments, engines of economic development. They are, essentially, not mentioned here.
Why is that? Yes, they're raiding B.C. Hydro to pretend they have a balanced budget. The reality is that for years, when the business council lists B.C.'s advantages and disadvantages, low electricity rates are among our advantages, not just for big business — like Catalyst, which is going to see its costs go up by $25 million as a result of this rate increase — but small business.
One of our benefits in employment in B.C. is low electricity prices, something that the government has frittered away and will continue to fritter away because they want cash to pretend they have a balanced budget. Why not do what our energy critic has suggested and say no this year? B.C. Hydro doesn't have the money. Refer the issues to the B.C. Utilities Commission and not take a dividend that doesn't exist in time and space.
Then there's the role that B.C. Ferries plays. For a coastal province, it’s a significant role in our economy, in bringing families and communities together. The mismanagement, the doubling of ferry fares for many people. The issues that are outstanding, which the ferry critic from North Island has been raising in recent months. The fact that the government's neo-privatization scheme has led to higher executive pay and lower levels of service. Fewer people are taking the ferries. That's less economic activity, and that's less activity of families coming together.
There is no plan here. It's managed decline, to use the term the Premier likes to use — managed decline at B.C. Ferries. If their plan continues, ridership will continue to drop. Economic activity on the coast will be affected, and that affects communities like Klemtu and Bella Bella, communities up and down the coast who depend on this service and aren't going to get it. Every person on the coast is seeing, as a result of this mismanagement, their basic costs of life and activity going up in a way that's unaffordable.
Finally — it's hard to know what section to put this in — there's the Premier's plans for transit in Metro Vancouver. I suppose, if you were Proudhon or Bakunin or some anarchist, this kind of approach might make sense — an approach where you're essentially, as Premier, creating havoc for the system and then celebrating that as if it will bring about political benefits for you, I suppose — which is the purpose in all of this whenever the Premier is concerned.
The reality is that it's going to delay necessary investments in infrastructure. It's going to negatively affect our economy, affect people's lives and affect families. We have, in these agencies and the Premier's actions with respect to these agencies, an undermining of some of the basic core advantages that B.C. has, happening right here, right now. And what do we say in the throne speech? Not a thing. Now it's a ten-year plan. They've got the slogans; they've got the plans. They just don't have any action.
I think, finally, what we have is a government that only cares about politics. Now, we're members of the Legislature; we all care about politics. But I think it's not ultimately the reason why the member for Peace River South, who spoke so eloquently before I did, and why all members of the House come here. I think we come here to try and make progress for our constituents and for our province, to build on our strengths and address our weaknesses, to make this the best British Columbia it can be.
I think that's why what the Premier has done, what her government has done, with respect to education is so disappointing ultimately. It's so disappointing that the government would simply conspire to provoke a school strike. It's not me that's saying it; it's the government's own officials in court saying it, their own documents in court saying it. The B.C. Supreme Court is saying it. It is, I think, hard to imagine. I myself have to repeat it to myself to really believe it's true.
The Premier of British Columbia, here in her job — a job she's worked her whole life to get — decides along with her cabinet to provoke a school strike for Liberal political benefit. It seems unbelievable. It seems like the kind of accusation that people dismiss in politics, and there it is in the court record, a decision of the B.C. Supreme Court, the evidence provided by her own ministers.
This kind of thing denigrates our institutions. They may see some benefit in that — the idea that everybody is the same and that if you denigrate what the community can do together, that will somehow benefit us politically. They may see that in some places, but no one in British Columbia who cares about these things thinks that.
Can you imagine? At a time of high inequality, at a time when education is more important than ever before — ever before in this province that a quality of education is more important — we have a government actually working to create disharmony in our public school system for its political advantage. What does that say? And it's not rhetoric. It is the evidence they themselves provided to the B.C. Supreme Court, which they are currently trying to hide from people.
If you're going to have an opportunity society — a society where everyone has an opportunity to become an entrepreneur, to drive economic growth, to rise — then you need to have a powerful and strong public education system, supported by supports for families, to ensure that everyone has an opportunity. Instead, we have a government whose approach to education….
As the designated speaker, I feel this especially much. Their approach to education is reduced to this. The Premier herself, the Minister of Education who launches this…. Her legislation is found to be illegal and unconstitutional. She says to everybody, "I am going to change. That was another me. This is a new me," and then in the back rooms is doing this.
We're tired of these politics. We're tired of politics on environmental issues that also seek to divide people, a throne speech that talks about climate change in China and California and Oregon and Washington and says nothing about British Columbia. I mean, it's exceptional. It's interesting. "Look over there," is the response — the cynical response to real issues of environmental concern that will affect the economy of this province for every single person for generations to come.
Our economy is founded on a healthy environment. And yet we have the Premier abandoning commitment after commitment, shredding the government's own commitments on these issues, not taking action, playing games on transit. We can do better and should expect better than this throne speech.
The throne speech ends with a famous quote from John Kennedy. It was a quote that he did in September of 1962. He was in Houston, Texas, at Rice University. He talked about going to the moon. The government sees this throne speech as inspired by that message.
Well, I think it's fair to say that there has been a lot written about the Kennedy legacy and what it means. Forty thousand books have been written about the Kennedys' time in office, about the Kennedy family and what it means — 140 new books just last year. You can imagine there has been a lot of discussion about that. But I think most people who have spoken of that legacy and reviewed what President Kennedy was about understood this: he believed that the community had a role. He believed that was central to his view.
Three weeks after he gave that speech — three weeks — the president sent the entire force of the federal government, not to keep people out of school but to accompany James Meredith into school. He used the full force of the federal government to fight rural poverty in Appalachia. He brought in a pay equity bill, the first in its history in his country, and stood down the steel industry on price-fixing.
He believed there was a role for the community. We can disagree about that legacy and have that debate, but the idea that a John Kennedy would accept the highest child poverty rate and say nothing about it in a throne speech is absurd.
In this session of the Legislature we are going to present an alternate vision. We are going to talk about a plan to reduce child poverty in this province. We are going to propose specific measures to do that. We are going to address environmental issues in this province. We are going to address health care issues in this province. It is not good enough for the government to launch initiatives and then they disappear into the ether.
We need to improve public services such as health care now by ensuring that services are delivered in the community in the most efficient way possible, and that means providing real support to home care and home support.
We're going to support our agricultural industries by supporting local farming initiatives and ensuring that government supports those initiatives, work done by the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast and the member for Saanich South. We are going to present hopeful and positive ideas for the future of our forest industry here. We are going to reject this idea that there is no role for the community anymore, that we have to sit back and hope that LNG and liquor are the only solutions to our future. They are important. Liquor is an important public policy initiative. The LNG initiative is an important economic opportunity for our province.
Now, the government missed its deadline. The reason we didn't sit in the fall was that they were working on it, and now they haven't delivered. They failed to deliver. They announced it in an oblique way in the throne speech, but it's there. They have no plan to deal with the issue of emissions either locally or across British Columbia. In fact, they're really talking, when they talk about climate change in China and in California, about the fact that they're going to tear up Gordon Campbell's legacy on climate change. That's essentially what they're saying.
Finally, on the issues of skills and opportunity, we are going to continue to speak for people in B.C. One of the strangest moments of this throne speech, which has, for its relatively short length, many strange proposals and ideas, is the blaming of Canada for the skills crisis in British Columbia — from a government that decimated the system, got rid of compulsory trades essentially; has done so much worse than other provinces that it is embarrassing to go to Alberta as a British Columbian and see what they do there.
So we will be, yes, holding them to account, hon. Speaker, to make sure that the devastation that is going to affect every economic development project in B.C. — and the ability of British Columbians to benefit from those initiatives — doesn't continue.
We are also going to be advocating for First Nations. It has been 20 years plus that some First Nations have been in the treaty process. I think they deserve better than the government just pushing that off the table. First Nations deserve better from this Legislature than a government that mentions them when it's convenient, when it's about something they want to talk about and otherwise doesn't address their concerns.
That's going to be our approach in this session of the Legislature. We believe that B.C. can do better, that we can find our best selves in this province, that we have the means at our disposal to address issues of poverty and inequality, to ensure there are jobs in sectors across British Columbia, to ensure that we have an environmental future for our children and our grandchildren that we all would be proud to leave.
That is our approach in this session of the Legislature — to reject this politics of cynicism, just as Tracey Phan did, to reject the idea that we should give up, that it's all a game, that it's all about who is better at the game and not what we're here to do, which is to build a better British Columbia and to work together to get that done.
Deputy Speaker: The member for Burnaby-Lougheed seeks leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
J. Shin: From starting a co-op bookstore in a woman's centre to organizing for affordable education and student housing, the Simon Fraser University Student Society has maintained a long tradition of students working together to improve student life since 1965 — for almost 50 years. Another great testament to their work is in welcoming and supporting students from all around the world to pursue their education right here in B.C. So it is my privilege to introduce our wonderful guests from the student society's international student club, in my constituency, joining us in the gallery today.
Would the House please make Lyndon Lee and his 11 international students — Philippe Gregoire, Sage Lelamo, Josh Labaki, Thadoe Wai, Aaryaman Girish, Xinyue Wang, Johanna Lindh, Lorena Gonzalez, Suyoung Yun, Ahmed Al-Rikabi, Bilal Ahmed — feel very welcome this afternoon.
N. Letnick: Thank you, hon. Speaker, for the opportunity to speak. Unlike the Leader of the Opposition, this is only my fifth, I think, throne speech, not my ninth throne speech. But I do have some interesting comments that he might want to send me a little note on afterwards.
It's interesting to hear the Leader of the Opposition talk about optimism that's going to be on display throughout this next session. If today was any example, if the Leader of the Opposition's response was any example of optimism, I guess I have to go back and look at what optimism means in the dictionary, because nearly throughout the speech all I heard was, attack, attack, attack and how he didn't like the throne speech and how he took issue with government and how he took issue with the leader.
I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that's not my idea of optimism. I know he has seen nine throne speeches, and I know he's a much better orator than I am. However, what was presented today was definitely not one of those. Maybe what we'll see over the next, I don't know, four years is that secret plan that he's articulated today. We can compare the two plans and let the people decide again, in four years, as to which plan they really would prefer to see.
I know those of us on this side of the House are very proud of the way that we conducted ourselves over the last five years since we have been elected in '09 and those before that. I think we would like to see this wonderful plan that the Leader of the Opposition is proposing.
If I may, some of the things he's talking about…. Balance the budget. He didn't mention "balance the budget" in any of that. All the ideas that the opposition are going to come forward with will be in harmony with balancing the budget and maintaining a triple-A credit rating. It's really nice that we want to do all these things, but we have to do them in line with what people can afford. We're talking about making sure that we continue to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure throughout the province, not only in the west and the east but also in the north of the province. It's something that this government is very proud of its record in doing.
Health care outcomes in B.C. have never been better, and they are better than most other places in this country. We have to continue to evolve and make sure that we work towards even better outcomes. But it is this government, on this side of the House, that's taken the courageous moves to make sure that we are able to balance the budget but, at the same time, invest in health care infrastructure all over B.C.
We have people from all over the world represented right here in British Columbia. We have over 70 consulates with people who are clamouring for business for their countries because they know exactly what's going to happen here, what is happening here in British Columbia.
I'd really like to see the members opposite and their plan and how they're going to continue that growth, continue the opportunities that we see in forestry, mining and liquefied natural gas and other natural resources.
We're going through a core review right now, a core review that will identify those areas of government that don't need to happen, the red tape that can be removed so we can have more resources available so that we can invest right back in the people of B.C., the people that we're all here for to work together.
We have the best growth in Canada projected by third-party agencies for 2015. We have major investments in all areas. Just taking our area back home in the Central Okanagan, five times the amount of money has been invested in that area over the last ten years as was invested during the ten years under the NDP government. This continues on and on.
I would just like to say that I hope — I really do — that the members opposite, led by the Leader of the Opposition, come up with a plan that we can all buy into — a plan that shows a balanced budget, a plan that makes it better for British Columbians all through British Columbia, a plan that not only is fair for people today but also for our kids, so they don't have to pay off debts that we've accumulated today and for the years to come.
If they come up with good ideas that are benefiting people all across B.C. and won't harness our kids in the future with a debt that they have to pay off on our account, then I think we should be there with them. And hopefully, as we go through this, we'll have their support as well on the ideas that we come up with over the next few years.
With that, I'd just to take an opportunity here to thank a few people. I have the privilege of working with some great people. Of course, I have the support of my constituents back home. Thank you to all the people of Kelowna–Lake Country, for providing me with the privilege of representing them, and to my family — Helene, Melanie, J.P. and Naomi — for their love and support through another four years here in the Legislature working on the people's behalf.
Also back home we have Barb, Nelson, Greg, Larry and many friends in my riding association who've been very helpful in making sure that I'm here to articulate their needs as well as the needs of all the constituents in the Central Okanagan.
Technically, I have staff, but I would say they're more friends than staff. Those in Kelowna and Victoria — Katja Maurmann, Monika Jatel, Melanie Starchuk back in Kelowna and Janta Quigley, right here as my LA in Victoria. And of course, Primrose Carson and all her great staff in east annex and all the staff throughout the Legislature that work, I would imagine, on both sides of the House to make sure that we are well equipped to do the work that the people have sent us here for.
Also in the last year I've had the privilege, as Minister of Agriculture, to work with people like Derek Sturko and hundreds of staff in the Ministry of Agriculture, and also the critic for Agriculture at the time. It was a great relationship with the staff and with the critic, and I hope that continues as well.
Of course, we all hope that the current Minister of Agriculture gets better soon and comes back to the House to lay out the plans for the government and to make sure they occur. And with Agriculture staff in the office, Jay Denney, Don Smukowich, Lisa Johnson and Heidi Scott.
Currently, I have the privilege of serving as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier. I have, again, other friends there, especially Pierrette Maranda, Judi Sigurdson, Veronique Mercier, Sukumar Periwal, Marc-André Ouellette and a whole bunch of other people.
It's from that perspective that I'd like to start my response to the Speech from the Throne yesterday, one of looking at how we see things on an international scale, how the economy and effective intergovernmental engagement will help to continue to reap the benefits for this generation and the next.
A key component of this government's plan is opening up new markets and attracting new investments. The centre of the global economy is shifting. It's shifting to high-market areas in Asia.
[R. Chouhan in the chair.]
In Asia, particularly, business and market development is often facilitated by government-to-government engagement. Developing a productive working relationship with representatives from other governments is key to our plan. The Premier's missions to Asia took advantage of those opportunities to engage governments in China, Japan, Korea, India and the Philippines on a broad range of high-priority trade and investment issues which have already paid dividends and will continue to pay dividends right here in British Columbia and all throughout the province.
Another key component of the government's plan is leveraging our strengths, and our greatest strength, of course — I think we all agree — is our people. The throne speech states that there's a great strength in our diversity. Canada's two official languages means that B.C. has over 300,000 citizens who speak French and many other citizens who also speak Mandarin, Punjabi and so many other languages.
B.C. needs each and every British Columbian for its success, and I'm sure we can all take advantage of its citizens being able to do business with other people across Canada and across the world in their own language. This is one key strength, something that we have to be very proud of right here in British Columbia and all over Canada.
The strength of a nation rests on productive citizens, and training for tomorrow's and today's jobs is Canada's issue, as mentioned in the throne speech. A carpenter is a carpenter is a carpenter, no matter where the carpenter lives in Canada. B.C. has been leading negotiations with the federal government on the next generation of cost-shared skills development and programming. Engagement with the federal government has been sustained, thanks to the leadership of the Premier and the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, and the work will continue to find a solution that works from coast to coast to coast.
Engagement with the federal government is actively being pursued for the benefit of British Columbians and Canadians, and I know how hard the minister has been working on making sure that we find the right deal for all Canadians, but in particular for British Columbians.
Over the past 13 years B.C. has successfully leveraged federal funding for infrastructure priorities. B.C. will continue to partner with the federal government and municipal governments on significant transportation, transit and community projects under existing and future national infrastructure programs.
The throne speech highlights the province's intergovernmental leadership to secure a greener future. British Columbia is leading the way in responsible resource management and clean energy. Our American friends and partners want to learn from our experience.
The Pacific Coast Collaborative, for example — our partnership with the governments of California, Oregon and Washington State — is invaluable to these jurisdictions who share the view of the merit of B.C.'s approach, particularly with respect to putting a price on carbon. This is what successful intergovernmental relations are all about. This is what we're working so hard behind the scenes to make happen.
B.C.-U.S. relationships continue to be strong. We have global advantages and global challenges, but we also have regional solutions. This is why the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region, or PNWER for short, continues to work on partnerships to make sure that the ten jurisdictions in the western northwest part of the continent continue to work together to identify key trade issues and barriers and seek out opportunities where we can work together to make trade flow more evenly and make our people flow more easily. That way, we can continue to generate economic activity, which will, of course, translate into better services for our constituents all across the province.
In the throne speech the Lieutenant-Governor said that B.C. health care is already one of the most efficient in the country. We have the second-lowest cost per capita and deliver the best outcomes. The Lieutenant-Governor challenged us to continue to innovate to improve and sustain the system. As Chair of the Standing Committee on Health, I have the privilege to work with nine great people of the Legislature, including the member opposite who is the official critic for health care on the Select Standing Committee on Health.
We are aware of the many innovations by dedicated health professionals all across British Columbia. Allow me for a moment to comment on just one of those innovations: the divisions of family practice being set up all around the province. Divisions of family practice are community-based groups of family physicians working together to achieve common health goals. There are currently 33 divisions of family practice in B.C. that encompass 129 communities, and discussions are underway, up to another four years, in the province to make sure we expand those.
In my region, the Central Okanagan, the division of family practice continues to collaborate with primary care, community and the health system to improve patient care and improve the system at large. They are working on 15 separate initiatives aimed at improving care, and the following are just some examples of their work.
They recently created a tool to improve communication between hospital-based physicians and community physicians to share critical medical information needed as patients are transferred between acute care and the community. It is engaged in the assessment phase of the A GP for Me program, and by May 2014 they will have a target population focus and identify community and healthy system partners that will focus on system redesign to improve patient care and more patient outcomes.
They continue to identify pressing issues in our community and work with our specialist colleagues, such as gastroenterologists, radiologists, dermatologists and psychiatrists, along with the health authority, to improve timely access to quality services and consultations.
Results include access to urgent CT and ultrasound from an estimated four to six weeks down to within 24 to 48 hours when urgently needed; access to on-line dermatology consults within 24 hours; access to psychiatric one-time assessments — reduced wait times significantly to six weeks. Our work with gastroenterology significantly reduced the waiting list from 9,186 patients down to 2,022 as of September 2013.
Here is an example of what one physician has said regarding the work of diagnostic imaging: "I was able to get a CT done within a week for a patient, and when this was followed by an MRI, it turned up a tumour in the upper brain stem of my patient. She was so grateful for the rapid access. She had her test and saw a neurologist here and was referred to and seen by the neurologist in Vancouver — all within two weeks. The reduction in prolonged anxiety because of rapid treatment was amazing."
Recent work has focused on the frail elderly and created a physician group who will accept the care of orphan patients being discharged from acute care into residential care facilities. It's another example of the divisions of family practice — an innovation in our health care system, which the Lieutenant-Governor referred to in the throne speech, that we must continue to adapt and adopt right here in B.C. if we want to continue to improve the great outcomes that we're seeing in our province.
On the issue of energy and other resource parts of B.C. — liquefied natural gas, mining, oil and other natural resources. The benefits to the economy and, in particular, agriculture, which was mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition, of course are huge. We just have to look right now and see what's happening in the northwest part of the province.
The northeast has been pretty strong for quite a few years, coming down through the central part of the province, with Vanderhoof being the geographic centre of B.C. Some people call it the north, but they, I'm very proud to say, are the geographic centre of B.C. Coming down through the Interior, of course, down through Cranbrook and over to the west coast and into the Island, a lot of activity has been going on. But for some reason, it seems like the northwest has been missing out.
This is their time to shine once again, as they've done so proudly before. As evidenced by property assessments over the past couple of years, we are already seeing a steady increase in property values for northern communities due to economic opportunities, these new economic opportunities.
I understand that in communities such as Kitimat, for example, they've seen a double-digit increase of 27 and 28 percent for 2014 and 2013 respectively. By comparison, property values in the rest of the province have been relatively static over the past couple of years, while the northern communities buck this trend and rise up towards…. I'm not too sure how far they're going to go, but as soon as the first LNG announcement is made, I'm sure that will go even higher.
Agriculture around B.C. is also on its way to $14 billion, which is part of the jobs plan. This will continue to be helped by a growing economy — a growing economy throughout B.C. from what is happening in oil and gas and LNG and other resource-based communities that are really gearing up to improve the economy around B.C.
Locally, right in my community, some people would say: "Well, I come from the Central Okanagan. How does that get impacted by mining and LNG and oil and gas?" I can say that it's huge. There are many, many businesses in Kelowna, for one, that have their mining offices right in Kelowna, and they commute up north and work. I actually remember coming back from Vancouver once, sitting beside a geologist who said that she travels all over B.C. and the world as a geologist and is based in Kelowna doing her work.
But we also have some businesses that are selling to the oil and the gas industry and are anticipating sales to liquefied natural gas — businesses like Enterprise Steel that manufactures only for the oil and gas industry and is currently focused on the export market to China. We have people like Crown West who have 5,800 square feet that they've added since 2005. They do heavy fabrication, and they design and make equipment for mining companies, oil and gas primarily. They're looking forward, as well, to enlarging their business.
Command Industries also works closely with the oil and gas industry, creating custom catwalks, skids, hydraulic tanks and various other related components, related to serve exploration. They also serve forestry and mining conveyors, stackers and platework. We also have Grizzly Metal fabricators, which produces custom products in stainless and aluminum steel.
We have experience in all aspects of the steel fabricating trade throughout the Central Okanagan, and I would say this translates to many other places all over B.C., whether it be central B.C. or on the coast or in the Interior.
Places like Reidco Metal Industries are also capitalizing on it. They do custom manufacture of precision steel and aluminum parts.
One big one is Chaparral homes in the Central Okanagan. They have a fairly diverse product line. Their structures build and leave the Central Okanagan for places in northern B.C. and Alberta, including housing structures, prefab structures for work camps and offices for LNG companies. They recently supplied a 15-unit office building for an LNG project in Kitimat.
One of the big employers, probably the biggest private sector employer in the Central Okanagan, is Kelowna Flightcraft. You might have heard of them. They have over 500 employees right in our area. They anticipate that air traffic, of course, will increase both in terms of cargo and in people as the north continues to harness liquefied natural gas, natural gas, oil and mining and other natural resources. They anticipate it will bring additional companies or expand commercial operations to B.C. by Canadian air operators, all who require maintenance to support their operations.
Flightcraft is ideally suited to support both the airports in Vancouver and, of course, in Kelowna. They're chomping at the bit to have an opportunity to bid on more business.
Aside from Flightcraft, we also expect that companies like Flair Airlines, another Kelowna company, will be able to seize the opportunities that come from a robust economy.
I've hardly touched the impact that will happen provincewide — the high-tech sector, the tourism sector and agriculture, as we discussed just a minute ago, where we're going to see more people working. Therefore, there will be more consumption of goods and services in agriculture, everything from honey to eggs, from milk to beef. Hopefully, it will be B.C. beef that they go and buy.
Lastly, with all this, one of the key reasons why I got into public office was because on a busy corner in my community there was a mom who was standing in front of a lightpole. Unfortunately for her, a car had an accident in the intersection and swerved out of the way, after bouncing against the car, and pinned the lady, a pedestrian, against the lightpole. She passed away, and I said at that point that I had to get re-engaged back into politics in my community and see if I can do anything to help. So transportation — and safe transportation — is a big priority for my constituents and for me, as well, on a personal level.
The fatal injury stats from 2008 to 2012 show some improvement. In 2008 we had 354 fatalities in the province, and in 2012 we were down to 281. That's still 281 too many, but it's an improvement of 21 percent, a reduction of 21 percent.
This government has invested nearly $12 billion since 2001 to improve safety and efficiency and reliability of our highways across the province. We remain committed to working with ICBC, police and other road safety partners to reduce fatalities and injuries on our roads. It's not only important for the people and the families that are impacted. It's also very important for our health care system, if we want it to remain sustainable, because one of the big drivers of our health care costs is injuries on the roads.
While we all might believe it always happens to the other person, that's not the case. It happens to us and our families and our friends and our constituents, and we have to do everything that we can to continue to see a reduction in those statistics.
The four pillars to the reviews for speed that are going on right now are slower-moving vehicles, wildlife collision, pull right to pass and use of winter tires. I look forward to seeing the minister's full report once he and his staff have had an opportunity to go through the input that they've received over the last few months.
Since 2003, $14 billion has been invested in upgrades to most of the major highway corridors in British Columbia, including Highway 1, Highway 97, the Cariboo connector and through the Okanagan Valley.
The following are just some of those completed safety improvements: 180 kilometres of new four- and six-lane sections, 30 new passing lanes, 14 new interchanges and over 6,500 kilometres of rumble strips.
In conclusion, together we can provide the best in services to all British Columbians if we all work together to see economic expansion continue in B.C. and lead the country for years to come. I may have been born in Montreal, I may have lived in Alberta for many years, and I may have come to British Columbia sometime in the '90s, but I've grown to adopt and believe in the statement that Canada starts here.
I really believe that with my colleagues in the Central Okanagan — in particular, the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, and the Premier — and all of my colleagues throughout British Columbia on both sides of the House, we can achieve the dream of having the best province in the country for many generations to come — not only for this generation but for future generations.
We have to do that in such a way that we don't really handcuff future generations with financial decisions that we make today because we're afraid to say no sometimes. I know it's hard. In my short term as a minister, I didn't like to say no. I know it's hard to say no, but sometimes you have to in order to safeguard the investments that we need to make for future generations.
With that, I will sit down and take my place here as one of the many people, I'm sure, who will speak to the throne speech. Again, it's a privilege to represent the people of Kelowna–Lake Country and to sit amongst all 85 MLAs in this Legislature.
N. Macdonald: With the throne speech response, I wanted to focus on a few issues and, if I get the opportunity with the budget response, to focus more on forestry issues after I've had a look at what the ministry has available to it.
I think we saw today in question period a theme that I want to talk about here, which is the way that this institution is being treated. There is a role that this Legislature is supposed to have, and that is constantly being degraded. The fact is that nine months after the election, the Premier has spoken more in the California Legislature than she's spoken here. That's a fact. She had every opportunity to speak today. She had question after question directed to her, and she chose to ignore them and to not accept her responsibility to answer questions. Nor did the Minister of Education choose to accept questions that were rightfully to be answered.
We also had a two-month period where we were scheduled to sit. Instead, the Premier, with the acceptance of all governing members, decided that this Legislature wouldn't sit. So here we are nine months in, and six months since we have sat.
To dodge accountability, as this Premier has done and as the government has chosen to do, is simply wrong. The Legislature is an institution that is here to provide a check on government power, which is substantial. This is a $42 billion operation, and there are thousands of people that are there to support government. It is important to have checks on the power that the government has. This is why it was set up. This is why we have the traditions that we do.
Without that balance, I tell you, inevitably what comes is corruption — inevitably, corruption and incompetence — if you remove the check and balance of shining a light on what a government does. And to be honest, we see it. There is widespread cronyism, and there is widespread incompetence on a whole host of files. We need to do better, and we have the capacity and the tools to do better. But the government chooses to undermine at every level, for their own convenience, the institutions that are there to provide that check and balance.
These are troubling times for a number of reasons. The media does not have the resources it traditionally had. It is a problem not only in this province, in this country but, really, across the world, where the old systems that gave resources to media are now changing.
We see it here. We see it across the country, where the resources that media used to turn towards having a check and balance in government are simply not there the way they used to be. How that's going to play out I don't think any of us know. There needs to be a new business model, but the reality is that it is one more area where the checks and balances in government are removed.
We see it with our unions under attack. We see it with…. In this province the Auditor General was successfully fired. What sort of message does that send to future Auditors General that this government was able to successfully fire an Auditor General? All they did was their job, holding the government to account.
You have, as well, the freedom-of-information process, which is a farce. The ministers on the other side are laughing. It's all so funny.
N. Macdonald: The Auditor General wasn't fired. Is that what the government is asserting? Because it's certainly what happened.
N. Macdonald: Okay.
So you have an opposition that is deprived of its right to do its job, and this government laughs at that, just as they laughed in question period when question after question was asked about a court case that is absolutely shocking, even for the standard of this place over the past eight years.
Oh, and the Minister of Health thinks it's funny. But you were in the cabinet room which made decisions that we were talking about today, that you were talking about today. It's a funny thing that took place there, but apparently the ability to deny the opposition to do its job is something that's within the realm of possibility.
Let's be clear that this is not just the decision that the Premier makes. This is something that every single government member assented to. It only happens because the members on the government side agree to have it happen. I don't doubt that they're all good people who come here with good intentions, but it sure is easier, whether it's right or wrong, to just go along with it. How many horrible things have happened in human history with that sort of attitude?
You come in here, you talk about how proud you are to be part of this institution, yet you participate — passively, perhaps — in its degradation. So that's where we are.
Now, I lived for six years in Africa. I just don't take the institutions that we have for granted in the way that some seem to, and for good reason. These things, these roles that we have, are all important. I don't doubt the amount of work that the minister does that I am critic for. I know the hours. I see him in places, and I see what he's done in the course of the day. But equally as important is the job that's done to hold him to account at every moment.
That's how this system is supposed to work. It always surprises me that people who come into government based upon an election, based upon a democratic process, then feel that they have the right to remove the opportunity for an opposition to do its job. It is the same process that we came here. The jobs are equally important, if different. Yet for six months the governing party has chosen to shut down this Legislature. And don't tell me that there were all sorts of things out there that were happening, that somehow were meaningful to the process that goes on here.
I have sat on committees. I know that there is hard work that is done, but I also know that it's pretty difficult to point to the committee system working in terms of forming the governing policy that takes place here. It just doesn't. You can't point to it. For the most part the committee system, the way that we have it, is set up as a way of keeping backbenchers busy and giving the illusion of doing something when it's really not being done. It does not show itself in spending when the budget comes, nor does it show itself in terms of legislation.
Now, I know that the previous speaker would say: "Well, that's not a very optimistic speech." I'll tell you that it is optimistic in the sense that we can do much better. It does not have to be this way. In fact, there's an obligation for it not to be this way. There is an obligation for this Legislature to work the way it was intended to work — better than it has in the past, not worse — and for it to sit regularly, for it to have a question period where, instead of the type of debate we have, like we saw today, there are real questions that are answered.
Why, with a Premier that when she goes to California describes herself as like a governor…? If she takes on that role as this executive branch, why do we not have a Premier's question period? Why don't we do that? She has tremendous power. She speaks everywhere on issues, and yet she won't answer to the people that are elected to actually question her.
Why don't we have a committee system that really works, with standing committees that actually always go out and do things? Why, after eight years, do I still not know what parliamentary secretaries do? I don't know what you do. We had a Parliamentary Secretary for Silviculture that never released anything. We had a parliamentary secretary on the building code. When we asked what expertise she had, she said she lived in a house. What do the parliamentary secretaries do in a way that we can see, other than sort of keep backbenchers happy? "Here, be a parliamentary secretary. That's an extra $20,000." Or is it more? I don't know.
N. Macdonald: Is it $15,000? Okay, only $15,000. Sorry about that. So where is the production? Where are the goods?
Petitions are a way that people can speak to this Legislature. You know, petitions are always ignored. When is the last time that petitions…? I mean, people presume that the petitions are going to lead somewhere. Yet here in this House they're always ignored. I mean, ask the Clerks, and they will write it…. Where does it go? Nowhere. Does it go to the minister? Nope, it doesn't.
Can't we make an improvement on that? Rather than simply being a passive participant in making this Legislature less and less functional, less and less meaningful, why are we not doing something as a government to improve it?
Now, the government is changing something. I think their big vision piece for the Legislature is to move question period to — what? — ten in the morning so we can get out of here on Thursday faster. That's the vision piece that we have here for improving the Legislature over the next four years. Wow, that's startling, eh? Wow, that's big stuff.
I guess, while we're on the theme of mailing it in, let's talk about the throne speech, because wow, anyone…. I felt sorry for one of the most…. Our Lieutenant-Governor — if you haven't seen her speak, especially about farming or something — is one of the most wonderfully articulate. So she really struggled yesterday. I think most would agree that anybody would have struggled reading that stuff. I don't know where that came from.
You see, I came here during the grand days of Gordon Campbell, when Gordon Campbell was in full flight — the five great goals. I have colleagues here — when the five great goals were going full…. There was even alliteration. It was not just five great goals. It was five great goals for a golden decade.
Now, they didn't turn out so well. If you go through the list of things that were going to happen, of course…. What was it — literacy? Of course, you're cutting that program now, aren't you? The money for literacy — well, that's out. Can't afford that. CBAL — that's out the door.
What was the literacy…? Oh yes, it was going to be the most literate in the continent. Wow, I guess…. Check. That's all done, right? Yeah, that's all done. You might as well cut the funding for that. You know, if saying something made it happen, the B.C. Liberals would be in great shape.
I remember the current Deputy Premier telling us about — what was it? — bioenergy. There was going to enough bioenergy to replace Site C by about two years ago. It didn't quite happen. You could go through such a long list of the rhetoric and what actually takes place.
Well, let's go back to the five great goals. Oh yeah, seniors. Wow. Great job. That's best in the world. Okay, check on that one. Oh, sustainable environment. Right. Yes. Well, we've moved past that, haven't we? We're in a new era on that one. Fisheries, too, by the way. Fisheries was on the list as well.
I mean, I've heard it all. As I say, if saying was doing, then this would be all pretty good. But it's not, is it? It's an awful lot of rhetoric.
What did we get in this throne speech? Even though they've been there for 12 years….
An Hon. Member: Double vision.
N. Macdonald: Yeah, double vision. You've got two or three things going on there, right?
Even though government for 12 years, all of a sudden: oh, in ten years we're going to get a skills plan. In ten years we're going to get a transportation plan. Right. All of those things will just happen without any sort of real things that you can look at and say: "Oh, that's going to get us there."
I think in an election, clearly, this sort of empty rhetoric gets you somewhere, but at some point you have to do something. All I saw was a bunch of things trying to be figured out that aren't figured out that should be, and a tremendous amount of cynical politics that cannot be acceptable.
I just want to speak for a few minutes. Like I say, I'm going to talk about forestry, if I get an opportunity, in the budget, but I want to talk about education.
I taught first in Africa. Then I taught in a reserve in Manitoba, and then I came to B.C. to Golden to teach. I had a fantastic time. I have to admit that I get too emotional on these issues, because when we talk about education, we talk about it at a level that I'm simply not at.
I'm at a place where I can picture the students that were involved. I know there are other teachers here, and I know that we all have issues that we're emotional about or that we're closer to. But with education, it is the greatest gift that you can give anyone.
Like I say, I lived six years in Africa, teaching. All people wanted to do was to learn. With education, everything opens up. When you don't have that education, it's not only the opportunity missed. More often than not, you're taken advantage of in a horrible way. Our freedom comes with education. That is the greatest gift that you can give, not only to your children but to future generations.
To have this government play games with our public education system is appalling. It was a strike purposefully coordinated by the Premier in the Premier's office. That's what testimony before the court is saying. I get it: the government doesn't want to talk about it because it's an appalling thing to talk about. What are the consequences for playing with the education system?
It didn't just start now, at this time. It started back in 2002 when this Premier was the minister. I can tell you, as a principal at that time, how many decisions that were made by this Premier looked like deliberate provocations. You would say either this minister doesn't know what they're talking about or it is deliberately trying to ruin the system. You have those discussions in the staff room: is this on purpose, or is this just incompetence? More and more we see, and my conclusion over the past month is, that it was all on purpose.
To think that a Premier has the right, that a cabinet has the right, to provoke a strike, to damage a public education system for political gain — how can that possibly pass as something that's acceptable? Every time I think, "Well, I cannot be more disappointed," I find that I come here and the action is disappointing.
It's not as if we can just say: "Hey" — from the government side —"Oh, that's the Premier. Well, that's the way she is." This only works with the complicity of the government members. It only happens…. What actions are individuals taking to ask questions? Why did that happen? What is going to be done to make sure it never happens again?
What happens with a strike? First off, it's damaging to a staff. I was a principal, as I say, when this Premier was the minister and we were going into a strike. There had been provocation. It looked like we were going to have a day off. How do you manage that? First, you have to make sure that all of your staff are going to do the same thing, right? Because if you don't….
What if one teacher comes in and the others don't for that one day? You're dealing with a problem from that point on, because inevitably there are issues. So you have to manage that. Then you talk to the students. First, it was an elementary school. In high school it's a bit different. In elementary school they don't they want to be away. They want to be there. You have parents trying to figure out who is going to look after the children. Some parents are not going to work and missing a payday.
You have teachers whose pay is impacted. Their pension is impacted — all of that not because there is some dispute that cannot be solved at the negotiating table but rather because the Premier and the government have decided to deliberately do that, to deliberately create a crisis in the second-biggest ministry that the government is responsible for.
I cannot understand how that can happen here in this province. Even after eight years of all the stuff that I have been through in this Legislature, with all the things Gordon Campbell did…. I've seen so much. This has to be the all-time low for how a government has acted.
So there we are. That's what we're on about. I think that it speaks to the dedication of educators that after all the damage this government has done, 12 years later it's a pretty good system.
I was back in a class. One of the joys I have is to go back to a class. When you only teach for one class, it's really easy. You don't have the marking. The prep was never as much as it should have been — when I go into these classes. So I get all the pleasure of interacting with students. I'm sure other former teachers do it as well. You get all the pleasure of the experience without all the tremendous amount of work that goes into making a class work properly.
I have to say, the system still works, but it speaks to the resilience of educators. For the Premier to speak about that group and to treat that group with the contempt that she does is just, again, appalling. Those people are the valuable people in the lives of those children. It's not anything that's done here other than the fact that we have to run the system properly.
But we don't, do we? We deliberately disrupt it. That's a fact. That's what we did here. That's what this government did here. Instead of answering questions on it, what did they do? What we saw today, which was appalling. You get this $50,000 or $60,000 a year extra to be accountable, and to try to escape it…. It's pretty difficult to respect.
I was talking to a teacher in Invermere yesterday. Okay, so the law has changed — 2002. Flexibility, right? That's the buzzword. But the reality on the ground is you create a lot of classes that are simply dysfunctional. They're set up to fail.
I was talking to a teacher yesterday. It's 27 kids. It's a grade 9 class. It's a split. I think 18 of them are in math essentials. Another nine are in basic math. There are nine identified special needs students. One of those students has an assistant that's with only them for a number of reasons. For the rest the teacher needs to figure out how to manage. Four of them need scribing.
The minister will know the amount of work that is required to go into planning for all of those different lessons within that hour and the fact that it's probably pretty well impossible to do that properly — which is why language that requires classrooms to be set up in a certain way is, more than anything, for students. That's the truth of it.
The minister, who was a teacher who wrote on this issue, knows it. Anybody who has been in a classroom knows it — that the language was there to protect students, to make sure that students who have special needs are given the opportunity to do the best that they can. That's what it's there for. So what is it for a teacher to have a classroom that works? It's not more money. It's nothing like that. All it means is that you can feel good about the job that you're doing there on the ground.
It's appalling to me that the education system and classrooms and teachers are treated the way that they are. It's completely wrong. Well, that's great. The Premier got re-elected. Wow. That was a fantastic ploy to force an election on teachers. That was fantastic. Anyway, it's not only that the government repeatedly breaks a law. How do you have laws that are not constitutional? How many lawyers does this Legislature have?
Last session we dealt with…. It was more than one. It was two or three laws that were unconstitutional. These are not obscure laws. I have many friends here who are lawyers. I don't think constitutional law is obscure. It's sort of like the basic rules for how the country runs. Yet again and again you have laws that are ruled unconstitutional.
How did anyone think that Bill 22 was going to be constitutional? It was exactly the same as the law that was kicked out before. It was exactly the same, and it was plunked back in there. Wow. That's a surprise. We put in exactly the same law that was ruled unconstitutional, and it's ruled unconstitutional again. Didn't see that coming, but there we go. That's the B.C. Liberals at their best. It's just the misleading rhetoric that so often comes.
The government will say that the fiscal state of the province is such that they have to do this to balance the budget — as if they're actually balancing the budget. You know, there's a balanced-budget law that is in place.
I'll just ask the member for Saanich South. How many times have you been here where the balanced-budget law was not broken by the B.C. Liberals? Have you ever sat here and had it happen? No.
From Burnaby. Have you ever been here where the law on balanced budget wasn't broken? No.
Every year they break the law, and now this year they're talking. I know. They'll stand up, and they'll say: "Oh, it's balanced this time."
Okay. So you've got B.C. Hydro borrowing money that they then report as profit, and then it's taken into government coffers. Well, it's like me paying my Visa bill with my MasterCard. How long does that work for you? But there we are. And the Auditor General who said that that's a pretty poor way of doing things — where is he? Back to Australia. As Pat Bell would say: "That's not the way we do things here." You point out B.C. Liberal mistakes or B.C. Liberal examples of things that are done the way they should and you're off. You're out. You're gone. Okay. So there we are.
Realities on the debt. On the bus it says "Debt-free." Hey, what are we up to — $60 billion? It's really hard to keep track. It's going fast, right? Then you have on top of that another $100 million that's there for financial obligations.
You know those IPP contracts? I'm sure that the member from Whistler will know that those IPP contracts come with a price — $50 billion. Of course, it's power we don't need at a time we don't need it, and we lose money having to manage those contracts, but hey, that's all brilliant stuff.
Of course, if the Legislature actually had the chance to properly debate that bill, then maybe we could've made some improvements. But of course, as so often happens when we do meet, important legislation is brought in late and then the government uses closure. So if it's the HST, if it's the so-called Clean Energy Act…. Hey, it's pretty simple when you can bring it in a few weeks before you close and then shut it down and then not show up in the fall. Great stuff.
But we should all be excited about the work that's being done on the LNG royalty and tax structure. We should have tremendous confidence in that, shouldn't we? What promises have been made on that? It will be ready the fall of 2013. Oh no, it'll be ready for the spring of 2014. Oh no, it'll be at some point in future, right? But this is a race. We're in a race. We're going full out. Most people don't race in years, but apparently this government does.
In my area we're being told repeatedly that there's no money. We know that for Interior Health the budget is going down over the next two years. That will have real impacts on people. It already has.
We know that CBAL, which, by the way, is a fantastic program…. For such a small investment, we can do literacy work. That money is cut. If we didn't have to pay for the Gordon Wilsons of the world and Pamela Martins of the world for.… Ben, he's a top-notch guy, but still, that whole thing — I don't get it. I think it's not the Premier's money to reward people. It's money that should be spent for doing something.
What does Gordon Wilson actually do — at $60,000? You read his blog. He thinks LNG is overrated, and all of a sudden he's the champion of LNG — for $60,000. What do we see for that? Nothing.
What does Pamela Martin do other than interview the Minister of Education, who wasn't, by the way, talking about the ruling, apparently? It sure sounded like he was. I guess Pamela Martin is now working for the party, but I kind of think she was working for the party all along when she was on the public dime. So there's this cronyism that's there and no money for anything that's important.
Land use planning that should be taking place in Invermere and Golden has been undercut. The reason? They say: "Oh, there's no money for that."
There's no money for the Revelstoke Highway Rescue. Most people assume that if you get into an accident, the province has arranged so that you'll be pulled out of your car. This is just one example of where the priorities are. Revelstoke Highway Rescue needs a couple hundred thousand dollars. Their vehicle was hit and destroyed in an accident while they were out. They do — I think, off the top of off my head — between 80 and 100 rescues on the Trans-Canada.
The previous speaker was talking about highway safety. If you want a road that is dangerous to drive, it's the Trans-Canada, and yet we have fewer police there. The people that are asked to go out and do the rescue are going to be without a proper vehicle. Currently they're being lent one, but the government says there's no money to replace what is an essential vehicle. The last call they did, they cut a family out of a vehicle that was trapped against a rock wall, and yet no money for that — but money for all sorts of other issues. These are things that we need to get right.
Revelstoke conservation officer — there's no money. The Trans-Canada Highway — the federal government found a bit of money.
It's an interesting story. I think a lot of people don't drive the Trans-Canada. It was 30 below there the other day — incredible amount of snow. It's beautiful but a tough road to drive. Along that Trans-Canada Highway there are signs that were first put up before the 2009 election: "Four-laning Kamloops to the Alberta border." Now, when I saw that, I thought: "Oh, maybe they're going to four-lane that highway." Well, they took those signs down, and they put up new signs in 2013. New signs; no new money.
Hon. P. Fassbender: I sometimes feel tempted to respond, but I'm going to resist the temptation. I'm going to speak about the throne speech and what I think is at the heart of the throne speech.
I am absolutely grateful and honoured to be representing my riding of Surrey-Fleetwood in this House. It is a community that has strong community ties, great families and, thanks to this government, a secure tomorrow.
I feel privileged to be a member of this government, along with my colleagues from Surrey — members for Surrey–White Rock, Surrey-Cloverdale, Surrey-Tynehead and Surrey-Panorama. I would be remiss if I didn't did say that I have respect for members opposite for their willingness, as I did, to put our names forward to become elected to be in this House and to serve the people of our ridings and the province of British Columbia.
But I know that in Surrey, team Surrey — as we refer to the MLAs who are on the government side of the House — represents some very diverse neighbourhoods. We represent the fastest-growing city not only in British Columbia but in Canada. As a result, this government has chosen, in a very strategic way, to invest in a number of initiatives that I'm going to speak about.
One of them which I think is of significant benefit to the city of Surrey is Destination British Columbia, a Crown corporation with a mandate of attracting tourists to British Columbia in a very highly competitive market. Destination B.C. is going to benefit every single riding in this province by getting the word out that British Columbia is one of the best places in the world for tourists to come.
We were elected by British Columbians on a promise of a strong economy and a secure future. We are delivering on that promise to British Columbians today, and we will be doing it in the future.
A strong economy really starts with controlling government spending. That's why we're one of the only two provinces in this country that have presented a balanced budget, and we are going to present another one next week in recognition of the hard work of every member of this government to drill down on government spending to ensure that we have a secure tomorrow because our fiscal house is in good order.
As a result of that, we still earn top credit ratings in a world economy where many other jurisdictions around the world have lost their credit rating and have close to bankrupted their economies. British Columbia has stood out as being a different place, where we value a secure economy and we work to make sure that we deliver on that. That has been the mandate of this government and will continue to be so.
In order to do that for British Columbians, we're still keeping taxes amongst the lowest in the country. We're also leading the country in cutting red tape, and that is critical to our business community, which is the generators of jobs. By cutting red tape, they are able to operate more effectively and more efficiently and to ensure that they're profitable and, hence, building our economy and keeping us moving forward.
One of the other key plans is our jobs plan. We've invested in infrastructure to ensure that we can get our goods to market. That's why we've built things like the south perimeter road. That's why we've invested in the Pattullo Bridge infrastructure. It is not just to assist those people that are travelling amongst the communities, both north and south of the Fraser, but to ensure that goods and services can move effectively throughout the region, keeping our economy healthy.
We're building a new liquefied natural gas industry in British Columbia and one that has already proven, with the investments that are already on the ground in British Columbia, that our goal to create 100,000 jobs, the opportunity to eliminate our provincial debt…. The biggest opportunity for British Columbia is to reduce global GHGs by helping countries like China change their energy dependence on coal to natural gas. That is going to benefit every citizen in the world, because by reducing their GHGs, we will not suffer from some of the things that we have in the past.
One of the other key elements is the fact that we have been working cooperatively with labour throughout the province. The labour groups have recognized that our plan for a secure economy is creating jobs. This means that their unions are secure in representing their members.
The recent agreements that we've signed, which are record-breaking in Canada by providing an opportunity for union members in the public sector to benefit from a strong economy. That's revolutionary and the way we need to go. That out-of-the-box thinking is going to help us achieve the goals that we have.
In the Lower Mainland, including my riding, we have, as I've said, benefited from significant investment in infrastructure. Things like the Vancouver Convention Centre have generated more than $215 million in economic activity for our province. It will continue to attract events and conventions, bring people to the province of British Columbia, and I guarantee you that it benefits every single region. It isn't just about Vancouver. It's about every community in British Columbia that benefits when we bring conferences like the world-leading TED Conference to this province and people see what we're doing to build our economy and to ensure a secure future.
We need to fuel the growth that we're going to see coming, and that's why we've committed to working with labour and business through our ten-year skills strategy. The minister responsible has been meeting with all of those stakeholder groups and has clearly indicated that we're looking to work with them cooperatively to find the opportunities to explore world markets such as China and other parts of Asia to ensure that our businesses have the markets they need in order to be successful and to continue to generate the jobs.
That's one of the reasons that my ministry is working so closely with the Minister of Advanced Education, with the Minister of Job and Skills Training. We're breaking down the silos between ministries and looking at opportunities on how we can work together, collaborate on opportunities to ensure that we provide students that are in our elementary schools today the opportunity for choice in their careers in the future. I know that we're going to be able to do that, and we're going to see significant benefit.
I know that students are looking for their passions. I've had had the opportunity to meet with many students in many schools. I was at Thomas Haney School in Maple Ridge not too long ago. In that school I met with students who were able, because of the creative work of their teachers and administrators, to explore their passions while still maintaining their academic criteria — and doing a great job at it. I think that where the rubber really hits the road is in the classrooms.
You know, we hear a lot of comment about this government's policy when it comes to education. I can assure this House that part of the throne speech talked about how we're going to re-engineer education for the future. I have read research studies from around the world that clearly indicate to us that the classrooms of tomorrow are going to look very different than they do today. The fact that we've been doing education for 130 years the way we have is not good enough anymore. The world has changed, and we need to change with it. We need to create opportunities.
That's one of the reasons we're working as hard as we are to get a ten-year agreement with our teachers. I know all of the discussion that goes around that, but what is very clear to me is that the stability in the classroom is going to benefit every single student, every teacher, every administrator, every parent and every community.
I really believe that at the end of the day, the bottom line to all of this is finding a way to find a long-term agreement that is going to work for all of the parties. We're committed to doing that. I've had many meetings with the BCTF about this, and I am committed on behalf of our government to make sure that we keep our eye on one thing. That one thing is learning outcomes for every single student in our system…
Deputy Speaker: Members. Members.
Hon. P. Fassbender: …whether they have challenges or whether they're gifted.
Deputy Speaker: Members, please.
Hon. P. Fassbender: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I know that at the end of the day, stability is going to ensure that we deliver on the educational priorities that we have and that every student and every parent wants. We're committed to it, and we're going to continue to work for that.
When I talk about infrastructure…. We've done a number of other things in Surrey, in my riding and the surrounding ridings. We invested in building the south perimeter road, which I mentioned already, the Port Mann infrastructure and other things that we have on the books that are going to ensure not only the movement of people…. The reality is that south of the Fraser, people are moving around within our area, as opposed to leaving it, like they traditionally did. So we're going to continue to invest in that.
We also are going to continue to invest in building infrastructure for schools. Surrey is one of the largest and fastest-growing communities. It has significant requirements. We have pressure in our schools; we recognize that. And we're going to work with the Surrey school districtand with the city of Surrey to find unique and creative ways to deliver what we need while meeting the other needs of the community.
Just as some examples, we've invested in things like Goldstone Park Elementary School, a new school, $14.7 million, in the South Newton area. That recently was completed, and it includes an on-site neighbourhood learning centre. That's where I talk about creativity, making sure we meet the needs of the community beyond just the educational needs. The school has a capacity for 555 kindergarten-to-grade-7 students.
Sunnyside Elementary School, which is a replacement school, $14.9 million, was completed in September of 2013. It has over 100 more elementary spaces, and it is also the home to a neighbourhood learning centre.
Other projects are currently underway in Surrey. Fraser Heights Secondary School. It's an addition, but we're spending $7 million. That's going to create 200 additional spaces, and we expect that to be completed in March of 2014. Panorama Ridge Secondary — an addition, again, to meet that need of students that we expect there. It'll create 300 more spaces, and it's $8.4 million being invested.
Katzie elementary school. This is a new school, $14 million, in the East Clayton area of Surrey. Construction is expected to finish in March of 2014, and the school is going to accommodate 605 kindergarten-to-grade-7 students. J.T. Brown elementary, a seismic upgrade to ensure that that facility is safe, $4 million — expected to be finished in 2015.
So far, this government has dedicated another $52.6 million to proposals for Clayton North secondary and Clayton North elementary, which are currently in the planning stage.
We're planning to meet not only the need we currently have but the need that we know is coming. The pressure is there, and we clearly recognize, as government, that pressures exist throughout this province. I've had the opportunity to visit many school districts. I know that we are committed to working with those districts to ensure, where growth is coming, that we're ready for it and, where there isn't the growth, that we repurpose and reconfigure existing spaces.
There are some school districts that are reluctant to make some of the hard decisions about closing. But we know that we can't continue to fund under-capacity schools in communities where other communities do not have the kind of space that they need for the growth.
As I look at the throne speech and what we committed to…. Many people I've heard say that it was empty of any content. It absolutely was not. It reinforced the goals of this government to keep our focus on a strong economy, to balance our budget, to reduce our debt, to build new opportunities like LNG and the other things.
You know, a lot of focus has been on LNG, but the reality is that our mining industry is thriving, our forest industry is coming back, and our tourism industry is growing. We have many things to be proud of in this province. We have a thriving small business industry. When I've met with chambers of commerce throughout the province, they're excited about the opportunities for small businesses who generate significant employment. They're excited about the future of this province.
I mentioned earlier that we've cut red tape. We know that government can sometimes hinder the ability for businesses to move in the way that they need to. We're also working with local governments. We have a great relationship with Union of B.C. Municipalities to ensure that we work with local governments to find the path that will allow them to achieve their goals. We know they have pressures on infrastructure, we know they're trying to find ways to bring the resources to bear, but we're working with them.
When we think of transportation and the great work that the Minister of Transportation is doing on finding the appropriate investments to ensure that the economy keeps moving…. I know that people around this province are going to celebrate that, because they're going to see the success that that brings.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business commented recently that the government of British Columbia is a leader in this country in our business-generating and growth activities. I think that is a testament to us keeping our eye on the ball. That's why the throne speech didn't have to put a whole bunch of new things in it. It reinforced the things that we said prior to the election and during the election. That's why this government was elected. That is the mandate that we've been given, and we're going to stick to it, as hard as it may be sometimes. But we're focusing on it.
I also want to say there are many social issues that we deal with. In the Ministry of Education I have a chance to meet with a lot of parents, teachers, people in the community. Our ERASE Bullying strategy is working. We now have a safe community coordinator and a school coordinator in all 60 school districts that are working with community groups to deal with issues of bullying and those kinds of things that make our communities unsafe.
We're seeing results where the community has come together and said: "We are going to work together to do it. We don't expect the Education Ministry or the Ministry of Children and Families to do everything. We are going to partner with you, and we're going to find solutions."
I will say this, Mr. Speaker, that I've been asked this question many times. The government's position on bullying is very clear. There is no bullying activity of any sort against anyone, no matter what the reason, that is appropriate. That's the position that we take, that's the message we're taking out, and we're going to work with communities to realize those goals.
I ran for election in the last election because I believe this government has a vision for the future. Visions are something that you need to stick to, you need to articulate and you need to work at. In the education sector we have a vision that we're going to have a robust system that is going to provide opportunities for every single student no matter what their needs, no matter what their passions or desires.
When it comes to the economy, we're going to stay focused on the economy, we're going to reduce our debt, we're going to continue to bring forward balanced budgets, and we're going to grow our economy so that this province continues to lead the world with vision and with an economy that is secure.
D. Routley: Before I start, I'd like to, of course, thank my family, who support what I do. My sweetheart, Leanne; my stepkids, Matthew and Brookelyn; and my daughter, Madeline — I thank them for their love and their support.
I'd also like to make a little bit of an introduction, in a way, and say hello through Hansard to a friend who I've met. Her name is Sophie Ballo, and she lives in Santa Cruz. The connection between Sophie Ballo and myself was a bicycle that I used to import from Japan and distribute in the States.
I was looking for a bicycle for my partner Leanne's father, and I found a frame that I imported some 20 years ago — a beautiful hand-built frame from Japan — that this person, Sophie Ballo, was selling down in the States. I bought that frame in order to build a bike for my sweetheart's father. This person, Sophie Ballo, is very interested in these bikes, a bike that had a big part in my life, because I became English teacher to the frame builder and later imported his bikes to Canada and distributed them throughout the States. I promised Sophie that I would say, "Hello, Sophie," and thank her for appreciating Mr. Kageyama's great bicycles.
Anyway, that's a real diversion, isn't it? Kind of like the throne speech. Kind of like the government, really, right? It's about diversion from things that really matter.
Since the throne speech is such a piece of recycling…. Finally the government has an environmental plan. What they're recycling are ideas, but they're also into reduction — reduction of ideas. So while most of the throne speech is recycled, it is certainly reduced, because there's hardly anything in it.
But let's give them credit for two of the r's, the recycling and the reducing. And since they've gone to that theme, I thought that I would do the same, that I would recycle a reply I made to virtually the same throne speech, although not so reduced, about three or four years ago. I'm going to make this recycling effort because this is something that can explain to my friend Sophie Ballo in California the strange workings of politics in B.C. Because when I came to this place, it was obviously pretty confusing how the government works.
Back when I came here, they promised not to tear up the HEU contracts, and then they did it. It led to the largest mass firing of women in Canadian history. Over 30,000 women were fired by that act, and it was a promise not to do exactly that. So I thought: "How does this work?" I mean, you go to your community, and you ask them for support. You campaign on a set of principles, promises, and then in the government's case, the B.C. Liberals, you break them. Whether it's a law or a promise, you just break it.
Then they promised not to sell B.C. Rail, right? But they did. They sold it. This all was very confusing to me.
Now they've promised not to have deficits, even though they've just had four in a row that total $5.2 billion, and this one this year that they call balanced is phony — another broken word.
Sophie, we're not allowed to say the word that begins with "l" and ends with "e" that is three letters long that describes an act of stating something that isn't true. I can't say that word. But I can say that the government breaks its promises. You see, that's what we're dealing with here — a government that never keeps its promises to the people it represents. That is the most undermining thing possible to democracy. Sophie knows that part.
It's the same here. You see, the government here just breaks its promises willy-nilly. I didn't understand how this could be until I came to the conclusion that they were simply playing a game that I used to play with my kids.
Sophie and British Columbians and the government members who came here thinking they were representing something of integrity: what your government does, you see, is it gets you to go to the door and make campaign promises, and then it breaks them. It's playing the game I played with my kids called Opposites Day, right? You say: "I want to read; can you turn off the light? I want to go to sleep; can you turn on the light? I'm too cold; open the door. I'm too hot; turn on the heat. I won't sell B.C. Rail. Oops, I sold B.C. Rail. I'm going to create thousands of jobs. Oh, we've just lost more jobs than any other province in the country."
"We're working with teachers for an agreement to bring stability to our classrooms." We just heard the Education Minister very eloquently using every cliché he could manage to pop out, saying that it's all about working through consensus and collaboration, and we're going to bring stability to classrooms. This, mere weeks after the Supreme Court of B.C. declared that the government intentionally provoked teachers towards an all-out strike in order to have the political capital to be able to impose legislated settlement upon them.
They used the children, who might be playing opposites games and think it's only a game. They used them as political pawns. They used the most essential public service, the most essential investment that we make in our future, the most essential service this government offers our province, the second-largest cost item — the largest being health care, but I'll wager that education is more important than that because a properly educated people will never be foolish enough to let that government privatize their health care.
That is what the Supreme Court said your government did, Members opposite. You're free to support it, defend it. I don't envy you that task, but fill your boots.
Anyway, that's what the government does. It plays Opposites Day, and once you understand that, politics in British Columbia becomes absolutely clear. It becomes crystal-clear why the government says what it does. It says they're building a jobs plan to grow the economy. It has five points: control spending, fiscal responsibility — all these great words, great slogans. But look a little deeper.
Since they say they're going to grow the economy and balance the budget, let's take a look at their record. Well, a government with a law that prevents it from having deficits — it's called the Balanced Budget Act, and it is there to make sure that the government, by law, can't pass a deficit — in the last four years in a row has trotted the members of this House in to amend that law so that it can play Opposites Day and break it. Then it can stand here, member by member, and have the nerve to say to British Columbians and small business people that they believe in not having deficit budgets. What a load of — another word I can't say, Sophie Ballo. That's the record.
This year they claim a balanced budget by forcing our public utility, B.C. Hydro, the crown jewel of British Columbia's public utilities, to pay it half a billion dollars in dividends while B.C. Hydro is losing money. It forces B.C. Hydro to borrow the money so that it doesn't have to show a deficit.
Opposites Day. That's what this government is playing with the people of B.C. But it ain't no game. This is about real lives. This is about the future of this province. This is about the role of cynicism in our system.
Those same kids, who were abused by the tactics of this government, their education put to the point of denial because of this government's tactics, as described by a Supreme Court judge of the province, now can feel some cynicism at such a young age, right? I mean, you're pretty young when you're in elementary school to become cynical, but really, when you find out that this is what your government will do to the services that you depend on to develop as a human being, well, it's kind of hard to avoid a bit of cynicism.
Then, going on with the Opposites Day theme, Opposites Day is election day, right? Leading up to election day, the government drives their candidate for Premier around in a bus, and plastered on the bus is a huge decal that says "Debt-Free B.C." I mean, it's fantastic. It's colourful. It's really exciting, except for the fact that it's not true.
The same person campaigning for Premier, who is now Premier, added more debt to this province than any other Premier in history, at a faster rate than ever before in the history of this province. It is pathetic.
Mr. Speaker, it's traditional that we are not allowed to use props in this noble chamber, so I won't use a prop. When the budget speech comes, though, the government is going to break that rule too. They're going to put big screens up here so that they can show little — well, big — diagrams of what they're doing. Even though they're big screens, we can't even read them, but somehow it made sense. I think I should be able to have one of those running LED signs in front here so that I could sort of spruce up my speech and add little bits to it by having them scroll across the screen.
In any case, I won't use a prop. But I'll look at it. It is a graph that shows the pattern of B.C.'s debt. For us cyclists, Sophie, the beginning of it, three-quarters of it, looks like a really nice ride in the hills. It's gradually rising, along with the gross domestic product. It's gradually increasing, but then it takes a sudden lurch, and it looks like a profile of a stage of the Tour de France — maybe Alpe d'Huez — when it goes like this, literally.
This government has raised the debt in a mere space of a couple of years by some…. Now, let me see. I better be careful, or I'll be saying something that isn't true. But then, really, who cares, right? I mean, who cares? It's kind of the theme of the government, after all.
Actually, four years ago the debt stood at $35 billion, and now it's headed to $70 billion. It's been doubled in that short time. But you know what? That's not bad enough. This government can stand, member by member, and claim that they care about the debt when they've added contractual obligations to this province in a mere space of some eight years. Contractual obligations are things that they're bound to pay for because of public-private partnerships that the Auditor General — who they fired because they didn't like what he said — said should be included as debt.
Those contractual obligations in eight years have…. Seriously, Sophie Ballo the cyclist, they look like the Alpe d'Huez stage. They go up like this. It's a mere eight years, but they go from approximately $15 billion to $95 billion. So now you take the $70 billion that this province owes and you add it to the $96.5 billion in contractual obligations, and you get $170 billion in debt.
They've taken the debt per capita from when they came to power from $8,500 per person to $40,000 per person for every person in this province. Then this Opposites Day government has the nerve to stand in the House of the people and claim that they care about debt. It's absolutely astonishing until, of course, you understand that we're playing a game and the game is called Opposites Day.
Anyway, that's a little bit disheartening, and we want to have a little bit of hope here, don't we? When we look and we think about hope, it's kind of something that involves the future, and most of the government's commitments involve the future, because they are to be materialized further down the road.
It's a little bit like the years before the 2010 Olympics here, when every question on the economy was answered by the government pointing out: "Hey, it's going to be great because the Olympics are going to come, and we're going to have thousands of jobs." In fact, they said: "Tens of thousands of jobs" — that's what we're going to have — "and billions of dollars of investment."
The Olympics might as well have been a decade and a half ago. Four years ago — incredible. The next Olympics are on, and one of the front-page stories is that they refused to light the torch in downtown Vancouver. In Calgary, which had the Olympics in '88, they've got their torch burning, but they don't want to burn the torch in Vancouver. I mean, that might remind people of a few promises that were made and broken, projections that were wrong, from a government that prides itself in the wizardry of fiscal, financial competency.
But that wasn't what materialized. Instead of those thousands of jobs, we got thousands of temporary foreign workers. "Why?" you might ask. Because of another broken promise, another untruthful commitment. Remember, my friend in Santa Cruz, I can't say the word that you know I would like to say, because it's absolutely what this government does.
In any case, the jobs never materialized, partly because this government decimated the skills training sector in this province. They took a system that had issues, completely wiped it out and replaced it with a description that fit on one 8½- by 11-inch piece of paper. That was their approach to planning the economy and answering the jobs of tomorrow that the members over on the other side speak of with such flowery terms.
What are the facts that came about because of that? Well, the completion of apprenticeships in the last four years has declined from 45 percent to 34 percent. That's compared to Alberta's completion rate of over 65 percent — a 30 percent gap. And what did they do in the budget that we just dealt with in July? They cut funding to skills training. And yet again, each member will stand up and brag and tell people how much investment they've made in skills training. "We're going to make sure that British Columbians are first in line for the jobs of tomorrow."
I don't know how they're going to do that, cutting the resources to train people. The per-student allocation for trades training hasn't changed for 12 years. Can you imagine the loss to inflation in 12 years to a service like skills training? I mean, how can they possibly deliver the quality that's necessary for this government to answer its promises? But I don't think that's important to the government, because I don't think they actually have any intention of ever following through on a single commitment.
It's incredible. And it's always: "It's going to happen. It's coming. We're going to. We will." It's never: "We have done this. We are proud of this." It's: "We're going to…. LNG. Everything will be LNG." Well, you know what? Natural gas revenues have declined sharply in the recent past, from $4 billion ten years ago to $1.75 billion this past year. That's because the United States is producing its own gas, doesn't need our gas.
So what do they do? They turn this ridiculous problem…. Rather than acknowledge we have a serious problem, they turn it into some kind of a pot at the end of a rainbow that we are all going to materialize, and it will pay off the debt. We'll have a debt-free B.C.
There'll be no deficits, because they don't believe in deficits. Well, they don't have to believe in them. They just exist, and they exist in the record of the government. They exist today, this year, because their phony balanced budget is balanced by heisting Hydro. "Tell Hydro to go borrow the half a billion, and we'll balance our budget. Give it to us." It's ridiculous. But it is Opposites Day, so no problem.
Now they're going to do another review of skills training. In fact, it's completed, and the minister has received it, but she doesn't want to put it on the table yet.
They're going to set up a competitive tax regime that will materialize great benefit for the province through LNG, because we're in a race with Australia and the States. And we're in a race with China, because China is producing their own their own natural gas. We're in a race.
Yet, as the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke pointed out, their race is measured in years. Last year it was supposed to be ready in the spring and then in the fall and now in the spring, maybe, or sometime in the future. So the absolute hurtling race towards LNG seems to be a bit challenged by practice.
Those last four budget deficits total over $5 billion, and it is galling to hear the members from the other side claim that they don't believe in deficits and that they believe in balanced budgets, when those are the facts. Then we see what they've really done to create absolute chaos in our classrooms, intentionally, cynically — to drive teachers towards a strike, to provoke a political incident, using children as pawns. That's the level of respect of this government. That's what they are able to do.
At the same time, they tell these mistruths about deficits and debt. It's really astonishing. Schools in Nanaimo, where I represent, are closing. They're closing schools. The parents are struggling. Programs are being cut, busing is being cut. This is the reality of this government. Can't we do better, Members opposite? Can't we do better than that?
If you're going to go to the doorstep of British Columbians and offer them hope…. It's a fantastic thing. We have a beautiful province with fabulous resources, particularly the people. Couldn't we actually do better? It's astonishing that the members can sit here. I assume they all come here with integrity, and yet the government that they've become a part of absolutely betrays every commitment that it makes.
They give lip service to First Nations communities, telling them they'll be part of the future, this golden future: resource development. But what is the reality?
Well, the First Nations have a big concern over a lack of consultation, a lack of involvement. They don't like a lot of these projects. Treaty 8 Tribal Association represents six First Nations that will be directly affected by the Site C dam project — a project that will flood enough agricultural land to feed a million people. They want to be heard; the government isn't listening. But in their name, they claim this noble principle of wanting to involve them as beneficiaries of their plans.
But the reality is different. It's Opposites Day. It's really tragic, though. And it ain't no game; it's real.
Site C not only would flood enough agricultural land to feed a million people, at a time when my friend Sophie Ballo in California…. The drought there is going to force food prices through the roof, and in fact, may make food availability questionable in B.C.
It will not only, by proposal, flood enough land to feed a million British Columbians, but it will also flood up to 337 archeological sites, historical sites, of First Nations. Treaty 8 is a little bit concerned about that as well, but the government isn't listening.
The Chilcotin people are against the New Prosperity mine. Anybody who is against anything, with this government: "They're just negative, and they're just against everything."
Well, Members, all German shepherds are dogs, but not all dogs are German shepherds. Development is good for the province, but not all development if it hurts people, if it harms our future, if it takes away enough farmland to feed a million people.
There is a distinction to be made, and it should be made by a government based on the public interest of the province rather than the interests of industrial donors to their party, which is the obvious case with the B.C. Liberal government.
It means that there's more to life in British Columbia than our economy. The Liberals have mismanaged our economy to the point where debt has skyrocketed. Deficits are routine. Growth is stagnating. We lag every province. We're ninth in job creation — ninth. Yet the members stand and brag about job creation. We're ninth in GDP growth. They brag about economic growth. We're ninth in productivity, and they brag about skills training.
Those are the realities. It may sound kind of negative, but your record, frankly, is terribly negative. That's the record. We're ninth. Absolutely.
We lag in every economic indicator. We lag in retail sales growth. We lag in export growth. Those are the facts. But facts don't trouble the government when it's playing Opposites Day. It says things that aren't true. It says that it respects First Nations' rights, and yet when they receive a report that says they have been absolutely negligent in the care of First Nations children — children in care of the province — they do nothing. They don't even mention it in this House.
They talk about children and the future, but our province has the highest child poverty rate in the country, and they don't even mention it in the throne speech. They call that vision. It's tunnel vision. It's a narrowing of vision away from anything that challenges the mythology that's being built. The mythology is broken, and we are going to pay the price for it. Our children will pay the price for it. Our grandchildren will pay the price for it, because of unrealized potential.
They said they've taken huge efforts to deal with missing and murdered women, yet they've done next to nothing to act on the 63 recommendations by Commissioner Oppal on the missing and murdered women. The government has failed even to replace their advisory chair who resigned nine months ago. This is the level of commitment of this government to anything other than some promissory note for the future, based on a myth.
You teach kids, right? You teach them about not doing that word, the "l-e" word — that you don't tell the truth. You tell them: "You shall not do that. You shall not steal. You shall not hurt people. You shall not do these things." But, as the biblical phrase goes, you shall know them by their fruits. And the fruits of the experience of B.C. Liberal government are the largest levels of inequality in Canada.
Our beautiful province and the wonderful people that call it home have been disadvantaged, have been harmed. And this government, as long as the limousines are longer, can ignore the longer lines at the soup kitchen. That's the reality of B.C. Liberal government.
Not a mention of B.C. Ferries. The Penelakut people I represent, forced by settlers from the foreshores of Chemainus onto an island in their territory, are now, essentially, trapped on that island by ferry fares that are unaffordable.
I met with an elder who was in tears in my arms describing how she could not collect enough pop bottles to make it home on the ferry. She went with her change and got on the deck, and the deckhand couldn't take her money. She refused to leave. The RCMP were called. She was escorted off the ferry by her elbows. Someone gave her the money. She got home, but she left a good chunk of her dignity at the ferry terminal. And this government refuses to hear her voice and other voices on the coast that are telling this government it cannot do what it's going to do to B.C. Ferries without drastic harm to our coastal economies.
We are 20 percent of the province of British Columbia population-wise and over 30 percent of its GDP, and this government ignores the issue of our marine highway. It's disgraceful.
This is the reality. No mention of child care. No mention of child care in the Speech from the Throne. One of the most essential economic instruments and one of the most essential elements of having an equitable and equal society — not even mentioned.
No mention of seniors or mental health. No mention of local government. This is the reality.
I am sad to say that real monuments to a healthy, thriving society are not stadiums and convention centres but equity, health and education. A strong B.C. will be built on a foundation of well-being. This Speech from the Throne has failed to get us there, and it's important because our future depends on it.
L. Reimer: It's an honour and a privilege to speak to you all here today — an honour because of the long list of distinguished colleagues that have come before me and because of a long list of colleagues who are currently serving on both sides of the House.
I'm privileged to be in this position today, having been brought here by the people of Anmore, Belcarra, Port Moody and Coquitlam who have entrusted me to be their voice here in the Legislature. Their confidence in me is not taken lightly, and I commit to representing their interests and the interests of the province diligently and with determination.
I will be forever grateful to the people of those communities for providing me with this opportunity. I am at their service.
Before I begin my response to the throne speech, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my family for all their love and support. My husband, Les, has taken control of our home. He does the grocery shopping and is my sounding board and my best friend.
My sons Gord and Bill have stepped up to the plate to assist with driving, providing me directions when I get lost, looking after our pets and assisting me at my office opening and my riding activities. My mother, Norma, has been a great support, attending many functions and events whenever asked. They make it possible for me to do this challenging but rewarding job and are so understanding and supportive, especially when it requires me to be away from home and unable to chip in with the normal household duties.
I'd also like to acknowledge and thank my wonderful constituency staff, Isabel, Vicki and Mary, who took someone else's office over and made it our own, and my legislative assistant, Suneil, who has been a wealth of information for me as a new MLA. I'd also like to thank Primrose, Christie, Melissa and Lorne for their unwavering support.
Also, thanks to the supportive Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development staff and to Minister Oakes, who has been a pleasure to work with. It has been wonderful to serve as her parliamentary secretary and to have the opportunity to conduct consultations for the White Paper on Local Government Elections Reform. Legislation will be introduced this spring that will create further accountability, transparency and accessibility for all those running for and elected to local government. This will finalize the superb work that was completed by the Union of B.C. Municipalities and the Local Government Elections Task Force.
Lastly, I would like to recognize my fellow colleagues on both sides of the House. Regardless of our personal politics, each of us was driven to seek out a position as a representative of our communities to make sure that our constituents' voices are heard and because we all wanted to make a difference. We all share in a common goal to make our society a better place to live.
I thank all of you for your hard work, and I look forward to a productive spring session. I'm excited about the future of my community and our province.
Our government has a bold vision, and the Premier outlined her expectations and goals in a mandate letter that was given to all cabinet ministers, as well as to the parliamentary secretaries. We have had time to review these goals and create an attainable plan, and now it's time for action. It's the time to act on these plans, under the Premier's vision and leadership, which will serve our province and our people well into the future.
This is why I'm so excited to respond in favour of the throne speech. Today, more than ever, we're focused on growing the economy and bringing prosperity and security to all areas of our province. This means delivering a balanced budget, containing government spending and keeping taxes low, as we did last year.
B.C. braved the economic collapse of 2007-2008. While many families were affected, including mine, we emerged relatively unscathed. We still retain our triple-A credit rating from Standard and Poor's, which saves taxpayers millions of dollars a year in borrowing costs. We continue to be considered as a fiscally responsible and safe place to invest.
Responsible fiscal management also means paying down the debt to ensure that we don't leave our children paying for what we spend today. As a mother of two wonderful sons, I want to help ensure a debt-free B.C. for them and for all of our children. Liquefied natural gas and the B.C. prosperity fund will allow us to pay off the debt and pay for health care, education and social services, not only for my constituents but for everyone across our great province.
We need to truly seize the transformative opportunity of the LNG industry that we are building in B.C. This industry is one that will not only create 100,000 jobs for us at home, but it also represents one of the biggest opportunities for B.C. to help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions around the world by helping countries like China replace their current coal-fired power generation model with one that includes natural gas. By substituting even a small percentage of coal with LNG, China could significantly reduce these harmful emissions which represent such a burden on our future generations.
Beyond LNG, I'm very proud that this government is taking steps to realize this opportunity and that it's also committed to keeping British Columbia the envy of Canada on all fronts. We are the best place to live, to work and to raise a family.
This government, however, is not content with the status quo but is committed to making sure that everyone across this great province is taken care of. We are taking the necessary steps to ensure that all British Columbians receive the best treatment that we can provide for them.
The throne speech spoke about providing all British Columbians with a safe community and a long-term, comprehensive strategy to move towards a violence-free British Columbia, which is why I'm so pleased to be part of a government that will implement the provincial domestic violence plan that will be effective April 1 of this year.
Domestic violence is a complex and challenging problem with tragic consequences for our lives, our families and our communities. Statistics show that nearly half of all Canadian women have experienced physical or sexual abuse and that tens of thousands of children are exposed to domestic violence each year. This exposure leads to increased risk of emotional, behavioural, cognitive and social problems, with more severe outcomes for younger children.
To help those at risk, we know we must share information. We have to break down silos, and we have work together. We need to take action. We need to reach these women and families to escape the violence they face and to help them begin to rebuild their lives. With the right kind of help, these small steps can help those affected take giant strides to recovery.
The provincial domestic violence plan is one of these steps. It is a three-year initiative to strengthen our collective approach to addressing domestic violence in British Columbia. It delivers on the government's commitment to make B.C. a safer place for women, children and anyone who has been affected by domestic violence.
The plan is the result of public and stakeholder consultations and includes the creation of additional specialized domestic violence units and programs for aboriginal families. It also includes specific approaches to address the unique needs of aboriginal, immigrant and refugee women, as well as women with disabilities. It also provides improved access to services for survivors in rural and remote communities.
This plan will help us to better reach women and families who are struggling, sometimes for their lives, and assure them that they're not alone and that there is hope.
I'm also very proud that this year, more than ever, this government has placed a particular focus on consulting with British Columbians as we work to reflect how they live today, to serve them better, or to expose and educate each other on what went wrong in the past and to determine how to better serve them in the future.
A recent example of this commitment can be seen with our government's dedication to working with the people of B.C. to determine the appropriate wording, delivery and legacy efforts for a formal apology to the Chinese community in B.C. for historical wrongs of past provincial governments.
The consultation process is the first step to increasing the public's awareness of the historical wrongs against the Chinese-Canadian community and to ensure that we as a society can heal together, learn from our mistakes together and move forward as one community to a bright future that we all build together.
Our government has also set the vision for B.C. to become the most progressive place in Canada for people with disabilities. We realize that we need to build awareness about current challenges and successes and hear from the public about how we can work together to reduce barriers and increase accessibility in our province.
That's why we're holding a public consultation in person and on line where people can share their ideas and give feedback on the ideas of others. It's a conversation with British Columbians who have disabilities and with their friends, families, advocates, employers and community members to understand the needs and interests of people with disabilities.
The consultation is led by the government, the disability and business community representatives working together on what we as a society can do to make B.C. more accessible and more inclusive.
It is also a conversation about how to creatively reduce barriers and improve accessibility while maintaining our commitment to a balanced budget. Public feedback will inform the development of a white paper and help us develop short-, mid- and long-term goals to support people with disabilities to live the lives that they choose, with quality, dignity and respect.
As part of this consultation process, we have started holding a number of face-to-face community consultations. There is a hosting of one of these consultations — this evening, actually — at the Kyle Centre in Port Moody, and I invite everyone to come out and share their thoughts on how we can help people with disabilities to fully participate in our communities.
I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work done by Parliamentary Secretary John Yap, who undertook one of the government's most successful public engagements ever.
Deputy Speaker: Member. No names, please.
L. Reimer: Pardon me. Thank you. The member for Richmond-Steveston.
He conducted an exhaustive process, listening to people all across the province, ultimately making 73 recommendations in his final report.
As was referenced in the throne speech yesterday, our government has announced its support for all of the recommendations, and it plans to introduce amendments to the current legislation this spring.
Status quo is not enough. These are just a few of the initiatives and projects that will help propel B.C. to the next level, and I am excited about the direction we are heading. As the MLA for Port Moody–Coquitlam, I'm proud to be part of a government that not only listens to the needs of its constituents but also follows through on its promises.
We were elected by British Columbians on the promise of a strong economy and a secure tomorrow. We are delivering on that, which will assist future generations. I'm excited to work under the inspiring leadership of Premier Christy Clark, and I look forward to working alongside members on both sides of this House…
Deputy Speaker: Member. No names.
L. Reimer: …to further the interests of our constituents and British Columbians.
C. Trevena: It's with pride that I stand in the Legislature today to respond to the Speech from the Throne. After the silence within this chamber for the last 200 days, I think it's important for our debates to continue.
We live and work in a parliamentary democracy, and as such, we need to recognize the importance of this place. We are not here to rubber-stamp decisions but to have discussion, often disagreement, public scrutiny, openness and debate.
The three pillars of our government are the executive, the Legislature and the judiciary. All have a role to play, although it seems that this government wants to ignore the latter two and govern by fiat. Likewise, we all as MLAs, in the executive and here in the Legislature, have to respect the law in the courts.
It is sad and frightening to see that the Premier, in dealing with the teachers, puts herself above that. So like a spoiled child, she will have her way, challenging the Supreme Court decision. That attitude to two pillars of our democracy erodes hard-fought rights and precious liberties and leads us rapidly towards an autocracy.
With that as a background, I am pleased to take my place as a legislator, as the elected representative for North Island and a member of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, to voice my disgust at this Speech from the Throne. It's a flimsy piece of platitudes cobbled together with clichés and tired promises. For a government at what is supposed to be the beginning of its mandate, it's a sorry picture, offering nothing of substance for the millions of people who live in our province. Instead, we have the self-help mantra of "Getting to yes" and the insulting spin of a "Violence-free B.C." without any substance to what that might really mean.
I think people are breathing a sigh of relief, though, that at least the concept of families first has been dropped from this latest iteration. Maybe the Premier recognized it for the hypocrisy that it is.
Like many on this side of the House, I wasn't sure whether I should laugh or I should cry when I heard the quote at the end of the Speech from the Throne, from President John F. Kennedy, talking about the launch of the space program. JFK's speech was one of hope and one of vision. It was bringing a nation together with a brave and broad idea, and it resonated throughout the United States and beyond. It was not a question — as our government in B.C. is saying — of cost. It was a big dream. There was a vision, there was excitement, and there was energy. There was a coming together of people in a brave new age.
Mr. Speaker, people need that. Yes, they need their governments to provide the roads, the schools and the hospitals. But people want hope, and they want ideas. According to this B.C. Liberal government, hope in B.C. is entirely dependent on liquefied natural gas. Everything else that we may need or we may desire or we may hope for is too expensive. How sad and how frightening is that? There is so much more that can be done.
[Madame Speaker in the chair.]
A vision for the people of B.C. would be a brave war on climate change, serious caps on emissions, grasping the carbon tax and putting investment into retrofits and into transit. I was pleased to hear the recognition in the Speech from the Throne that LNG is non-renewable — that means it is finite; it will run out — but not of turning that non-renewable resource into a proxy, with some strange shell game going on about how our exploiting and exporting LNG will somehow reduce carbon emissions in China.
A vision for the people of B.C. would be an attack on the poverty that riddles our province — which leaves us with a highest level of child poverty, with people homeless, with food banks integrated into our welfare system. A Premier with a vision would say that a ten-year plan is going to end inequality, which undermines all our lives, all our communities.
A vision for the province would embrace affordable, accessible, high-quality public child care for all our children. A vision for the people of B.C. would be ensuring that all our seniors are treated with respect, whether they're living in their own homes receiving care or whether they're in a care home. And that respect has to be extended to the workers.
In my own constituency one privately run home in Campbell River, New Horizons, is at the moment busting the union. The families of the people who are living there know that that's wrong. They know that the people who care for their parents are important to their lives and deserve respect as much as their parents do. The workers at the Island Health–run Yucalta Lodge are so overworked; they know they cannot give the time that every senior deserves.
A vision for the people of B.C. would be a commitment to keep logs and jobs here, rather than boasting that there has been a record number of logs exported to China, as the Speech from the Throne does.
How many mills remain closed or decommissioned? How many small sawmills, like the many in my own constituency, are being starved of wood, having to shut down because of the majors, those licensees who are using our public forest land base, our public land base, and not providing the mills with the logs they need because they are contributing to record exports to China?
A vision for the people of B.C. would be ensuring that our public utilities work for all the people of B.C., for all of our province, and that everyone can benefit from them. There is no acknowledgment in this throne speech of the disaster that is being created in the once fine and proud Crown corporation B.C. Hydro, the disaster that is going to mean huge hikes in bills for people because for years this government has mismanaged, has politicized, has forced B.C. Hydro into unaffordable contracts and has forced the situation that we have now, where people are going to face, in several years, a 28 percent rate increase.
A vision for the people of B.C. would be investing in new infrastructure so everyone in B.C. could benefit from the changing economy. It's not just the highways — I will get to that, and I date myself here — but what used to be called the information superhighway, the Internet. I liken the importance of that to our rural communities to rural electrification decades ago. It takes a brave and visionary leader to say that we're going to ensure that everyone in B.C. has a connection to the Internet, because it's good for our economy and it's good for our communities.
In my constituency there are wait-lists for the Internet. I opened the North Island Gazette the other day and saw a full-page ad: "The Internet is Here." This is 2014. The Internet is here. It shouldn't be full-page ads in local papers saying that there might be a bit of access and the wait-list might be diminishing.
We have businesses in our constituencies that need this service, and they can't get it. It has been devolved to the private sector that is, slowly, working its way up the Island Highway. They stopped for the winter. We don't know when they'll start again. We don't know quite when it will get there, and it's not going to reach every community.
We have the Internet there. We have connection. But once you plug in, it is grindingly slow. It's having a hugely detrimental effect to existing business. I know people who go into work at five in the morning — when they know that they're going to have to go on line, when they're going to have to answer e-mails — because it's the only time they'll ever actually get on line. Or they're going in on a Saturday afternoon because that's the only access time they can get. This is 2014. It's having a hugely detrimental effect on existing business and stifling new business.
A vision for the people of B.C. would be looking at the geography of our province. We have a complicated geography. We are a large province. It would recognize that we have an intricate coastline, where 20 percent of B.C.'s population lives — 20 percent of B.C.'s population that provides 30 percent of our GDP. We have long-established communities in our coastline, and businesses. A visionary government would build the infrastructure accordingly. It would look at what we have, and it would look at what we need, and it would say: "We can do better."
There was a visionary Premier in the 1950s and 1960s — dare I say it? — W.A.C. Bennett. He looked at our coastline, he looked at our communities, and he nationalized B.C. Ferries for the good of the economy and for the good of the people of B.C. That was 50 years ago. That was a vision.
What we have now is a government that is rapidly closing down our coastal communities by its incredible ideologically driven approach to our once public and now quasi-private ferry system.
Last autumn's announcement of the savaging of services while fares are rising 7½ percent — 28 percent on Hydro — on B.C. Ferries…. That decision is completely inexplicable unless you look at it through a political lens. It's inexplicable because there was no study of the social nor the economic impact that this double whammy is going to bring to our communities.
It's not just our coastal communities. It is not just the people who are living in the constituency I represent, Campbell River and the North Island. It's not just Prince Rupert. It's not just Powell River. This is an issue for B.C. We have an economy that is linked. If it hurts a Campbell River, if it hurts a Nanaimo, if it hurts a Powell River and it hurts a Gibsons, it's going to be hurting Vancouver, it's going to be hurting Kamloops, and it's going to be hurting Kelowna. We don't live in isolation.
To cut services around the coast, to cut one service completely, without doing any study on the impact, is inexcusable. I ask you, and I have asked many people this since the announcement back in November: what business would take such a drastic change in its delivery without first assessing its impact? None.
You don't make a change like that without doing a study. Yet this government, the so-called sound fiscal managers of our economy, can allow coast communities — as I say, 30 percent of our GDP — to be threatened without one single assessment of the impact. That's why I say this is a political decision.
We had a consultation process, going around coastal communities that have been consulted to death. There have been many consultations in the past few years, and every time the communities say the same thing: "Please reduce our fares. Please bring us back into a system of government, Crown corporation, Ministry of Highways. Please take control of this out-of-control body." They went out —they turned out by the hundreds — to sit and have their voice heard once again.
But the announcement that was made in November that there were going to be cuts was exactly the same as the confirmation in January, last week, that those cuts were going to go ahead. So people questioned why on earth they would even go to the consultation. What was the purpose of this if the minister and this government had already decided that they were going to make these cuts to our ferry service and cuts to our coastal communities?
In the usurious user-pay model established with the Coastal Ferry Act back in 2002, people using B.C. Ferries have seen costs of ferry fares more than double in the last ten years — again without any analysis of the impact on the communities that are being serviced. This not only has an impact on the lives of individuals and families but on businesses trying to survive.
I'm not talking about the people who are living in these communities in isolation. I'm talking about the vibrant communities that have businesses that are working there. We have fish-packing companies. We have shellfish operators. We have people who are logging. We have people who are mining. These are the resource communities that fund and fuel our province. These cuts to services and this increase in fares have an impact on the lives of individuals and families and businesses trying to survive. Businesses look at ferries as a way to transport their goods and transport people.
Let me give you a few examples, Madame Speaker. I've been having a lot of conversations and getting a lot of correspondence on this, so some examples. In Port Hardy in my constituency bed-and-breakfasts say they are going to lose route 40, which is the cut to the ferry to Bella Coola, and they're going to have a cut in service up to Prince Rupert. Bed-and-breakfasts say they're going to lose 80 percent of their business. That's pretty significant. No consultation. No assessment.
The grocery store in Port Hardy and the drugstore estimate they're going to lose about 65 percent of their business because of the loss of this ferry service. Sixty-five percent of the business — that's huge. For a community that's trying to rebuild from resource to tourism, this is devastating.
The loss of service between Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert — put a human face on it. Among other things, apart from just the access by cutting back this ferry service, it's going to prevent school children from getting dental treatment. They go from Haida Gwaii to Prince Rupert in the afternoon one day, have the treatment and go back on the overnight ferry the next day. The way this is planned, they won't be able to do that. That's if they can actually afford to take the ferry, as it is, because that service is ridiculous.
On the central coast, the Great Bear rainforest, the beautiful area we all…. It's been advertised a lot as one of the most beautiful places in B.C. It is absolutely, stunningly beautiful. We are so lucky to have it. Isolated First Nations live there. Bella Bella, Klemtu — they live there. They've lived there for years. They are going to lose their access. They can't afford to fly. There are no roads. The ferry is their highway.
I'd like to just quote what Marilyn Slett, the chief councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, said in a paper submitted to, I believe, the Minister of Transportation. It has been very widely circulated. The Heiltsuk, as well as other residents of the north and central coast, have some of the lowest average personal incomes in the province and yet travel to Port Hardy or Vancouver by ferry is necessary to obtain health, medical or dental care. This poses a burden on poorer families. In fact, many members simply can't afford to fly. Under these circumstances, the ferry is not only the first choice but the only choice.
Unreliable or infrequent passenger service also makes it difficult to attach high-quality teachers to remote communities. Students have difficulty accessing education services outside their community and the central coast. For those who leave to attend school elsewhere, it often makes it difficult to return home. Any reduction to existing ferry schedules to and from Bella Bella, as well as any increase in ferry costs, will seriously compromise the quality of life and impose undue hardship on residents of Bella Bella and Heiltsuk. Already there is a limited amount of scheduled rides, overcrowding and poor terminal facilities.
Simply put, Heiltsuk members and residents of Bella Bella need to leave the island. They cannot live in isolation. They require goods, services and facilities off-island. Many residents simply cannot afford any other mode of transportation. To provide them with little or no alternative imposes undue stress, inconvenience and frustration.
I think just saying "frustration" is…. Really, it is more than frustration. This is the lifeline. This is the road. There is nothing else. This is a poor community. Why should they not have a highway? Other poor communities may have gravel highways, but they have highways. This is a highway.
The loss of the Circle Route, route 40…. This is the one that goes up from Port Hardy to Bella Coola. Then people can take the road up over the hill, over the mountain, through Tweedsmuir Park and then through the Cariboo. I know that the member for Cariboo-Chilcotin has been vociferous in her opposition to the loss of route 40. I know that the community is very pleased about that and hope that her voice is being heard by the minister.
Route 40 is a massive tourism generator. We have to remember that with the Great Bear rainforest, one of the things that happened is a reduction in logging. There is a reduction in logging in the area, and so communities have shifted to tourism as an income generator. And so we have an income generator for the province, where it brings in as much as $10 million at the moment to the province. Tour operators in Europe were already booking trips for the 2014 season, and now, instead of having this direct link which brings people in and brings people back, they're going to be offered a circuitous, 33-hour journey, most of it on a 15-vehicle vessel where there are no services, no amenities. It's not going to do much for B.C.'s reputation as a tourist destination, but maybe the government really doesn't care about that.
I'd like to read into the record a letter from a German tour operator. This is from the managing director of the German tourist company SK Touristik. He wrote:
"Apart from the local problems and grief this would cause for many of our partners in the large ranch, hotel and excursion business in the Chilcotin and north Vancouver Island regions, the B.C. government is in danger of virtually destroying one of the most important travel routes for repeat customers — Highway 40, the Chilcotin highway.
"By forcing this well-performing and promising route into a dead-end situation, B.C. has taken away a major part, if not all, of the route's attractivity. British Columbia is in danger of losing one of the most substantial and promising magnets for repeat, and thus lasting, tourism from Europe."
He goes on.
"The Discovery coast passage is published all over Germany and Europe as a stand-alone product as well, and even more so as a component in all sorts of self-drive packages. In the public opinion of European travellers, the Discovery coast passage is happening in 2014. Hundreds of passengers and vehicles are already booked. Bookings for 2014 season have been accepted for more than six months now, just like it has always been a mutually agreed and accepted procedure between B.C. Ferries and its overseas partners. Even the entire tour series of buses and tour guides and many eagerly awaiting German passengers are booked on this connection."
There is going to be no connection for them to go on.
He goes on.
"In other words, what you are threatening us with are significant financial losses, since according to European travel rights, these costs cannot be charged to the customer. Lawsuits will become inevitable. Reservation departments will be blocked to handle a massive rebooking, recompensation and legal communication in a time when they should do nothing else but receive and proceed travel bookings to British Columbia. Thus the total impact for us and for British Columbia is not even foreseeable at this point."
Madame Speaker, a couple of phone calls and they could have found this out. You don't actually have to do major studies to find out that you've got businesses that are dependent on this, businesses that are going to be in trouble and businesses that could cause problems for the government by this foolhardy cancellation.
So we have the loss of tourism. We have other cuts. We have cuts in service to Bowen Island. I know that the parliamentary secretary was sitting in a meeting that I was sitting in when person after person after person in Bowen Island stood up and said: "How can you cut our ferry service? How can we get to work? How can our kids get to any sports activities? Do you know what the real impact this is going to mean to our community? It's going to kill our community."
If he or the Minister of Transportation had bothered to go to any other meetings, they'd have heard likewise — meeting after meeting after meeting, whether it was in Quadra Island, Hornby Island, Denman Island; whether it was in Comox, in Powell River, in Langdale. Right across the coast people said: "This is going to kill our communities."
And surprising people. I'd like to quote Gordie Graham, who runs Telegraph Cove, who has created Telegraph Cove into a lovely little tourism destination. He says: "This whole thing is bizarre. In this equation, nobody's looking at how much less money is coming to Vancouver Island, how much damage it's doing to the province. It's costing the province a huge amount of money. I'm far from a socialist" — I concur with that — "but it's time the ferries were taken back under the government and run as an extension of highways. It's the only solution I can see."
I have heard from — I've lost count — hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people concerned about what is happening, angry about what's happening, wanting their voices heard. They see their highway system being destroyed. They see that their communities are going to be destroyed by this, and they also have a bigger picture. They can see that this is going to do huge damage to the economy and the reputation of B.C. — that we deserve our highways, and our highways are not just paved. They're not just gravel. Some of them are on water.
We have our inland ferries, Ministry of Transportation — water. We have our coastal ferries, B.C. Ferries — water. We need to be treating our ferries in a serious way. We need a serious look, and we need that vision.
In the throne speech we have the government announcing its ten-year transportation plan. The minister has indicated that that might include something to do with the B.C. Ferries, but will it be a vision and will it include reintegrating that marine highway into the transportation infrastructure? Will it include building new B.C. Ferries? We've got four new ferries being built. Will it include those four ferries like the inland ferries? Will it include those four B.C. ferries being built in B.C.? I somehow doubt it.
To quote a former Transportation Minister, if I might, Mr. Falcon, talking about the Premier's approach of ready, shoot, aim: central elements of such a transportation plan seem to have already been announced.
We already know there's going to be a replacement to the Massey Tunnel. That's in time for the next election. We know that sometime…. There may or may not be, but we believe there will be a referendum somehow on TransLink. We're not getting clear on that.
Will it include a bus on Highway 16, Madame Speaker — a bus which would reduce the risk to the aboriginal women who travel that Highway of Tears? That would be nice.
I find nothing to applaud in this speech. It reflects an ideologically driven government that has simply run out of ideas for this province. The people of B.C., the people we represent, deserve so much more than this. They deserve a vision — a vision for the place they call home, a vision which embraces hope and opportunity for everyone, not just for political allies of a governing elite.
Hon. M. Polak: I want to begin…. As is customary when we enter this House and speak to the throne speech, we thank those who have been there for us and supporting us in the time that we spend serving our constituents — importantly, those who work in our constituency offices; of course, the voters and supporters who saw fit to give me their trust to send me here to represent them. Certainly, I want to thank members of my family and friends who put up with my many absences.
I want to particularly thank my father, Peter Inkman, because I spoke to him just before I came into the chamber. He told me he had been watching the proceedings today and was going to turn it off, and I said: "Well, I might be getting up to speak." So I'm certain he's watching.
I want to thank you, Dad, for watching us here today and, at 84, still being concerned and interested in what happens to the future of our province — which is, of course, what we're talking about today.
I've watched as member upon member on the other side have risen to their feet and spoken with respect to their disappointment in the throne speech. They've outlined all the different ways in which it doesn't meet with the expectations that they would have for a throne speech. I hear them talk about different issues that they feel strongly about.
Madame Speaker, I'll tell you what it puts me in mind of. It puts me in mind of something that is a theme we have seen repeated month after month as I've been in the chamber in previous years and, in fact, even into this latest election, and that is an array of positions that seem to change and shift and modify, depending on what argument one may want to support.
The first time I was ever introduced to this rather unique property that seems to display itself on the part of the opposition was before I even entered this chamber. The government of the day announced that it was a good idea to deal with the congestion on the Port Mann Bridge. It was time to deal with the Port Mann Bridge and Highway 1.
What did the opposition say? They were opposed to it — wrong bridge, wrong time, terrible decision. That is, some of them were. But then some of the other members weren't opposed to it. They said quietly: "We live in Surrey, and boy, if we don't support the Port Mann Bridge, we're going to get creamed."
Well, then the position started to modify, and before you know it, Madame Speaker, all of a sudden there was support for a new Port Mann Bridge. They weren't exactly sure how they would pay for it. They didn't want to do things the way we would do it, but once again the position changed. The position shifted.
There are a few other examples. Maybe the most notable was the introduction of the carbon tax. I can remember just the violent opposition that we heard from the other side, how terrible it was that anybody could even conceive of putting a tax on carbon, and especially a revenue-neutral one. How dare the government suggest such an outrageous idea? Why would you want to put a price on carbon and perhaps reduce GHG emissions? How preposterous. Until after the election, when that position was rejected.
Then, reluctantly maybe, the opposition came around to a different position, which was: "Carbon tax is good after all, and by the way, what are we going to do about trying to get other jurisdictions to come on side?" So we went from it being a terrible, terrible idea to be: "Wow, you haven't even done it well enough."
We move then from the tendency that the opposition has to shift their position around. We saw examples of that during the election period. We move now to another running theme that seems to come across. That running theme is: "Well, you'll never possibly do that. You're saying you're going to do X, Y and Z, but you'll never possibly do it."
I mean, for heaven's sakes, take GHG emissions. You put targets out there. They scoffed at us. "It's ridiculous. You'll never make those targets. Impossible."
That's what we heard. Well, here we are in 2014. We have the report from the 2011 GHG emissions. That has us at 5.8 percent below our 2007 levels, which means we are within a hair's breath — we'll find out when the 2012 numbers come out — of reaching that 6 percent target below 2007 levels for our 2012 interim target.
They didn't think we could do it. We have done it.
Now we come to the balanced budget, a pretty significant part of the election campaign that we all went through, a pretty significant part of what makes up our stature as a government — our fiscal responsibility.
Before we left the chamber, I remember the cries from the opposition. They said that you couldn't do it. Some of them said it was a phony budget. They were full of commentary about how this balanced budget that had been presented by the Finance Minister couldn't possibly be a real balanced budget — absolutely not.
They didn't offer how they would possibly achieve a balanced budget, but nevertheless, they were quite certain that we didn't have one. Well, as we've all heard, it's the Finance Minister's intent to come into this House and present a second balanced budget. And what I understand is that at the end of this fiscal we are on track to have a balanced budget completed.
It doesn't surprise me at all when it comes to liquefied natural gas — the potential for an absolutely brand-new industry in British Columbia, one that could take us into the future to a place where we are able to retire debt and afford new programs — that the opposition once again says: "Well, you can't do that."
I'm not really sure what takes place in their caucus meetings, but I'm sure they're full of a lot of people coming up with ideas and instantly being told that it's impossible to achieve them. How else could you explain the common understanding that seems to exist amongst all members that the only thing you can possibly achieve is to spend more money?
That — having listened to the members opposite so far in the debate, and I expect to hear more of it as the debate continues — does seem to be a particular area of talent for the opposition members. As they explore what is possible, clearly, to them it is possible always to spend more money.
You have an issue with ferries when you have ridership that dips well below the number of crew on a ferry? Well, the answer isn't to try and deal with the systemic issues in the B.C. ferry system. No, no, no. The answer is to spend more money.
When you have issues around trying to ensure that families have supportive jobs, the answer is spend more money. The answer to every single question, every single challenge in government that the opposition confronts us with, is not to deal with the structure of government, not to deal with regulations, not to deal with making important changes. The answer the opposition has is to spend more money.
Here we come to the place where I would say that they have a significant problem. It's a funny thing, but I have learned, as many of us have, I think, that it's really difficult to spend money if you're not making money. It's really difficult to find a way to spend yourself into success as a government without coming out the other end with mounds of debt.
You end up coming out the other end, as we discovered when this government took over in 2001, with a government that is falling apart because it's not sustainable. It's not affordable, and year upon year the debt mounts. The obligations mount. Generation upon generation looks ahead not to a future of hope and potential prosperity but to a future that sees their income mortgaged to pay for the fact that nobody in government wanted to stop spending, because spending was the solution.
I'm proud to say that as we have looked at the challenges facing British Columbia, as we have faced them head on in times of fiscal challenges and times of incredible international financial volatility, rather than look at those challenges and say, "Well, we can't do it; we can't control spending," we said: "We can."
It's going to take hard work. It's going to take difficult decisions. There are going to be times when we wish we could spend money on things. There are going to be many times when MLAs see projects in their communities, see things they'd like to invest in. If we're going to balance the budget, we're going to have to make difficult decisions that sometimes have to put off the things we would like to buy and spend. The answer is to control spending, get our house in order.
We've done that. We've retained our triple-A credit rating. It is that that sets the stage for the throne speech that lays out the plan for the future. It's the throne speech that we heard that talks about sticking to a plan that we laid out for British Columbians.
I don't mind that the members opposite have difficulty recognizing a plan that is consistently laid out and then is consistently adhered to. It doesn't surprise me because that's not the way they operate. I get that. But the fact is that this throne speech flows from a mandate that we generated during an election campaign put to the people, and they made a choice.
Now, in the world of promises that we as politicians make to communities, we are here with a throne speech that says: "You've told us to do this, and we're going to do it." We're going to do it because we know that the future of British Columbia depends on it.
We know that all of the programs and initiatives and values that even the opposition are espousing…. The spending — the lists of spending items that they've already outlined in the throne speech debate, anyone of those, just like any of the initiatives that are important to us — takes revenue. They take money. Unless you want to raise everybody's taxes some more, you've got to generate that economy. What is that going to mean?
What has been laid out in the throne speech, in our mandate letters? What's been put in front of us? It's the same thing that we put before the British Columbia public. Here is a province with incredible natural resources. It's a huge challenge to try and develop those in a balanced way. I'm the Minister of Environment. I'm faced each and every day with the kind of balancing, the kind of challenges that are going to face us if we are going to effectively develop that revenue stream and make sure our resource sector is strong.
There are going to be difficult decisions that are already facing us. But we told the public we were up to it, and they asked us to do that job. They said: "Don't just say no." It's easy to just say no to everything. No to LNG, no to mining, no to development in the resource sector — it's really easy to say that. It rolls off the tongue so easily. All the difficult decisions and all the things you wrestle with suddenly melt away because you've said no. But the problem then arises: here are all the expectations that British Columbians have.
If we decide to take the easy way out and the only thing we say is no, we're going to be saying no to them a lot more, because we won't have the resources to deliver on the things that they expect for their children — a strong education, a strong health care program. We won't be able to look after vulnerable children. We won't be able to do the things that are important to British Columbians. So we have to be wrestling with those difficult decisions.
I'm very proud, in particular, of an item in my mandate letter that nobody has really talked about a lot but that I think is going to be extremely important as we move forward. That is the idea of a round table, where we bring together representatives from all sorts of different sectors and actually have a conversation about how you balance development in the economy with the environment. How do you do that?
We know the opposition's position. During the election they made it very clear that they didn't think you could balance resource development with a healthy environment. They've made that clear.
On our side of the House we believe you can do it. But we recognize that right now, as we look across British Columbia, we have members from ridings — rural areas — where their resource industries are what they depend on. But we have other people who represent areas where there is not a real good understanding of what that means.
In British Columbia there is a certain amount of disconnect between what it takes to fund the desks, the pencils and the whiteboards in a school, or the gurneys, the testing equipment and the technology in a hospital. It's difficult oftentimes for urban residents to understand that much of that — in fact, most of it — is funded from revenues through the resource sector in British Columbia.
At the same time, there are values that those people are putting forward that are extremely important. How do you do that and ensure that the environment still stays that special natural place that we call British Columbia? This is an excellent example of a huge societal challenge that faces us but one that we've decided to take head-on, one that we've decided to engage about, to talk about. There's no value in being afraid of that conversation.
Again, it's a lot easier to just say no. It's a lot harder to maybe tackle some of those difficult questions that I know will be asked by people who are on that round table. But we have to do it. We have to do it because we know what's at stake.
My daughter is 26 years old. I look at what future she's going to have in front of her. I don't want to leave her a future where she has no reasonable expectation of an economy that will provide work for her or maybe for a future husband, maybe provide for grandchildren. If she's listening, I hope she heard that part. I want to know that those opportunities are going to be there for her. I don't want her to have a future where the environment of our province has been sacrificed for that.
Where are we going to find the balance? It's by engaging and discussing those issues — not just saying no, not just avoiding it, not taking the easy way out but wrestling with those very, very important issues.
It doesn't surprise me, again, that the opposition members haven't taken that to heart. When you don't have to make the decisions, you tend not to. You tend to hurl, instead, what you're dissatisfied with. I get that. But it still comes down to how you answer the question.
If you don't support developing a new industry like LNG, if you don't support balancing resource development with the interests of the environment and if you can't see your way clear to doing that, how on earth are you going to afford to pay for all the things that you keep telling us you want to spend money on? How are you going to do that?
When it comes to liquefied natural gas, how can you say you support the liquefied natural gas industry if you don't support what it takes in the upstream to get it out of the ground? I'm not saying any of these decisions are easy, but they are necessary.
At some point — we hoped for it during the election; it didn't happen — you actually have to stand up and say: "This is my position. Here it is. Make a choice. Vote for me, or don't vote for me, but here it is."
Instead, what we see is a continuation of what we've seen for years previous: no position, or a changing position, but no opportunity to test an idea with a firm position that says: "This is how we would do it." It's all about a story that says: "We can have all these things that we want, and we don't really have to think about how we're going to pay for them."
That's not how everyday people live. If they do, they get into some pretty deep credit problems pretty quickly. Everyday people have to think about those things. I try never to forget — I think most of us do — that when we're here and talking about spending, we're talking about spending other people's money. We're talking about spending money that was collected from people who are working their jobs day in and day out, who have hopes and dreams about the things they want to achieve.
Any time we're going to take from that, we have to think carefully about why. We have to think carefully about what it is that we're supporting with that government revenue. It's a difficult set of decisions that we all have to wrestle with. It's fascinating for me to hear continually that there's no support for the means of generating revenue, but there's ample support — ample support — for the things that we ought to spend it on.
You know, judging from the objections that we've heard to the throne speech, I find myself asking if we've actually started a new session. I was really taken with how similar most of the comments were to the kinds of things that we were hearing last year and the year before. It really hasn't changed much. I can get the fact that there isn't much in the way of new ideas, but….
Hon. M. Polak: The member is interested in talking about the liquor changes that are proposed. There's another example, another area where this government heard loud and clear from the public with respect to what they were interested in. Not only did we listen to the public, not only did we give them an effective forum to make their views known, but here we are only a few short weeks after that, and already the ideas are being finalized, and some of them are being put into action.
This is all about making the regulations and making government work for people — for the folks who pay the taxes, for the folks who do all the living and working in our province. They do that to ensure that we can have a stable government that provides for the needs of their kids, their families on into the future. That's the hope that they've placed in us. They don't send us here just to spend on our little pet projects or to decide that we should spend ourselves into some kind of fiscal oblivion.
We know what's happened around the world, and yet we've watched while we've bucked the trend. We've bucked the trend when it comes to our fiscal situation. Here we are, one of two provinces in Canada who will balance their budget.
Take GHG emissions, for example — another place where we've done what people really thought was impossible. Not only have our GHG emissions dropped dramatically, but they did so at a time when our economy was growing. Now, it's easy to reduce your GHG emissions when you have no economy happening. It's easy to reduce your emissions when your economy is shrinking. But to try and do it when you're growing the economy, when the population is growing, is unheard of. Yet it's something that we promised to do, and it's something that we've achieved.
We know that it's a place of leadership that we need to maintain. But at the same time, it brings us to the place where we wrestle once again with a really difficult question. How do we maintain our climate action leadership while at the same time moving into this new resource sector of liquefied natural gas? It's going to be a huge challenge, but does that mean we shouldn't do it? I wonder when I hear some of the comments from the opposition. They're not quite saying that, but you kind of hear hints.
We recognize we're going to have to wrestle with that. We recognize that, to achieve what we need to for British Columbians, we can't shy away from it. As the Premier has stated, we can't afford to erect barriers that are going to keep our province from realizing the opportunity of a lifetime — the opportunity to set us on track, to ensure that our debt is paid down, that future generations can benefit from the revenues, from the jobs. We can't afford to do that.
At the same time, we have a challenge to face in maintaining that climate action leadership — a position that has served us well in terms of our reputation globally. And it's resulted in action that's been taken by other jurisdictions near us. I know that very many people scoffed at the idea that we could possibly get other jurisdictions on board with a price on carbon, but we've done it.
At the Pacific Coast Collaborative meeting, the states of California, Washington and Oregon signed the Pacific climate action charter, and that brought Washington and Oregon together with California and British Columbia in committing to put a price on carbon. We now hear that Mexico is putting a price on carbon.
We've led in the past. We want to continue to lead, and we're not going to ignore the opportunities we have in liquefied natural gas as an easy way of doing that. We're going to take the harder route. We're going to take the route that we outlined to British Columbians during the election. We're going to take the route that's consistent with the mandate that they've given us. They want to see that balance. They know that we have to be generating that revenue, creating an economy for our children and their children. They know that we need to do that, and they've told us to do it.
We're going to take on that challenge. It might not be one that interests the opposition. Certainly, from their disappointment with the throne speech, it seems that it's not one that interests them. But to that, I guess I would just point out that there were lessons to be learned from what happened when the voters came to the ballot box. I'm not sure if the opposition learned the lessons they should.
I can say that what we heard loud and clear from the public was a mandate to achieve what we laid out. As we rise to face that challenge, as we present a throne speech that moves that plan forward, that keeps us on that path that's been laid out, I know that what we heard from the public was that they wanted us to deliver on that mandate, face the challenges. By that, we will deliver what we promised: a strong economy, a secure tomorrow. That's what they've asked us for, and that's what we're going to deliver.
K. Corrigan: I was going to rise to speak in response to the throne speech, but my understanding is that the time has come and that the appropriate thing is to reserve my spot to speak later and to adjourn debate.
K. Corrigan moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. M. Polak moved adjournment of the House.
Madame Speaker: This House at its rising stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 6:54 p.m.
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