2017 Legislative Session: Sixth Session, 40th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Volume 41, Number 6
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Introductions by Members
Introductions by Members
Introductions by Members
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Tim Jones Peak and North Shore Rescue
New Westminster rent bank
Fairview Container Terminal at Port of Prince Rupert
Hollyburn Ski Lodge on North Shore
UBC Thunderbirds basketball teams
Government response to report on youth death case
Hon. C. Clark
Hon. S. Cadieux
Youth death case and oversight of contracted services
Hon. S. Cadieux
Foster home standards
Hon. S. Cadieux
Reports from Committees
Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, report on the Budget 2017 consultations, November 2016
Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, annual review of the budgets of statutory offices, December 2016
Motions Without Notice
Appointment of Special Committee to Appoint an Information and Privacy Commissioner
Hon. M. de Jong
Islands Trust, annual report, 2015-2016
Orders of the Day
Throne Speech Debate
Hon. A. Wilkinson
Hon. S. Bond
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2017
The House met at 1:34 p.m.
[Madame Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
J. Horgan: I know members are probably wondering: “Where the heck is the member for Vancouver–West End today?” He wasn’t here yesterday. He’s not here today. A very good reason, probably the best reason ever. At 12:24 a.m. on Valentine’s Day, his husband, Romi, and he welcomed into the world Dev Juno Chandra Herbert. They are now the proud parents of a bouncing baby boy, delivered by their good friend Amanda.
Spencer and Romi are absolutely overjoyed. I have a very good picture here, which I can’t show anybody, but he’s a beautiful, beautiful little baby boy.
I would like the House to all please make Dev Juno very, very welcome.
Hon. C. Clark: On behalf of everyone on the government side of the House, I’d like to add our congratulations to the member for Vancouver–West End and his partner, Romi, on a beautiful new addition to their lives. There is nothing more important for a child than to be loved. I know that Dev Juno will be welcomed into a loving family where, for the rest of his life, he knows that he’s cherished by parents who have the greatest aspirations for him. So congratulations to the member from West End, and welcome to the world, Dev Juno. We are delighted to join the Leader of the Opposition in that.
I’d also like to welcome some people to the Legislature today, if I could, before I sit down. Today we signed an historic set of agreements with the Lax Kw’alaams and the Metlakatla up on the northwest coast of British Columbia, and we are honoured by the presence of their leaders and members of their community today. They’re agreements that set in place the sharing agreements on liquefied natural gas in the communities, the product of a lot of hard work, durable relationships and, really, working to understand one another.
From Lax Kw’alaams, we have Mayor John Helin, Deputy Mayor Helen Johnson, Coun. Chris Sankey, Coun. Sherrie Haldane and community members Linda Simon, Bill Helin and Erminio Pucci.
From the Metlakatla, we have Chief Councillor Harold Leighton, Coun. Robert Nelson and community member Shaun Thomas.
I hope the House will make, on this historic day, the members of the Lax Kw’alaams and the members of the Metlakatla very, very welcome in this, the people’s House.
K. Corrigan: When I announced last April that I was not going to be seeking re-election in 2017, I said I hoped that, as part of my retirement, there would be grandchildren. It was only about two weeks later, on Mother’s Day in May, that my son Darcy and his partner, Natalie Labelle, gave us the great news that they were expecting.
It is with the greatest of pleasure and love that I get to announce that on November 21, 2016, one month early, on Grandpa Derek’s 65th birthday, Bastien Derek, at five pounds, eight ounces, and Finn Yvon, at three pounds, eight ounces, were born at Burnaby Hospital. After a few weeks in the fantastic neonatal intensive care unit, they came home and are thriving under the love and care of Natalie and Darcy. There are no two solitudes in the French Labelle and Irish Corrigan household. In fact, I think it’s fair to say there is no solitude at all.
I hope the members of this Legislature will give these two precious boys a great welcome into the world.
Hon. P. Fassbender: Very often we have the honour to introduce people that contribute to our communities. Today I’m honoured to introduce Udham Singh Hundal; his wife, Amandeep; his brother from India, Sahib Singh Hundal; his sister-in-law Jaswinder Hundal; and his nephew Jasdeep.
I just want to ask the House to welcome them.
Udham is just an amazing guy. He works in the community with youth in sport, and he’s just a tremendous addition. We welcome his brother, sister-in-law and nephew from India.
S. Fraser: We all know this job can take its toll. We travel a lot. We’re away from home a lot. It can be hard on family and loved ones. My wife, Dolores, is here joining us today. It can be heartless if we have to start on Valentine’s Day, so I’m going to try to make that up.
Next week is, by my calculation, the anniversary of our first date 36 years ago. So with that in mind, will the House please join me in welcoming Dolores Fraser here to the precinct.
Hon. M. Bernier: I think everybody in the House here would agree, whether we’re here in the House or back in our ridings, that we can’t do the great work we try to do without the amazing work that our constituency assistants do. So I’d like to have the House please welcome my constituency assistant, Terri Paulovich, who’s visiting with us today.
M. Farnworth: It’s my pleasure to introduce five individuals who help make this side of the House function. I
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know that there are an equivalent number who make the government side function. Those are the interns.
It’s my pleasure to introduce the interns who are working with us this particular session. They are Jasmin Brown, who has a bachelor of arts, honours, in philosophy and political science from the University of Victoria; Richel Donaldson, who has a bachelor of arts, honours, in political science and a minor in indigenous studies from the University of Victoria; Emily Gorner, who has a bachelor of arts in political science and a minor in history from the University of the Fraser Valley; James Nonen, who has a bachelor of arts in political science and a minor in European studies from the University of Victoria; and Selina Wall, who has a bachelor of arts in history from Simon Fraser University.
Would the House please make these very talented young interns most welcome.
G. Kyllo: I’m proud today to introduce to the House two brothers, constituents of mine from Sicamous — Eric and Austin Schneebeli. Austin is currently taking his third year in geology at UVic, and Eric is currently on a sabbatical, basking in the glorious sunshine of the Shuswap.
Would the House please make them feel very welcome.
D. Routley: I wish the House to help me celebrate the birthday of a very important person to cycling and in my life. The gentleman’s name is Tony Hoar.
I first met Tony when I was manufacturing bicycles, and we often supported each other, despite being competitors, by trading parts back and forth. Tony was a great example of how businesses can work together for success.
But Tony was one of the first two British riders to complete the Tour de France. He competed on the professional cycling team that included the famous English cyclist Tommy Simpson, who died on the slopes of Mont Ventoux.
Tony was a really dedicated athlete but then went on to build CBS bicycles in Vancouver. He became the builder of Rick Hansen’s first racing wheelchairs and later became a builder of trailers — trailers that support people on the street. He made a folding tent trailer for bicycles that homeless people could use as a binning cart in the day and a trailer at night. He won a humanitarian design award for that and has developed trailers for disaster relief.
Tony is a fantastic person, a real leader and a great friend. Let’s celebrate his 85th birthday here in the Legislature.
Introductions by Members
S. Hamilton: It’s my pleasure today to welcome representatives from the Canadian Beverage Association, all the way here from the frozen east in Toronto. Fortunately, the last few days we’ve thawed out a bit for them.
Joining us in the gallery are Megan Boyle and Ron Soreanu. I’d ask the House to please make them welcome.
K. Conroy: I’m pleased to introduce two University of Victoria students, as well — Sheridan Hawse and Jacob Noseworthy.
Both are actually participants of Youth Parliament. Jacob has been in Youth Parliament for four years and Sheridan for three. She is from Kelowna and is studying sociology and hopes to be a social worker someday. Jacob is from Grand Forks and is studying political science with a minor in journalism.
I got to know Jacob during the federal election, where he was a great volunteer for our new MP, Richard Canning’s, election.
Would the House please join me in welcoming these two students today.
J. Rice: I, too, would like to welcome Chief Harold Leighton from Metlakatla, as well as representatives from Metlakatla First Nation. I, too, would like to welcome Mayor John Helin from Lax Kw’alaams and representatives from Lax Kw’alaams that are in the precinct today.
I would also like to acknowledge that we have representatives from the Prince Rupert Port Authority in the precinct today, and I would like the House to please make them feel welcome.
R. Chouhan: Today my constituents are visiting us from Burnaby-Edmonds. They are: Terena Campbell and her husband, Ashish Anand, with their children Isabelle Anand and Dorian Anand. Also visiting with them is April Campbell, Terena’s aunt.
Please join me to give them a very warm welcome.
Hon. S. Anton: I hope that everybody who is a birder or who has a friend who is a birder, which will be everybody in this House, will be pleased to welcome today my guests, two distinguished international scientists.
The first is my constituent from Vancouver-Fraserview, Dr. Robert Elner, who is the convener of the 27th annual International Ornithological Congress, which will be held in Vancouver in August of 2018. He is here with his colleague Dr. Robert Butler, who is the founder of the first Vancouver International Bird Festival being held in Vancouver next year.
The world congress is the most prestigious and largest meeting of avian scientists which takes place in the world. It only happens every four years. This is only the second time in Canada and only the first time on the west coast of North America. So I think everyone will be most interested in this event.
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His colleague Dr. Butler is running the Vancouver Bird Festival, which is an ambitious festival with numerous events in and around the convention centre, showcasing bird science, art, stories, music, innovation and all things that birders love — speakers, artists, expo photographs, etc. I hope the House — everyone — will partake of this event, which is in August of next year and welcome Drs. Elner and Butler to the House.
D. Donaldson: The All-Native Basketball Tournament is underway in Prince Rupert as we speak. I know the House gave a warm welcome to the Metlakatla leadership, which we just heard. But this afternoon, in the women’s division, it’s my hope that the Hazelton Mystics do not give a warm welcome to the Metlakatla team they’re playing at four o’clock. Go Mystics. They’re last year’s finalists.
N. Macdonald: I’d just like to introduce my brother Don, who’s visiting from Thompson, Manitoba.
Would the House join me in making him welcome.
K. Conroy: On November 9, Neil Muth, the president and CEO of the Columbia Basin Trust, unexpectedly passed away at his home in Christina Lake. Neil touched many lives in his all-too-short life. He was guided by faith and gave freely of his time, energy and love to his family, friends and the wider community. He lived life to the fullest and was happiest when spending time with his family on the dock at Christina Lake with a margarita in hand.
He still found time for his numerous hobbies, including golfing, hunting, playing the bagpipes, running with his constant companion, Fairly, and both snow- and water-skiing. He loved teaching people to water-ski and had a recognized talent in being able to bring success to anyone who was willing to learn.
Born in 1959 in Trail and raised there, Neil was excited to come back to the Kootenays in 2005 to join the trust from Victoria, where he served as vice-president, private placements, for the B.C. Investment Management Corp. That excitement showed in his passion for and interest in every aspect of basin communities, their projects and their aspirations, as well as the best places to ski, eat and have a cup of coffee.
Neil’s accomplishments as president and CEO over the past 11 years are many, but his appreciation and respect for the trust mission statement are what truly defined his service. He will always be remembered in the region for his honest and sincere engagement, his leadership and his commitment to supporting the efforts of the people of the basin.
He will be remembered mostly, though, as a loving husband and supportive father who cherished his children. He is survived by his wife, Cathy, their three children, his mother, brothers and sister, in-laws, nieces and nephews, a wide circle of friends and also by his family, the trust, who worked closely with him. All said he was a friend and a co-worker, never a boss. The family would ask that donations be made to a scholarship fund in his name.
Introductions by Members
M. Elmore: I’d like to make an introduction and welcome a couple of classes who are here touring today from Sir Charles Tupper Secondary in Vancouver-Kensington. They’ve got 71 students with them and eight supervisors, led by teachers Bonnie Burnell and Mr. Lum. They’ve got student teacher Brad Drummond, as well as retired principal Dr. Sheikh — I believe he’s already retired — as well as the vice-principal Nick Akrap. They are accompanied by Katherine Olson, Shauna Mathieson and counsellor Keel Freeman.
Tupper is renowned for their winning basketball teams and the just incredible programs that they offer — a very dynamic band and music program, as well as Multi-Fest — really supported by terrific teachers and great partnerships with the community. I ask everybody to please give them a very warm welcome.
(Standing Order 25B)
TIM JONES PEAK AND
NORTH SHORE RESCUE
J. Thornthwaite: Today I would like to recognize Tim Jones. We are in the third year since his passing, but the communities that make up the North Shore will be forever indebted to his service. Tim was the leader of North Shore Rescue and was instrumental in building that organization, mentoring those who would follow and, of course, saving countless lives.
Tim participated in more than 1,400 missions and helped more than 1,600 people. He was a true hero of British Columbia. In 2011, Tim received the Order of B.C. for his longstanding efforts in search and rescue on the North Shore.
Last month on January 20, I had the privilege to stand alongside our Premier, fellow MLAs, Tim’s son, Curtis, Tim’s wife, Lindsay, daughter, Taylor, and mother, Mary, as they officially named a part of Mount Seymour, Tim Jones Peak. This honour is well-deserved and will serve as a permanent reminder that in the face of the toughest conditions or throughout our day-to-day lives, caring for our neighbours is always worthwhile. As part of our renaming of the peak, the province placed a helipad on Tim Jones Peak to aid in their rescues.
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British Columbia is a safer place because of Tim and the entire North Shore Rescue association he helped build. These men and women work tirelessly as volunteers, oftentimes on top of full-time jobs, to help those in need. They have revolutionized the way search and rescue is conducted.
In closing, to quote Tim’s daughter, Taylor: “We were all lucky to have such a caring, empathetic, compassionate and adventurous man who has left such a positive legacy of volunteerism in British Columbia.” Thank you, Tim. Roger.
NEW WESTMINSTER RENT BANK
J. Darcy: Every week people come to my constituency office for help with a wide range of issues. A crisis in housing is part of almost everyone’s story: a woman fleeing domestic violence with her child who can’t afford to pay the first and last month’s rent; Matt and Mona, who gave notice that they were leaving low-paid jobs for better-paying jobs only to have their hours cut; and Jennifer, who is facing eviction because she had to take time off work to care for her son with mental illness. All were facing a temporary housing crisis — one that threatened to plunge them into homelessness.
That’s where, two years ago, the idea of creating a New Westminster rent bank was born. My constituency assistants and I set to work learning about other rent banks where people in temporary need can get loans for a nominal fee or very low interest rates without having to resort to payday lenders. We met with advocacy groups in the community. We approached credit unions, who believe in building stronger communities. We presented to the mayor’s task force on housing and met with the homelessness coalition.
They all agreed that there was an urgent need for action and that they were willing to step up to the plate. Securing start-up financing was critical, and thanks to the effort of Doug Eveneshen of Community Savings, every credit union with a branch in New Westminster came through, for a total of $34,000 within three weeks. Then our awesome city council voted to cover the administration fees. The homelessness coalition is donating to ensure the rent bank’s ongoing viability. Several community agencies have applied to operate the rent bank.
So within a few short weeks, the New Westminster rent bank will be up and running, helping to prevent homelessness in our community. It does take a village, and I’m so proud that my community came through.
G. Kyllo: The farmland-riparian interface stewardship program is a program managed by the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association with the common goal of promoting long-term environmental care while enhancing farmland — specifically, watersheds and river banks and protecting local wildlife.
This spirit of care and attention to our environment is embodied in the program manager and member of my constituency, Mr. Lee Hesketh. In recent years, Lee’s generosity and selflessness has made its mark in my community. Lee has an exceptional ability to connect local government, industry and members of the community, including First Nations. He possesses a wealth of knowledge concerning watershed and wildlife preservation.
In 2014, Lee employed his skill sets to help restore the waterways that were destroyed by a landslide in Cook Creek, as well as impacting the Kingfisher Interpretive Centre. The Kingfisher Interpretive Centre is a non-profit organization that educates visitors on watershed restoration and salmon habitat. Thanks to his timely contributions, the centre was able to host 2,500 Girl Guides touring the Interior in the summer of 2015.
Lee’s talents were called upon once again in 2015 to help tackle flood issues in Gardom Creek in Grindrod, during which he contributed to guiding the work of multiple ministries and interest groups, as well as assisting residents with major issues. Lee is an individual who tirelessly strives to ensure that his local environment and neighbours are all working in harmony.
Please join me in thanking Lee Hesketh for his efforts to better the local communities of the Shuswap area.
FAIRVIEW CONTAINER TERMINAL
AT PORT OF PRINCE RUPERT
J. Rice: They say it’s the Prince Rupert advantage: being the closest port to Asia by up to three day’s sailing compared to other North American ports. I say it’s that plus our deep-water harbour and the capable workforce in Prince Rupert that make Fairview Container Terminal the most efficient and fastest-growing terminal of its kind on the continent.
With an initial capacity of 500,000 TEUs, or 20-foot-equivalent units, and now operating at almost 800,000, Fairview was the first dedicated, intermodal, ship-to-rail container terminal built in North America. It has grown to become a major transpacific trade gateway known for its speed and reliability. Formerly operated by Maher Terminals and now operated by DP World, Fairview keeps on growing. The phase 2 container terminal expansion project launched in 2015, and it’s almost complete, on schedule, to increase annual capacity to 1.3 million TEUs.
Despite fluctuating markets and declines in certain commodities, such as coal, the Port of Prince Rupert has held steadfast with a strategy of diversification, creating more union wage jobs locally. After this expansion, we will see even more of these good, family-supporting jobs, and that is worth celebrating.
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In the northwest, so much emphasis has been placed on one industry that may or may not come to fruition. It dominates our local media and every coffee shop conversation. It has riled and rallied people, with the uncertainty of it all causing tremendous angst for my constituents.
What I hope to highlight today is that there are projects, such as the Fairview Container Terminal expansion, that are happening right now in my community. Projects like this are creating good jobs for locals and First Nations communities. By highlighting our natural assets, such as the Prince Rupert advantage, we can grow the northern economy regardless if a certain industry comes to fruition or not.
HOLLYBURN SKI LODGE ON NORTH SHORE
R. Sultan: Our North Shore backyard has three mountains: Cypress on the left, Seymour on the right and Grouse in the middle. The flankers are provincial parks. The one in the middle is privately owned. Recreation on these mountains has exploded. Cypress and Seymour combined are around one million visitors a year. On Family Day on Grouse, on Monday, I was told that they’ve achieved 10,000 visitors in a single day.
A lot of history is at work here. A couple of weeks ago ski veterans celebrated the restoration of the Hollyburn Ski Lodge. This lodge was built in 1926 by three Swedish loggers who wanted to come in out of the cold when they were skiing. For 25 cents, skiers could sleep on spruce boughs up in the loft. But after 75 years of stomping skiers, the old building was ready to collapse. The floor was certainly sagging dangerously.
Restoration enthusiasts formed the Hollyburn Heritage Society, and it only took 20 years to finish the job. A coalition formed, with persons including Iola Knight, now aged 94; Bobby Swain, Cypress Mountain corporation out of Seattle; West Vancouver district; the Hollyburn Ridge Association, foundations; the Olympic legacies fund; and almost 300 others, ranging from Emco to the West Van Old Boys club. Led by fundraising chair, Jackie Swanson, they succeeded.
The 1926 lodge is now open for business again. Congratulations. Now let’s all go skiing.
UBC THUNDERBIRDS BASKETBALL TEAMS
D. Eby: It’s the end of the regular season for basketball in Canada, and I have some very happy news to bring to the Legislature from the beautiful constituency of Vancouver–Point Grey, the home of the UBC Thunderbirds.
Our UBC women’s basketball team has had an outstanding season. They finished fifth in Canada West Division, with four UBC women among the top scorers in the league. Maddie Penn wrapped up the regular season as the second-highest scorer in the Canada West Division, averaging 18.1 points per game.
The UBC men’s basketball team had an even better season. They lost just one game in the entire season, wrapping up with 19 wins. Conor Morgan averaged 23.1 points per game for the Birds. He led the Canada West Division in overall points and points per game. Now, the UBC men’s team, I’d like to note, is ranked first in Canada West and second in Canada.
On the women’s team, congratulations to head coach Deb Huband and her coaching staff, as well as team members Shilpa Khanna, Marcie Schlick, Cherub Lum, Sammy Baumgartner, Ali Norris, Krysten Lindquist, Kara Spotton, Gabrielle Laguerta, Jessica Hanson, Andrea Strujic, Chelsea Hamming, Susan Thompson, Keylyn Filewich, Isabelle Khalifa and Maddison Penn.
On the men’s team, congratulations to coach Kevin Hansen and his coaching team, as well as team members Isaiah Yugola, Will Ondrick, Ajay Hallaway, Isaiah Familia, Taylor Brown, Jordan Jensen-White, Phil Jilalpoor, Parker Simpson, Connor Morgan, Patrick Simon, Justin McChesnie, Harprit Randhowa, Roger Milne, Luka Sarayevik, Joaquin Bennett-Whar, Charles Day, Harry Lu and Jerome Thompson.
Both UBC teams will be going to the playoffs, giving every member here a chance to come out and cheer for the Thunderbirds, as they come from a number of different communities across the province. I’d like to point out that the members representing Surrey, Kelowna, Vernon, Port Coquitlam, Vancouver and Prince George should be all painted Thunderbird blue, out cheering for their constituents in the playoffs, which start February 17 for the women and February 23 for the men. Go, Birds, go.
GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO
REPORT ON YOUTH DEATH CASE
J. Horgan: On October 5, 2015, shortly after Alex Gervais jumped from a window in an Abbotsford hotel room that he had been consigned to, the Premier said that she wasn’t interested in an independent review of his death. Having now read the report by the Representative for Children and Youth, I can understand why the Premier wanted to keep this under wraps.
The report is an indictment of the government, it’s an indictment of the children in care in this province, and it’s absolutely unacceptable. But the Premier’s response and the minister’s response have been predictable. As with the death of Paige Gauchier, as with the death of Nick Lang, as with the death of Isabella Wiens, as with the death of Carly Fraser, the response from the government is uniform: “We will do better.” Yet after each death, no action is taken.
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Yesterday the government laid out their plan for the year ahead and made no reference, no reference whatsoever, to children in care.
My question to the Premier is: after all of these failures, year after year after year, why should anyone who is concerned about vulnerable children believe a word this government says?
Hon. C. Clark: The death of Alex Gervais is a tragedy. It’s a loss for everyone who loved him. It’s a loss for all of us that care about vulnerable children, which is everybody in British Columbia and everybody in this House.
Everyone knows that looking after vulnerable people, especially vulnerable children, is the most important work that government can do, that families can do. It’s also the most difficult work that families and government can do.
We have a duty to do that work well. We have a duty to make sure that children are protected when they are vulnerable. That didn’t happen in the case of Alex Gervais. We, though, also have a duty now to learn from what went wrong in the case of Alex Gervais and make sure that we correct the mistakes that were made. The ministry has already taken immediate steps, and longer-term steps are also underway in response to what happened to Alex.
Again, it’s a terrible tragedy. Our duty is to respond in the face of those tragedies, to make sure to do everything that we can to learn from them and to ensure, to the extent that we can, that they don’t happen again.
Madame Speaker: The Leader of the Official Opposition on a supplemental.
J. Horgan: Again: Paige, Nick, Isabella, Carly, Alex. These are teachable moments. One would think that a government would harness all of its resources, everyone working together, to find solutions, not just to continue to deflect when another child dies in the care of this government. They’re there for the wealthy and the well-connected; they’re not there for the vulnerable.
Just before Alex’s death, he reached out. On five different occasions, he reached out to social workers. He reached out to caregivers. He was told, in the report…. The ministry had given this young boy’s life “profound instability and neglect.”. On five separate occasions, professionals called out to this government for mental health assistance for Alex Gervais, and they were denied. On five occasions, the government was asked to help this young boy, and they didn’t.
Can the Premier tell the people of British Columbia when she will start to care about the vulnerable in this province and let the wealthy and the well-connected take care of themselves?
Hon. C. Clark: What happened to Alex Gervais was a tragedy. Our responsibility and our duty to Alex, everyone who loved him, and all of the vulnerable children in British Columbia who are in government care and who aren’t is to learn from it and to make sure that those lessons find their way into the practice of the incredibly hard-working social workers who are out there on the front lines every day doing the work of angels, the kind of work that most of us might not even have the courage to do. It’s difficult work. It’s hard work. But it is the most important work that we do.
The ministry had a budget increase of over $72 million last year, and that money has gone into supporting more social workers to make sure we have more front-line staff. It has gone into supporting more adoptions, supporting families so that we can try and keep children out of care.
In addition to that, the ministry has accepted all 700 recommendations from the representative and will be acting on all of those. Some are specifically related to this case — for example: allocating $2.7 million to indigenous organizations to help them develop culturally specific plans, mandating 100 percent compliance with the requirement to have a plan of care for all children and youth in government care, implementing continuous monitoring. A list of actions that the ministry has undertaken in response to the report is to take effect immediately.
Young people like Alex don’t have someone to depend on in many cases. That’s why they find their way into government care. And government needs to be there to support them and make sure they are cared for.
This minister cares about that. Our government is investing in that. It is hard work. It is difficult work. But it is important that every year we strive to make sure that we are doing it as well as we possibly can.
J. Horgan: With the greatest of respect, these children do have someone they can depend on. It’s supposed to be the British Columbia government. It’s supposed to be the responsibility of the Minister of Children and Family Development. That’s who should be caring for these kids.
We’ve heard it time and time again: “We accept all the recommendations, but we don’t accept responsibility.” If this is the most important thing government can do, why not one mention in the Speech from the Throne prior to an election campaign? Why was this again swept under the rug? More deflection, more distraction, zero accountability.
In his last days, alone in a hotel room, Alex reached out by text to his former caregiver, his former social worker and the caregiver that was supposed to be with him, appealing for help, and he went ignored. I am fearful that the government will again deflect, again ignore and again pretend that they give a darn about the vulnerable children of British Columbia.
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To the Premier, why in the world would anybody — after Paige, after Nick, after Isabella, after Carly and now after Alex Gervais — believe a word they say?
Hon. C. Clark: For the children who depend on the government, as I said, they have no one else, often, in their lives to look to, so that’s why it is so important that government be there for them. Part of that is making sure that we respond to the recommendations that we see from the rep, which the ministry is doing. But it’s also making sure that the ministry has the resources that it needs to be able to look after children to the standard that we need to and that they depend on us to provide.
So $72 million last year. The member will see in the coming budget that there will be more resources that go to the Ministry of Children and Families, more resources that we can invest in support programs, that we can invest in children who are leaving care and trying to find their way out of care on a stable footing, resources that we can invest in social workers, in life skills programs, in the various programs — all of which underpin our ability to be able to meet our responsibility to look after vulnerable young people.
Alex Gervais’s case is an example of one where many, many things went wrong. We need to learn from that. We are acting on the recommendations already. We are going to continue to implement new policies within the ministry. We are going to continue to devote more resources from government to make sure that we support social workers in the work that they do in the programs and enriching the programs that young people depend on in our system so that we can learn from tragic events like the one that we saw with Alex Gervais.
M. Mark: I must say, for the record, it sounds like a broken record in this House, when it comes time for the advocacy for our kids in care. The representative’s report made it clear that Alex would have thrived had he been placed in the care of his extended family. My question is for the Premier. Why did you choose…?
Madame Speaker: Through the Chair.
M. Mark: Pardon me, Madame Speaker.
Why did she choose to pay a contractor more than $8,000 a month to ignore Alex rather than have him cared for by his extended family?
Hon. C. Clark: The issue with respect to contracted resources is one that the ministry is taking on, because that was clearly a problem for Alex. Alex was not supposed to be alone, and yet he was. So this issue…. Making sure that contractor resources are appropriately hired and managed, that they have the appropriate background checks, that they are there and that they are supervised properly are changes that the ministry is going to be making — part of the response in learning from the tragedy of Alex Gervais’s death.
This is a very difficult job. It is a very important job, as I said, and it’s one, when things go wrong — tragically wrong, as they did in the case of Alex Gervais — that we have a responsibility and an obligation to learn from. Those changes are being made.
Madame Speaker: Vancouver–Mount Pleasant on a supplemental.
M. Mark: Alex had a right to be in a home, not a hotel. It wasn’t just Alex’s stepmother who wanted to care for him. His aunt in Quebec also offered to become his guardian.
Alex could have been with his family, where he would have experienced love and stability and access to his Métis culture. That was his right, and it would have saved government thousands of dollars — thousands of dollars that could have been used to help other children in government care.
Given that opportunity, why did this government refuse to place Alex with his family?
Hon. C. Clark: The government, the minister, does not make decisions on those kinds of matters, those issues. Those decisions are made by front-line social workers, who are the experts on these issues. They make the decisions. It is very, very hard work.
I have to say that civil servants in our province work incredibly hard across all ministries. I don’t think there are people in the employ of government who work harder and who have to make tougher decisions than the ones in the front line at the Ministry of Children and Families. We accept their guidance and their expertise. We make sure that they are following the guidelines that are set out by the ministry.
In this case, clearly, guidelines need to be changed, clarified or improved. All of that work is underway in response to the tragic, tragic loss that all of us experienced when we learned of the death of Alex Gervais.
D. Donaldson: The Premier talks about learning, yet the ministry’s care standards are very clear. They recognize that youth on continuing care orders need permanency. Alex Gervais had a family willing to provide that permanency, but according to the Representative for Children and Youth: “For Alex, however, permanency was a concept that didn’t actually exist. Instead, government decided Alex would age out of care after 17 different placements and be left to his own devices.”
My question is for the Premier. Why did her B.C. Liberal government seem determined to rid themselves of Alex rather than care for him?
[ Page 13536 ]
Hon. S. Cadieux: First off, let me say that I’m not in the habit of questioning decisions that were made in the field over a period of ten years. When we get a report like this, it’s our obligation, though, to look at what happened and make change.
Before this report was even provided to us and before we could look at this tragic situation for learning, as minister, I made it a priority that permanency would be focused on. That’s why we invested additional dollars in our adoptions and permanency program and set targets to ensure that more children than ever before in the history of this ministry would find permanent homes in the last two years. We achieved that.
It is my expectation of the ministry — and I have commitments from my executive that this will be so — that every child and youth in our care — all 7,100 — will have an up-to-date care plan in place that focuses on permanency for that child, with a cultural plan that is complete and that is actionable in a real way. I agree that the best place for children is with a family and that government cannot replace the love that a family will provide.
Madame Speaker: Recognizing the member for Stikine on a supplemental.
D. Donaldson: Those basic care plans under this minister for the past four years are supposed to be basic ministry standards. It takes time to seek permanency for foster children — time social workers too often don’t have because of repeated cuts to front-line staff. This B.C. Liberal government oversaw the largest cut to social workers in the province’s history.
That is their legacy, and Alex paid dearly for the Premier’s and this minister’s cuts.
Why didn’t the minister give her staff the resources they needed to place Alex with his family?
Hon. S. Cadieux: When I took on this job 4½ years ago, I knew this was not an easy one. It is easy for the opposition, when there is a tragedy and a thorough report that is made public, to shout across the aisle how everything would be different if only it was them.
You know what? I know better than that. I know that every minister before me on this file has faced the same tragedies, the same horrendous, heartbreaking situations, because the children and families we work with are the most vulnerable in the province, and the work we do is the most difficult. What I have been committed to since the first day on this job is ensuring that I advocate and provide the best support I can to my ministry staff to be able to do those very hard front-line jobs. We’ve done that.
I heard we needed more staff. We’ve hired 200. There’s another 100 on the way. We needed to improve permanency. As I said in my last answer, we focused on that, and we’re getting results. We’ve improved the supports to kids aging out. We now lead the country, because that matters. We’ve added a provincial mobile response team, because we understand that at times, some offices, especially in rural and remote communities, are going to need some extra help and expertise.
We are continuing to invest and improve upon the services that this ministry provides. I am proud of the 4,500 employees that go out every day and make these very difficult decisions on behalf of children.
YOUTH DEATH CASE AND
OVERSIGHT OF CONTRACTED SERVICES
J. Wickens: In September 2012, when this minister was appointed, she had the results of the government’s residential review project in her hands. That review made it clear that contracted services were harming children. That review should have alerted her to the need for oversight of contracted services to protect children — children like Alex.
My question is to the minister. Why did she ignore a government review that recommended life-saving changes to the care system?
Hon. S. Cadieux: Well, the member is incorrect in that it was not ignored. In fact, as of today, 22 of 30 recommendations have been implemented, and we’re continuing work on the rest.
This is a large and complex ministry, serving 160,000 families every year, 7,100 children in care. Any decisions that we make to shift, to change, to adapt and to improve require us to be thoughtful and to do it in a way that doesn’t disrupt the system negatively and impact those children and youth.
That report suggested that we needed to address permanency. We’ve done that by focusing on adoptions and permanency. It suggested we needed better transition supports. We’ve done that. We’ve improved the supports for kids aging out of care and will continue to do so. It did talk about the need for additional accountability, and in fact, we’ve put much of that in place.
It is clear. It is crystal clear from the investigations into Alex’s death that we need to do far more. I’m committed to that work, and it will be done.
Madame Speaker: Member for Coquitlam–Burke Mountain on a supplemental.
J. Wickens: Well, I have to ask: did the minister really need the representative to tell her to monitor children in contracted services? Did the minister really need the representative to tell her to check the qualifications of contracted care providers? Apparently, she did.
My question is: why did it take until last week, five years after the review, for the minister to decide that she
[ Page 13537 ]
needed to establish better standards for people providing care to vulnerable children?
Hon. S. Cadieux: Again — the member could have listened to the last answer — we have been doing that work. We will continue to do more of it, because, clearly, it is not up to where it needs to be.
I was horrified when learning about the situation Alex was in.His early years aside and the decisions made in his early years aside, the fact that there were resources being provided to care for Alex 24-7, to provide for his unique needs, to the tune of $8,000 a month, but that were not being properly deployed doesn’t bother just me. That bothers the thousands of professionals that are on the front lines, trying to make good decisions.
When somebody isn’t doing what they signed up to do, that’s a problem. We all feel let down. The most of which, Alex was let down. Everyone is sorry for that, and everyone wants that to change.
This is not a case of the ministry not resourcing or caring. This is a situation where the ministry didn’t know. That’s not okay, and that’s why we’re doing even more to increase the standards for residential caregivers, to reduce the use of residential resources — because we know family settings are best — and to take over all of the screening of caregivers, regardless of whether they are contracted or foster, because that is our responsibility.
S. Robinson: Under this minister’s guidance, Alex was left in the care of a person with a history of gun violence, gang involvement and drug issues. Can the minister tell the House whether she thinks that these sorts of professional qualifications actually lend themselves to dealing with a child who is in desperate need of mental health services — services that this government failed to provide for Alex?
Hon. S. Cadieux: Of course not.
Madame Speaker: Coquitlam-Maillardville on a supplemental.
S. Robinson: According to the representative, one of the contractors caring for Alex was given $29,000 to cover their food costs, but they only provided half of the actual meals for Alex. Alex frequently complained about being hungry and going without food. Can the minister explain why her ministry left Alex in the care of people who took tens of thousands of dollars to feed Alex, but he still was hungry?
Hon. S. Cadieux: As I have said, what we’ve learned from this report is clearly unacceptable. The resources were being provided in good faith to ensure that Alex’s needs were met, and they weren’t. That is not all right. But we will learn from this, and we will move forward. That is what my commitment is to the 7,100 other children and youth in the care of this ministry.
We will continue to improve the system. We will continue to improve the oversight. We will, most importantly, reduce our reliance on contracted resources for vulnerable kids, because we know the best place for them is with their family.
M. Mungall: The minister just responded to my colleague’s question about the professional qualifications, saying: “Of course not.” Of course, being a drug dealer or being a criminal are not the appropriate professional qualifications of somebody who should have been in charge of Alex Gervais. Can the minister say what are the appropriate qualifications, and why did the person who was in charge of looking after him not have those?
Hon. S. Cadieux: Again, for the benefit of the member opposite, I don’t make the day-to-day decisions regarding the care or safety of children. What I do is set in place the strategic direction for the ministry, ensure the resources are there to have that work done and, when we learn that something went terribly awry, take that information, learn from it and do what we can to change it and prevent it from happening again.
There are no easy solutions to caring for British Columbia’s most vulnerable citizens: children and their families. Each and every child and youth that we work with has their own unique set of needs, circumstances and challenges. Some of them are very challenging. While we first need to focus and ensure that we’ve done everything we can to make sure they stay with their family, if we need to bring them into care, our next best option is a foster family who has got the training specific to the needs of that child.
We’re committed to doing everything we can to ensure that the needs of each and every child are met. But we all have a role to play in this. Foster families are aging. New people are not stepping forward. We will have a need for contracted resources for some youth, especially on a short-term basis for stabilization, before we’re able to find them a residential setting. But standards are in place, and we expect them to be followed.
FOSTER HOME STANDARDS
C. James: I just heard the minister say that she does not get involved in day-to-day responsibilities. Well, with all respect, we need a minister who gets involved day by day, minute by minute, moment by moment, because those children deserve it in this province.
The minister has spent most of this question period saying: “It’s not my responsibility.” Well, in fact, it is the minister’s responsibility. It is this government’s respon-
[ Page 13538 ]
sibility to be the parent for these children. They have failed over and over again.
I heard the minister say that she is responsible. She did say one thing she was responsible for, and that’s standards. Well, in fact, the problems aren’t limited to contracted care homes. The minister is also not making sure that foster care homes are meeting her own standards.
According to a report, the minister has achieved a zero compliance rate for monitoring the safety and well-being of kids’ foster homes in the northwest, the Kootenays and East Fraser where Alex lived — zero percent compliance. That means in three regions in this province, there was no contact between social workers and children in care for more than three months at a stretch.
Is it the minister’s new plan for children in care to simply hope that nothing goes wrong?
Hon. S. Cadieux: It is because we do audit and have oversight that we know that standards aren’t being met. When we find that out, our staff go in, they set up a plan for how to address the deficiencies, and they put that in place.
I’m not satisfied with the fact that all of our offices aren’t at 100 percent compliance in these standards.
Madame Speaker: Members.
Hon. S. Cadieux: There is more work to do, as I’ve said. There will always be more work to do in the Ministry of Children and Family Development. There will always be more we want to do, and there will always be more we need to do to address the changing environment, the changing situations and the changing needs of the children and families that we serve.
I’m committed to continuing to make the necessary changes in this ministry. I’ve been doing that. I’ve got a record, and I’m sticking with the plan.
[End of question period.]
Reports from Committees
S. Hamilton: I have the honour to present two reports from the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services for the fifth session of the 40th parliament.
The first report covers the committee’s public consultations on Budget 2017. I move the report be taken and read as received.
S. Hamilton: I ask leave of the House to move the motion to adopt the report.
S. Hamilton: I move that the report be adopted, and in doing so, I’d like to make a few brief comments.
This report contains the results of the committee’s annual consultation on the 2017 provincial budget, which took place from September 15 to October 14, 2016. During that time, the committee held 14 public hearings throughout the province and received 705 submissions from British Columbians outlining their priorities for this year’s budget. The report’s 102 unanimous recommendations are a direct reflection of the ideas proposed and put forward by British Columbians during the consultation.
On behalf of the committee, I’d like to express my sincere appreciation for everyone who participated in the consultation process. The committee could not have produced such a fulsome final report without your valuable contributions and innovative ideas.
Aside from my duties as Chair, I’ve served on this committee for nearly four years now. I am proud of how well the committee works together in the true spirit of collaboration. In those four years, we have managed to gain consensus on all reports forwarded to the Finance Minister.
I’d also like to especially thank the Deputy Chair, the member for Victoria–Beacon Hill, for her knowledgable contributions and dedication to the consultation project.
C. James: As Deputy Chair, I’d like to thank the Chair for the report and the work on the committee. Although many colleagues from all sides in this House talk about the gruelling travel schedule of the budget consultations, I have to say that it is an honour and a privilege to listen to British Columbians all over this province, in every corner of this province, talk about their wishes and their hopes for a better B.C. They have put forward their ideas on the budget.
I would encourage all members, before the budget comes out next week, to take a look at the budget consultation document. It was unanimous, as the member has said. There are some very good ideas and very good approaches for improving services in British Columbia.
I thank all the committee members as well, as the Chair has done, for the hard work on this committee.
Madame Speaker: Hon. Members, the question is adoption of the report.
S. Hamilton: I’d like to present the second report of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services dealing with the annual review of the budgets to the statutory offices. I move that the report be taken and read and received.
[ Page 13539 ]
S. Hamilton: I ask leave of the House to move a motion to adopt the report.
S. Hamilton: I move the report be adopted. In doing so, I’d like to make a few brief comments.
This unanimous report summarizes the committee’s review of the budgets of British Columbia’s eight independent statutory offices, which report to the Legislative Assembly, support the work of members of the Legislative Assembly and play an important role in government accountability.
I want to thank all of the statutory offices on their staff and their cooperation in strengthening their committee’s oversight of statutory office budgets and ensuring accountability for the taxpayers and the use of taxpayers’ funds. I’d also like to reiterate my gratitude for the dedication and contributions again of my fellow committee members, including the Deputy Chair for her support.
C. James: Just a couple of brief words to mention.
It began last year, again in agreement with the committee, that we actually have the independent officers come to the Finance Committee to talk about the work that they’re doing separate and aside from their budget requests, which really provides the committee members a good chance to be able to ask questions, to be able to talk about their responsibilities and to have a better understanding of the work of those offices. I think it’s been very effective and very helpful to the committee members.
I thank the committee. I thank the statutory officers for continuing to appear in front of the committee.
Madame Speaker: The question is adoption of the report.
Motions Without Notice
APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO
APPOINT AN INFORMATION AND
Hon. M. de Jong: On Monday, the Committee of Selection will meet, and we will populate the various committees and select standing committees. However, the special committee appointed to select and unanimously recommend the appointment of an Information and Privacy Commissioner — there was some urgency to that committee being constituted.
Therefore, with the leave of this assembly, I would move the motion. I won’t read the whole motion.
[That a Special Committee be appointed to select and unanimously recommend to the Legislative Assembly the appointment of an Information and Privacy Commissioner, pursuant to section 37 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, (R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 165).
The said Special Committee shall have the powers of a Select Standing Committee and in addition is empowered:
a) to appoint of their number one or more subcommittees and to refer to such subcommittees any of the matters referred to the committee and to delegate to the subcommittee all or any of its powers except the power to report directly to the House;
b) to sit during a period in which the House is adjourned, during the recess after prorogation until the next following Session and during any sitting of the House;
c) to adjourn from place to place as may be convenient; and
d) to retain such personnel as required to assist the committee;
and shall report to the House as soon as possible, or following any adjournment, or at the next following Session, as the case may be; to deposit the original of its reports with the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly during a period of adjournment and upon resumption of the sittings of the House, the Chair shall present all reports to the Legislative Assembly.
The said Special Committee is to be composed of Sam Sullivan, Convener, John Yap, Dr. Doug Bing, Doug Routley and Leonard Eugene Krog.]
Hon. P. Fassbender: I have the honour to present the 2015-2016 annual report of the Islands Trust.
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. de Jong: Debate on the Speech from the Throne.
Throne Speech Debate
J. Yap: In accordance with parliamentary tradition, I move, seconded by the hon. member for Chilliwack, that:
[We, Her Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia in session assembled, beg leave to thank Her Honour for the gracious speech which Her Honour has addressed to us at the opening of the present session.]
It’s indeed an honour to be the first member on the government side to respond to the Speech from the Throne. This honour represents more than just parliamentary tradition, hon. Speaker. It represents an opportunity to stand up for British Columbia. This is why most of us in this House seek elected office. We want to make a difference in the lives of ordinary British Columbians, and in many instances, that means making tough decisions.
[R. Lee in the chair.]
[ Page 13540 ]
Making tough decisions is not the most popular thing to do, but it is the right thing to do. In elected office, you cannot be all things to all people. If you do try, you will most certainly fail. As a leader, you can’t just say anything. People will eventually see through that. Making all sorts of promises to all sorts of people without even thinking about the consequences is just plain irresponsible.
The future of our province is at stake. This government has never been afraid to make tough decisions. Our Premier has never shied away from making tough calls, and her leadership has played a huge role in making our province the leading economy in Canada.
It’s all about standing up for British Columbia. We want to make our province a better place to live, to work and to raise a family. As you heard in the Speech from the Throne yesterday, we’re not out of the woods in this global economy. In 2016, many were expecting that risk around the world was receding, and maybe things were getting a little more predictable. However, as we’ve seen in just the first few months of 2017, the global economy has been anything but predictable.
We do know a few things for certain. British Columbia has the lowest middle-class taxes in Canada. We have record investments in health care and infrastructure. This means record investments in roads, airports, ports, schools, hospitals, and programs that lift people up, like the single-parent initiative. We have the best job creation record and the lowest unemployment rate in Canada.
Our provincial economy is the envy of the rest of the country, but we did not arrive at this point by accident. It took fiscal discipline with our public finances to table four balanced budgets in a row, and next week our Finance Minister will table a fifth balanced budget in a row. There are not many jurisdictions in North America or even around the world that have succeeded in balancing their budgets. Yet the results of our balanced-budget policy in British Columbia are paying off.
We are going to eliminate our operating debt for the first time since 1975 within four years. This is the first step towards a debt-free B.C. International investors value governments that have their fiscal house in order. They are always attracted to jurisdictions that are stable and have control over their own finances. Governments that pile up huge deficits and burden future generations with mountains of debt are definitely not seen as desirable places to invest. When the public sector is addicted to borrowing to pay for services, it is literally steering capital away from the private sector. That’s why B.C. is viewed by the rest of the world as a place to invest.
In a world of economic uncertainty, B.C. has established itself on solid economic footing, and investors know it. It’s one of the major reasons British Columbia is also one of the few jurisdictions that enjoys a triple-A credit rating. In fact, the government of British Columbia has a lower cost of borrowing compared to virtually every other province in Canada.
This factor is critical when it comes to making decisions on large-scale infrastructure projects. It enables us to make investments in all the important things I mentioned earlier, including roads, bridges, airports, ports, schools and hospitals. Balanced budgets also make it possible to keep taxes low. A low tax regime is attractive to investors, and that generates even more economic activity. A company will make a final decision to invest if they know business taxes are low and kept stable over the long term. Furthermore, businesses will attract the best talent if employees pay less in income taxes.
Aside from balanced budgets, a triple-A credit rating and a low tax regime, the one thing that sets British Columbia apart from other provinces is our diverse economy. We have been able to weather the storm of economic uncertainty because British Columbia does not have all of its eggs all in one basket. The struggle in Alberta and other provinces like Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador, is their dependence on a single commodity to drive their economy.
This is not to say that British Columbia has not had its own challenges, but we’ve faced them head on and come out stronger. Five years ago, the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training launched the B.C. jobs plan, and since then, it has been our road map for economic success and job creation. The results speak for themselves. We’re leading the country in economic growth and job creation, with 191,000 jobs created. Our unemployment rate is the lowest in Canada now, and January was the seventh consecutive month we had the lowest rate in the country.
Part of our diverse economy is our booming high-tech industry. We also had a record year in tourism, and since the launch of the jobs plan, we have seen a 10 percent rise in exports, to $36 billion annually.
On exports, we’re continuing to look for new customers. Currently Ontario sends about 80 percent of its exports to the United States. Alberta sends more than 85 percent of its exports to the U.S., and while the United States is still an important customer, B.C. sends only about half of our exports to the United States.
At one time in our history, B.C. sent all of our exports south of the border, but that is no longer the case. More and more of our exports are heading to Asia. Trade with the Asia-Pacific region has increased by over 50 percent since 2009. China, in particular, is developing a taste for our B.C. wines; our agriculture products, like berries; and our seafood, to the tune of nearly $6 billion in 2015 alone.
British Columbia recognizes the importance and global emergence of China’s economy and the international use of its currency, the renminbi. That’s why B.C. was the first foreign government to issue bonds into the Chinese renminbi market. It’s opening doors to new investors and raising the profile of British Columbia
[ Page 13541 ]
in the Asia-Pacific. Furthermore, the establishment of a Canadian renminbi hub fits well with our long-term strategy to strengthen our economic ties with China and the Asia-Pacific region in general. Our future depends on finding new markets like China and India, and we will continue efforts to diversify the economy.
Our provincial prosperity depends on supporting the private sector. We will continue to cut red tape and reduce outdated and obsolete regulations that hinder job growth.
We also recognize that we need to put British Columbians first: first in line for jobs, first in line for new training opportunities through the jobs plan and first in line for places to live. It’s one of the reasons the government of B.C. is investing $855 million to ensure that more British Columbian families have access to affordable rental housing. This is the largest housing investment in a single year by any province in Canada.
Most of this housing will be created in partnership with non-profit societies, local governments, government agencies, community organizations and the private sector. This will help ensure that we will be developing the right type of housing to match the needs of each unique community. This includes low-to-moderate-income renters, seniors, youth, students, adults with developmental disabilities, aboriginal people and women and children.
We also know that it can be challenging for young families starting out to gain a foothold in the real estate market. That’s why we launched the B.C. home partnership program in December. This new three-year $700 million initiative gives a hand up to first-time homebuyers by contributing to the amount they have saved for a mortgage down payment. Up to $37,500, or up to 5 percent of the purchase price, will be provided to qualifying first-time buyers through a 25-year mortgage loan that is interest-free and payment-free for the first five years.
In the time since the program became active on January 16, more than 250 applicants have been approved, totalling more than $1.1 million in loans. I’m certain that demand for this program will only grow in the future.
We have also taken action to address the high cost of housing in Metro Vancouver by imposing a 15 percent tax on foreign homebuyers. This comes in addition to a 3 percent luxury property transfer tax on homes valued over $2 million.
For my own part, as Parliamentary Secretary for Liquor Policy Reform, I’ve been active on this file since the B.C. liquor policy review was launched in 2013. After extensive public consultations that were held provincewide, I submitted a report that took into account 65 stakeholder meetings and 188 stakeholder submissions. In addition, thousands of British Columbians provided their insights or sent us their comments by email.
In the end, the liquor policy review made 73 recommendations to modernize B.C.’s liquor laws. The goal was to bring convenience, choice and selection to consumers but also to do it in a socially responsible way. We are now at the stage where 90 percent of my recommendations have been implemented.
Changes to the liquor landscape have been nothing less than transformative in supporting B.C. manufacturers, boosting tourism, making our hospitality industry more competitive and increasing consumer convenience, all with health and public safety kept in mind. For example, virtually any business can apply for a liquor licence. Consumers can access liquor in grocery stores and pubs. Restaurants may alter their liquor prices throughout the course of the day to host happy hours.
We are also helping to boost our craft brewing industry by allowing them to showcase their products at the closest B.C. Liquor Store even before they’ve proven themselves in the larger marketplace. In addition, craft brewers can grow their business and produce more beer without being worried about a large jump in the amount of markup they’ll have to pay if they go over a certain production amount. That markup is now gradual. And now more than 350 pubs and legions allow kids up until 10 p.m. so that families can have brunch or enjoy a meal together.
Furthermore, the new act and regulations support the province’s ongoing work with liquor manufacturers, industry associations and businesses to reduce red tape, increase flexibility and provide new opportunities by creating a new graduated markup scale and new provisions to increase cash flow for craft beer; by creating a new interprovincial trade agreement so vintners can list their wine with distributors in Quebec and Ontario; by allowing manufacturers to sell liquor at artisan and farmers markets; by allowing event organizers to apply on line for a single special event permit that covers multiple events over several days; by permitting full-service liquor stores to relocate throughout the province, provided they’re not within one kilometre of an existing full-service liquor store; by allowing retailers to charge for liquor samples to recoup the cost of sampling higher-end products; by implementing a new on-line application process to significantly simplify the process for licensing for special events; by permitting two manufacturers or agents to provide samples in a liquor store at the same time; by allowing eateries to operate a licensed patio even if the establishment has no interior licensed area; and by permitting licensees to store liquor in secure off-site locations and transfer small amounts of liquor between different establishments.
These are just a few highlights, and they play a part in helping to support our tourism sector, which recently had a phenomenal season. The latest numbers indicate that in the first 11 months of 2016, over 5.1 million international visitors arrived in British Columbia. That’s a 12.2 percent increase over the same time frame in 2015.
[ Page 13542 ]
A fair number of these visitors would have come to my riding, Richmond-Steveston. Steveston was founded in 1880 and is well known for being a historic salmon-canning and boatbuilding centre at the mouth of the south arm of the Fraser River. At one point, Steveston was promoted as Salmonopolis and even rivalled the city of Vancouver at its height in the early 20th century.
If you are still not convinced that Steveston is a special place, then let me tell you about the hit series entitled Once Upon a Time. Heritage buildings located throughout Steveston and Richmond provide the charm and setting for the mythical town of Storybrooke, Maine for Once Upon a Time. This magical TV series has been a tremendous success, judging by the fact that it’s been renewed by the ABC TV Network for a sixth season. Many of my constituents benefit either directly or indirectly from the economic activity generated by Once Upon a Time. It’s all a part of B.C.’s booming film industry, which forms an important part of our diversified economy.
Hon. Speaker, I’d like to draw your attention to a new and innovative approach to the delivery of health service in Richmond. Under a partnership between the Richmond Division of Family Practice and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, it’s called the Steveston Neighbourhood Network Project. The purpose of this project is to help patients living with multiple health conditions receive better support by connecting them with a team of health professionals, including family physicians, nurses, social workers and other health professionals. The goal is to help people remain healthier and longer at home and in the community with less need to have to go to hospital. The Steveston Neighbourhood Network will be the first such team to become operational, with other networks to follow throughout the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority region.
These plans were developed, in part, with the help of three extensive community consultations held in English, Mandarin and Cantonese. Community members, physicians and health care staff in Richmond were asked about health care needs and access challenges. The result will be a new model of primary health care that will provide better access, more available supports and better health outcomes for the clients.
I’d also like to recognize the efforts of some of my constituents associated with a new project called Bridge Interconnect International. This is a non-profit organization that helps foster economic and social inclusion in our community. Bridge Interconnect International is undertaking projects designed to reduce pollution and encourage more environmental citizenship at the grassroots level with youth in the region. I look forward to assisting this organization to help them in realizing their goals.
I’d like to provide a big shout-out to my constituency office staff, the people who are my presence, my representatives in the community: Paige Robertson, PoWah Ng and Guang Cheng Ma. I pride myself on being a constituency-focused MLA because I believe in the important work done at this level. My constituency office staff provide timely, effective and invaluable service to the community, and it shows.
If I may, let me share a few examples of how my staff have made a difference. These are actual emails or cards that we’ve received recently from constituents.
For example, here’s one that reads as follows:
“To whom it may concern:
“I’m sending this email to thank the office of John Yap. I’m 63 years old and crippled by advanced rheumatoid arthritis. Over the years, I’ve had issues arise that were just too overwhelming for me. Fighting the disease is a life task all by itself. A few times, I didn’t know where to turn for help, eventually seeking out my MLA office.
“Ms. Paige Robertson helped me from the very start. Never rejecting any request for help, she did things to help me, I’m sure, that were not what her position or job called upon her to do. The office and Ms. Robertson didn’t give up after first tries but held out some hope and successfully helped me through a few dark times.
“I would say a heartfelt thanks to her and Mr. Yap’s office, because through Ms. Paige Robertson’s help, I got help I so desperately needed.”
We also received another card from a constituent who received some assistance:
“Dear Mr. Yap and Paige,
“Thank you so much for your effort in helping our family in the midst of our difficulties. Your help has significantly changed our lives and enabled us to move on with hope. May God continue to bless Richmond through your hands and faithful service.”
Just a few examples of the work that I’m proud we’ve done in our constituency office.
Finally, I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to my family — to my wife, Suzanne, my daughter, Lisa, and my son, Michael. To each of you, thank you for your love and support.
In conclusion, hon. Speaker, I’d like to thank you for this opportunity to respond to the Speech from the Throne. Our province has a bright future ahead, and we need to keep standing up for B.C. to ensure a brighter future for all of us.
J. Martin: Welcome back to everybody. It’s a pleasure to be here again. In accordance with parliamentary tradition, I rise in the House today with great pride to second the Speech from the Throne. On behalf of my constituents back in Chilliwack, it’s a great honour to follow the Member for Richmond-Steveston, my colleague and my friend, and stand with our government and address the Speech from the Throne.
Now, yesterday the Lieutenant-Governor officially opened the sixth and final session of the 40th parliament, laying out the priorities of this government as we work hard to continue to create jobs and prosperity and
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to further grow our economy, which has taken the enviable spot of number one in the entire country.
In that throne speech we heard just how B.C. is on the right track in a world full of uncertainty and increasing protectionism. British Columbia is leading the country in economic growth and job creation, with 82,000 jobs created in the last 12 months, up to January. That’s an increase of 3.5 percent. More British Columbians are working today than at any other time. Unemployment fell a full percentage point between January 2016 and last month to 5.6 percent, the absolute lowest among provinces.
It’s clear that our plan is working. Our dedication, our focus have been on creating the strongest economy in the country, and part of that strength lands in our diversification. We’ve been working hard to ensure that we are not overly dependent on one industry or one sector or in one area of the province, as is the case with many of the other provinces.
Our government has delivered on our promise to control government spending, balance budgets, and cut red tape. We’re focused on building a provincial economy that creates jobs and creates prosperity. We are on track for our fifth — one more time, our fifth — consecutive balanced budget, something that is virtually unheard.
This is a time when only one other province in the entire country is able to balance their budget. We’ve done four in a row, and by next week we’ll have made it five in a row. With such a strong fiscal foundation, today’s B.C. is a place businesses are excited to invest in, a place people are excited to come to work and a place that people are proud to call home.
With our growing economy, we’ve seen that we can support a growing and aging population. We can build new schools and replace aging infrastructure so our children can continue to get a first-rate education, while also funding state-of-the-art hospitals so that seniors and all other British Columbians can continue to receive the quality of medical care they so deserve.
Right now British Columbia is first in student outcomes and the very best in the country for health outcomes. We have the best cancer survival rates, and we are making record investments in health, education and infrastructure.
We’re making these investments now because we believe in the future of this province and the people. By supporting responsible economic development, responsible resource extraction and strong, effective stewardship of industry, we are laying the foundations for an even brighter future down the road.
To some extent, that future is happening now. We are already seeing some of the dividends and returns of our plan, as our government’s discipline is turning into dividends for all British Columbians. In these prosperous times, we are taking action to ensure that people throughout British Columbia can keep more of their hard-earned money as they so richly deserve to do.
There’s a lot more that still needs to be done. We know that, and we will continue to grow the economy. We will continue to have the best rate of job creation in the country, and we will continue to have the lowest tax rate for middle-class families.
Now, a key part of our plan to continue this growth into the future is the B.C. jobs plan. Many of the accomplishments that I have been speaking to can be traced back to the introduction of that jobs plan back in 2011. It’s been in the five years since we introduced this plan that we became Canada’s economic powerhouse. In 2011, we were ranked third in economic growth and ninth in job growth.
Before the introduction of the jobs plan, we had the fourth-lowest unemployment rate, while today we have the lowest. In fact, January marked the seventh consecutive month that B.C. has had the lowest unemployment rate in Canada. We can see the success of the jobs plan across all sectors of the economy. I would like to take the time to highlight a few of these.
We have seen our tech sector take off in recent years, and we have taken action to support and encourage that growth through our B.C. tech strategy and the B.C. tech fund. This will help new companies get on their feet. This sector contributed a staggering $14.1 billion to B.C.’s economy in 2015, and revenues increased 5 percent to $26.3 billion, the highest ever recorded for the tech sector. Over 100,000 people work in our technology sector, with more than 9,900 companies employing them.
Our tourism industry is also experiencing great success, with nearly five million international visitors coming to British Columbia last year. In the last ten years, we have more than doubled the number of aboriginal tourism businesses, and we continue to see higher numbers of people employed in that sector, with over 127,000 people working in tourism and 19,000 total tourism businesses.
Finally, our agrifood sector, one that has significant importance in my riding of Chilliwack, has reached new heights in the past several years. Employing almost 63,000 British Columbians with a 6,100 increase in employment in 2016 alone, this industry is so vital to the local economy of Chilliwack and other parts of the province. Revenues hit $13 billion in 2016. That’s up 18 percent since 2011.
We’ve been strengthening food security in B.C. while still managing to dramatically increase exports. Our seafood and agrifood shipments to South Korea, for example, have risen a staggering 63 percent. We have an ambitious goal of increasing our revenues in this sector by 43 percent by 2020, and we’re well on our way to getting there.
All of these sectors show that we really are on the right track in British Columbia. Employment numbers are up. Revenues are up. Exports are up. In fact, since we launched the jobs plan, we have seen a 10 percent increase in exports to $36 billion annually.
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Part of diversifying our economy involves diversifying our export markets, and I’m proud to say that thanks to our efforts in that area, nearly 40 percent of our exports now go to Asia. Not only that, but we’ve seen an 18 percent increase in capital investment. As I said, thanks to the B.C. jobs plan, businesses are excited about British Columbia.
The rest of Canada knows a good thing when they see it. Net migration from the rest of the country totalled over 52,000 people in the past five years since the B.C. jobs plan came into effect.
It’s such a privilege and an honour to be able to serve the constituents of Chilliwack. It’s a great place to live, and I know that many people in this House have had a chance to spend time there and visit. It’s full of natural beauty, which is shown to great advantage by the trails established through the Experience the Fraser system. We continued to invest in the trail system this past year, providing $335,000 in funding for construction and trail-building.
Our search and rescue volunteers, who brave treacherous conditions to rescue the lost or stranded, deserve our thanks and our gratitude. I’d like to use this opportunity, if I may, to express my personal thanks for their hard work, their bravery and their diligence in saving lives and keeping us safe. I’m proud to note that this year our government gave $100,000 to Chilliwack Search and Rescue — funds that help these brave women and men receive training, equipment and support.
We’ve also brought in new support for craft breweries, as my colleague recently spoke to. And in huge news this past year, we have the new Molson Coors moving their brewery to Chilliwack, creating jobs and investing in the local economy. Chilliwack has the best water. We’ve got one of the best places to do business in. Molson Coors could not have picked a better place to invest. I’m proud to see such success in Chilliwack.
We’re also making investments in our local transportation infrastructure. These investments will help accommodate future success and future growth. We’re overhauling the Lickman Road interchange, making our highways safer and accommodating increased traffic. And we celebrated one year for the route 66, Fraser Valley Express this year.
We’re investing in affordable housing. I was proud to recently announce two affordable housing projects worth $17 million in Chilliwack this past year.
As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, the forest sector is near and dear to me. Our forestry sector has become a cornerstone of our economy for decades, and we’ve continued to support a strong, sustainable and globally competitive industry. We’ve been focusing on diversifying our export markets in order to protect our forestry workers from trade disputes with our neighbours south of the border, and our work is showing results. We just sent our largest-ever shipment of mass timber to India last month, and we are an attractive long-term supplier to that growing market.
We’re also working hard to resolve the trade dispute. As the source of 50 percent of Canada’s softwood lumber exports, we must do all we can to get there. That’s why I was very pleased to see that our government named David Emerson to defend B.C.’s interests as a special envoy in Washington. He’ll work diligently with the forestry sector, the federal government and the government of the United States to secure a new agreement on softwood lumber.
Like forestry, LNG is also a major player in our long-term plan for a strong, diverse economy. We’re attracting investment for the cleanest LNG in the world. We just saw Woodfibre LNG get the green light this year — a project that’s creating hundreds of jobs. Since 2012, industry has invested an estimated $20 billion in developing LNG, and there’s more on the way.
Of course, when Pacific NorthWest wanted to make the largest private sector investment in Canadian history right here in British Columbia, the opposition was opposed to it — thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment, and they stood in the way. The Leader of the Opposition even sent a letter to the federal government to try and stop the project.
Our government, on the other hand, recognizes the benefits that projects like these have for British Columbians. When Kinder Morgan wanted to build a pipeline from Alberta, helping our neighbours get back on their feet, our government said they had to provide protection for the environment, to make sure a spill didn’t destroy our pristine waters and forests. We demanded a world-class spill response, consultation with First Nations and a share of the economic benefits. Our five conditions for approval were met with the successful completion of the environmental review process, the establishment of a world-leading marine oil spill response, world-leading land spill practices, the consultation with First Nations in respect of aboriginal and treaty rights, and a share of the fiscal economic benefits.
Of course, the opposition has said no to this. Rather than finding a way to get to yes…. Well, they did actually say yes, and then they said no. And then they said they could be persuaded. I don’t know where it’s at today.
But Kinder Morgan — that’s not the only project about which the Leader of the Opposition seems to have trouble making up his mind. Site C is another one that comes to mind. We hit a few milestones this year on that project. The latest employment statistics show that there were 1,916 total workers employed by the Site C project in December of last year, and 82 percent of them were from British Columbia.
The stats also show that more than 6,000 job seekers and 700 businesses have attended Site C job fairs. The
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project — the least expensive of the alternatives according to the independent joint review panel — is giving thousands of British Columbians skilled and high-paying jobs to provide for their families.
Yet the opposition can’t make up their mind about Site C. The Leader of the Opposition has a new stance on Site C every time he’s asked about it — one day for it, the next day against it. Sometimes he changes his mind more than once in a day. For the most part, this is about par for the course: just say no.
This government is also investing in protecting the great natural beauty our province is blessed with. The Great Bear Rainforest is the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world. It covers 6.4 million hectares, an area about the size of Ireland. Recognizing the value of this crown jewel of our environment and ecosystem, our government took action to ensure that it will be protected forever by introducing legislation to accomplish just that.
Here again, the world took notice. We were recognized by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for our conservation efforts with inclusion and recognition under the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy initiative.
The Great Bear Rainforest wasn’t the only conservation that we put in place last year. We also announced the B.C. Parks future strategy, investing up to $22.9 million for campsite expansion and $35 million to increase and strengthen conservation, protecting and preserving the back country and promoting and enhancing the B.C. Parks experience. That’s in addition to the more than $13 million we invest each and every year to maintain B.C. Parks sites. We know that our breathtaking landscapes are for everyone in British Columbia to enjoy, and we’re committed to keeping them pristine for generations to come.
Now, part of that commitment, and our broader commitment, involves ensuring that we put infrastructure in place that can help mitigate emissions. One such project that will help reduce emissions is the George Massey Tunnel replacement. This project will replace the current crossing, which only has about ten years of useful life remaining, and in addition to creating jobs, will reduce commuter times by 30 minutes a day and eliminate over one million hours of vehicle idling each year.
The project has many benefits — increased transit, bike lanes and safety improvements — over the current tunnel. We’re making sure that these necessary improvements are made in the best, most environmentally conscious way possible, because we believe in the importance of investing in the future, investing in British Columbians and investing in the environment of this wonderful province.
Of course, this is something that the opposition is against as well. When asked whether he supports it, the Leader of the Opposition said: “Not today.” Well, maybe tomorrow. We’ll see.
When it comes to the everyday lives of British Columbians, we know that one issue that is top of mind for many people is housing affordability. This government continues to work to address this important issue. This year we took principled and strong action to help cool an overheated market. We introduced the foreign buyer tax so that we can build affordable housing and increase supply — something that, once again, the NDP was against.
We’re committed to finding a way to keep home ownership within the reach of the middle class. As part of this, we created the B.C. home owner partnership. Applications for this program opened last month, and we’ve already approved over 250 applicants and more than $1 million in loans. More people are applying every day.
What this program does is give eligible first-time homeowners the chance to make their first purchase just a little bit easier. This three-year, $700 million initiative is possible because of our discipline in spending, our strong economy and our dedication to giving back to British Columbians.
Of course, the opposition has said that they would cancel this program. They don’t want first-time homeowners to have a hand up. They’d prefer a repeat of the last time they were in government, when people fled our province in droves for greener pastures elsewhere.
While many British Columbians are at a stage in life when they can dream of home ownership, there are many young British Columbians who are in need of the kind of forever home that only a family can deliver. We’re committed to helping these children and youth find these homes so that families who are eager to welcome them as their own can do so more easily. We introduced a new on-line adoption site this year, the very first of its kind in the country, and it’s making a big difference by streamlining the adoption process.
We’ve made record investments in adoptions, and they’re showing results. Adoption is at its highest level in B.C., with 644 children and youth finding forever homes this year. That is more than ever before. All children deserve the comfort, the security and the love that a home and family can give them. We’re proud to see these efforts paying off for B.C.’s children.
Another great initiative to help B.C.’s families that has really taken off is the single-parent employment initiative. By providing single moms and dads with up to 12 months of training for an in-demand job, child care costs, public transit costs and the ability to stay on income assistance the whole time, we’re helping these people get the training they need and that they want. With this training, they’ve got the edge to get into the job market.
More than 4,300 single parents have taken up this program, and over 700 have found employment in fields ranging from home support workers and nurses to administrative assistants and social workers. The best part is not one of them had to worry about how to take care of their children while they received training. Now every
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one of them knows that they will be able to provide for their family for as long as they need to.
On Friday last week, I read about a young single mother of two who had scoured for countless hours to find a job. The single-parent employment initiative gave her financial support and child care for her five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son while she undertook her training. In this supportive environment, she was able to graduate early and graduate with honours.
It’s stories like this that really bring home the importance of what we’re doing, why it’s important and why we need to be fiscally responsible as a government so that we can get to the point of being able to give back to British Columbians and so that we can give a helping hand to the women and men of our province who need it, with programs like the aforementioned single-parent employment initiative.
I know that the opposition doesn’t agree with any of that and continues to stand in the way of all of these projects that are demonstrating that they do help British Columbians, and they will continue to oppose these projects. We know this.
But their blind opposition will not sway our resolve to standing up for British Columbians. For the sake of British Columbians, our government has taken a principled stand on the economy. We’ve put in hard work for everyone in B.C., and we’ve done it all with a tightly controlled spending regime and soon-to-be five balanced budgets. That is very, very different than the way the opposition did things the last time they were in government, with credit downgrades and huge deficits, turning B.C. into a have-not province, a province of beggars.
The NDP couldn’t have brought in any of the success that we see in our province today. They said no to the Coquihalla Highway. They said no to the Canada Line. They said no to B.C. Place. They said no to the Alex Fraser Bridge. They said no to Expo 86. They said no to the improvements on the Sea to Sky Highway. They say no to the new Port Mann Bridge. They said no to Pacific NorthWest LNG. They say no to Kinder Morgan. They say no to Site C. They say no to the George Massey Tunnel replacement. They say no to the South Fraser Perimeter Road. They say no to the home ownership program.
We don’t agree with that mindset. We think British Columbia is a great place to be. We know how to get to yes.
This government is working very hard to ensure that British Columbians can enjoy unparalleled prosperity in Canada’s No. 1 strongest economy. We’re working hard to make sure everybody has a place to live, has a job and can take pride in their community.
I’m proud to be in this House and speak to these priorities, as part of the government, to talk about the prosperity B.C. has experienced thanks to the hard work of people in every single corner of this province. Together we’ve created a beautiful British Columbia we can be proud of, where job creators can thrive, where people can work.
Our growing economy means that we can provide the services that British Columbians need and deserve. And to keep this economy growing, we need to continue to support development while protecting the environment. We need to stick with the plan that has brought us this far, and we need to remember that British Columbians know how to get to yes.
A. Dix: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
A. Dix: I have the honour today — they were in the gallery earlier — to welcome students from St. Mary’s Elementary School in my constituency of Vancouver-Kingsway. It’s a terrific school on Joyce Street. It was wonderful to meet the students today.
I’d like all members of the House to wish them a welcome to Victoria and congratulate them on all the work they do in their school.
N. Macdonald: It’s a pleasure to speak here today. This is my last session, and I’m not running in the next election, but obviously, I have a strong interest in making sure that the current government is going to be replaced. I absolutely think that that’s essential.
It’s a difference in priorities, it’s clear, but this is also a government that’s adrift, and after 16 years, it’s a government that is defined, as much as anything else, by cronyism — 16 years on, a government adrift, defined by cronyism.
Now, the promise I made in the first election was the same as I made in the following two. My staff actually posted it on the office wall so that we would always be reminded of this.
We promised, and we promised clearly, that if we were elected, we would work to empower people. We would empower ordinary people, and we would be on people’s sides. We would fight for them, and we wouldn’t sell out. We’ve done that. We’ve fought for our seniors, for proper care for seniors. We’ve stood with teachers. We’ve fought for resources for search and rescue and highway rescue, to respect community views with regards to Jumbo.
Throughout, we talked about local decision-making, and this is something that I share with my colleagues on the NDP side: the belief in democracy and that decisions should be made by the people — not by those who can afford to meet with the Premier, but by those that we represent. That voice is the one that should be the most
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dominant, and it should guide public policy. That is not what happens in this province now, and it’s one of the reasons why there needs to be a change of government.
Why does politics matter? A lot of people say that. It’s true that there are periods with bickering and negatives. Those are real things that are part of the process. But there are far more good things that can be accomplished. I’m reminded, since I see my colleague here and since she talked about somebody who did tremendous work for the Columbia Basin Trust, about that work. There were many who worked on it, but her husband, Ed Conroy, and Corky Evans had the idea of the Columbia Basin Trust.
I live in an area where we see the benefits in our communities from that idea each and every day, and this is literally a generation later, decades later. That is an idea that is going to go forward generation after generation. That’s what you can accomplish in politics if you’re willing to put up with the negatives that are there.
But it also means that you have to be rooted in the community, rooted in an area where your focus is not on satisfying those that can pay $20,000 to sit beside you at a dinner, but rather to serve the people that you represent. That’s what I saw with Ed and with Corky and with others, and I see the good work that came from it.
When you look at this throne speech, it had no idea. I used to mock Premier Gordon Campbell for this — the ten great goals or all of these other things — but there was actually a central idea that was there. Whether it was sincere or whether it was accomplished, that’s something different. Here we are, 16 years later, where there wasn’t an idea that you could pull out of that throne speech. It was absolutely bereft of any central idea, completely empty. You compare that to when you hear the leader of the NDP or you hear my colleagues talk.
[R. Chouhan in the chair.]
There are all sorts of ideas that would make a great throne speech, and one that I hope to hear in the fall. That’s ideas like an affordable child care plan. Now, that’s something that would benefit the economy. That would benefit generations: an affordable child care plan.
It’s there. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a throne speech with an idea like that — that that’s what we’re going to do in this province? A real plan for agriculture, a real plan for food in this province, a real plan that’s effective on climate action, a sincere commitment to four-lane and divide the Trans-Canada Highway, an affordable housing plan and a poverty reduction plan.
These are all things that the B.C. NDP is offering. Now, that would be a throne speech. That’s an idea. That’s something that people can get behind, where there is benefit for more than simply those that can afford to get the Premier’s ear — broad public benefit. That’s what we should be doing in this Legislature. But we don’t, because we have a government that, frankly, has lost track of that public need. They’re simply not connected to the people that need these things.
You know, in my area, I’m stepping aside. I’m very excited about Gerry Taft, who’s the B.C. NDP candidate in my area. He was five years in youth parliament here. The first business he opened was in high school. He was on council when he was 21. He was mayor at 25 of the district of Invermere. He’s only 34 now. He started and owned Gerry’s Gelati, two restaurants; Stolen Church Coffee; five rental properties; part-owner of a motel; executive of the AKBLG; executive of the UBCM; director of the RDEK.
He’s experienced, he’s bright, a diverse background, successful, young, and he’s running for the NDP to replace me. I’m really excited about that. I feel like we’re trading up, and that’s a wonderful thing to do when you step aside.
You know, people set a standard for government and for this Legislature with their vote, a chance that we really only get every four years. I hope this May we’re going to see the majority of people in British Columbia being able to see through B.C. Liberal propaganda and elect a different group of people to form government.
To all British Columbians, I would say what we in Columbia River–Revelstoke recognize, that there is something seriously wrong with this government. They do not deserve to be rewarded with your vote. You look at their record, and it’s a record of failure and cronyism. The two previous speakers made a virtue out of the failure of the LNG strategy. It’s like: “Hey, lucky thing. We don’t have one industry.” But you know, that’s not what the intent of this government was. They have failed utterly.
Over the throne speeches, we’ve gone from throne speeches that were completely dominated by LNG to where it was mentioned once or twice. Let’s remember what this government said was their goal, the single laser focus of this government. It was to create a liquefied natural gas industry. It was, as I said, hardly mentioned in the throne speech.
In previous years, we were promised 17 LNG plants. The first one was going to open years ago, right? We’re nowhere close to that. We were going to have 100,000 jobs. Now, that was a made-up number, just like many you’re going to hear from the government side again. So 100,000 jobs. How many have we had? We have zero. There’s not one LNG plant up and going, and none are likely in the next number of years.
Now, maybe this government is going to reduce the sales tax, right? Maybe that’s their big promise budget day. “Let’s reduce the sales tax by 1 percent.” That’s the big announcement. Remember in 2013, the big announcement was no sales tax. You were going to get rid of the sales tax because of all of the money from the LNG. That’s a bit less grand, going to a 1 percent cut, if that’s what you do. You promised in 2013, before the last election: no sales tax.
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You were going to have no debt. How’s that going for you? It’s kind of going the wrong direction completely. Now, you could change the words and try to make it something different than the debt, but the debt has risen under this Premier more than any other Premier in the history of British Columbia. That is a bit rich, when you promise no debt, to take it in the opposite direction.
You were going to have a $100 billion prosperity fund from revenues in LNG. The B.C. Liberals have collected substantially less than Premier Ujjal Dosanjh from natural gas revenue. So we are worse than those ’90s you talk about for collecting money. You’re a long way from $100 billion. In fact, you’re at zero from natural gas revenue.
Still, the minister responsible no doubt is going to stand up and say: “Oh, be patient. It’s coming.” We’ll talk about a fictitious number, like $20 billion, right? We had that in the advertising — fictitious completely, as if, somehow, fiction over time, repeated again and again, changes people’s lives. It’s just an incredibly cynical strategy.
Does that failure deserve to be rewarded with your vote? I would say to all British Columbians: it does not. You need to set a standard with your politicians. Otherwise, accept that this is what you get. You just get these sorts of alternative facts thrown at you.
The throne speech. The B.C. Liberals talked about tax relief coming, right? That’s one of their things. In 2013, as I said, they promised no sales tax. So whatever it is, remember this. The tax relief for the people that they serve has already come. They already gave them what is now a $1 billion in tax cuts for the top 2 percent.
And they talk about the middle class being looked after. Yeah, they’re looked after all right. They pay the bills. We have MSP raises. We have B.C. Hydro rates up. We have ICBC rates up and by a lot, right? Forty percent coming. B.C. Hydro. The same thing. It’s up 28 percent. There’ll be a new surprise if they form government again. Ferry fares up. Bridge tolls up.
You know, the real relief would be to get rid of MSP. That’s what the Leader of the Opposition has promised. He will get rid of the MSP. Now, that’s something tangible and real and fair.
The B.C. Liberals. Here, I’ll talk about a local issue. They promised for ten years — they had it on the websites — $1 billion resort in the Jumbo Valley. They took donations from the proponents. They created a municipality. I see the minister who did it and defended it over there. They created the municipality of Jumbo. It’s the newest municipality, still, in British Columbia. Well, what a force. What a joke that is.
They disregarded local voices. They disrespected First Nations spiritual beliefs. And nothing now but an empty municipality still not with one person, not with one road, not with one building. There is a concrete slab, which was meant to be the base of a lodge, put in the wrong place, which happened to be an avalanche path.
There was never an investor in the last 20 years for that project, but it was pushed by a group of B.C. Liberals cronies quite willing to grab public lands and public money. There is still a municipality. There is still a council that this government is paying for in Jumbo. It is unbelievable. That’s a municipality that should have been dismantled yesterday.
Does that Jumbo farce mean that B.C. Liberals need to be rewarded with your vote? I would say no.
Now, the Leader of the Opposition has promised, a sincere promise, to four-lane and divide the Trans-Canada Highway. He’s not the first politician that has said this. This government has promised it many, many times. In fact, the Premier stood at UBCM and said in a period of ten years, it would be done, many years ago.
This is, of course, the main road connecting the rest of Canada to B.C. Despite the Premier’s talk about making it a safe and dependable road, the improvements promised have not been delivered at all.
Prior to the 2009 election, signs were put up along the Trans-Canada around Revelstoke, Golden and Field. It said: “Trans-Canada Highway, four-laned and divided. It’s coming soon.” Okay? Those signs sat there. They weathered. But they needed to be replaced, of course, for the 2013 election. We had new signs that said the same thing, that it’s coming. “Don’t worry, it’s coming.” It’s like LNG, you know: “It’s coming. Don’t worry.”
Well, I have friends who work for the highways department, right? And what did they get delivered for this election? New signs. There are new signs going to be put up. The road hasn’t been improved. It’s going to take 60 years at the pace they’re going to do what the signs promise. But the same old thing, the same tired idea to put up new signs.
By the way, the only thing that the contractor is allowed to claim overtime for is to put up the signs. “Get them up there,” because that’s the priority. There you are.
This is a highway where there are deaths. There are injuries. It’s repeatedly closed. How cynical do you have to be to make those promises knowing full well that they’re not promises that are going to be fulfilled? And why would people in British Columbia reward that sort of politics with their vote?
You look at the B.C. Liberal record attacking our public education system. When public education is undermined, it’s our province’s children that are deprived. It’s our children. A 12-year attack on our students culminated in a Supreme Court of Canada ruling confirming what we all knew — that the B.C. Liberals had acted in bad faith. Why would you reward that by voting for a government that cannot act in good faith and actually honour contracts that they’ve made?
Look at B.C. Liberal records with seniors. What’s more important than looking after our seniors? That’s what everyone says. But it’s actions. It’s decisions on money.
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Where does this government consistently choose to make cuts and to fail seniors? What senior can afford to go and spend $20,000 to sit with the Premier and tell their story?
You look at proper child care. You look at the B.C. Liberal indifference to child poverty. You look at the absolute failure. I mean, today in question period was another example — an absolute failure in the Ministry of Children and Families.
You look at the Orwellian statements. The MLA for Richmond-Steveston talked about a debt-free B.C. I’m sorry. You cannot make this stuff up. “Orwellian language”is thrown around a lot as a term, because we are in a period of it. But it was a promise to get rid of the B.C. debt that the Liberals made in 2013. “Debt-free B.C.” was on the side of the 2013 B.C. Liberal campaign bus.
When the B.C. Liberals took power, there was less than $40 billion in debt and contractual obligations. You know what there is now? There is $170 billion in debt and contractual obligations. That’s the record. Those are the numbers. And still you have an MLA willing to stand up and say they’re making B.C. debt-free. What? You’re going in exactly the opposite direction faster than any Premier in the history of British Columbia. Again, especially when you promised to get to zero…. I just would say: is that what you want to reward with a vote for the B.C. Liberals?
You look at the failure of government to manage mine sites. Actually, if people take the time and look at what went on at Mount Polley, you look at the failure of B.C. Liberals to protect workers.
We in British Columbia had two mills exploding from a known problem. The oversight clearly was not there, just as it was not there for Mount Polley, with tragic results for the people of Burns Lake and for Lakeland.
You have Sullivan mine, Banks Island, Swansea Ridge — one example after another where the government failed in its oversight. You have to ask yourself: does that need to be rewarded? Is that the standard you want to set for government? And I would say no. I mean, I’m not running. I’m just telling you: do not reward that. Set a higher standard for governments. Insist that they do better than that.
Look at the HST — the debacle that that was and the deceit that surrounded the HST. You look at the health researchers firings. You look at the secretiveness of this government. The donations and the pay-to-play, $10,000-per-plate secret dinners with the Premier — it’s what she was doing last night, right? She raised more, hundreds and hundreds of thousands more last night.
You look at that money going to pay the Premier hundreds of thousands more than she earns as Premier. She already makes almost $200,000 but hundreds of thousands more added to that.
You look at how the sessions are cancelled. You look at the giveaways of B.C. Rail. Now, that’s a giveaway that included bribery and deceit. And you consider that the corruption of B.C. Rail, that giveaway…. This government, instead of looking at it carefully, chose to spend $6 million to keep that information out of the public view. And this is what you’re going to reward the B.C. Liberals for with another four years in power?
You look at the partisan takeover of B.C. Hydro. Point to the other public utility of that size that has a partisan appointment. Not on the board. The board can be…. I guess it’s all partisan. That’s clear.
But actually on the staff, the senior management. You wouldn’t choose to have engineers or experts. Rather, you put in a partisan to run that corporation. Who does that? No other jurisdiction does that, as far as I can tell.
You look at the $55 billion that B.C. Hydro ratepayers are stuck with because of sweet, overvalued IPP contracts. All of that, I have to say, does not deserve to be rewarded with a vote. All of these things I spoke of as failings have consequences for people — real people. Now, sometimes it’s financial impacts; other times, it’s more personal.
As MLA, I met with my colleagues. It was a very emotional meeting. We met with the families of those that lost loved ones or had loved ones injured. In fact, some of the injured people were there from Burns Lake and Lakeland. These are people that have not found that they have had their issue looked at. All they see is a government protecting their interests, making sure that they are not politically hurt and quite willing to deny closure to families that were hurt through what, in my mind, is clear neglect from government.
I look, too, at the sister of the smeared health researcher, Roderick MacIsaac. She’s still looking for justice. Instead of doing what is right, the political interests of keeping that pushed away take priority.
B.C. Liberals don’t deserve to be rewarded with your vote. In Columbia River–Revelstoke, I am proud to say, we have seen through B.C. Liberal propaganda consistently. I think that my colleagues would say the same of the areas that they represent.
We voted to resist the government agenda and to put children and seniors, to put local manufacturing, local food production, our environment and justice ahead of cronyism. I’m really proud of the people of Columbia River–Revelstoke and others who have done that. I look forward to a time when a majority of British Columbians make the same choice.
The Leader of the Opposition has laid out an agenda that I feel really excited about. I think it’s an agenda that would help people tremendously. I know that when I sit around the caucus table, I sit with colleagues that are rooted in their communities and have in their hearts the interests of those that they serve. I think there’s no doubt that many on the government side would be the same.
The difference is the willingness to stand up, when the time comes, and to actually speak out for what’s right. What you see again and again from a top-down government is that those diktats from the government are enabled by government MLAs that aren’t willing to stand up.
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I see, going forward, tremendous hope in an NDP government that is going to take care of the things that I care about. They’re going to have good daycare. They’re going to get rid of corporate and union donations. There’s going to be seniors care that we can be proud of in this province. We’re going to have the best public education system in the world, where people do not fall through the cracks. All of those things are possible, and that’s a day that I look forward to.
The election can’t come soon enough. A throne speech that contrasts with the emptiness of this one should come in, I would say, September of 2017, where there are real ideas and benefits that will come to generations to come, because it will be a government rooted in the communities and rooted in, at its heart, the interests of the ordinary person.
J. Thornthwaite: On behalf of my constituents of North Vancouver–Seymour, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to respond to the Speech from the Throne.
Before I delve into the contents of my speech, I want to take this opportunity to thank some very important people in my life. Nick Hosseinzadeh is my constituency assistant back in North Vancouver. He works tirelessly helping people when I’m there but also when I’m not there, like now.
Hi, Nick. He’s probably watching.
Also, Sarah O’Connor, who’s my new legislative assistant. I’m very, very pleased with the work that she’s been able to accomplish just in the second day on the job since we’ve been back.
All of these assistants really do make us successful and are invaluable to the work that MLAs do. We also have very competent people in the research department and the communications department that help our entire caucus.
Of course, I’m always grateful for the patience that my family, my children give me to spend a lot of time working and not being at home with them like I would like. They’re very patient. I very much appreciate their support.
Last, of course, and certainly not least, the residents of North Vancouver–Seymour, who I’m lucky enough to represent. I truly believe it’s one of the best areas to live on earth.
I’d also like to take a moment to convey my condolences to the families and friends of the Canadians we lost last month in Quebec City. It was a senseless act of violence that took the lives of six people at a local mosque, and several more were terribly injured. In response, thousands of Canadians expressed their shock, grief and sadness and paid their respects spontaneously all across the country. It was truly the kind of response that one might expect in a multicultural society like Canada.
I’d also like to mention that on January 22, we in North Vancouver lost a dear friend, wife and mother. Fiona Marshall-White succumbed to the devastating disease called ALS. She was a modern businesswoman who seemed to have it all — a successful career, beautiful daughters, loving husband, beautiful home, lots of great friends — until ALS came knocking at the door. ALS seems to attack people in the prime of their lives. Fiona tackled her disease with positivity, grace and courage every single day, and of course, my charity of choice is the ALS Society.
British Columbia has been the leading economy in Canada for the past two years. Everyone wants to move to British Columbia, and who wouldn’t?
The government in this province has practised exceptional fiscal discipline. We have balanced the budget four years in a row, and we are on track for a fifth balanced budget when our Finance Minister tables Budget 2017 next week. We have a triple-A credit rating. Fiscal discipline and balanced budgets have earned the province the highest credit rating.
What does this all mean? When we need to borrow for large infrastructure projects — like a bridge, and we’re building bridges in North Vancouver as well as the highway interchange that I’m going to talk about later; or a school, and I’m going to talk about the schools; or a hospital, and we have new hospitals, also, in North Vancouver — British Columbia pays the lowest interest rates available because our international lenders know that our government is in control of its finances. That’s what a triple-A credit rating means.
Let’s talk about schools. Last year I was very proud to welcome the Minister of Education into Lynn Valley to announce the rebuild of Argyle Secondary School. The provincial government is partnering with school district 44 to construct the new facility that will feature safety and accessibility in a modern learning environment.
It’s worth noticing, as well, that North Vancouver has benefited tremendously with significant capital investments in new schools, even since I became an MLA in 2009. I’m going to list just a few. These are all either brand-new schools that were built in partnership with the municipalities or significant renos and seismic upgrades.
Lynn Valley Elementary. Windsor Secondary, which is the school that my kids went through, not only had a complete seismic upgrade but a brand-new turf field and a soccer bubble that was funded in partnership with the school district, the province, the federal government and the district of North Vancouver.
There have been other schools that have been built brand-new in North Vancouver. Westview, Carson Graham, Ridgeway, Queen Mary, Highlands, Sutherland and Mountainside are all brand-new schools. That fiscal responsibility from our school district, school district 44, plus partnerships with others and the municipalities and the Ministry of Education, has been able to provide
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significant infrastructure investments for students in North Vancouver.
Currently the middle class in British Columbia pay some of the lowest taxes in the country. It is another reason why businesses want to set up shop here in B.C. Employers and their employees are looking for a high quality of life, low taxes and the opportunities that come along with prosperity and a diversified economy.
Our B.C. tech strategy is part of the diversifying economy in British Columbia. It is a multi-year strategy that will support growth in British Columbia’s vibrant technology sector and strengthen B.C.’s diverse innovation economy.
A few weeks ago, along with our Premier and the Jobs Minister, I visited DarkVision in my riding, in Dollarton, to talk about our diversified economy and get an update on the B.C. jobs plan. DarkVision specializes in something called down-hole imaging technology that gives oil and gas operators a set of eyes inside their wells. As a matter of fact, DarkVision recently won a top prize of $100,000. This company is part of the ever-expanding high-tech sector that is quickly becoming an industry hub in our province.
There are lots of reasons why people love B.C. In my own riding of North Vancouver–Seymour, residents choose to live in an area surrounded by mountains, bodies of water, hiking trails and forest precisely because of its natural beauty. The preservation of these parks and recreation areas has been a priority for our province. It is the reason why British Columbia received the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy award for establishing the Great Bear Rainforest. It is a global treasure that covers 6.4 million hectares on B.C.’s north and central coast that will be preserved for future generations.
We have also been recognized internationally for being a climate change leader. This fall British Columbia received the Momentum for Change Award from the United Nations for our revenue-neutral carbon tax. We were recognized by the international community for taking a pioneering lead in solutions to combat climate change.
Closer to home, at the beginning of this month, the province rolled out $35 million in funding for B.C. parks to ensure that conservation efforts are held to the highest standards. Earlier on, last fall, the Premier and the Minister of Environment visited North Vancouver–Seymour at Mount Seymour to announce 1,900 new campsites as part of the parks strategy, conservation initiatives, as well as an endowment fund. These will help not just North Vancouver, obviously, and the North Shore but everyone in the region.
One of the things I’ve been doing for over a year now is door-knocking, going door to door, and it’s one of the best ways that you can get input from residents as to what issues are important to them. The top three issues in my riding are transportation, housing and the environment. I’ll talk specifically about the transportation initiatives that we’ve been working on for several years and then go on to the housing, because the housing has some updates as well.
I’m very proud, and this is probably one of my proudest accomplishments. Something that I’ve been working on since I got elected in 2009 is a solution to the traffic congestion at the north end of the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge, commonly known as the foot of the Cut.
We get stuck in that all the time — people from West Van, North Van. But it really started way back before I got elected, and this was actually one of the reasons why I did run in 2009. It severely inhibits the people that live in the east of Seymour, which is part of my riding, and their ability to get back and forth to the other parts of North Vancouver without getting married to Cut traffic or ferry traffic or an accident on the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge.
A couple of years ago, we were able to announce a $150 million project, including the lower Mountain Highway interchange. That was with the previous federal government and the district of North Vancouver. Then we went into an open house, which was over a year ago, and got significant feedback from our constituents. Then there came another federal election and a new federal government, and our two recent MPs also helped to secure extra money.
The most significant announcement that we were able to announce a couple of weeks ago was an additional $60 million, shared equally from the district of North Vancouver, the province, as well as the federal government, to twin the orange bridge, which is at the foot of the Cut.
The construction of this entire interchange project — there are three interchanges involved — is $198 million, and it’s four phases. The whole project will be completed in 2021, but the first phase, the one that people are most interested in — the Mountain Highway one — is supposed to be completed next year. I’ve been told that this four-phased lower Lynn interchange project is expected to create about 600 jobs throughout the construction. They’ve already started that construction. The entire $198 million project is cost-shared, with the province of B.C. contributing $76.7 million, the government of Canada contributing $66.6 million and the district of North Vancouver providing $54.7 million. So there’ll be more help on the traffic-congestion front for residents in North Vancouver and the North Shore because of that significant investment.
The other issue that is very important, which comes to people’s minds when I go to the doors, is housing. The province has announced significant initiatives to do with addressing the housing crisis that the Lower Mainland, in particular, is experiencing.
The province is using six principles to guide decisions about how to address housing affordability in the Lower
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Mainland: ensuring the dream of home ownership remains within the reach of everybody — the middle class; increasing housing supply; smart transit expansion; supporting first-time-homebuyers; ensuring consumer protection; and increasing rental supply.
I’m going to talk about just two at this point. Before the introduction of the 15 percent foreign buyers tax last summer, housing was, by far, the most prominent subject that came up at the doors. Now, after July of last year, people were very, very pleased with the announcement for the 15 percent foreign buyers tax, because it allowed local buyers a better chance to get in if they had to secure financing from their lenders. So, all of a sudden, that part of the housing concern did not come up at the doors. What did come up was: what are we going to do now for first-time buyers?
My constituency assistants and my children are all in their mid- to late 20s, and they’re certainly interested in buying a home. This new program allows for assistance. Saving for a mortgage down payment is difficult, particularly for young people. The new program, the B.C. home owner mortgage and equity partnership program contributes to the amount first-time-homebuyers have already saved for their down payment, providing up to $37,000, or 5 percent of the purchase price, with a 25-year loan that is interest-free and payment-free for the first five years, which will be a significant help. You would assume that the first-time buyers are starting out in their careers, and by the time the five years comes up, they will be more secure in their financial situation.
Through the B.C. home partnership program, the province is investing about $703 million over the next three years to help an estimated 42,000 B.C. households enter the market for the first time. For an example, say a home purchase price of $475,000…. You can get a nice condo in North Vancouver for that. This first-time buyer — let’s give this as an example — saved just under $12,000 toward their down payment, or 2.5 percent of the home’s purchase price.
Through this program, the province will contribute $11,875, equal to the buyer’s 2.5 percent down payment. This brings the total down payment to just over $23,000, or 5 percent of the home’s purchase price, as required by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. This loan is interest- and payment-free for the first five years.
As a first-time buyer, this person can also qualify for the first-time-homebuyers exemption for the property transfer tax, saving $7,500. And the B.C. HOME partnership program enabled this new buyer to purchase their first home, as they would have not made the minimum down payment without the assistance from the government. I expect lots of my constituents will take advantage of this assistance.
There aren’t many places in the world where one is able to kayak in the ocean and ski on the mountain in the same day, like we are able to do in North Vancouver–Seymour, courtesy of companies like Deep Cove Kayak, and going up to Seymour mountain, either snowshoeing or skiing. Of course, then there’s Lynn Canyon and the Suspension Bridge.
We are very near and dear to our nature in North Vancouver. This is why the environment is the other main issue that I hear at the door. And that’s why our government was steadfast with regards to the five conditions for allowing any new pipeline project approval.
We always knew that it was the federal government that would make the decision about whether or not to approve Kinder Morgan. But with the strong advocacy of our Environment Minister and Premier for the five conditions — the second and third conditions were the establishment of the world-leading oil spill response and prevention and recovery systems for both land and sea — the federal government announced a $1.5 billion ocean protection plan, most of which will go to British Columbia.
As the Prime Minister has already mentioned, the pipelines are a safer way of transporting oil than rail. I feel that if it wasn’t for the advocacy from our government, talking to the federal government and putting our five conditions forward, we wouldn’t have got the majority of that $1.5 billion ocean protection plan investment to British Columbia.
Lastly, the last condition was making sure British Columbia gets a proportional share of jobs as well as other economic benefits that would mitigate any type of risk that these projects may impose. This was unprecedented, that we were able to receive this — $25 million to $50 million directly from the proponent to help with environmental and conservation initiatives that are local to the communities.
In the North Shore region, Seaspan employs hundreds of technicians, shipyard staff, engineers and tradespeople. Since 1970, 20,000 ships have been escorted and passed under the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge, with zero incidents.
Reliable docking and undocking for over 40 years with the highest safety and environmental standards is not something to take lightly. That’s why the additional investments were well received by our government. They’re part of the diverse and hard-working British Columbians who make our economy grow and look to ensure its growth through the future. Over the next three years, Seaspan hopes to continue growing its workforce, while this government aims to continue providing projects in shipbuilding and ship assisting.
One of the things that is near and dear to my heart is child and youth mental health. I’m the Parliamentary Secretary for Child Mental Health and Anti-Bullying, and I have long advocated for the ERASE Bullying and FRIENDS programs. The ERASE program is designed to educate children and youth about bullying with-
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in schools, but also from cyberbullying. Our province stands up to bullying, and on February 22 I encourage everyone to make nice while wearing pink in support of Pink Shirt Day, an initiative that started in solidarity with a student who was bullied for wearing pink.
I also would like to make note of the broadening of our schools’ anti-bullying and discrimination policies that will now, in accordance with the human rights codes of B.C., include gender identity and gender expression. This was something that I’d long been advocating for, for our LGBTQ community.
Our schools’ successes are not only measured by grades and outcomes but also how to foster all of our children. Under the new codes of conduct enacted across the province, inclusivity and safety for all youth is a cornerstone for that success.
Another way our province is ensuring success for our children and students is through the B.C. Friends program. This is a program funded by the Ministry of Children and Family but offered in schools for elementary-aged children. This initiative is to try to alleviate the struggles, that anxiety — which is one of the main mental health concerns that children have these days — by educating kids on how to deal with coping mechanisms, on how to gain resiliency and to prepare them for future stresses. Such programs are critical for a child’s mental health and enable them to grow with confidence and competence.
As Chair of the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth, I was able to be part of a special project examining child and youth mental health in our province. Last year the committee released the final report, entitled Concrete Actions for Systemic Change, which had been a product of several years of consultations with experts in the field of mental health, families, specialists and youth. The report illuminated several areas of improvements, some of which our government has already implemented.
In June, B.C. launched a new Integrated Youth Services Initiative, designed to support youth who have mental health concerns or may be at risk of substance use. I was very proud last week to be part of the announcement on the North Shore of Foundry North Shore.
We recognize that young people can face challenges with mental illness or substance use early in their lives. They need help, support and health care services but often face stigma that discourages them from finding and accessing the right supports. Too many young people find themselves seeking care when they’re in a crisis. They access services when their situation becomes desperate, and they may find themselves at the emergency department or the local hospital, which is not good.
The Foundry announcement that we did is part of that solution. It’s one of five sites announced in June 2016 as part of our provincial network of easily accessible youth service centres. These centres will provide mental health, substance use, primary care, social services hosted by local non-profit organizations.
The centre on the North Shore is hosted by Vancouver Coastal Health and has support provided by community members. It will provide a wide range of services to support young people between the ages of 12 and 24, right in or close to their home community.
Opening later this spring, the centre will provide primary care and sexual health services; mental health and substance use support; youth and family peer support; outreach support to youth in the community; social work services and supports for youth transitioning from government care; occupational, group and individual therapy; and support with income assistance and housing.
There will also be resources for youth with developmental disabilities and rehabilitation programs such as group recreational activities, independent living skills and food preparation. The service centres are modelled after the successful Granville Youth Health Centre in Vancouver, spearheaded by Dr. Steve Mathias — who’s also from North Vancouver — which delivers early intervention services that welcome and support young people and their families.
In addition to the Granville Youth Health Centre and Foundry North Shore, other sites that have either opened or will be opening soon are Campbell River, Abbotsford, Prince George and Kelowna. Each new centre is expected to help 1,200 to 2,500 youths each year. The Ministry of Health provided $3 million to the InnerChange Foundation to support the creation of the centres.
The North Shore centre is also supported by partner funding from Vancouver Coastal Health and the Graham Boeckh Foundation, which committed $1.5 million. The InnerChange and the St. Paul’s Foundation have each committed to fundraise 1.5. I know that the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation went well and above their goal in fundraising for this initiative, which proves that there is a real interest and need on the North Shore.
That’s not all that’s to do with mental health on the North Shore. In March of last year, I was part of a ceremony that was opening the third floor of the HOpe Centre.
The HOpe Centre, as you know, is the Greta and Robert H.N. Ho Centre for Psychiatry and Education at Lions Gate Hospital. This was a significant state-of-the-art investment. It was one of the first things that I was part of announcing when I was elected in 2009.
The new third floor is dedicated exclusively for children and youth. Thanks to Jack and Leone Carlile, who also donated their portion to the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation, these services will be specific to children and youth. It’s a ten-bed unit on the third floor of the HOpe Centre, and I’m very, very pleased that we were able to announce that as well.
In addition, B.C. has also invested in the FORCE Society for Kids Mental Health, which is instrumental in
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the assistance of over 10,000 youth provincewide, families and caregivers, each year.
Of course, there is almost always more work to be done, but I will continue to advocate for child and youth mental health initiatives, not just on the North Shore, but provincewide.
One of the most exciting innovations in social policy was the introduction of the single-parent employment initiative. We listened to people, and the one thing that people collecting income or disability assistance told us is that they face barriers to making the transition to employment — either they didn’t have the job qualifications, or the demands of being a single parent made it impossible to afford an education, let alone the time to pursue one. The solution was to create the opportunity and provide the support single parents need to gain employment.
The single-parent initiative provides eligible single parents on income or disability assistance with supports, including up to 12 months of funded training for in-demand jobs or paid work experience placement. The added supports include transit costs to and from schools; child care costs during their training, with work placement and in their first year of employment. Single parents can remain on income assistance while attending a training program.
We initially thought only a few hundred people would take us up on this offer. However, since its launch in September 2015, almost 4,300 single parents have become involved in the single-parent employment initiative, and more than 815 have already found employment.
The province not only contributes to the welfare of our children; our province is also supporting animal welfare. In January, with puppies in tow, I was able to announce that our government would be giving an additional $5 million to the BCSPCA to support their growing facilities across the province. The SPCA, for over 100 years, has provided superior support services in order to protect and enhance the quality of life for all animals in B.C. The funding allocation goes towards replacing or renovating the older shelters to continue their work in our communities, creating jobs and growth in the process.
Before I finish, I want to make sure that I do put a plug in for film, because I am so happy that the creative sector, which includes film, TV, interactive media, music, magazine and book publishing, contributes $4 billion annually to B.C.’s GDP, and 85,000 jobs.
If you don’t believe me, check out January 19’s B.C. Business Magazine. They go through the whole advantages of B.C. films to B.C.’s economy and to jobs. I’m very proud of that. We’ve got a lot of film people that live in North Vancouver.
In summary, I’m very proud of the direction that our government is going. I’m looking forward to our other balanced budget coming up next week, and I’m proud to support the throne speech announced yesterday.
Deputy Speaker: The member for Alberni–Pacific Rim.
S. Fraser: Thank you very much, hon. Speaker, and congratulations on your reappointment. I’m looking forward to this fairly quick session, I think, this spring, but thanks for being there.
I’d also like to recognize that we in this debate are on the unceded territories of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.
I’d also like to recognize some special people in the job that I do, in my constituency office. As we all know, we rely so heavily on our constituency assistants. I have a new employee, Andrea McDonald. She is learning the job. She is young, energetic, a graduate from Vancouver Island University in political science, and she’s going to be a great addition to the team.
Besides that, Brenda McLean and Patty Edwards have been with me from the very beginning, for almost 12 years now. Brenda will be retiring at the end of this session, so I want to acknowledge her and all the work she’s done. I thank her for staying with me throughout this time.
Here in the Legislature, Anne Paxton. I’ve also been fortunate to have a legislative assistant who’s been with me from the beginning. She, too, will be retiring. I thank her so much for all the work that she’s done.
We are, in this speech, in response to the throne. Events, as we are here, have become scary in the world in many ways, globally. A quite terrifying terrorist attack in Quebec City. Rhetoric is ramping up throughout the world. I want to acknowledge that we in this House need to stand up against racism and hate — always stand up against racism and hate — and set an example as best we can. I would submit that staying silent in the face of injustice is injustice. I’m so pleased to hear members from all sides of the House raising these issues. It’s important that we do and continue to and not get complacent.
It’s always an honour to stand in this place. It’s been a long time since we’ve had the opportunity to stand in this august place. It’s been almost a year.
I’ll just divert from the throne speech for a moment. No government should cancel entire legislative sessions. We are given a job to do in this place. We are doing it here today in response to the throne, trying to hold the government to account.
S. Fraser: The Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation wants to take part in the debate. I would welcome that, but he does not have the floor.
We have a job to do.
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Deputy Speaker: Members.
S. Fraser: If the Premier wants to cancel sessions and not do the job and do fundraising instead, she should step aside and let somebody do the job that’s willing to.
Deputy Speaker: The member has the floor, please.
S. Fraser: The throne speech was underwhelming in the extreme. Very, very thin, thin gruel — something we’ve learned to expect. It stands out, I would suggest, by its omissions, certainly. It offers nothing but a continuation of some of the problems that we’ve seen with this government, a government that works for the people at the top. Let’s be clear.
This government takes donations, massive amounts of donations, from private interests, and we see that reflected in policy decisions. We see that reflected in their priorities. Those are not the priorities of the people I am here to represent, the people of Alberni–Pacific Rim, the people of the province of British Columbia.
My role is as spokesperson for the aboriginal and indigenous peoples of this province. I take great pride in having those roles. I will continue to speak out when I see a government that has abandoned British Columbians and comes back at them with spin and what I submit is somewhat misinforming in this throne speech. I know we have to be careful with words such as that, so I will be careful as I tread close.
This government has given a billion-dollar tax break over the last four years to the top 2 percent in this province. As we know from question period today, on a very difficult topic of children in care, people have died in care. Children have died in care. Lately Alex Gervais is the latest victim of a failed priority by this government. While there is money to give away to those that need it the least, those like Alex suffered the consequences — the ultimate consequences of that. I noticed that keeps people a little bit more quiet on the other side of the House.
Last week, the Representative for Children and Youth released a report called Broken Promises. Those words, broken promises, are not misnomers. They are broken promises.
S. Fraser: The heckling can continue if they want. I shall move on.
I have said that the throne speech stands out by its omissions — its omissions and misdirection, I would suggest. We see that the government has been neglecting the services that people care about the most, that people expect government to take care of. They’re leaving too little for children in our schools, for children in care, not enough staff in seniors care and long wait-lists in our health facilities and hospitals.
Too many people can’t find good family-supporting jobs. The throne speech talks about jobs. We have lost 30,000 good-paying, family-supporting forestry jobs in this province, a bunch of them in my constituency, by complete abandonment of this government when it comes to addressing resource issues like forestry in any kind of meaningful way.
After years of neglect — and we’re back here after nine months of being out of this place — the best we get from government is a vacant throne speech and heckling to try to cover that up.
I note in the throne speech…. We’ve had a couple of members on the government side already talk about finances, saying that we have the lowest tax rate, or some such thing, for middle-class families.
I travel the doorsteps also, as the Liberal member before me stated. The Liberals failed to include — this is part of the omissions that I was talking about — taxes, like a massive increase in MSP payments. These are flat taxes, so the very wealthy pay the same as those making $40,000, $50,000 a year, middle-class families that are trying to make ends meet.
ICBC rates, hydro rates — these are flat taxes. They’re designed to pay for the billion-dollar tax break for the top 2 percent. It’s about carving up the common wealth of this great province and giving it to those that give to the Liberal Party of British Columbia. That’s what this throne speech is really about.
I would go on to talk about misdirection and misinformation again in this throne speech. I don’t even know. You couldn’t write this stuff.
This government talks about the prosperity fund that it lauded in the last election as being…. “We’re going to have zillions, trillions, money everywhere. We’re going to do away with sales tax. We’re going to pay off the debt. We’re going to have a pony for every child.” They were absurd statements. There’s not one LNG plant running. We are not making LNG in this province. Yet in this throne speech, they’re talking about another $400 million going into the so-called prosperity fund for LNG. There’s no money coming into the prosperity fund from LNG.
It’s a shell game with these guys, and they have the gall to do so in a throne speech. It’s the height of misinformation to the people of British Columbia. People expect better than that from any government, no matter what their political stripes.
We have a government that’s — I think the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke so eloquently put it — bereft of ideas. There are exciting ideas out there, like kick-starting an economy that matters to most people, like getting rid of flat taxes like the MSP that hurt so many people, like bringing in affordable childcare, which is not just the
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right thing to do but helps get people into the workforce, women into the workforce. It kick-starts an economy. It’s a huge boost to any economy — having affordable childcare. The government could announce something like that in their throne speech, but they don’t.
What about raising the minimum wage? The statistics came out just recently, just a couple of months ago, that more than half of British Columbians are living paycheque to paycheque. This is not a prosperity scene that the government members and the Premier like to portray.
People are living close to crisis. One paycheque off and they are in trouble. The common wealth of this province is not providing benefit to the vast majority of British Columbians, and that’s the failure. And it’s not just individuals in this province that are failing because of this government and this throne speech; it’s the services that we all need so much, the services that Alex Gervais needed so much and cried out for and did not get because it was not a priority for this government.
I have reports that in the West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni, where I represent, oftentimes the tub room is being used as a waiting area for patients in need of care. A recent report on seniors care says that we fail in a tragic way. We’re not providing the minimum services that even the Ministry of Health’s own criteria say we need. The amount of care per person in seniors facilities, in residential care facilities, is failing those seniors, the people that built this health care system.
We don’t hear about that in the throne speech either. I portrayed this throne speech as being somewhat vacant, as being, I would suggest, disingenuous, by its omissions if nothing else.
I would note also that there was some mention of education in the throne speech. One thing that was omitted in that discussion of education was the true nature of what happened for the last 15 years — the now Premier 15 years ago was the Education Minister — 15 years, millions of dollars in court, really fighting the constitution of Canada, rights that are guaranteed there for workers. But the worst part of that….
Step back. Any government, any Premier, that tries to fight to take away the rights that are guaranteed either in the Charter or the constitution of Canada should not be sitting as a government in this country. Job 1 is protecting those rights that we have in the constitution.
In so doing, the collateral damage by this government and this Premier was a whole generation of students that did not receive the education they should have. They did not receive the services in the educational system that they deserved, that they warranted. We don’t hear about that in the throne speech.
Not only does the Premier deliberately provoke a strike in B.C., but she also oversaw the longest strike in the history of British Columbia. That’s just two years ago. How soon the government forgets these things, saying everything is just fine. I remember hearing the Premier speak: “Oh, finally, the court case is over, and now we can get on and actually help the students.” Well, this is the government that dragged this out for 15 years with the deep pockets of the taxpayer. Those millions of dollars in court…. Instead of trying to take away the services that children needed and spending it on lawyers, that could have gone right into a better education for the children in this province.
This government doesn’t mention that in their spin of the education system in the throne speech. It’s an omission, a specific and purposeful omission.
There is no mention of seniors in the throne speech. I don’t believe the word was used. What about all those seniors in residential care that are not getting the service, not just that they deserve but that they are mandated to get by government regulations? They’re not getting it. That’s not a priority for this government. A $1 billion tax break for the top 2 percent. Yeah, that’s a priority — not seniors, not children. Well, maybe rich people’s children, but not most British Columbian children.
I have been so honoured to serve as the spokesperson for the official opposition for Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. Certainly, we’ve heard from the minister over and over again since I started. Although he’s not up right now, we certainly hear his voice echoing in this room as I try to do my response to the throne.
There is scant reference to the key issues that are important to First Nations and aboriginal people in this province. You know, we have an exciting time in history, historically right now, as the government in British Columbia. We have brilliant initiatives like the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. I like those words. It’s not just recommendations; it’s calls to action.
Governments need to embrace these, move us forward past a dark colonial history into a bright and prosperous partnership with First Nations in this province. We’ve got the opportunity. We have the courts telling us to do the same — Delgamuukw, Tsilhqot’in. We have everything we need to move forward in partnership.
Not one mention of the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples in the throne speech. Not one mention of the Truth and Reconciliation’s calls to action. These must be adopted. These are the minimum standards of the world for human rights, and this government won’t even look at them. They don’t mention them. They never talk about them, in and out of the throne speech. They don’t want them to happen.
We have a treaty process in this province that was created by an NDP government. It was never designed to be etched in stone. It needs to develop and evolve, always, with changing case law, with court cases, with international standards being changed and raised, like the UN declaration, and certainly within this country, the Truth
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and Reconciliation’s calls to action. The treaty process needs to evolve, to adopt these things, to move forward. The government isn’t doing it.
As a matter of fact, the treaty process…. I learned of this just now. The Minister of Aboriginal Relations has made a decision. They made a decision relating to the Blueberry River First Nations. Blueberry River has been in the treaty process for 12 long years. They’ve spent a lot of money trying to move forward in the treaty process.
They had developed their land, the treaty land entitlement, their land selection for the treaty. Their land selection area is just north of Fort St. John. The Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation has encouraged this, in so doing. The Blueberry First Nation, in good faith, brought forward their land selection, and that’s a big step. A memorandum of understanding signed to address land selection in the treaty process is a big, big step in the, arguably, way too long treaty process.
Well, guess what just happened. The Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation has broken promises now that were made for years. They were established in a memorandum of understanding. They pulled key sections of land out of the land selection that they signed to and agreed to, that the Blueberry River First Nations had worked so hard to achieve so that they could get reconciliation through the B.C. treaty process. The government unilaterally just pulled their land selection, a land selection that they signed an agreement on, with no consultation.
The selection areas were chosen by Blueberry River’s members after an extensive community consultation that began back in 2005. They’ve reviewed it, and they’ve refined it over that time, and they’ve chosen. Those land parcels represent some of the few remaining parcels — these are heavily-impacted areas — of Crown land still available that would provide decent residential sites in proximity to the community, to medical services, to schools in Fort St. John.
This is outrageous. As the spokesperson for Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, I was copied on the letter that went out today to the Premier from the Blueberry River First Nation. I won’t read the whole letter. Let me just read the beginning and the end. How about that? This is directly to the Premier:
“I write to express my utter dismay” — utter dismay — “at the recent decision by your government to renege on our negotiated treaty land entitlement settlement. Last week, without any prior discussion with us, B.C. representative” — and I’ll leave his name out — “advised us that your government does not intend to proceed with our land settlement, which promised interim protection, as agreed upon in 2014.”
Remember, a memorandum of understanding was signed.
“This decision by your government is a complete betrayal of our community. Blueberry’s leadership and our elders considered our agreement upon the TLE lands to be essential to the future economic and cultural well-being of our people. It is an act of bad faith by your government that flies in the face of our many, many years of cooperation in resolving our historic land entitlement and refutes your claim that you seek reconciliation with First Nations.”
Needless to say, this is signed by the chief. This has been cc’d all over the place, and I happen to be a recipient of this today, which is quite timely.
If we go to our section on the throne speech, on Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, there is no mention of pulling the rug out from treaty nations that have been in the process for a dozen years in good faith. The good faith is gone.
Let’s talk about what is in the throne speech — which was very little about First Nations. There was nothing about the UN declaration, nothing about the Truth and Reconciliation’s calls to action. In my role as Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation spokesperson, it’s appalling to be standing in a place where the government doesn’t give this lip service — not even lip service. They pulled the rug out from a First Nation that, in good faith, is in the treaty process.
That has to change. They have to go back to the table, and they have to, in good faith, reinstate the lands that were committed to in a memorandum of understanding with the Blueberry River First Nation. They must do that if they are going to maintain the integrity and honour of the Crown.
I talk about the throne speech being a misdirection, an omission. The very few sections that actually mention aboriginal relations in the throne speech…. It says here…. Here’s the quote from the throne speech. I think I wrote it down right. “Your government has convened the first major healing event for families of missing and murdered indigenous women and introduced a new safety plan for Highway 16.” That’s something that has been called for, for a decade, even by their own committee and expert people they’ve put on — the Wally Oppal report and others. These go back many, many years.
On the eve of an election, we’re hearing that they’re doing something about this. Well, it took that many years of revelations — and the revelation that ministry staff in this government were purposely deleting emails about missing and murdered indigenous women. We get movement from this government on something as essential as providing safe transportation on the Highway of Tears, Highway 16, where so many aboriginal women and girls have gone missing.
We get movement when it is exposed in a massive scandal that it is political policy in the ministry to illegally delete information that was critical to the discussion around safety on Highway 16. Then we saw a commitment made. That’s not something to brag about in a throne speech; that’s something to be ashamed about in the throne speech — a bus, finally, on Highway 16.
There were no new commitments made in dealing with my portfolio of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, nothing in this throne speech — empty.
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I’ve already touched on the tragedies that we’re seeing happen over and over and over again with children and families in this province. I’ve been doing this job for nearly 12 years, and it just gets worse and worse and worse. I mean, initially, this government made the biggest cut ever in the history of the Ministry of Children and Families, to that ministry, which led, at that point in time, to the death of children in care in my constituency.
That should be a wake-up call for any government that they can’t underfund something so vital and important. If children aren’t important…. If their future isn’t important to a government, they don’t deserve to be government for that either.
I’ve lost track of the number of reports. They’re all scathing. They all have titles like this latest one, with the tragic death of Alex Gervais, Broken Promises. They’re all pointing right at those responsible — the government, the Premier, the minister. There are a half-dozen reports like this over just the last few years, and every time it’s like: “Oh, it was tragic.” Well, we know that already. It was tragic the time before and the time before that and the time before that when children that needed help did not get it. We’re hearing it again today in this place in response to question period — the same answers we’ve heard after every report that we’ve got with children dying in care under the responsibility of this government. They cannot keep ducking that responsibility.
I see that the light has come on. I’ll close up my remarks in a way, I hope, that will sum things up. I do not support this throne speech. It is a vacuous document. It was, for the most part, a waste of our time here. It is filled with rhetoric, misinformation, misdirection and omission.
The people of British Columbia, of this great province, deserve so much better from their government. We have something we can all do about that. We can make sure that the people of this great province become the government priority, not just the top 2 percent, not just those that pay to play, so to speak. We need a government that will stand up for the people of British Columbia. That’s what we’re doing on this side of the House, and I’m proud to be doing so today.
Hon. A. Wilkinson: It’s a pleasure to be back here with so many colleagues in this hallowed chamber where we can do the work of British Columbia in the most democratic form available in our society.
I have the pleasure, of course, of speaking in support of the throne speech and, more particularly, about our role in post-secondary education in this province, which is a story of overwhelming success. We have a long history of post-secondary education in this province, getting back to 1915 when UBC was founded. Then, of course, we fast-forward into the 60s. There was, actually, very little change over the intervening 50 years. Then, in the mid-60s, there was a flourish of activity with the founding of BCIT, Simon Fraser, University of Victoria.
A variety of other institutions came into being, and our college system came to life. Our college system has, since that time, been, again, a resounding success. We have colleges throughout the province that provide not only university transfer courses but highly specific training in the trades and in a whole range of programs ranging from veterinary technician to respiratory therapist and many others.
This is a system that has developed that now serves 430,000 students around British Columbia. There are 25 public post-secondary institutions which are heavily funded by the government of British Columbia — that is, through the taxpayers of British Columbia.
In addition to that, we have almost 300 private educational institutions, which are regulated by the province, that deliver to tens of thousands of more students, many of whom are international students. I’ll come back to that later.
In the current budget year…. Of course, we’ll see new numbers next Tuesday with the new budget coming in. As an aside, I’m very optimistic that that new budget will show a significant increase in funding for advanced education because of its central role in the prosperity of our society.
But in the current budget year, we have a budget of almost $2 billion. And $1.8 billion of that is sent as operating grants to the institutions around the province that we support so that they can provide education for our students at the fourth-lowest tuition level in the country by providing, obviously, the physical plant, the salaries for the instructors and professors and all the necessary things to open the classroom so that the students can come in at a very reasonable tuition rate and prosper through the knowledge they gain at the institution.
We’ve also been very fortunate, due to the fiscal prudence of this government, in that we have substantial capital investments in higher education in British Columbia. In the next three years, we’re looking at close to $1 billion in capital investment in British Columbia, starting with the entirely new campus of Emily Carr University of Art And Design in Vancouver. That comes in at around $125 million.
That will be an entirely new campus for that institution, which has now moved up from being an art college on Granville Island to becoming a full-scale university of design and art with a very, very strong employment profile for the graduates. That facility is now moving to Great Northern Way in Vancouver and will be, as I say, a state-of-the-art campus that is designed to be right next to a planned and prospective rapid transit line station so that students will have the best of all worlds in being served in a brand-new facility, in an institution that is now ranked No. 6 in the world in its field, which is a truly remarkable metamorphosis from where it started not so long ago.
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We’re also investing in our larger universities. UBC is getting an entirely new undergraduate teaching laboratory in the range of $80 million. This is done jointly as a federal-provincial program. I’m pleased to say that the federal strategic infrastructure fund, which was announced last March, was one in which British Columbia was enormously successful. We had the projects ready to go. They were completely mature. They were funded on the provincial side, and the federal government chose British Columbia above all others as the first destination for strategic infrastructure fund contributions to our capital projects.
Construction is underway for a new energy systems engineering building at SFU Surrey, again in the range of $125 million. Again this was done jointly with the government of Canada. Prime Minister Trudeau came out for the announcement. It was a tribute to the fiscal prudence of this government in being able to afford to do these projects when the opportunity arises. We are not only ready to go; we have the money in the bank. The money has not been borrowed. It is already there.
We have a new health sciences centre in each of Victoria and Nanaimo. These are in the range of $40 million each, and these will provide all the nursing and allied health sciences education for the southern part of Vancouver Island. This is obviously a very important function here on Vancouver Island because we have an older population on the Island than we do in the remainder of the province and, indeed, the remainder of Canada. Having the health sciences graduates, the nursing graduates, coming out of the facilities locally will be an enormous assistance to the local health care facilities.
We have new and expanded trades training facilities in each of Nelson, Dawson Creek, Terrace and Nanaimo because we believe in investing in these kinds of training facilities where people live, where the training is needed. These are obviously mostly in northern British Columbia. That’s where we see a significant turnover in the cohort of the population, the people who are working in these fields, because they’re getting close to retirement age and they need to be replaced.
A total of about 700,000 retirements will occur in British Columbia in the next ten years, so we have to train all the people to replace those skilled tradespeople and workers of all sorts.
We’re also looking at a brand-new and very much expanded facility at UBC Okanagan. Those of you who have been there will have noticed that the buildings for functional teaching are fine, but there was a paucity of space for students to gather and do what they do, which is gab, do their homework, look at their computers, go to the library. That space was lacking. So we’ve announced more than $30 million for a new teaching and learning centre in Kelowna.
In Kamloops, there was recently announced a new industrial trades and technology centre along the same lines. Thompson Rivers University was the former Cariboo College. The trades programs there are enormously successful. We are going to expand upon that with the support of all of the people of Kamloops, including the Minister of Health, because of the importance of these training facilities.
That’s not the end of it. We are looking forward to further announcements in the foreseeable future for new and expanded training facilities at a number of our institutions around the province because of the opportunity that we have to invest in the future of our young people by providing them with state-of-the-art training facilities.
Since 2001, we’ve put more than $3.3 billion into these capital facilities all over the province. That is why our students now show the highest satisfaction rates of any undergraduate student population in Canada. It’s a 93 percent satisfaction rate for those who’ve completed undergraduate programs — either two-year or four-year programs — because they are getting trained in the state-of-the-art, modern facilities and are getting it at an extremely good price point. So the value is most certainly there.
All of this contributes, of course, to B.C.’s skills-for-jobs blueprint, the envy of western Canada in terms of providing the kind of skills training needed to provide a happy and prosperous population looking into a bright future, whether it’s in Surrey-Newton or anywhere else.
Of course, about 25 percent of our post-secondary institutional operating grants are now profiled toward these targeted programs to align with in-demand education and training, including programming that supports demand in the technology sector.
Again to foreshadow events to come, we’re looking at significantly expanded training in the technology-related fields in British Columbia. The demand is there because the economy is thriving. Whether it’s in Vancouver–Mount Pleasant or Surrey-Newton or anywhere else, there is demand for these skilled workers because of the of the level of prosperity that we find in our economy. Satisfied students leading satisfying lives, working in state-of-the-art technology in the jobs of their choice.
We’ve also wound student financial assistance into the in-demand occupations. The B.C. access grant for labour market priorities was announced in September 2014, and more than 2,300 students have received over $10 million in specific financial assistance to go into those fields where there are labour market demands.
The B.C. completion grant for graduates was launched in April 2015. Since then, over 150 students have received approximately $76,000 — a similar, more boutique program that was designed to satisfy special needs in the labour force.
We’ve also provided, in the trades, a zone that we call critical trade seats. These are conducted at 15 institutions. We’ve put $15 million into almost 4,000 additional critical trade seats because that’s where the demand is.
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We need to satisfy that demand on a timely basis so that those students can get on with their lives, get into the workforce and lead the fulfilling lives that they all seek.
Now, in addition to the buildings, we’re also very keen on populating those buildings with the appropriate equipment. Students need to have the right equipment to learn the state-of-the-art of their skill. We’ve invested more than $185 million in equipment for skills and trades training, including — I’ll go through a very interesting list — $33 million at the Okanagan College trades renewal project in Kelowna. This government provided $28 million of those funds, and the rest was found by the institution locally.
This officially opened in September 2016. It is a glorious facility, truly state of the art. It celebrates the trades as a core part of our community and demonstrates to the students the value we put upon the training they’re receiving.
A further example: $32 million for the Centre for Trades Education and Innovation at Camosun College, which officially opened February 2016. This government is proud to support that facility at Camosun.
[R. Lee in the chair.]
It provides specialty training in things like marine pilotage, which is, obviously, a highly specific field. They are training on state-of-the-art equipment, including the necessary radar consoles, to learn how to pilot a ship and how to guide ships through difficult space. This is obviously of interest to British Columbia’s trade profile, because the Strait of Juan de Fuca is a rather busy trade zone, and it’s also subject to weather and currents, so we want to train pilots locally for that skilled work.
We have a $33 million trades training facility at Northern Lights College in Dawson Creek, which is expected to complete in early 2018. This is again providing training for people from the local communities in the Peace River so that they can be successful in their community, prosper, find work as employees, probably set up their own small business eventually and then move into that space that has been so successful in the Peace River country, which consists of servicing the oil and gas industry with local small businesses with extraordinarily high levels of expertise.
We’ve also put together a $20 million marine, auto and trades complex expansion at Vancouver Island University. That’s, again, expected to be completed in early 2018, and it will be providing the kind of state-of-the-art training to bring those trainees, whether they’re younger or in their middle years, into the workforce at a higher wage point with the necessary skills to lead a fulfilling life.
There’s also a new $19 million Silver King campus at Selkirk College in Nelson, which I had the privilege of going to the groundbreaking ceremony for. This is to be completed in 2017 and will replace a rather tired facility that has been there for many years and will, again, provide those students in the West Kootenays with state-of-the-art training.
Lastly, there’s a $10 million trades-training facility opening at College of the Rockies, to be completed in early 2018. This provides the people of the East Kootenays with state-of-the-art training. They don’t need to feel that they have to go to the West Kootenays or the Okanagan or, for that matter, Calgary or Lethbridge, which has been the traditional training pattern in that part of the world. They can get that training right in Cranbrook for any work that they could do in the East Kootenays.
Now, in addition to all of this, we are very proud and pleased to be supporting an aboriginal community-based education and training partnership. This is a $35 million program since 2012 that has seen almost 3,000 indigenous students go through more than 70 communities through 110 different projects. This is a great way to make sure we’re recruiting our indigenous population into post-secondary education so that they can get the skills they need to be successful in our communities. This is of enormous interest to First Nations communities because they want to make sure that they are fully inserted and involved in the modern economy, rather than the historical pattern, which was a separate existence which led to the unfortunate events of the of the past that we are now in the process of rectifying.
We are in the process, also, of making sure that our education is affordable. That means that we have, as I said earlier, the fourth-lowest tuition rates in Canada. The average is $5,500 per year for an undergraduate program at a university, about half that at a community college.
Of course, if we take the good example of Langara College in Vancouver, they provide two years of university transfer at about $2,700 per year, which is an enormous bargain. Most of their students live at home. They’re right next to the Canada Line so that rapid transit is fully available to those students as part of their U-Pass system. They then can transfer on to any university of their choice, particularly in British Columbia, and those Langara University transfer graduates actually have a higher graduation rate from UBC than students that enter UBC for first year directly. This is a tribute to the quality of work that is done at Langara, and it’s something that we’re very pleased and proud to support.
Our tuition has remained below the national average for the past ten years, and in 2015-16, our student financial assistance program provided 57,000 awards to full-time students as part of our integrated loan program. This is in addition to about 6,100 awards provided to part-time students, supporting a total of about 45,000 students.
So we are intent, keen, convinced…. I see the member for Burnaby–Deer Lake is just delighted to support the concept that we provide affordable education to all students, whether they can afford it out of their own pockets
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or not, because we have such a superb system of grants, loans and other supports for students. I’m delighted to receive your support, as the former critic for Advanced Education.
In addition to all of this, we’ve provided $55 million in targeted grants, and about $30 million of that was provided through the B.C. completion grant benefiting 22,000 students. This is where students incur student debt, but at the end of their training, they say, “I’m finished the program. I’ve completed my credential,” whether it’s a degree or diploma or otherwise, and they are then eligible to have their student loan reduced by the completion grant. A very successful program.
In the past fiscal year, we provided nearly $200 million in student loans, and these are done, of course, at zero percent interest until the student has completed their program. These are part of a total of $259 million of provincially funded student financial assistance programs, because we believe in making higher education accessible and affordable to every British Columbian. This has, of course, been our priority throughout our time in government since 2001.
Qualified students in B.C. applied for and received $672 million in federal and provincial student financial assistance in the past fiscal year, including that $259 million I mentioned in provincially funded programs.
This is a joint federal-provincial program, which has been very successful. There have been some efforts to tweak it elsewhere in the country, but the essence of it is that it works in British Columbia. About one-third of our student body seek this zero percent interest loan support from the province of British Columbia, combined with the federal government, and this provides for affordable education for everyone.
The emphasis that I put earlier on indigenous education is starting to bear fruit. We had 3,340 credentials awarded to aboriginal learners in 2014-15. That’s a 27 percent increase over 2009-10. Our goal is to continue to build on that success by increasing the number of credentials awarded to aboriginal students by 75 percent by 2021. These are ambitious goals, but we’re getting there, and we’re getting there quickly. People in British Columbia, whether they’re indigenous or non-indigenous, realize the value of this affordable, high-quality higher education that leads to the kind of prosperity we all seek.
Further steps in terms of aboriginal community-based training partnerships have been taken, with $35 million invested since 2012 and $4.3 million in one-time funding provided for an aboriginal emergency financial assistance fund. I want to emphasize this to this House, because in indigenous communities, if there’s a death in the family, for instance, there’s more or less an obligatory requirement to return to the homelands, to return to the place where the individual grew up with their family, on an urgent basis. Our universities and colleges have completely accepted this and adapted to it by providing for leave periods for students to go back to their home community, and we also provide travel grants for them to make sure that they can not only get home but get back to the campus when the time comes to continue their studies after this necessary hiatus.
We’ve also provided $15 million for 31 aboriginal gathering places on all 25 public post-secondary campuses, because that provides an opportunity for those indigenous students to feel that they have a place where they belong right on campus. These, again, have been very successful. It’s interesting to note that the community of indigenous students that gather there tend to be widely diverse in their origins. They are not necessarily from the local indigenous communities. They’re indigenous students from anywhere, including the prairie provinces, who have taken the time to study at that particular institution. They feel like they have a place where their heritage is understood and respected and where they’ll receive a friendly welcome.
We’ve also put together aboriginal service plans at about a dozen of our post-secondary institutions and have dedicated $4 million to that, as that is part of the ongoing effort to make sure that we are fully engaging our aboriginal students and making sure they are as successful as they can be in their academic careers.
Another factor that comes to light in terms of student costs is the unfortunate tendency of academic publishers to continue to raise the prices of textbooks. Most of the people in this room went to university or college some time ago, when books were significantly cheaper. I remember being somewhat appalled when I got into medical school and found out that the anatomy textbook cost $44, which was thought to be an absurd amount of money compared to other textbooks. It’s now not uncommon for mass-market textbooks to cost anywhere from $150 to $300. They may be minimally used in the course, but the editions change every couple of years, which may be no more than re-sorting chapters or changing page numbering. But the faculty members feel obliged to advise the students to use the up-to-date textbook.
When one thinks through it, anatomy, calculus and most physiology have not changed much in the last 30 years, and so those textbooks actually don’t go out of date. They’re perfectly good for generations, but the publishers run this somewhat exploitative game of making sure that students are obliged to buy the new textbook.
We have shattered that model by providing $2½ million over the last four years to BCcampus, which has put together 170 open textbooks, which are free, on-line textbooks. They’re not only in the mass courses like accounting and calculus; they’re also in some specialized fields in the trades. This has been an enormously successful program.
We’ve had more than 30,000 students save close to $4 million by using these textbooks, and utilization is grow-
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ing on a daily basis. I was at a UBC social psychology course last week — about 120 students in the class. They represent about 800 students who take this third-year course in social psychology, and the textbook that used to be $170 is now free.
The students love it. The profs have gotten used to it very quickly, and they quite like it, because they can tailor content. They can insert material. They can delete material. They can guide students through it much more effectively.
They can also provide links directly to the open textbooks so that the students who sometimes don’t show up for class can easily find out what material they’re supposed to have read and be ready for the next class.
These textbooks, as I said, are not only in fields such as math, chemistry and business, but they’re now well into the issues of skills training, trades training and adult upgrading where, of course, the cost of textbooks can be an obstacle so we do our level best to make sure that they’re available for free.
We have 23 of our 25 public post-secondary institutions participating in the open textbook initiative so far. We expect that to grow to the full 25, and we expect that the number of students and the money that they save will probably double every year for the next foreseeable number of years.
We’ve also become, successfully, a destination for international education. Australia is often held up as the model for international education as an economic driver. Australia has a population of about 25 million, with about 500,000 international students. That’s about 2 percent of the Australian population at any one moment consisting of international students. In British Columbia, we’re actually at about 2.8 percent. We’re significantly ahead of Australia in the 130,000 international students we have studying in our public and private post-secondary institutions, our language schools and the K-to-12 system here in British Columbia. This has increased by 44 percent since 2010 and is proving to be enormously successful.
Because they pay significantly higher tuition than domestic students — in places, up to four times the tuition paid by domestic students — those students actually support the cost of our post-secondary system. They keep tuition down for domestic students, enliven the classroom, bring a whole new perspective to the classroom and make our institutions much more interesting, diverse and exotic than they used to be.
Now, from 2010 to 2015, the number of international students in our public post-secondaries grew by 58 percent so that it’s now up to about 45,000. Interestingly, with recent developments in the U.S.A., we have seen a 100 percent increase in completed applications from American students and Mexican students to our public post-secondaries. The actual acceptance rate is very high amongst those students, and the actual payment of deposits for their attendance later this year is also very high.
This not a flash in the pan. This is expected to be a continuing trend because British Columbia has become a destination for high-quality education for international students, supporting the affordability of the system for our domestic students and contributing to the reputation and quality of our institutions.
Now, in terms of credentials awarded, our British Columbia post-secondary institutions awarded about 62,500 credentials in 2014-15. That’s a growth rate of about 10 percent over five years earlier. So we are on a significantly successful path here in our post-secondary system, and I do hope that all of the members of the House will acknowledge that and support us as we move into the next budget cycle with a further prospect of great success in post-secondary education.
It is the pathway to prosperity for just about everybody in this province. It is the great social equalizer that makes it possible for anybody to get into the system, get credentials, move ahead in the world with higher-quality credentials and lead a successful life. That of course is why we all come here to the Legislature: to help British Columbians, to ensure that British Columbians are leading a prosperous life and can lead a satisfying life in a prosperous, forward-looking economy that is not afraid of the world, that is not building walls, that is actually fully engaged in the trade-based prosperity that we enjoy.
C. Trevena: It’s always a privilege to stand here in this Legislature to speak on behalf of the people of North Island. It is a vast and very varied constituency to represent.
As I’ve described to this House before, we’ve got an urban core in Campbell River and a lot of small communities, a lot of very rural communities, a very diverse population still largely supported by the resource industry sector, but we also have ecotourism, tourism and so on that’s changing the fabric of the constituency.
Really, every time I stand up in this House, I’m very conscious of the fact that I’m standing up talking on behalf of those people who live and work and have made their homes — for many generations, some of them — in these communities.
I would like quickly to acknowledge a very big debt that I owe to my staff. This is our opportunity, at the response to the throne speech, to talk a bit more broadly, and I would like to thank my staff, who work diligently on behalf of those people in North Island, solving their problems, making sure that their hydro is not cut off, that their benefits are not cut off, that they get what they are entitled to, however small that might be. They are fighting on people’s behalf day in, day out.
That is Lynne Stone, who has been my constituency assistant since I was first elected almost 12 years ago. She has put up with me and works, as I say, extraordinarily
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hard on people’s behalf. I have Mary Carstairs, also in Campbell River, who works part-time with me. She is the first face people see when they come into my office. And up in Port Hardy, Fred Robertson, who manfully keeps that office open. Even though he’s out there on his own, he keeps it open on a part-time basis so people have access in the north end of the constituency. I’d like to thank them for their very hard work.
Here in Victoria I work with Teresa Scambler. She’s my legislative assistant. We’ve been working together for a number of years now, and I find that we are extraordinarily compatible. She works very hard also to make sure that things happen here.
I’m pleased to be speaking to this throne speech for a number of reasons. As my colleague from Alberni–Pacific Rim mentioned, it’s good to be back here. We left this place in May and came back at the whim of the Premier in the middle of the summer to deal with an important issue in the province. That was the issue of the property bubble in the Lower Mainland. “Let’s quickly try and deal with that and get out while nobody’s noticing and then coast until February when we have to be back for the budget.” It’s part of the government’s responsibility to bring in a budget in February, so bring us back for that and also have the throne speech.
We have these — we believe — five weeks here in the Legislature before we all are on the doorstep trying to talk to people about the things that we’ve been talking about for many years, trying to convince people over a short span that what our vision of the province and what the province’s future should be is the vision that we hope that they will embrace.
One of the reasons that I’m very pleased to be speaking to this throne speech is that — I don’t think that I’m alone in this — I couldn’t find the vision here. If I was somebody advising the government, on whatever form… It feels like a hugely missed opportunity for them. They had the chance to stand up and say: “This is what we’re going to do,” and push ahead with it and use that as the launch pad for their platform. Instead, it’s just: “Wait. We will let you know in a week’s time with the budget.”
Obviously, there’s going to be some sort of…. They will give people some sort of money — possibly a tax break or what have you — to convince them that it’s worth re-electing this government. But it brings to mind for me all the clichés of a government that is literally out of ideas, that is out of gas, that is totally bereft of ideas — that it can present something like this that has nothing in it.
In some ways, maybe we’re lucky that that is the case, because in past throne speeches we have had very grandiose promises. I mean, the throne speech before the last election back in 2013…. This was the LNG one. This was the one that was going to remake the province through liquefied natural gas. At that time the Premier promised 100,000 jobs, an LNG plant up and running by 2015 — two years ago — five by 2020, three years hence. We still, as I believe from many of the big players, don’t actually have a final investment decision, even though we have various ceremonies throughout the year to make it look as though we’ve got something happening.
This was also the one with the $100 billion prosperity fund and a debt-free B.C. This was spoken to. The Lieutenant-Governor addressed the House on behalf of the government, giving these grandiose, grandiose promises. It became the strong platform for the government going into that election. There it was: “Debt-free B.C.” plastered on the bus. It was pushed and pushed and pushed, and on those statements, on that spin, the government won the election.
We now have a different way of addressing it. These things did diminish as the years have gone by — so much so that by 2014, LNG was still a chance. It was not a windfall, but it was a chance. In 2015, it was a generational opportunity. In 2016, there was an admission that some of these timelines would not be met, including one that was supposed to be 2015, having the LNG plant.
This year in the throne speech, it actually said: “Unforeseen headwinds have created challenging conditions.” I’ve got to say it sounds like a weather forecast coming in when we’re going to get a bad storm. But the “unforeseen headwinds” with “challenging conditions.” I guess that means we’re not going to see it emblazoned on the bus that we’re going to have this amazing debt-free province, thanks to an industry that has decided not to materialize just yet, on the Premier’s time frame.
Likewise, our prosperity fund. I know that the government does try to convince us that we have a prosperity fund and that there is $500 million in this prosperity fund. But that prosperity fund was supposed to come — a bit like Norway — from the revenues from the oil and gas sector, from the LNG sector. This $500 million is coming from other areas. It’s coming from areas like, possibly, MSP, which we’re still paying. It’s coming from maybe our inflated hydro bills that people are having to pay. There are a lot of ways that this prosperity fund is being filled, but it certainly isn’t from LNG.
So it’s interesting to see that the government has decided not even to try to pretend this time and do a low-key, a very low-key throne speech, particularly since we are in an era now of what’s being described as post-truth or alternative facts. What we’ve had for the last few years fits very nicely in the contemporary verbiage that we hear from many, many politicians.
I mean, we’re all looking south of the border and seeing what the President is going to say next and what his people are going to say next. So what we’ve heard in the past fits into that. At the moment, we are hearing: “Well, you know, let’s just hold the course.” It doesn’t create a lot of hope.
One of the things about the throne speech and one of the things about a government is that you create the
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grounds for a good economy, you create the grounds for a good standard of living for the people for whom you are working, and you create the grounds for a good environmental protection. There are certain things that a government should be doing.
It feels like — reading this throne speech and hearing the throne speech yesterday, all 35 minutes of it, reading through it again today — the government has really given up on the basic responsibilities of government.
There are so many things that need to be done in this province, absolutely. I followed the remarks from the Minister of Advanced Education. Advanced education is vitally important for the health of our province. There’s no question. It’s vitally important for the health of our country that people are educated.
Likewise, public education. We’ve had the list of investments for advanced education. In fact, we had an announcement in my own constituency, at North Island College, a couple of weeks ago. It was something that was a reannouncement that the trades training was moving to a new campus. Some was a bit of a new announcement, but the whole announcement was on the capital. There was no announcement of money going into the actual programs, into the educating. We had the buildings but no money going into the education.
Unless you are willing to literally put your money where it’s intended to go to create those programs, you can have all of the buildings you want, and you are not going to advance the quality of education for anyone.
Likewise when we talk about the kindergarten to grade 12. Again, in the throne speech, it’s very interesting to see what the Premier said. She was talking about the fact…. Rather, the Lieutenant-Governor, on the Premier’s behalf, was talking about the level of funding for education, that there’s an increase in students. She doesn’t actually recognize — it is not recognized, and you’re not going to come out in a speech with this — that the per-pupil funding is $1,000 lower than the national average.
There is also the mention of the fact there is now a negotiated settlement with the teachers union. This was after a strike was deliberately provoked.
Finally, there is, I’d say, the Tarskian revelation that she suddenly has seen the light and is going to invest in public education, that this government is going to invest in public education. The Supreme Court has told them that they have to, because they have starved it and they broke the law by doing so, and that it is now absolutely necessary to put that money back into the public education system.
It is vital. I talk about public education because it is vital for the health of our province. Without an educated society, we don’t have a civil society. The best way of getting an educated society is through public education so that every child, no matter where they are from, gets the same opportunity as every other child.
This is the absolute wonder of public education. We’ve got fantastic teachers in our public education system, we’ve got students who can be engaged, but the resources that have gone into this for so long have been starved. That we are spending $1,000 less per pupil than anywhere else in the country is quite a terrifying concept.
We suddenly are going to get all this new money. I was talking at one school. That means, at one elementary school in my constituency, that it is…. I think it’s 0.1 of a teacher. It means that they can extend a change in the split classroom, because they’ve only got two classes, and they can break it up to three classes. Instead of just three times a week or four times a week, they can get an extra day.
That’s what this is going to mean. It’s going to mean a very, very small change in the classroom, until the government actually realizes the importance of public education, invests what it should be doing and puts money seriously back into the classroom so that all our kids get that chance to have the equity of education, so that we can build a society in B.C. that is much, much fairer.
In the meantime, what we see are the parent advisory committees coming forward and doing a lot of the funding that would usually come from the school districts, via the government. They are providing the money. We see the parent advisory committees providing the whiteboards, providing the iPads, having to fundraise for these, having to fundraise for playgrounds.
I mean, $50,000 to build a playground, and you’ve got a group of parents at the school competing with all the other parent advisory committees in the different schools in the area as well as all the other fundraising that is going on, because everything has devolved down to the local community level, where you’re going to fundraise. This is for something that is so elemental as a playground.
It’s quite extraordinary that this can be accepted as a norm, that we’re going to have parents trying to raise $50,000 without stress. Those parent advisory committees are stressed. They are going to be trying to raise this so that their kids and other kids can get what should be a norm. While the government cynically talks about how wonderful their approach to public education is, it’s absurdly neglected.
Another area that I think also there’s a cynical approach to, because it’s not even mentioned in this throne speech, is the issue of seniors. Seniors are, as we know, our elders. We have lots of concerns about the way that our seniors are treated in this province and how seniors are supported.
In my constituency, one of the big issues has been the access to bathing for seniors. In Port McNeill, we have about 40 seniors with mobility issues who don’t have access to bathing. They don’t have the access to the transportation for bathing. When I did get in touch with the Minister of Health about this, I was told in a letter that they could go to Port Hardy, which is about 50 kilometres away. It’s a different town.
I mean, this is assuming that they can find the transportation to get there to go to another seniors home to have their baths or showers, because they can’t have it in their own community.
My question to this is: where is that in the whole concept of dignity and care? This is something that we could be investing in if we had that desire to make a better society.
These are things that should be in a throne speech: the fact that our seniors are important to us and that we’re going to make the system work. It is a system — it is a bureaucracy — but we’re going to make it work for them, not what is convenient for the system. It’s going to work for our seniors, the people who have created our communities. At the moment, that isn’t there. There is no reference to that. There’s no reference to that in the throne speech or in what is clearly a lack of vision.
I mean, the government clearly doesn’t…. I hate to say it. It doesn’t care. It doesn’t think they’re important. What is this?
We have, obviously, competing visions. We have different ideologies. We have different perspectives on the way that a province should be governed and what we should hope to achieve. There are some that do overlap. There’s no question. There are some ideas that, you know, are similar.
But there are ways to have a vision. I mean, on this side of the House, we could offer it to them. We’ve talked about getting rid of MSP to ensure that we have a more equal approach to health care. We’ve talked about — it’s been talked about — the pay for access, to get rid of union donations. We’ve talked about increasing the minimum wage. We’ve talked about bringing in $10-a-day child care to allow people to have access to child care. These are all things that are visionary and are worthy of bringing forward and saying to a province and saying to the people of the province: “This is what we think we need.”
Here in the throne speech, we have almost…. It’s dismissive. It really is dismissive.
The other thing that is completely neglected in this throne speech — again, that we have advocated for, for many years on this side of the House — is a poverty reduction plan. I refer to my own constituency in this. My constituency is very mixed, and there are pockets of poverty, some very large pockets. The Mount Waddington area, up in the north part of the Island, has some severe poverty in certain parts of it. In fact, it is ranked second in B.C. on social determinants of health. The Downtown Eastside is No. 1, and parts of Port Hardy are No. 2.
There is a lot of entrenched poverty there and a huge amount of need. We have the extraordinary work by local organizations that happens there, with thousands of meals served by the Salvation Army — 19,000 meals served last year alone. These are not just to people who are living on the street, not just to people that you would assume would need the services of something like the Salvation Army. We’re talking about families coming there to have a meal because they know they’re going to get a hot meal.
I mean, it’s a huge issue. Until we have a coordinated approach to deal with poverty and we’re not just looking at the minimum wage and raising the rates and so on but looking at housing, looking at addictions — looking at it, as the phrase of today is, holistically — we will never really solve the problem.
That’s what we need to do. We need to have it with targets. We need to have it with timelines. We’ve been calling for this year after year after year. It would be wonderful if the government had picked up on that and had that as their vision in this throne speech, but clearly, it decided not to. It’s extraordinary. It’s sad that they have just decided to say: “Okay, this is it. Stay your own way.”
It’s not just the people who are extraordinarily poor. There are a lot of people who are extraordinarily poor. I think the government members maybe see them in their own constituency offices. I don’t know. But we have a lot of people who come in who are desperately struggling because benefits are so low, whether they’re on disability pension or on income assistance.
They are hugely struggling, but it’s other people as well. It’s people who are not on benefits who still can’t afford to make ends meet, people who have seen their Hydro rates skyrocket, people who have seen ICBC rates go up and who are still trying to pay their MSP. They’re not that poor that they get their MSP relief.
Also, in my constituency, ferry fares have gone up in some of the routes more than 110 percent. Nobody’s wages have gone up 110 percent. Even if you’re holding two jobs, they’ve not gone up 110 percent. Yet this government refuses to take action on something as basic as looking at ferry fares, working with Hydro to keep rates down. Instead, they’re plundering Hydro to meet other commitments. If we have a tax cut, I wonder how much of that is going to come from Hydro, from ICBC, from MSP in next week’s budget. It’s quite frightening.
In the North Island, we also have the added problem…. I mean, we hear that the E-Plus program, which was brought in a number of years ago to balance things out for those communities that didn’t have access to gas as an alternative to hydro, is going to be…. The B.C. Utilities Commission has decided to get rid of that. That is going to be very problematic for many of my constituents. Many of them have spent a lot of money in the past to fit their houses to have that, and now they find that they’re not going to be able to have that way of dealing with their bills. So that is a problem.
Likewise, the two-tiered Hydro rates. Many of my constituents have no option but using B.C. Hydro. They don’t have access to gas. They’re living in older houses, so they’re not well insulated. Effectively, you walk in the door, you turn on a light, and you’re hitting the second
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tier of electricity. These are people who are already, as I say, being hit by the cost of ferry fares, the cost of MSP and everything else and are quite terrified about receiving their hydro bill.
The constituency office has, very sadly, got some of the largest figures for…. We go to B.C. Hydro for disconnections because people just can’t afford it. We’re facing this two-tier rate, and people suddenly are faced with huge, huge problems.
I’d like to switch briefly to a couple of other areas. Some are mentioned in this throne speech; some aren’t. There is a reference to the Great Bear Rainforest in the throne speech. I find it very interesting. It is placed right next to…. It’s in the “Environment” section. It is a forestry plan. There is logging happening in the Great Bear Rainforest. But in the throne speech, it is referred to, about…. It’s here. It’s now enacted. The next sentence is there is a new vision for B.C. Parks, which does sort of put the link there that the Great Bear Rainforest is a park.
I think that it is important to underline the fact that it isn’t a park. There is, in certain areas on the south end of the Great Bear Rainforest, which is the northern half of Quadra Island and north of that, Sonora Island…. Actually, logging is accelerating there, even though it is the Great Bear Rainforest. There will continue to be logging. There will continue to be activities throughout the area.
While, obviously, the environmental groups, the government and others are very pleased that this is happening, and the forestry companies are pleased this is happening, many First Nations are not happy with the Great Bear Rainforest. It went ahead without their consultation, without their involvement in their traditional territories. I think it’s important to acknowledge that while we do have the imprimatur of the First Nations leadership on this, there are many First Nations who are extraordinarily concerned about this moving forward.
Forestry is still a key area in my constituency. It’s the changing face of it. When I was first elected, we had three mills and two mines in my constituency. Now we have no working mills and no working mines. So when the government talks about how effective their jobs plan is…. I find it very interesting how they talk about this and how they talk about mining and how they talk about forestry. They even say: “Your government has a plan.” The plan seems to have excluded the north Island for the last 12 years.
As I say, we have no mills. The Port Alice mill was the last one that was working. While it still is owned and while there still is a decreasing workforce there, it hasn’t been open for almost two years now. The others were dismantled completely. In fact, the sad irony is that on the site of the former Catalyst, we do have a big LNG board — that there is supposed to be, maybe one day, an LNG company coming into the community.
I think nobody is holding their breath for that one. Instead, people are looking for new ways of evolving, new ways of doing business, new economies.
One of the real concerns for many, many people in the constituency is the access to the Internet and access to high-quality, high-speed broadband Internet. Here in the Legislature, in Victoria, in Vancouver, in Richmond, you turn it on. You’ve got it. You can stream. You can do whatever you want.
I just talked to a mother not long ago out in Zeballos, whose child was not able to complete an on-line test because the speed was so slow. They kept getting kicked out, and they were never able to finish that test. I was talking to a businesswoman who was working on Cortes and moved to Cortes because they had the Internet there and was doing an on-line business. She put her children into the school and now is considering whether she can maintain her business on the island because there is such poor Internet access.
It is something that is vital for the economy. It’s been seen by the CRTC to be a utility. But there’s got to be a commitment to get it into our rural communities.
I’m surprised that my time is almost up. I still have many things to say. I will keep these notes for my next speech in response to the budget, which I hope is more stimulating than this.
I really would like to thank you for the opportunity to talk about these concerns for my constituency, concerns about the direction that this government has been taking this province. I do hope, as my colleague from Columbia River–Revelstoke said, that in September there will be a throne speech that really gives a vision with hope for this province.
J. Tegart: Thank you to the member opposite for her comments. I think what you’re going to hear from me is a very different story. It is proof that there are different perspectives in the room. I am honoured to represent Fraser-Nicola, a rural riding. Very similar issues to the member opposite, but I guess it’s on your perspective, on how you look at it.
I love my riding. It is a huge riding — diverse, lots of resource industries, lots of challenges. Incredibly resilient people live in my riding. I am absolutely honoured to represent them in this House. Like many places in B.C., my riding is home to many hard-working families and individuals who love where they work and where they live.
In order to serve my constituents, it takes a team of dedicated people. I’d like to acknowledge my incredible staff that work in my Ashcroft and Merritt offices. They listen, they advocate, and they’re determined to help my constituents. Lori Pilon, Nicole Tattam and Andrea Graham are the friendly faces that you see when you walk in my office. You talk to them on the phone or you communicate via email. They’re committed, professional and
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do everything necessary to find the solutions that will help my constituents have a better life.
Also, I’m very pleased to have a new member of staff here in Victoria, Sarah O’Connor, who actually was raised in my riding. It is a breath of fresh air to have someone in Victoria who actually understands large and rural districts and actually comes from my area. Welcome, Sarah, to the team.
The opportunity to speak today is not one that I take lightly. It is an opportunity that’s been afforded to me through the privilege of being an MLA. It gives me an opportunity to shine a light on Fraser-Nicola.
My riding is rural. It is home to eight communities, three regional districts, two school districts, three First Nations nations and 28 First Nations bands. We are the gateway to the Interior through the highways of Highway 1, 3, 5 and 99, which you will all have heard of last weekend because they were all closed. So my riding is your gateway to the Interior.
I’d like to talk about some of the initiatives undertaken by this government that have had a significant impact on Fraser-Nicola.
Firstly, I want to talk about support for rural communities. The government recently appointed a Minister of State for Rural Economic Development. That indicates to me that there is a recognition of the importance of rural B.C. and what we contribute to the economy of British Columbia.
In rural B.C., a large portion of our employment has traditionally been mining, forestry and other facets of the resource industries. It has been well documented that, on a global scale, the resource industry has drastically changed in recent years.
To ensure that we are safeguarding the well-being and job security of rural B.C. during this time of change, the provincial government is investing $75 million into the rural dividend fund. The fund will help non-urban B.C. communities with fewer than 25,000 people living in them.
The rural dividend fund is co-chaired by the Minister of Jobs and the Minister of State for Rural Economic Development. The funding from the rural dividend program is not just dollars and cents. The underlying strength of the fund is its ability to empower and give a voice to the people living in our small rural communities.
My experience of rural B.C. is our people are resilient. They don’t ask for a lot. So to have a fund available, to put together that business plan for that great idea or to kick-start the fundraising for a community-supported project — that is invaluable. I thank this provincial government for providing that opportunity for people in Fraser-Nicola.
I am very pleased to say that throughout my riding people have been very enthusiastic about applying for those funds, and it’s amazing how far we can make that money go.
Next I want to talk a little bit about education. Education has been talked about in this room in response to the throne speech. But I want to talk about education in rural B.C.
My riding has recently received in excess of $6.4 million in provincial funding to expand, develop and improve programs for students of all ages. The most significant portion of the funding has been the $4.7 million invested into the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, or NVIT. This post-secondary institution in Merritt offers a range of education and training programs from trades to health care.
NVIT is the only aboriginal post-secondary institute in B.C., and its programs are available for both aboriginal and non-aboriginal students. Its campus is well worth a visit. It is one of the most welcoming buildings that you will ever walk in.
As you walk in, you see the fire. You see the elders who are there to support their students. You also see someone having a smudge, and you cannot help but feel the aboriginal culture that is celebrated in that institution. It is that recognition of culture that helps those students be so successful.
Not only do they provide programs in Merritt; they also provide programs in rural B.C., in the north and all over British Columbia. We know that there are students who are very intimidated to come out of their communities and be successful in post-secondary education. NVIT has developed a model that provides success for students in their own communities, and they continue to expand that model.
Another story about NVIT. It happened to be a school that I was visiting when two young single moms talked about the challenge of trying to go to school while on social assistance. Tough. It was really tough. That was before we introduced the single-parent initiative. They said they’d love to go to school. They wanted to get off social assistance, but they couldn’t afford to register.
Well, within six months, we had put together the single-parent initiative. These were moms who wanted to do early childhood education. NVIT offers child care, so they had a space for their kids. We also offer education, and we offer support through the single-parent initiative. It is an absolute success story in British Columbia, and we have so much to be proud of. NVIT is a part of that program. To see the success of those students is just incredible, and it reminds us why we do the work we do.
I would also like to talk a little bit about forestry. Forestry is very important in my riding, and we have been devastated by mountain pine beetle. I have learned more about forestry than I likely ever wanted to know. It has a language of its own, and I’m quite amazed that four years in, I actually can understand part of it. Some of the challenges around mountain pine beetle are very, very real right now.
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We recently had a closure, in Merritt, of the Tolko mill; 230 jobs gone in a small community, a significant impact. But our government, in planning ahead and looking at some of the challenges and transitions for our rural communities, had a transition team ready to go. The next day, they were on the ground in Merritt. They were meeting with the employees, who were our top priority. They were meeting with the leaders in the community. They were talking economic development. They were ensuring that the union members had the support they needed.
Although it’s not an easy process, I hear from the community how thankful they are for the initiative taken by government. It is likely something that we didn’t want to ever have to do. But when we look forward, and we see where we’re going, and we see the challenges ahead, it is an innovative government that has those programs ready to go. We know, four months in, that we’ve only started the transition. The impact is not only on the workers, but it is on the community. We are assisting the city of Merritt in economic development, in applying for rural dividend funds, in looking at where their economic development opportunities are.
The reality is that forestry is challenging, not just today, but for the next three to five years at least. I can say, as tough as the process has been in the Merritt area…. The community has said to us: “Thank you. Thank you for being there for us. Thank you for not abandoning us. Thank you for having that team ready to go and for that continued support there.”
When we talk about big-picture planning, I can see that for rural British Columbia, we have an opportunity — through our new ministry and through many of the initiatives — to take care of our small communities and our people who live in them. We’re challenged, and it’s through no fault of anybody. That mountain pine beetle devastated us. I’m optimistic about where we’re going to go. I see optimism in communities that perhaps have pulled together because of the crisis, but they’re looking forward, and they’re appreciating the support given to them by everyone in this chamber.
In regards to transportation…. Transportation is a huge issue in my riding. We have lots of highways, and I can tell you that we have been well supported in the last three years in looking at the safety of our highways. As I said in my remarks at the beginning, transportation through Fraser-Nicola gets you to the Interior, and so our transportation routes are incredibly important. We have been fortunate enough to have the commitment by government to do the kind of safety improvements and maintenance that has been needed in the main corridors into the Interior — not only for tourism, for people coming out of the Metro area into the Interior, but to move goods and services.
As you who live in rural B.C. all know, the highways are the least of our problems. I spend hours on dirt roads. I spend hours on roads that aren’t thoroughfares, and we have had some particular challenges in my riding. It is only through the good work of the Ministry of Transportation and the building of relationships with First Nations that we’ve been able to find many, many of our solutions.
I want to mention one in particular. We have a particular challenge on the highway between Cache Creek and Lillooet, and it’s called the ten-mile slide. The ten-mile slide has been moving for probably 30 years. We monitor it on a daily basis through the Ministry of Transportation. But last fall, it moved 48 inches in 24 hours. We knew we were in trouble. We knew something had changed. The whole mountain area moved.
We have many armchair experts who think they have the answer, but our Ministry of Transportation put together a team that looked around the world to see what we could do to stabilize that slope, because that slope not only cut off a major route to Lillooet, but it split the Xaxli’p First Nations community. It was dangerous for the community. So working with the chief of the Xaxli’p First Nations, with the Ministry of Transportation and with the local leaders, we were able, first off, to have the Minister of Transportation hike the mountain and look at the challenge. Then we were able to put together a plan that is not only a short-term plan to open the highway to two lanes but to look at a long-term commitment — a $60 million project — for a solution for the ten-mile slide.
I can’t tell you how excited the people in my riding are. Not only have they waited 30 years, but also, it is incredible innovation and technology, world renowned, that we’re going to put in there, and it’s going to provide us with a long-term solution.
The people in that area are extremely thankful for a government that is willing to commit that kind of money to look for a solution on a highway that perhaps isn’t used quite as much as Highway 1. They’re excited, I’m excited, and the travelling public can be assured that the highway is safe and will be open on a consistent basis.
[R. Chouhan in the chair.]
Another issue in my riding that is a challenge — and I’m sure it’s a challenge in everyone’s riding — is health care. You know, when I first became an MLA, the first meeting I had was with a health care group in one of my small communities. Their first approach to their concerns about health care was ketchup on band-aids wrapped around their heads, with signs in front of the health care facility, protesting. As they moved from protest to looking for solutions to partnership to research to leading the way, I asked that group to share their expertise with some of my other communities, because that’s the kind of innovation we get, often in a crisis, in our small communities.
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We have a tendency to not ask for help out there but to look inside and say: “Look, we need to find a solution that works for us.” I was able to bring that group into other communities and have them talk about their process and how they got into research, how they attracted doctors and how they hope to retain doctors by becoming a hub of innovation in a small community.
They have had incredible successes in their community. That’s not to say that we’ve solved the problem. Doctors do not grow on trees, and unfortunately, we have a limited number who want to serve in rural B.C. But we are working hard in partnership with community, with health care professionals and with Interior Health and the ministry to look at how we can attract and retain doctors.
One of our successes, of course, is the practice-ready assessment program. The practice-ready assessment program takes internationally educated family physicians who have completed their residencies in family medicine outside of Canada and places them in rural communities across B.C. Thanks to the provincial investment of $7.6 million, our ability to attract these capable physicians from around the world to B.C. has greatly increased. I know that without the practice-ready program, many of my constituents would not have the family doctor that they now know and depend on.
I would like to acknowledge the work done by the Minister of Health and the Ministry of Health in putting this program together to support rural British Columbia.
I don’t know that we will ever have enough doctors, but I know that my communities are committed to work together to support health care, to look at innovation and to make sure that people who live in our communities have access to quality care.
When we look at economic development in the region, we are talking about job creation. As many have said in this chamber, our jobs plan is solid. When we look, particularly, at rural British Columbia, some of our traditional job creators are challenged.
I’m very fortunate to host Copper Mountain mine and Highland Valley Copper mine in my riding. Although copper prices have fluctuated and have made it challenging, my people are still able to go to work and have good-paying, family-supporting jobs where they get to go home at night. I tell you, we are so thankful for that.
Some of the opportunities in my riding include looking at the Ashcroft Terminal and the opportunities around an inland port, which is a challenge for some people to think through. With an inland port, they wonder where the ocean is. But Ashcroft Terminal, over the last ten years, has grown incredibly. It is a job creator in my region. It is not a job creator in Ashcroft; it is a job creator in the region. They actually have 18 clients. They are at maximum capacity right now, and they are looking to grow. Those jobs will create jobs for people in the Ashcroft, Cache Creek, Merritt and Logan Lake areas, in an industry that wasn’t there ten years ago.
We also have the green energy in Merritt, and Diacarbon. We also are incredibly fortunate to live in an area that is creating jobs through agriculture. We have seen a huge influx of young people coming into our region who are looking for a different lifestyle than what they knew on the coast. They are committed to the community and to providing quality product to local restaurants.
We also have a growth industry in Lillooet with Fort Berens winery. It is one that we are very, very pleased to see. We’re hoping that with its success, we will see more grapes and more opportunity for wineries in my region.
We also are looking at Kinder Morgan. Kinder Morgan goes through Fraser-Nicola. We have, as a government, been very clear on what the conditions are for Kinder Morgan. Kinder Morgan will provide jobs in Fraser-Nicola. It is important, though, to note that the conditions must be met. We have been very firm. I look forward to moving forward with the Kinder Morgan project and also ensuring that they address the concerns that have been voiced.
As you can see, my perspective for Fraser-Nicola is extremely hopeful. I don’t look at the world with rose-coloured glasses. I know we have lots of challenges. But I also know that in your position as an MLA, you have an incredible opportunity to influence decisions, to ensure good representation for your constituents and to move things forward that are important in your riding.
Four years in, I have to say I absolutely enjoy this job. I believe we all make an incredible difference in people’s lives day to day. When they walk through the door in our constituency — and it doesn’t matter which side of this House you sit on — they are there with concerns, and we are there to answer them.
As an MLA, I really believe that the work done in this chamber is important. I believe it’s our job to give hope to the people of British Columbia. I am proud to be part of a government that has a plan, that looks forward to the future, that cares about urban and rural British Columbia. I look forward to seeing the budget next week and seeing how we will put that vision into action.
Thank you, on behalf of Fraser-Nicola and all of the constituents that I represent, to all of you in this chamber for the work you do, and thank you for the opportunity to speak to the throne speech today.
B. Routley: This will be my final throne speech. I do hope I get to say one more speech, maybe on the budget, after this. But I did want to acknowledge that it has been an amazing experience to be here and to represent the good people of the Cowichan Valley.
I want to start off this throne speech by talking a little bit about the issues of children in the Cowichan Valley
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and actually give some thanks for the action of the Ministry of Children and Families. I don’t mind saying that I started out blasting them with a letter quite critical of what was going on in the Cowichan Valley.
Let me explain that we have a special school that has just started up in the last half a year, Friendship FUNdamentals. It’s helping special needs children. When I toured that school, I had more than 25 parents come to me and say that this was the best school and the best experience that their children had ever experienced. Being a grandfather of an autistic grandson soon to turn 17…. My, how time flies. Anyway, he has done well in his education with the special supports that he needed, and I’m very appreciative of what was done for my grandson Gabriel.
In this situation in the Cowichan Valley, we had all of these parents who were happy with their school. Suddenly I had a list of people coming to me, saying that they’d been threatened somehow by MCFD that their funding would be cut if their children continued to go to this school.
Now, I want to hasten to add that I wrote the letter about this concern to the Minister of Children and Families. She did react quickly, and I’m appreciative. In particular, I want to thank a fellow by the name of Ranj Atwal who was assigned to the Cowichan Valley by the minister to come up and review what was going on, review what my accusations were and see if there was some truth to it or what needed to be done. He has recently helped the Cowichan Valley — and specifically, my assistant Doug Morgan — in a major way by doing a letter of apology. He totally gets it that it’s unacceptable to threaten parents in any way, shape or form.
I don’t know what further actions are going to happen there, but I do want to point out that I’m thankful for the action that has been taken. The Cowichan Valley doesn’t always get a whole lot of attention from the other side of the House, but I do appreciate it when we do get it.
I do want to add that in addition to Friendship FUNdamentals, one thing that really concerns me is the experience I’ve had in the last couple of months of meeting with a group of women — a lot of them had had their children either taken away at birth or because of some issue that they had with the Ministry of Children and Families — and listening to their stories.
Again, I am concerned when I read reports from our Cowichan that say that the Cowichan Valley is 7.5 times higher than the provincial average when it comes to the average of children…. Even four times higher, the average of Vancouver Island, is bad, but 7.5 times higher than the provincial average…. If it was double, it would be a concern. When it’s almost eight times more likely that your children are going to be taken away for protection in the Cowichan local health area, that really rings alarm bells.
I do hope that the government and whoever is listening that is involved with the Ministry of Children and Families will attempt to address this. I am hearing encouraging things from the Minister of Children and Families. Again, we had a good experience with this Ranj Atwal who came up and met with us and listened to our concerns and went through a number of issues. But when we’re talking about children…. I think it is the most important thing. They’re vulnerable. Without grownups to speak on their behalf, we’ve got real problems.
I did want to mention that to start with and then carry on from there with the other issues that are going on and the concerns for affordability in the province of British Columbia. This government — I’ve heard them many times — likes to claim that they have some of the lowest taxes for the middle-class families. However, the Liberals only include income taxes while totally ignoring MSP, hydro, ICBC auto rates and more of the hidden taxes that everyone has to pay, whether it’s ferry fares or camping fees — on and on you could go.
All of these costs end up showing that B.C. isn’t the lowest in taxes. We have actually one of the highest costs of living in Canada. In the past five years, this Liberal government has increased MSP, hydro and ICBC rates every year by 25 to 36 percent. Just three of these increases have cost the average family at least $1,000 more per year.
Hydro, for example. It’s foreseeable that the rates will rise after the capped increases end and BCUC resumes rate-setting responsibility on April 1, 2019, onward. There’s been no doubt that there have been huge deferrals of money, and that is an intergenerational issue. We are handing off debt and costs to future generations of British Columbians. All of us that have heard the stories about what’s going on within B.C. Hydro are very alarmed about these hidden costs. Eventually, they are going to have to be paid by all British Columbians.
Failing demand documented in successive Hydro quarterly reports, unmet deferral account targets, IPP costs and the Site C costs are putting upward pressure on rates. In the recent quarterly reports, Hydro admits that higher rates and regulatory deferral account transfers underpin the appearance of increased total revenue, which is just another way of saying more jiggery-pokery or smoke and mirrors.
The ICBC rates. This fall the corporation was forced to release projections indicating a 42 percent rate hike, compounded, after the election. Their rate hike projection incorporates ongoing support from the optional side into the next decade.
The MSP issue — the total cost of MSP. B.C. is the only province in Canada to levy a health care premium. Again, you need to understand that this is a philosophical issue of the Liberal government. They believe that people need to have a separate fee so that they understand that there are high costs involved in health care. But the rest of Canada deals with it with other taxation measures and doesn’t have a separate fee. There’s a reason for that.
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MSP premiums have increased 250 percent since the B.C. Liberals came to power in 2001, from $1 billion annually to a projected $2.5 billion in the next fiscal year. Here’s the unfairness of this. Someone who earns $30,000 pays the same MSP premium as a person who earns $3 million per year. MSP premiums are perhaps the most regressive form of taxation in B.C.
In the B.C. budget, there is a tax table that compares all provincial and federal taxes paid by the province. Even this shows that B.C. is not the lowest for middle-class families when you include things like MSP, sales taxes, etc. That doesn’t even include spiralling increases in hydro and ICBC.
The rising cost of living in British Columbia. The Centre for Policy Alternatives says that as wages stagnate, B.C. families also have to deal with rising costs for everything, ranging from food and housing to child care costs.
It’s well known that housing costs in Metro Vancouver have skyrocketed over the last decade. The cost of a detached home has jumped 19 times relative to the median household income, while condos have increased six times the rate of income.
The Liberals’ plan that they have come up with…. I’m sure we’re going to hear more about it in the budget, but even in the throne speech, there’s talk of this. They have a plan for first-time homebuyers. It won’t be doing anything to help with affordability. Many experts have warned that this will drive up prices, and this government is now encouraging people to go into more debt by taking on a second mortgage.
I’m concerned, as this reminds me too much of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco that they had in the United States where people who could not afford it were encouraged to buy houses at rates that…. Once the trigger mechanism kicked in, they couldn’t afford the houses, and then they were forced to go into bankruptcy. I surely hope that doesn’t happen. I know that there are many groups, including even, I believe, some financial groups, that are suggesting that this is not the best way to go. It was definitely not well thought out, not well researched and not discussed enough with British Columbians.
In terms of the affordability and the cost to British Columbia, you only need to look…. This recent report in Common Ground really says it all. They talk about the wealthiest British Columbians in Canada. Amongst the wealthiest 10 percent, their share of all the wealth in British Columbia…. Think about this for a minute. All the wealth in British Columbia, and the wealthiest 10 percent have 56.2 percent. Really, 56.2 percent? That’s huge. Then you look at the bottom 50 percent of…. These are real people living in British Columbia. The bottom 50 percent have 3.1 percent.
Now, I think everyone in this room should be concerned because these are voters too. Some of them are definitely going to get out there and vote, I would hope. But 3.1 percent of the wealth in the province is left for the bottom 50 percent. The so-called middle class, which is 51 to 89 percent of the population, has 40.7 percent that they get to share. That’s a lot less than the richest 10 percent with 56.2 percent.
This research was done by Andrew MacLeod in his best-selling, award-winning book. It really talks about…. The province has an obscene inequity that is a direct result of the “B.C. government’s deliberate policy to shift the tax burden away from their wealthy donors.” That’s a sad statement to make, but it certainly looks to be true. When you look at the statistics, they say a lot about what’s happening in British Columbia.
The B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition reports that our province’s income gap is growing the fastest in Canada, noting that the average household income of the top 1 percent in British Columbia has increased by 36 percent. Again, think about that. The average household income of the top 1 percent has increased by 36 percent since the mid-2000s. The current data from StatsCan highlights that 10 percent in B.C. now own more than half of the wealth of the entire province.
More people are slipping through the gaps into cracks and into homelessness. I’m certainly seeing that in the Cowichan Valley. We have more and more people coming into our office every day.
Recently, you may have seen on CHEK TV the couple who… It was a sad state of affairs. This elderly woman came in concerned about her husband dying at home with cancer. She had $1,100 a month to pay for a two-bedroom place. They were getting evicted from the place that they were in. She could afford $1,100 a month out of their pensions, and she couldn’t find a place — looking from Cowichan all the way up to Nanaimo. That’s how bad things are in British Columbia, that this couple are coming in to see the MLA office with a reporter.
Now. fortunately, because it was on TV, there were people that stepped forward that said: “Hey, we can help out.” They had some compassion because of the urgent situation and the fact that this elderly gentleman had cancer and didn’t have a lot of time left to live. They wanted to see them have a home, and they actually set up a funding page, and they were helped out. But we shouldn’t have to….
On the same day, I had a 70-year-old gentleman that was kicked out. He was driving around the streets in the snow, in whatever you call those little machines now. It fortunately has a roof over it. But he’s living in the homeless shelter. He, too, could afford rent, but in the Cowichan Valley, he couldn’t find a place to live. He had more than $1,000 to pay for rent, but, again, he ends up living in the homeless shelter because the last place he lived in had a fire and burned down. And he’s coming into the MLA’s office? That’s a tragic situation.
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What are we supposed to do when there isn’t the affordable housing available? It used to be…. Back when I started eight years ago, I was grateful at the time that we had the homeless centre and that we could send people to Warmland at least. They were kind of the last resort, but now we’re running out of “last resort.” I’m sure this is going to be happening in other rural communities all over British Columbia, where more and more people are finding themselves stressed out.
More and more of their fixed income…. Again, think about the bottom 50 percent, living on disability pensions, living on fixed income. They’re supposed to live on crumbs from the table, and this government is busy giving a larger share of the cash to the richest 10 percent. Shame. All I can say is that that’s a shameful situation. We have the highest child poverty rate in the country. We’re the only province with no poverty reduction plan. We have more than 12 percent of the B.C. wage earners reporting dealing with food insecurity problems.
I had a man come in, living in a trailer. He said he had to decide whether he was going to pay for food or if he was going to pay for heat, as he needed heat to heat his trailer. He took many long walks, wondering why he was living in this kind of situation in Canada. He had served our country, and he ends up on a disability pension. There he is with these kinds of problems. And he’s got to be in that bottom 50 percent who are struggling every day to make do.
Listen to this. One-quarter of B.C.’s workforce — half a million folks — currently earn under $15 an hour in the McJobs that they’ve got, well below what most families need to make ends meet. A lot of people looked into the McJobs thing. There are seniors, there are young families, living on jobs from…. It’s a job. It’s better than not having a job, but isn’t it sad to think that people are trying to live on jobs at the lowest end of the pay scale. Any of us can’t imagine what that would be like. Then we have 19 times the increases for condos and six times…. Yeah, it’s just unbelievable, the continued impact of those kinds of increases on those who can least afford it.
This government goes on to say in their throne speech that they’re “on track to be free of any operating debt by 2021.” I had to laugh about that one. “For the first time in 40 years,” they say, “children born that year will no longer be asked to pay for the burdens that our generation has placed on them.” In fact, under this Premier, British Columbians’ public debt has increased 45 percent, from $45.2 billion in 2011 to $65.3 billion today, the largest increase under any one Premier in British Columbia’s history.
B.C. Hydro’s debt alone has grown from $11.7 billion to $19.5 billion under this Premier.
And LNG — we all know that story. Again, I guess I can’t resist making a little bit of fun. I decided that LNG now means lots of nothing going on. It’s kind of like jiggery-pokery on steroids, that whole thing. Do you remember that this government promised British Columbians there was going to be 100,000 jobs, an LNG plant up and running by 2015? Well, whoops-a-daisy on that one. And we were going to have five by 2020. They promised — why not, eh? — a $100 billion prosperity fund and debt-free B.C. None of those promises have been kept, and none of them will be kept.
In the 2013 throne speech, LNG was to eliminate our debt, eliminate the PST, create 100,000 jobs and $1 trillion in economic activity. Then in the 2014 throne speech, LNG was just a chance. Oh, all of a sudden, my, my, In a little reflection, things had changed a little bit. Had a second look at this, and it was now just a chance — not so much of a windfall as just a chance.
By 2015, in the throne speech, the LNG was a generational opportunity. So they downgraded it from just a chance to a generational opportunity but barely mentioned it, otherwise, in an effort to change the channel.
Now in the 2016 throne speech, the Liberals finally admitted their timelines would not be met. They whine that government has done all they can but that global conditions are posing new challenges. Who knew, eh? Except everybody was telling them, including us on this side of the House. We were saying: “Well, wait a minute. That’s not what the analysts and the specialists who are in LNG are saying. They’re not saying it’s all going to be rosy. They’re saying there are major problems.”
Anyway. The government said they’ve done all they can, and global conditions are posing new challenges. Again they tried to put their best face on the LNG by saying: “Success is not for quitters.” Oh my, I like that one. I’ve got to write that one down. Maybe I can use it somewhere along in my retirement road, here. Success isn’t for quitters. And this year: “LNG needs global markets to thrive.” Wow. “Sadly, unforeseen headwinds have created challenging conditions.” Oh my, my. “Sadly, unforeseen headwinds….” They went on to remind us — thanks for that — that world markets may go up, and they may go down. My, my. This is really deep. You’ve got to really pore over this to find these gems, but they’re there.
The Liberals “dream big or go home” plan for 2013 proves out it was all show and no go. The “we won’t be undersold” plan, as I’ve referred to it before, the B.C. Liberal deal-making, which included cutting corporate taxes further than the already attractive…. They’d gone from 16 percent down to 11 percent for all their corporate friends. That, apparently, wasn’t good enough for the LNG companies, who demanded 8 percent and locking this in along with as many concessions as they could. “We wanted to write in some kind of poison pill provisions to make sure future governments couldn’t change any of these things.” Wouldn’t that be terrible? Wouldn’t that be awful if some future government decided to get their hand in the cookie jar? That could be just a deal-breaker for sure.
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All of those concessions and yet, where’s the flood at the door? They couldn’t shovel the concessions out the door fast enough in a race to the bottom, yet it all failed. Now, as we knew, markets were tanking, and they tanked. My, my, what a dream. It’s all been more of a jiggery-pokery plan than any kind of reality.
The market has tanked, and the indicators had shown that — major issues such as overabundance of LNG worldwide, just to name a few. That was one. The world was awash in LNG, and they knew about all of those things — that we had already maybe missed the window because of what had happened in other parts of the world.
Today’s B.C. reality is that part-time jobs are up. Full-time, family-supporting jobs in B.C. forest operations continue to be lost as forest companies close mill after mill. Even B.C. value-added operations have been cut in half under this government’s watch.
Currently, Ontario and Quebec have three to five times more jobs per thousand cubic metres than we have here in B.C., while we have some of the most valuable timber in the world — our beautiful cedar, both yellow and red cedar, as well as old-growth fir and spruce.
Recently, we had the Merritt mill closure. I did hear the speaker on the other side talk about some of what they’re doing there. It’s good that they’re trying to do things to revitalize, but I’ve seen this movie before. In fact, I’ve seen it over and over again.
The recent closure of the Tolko Merritt mill resulted in throwing more than 200 forest workers out of a job. It’s the latest in 15 years of joblessness and permanent shutdowns in the Interior forest sector. The move will leave the city with just one sawmill, Aspen Planers, where they once had five.
Marty Gibbons, president of the Steelworkers Local 1-417, stated that he had seen the closure of mills in Valemount, Clearwater, Lewis Creek, Canoe, Merritt and Kamloops. The Quesnel mill closed in 2014, and Houston’s last day was May 9, 2014.
These are just some of what is now a record of some 204 mills and forest manufacturing operations closed in the last 15 years.
Oh, and let’s review what we have been told by these B.C. Liberals in past speeches on this ever-elusive jobs promise that we hear. They claimed that forest jobs would be back in the whopper of a jiggery-pokery, which was the revitalization. Remember that — the revitalization that was going to take place after the 2003 plan was introduced?
What has been the result? Family-supporting jobs gone permanently, not revitalized. And what did the government say at the time? Let’s again revisit that. Who was the Minister of Forests back then?
The Minister of Forests, by the way, is now the Minister of Finance. His quote at the time was that the industry was going to revitalize itself, and there were going to be additional job opportunities. And: “…we think that through a diversified fibre flow and an expansion of the opportunities, those employment levels are going to return to where they once were…. That’s why one embarks on an exercise like this.”
From the Minister of Forests in 2003.
I see that I’m running out of time. I do want to say that we’ve had a legacy of things happening with mill closures. I did want to mention the large number of mills that have left British Columbia and the fact that that policy brought in serious issues in terms of safety and health.
I want to illustrate that just by one graphic illustration, and that is the number of suicides, unfortunately, that occurred in British Columbia from 2000 to 2015. There were seven suicides involving workers who worked in the industry — seven from 2000 to 2004. That number leaped after the revitalization came into place. From 2005 to 2009, there were 28 suicides in five years and then 13 more from 2010 to 2015. Actually, there were 19 more — for a total of 47 suicides by injured workers since 2009.
Again, can you say that all of that had to do with Liberal policy? Or were there other issues involved in that? It couldn’t have helped that they were dealing with injuries and illness.
There certainly wasn’t the hand of help that was offered enough times to make a difference, because there was a huge spike. I’m alarmed by what those statistics show.
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Member.
B. Routley: Thank you, hon. Speaker.
Hon. S. Bond: I’m very honoured to be able to stand once again and speak to the throne speech and respond to it today, as I have on numerous occasions in the past. It’s always an honour to do that.
I want to begin by just recognizing the member for Cowichan Valley. Certainly, while I may not agree with his perspectives on a fairly regular basis, I do want to recognize his contribution to the Legislature. It does include some new vocabulary, which none of us will ever forget. I don’t think I have ever said jiggery-pokery before, but I’ll say it today to recognize the member. I certainly know that volume has been an issue, has been something that the member has contributed. I do appreciate his passion for his constituents.
I do want to, though, just begin by saying that I think British Columbians expect their government to look for ways to drive the growth of the economy in this province to create well-paying, family-supporting jobs. Frankly, when I look at the issue of liquefied natural gas…. The member opposite chose to create a new acronym with the letters LNG. I’m very thankful, though, that he chose not to do that earlier in the day when we had guests.
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The Lax Kw’alaams and the Metlakatla were here today, signing a historic partnership agreement. They have faith and hope. And they have a belief that through the hard work and the relentless efforts of this government, at a point in time…. Would we have wished it were quicker? Of course we would have, but British Columbians, including the Lax Kw’alaams and the Metlakatla, want a government that is bold enough to step out to pursue every single opportunity to grow the economy.
Today they signed a historic benefits agreement because they want to build a better future for their children. That’s what the potential for LNG means to British Columbians and particularly to First Nations.
We ask ourselves what the point of the throne speech is as we come each session. It’s about a road map. It’s about laying out what the government plans or has done or intends to pursue over the session and the months and years ahead. We continue to hear about: “We didn’t hear about this” or “We didn’t hear about that.”
It is not the place where we lay out every specific item of an agenda. It is about vision. It’s about laying out for British Columbians the things that matter, the foundation on which a government will lay out its plan. In fact, in the next week or so, we will lay out the fiscal plan that helps to bring forward the ideas contained in the throne speech.
I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that as the MLA for Prince George–Valemount and also the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, I am always honoured to stand in this place, and I very much appreciate hearing the different views. That’s what British Columbians send us here to actually do: to bring their views and to debate and to discuss the plans that either side has.
I’m very proud to represent communities like Prince George, Valemount, McBride, Crescent Spur, Dome Creek, Dunster and Hixon. I know that, like every other member of this House, we consider it a profound honour to have been chosen to come and participate in this process. I take very seriously my responsibility for being a voice for northern British Columbians.
I also know that this job takes us away from our home and from our family, the places that we love, the people that we love, sometimes far too often. I just want to recognize today the incredible family that I have — a husband who has been my partner and my supporter for many decades, my children, their spouses, our grandsons who I adore.
[Madame Speaker in the chair.]
When I think about Caleb and Cooper and I think about the throne speech today, that is why we do the work that we do. When I think about the important work that we need to do for future generations…. It is important work that we do, and that’s why the comments here need to be taken seriously and thoughtfully.
I also want to thank my staff. I am blessed to have an incredible staff that work very hard in Victoria, in Prince George. The leaders that I get to work with that are elected in communities right across northern British Columbia, First Nations leaders, elected leaders…. It is about partnership in the work that we do.
I want today just to comment for a few minutes. I want to remind all of us, as we look around us, that we don’t have to look very far to see the devastating impacts of what can happen during an economic downturn. We know that economic performance can have devastating, real human consequences.
That’s what having a plan is all about. It’s not about, every time we have a throne speech or every year, that we’re simply going to adopt a new plan or change it dramatically. It is about having a plan, sticking to it and making sure that we can provide certainty and stability, particularly as we look to grow the economy in British Columbia.
We’ve certainly heard some thoughts about the plan today. But I can tell the members opposite that the plan we have put in place — particularly the jobs plan — since 2011 has been working. We look at the impacts that it’s had on our outcomes across the country.
It’s not us standing and talking about the facts or looking at the facts. It’s Stats Canada, for example. We look at the place where British Columbia finds itself. While there is much room for more work to be done, it’s hard to argue with economists across the country, with Stats Canada — the work that’s done to make those measurements and to make those determinations.
We created the jobs plan five years ago. It was a long-term vision. The major consideration of the plan was to look at diversifying our economy. Contrary to the view that we hear regularly in the House, one of the reasons that British Columbia is doing so well in the country is because we have very much worked with British Columbians to ensure we have a strong, growing and diverse economy.
Our plan looks right across government, whether it’s our skills-for-jobs blueprint, whether it’s our B.C. tech strategy or whether it’s our climate leadership plan. All of those have a key role to play in the success and the progress that we’ve made today.
But we also know this. We’ve heard members, particularly those from rural parts of the province where we recognize that not every part of British Columbia has felt the same degree of benefit. We know that.
That’s why I couldn’t have been more delighted when the Premier made a decision to add a new cabinet minister to the table, someone who would look after and work hard to address some of the concerns particularly related to rural B.C. I can’t tell you how very pleased I am to be able to work with the Minister for Rural Economic Development. There is no one that is more passionate about the place that she lives, the place that she loves. I
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can tell you, she reminds us all the time about the importance of rural British Columbia.
I also today want to recognize my parliamentary secretary, the MLA for Shuswap. He is the Parliamentary Secretary for the B.C. Jobs Plan. I can tell you that he has done a tremendous job. As he’s worked across the province with extensive consultations, he’s worked with stakeholders. He’s sought input. As we developed the jobs plan and as it continued to evolve, he has had a critical leadership role in that plan. I’m very grateful for the great partner that he is.
But make no mistake about it. British Columbia is in a unique position today in Canada. It’s something we cannot and will not take for granted.
We currently lead the country in many areas. In fact, in 2011, we were third in Canada in economic growth. Today we lead the country. In 2011, we ranked ninth in Canada for job creation. Today we rank first in the country. In 2011, we had the fourth lowest unemployment rate. Today we have the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 5.6 percent. In fact, in January, it was the eighth consecutive month that B.C. had the lowest unemployment rate in the country.
We have created over 2,000 jobs since 2011, and the vast majority of those jobs are full-time, private sector jobs.
B.C. has more people working today than ever before — 2.4 million people. But does that mean it’s time to shift the plan, to move away from the principles that we have stood behind over the last five years and worked tirelessly with British Columbians to make sure that B.C. retained the position that it deserves in this country, which is to lead the country? No. Now is the time that we need to roll up our sleeves and continue to work hard to ensure that the benefits of a strong, diverse and growing economy are felt in every corner of this province.
That’s why, as I said, the Premier made the decision to add a cabinet minister to focus particularly on rural economic development. And as we work to create the strategy, we look forward to being able to address some of the concerns that many in our House today have referenced.
But I can assure you that we intend to remain focused and to look for every opportunity to create well-paying, family-supporting jobs.
When I think of the sectors that are doing so well in British Columbia…. We all recognize that when we are a resource-dependent province — natural resources — we know that when that cyclical downturn comes, that creates challenges in small, rural, northern communities. That’s why we have to ensure that we have a diversified economy.
Today, British Columbia ranks near the top in terms of the diversity of its economy. But we have more work to do. In fact, one of the new goals that we’ve set out in the next version of the jobs plan is to look at having the most diversified economy in Canada. We’re going to continue to work hard to drive for that diversity.
But if you think for a moment about sectors like the creative industry, the creative sector in British Columbia…. Now, many people don’t stop to think about the importance of things like film and animation and music and book publishing. But I can tell you that we have some amazingly talented people.
We also have the right time zone in British Columbia to take full advantage of the expertise that we have in the creative sector. And if you are looking to film in British Columbia, we can tell you that pretty much today, our film studios are full. Our sound recording studios are full. Our digital animators are the best in the world, and we’re attracting incredible productions because of the talent that we have here in British Columbia.
If we talk about technology, I can assure you that the technology sector is positioned to continue to grow. We are attracting the best and brightest here. Companies from around the world choose to locate in British Columbia because of the talent and the time zone that we have. Those are very important things when you look at the tech sector. So very much has been done to move British Columbia to the place that we want to see our province hold in this country.
I also want to reflect momentarily on tourism. When you look at one of the key sectors in the jobs plan, tourism is also there. When we think about diversity, tourism, the creative sector, agrifoods, technology, forestry, mining — the list goes on. We have success. We have seen progress in all of those sectors over time.
But when we think about tourism, for example — a key economic driver in the province with over 127,000 people working in tourism-related businesses — the sector continues to grow amidst fierce global competition for tourists. You know, all we have to do is look outside of wherever we live, wherever we represent, and we can understand why people want to come to this incredible province.
When we look at the impacts, we have seen record years in tourism. And the thing that’s so important about the tourism sector is that you can live in just about any part of British Columbia and you can find a reason to invite and attract people to come to our province.
One of the things that’s most encouraging about the tourism sector today is that the fastest-growing segment of tourism in British Columbia is authentic aboriginal experiences. We have seen exceptional growth in the aboriginal tourism sector.
So as we look at the throne speech, we want to recognize the important progress that has been made. We fully recognize that there’s more work to be done, and that’s why, as a team, we are committed to continuing to work as hard as we possibly can to diversify our economy and to continue to see the strength that we have seen — the
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momentum building. That’s what the throne speech does. It lays out that road map to talk about the things that matter.
What matters to British Columbians is having the opportunity to have a well-paying, family-supporting job. While we may differ in our perspectives about the jobs plan today, we can tell you this. British Columbia leads the country, whether it’s GDP growth, whether it’s the unemployment rate, whether it’s having four consecutive balanced budgets and a triple-A credit rating. All of those things matter, but they matter because it allows us to do the kinds of things that British Columbians want and expect from their government.
I am extremely pleased to be able to speak in support of the throne speech. I feel optimistic and hopeful about the future of the incredible province that we get to call home.
Hon. S. Bond moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. T. Lake moved adjournment of the House.
Madame Speaker: This House, at its rising, stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 6:57 p.m.
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