Second Session, 41st Parliament (2017)
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Issue No. 65
The HTML transcript is provided for informational purposes only.
The PDF transcript remains the official digital version.
Guarantees and indemnities report, fiscal year ended March 31, 2017
|Orders of the Day|
|Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room|
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2017
The House met at 10:04 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
Hon. R. Fleming: It’s my honour to introduce two guests that we have here with us today in the gallery. The first is Stacey Wakelin, who is the founder of Parents for Inclusivity. Stacey is a Langley mother of two who, in response to voices of intolerance in her community targeting the LGBTQ community, has stood up with other parents to defend safe schools, human rights and inclusivity.
With her is Mr. Brad Beattie, who is the CEO and executive director of the ARC Foundation, which is a vital partner with the province of B.C. and the Ministry of Education, working in collaboration with other community leaders to create learning environments where all students can develop their awareness, respect and capacity, of those who are marginalized in society, be that by sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity or economic background.
These two people have travelled a ways to be here with us in the Legislature today, and I would ask all members of the House to make them most welcome here.
S. Furstenau: I’m really delighted to introduce Kayla Brent, who’s been here before, and Kalyn Cook. Kayla and Kalyn are the Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister of Frances Kelsey Secondary School model parliament, and I’m delighted to have them here today. They will be joined later today by teacher Paul Klassen, from Shawnigan Lake School, student Isaac Leroy and Paige Croft, who are coming together to discuss a joint Model UN approach for the spring. Please make them feel welcome.
(Standing Order 25B)
HUNTING AND FISHING
A. Wilkinson: This coming Sunday will mark the 15th anniversary of The Hunting and Fishing Heritage Act, which was passed in this Legislature on November 26, 2002. This is an evolving provincial tradition that arose when Bill Bennett, the former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister and MLA for Kootenay East, brought forward the bill, which received royal assent on that day 15 years ago.
Now, hunting and fishing are an important part of our heritage throughout this province and form an important part of the culture of this province. Currently the province has conservation partnerships with hunters and fishers that cover species from the coastal mountain goat through to the northern goshawk and right down to the western rattlesnake and the Vancouver Island marmot — which is, I’m sure, near and dear to all those NDP members from Vancouver Island. Approximately 90,000 British Columbians and 7,000 visitors purchase a provincial hunting licence annually.
In the fishing world, collectively, freshwater anglers in B.C. are on the water 3.8 million times a year and catch about 7½ million fish. That’s more than one fish for every person in the province, as I’m sure the Premier is aware. The average angler fishes 13 days a year and catches, as I said, two fish per day. The freshwater fishing generates about $1 billion of provincial economic activity annually. This is activity that is, of course, sustainable, healthy, very family-friendly and something that I was very pleased to participate in as a kid when I grew up in Kamloops.
Hunters and fishers are a key part of our provincial economy, and our rural economy benefits from that activity. They’ve been a pillar of our conservation efforts for over a century and provide healthy local food to our communities. I’d invite this House to celebrate the provincial Hunting and Fishing Heritage Day this Sunday.
PREMIER’S AWARDS FOR ABORIGINAL
YOUTH EXCELLENCE IN SPORT
M. Dean: I was humbled and excited to be invited to attend the 2017 Premier’s Awards for Aboriginal Youth Excellence in Sport for the Vancouver Island region earlier this month. I was really fortunate to join a beautiful ceremony and meal hosted by the Tsawout First Nation in Saanichton, attended by the family and friends of the eight outstanding Indigenous athletes from the Island.
The Indigenous Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation Council, ISPARC, in collaboration with the province of B.C., launched the regional nomination process in August 2017. This is a unique provincewide award that recognizes a total of 48 recipients who have been chosen from ISPARC’s six regions and out of 141 nominations from across the province. The athletes, who are under 25 years of age, are competing in performance sport and committed to living healthy, active lifestyles.
Recipients were selected not only for their achievements in performance sport but also their commitment to pursuing a higher education, demonstrable leadership qualities, volunteerism and connection to culture. They include Caleb Sam, age 15, from Songhees First Nation in my constituency, recognized for his soccer and rugby.
The evening was full of celebration, including singing, drumming and, in particular, the speeches made by the young athletes. Their respect shown for their peers, their family, their coaches and their community was inspiring. ISPARC’s Vancouver Island regional co-lead Wally Samuel said: “This unique awards program is a good partnership and a great way to show how well our young people have done. We’re pleased to honour their success in sport, in school and in their communities.” Please join me in congratulating them.
SUNSET COMMUNITY CENTRE
AND SENIORS GROUPS
M. Lee: If you have visited Vancouver-Langara, as I know that the member for Vancouver-Fraserview has, you will have noticed that it’s a diverse community, mirroring the diversity we have across much of our province. It’s a privilege to have the responsibility of representing this riding, which is served by vital community organizations that deserve to be recognized here in the Legislature.
One such organization is the Sunset Indo-Canadian Senior’s Society. It’s a group with deep roots. Over 70 years ago, some committed South Vancouver residents saw a need for a safe place where their kids could gather and spend their recreational time. They had a vision. They worked hard to make it come true. Ten years ago another group came forward with a new vision to replace the original centre, and today we have a beautiful tradition of state-of-the-art community recreation centres all across our province.
In my riding, the Sunset Community Centre continues to be a cornerstone, not just of the Punjabi Market but the entire community. It’s an important gathering place for people of all ages. They’re addressing a growing need in this province. British Columbia is aging, and as our parents age and our grandparents do the same, we see the importance and the benefits of community centres where the elderly can come together to maintain and grow friendships.
The Sunset seniors groups have worked enthusiastically and cooperatively for 30 years to bridge gaps between cultures and generations. The men’s and women’s groups each have about 90 active members. The seniors society provides a safe environment to gather and connect. It holds all its meetings and activities at the Sunset Community Centre, just down the block from my constituency office.
Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to be a guest speaker at several of their meetings. The discussions about their ideas, the community and world events are certainly spirited. They know the issues, and they don’t suffer fools. I enjoy every second of it. In many ways, it reminds me a little of this Legislature, just a little greyer and a little wiser. It is an honour to serve as the MLA of a riding where such community groups thrive.
B. D’Eith: There was a time when a high school education was a clear path to a well-paying job. Sadly, that’s not the case as often today, but some institutions in British Columbia are working to equip our high school graduates with skills that they need to start a career that can sustain them and their families. One of these is Riverside College in Mission, British Columbia.
Last week I had the opportunity, along with the member for Abbotsford-Mission, to meet some of Riverside College’s current students.
What Riverside College does is have a grade 12 intake every year where students not only are offered their final credits to graduate but also are provided technical training, apprenticeship and certification for careers in automotive services, esthetics, hairstyling, carpentry, plumbing, professional cooking, electrical services and many others.
Many of the programs at Riverside College actually have waiting lists. Businesses are waiting to hire these students immediately after completion of their training because of the high quality of education that is provided. These students aren’t just going to get minimum-wage jobs. They’re getting paid good wages to be able to support themselves and their families.
Now the college also provides adult basic education classes and continuing ed. In addition to this, Riverside College partners with other organizations to provide programs for adults, such as the kick start program with Mission Community Skills Centre Society and the Canadian Vocational Training Centre. The kick start program actually provides participants with essential skills needed for success in today’s workplace, whether they’re new to employment or seeking a change.
I’m also very excited to share that later this month Riverside College, with the Canadian Vocational Training Centre, will be launching a new program for fibre optic technical training and certification, an area that is actually experiencing a labour shortage in British Columbia. Students will get hands-on experience by qualified instructors and meet future employers and members from the industry.
A unique institution in Mission and British Columbia, Riverside College provides a valuable service to our community, high school students and adults wanting to get back into the workforce. We’re very lucky to have it.
IN COWICHAN VALLEY
S. Furstenau: Two recent events have left me so proud and inspired by the amazing community in the Cowichan Valley. One evening in early October, after a full day at the Legislature, the Minister of Health travelled to the Cowichan Valley to meet with a group of stakeholders who have been working collectively for many years to replace our 50-year-old hospital. The minister heard from these passionate, informed and engaged people, many of whom are volunteers, who demonstrated beyond any doubt that our community is committed to seeing a new hospital and, with it, a new approach to a health care system that is holistic, inclusive and cooperative.
These stakeholder groups have done so much good work, and the partnerships between the CVRD, the Cowichan District Hospital Foundation, Cowichan Tribes, Island Health and health care providers continue to strengthen. I felt tremendous pride listening to the passionate people who’ve worked so hard for so long to bring forward a united vision for our community’s health care future.
Then, one morning in early November, another minister, this time the Minister of Education, visited Cowichan. He joined school district superintendent Rod Allen, board chair Candace Spilsbury and the principal of Cowichan Secondary, Charlie Coleman, for a tour of our 68-year-old high school that has come to the end of its life.
What we witnessed on our tour was inspiring: engaged teenagers who were learning innovative programs from dedicated teachers who are going above and beyond in less than ideal conditions. We visited an elementary school that has been transformed — in some cases, by the students themselves — into a trades training centre. Here students are learning everything from welding to hairstyling and completing their high school credits while achieving certification that prepares them for immediate employment opportunities right in the community.
We met bright, beaming young people who are clearly thriving in this environment. Despite the imperfect work space, the experience for these students and their success rate upon graduation is a testament to the commitment of teachers and instructors who make these programs possible.
Our hospital and high school are both in desperate need of replacement, but what was so evident from these visits is that the visionaries are investing their time, energy and money into a bright future for Cowichan.
TRAINING AND TRADES CENTRE
B. Ma: Tucked away under the Second Narrows Bridge in North Vancouver is the Squamish Nation training and trades centre, a place where futures are quite literally built. Created in 2004, the Squamish Nation trades centre trains 150 to 200 Indigenous students each year in various trades, including carpentry, plumbing, pipefitting, craft working and general construction safety, while working in partnership with Kwantlen Polytechnic University, unions and industry.
Their goal is to prepare students with the skills and knowledge required to transition into either a trades apprenticeship program or the trade sector for full-time employment. They do this while also reconnecting their students to their Indigenous culture.
Last week I toured this trade centre with Squamish Nation councillors Carla George and Wilson Williams and met the incredible students and staff. The students spoke about why the programs at the trade centre were important to them. The ability to move on to apprenticeships, earn more money, find stable jobs with benefits and develop careers will mean the world to their families and community around them.
Some also shared very personal stories about the challenges that they’ve had to overcome, with the help of the staff around them, and the hope that they now have for the future. Poverty, mental health and addictions are issues that many students at the trades and training centre face, and the training centre supports them by providing access to counsellors, peer and elder support, food and passionate staff who are determined to help them through their challenges.
I was so touched by the hospitality and generosity with which I was welcomed as the first MLA that they say they’ve ever had visit their space. It is indeed an incredible community that creates programs like these, and I look forward to supporting them in their future good work. Huy chexw a.
GOVERNMENT HOUSING POLICY
R. Coleman: Last spring this Premier, during the campaign, made a very specific commitment to British Columbians. His platform clearly promised to “build 114,000 new rental and co-op homes and provide renters an annual rental income credit of $400.” At the time, he said: “This is realistic and reasonable and completely costed” — full stop.
He committed to build 114,000 units. Those that voted for the NDP, on the other side at the time, actually believed they would deliver on this promise. Of course, broken promises are becoming a pattern of this particular government. Yesterday, after his own minister a week ago had confessed, the Premier confessed it’s no longer a commitment. It’s now “aspirational.” So 114,000 units promised by the NDP have evaporated into the aspirational world.
To the Premier: why have you abandoned the direct and very specific commitment you made to build 114,000 units?
Hon. J. Horgan: I thank the member for his question. Had he been at the scrum, he would know that the questions were in the context of aspirational and talking about the announcement yesterday by the federal government, a welcome announcement here in British Columbia. For the first time in a generation, the federal government understands we need a national housing strategy. We on this side of this House support that initiative.
I will remind the member, if he goes back…. I know he’s acutely interested in every phrase in our platform. I invite him to go back and look at it. He’ll note that it says it’s a ten-year plan. It involves market housing. It involves co-op housing. It involves the whole range, the whole spectrum of housing that that minister was responsible for, for a decade and a half and didn’t meet the needs of British Columbians.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Official Opposition on a supplementary.
R. Coleman: Good dance, Premier. But the reality is it’s just a big whopper, like the fish you were just showing my colleague on this side of the House a few minutes ago. The reality is you made a commitment. You’re breaking the commitment. I know about the national housing strategy because I chaired the ministers across the country as it was developed, Premier.
The Premier might note that a big piece of that platform, of the national housing strategy, is rent assist…
Mr. Speaker: Members, we shall hear the question.
R. Coleman: …something that that side of the House has always opposed.
It’s still 114,000 units — gone into the ether somewhere as an aspirational goal. Never, at the time when the commitment was made, did you include market housing. That came later in debates with the minister and the Premier. Your aspiration is: “I broke my promise.”
To the Premier: will you come clean and admit, at least, to the people of British Columbia that you’re not going to build 114,000 units?
Hon. J. Horgan: British Columbians can now mark on the calendar the day that the Leader of the Opposition embraced the role. He just asked me to come clean, which is, of course, the hallmark of the Leader of the Opposition.
Two thousand modular units in the last budget. We have 1,700 affordable housing units, and we’ve only been here for 17 weeks. Sixteen years and the member on that side could not close the fixed-term-lease loophole. He promised it time and time and time again. We delivered it.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Official Opposition on a second supplemental.
R. Coleman: We also delivered tens of thousands of units and paid for them and built them in the last ten years. We have 30,000 people in British Columbia on rent assistance in the marketplace, a program that you don’t support. I’m wondering how soon you’re going to evacuate those people because you don’t support the program.
You actually don’t have a handle on housing, through you, Mr. Speaker, to the Premier. Aspirational or not, you told somebody you were going to do something, and you’re not going to do it. It’s clear. You changed it. You’ve broken the promise. Why don’t you just admit that all your government is, is a group of people that just continues to break promises?
Hon. J. Horgan: Those on that side of the House look to municipalities to blame them. We’re looking to municipalities to work with them so we can bring on more supply. People on that side of the House starved the residential tenancy branch because they didn’t want renters to have a voice in British Columbia. We’re invigorating the residential tenancy office.
I have to confess to taking great delight in this final statement to the member of the opposition. This term lasts for four and a half years. Just watch us.
S. Sullivan: I’d like to follow up with the Minister of Housing on the plan to build 114,000 units. We’ve heard the government talk about this plan for homeless, risk of homelessness, co-ops, non-profit housing and specific targeted low-income groups, all of which are very important.
I was concerned when the minister said: “I want to be very clear that the 114,000 units is based on the pent-up demand for housing and forecasting over ten years the demand for affordable housing. That’s where the number comes from.” There are no definitive allocations, if I might say, to each of these areas, but we do know that each of these areas needs attention. Obviously, this is an aspirational goal. This number, 114,000, sounds very specific. It’s not 100,000 or 150,000.
My question is about the housing affordability for the middle class, for the great majority of British Columbians who do not fit into these targeted groups. Will there be any action on housing for the middle class?
Hon. S. Robinson: While the old government ignored the affordability crisis, the price of a home in Vancouver shot up by $600,000 in just two years. When we were on the other side of the House and we asked about this concern, the current Leader of the Official Opposition said: “I guess some people just need to get up and whine every day.”
On this side of the House, we are committed to working together with partners, with the federal government, with the local governments, with the non-profit sector, with the private sector. The private sector is very excited to work with us so that all British Columbians can have the housing that they need.
Mr. Speaker: Vancouver–False Creek on a supplemental.
S. Sullivan: I don’t believe the minister actually answered my question. In opposition, the minister and her colleagues regularly said they would implement solutions immediately.
The Premier was recently quoted as saying: “We’re coming up on challenges that the solutions we had hoped to implement are not as easy to do as we had first hoped.” Now, the great majority of middle-class British Columbians are not looking for the temporary portables and modular housing that are meant to be temporary. They are looking for long-term housing solutions. Can the minister explain what she will be able to do for the middle class of British Columbia?
Hon. S. Robinson: I want to point out, as well, that under the previous government, rents skyrocketed by 45 percent over ten years in Vancouver, while the people on that side of the House did nothing.
Mr. Speaker: Members, if we may hear the response, please.
Hon. S. Robinson: We are working together with a range of partners and addressing ways to deliver on our 114,000 units. We are committed to making that happen. People have been looking for a partner, a partner in their provincial government, one that has been missing for the last decade and a half.
GOVERNMENT POSITION ON
SITE C POWER PROJECT
S. Furstenau: Yesterday my colleague raised the parallels between Site C and another dam, Muskrat Falls in Newfoundland and Labrador, and the parallels are unnerving. Their government, too, inherited a doomed megaproject, billions over budget, behind schedule, exempted from independent oversight. Does it all sound too familiar? But there is a significant difference.
Mr. Speaker: Members, if we may hear the question.
S. Furstenau: The difference is that this government has a pass out of this mess. The government doesn’t have to be responsible for continuing with this boondoggle. The previous government’s mishandling of B.C. Hydro has seen its debt rise from $6 billion to $20 billion. If Site C goes ahead, we could see a doubling of hydro rates in this province. But this government has the ability to make a choice to change course…
S. Furstenau: Data is not popular at the moment.
…and protect British Columbians from this.
My question is to the Premier. The previous government left the mess of Site C as their legacy. You have an opportunity to move forward and choose a fiscally responsible path. Will you take it?
Hon. M. Mungall: As I mentioned yesterday, this government is very aware of what’s going on with Muskrat Falls. We’ve been following it very closely. The member opposite…. Sorry. The House Leader of the Third Party….
Hon. M. Mungall: Anything seems to be worth a heckle for the B.C. Liberals. I’m glad they’re paying attention.
To get back to the member’s question, however. When she points out some of the cost overruns and the financial concerns around Site C, I think it’s important to state clearly for the record that the current situation — where Site C is looking at some cost overruns, looking at potentially not being on time — is a result of things that happened under the B.C. Liberal watch. I know they don’t like that fact.
Mr. Speaker: Members, we shall hear the response.
Hon. M. Mungall: Thank you very much, hon. Speaker.
The first tension crack that happened was in February, under their watch. The second tension crack that happened was in May, under their watch. Those are the reasons that B.C. Hydro is now having to look at a longer period for construction and having to look at extra costs. All of that happened under the B.C. Liberal watch.
Mr. Speaker: The Third Party House Leader on a supplemental.
S. Furstenau: I thank the minister for her response and point out that without the independent assessment and a hydrogeological and geological assessment that should have happened, they might have known about the tension cracks to come that are causing great problems.
Up until now, this has been a B.C. Liberal boondoggle — the cost overruns, the ballooning debt, the questionable need for such a costly project. This is the Liberals’ mistake alone. But if this government decides to continue with Site C, they will become responsible for the impacts. It will be on the shoulders of this government.
The BCUC report has been clear. We are not past the point of no return. We have a real and viable suite of alternatives that we can pursue.
S. Furstenau: The heckling. They really don’t want to hear these kinds of statements.
The alternatives can produce the power we need at the same price without the impact to one of the most biodiverse regions of our province.
My question is to the Premier. The previous government left this mess of Site C as their legacy, but it does not have to become yours. Will you make the right decision to cancel Site C and lead us into a bold, new energy future?
Hon. M. Mungall: No one has ever suggested that this decision would be an easy decision. In fact, what I find most troubling around what’s happening in this province and what has been going on for several years in this province regarding Site C is the division that has happened — that this project, under the B.C. Liberals, failed to create unity.
I think it’s because it was never about vision. Their decision was never about vision. I don’t even know if it was about electricity, to be quite frank. When you have former Premier Christy Clark say that she was determined to get it past the point of no return, it’s pretty clear that their decision was more about ego than anything else.
No matter what decision….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. M. Mungall: No matter what happens at the end of the day, British Columbians are going to have to pay for that ego drive. That wasn’t okay. That was wrong, and we’re doing our very best to right that wrong.
We know that we need to work in the best interests of British Columbians. That’s what we’re going to be doing. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened, but it was what always should have happened.
INTERNATIONAL TRADE NEGOTIATIONS
AND MINISTER OF STATE FOR TRADE
M. Lee: Yesterday a number of questions were posed to the Minister for Trade. Topics canvassed included NAFTA, TPP, softwood and free trade with China. All of these are of great importance to British Columbians. The Minister for Trade has had 24 hours to ponder his response. I’ll ask him again, the same question that was posed to him yesterday.
To the Minister for Trade, whether we’re talking about NAFTA or TPP, could he inform the House of what face-to-face meetings he has had with federal officials, and what has been the result?
Hon. G. Chow: The member from Langara mentioned my name, that I had visited his riding. It’s correct. I visited his riding and the Sunset Community Centre. It’s a beautiful building in Langara. I mention that because the architect who designed this beautiful structure for the city of Vancouver was the late Mr. Bing Thom, who passed away last December while working in Hong Kong.
I asked him: “Why do you still travel around working in Hong Kong and Washington, D.C., and China?” He said: “Well, there are people who depend on my association with all these projects, all over the world, in order to have jobs in B.C.”
It’s important to put that in perspective, so I am very happy that the member asked me what I do as Minister of State for Trade. My mission is to expand the trade opportunities for British Columbia, to make prosperity in the province and to create jobs.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Vancouver-Langara on a supplemental.
M. Lee: Well, the Minister for Trade, in his capacity as the member for Vancouver-Fraserview…. I appreciate the tribute to Bing Thom. I share the sentiment for Mr. Thom. I would like to go on, though, and say, with respect, that the Minister for Trade is not answering the questions we’re asking him.
Let me make it a little more simple. In your role, you are a minister of the Crown responsible for trade for the province of British Columbia. Let’s go to the calendar for the Minister for Trade. On September 1, he met with the delegation from the Panyu district of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province in southern China.
I’d like to ask the Minister for Trade.... Can the Minister for Trade please tell the House who was at the meeting, and what was his objective?
Hon. G. Chow: I had the opportunity to meet with our staff and also with the delegation from Panyu, which happens to be my ancestral village. That delegation came to visit us because it was the previous Minister of International Trade who made the connection.
We received the delegation. There was a number of people who were businessmen in Panyu district, which is close to the city of Guangzhou. They were involved in animation. They were involved in jewelry-making. They were involved in manufacturing. They were involved in furniture manufacturing.
For me, trade is not a partisan issue. That delegation was introduced to us by the previous International Trade Minister. I was very happy to have received the delegation. We had a very, very good meeting. When I go to China in January next year, we will renew those relationships.
T. Wat: Thank you to the minister for hosting the meeting with Panyu. In fact, Panyu is also my ancestral village, and I wish I was invited to that meeting as well, since you and I came from that village.
Mr. Speaker: Members, we shall hear the question.
T. Wat: We did invite the MLA for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant to all my legacy initiative projects, just to be on the record. But I wasn’t invited to the one where the Premier unveiled the plaque in Victoria.
Yesterday we asked the minister’s role in defending British Columbia’s economic interests abroad. We have had some trouble getting answers from him. Right now here with me is the minister’s mandate letter, signed by the Premier.
This is just a simple question to the minister of state. Can he tell this House what progress he has made to advance B.C.’s food and agricultural exports, especially to growing markets in the Asia-Pacific?
Hon. G. Chow: I would like to inform the member for Richmond North Centre that the Panyu district visit was started with the previous government, and I was happy to receive the delegation. We actually were trying to seek out the previous Minister of International Trade to come to it. She was away, so I would be the one who would have to do the work. I was happy to do it, but I thought it would be an example of cooperation between the old Trade Minister and myself as the Minister of State for Trade.
Mr. Speaker: Members, if we may hear the response.
Hon. G. Chow: As far as what we’re going to do, we will be visiting China, Japan and Korea in January. We will explore our potential.
We have to expand our market because of what we are seeing here. Our traditional export market to the U.S. is questionable right now. I think we’ll get a good settlement, but we want to make sure we expand our markets. That’s our mission — to go abroad to explore this market.
Mr. Speaker: Richmond North Centre on a second supplemental.
T. Wat: Just to be on the record, I haven’t received an invitation from the minister to attend their meeting.
Mr. Speaker: Members, if we may hear the question.
T. Wat: I did not get an answer from the minister of state on how he advanced B.C. for agricultural exports to the growing market in Asia. I did not get an answer. So I look at his calendar. The Minister for Trade had a meeting with the Bank of China on September 14, a meeting that the Minister of Jobs did not attend.
Just a simple question. Can the Minister for Trade please tell the House who was at the meeting, what was the agenda of the meeting…?
Mr. Speaker: Members, if we may hear the question.
T. Wat: I shall repeat. A simple question. Can the Minister for Trade please tell the House who was at the meeting, what was the agenda of the meeting, what was the objective of the meeting, and what was the outcome of the meeting?
Hon. G. Chow: The member was mentioning the fact that we had a meeting with the representative from the Bank of China. I was happy to take that on. The Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology was not available. We work as a team in our caucus. In that meeting, the member from the Bank of China expressed dismay at the 15 percent foreign purchaser tax that was imposed hastily by the previous government.
That was one of the things she said. She is working in Canada. She has been working in Canada for three years, so she wanted to let me know what her reaction is to that 15 percent foreign purchaser tax that was imposed by the previous government very hastily. She also said that in the future, she would be in a position to look at some of our infrastructure projects, that maybe the Bank of China could be a lender. I, of course, just take that under advisement.
It was a very good meeting. That was what went on.
HIRING PROCESS FOR ASSISTANT DEPUTY
MINISTER OF INDIGENOUS RELATIONS
S. Bond: I think that most British Columbians understand that there are two types of employees that work here in Victoria. There are political employees, political staff hired to work in minister’s offices, and then there is the non-partisan public service. In fact, we know that B.C.’s public service is exceptional. It is respected as one of the top 100 employers in the country, and we are very proud of that.
Last week a new assistant deputy minister was appointed to the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. Can the minister explain the hiring process that was used to fill that senior position?
Hon. S. Fraser: Thanks to the member for the question. My deputy minister identified and vetted Ms. Wood a month ago for a position we’re creating. It’s a reconciliation transformation strategy division within the ministry to effect our new relationship with First Nations and Indigenous peoples in the province. We’re very excited about that.
As the member opposite knows, the deputy minister’s position is not a political one. He did the identification and vetting, as did the public service.
I want to congratulate Ms. Wood. I’m sad to see her go, but I know she’s on for bigger and better things for all of British Columbia.
S. Bond: I want to just help the minister a little bit with the sequence. He did fail to mention one point, perhaps the most salient. On September 11, an employee was appointed as a ministerial assistant in the minister’s office. On October 11, the same employee had the appointment rescinded and was reappointed as a senior ministerial assistant in the minister’s office. On November 16, the appointment was rescinded again, and the employee was appointed as an assistant deputy minister.
The posting for an assistant deputy minister in this ministry last year outlines the following qualifications: “Significant senior progressive executive experience in leading and managing teams in a highly intense working environment.” Having worked with literally dozens of exceptional public servants who work in the public service, in their entire career in government, they may not end up serving as an assistant deputy minister.
Does the minister believe that moving an employee from a political role in a minister’s office to a senior role in a non-partisan public service is appropriate, especially since the transition took only several months?
Hon. S. Fraser: Thanks again to the member for the supplemental question. She might want to refer to her colleague from Nechako Lakes, who was the previous minister. He also had the same deputy minister, who identified and vetted Ms. Wood for this important position.
I would note that in the previous government, the Liberal government, only 8.2 percent of senior management were of any visible minorities. We are changing that. I also note that the public service brought in a new diversity strategy and plan to increase the diversity within our public service. I’m so pleased that we can be a big part of that.
I’m sorry to lose Ms. Wood as my ministerial assistant, but she’s going to make a great assistant deputy minister in bringing about true reconciliation in this province.
[End of question period.]
Introductions by Members
Hon. R. Fleming: I seek leave to make an introduction. With us in the gallery — and I neglected to mention his presence earlier — is Douglas Blair, who is a good friend, an excellent midfielder and a great teacher in Shawnigan Lake. It’s nice to see him in the gallery with us today. I would ask the House to make him most welcome.
Point of Privilege
(Reservation of Right)
J. Thornthwaite: I would like to put a point of privilege with the comments that the member for North Vancouver–Lonsdale…. I actually, personally, have attended the facility that she mentioned in her statement — that she was the only MLA. No. I had attended, as have some of my colleagues.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you, Member. You have reserved your right.
Hon. C. James: I rise to present the guarantees and indemnities authorized and issued report for fiscal year ending March 31, 2017, in accordance with the Financial Administration Act, section 72(8).
A. Weaver: I rise to submit a petition of 626 names asking the government to review the Agricultural Land Commission Act to protect farmland from the development of mega-mansions. In particular, the signatories are asking government to revise the Agricultural Land Commission Act and enact into law the Guide for Bylaw Development in Farming Areas as limited — the limit for residences on ALR land to a maximum of 500 square metres. This petition was organized by Richmond FarmWatch.
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. Farnworth: In this chamber, I call continued second reading debate on Bill 6. In Committee A, I call the estimates for the Office of the Premier.
Second Reading of Bills
[L. Reid in the chair.]
T. Shypitka: I’m just going to sum up what I was talking about yesterday on proportional representation. In brief, I read an article from an NDP strategist from the Tyee publication. I’m sure members on the other side have full subscriptions too.
I spoke about numerous examples of how PR simply does not work around the world right now. We are currently seeing it in Germany, New Zealand and the Netherlands, among other countries as well. We see how it gives great opportunity to fringe parties that simply don’t get that same opportunity with our current system, and there’s a good reason for that.
I’ve broken it all down to simple key points in order for those that support PR to seriously reconsider their decision and remind those same MLAs on both sides of the House that your first duty is to look after your constituents first and tow the party line second.
This is a game-changing vote that will affect the very foundation of our constitution. So it needs a rethink here. I’ve got three points.
One, if we’re going to have another conversation around electoral reform in this province, it needs to be driven by the public first, not elected officials who have vested interest in the system. I think we’ve seen that through the supply and confidence agreement between the Greens and the NDP — that this is exactly what is going on right now.
Two, it needs to feature meaningful review, not just non-binding consultations. We’ve seen this government right now review everything to death except for the very essence of what our constitution stands for, and it’s a little troubling to me.
Three, it needs to have checks and balances ensuring regional support from different parts of our very diverse province are represented. I don’t think anybody on either side can argue how diverse and great this province actually really is.
The process that we see proposed in this bill does none of that. In short, the benefits of first-past-the-post, the current system we have right now, are quite simple. I’ve broken it down to five points.
One, it’s a very easy system to understand, and ballots can be easily counted and processed.
Two, first-past-the-post, our current system, is an electoral method that provides the best governance. It trades fairness in representation for more responsible government. Its tendency to produce majority rule allows the government to pursue a consistent strategy for its term in office and to make decisions that may be both correct and unpopular.
Three, it ensures regional representation. This is the key to our diverse province. Who can argue with that?
Four, other systems give small parties the balance of power and influence disproportionate to their votes. We’re seeing that right now as an example.
Five, allowing people into parliament who did not finish first in their district is filling parliament full of fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth choices who no one really wanted but didn’t really object to either. It basically allows one-issue parties to drive a single message, which could be good, but most likely could be very, very dark.
We’re seeing those exact things happening in New Zealand right now, where the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister are part of an extreme-right party that hasn’t won a riding since 2005. It’s absolutely mind-boggling.
For these reasons, I cannot support this bill as it stands. I implore my colleagues on both sides of the floor, and those who are voting British Columbians, to do the exact same.
Deputy Speaker: Recognize the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke. [Applause.]
D. Clovechok: Thank you for that resounding applause. My buddy over there. Cheers.
I’d like to take this opportunity to express the honour and privilege I feel every time I rise in this House. It is indeed something very special to stand here representing the people of Columbia River–Revelstoke who are not only hard-working rural British Columbians but British Columbians who deeply value the democratic system that we have here in Canada and British Columbia, a democratic system that has served us well for the past 150 years.
Our democratic system of government is a proven system of governance that provides citizens with the most possible personal freedoms and the most personal opportunity — opportunity to create prosperity and a good life for their families. It is the most stable form of government on this planet.
Our democracy empowers us to choose the religion that is most meaningful to us. It empowers us with the freedom to choose our own spouse, our own careers. It is a system that enables us to seek the education that we want. We have the freedom to watch movies. We have the freedom to choose and listen to any kind of music that we want. Madame Speaker, could you possibly imagine a world without country music? I can’t. We are free to read any book without fear of judgment or reprisal.
Ours is a system that guarantees our mobility and our right to assemble. We are a mosaic of peoples with a constitution that protects us against assault and infringement. We are people who have exactly the same rights to go into politics and influence society as anybody else.
To that, I am a very proud father of two incredibly intelligent and beautiful daughters and a grandfather of two amazing granddaughters. I understand how blessed we are here in this country and in this province to know that they, as women, have the same constitutional rights and opportunities as any man. The women in my life, in this country and in this province know that their father, their brother, their cousins, their uncle or their husbands have no right to rule over them. My daughters and all women in this country and this province have the same rights and freedoms as anyone at any time.
As such, and as British Columbians, as Canadians, we are all equal before the law. We have the freedom to live without fear of authorities. As British Columbians and Canadians, each of us has the innate desire for freedom and security. People move to this country and to this province from all over the world to experience what we are so blessed to have — an opportunity and freedom, both of which I believe are worth fighting for. Therefore, democracy is not only important; it is vital. We deserve to live in a democracy that works, and we have been blessed with one for the last 150 years.
The key value that drives our system is freedom, but we always have to remember that freedom never comes free, nor should it ever be taken for granted. Life and freedom are never easy, and democracy is not perfect. We must never forget those who gave their lives so that we could protect and ultimately benefit from the democratic system that has served us and continues to serve us well.
Above all, in a democracy, every citizen, regardless of interests and politics, holds office. Every one of us is in a position of responsibility. In the final analysis, the kind of government that we will get depends on how we fulfil those responsibilities.
We, the people, are the boss. We will get the political system, be it good or be it bad, that we demand and deserve. To do anything contrary would be to disrespect the ultimate sacrifice that has been made by so many Canadians, by so many British Columbians, so that we would never lose this freedom.
I stand today in acceptance of my responsibilities as an elected member of this Legislature — for the people of Columbia River–Revelstoke and for all British Columbians to speak against this bill, which I believe is a direct affront on the freedom in our democratic system that so many people have fought and died for.
You know, my mom and dad taught my brother and myself many things growing up, teachings that provided the foundations of who we are today as men. A couple of these teachings come to mind right now. I recall my dad on a golf course with his two boys, telling us: “Always stay true to your values.” He told us that in this life, you can compromise on many things — and you should — but never on your fundamental values, because if you do, you will get lost in a world that can be very confusing.
Above all, he taught us to stand for what we believe in with conviction and resolve. Putting these teachings into political terms means that good citizenship and defending democracy means living up to the ideals and values that have and continue to make this province such an amazing place to live.
With this in mind, we must reject the NDP-Green notion of proportional representation and reject it with an iron will. Bill 6, in essence, proposes to change the actual fabric of our democratic system, endangering the future of our grandchildren and their children. Bill 6 is nothing more than a backhanded attempt of the NDP-Greens to hijack the political system to meet their own needs, not to serve the needs of British Columbians, especially not rural British Columbians.
The NDP are an interesting bunch, no matter what political level you find them on. They’re a crew that makes things up on the run and that through their actions in this House are clear they are not interested in real answers to clear questions.
What is clear is that their proposed 50-percent-plus-one platform for a ranked ballot…. Well, let’s just say that’s about as clear as mud. It will not come as a shock to this House to know that Bill 6 in itself is another broken NDP promise. The member for Langford–Juan de Fuca…
An Hon. Member: The Premier.
D. Clovechok: …the accidental Premier, promised British Columbians that any referendum question on PR would simply be a yes or no.
Well, that member seems to have the inability to keep his word on anything. As a matter of fact, and I quote from that member for Langford–Juan de Fuca when asked: “‘You are going to have 50 percent say yes or no.’ And you will give them one system to vote on?” His answer? “Yeah, exactly.” Well, not so exactly.
Instead, the NDP will be stacking the deck against first-past-the-post. Voters will be choosing from multiple proportional representation systems. In a ranked ballot form, this means that a combination of PR options will outrate and outweigh first-past-the-post. The PR options they offer are a direct assault on the current system that we have in place, a system that has served this country well for the last 150 years. First-past-the-post is not favourable under a ranked ballot vote.
Voters who choose first-past-the-post as their first choice will have to choose between multiple PR systems for their second and third choices. If their first-past-the-post doesn’t win on the first ballot, then a victory is unlikely. Voters are being denied the ability to make a clear decision by this government.
Again, let me remind all that — no surprise here — the member for Langford–Juan de Fuca has broken his promise yet again. But we should not have to accept broken promises or botched processes when it comes to lowering the bar for electoral reform.
If the members of this House don’t believe this process will be botched, I need only to point your attention to the fact that this referendum will be orchestrated behind closed doors by this minority government. Imagine that — a decision behind closed doors to create an electoral system that will lead to more decisions behind more closed doors that will potentially lead to the demise of our democratic process. And they want us to believe that they have a transparent government — again, as transparent as mud.
Surely, this must be a dream come true for the member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head. Their partnership enables the Leader of the Greens to make his continued promises that are irrelevant, to his heart’s content. So why in the name of all that is good should British Columbians expect the NDP to pull an about-face and give them a clear yes-or-no question to vote on?
Again, the member for Langford–Juan de Fuca, has broken his promise on ride-sharing, 2017. He’s broken his promise on $10-a-day daycare. Now he’s begging the federal government to bail him out. Broken promise, seriously. He has broken his promise on the $400 renters rebate. The broken promises continue to pile up with this government. The member for Langford–Juan de Fuca obviously does not understand, along with a few others in this House, that there is absolutely no honour in men who cannot honour their word — another teaching from my dad.
His bromance partner from Oak Bay–Gordon Head is no better. I quote from the Canadian Press, May 18, ’17: “Our position has been that we would bring in proportional representation without a referendum,” but we would be open to discussing a referendum afterwards. From Global News, May 10, ’17, from that member: “In our platform, we said we would introduce proportional representation, and if we were to have a referendum, it would be after” that. Say one thing; do another — from both sides. Broken promises on both sides. There is no greater fraud in politics than a promise not kept.
These haphazardly broken promises are what is driving this accidental government in their desperate and self-deserving quest to hold on to power through Bill 6. Imagine, if you can, a government where the often-changing whims of the smallest party can change the lives of millions overnight. Well, that’s exactly what we have in this NDP-Green supply agreement. Again, the small Green tail continues to wag the bloated orange dog. Can you say “tyranny of the majority”? That’s exactly what PR under Bill 6 represents.
This begs the question: is PR what the NDP actually wants? Or is it just a way to placate their new Green masters? In my humble opinion, it is the latter. In this NDP proposed system of endless minority governments, how can any voter expect them to follow through as they go from backroom deal to backroom deal? They are in denial, as they refuse to look at the benchmarks from other countries across this globe that have received a big F on proportional representation.
I’d like to talk a little bit about some of those benchmarks because we actually look to benchmarks. In Belgium, PR gives voters nothing more than instability. It took 589 days for voters to get a government, from 2010 to 2011, after parties were unable to agree on a coalition. It took six parties almost two years to form a coalition that only lasted one year.
Italy has had as many Prime Ministers since the end of World War II as Canada has had in its entire history. There are 28 parties forming six separate alliances, and, if you form government, you have an average of 21 months to watch your friends and partners force you to break your promises. Sound promising and democratic? I don’t think so.
In Israel, in relation to proportional representation, one of their former national security advisers spoke to the effectiveness of PR. “Under PR, designing policy in Israel is like writing poetry while standing on a ball.” Sound promising? I don’t think so.
In Germany, the Free Democratic Party has held the balance of power for the last 45 years, since 1949. As a matter of fact, Germany’s political wheels just completely fell off last week. They’re looking at another election. Doesn’t work in Germany.
PR in B.C.? Well, you might as well give the professor from Oak Bay–Gordon Head permanent tenure at the cabinet table. As much as we know that the same member would like to play kingmaker forever, this does not result in stable government. And it won’t help British Columbians. Speaking of kingmakers, it would seem that we have another aspiring kingmaker from Maple Ridge–Mission.
Deputy Speaker: Members.
D. Clovechok: The member for Maple Ridge–Mission mentioned in his speech: “In New Zealand, PR seems to have created a more balanced and diverse parliament without, I might add, the proliferation of extreme parties as fearmongers” — referring to us — “on the other side of this House seem to suggest, and it can be seen” — this is, of course, the member for Maple Ridge–Mission speaking about PR in New Zealand — “as an example of how a new system of proportional representation could work in British Columbia.”
This is an interesting perspective, given that the kingmaker of this new government in New Zealand was the New Zealand First party, an extremely nationalist party with an anonymous board of directors at its helm. One of the first acts of this New Zealand–backed labour government — big surprise — was to ban foreign home ownership. Sound familiar?
I don’t understand, frankly, how the member for Maple Ridge–Mission can confuse fearmongering with protecting British Columbians from xenophobic nationalists. As a matter of fact, and for the kingmakers across the aisle, PR actually empowers the extreme far right. It’s not my doing.
As a matter of fact, in a recent article by Bill Tieleman in the Tyee, he writes…. This is the Tyee, the NDP newsletter. “Adopting a PR system potentially opens the door of this Legislature to far-right-wing politicians and their abhorrent views.” He also — and correctly, I might add — states: “The results of PR systems boosting the far right can be seen in several recent European elections.”
Let’s look at two examples Mr. Tieleman cites, under PR extreme right-wing parties where they flourish today. The Freedom Party in Austria that was “once led by a former Nazi functionary and SS officer….” Well, they hold seats in that government today. The Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, led by an extremist who launched his campaign by denouncing “Moroccan scum who make the streets unsafe” — they hold seats in that government.
Mr. Tieleman also cites Prof. Pippa Norris from Harvard University who says:”Radical right parties benefit from PR in terms of their share of seats, which is what matters, after all, for the power, for the legitimacy, for the status and the resources that flow with elected office.” Norris, in her research, also found that “radical right-wing parties were more than twice successful in gaining seats under PR as under the majority electoral process.” Her words, not mine.
There’s no question that there is an active rise, an active movement, of extreme right-wing factions across this planet. We know that as a fact today. All you have to do is look to the south.
Make no mistake. Those same factions are here in British Columbia. Yet there is absolutely no reference to the risks and the downsides of a PR system coming from the NDP or the Greens. I’m not sure why they’re hiding these facts from British Columbians.
The NDP-Green PR pipedream does not outline for British Columbians the extreme downside of the realities of PR, which is egregiously neglectful towards the people of B.C. and the future of our province.
Yes, in addition, you only need to look at our recent history to see how far the members from across this aisle have lowered the bar. On two previous occasions, British Columbians said no to electoral reform. Each referendum — quite recently, in 2005 and 2009 — had the requirements for getting a majority vote, 60 percent of the ridings and 60 percent of the total vote.
Does what British Columbians have already stated in those two referendums not that long ago…? Does what they had to say then mean nothing to these people now? If it does, it doesn’t show in their bill.
This referendum actually gives us a preview of what kind of representation we can expect because the unending desperation — and I use that word desperation — for the Green Party leader to have proportional representation is imminently manifest in the crafting of this bill.
This bill, if successful, will fundamentally set the stage that will alter the state of our democracy. For us on this side of the House, that dog does not hunt.
Let’s take a look at what this bill ignores, except to deliver PR to the doorstep of the member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head. They have ignored the Referendum Act. They have ignored the requirement for regional representation. They have ignored the past use of non-partisan citizens’ assembly, an institution that has been used to wide acclaim in the previous referenda. They have ignored the fact that instability comes with PR, will drive investment out of British Columbia at a rate comparable to the rate that they themselves as a party have done and continue to do.
The reality is that the NDP aren’t interested in incorporating a full spectrum of views in B.C. when it comes to changing the way we vote. Rather, they are driven by appeasement, the appeasement of the Greens at all costs in order for them to keep their supply agreement intact and cling to the minority reins of power.
We must ensure that a voting system like PR is not skewed in the favour of those who live in our concentrated urban centres. Their numbers alone must never determine the electoral future of British Columbia.
More than ever, we know that a great variety of geographical perspectives in our province exist and require input in our politics. We are a province separated by an ocean, separated by state, separated by rivers. Shoot, where I live, we are six mountain ranges and a ferry ride away from this House. We are vast.
We are a province with views that differ from region to region. There is a uniqueness to British Columbia that we just can never allow to be removed from our politics — a diverse geography and a diversity of people, symbiotically connected to each other.
However, this bill reinforces, for rural British Columbians especially, that as far as this government is concerned, there is no hope for us beyond Hope, both geographically and literally. But there should be hope, for all British Columbians. It is my goal and the goal of my colleagues to fight for this hope, to fight with the power of determination. We know that if you fight with determination, it makes people unstoppable.
Let’s take a minute to consider some of the politicians that have arisen through first-past-the-post. The members across the aisle need only consider the rise of Tommy Douglas in Saskatchewan. Tommy Douglas had to challenge the existing leader of the day as an outsider — something he was largely capable of because he had a foothold as an elected member of the federal Parliament.
Do the members opposite think Tommy Douglas would have risen to the leadership of the Saskatchewan CCF party under a PR system? Would he have been able to make the jump without a local foothold?
How can we expect individuals like Tommy Douglas, who are capable of connecting to local communities, to rise to prominence when they are entirely dependent on being selected off of a party list? This, of course, is what happens with a PR system. Parties have to keep a list of candidates and put the cut-off line somewhere, based on their percentage of vote.
Would Tommy Douglas have made the cut under PR? As an outsider under the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, highly unlikely. I wonder where the members opposite think they would fall on their party’s list? Do the members opposite think that they are No. 5, No. 15, No. 40, No. 1? It would be awfully tense to find yourself sitting on the threshold of being chosen to the Legislature by your party’s leader.
I wonder if the NDP baker’s dozen of a few years ago would have stayed at the top of the party list for long. I guess we just will never know, but I’m betting they wouldn’t have.
One thing is for sure: we have seen local leaders earn the trust of their communities for first-past-the-post. We’ve also seen those communities revoke the trust they have placed in their elected representatives when needed. Under first-past-the-post, local leaders have risen to prominence, and they have been held accountable at a local level.
I don’t find it shocking that the NDP and Greens want to turn this system of accountability over to their backroom boardroom, where members are bumped up and down party slates. First-past-the-post shows us that accountability can and should happen on the doors of constituents.
Instead, this government wants to walk away from those doorsteps, wants to walk away from those communities and walk away from the voters of British Columbia. This government wants to walk away from rural B.C. by omitting their representation in this referendum. The government wants to lead British Columbia down a road of backroom deals and broken promises.
This government wants to fundamentally alter the fabric of our democracy, a system that was paid for with blood of our countrymen and -women. And how? By engineering a referendum without any meaningful consultation. I say shame.
We must treat this issue with the respect and the gravity that it deserves. A change of this magnitude should not be this easy, and those who promote it should, frankly, have more respect for British Columbians and more respect for Canadians that gave their lives so that we could enjoy the freedoms that we have earned here today.
Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, and arguably, the architect of our great nation, was also an optimist. He said: “When fortune empties her chamber pot on your head, smile and say we’re going to have a summer shower.” He was telling us to be optimistic. Well, there’s no optimism in Bill 6. In this bill is yet another projectile that is spewing out of the NDP-Green chamber pot and onto the heads of British Columbians.
Bill 6 is far from a summer shower and represents nothing less than a political monsoon that will destroy this province. I can tell you that myself, my colleagues and, most importantly, British Columbians are not smiling.
The defeat of Bill 6 is a hill British Columbians are willing to die on. I can tell you, and I can tell you this with certainty: when it comes to rural British Columbia and comes to where I live and comes to this battle ahead of us, we’re locked and loaded.
R. Sultan: I welcome this opportunity to comment on Bill 6, the Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Act.
Several changes to our electoral system are proposed in this bill. One of them alters the way we choose members of this Legislature. If it becomes law, we will take steps to discard our first-past-the-post system and replace it with proportional representation. How we choose our political leadership — whether through cronyism, at the point of a gun or through some democratic process — is pretty fundamental, so Bill 6 strikes at the heart of our political life and our society.
When first elected, I was told I would find in this Legislature a cross-section of all British Columbians, representing virtually every point of view, so it has turned out to be. But there are always some who believe they’ve been left out, persons who feel disenfranchised, since their particular views don’t get the attention they so obviously deserve.
In our system, if a politician feels strongly that his or her particular view has not received sufficient attention, you can fight it out in caucus or in the media or even start your own political party. These are the hallmarks of a healthy democracy.
What is not so healthy is when such persons try to rig the voting system to suppress those they don’t agree with and to almost guarantee that their own voice will be identifiable as virtually a private brand in the Legislature.
The idea that every point of view in our society deserves a voice in the Legislature sounds very noble and very democratic. Indeed, every point of view, however extreme, should be considered. But how many thousands and thousands of perspectives could one enumerate among our population on matters scientific, social, economic and cultural, not to mention religious or philosophical, before one would realize that, practically speaking, each of them cannot expect to have their own specialized seat in parliament — as opposed to being represented by someone else having more general instincts, to be sensitive to their concerns but also be dedicated to serving the common good.
Nevertheless, such noble sentiments — that each and every one of us deserves our unique voice — have driven the adoption of systems of proportional representation throughout the world. They are not unusual, and we seriously consider that option from time to time here in British Columbia. But they are not without their serious flaws.
Within the memory of some in this chamber, there were two prior referenda on proportional representation, in 2005 and 2009, under the leadership of Premier Gordon Campbell. These projects considered how we elect MLAs.
They were grounded upon an elaborate citizens’ assembly consultation process, which took years and millions of dollars to design and implement. They engaged thousands of people across the province. I must say the contrast between that very elaborate and broadly based project, on the one hand, and the narrow — what I would view it as hasty casualness — and “Don’t worry about it; we’ll look after all the details for you” spirit which we see in evidence today and as represented in Bill 6 is, frankly, to me, disquieting.
The earlier examination of the pluses and minuses of proportional representation was driven by an election promise of our own B.C. Liberal Party in the ’01 election. Such was public anger against the NDP government of the day that that election, my first, resulted in a very lopsided 77-to-2 landslide in our favour. That’s what you might call sending a message. But it caused even the most partisan of us to wonder whether this was really a healthy governance outcome.
I might say it also illustrated that a party of two hard-working women, Jenny and Joy, could hold an entire government to account for four years. They did very well at that assignment.
So a citizens’ assembly was activated, culminating in a recommendation for proportional representation and a subsequent testing of public support in 2005. When that first referendum failed to achieve the stipulated 60 percent threshold, there was a second referendum, in 2009.
A key point deserving attention today is that the design and development process was provincewide and removed from the hands of elected politicians — key point. Reading between the lines, you might say it was acknowledged that politicians…. Each of us have our own selfish axe to grind, and we are not to be totally trusted.
So the process involved a random selection of citizen volunteers not directly engaged in politics, equally balanced among each of the political ridings across the province, whether represented in government or not, and equally balanced between men and women.
This citizens’ assembly held public hearings, listened to the experts, expended much time and treasure, and ultimately came up with a new voting system to be submitted to the people for approval. The first attempt yielded narrow public support. The second — a decisive judgment against changing how we elect MLAs. First-past-the-post, or FPP, as it is known, continued as in the past.
Why politicians should simply stay out of electoral redesign is obvious when we see what is happening today — a government which did not even receive the most votes in the last election, pretending to have a lock on impartiality on matters of great partiality, proposing a three-pack of clever legislation designed to further its own interests, creating laws discriminating in favour of itself and maximizing its own probability of success.
Political science historians will note the stunning contrast between today and the philosophy of 2005 and ’09.
Today we face legislative uncertainty. We’re asked to approve a set of statutes of which Bill 6 is but one open-ended, rather loosely defined component. The particular type of proportional representation system to be proposed — and there are many to choose from — is undefined. On that issue, it is simply: “Trust us.”
Perhaps with that criticism in mind, I notice the government is now going to patch together some sort of a public consultation process. But at the end of the day, the particular flavour to be presented won’t be chosen by citizens. It’ll be chosen by cabinet — the big decisions made behind closed doors.
The ballot question which emerges will be submitted to the uncertain performance of a struggling Canada Post, which specializes in delivering to me my neighbour’s mail and will be conditional on a pitifully low hurdle rate of 50 percent plus one.
Bill 6 assumes there will be several options, with a winner chosen by a ranked ballot, with the losers, second choices, being redistributed, and so on.
If there’s only one FPP option and more than one proportional representation option on the ballot, you can do the arithmetic. Practically speaking, you might say the fix is in — FPP is out. The member for Columbia River–Revelstoke, the previous speaker, has already pointed out how this contradicts an assurance given to the Vancouver Province last May by the current Premier.
It will be multiple choice. As Keith Baldrey, a journalist of some note in these precincts, has already pointed out, with multiple choice, the chance that FPP gets 50 percent plus one is remote. Sorry, FPP, you got your chance at bat, but you struck out.
So we’re left with our own private speculations as to where cabinet will go next in choosing among many proportional representation alternatives. I believe, however — putting on my forecaster hat — I can make a reasonable prediction of the system they will choose.
Ordinarily, one might suppose executive council would sort through many options, listen to all the experts, do everything, kind of, the citizens’ assembly did on a broader basis, but I don’t really think they’ll be burdened with all that fuss and bother. I think executive council will simply be asked to rubber-stamp a particular model that’s already been decided.
Why would I think that? Well, partly, it’s natural to find that the tough, complex and strategic decisions confronting this government — in fact, confronting any government — are highly centralized in the Premier’s office. Who’s staffing the Premier’s office? Do any of these officials have any particular leanings when it comes to the voting process? Well, as a matter of fact, I think they do.
The city of Vancouver, in recent history, has been described as governed by a combination of our former NDP colleague Mayor Robertson, of unmatched personal charm, backed up by the muscular discipline of a colleague recently elevated to the apex of power in our British Columbia government as chief of staff to the Premier. So it’d be perfectly natural, in my view, that this person would have a very significant voice when it comes to recommending a proportional representation system to executive council.
Has this chief of staff been associated with any favoured proportional voting scheme in the past? Certainly, if we go back a few years. It’s a purely personal speculation on my part, but it’s my experience that people don’t change much over time. I bump into classmates from 50 years ago, and they’re still passing judgment on society — unchanged prejudices — as they did when I first met them. I’m willing to bet that the viewpoints of our chief of staff were shaped years ago and haven’t changed much over time.
For example, in earlier life, the chief of staff advocated for the net fishing industry, and fish farms be damned. This would be consistent with the government’s condemnation of fish farmers today, no doubt sanctioned by the corner office.
In an earlier life, he was also a newspaper editor — the journal of a political party which was advocating for some big, some might say radical, changes in how we are governed as a matter of class struggle. Would those views survive until today? Well, I believe, chances are, they would.
So I suggest to this Legislature that we can gain insights about the likely leanings on proportional representation within this government by reading the very articulate, well-composed, pull-no-punches submission of the Communist Party of Canada to the special parliamentary committee on electoral reform on October 8, 2016 — about 12 months ago.
This submission, reprinted in the People’s Voice — of which the chief of staff was formerly the editor; years ago, I grant — proudly describes itself as the voice of a registered political party with 95 years of fighting for peace, democracy and socialism and significantly, it points out, the very first political party in Canada to call for proportional representation.
This party Brief to the Special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform maintains that: “Any discussion about electoral reform should build from the principle of making every vote count.” Ah, making every vote count. I’ve heard that expression before, and I’m sure that I will hear it again and again.
The party brief goes on further to describe itself as being: “A strong champion of electoral reform and replacing first-past-the-post (FPP) with mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation without threshold limits.”
The brief goes on to describe MMP with great clarity. I admired the sheer elegance of the prose. Skipping over some of the paragraphs:
“Despite misinformation campaigns, the mixed-member proportional voting system is very clear, involving one ballot with two votes. With one vote, a local Member of Parliament is elected, and with the second vote, the people select a party. The Member of Parliament can be with the party you vote for or not. Local MPs would be elected in exactly the same way as they are now. The second vote would go toward electing a Member of Parliament from a party list.
“Today the realities are self-evident that the FPP winner-take-all system is undemocratic, entrenching the big business parties. A vast and costly electoral machine is required to win ridings.
“Our party has maintained long-standing and strong support for MMP because it’s a much-needed, significant reform to the voting system. MMP would help break the stranglehold of the giant corporations over politics. It would help counter the trend to squeeze progressive small parties off the electoral platform altogether.
“The peoples of Canada have waged prolonged campaigns to enlarge democracy in this country. Historically, this has included revolutionary struggles to win representative assemblies. Later battles to expand the franchise have fought against class oppression as well as colonialism, racism, sexism, ageism and other structural inequalities.
“The campaign for proportional representation is all part of the struggle, led by groups like Movement pour une démocratie nouvelle and Fair Vote Canada with support from their allies in labour and the people’s movements, the Communist Party, the Green Party, the New Democratic Party, the Bloc Québecois, Québec solidaire and others.
“By making the composition of the party list a political concern, MMP could also help to elect more Indigenous candidates, people from racialized groups, women and trans persons. It will also contribute to the break up of the dominance of the big parties by fostering coalitions which are susceptible to public opinion and mass pressure.”
Hmm, mass pressure. Does this mean a little bit of mob intimidation is part of the package?
So what will be the consequences of electing MLAs in accordance with this particular model of proportional representation? Well, political scientists and astute journalists have made the following points, and many of these points have been made by previous speakers on this bill.
It can give extreme parties a foothold in Parliament, and the Weimar Republic and the Bundestag are examples.
The big-tent political model fragments. As the brief I previously cited points out, proportional representation will: “Contribute to the break up of the dominance of the big parties.” Vaughn Palmer has tweeted: “Great moments in proportional representation. Iceland election, 200K voters, eight parties, 63 seats.”
Negotiating backroom deals replaces public debate. Taxpayer-funded secretariats may be appointed to broker ongoing deals far from prying media eyes.
Hostage-taking can occur. When the leading party cannot form a majority without bending to the will of minority interests on issues contrary to its own election platform, core principles fly out the window.
Accountability suffers. Coalitions fuzzify who’s actually in charge.
Some parties develop nine lives, even when shifting political ties, rendering them zombies whose only important support is to the taxpayer. Think Parti Québécois in Ottawa.
In it’s most likely application, each provincial riding would double in size, and half of all MLAs would be appointed by a party and not necessarily have any connection with the local region. Perhaps the most dubious consequence of the MMP model would be to delegate MLA selection to political parties. Lists would be put forward by each party. Party bosses would choose the MLAs, not citizens. The link between community and representative is cut in half.
In response to the possibility of party choice replacing citizen choice, the incredulous member for Skeena asked, in these chambers, a couple of days ago: “Do we live in Russia?”
Finally, will public cynicism be reduced as advertised? Well, I’d say not likely.
UVic political scientist Dennis Pilon wrote in the June-September 2010 Canadian Political Science Review that the results of the ’05 and ’09 referenda suggested that elite manipulation of the process and changing levels of partisan insecurity between the two votes were more influential in producing different outcomes than any thoughtful public reaction to the options.
It’s hard for me to conceive how any system of candidate choice based upon party rather than citizen can be considered democratic. The inner machinery of any party, and I speak from personal experience, is seldom transparent. Party lists would be assembled inside the club based on party service, unthinking loyalty, the trading of future favours, friendships, and so on. The slogan, “Every vote counts” — remember hearing that one? — becomes in the real world: “Every party counts.” Parties get excited, no wonder, over the possibility of MMP. Lips are smacking.
In closing, let’s look at PR in action. These various examples from around the world have been belaboured by many of my colleagues, but let me return, again, to Germany. At this moment, Germany is without a government. Some might say that without Chancellor Merkel, it is the western world itself which right now is leaderless.
Six parties are represented in the Bundestag, representing between 40 percent and 9 percent of the popular vote. The leader of the FDP Party said four days ago, as he walked out declaring, “I’m out of here,” that while he knew he “could not steer the course of the entire republic with just 11 percent of the vote, the parties around the table had ‘no shared vision.’” And four weeks of talks had left them with — get this — “inconsistencies, unanswered questions and conflicts.” I said to myself: “Sounds just like a caucus meeting.”
This is inherent in the democratic process, but he found it intolerable. It was impossible. He couldn’t live with it. He walked out. Psychologists have a term for individuals who are extremely self-absorbed and self-centred and for whom “compromise” is a dirty word. “You other folks be damned. It’s my opinion which is right. Do it my way, or I’m picking up my baseball, and I’m going home.” Welcome to proportional representation.
I could go on and on, but I see the clock is approaching noon. I would just like to wind up by saying the present election system is not without its flaws. Certainly, proportional representation has worked reasonably well in many other parts of the world. The B.C. Liberal Party itself openly espoused this option years ago, so we should not be dismissive of this as a legitimate option for how we choose MLAs.
I think there are variations on the theme which I, frankly, find intolerable. Any suggestion that we would revert to that particular brand of MMP where parties rather than citizens make decisions about who will become MLAs is totally unacceptable to the democratic history and traditions of British Columbia.
Noting the hour, I would move adjournment of the debate.
R. Sultan moved adjournment of debate.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. M. Farnworth moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: The House stands adjourned until 1:30 this afternoon.
The House adjourned at 11:56 a.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: OFFICE OF THE PREMIER
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); N. Simons in the chair.
The committee met at 11:01 a.m.
On Vote 10: Office of the Premier, $11,011,000.
The Chair: Premier, would you like to make an opening statement?
Hon. J. Horgan: I’d be delighted to make an opening statement. I’ll make it as brief as possible, more to introduce those that are with me. I’m joined by my Deputy Minister, Don Wright, and chief of staff to the Premier, Geoff Meggs. Tara Richards is going to be here to help us with the finances, Steve Klak as well. And Shelley Canitz, from the office of the deputy. The Deputy Minister, Intergovernmental Relations, Okenge Yuma Morisho, is also here to help the committee get any of the answers they may need.
Briefly, because I know we are limited in our time this morning, I wanted to say that it is an honour and a privilege to take this opportunity to defend the budget and our estimates process — which, as a longtime opposition member, I can tell you was oftentimes the most fruitful debate and discussion that we have here at the Legislature. I’m confident, as I look at the capable, experienced people on the other side, that the questions will be focused on issues that are important to the people of British Columbia, and I want to commit to the committee that I’m going to do my level best to answer the questions in as full and open a way as possible.
Thank you for that opportunity to have an opening remark.
R. Coleman: In that vein, to the Premier, I remember doing estimates with him once when the Premier wasn’t available, so I’ve been on both sides of this discussion. The Premier did say back a few years ago that it would be great to have them in the chamber so that people could see it all. We’re not prime time today, Premier.
I do, though, just want to bring his attention to…. I want to sort of contextualize how we will approach the estimates of the Premier. The Premier once said…. I thank the Premier and his staff who are assembled here today for the next number of hours, as we explore not just, of course, the budget allocation in the blue book but also look broadly, I believe, at government policies ahead of the executive council. He went on to say, basically, that any question was available, which I totally respect. I think that’s the best way to do it.
I have a number of members that will want to ask the Premier some specific questions as we go through these discussions. But maybe I could just start out with some basic questions with regards to the Premier’s office budget. There are two sets of estimates already produced this year: one in April by the previous government, of course, and one in September by the current government. The next few questions will explore the differences between the two.
In the estimates produced in April, the total budget for Vote 10, Premier’s office, was $9.011 million. In the estimates produced in September, that has increased to $11.01 million. What is the 22 percent increase?
Hon. J. Horgan: I thank the Leader of the Opposition for the question. It is a $2 million lift from February, and much of that can be found by our effort to have greater transparency on items that were monetary costs that were incurred by the Premier’s office previously but were paid for by other ministry budgets.
An example of that would be the Pacific Carbon Trust. There was a $5,000 cost to the Premier’s office that was paid by another ministry until this year; $96,000 for data operations, which were services that were used by the Premier’s office that were paid by other ministries. Postage wasn’t previously paid by the Premier’s office. Those costs were incurred by the Premier’s office and paid by another ministry.
R. Coleman: Could the Premier be specific as to which ministry he was mentioning in the first part of his answer with regards to costs that were previously paid elsewhere, and why?
Hon. J. Horgan: The bulk of these expenditures, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $750,000 in non-salary costs, were picked up by the Ministry of Finance.
R. Coleman: If we look at the group account classification summary and supplements, most of the change is captured in salaries and benefits, specifically for executive operations. How many FTEs had their salary and benefits captured by executive operations in Vote 10 in the April estimate, and how many in the September update?
Hon. J. Horgan: I think I’ll start with a broad answer, and you can burrow down. The $2 million increase is funding ten additional positions.
R. Coleman: What are those ten positions?
Hon. J. Horgan: They’re going to pull out a piece of paper and hand it to me, and I have to make a correction already. It’s $1.25 million in costs for salaries. The other $750,000 were expenses incurred and paid elsewhere. The ten new positions is $1.25 million. That includes, by and large — in fact, almost entirely — in the deputy minister’s office….
The former government had 26 individuals with a salary of $2,082,000. The current government has 27 positions. We added one additional person in the correspondence branch, and the salary increase would come out as almost net-net. There is one additional person, one additional salary as a result of the change from February to September.
R. Coleman: So that’s, obviously, not just all the operations, because that would mean somebody is getting paid $1.2 million. I don’t think that’s the case, and if it is, where do I apply?
You have got a pretty capable deputy. I’m well aware of his capabilities. Maybe you could try and give me a bit more detail on that rather than just one additional person for $1.2 million.
Hon. J. Horgan: These changing roles are interesting for both the member and myself.
The one additional is in the basement, and upstairs in the deputy’s office is where the bulk of the new staff are. It’s an increase of six from the former government. No. Hang on. Five additional senior staff in the deputy’s office is where the bulk of the salary increase goes to, and there are four positions not yet filled. So in terms of the allocation, where our expectation is, we’re not going to meet that budget number this year. The public accounts will show that we are well below that.
R. Coleman: Can you boil down the five positions for me?
Hon. J. Horgan: The focus in the increase in salary and staff in the deputy’s office consists of an additional ADM from the previous FTE count, responsible for priorities. As a new government, after a long period of time of an incumbent government with an ambitious agenda, it was our view — working together with the chief of staff, the deputy and I — that it was important that we had a central operation that would have existed in previous administrations, whether they be Liberal, New Democrat or Socred
Again, in the interest of transparency, we want to have this opportunity to debate why we’re putting new additional staff directly into the Premier’s office, reporting directly to the deputy, so we have an ADM responsible for priorities, three directors that report to that ADM, and an executive assistant to make sure it all works.
R. Coleman: Just to be on the record, I’ve only been a member of two of those three parties over my time involved in and out of politics. Funding for the Intergovernmental Relations Secretariat has jumped by 11.5 percent, or $362,000. Presumably, that’s not money for the Third Party relationship through the secretariat, since they’re not government. So what is that dollar for?
The Chair: The member is asked to repeat the question.
R. Coleman: I thought that was a brilliant question. Funding for the Intergovernmental Relations Secretariat has jumped 11.5 percent. That’s about $362,000. Presumably, that’s not more money for a relationship in the secretariat with the Green Party, which we will get to in a minute or two, because they’re not actually government. So what is that additional 11.5 percent for?
Hon. J. Horgan: The increase in IGR is, again, in an effort to provide more transparency. PNWER, for example, the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region, paid for out of a different budget in the past, now is incorporated with intergovernmental relations. The Pacific Coast Collaborative, another initiative, again supported by all parties, which had been funded in the previous government by a different ministry, now is housed within IGR. These are all increases in budget to demonstrate transparency that intergovernmental relations, which has been housed in the Premier’s office, now has responsibility for paying their bills.
R. Coleman: My experience has been that PNWER required some dollars from Vote 1 for members to travel to PNWER conferences, pay for their registration and travel. An MLA budget was actually applied through Vote 1, through the MLAs. Can the Premier tell me what the costs of PNWER are, in actual fact, rather than just the number?
Hon. J. Horgan: Thank you for the question. I’m advised that…. I agree with the member that Vote 1…. MLAs used their office budgets and their caucus budgets to participate in PNWER. But there is a membership fee, and that fee is the number in the blue books. That number is now, rather than being paid from Finance, being paid through the Premier’s office.
R. Coleman: Thank you, Premier. You’re also spending an extra $200,000 on office expenses and information systems. Could you be specific what that’s for? Is this a one-time increase for new equipment or ongoing operational costs?
Hon. J. Horgan: The gross number has increased, but it’s a flow-through from other ministries in a cost recovery to pay for that.
While I’m on my feet, I’ll have to say to the Chair and to other members of the committee that I have, for many, many years, sat on that side of the House and wondered just what goes on when the minister or the Premier turns to get advice. And I’m now reminded of how capable — and the former ministers will remember this — how capable the people behind me are. I’m grateful that they’re here to help answer the detailed questions that the Leader of the Opposition will now continue to bring forward.
R. Coleman: More like an encyclopedia, actually, without Google. Yeah, there are often times when you do rely on them.
Going forward, do you anticipate that your office budget will continue at an increase of $2 million a year?
Hon. J. Horgan: We don’t anticipate any further increases beyond this initial, again, start-up for a new administration — trying to figure out how we can be as transparent as possible with public dollars, making sure that if an expenditure is undertaken by the Premier’s office, it’s noted in a way that can be seen by not just the official opposition and not just by the Third Party but all British Columbians. That’s the intent.
We do have, as I said, an increase in resources available to the deputy minister on the public service side to make sure that we’re driving the agenda and the priorities of the new cabinet.
R. Coleman: The operations and the ministers’ offices are now located in Victoria. I’ve always believed we should be in Victoria as often as we can for staff. I’ve always believed that. But your director of operations makes $125,000 a year. That’s $20,000 more than the base salary for an MLA, and the previous occupant of that office made substantially less than that. What has changed in the job description, for the description for director of operations, to justify the $40,000 increase?
Hon. J. Horgan: I thank the member for the question. We’ve, in essence, eliminated the position of deputy chief of staff. It’s no longer in our org chart. That was a salary item of $175,000 in the previous administration. We’ve also eliminated the executive director for issues management and communications, which was a $156,000 pay packet. We have communications requirements, of course, as all governments do, but virtually every other position, the salary, has remained the same.
The operations, as you say, are now more focused on Victoria. The responsibilities of the director of operations have increased. They now have responsibility directly for correspondence. They have responsibility to make sure that the trains are running on time and that, in fact, in terms of dollars upstairs and downstairs, there’s actually a decrease in costs — the same number of FTEs but a decrease in costs from July 2017 to November 2017.
R. Coleman: I assume that doesn’t include the other five that we were talking about earlier.
Hon. J. Horgan: No.
R. Coleman: Premier, the word on the street, let’s call it, is that you intend to put executive assistants in constituency offices — from the ministers’ offices. Is that correct?
Hon. J. Horgan: That’s correct. It’s our expectation that we’ll be sitting here more frequently. We want to ensure that we have….
Although we’ve had a fixed calendar since 2001-02, we have not, as the member will know, always availed ourselves of the opportunity to gather in the fall. We expect to continue to do that as we have this fall session. We’ll have a spring and a fall sitting, and that will require, with the configuration of the Legislature being as tight as it is, ministers to be in Victoria for more activities than they would have been otherwise.
Having an assistant in the constituency…. I know for myself, who lives here on the Island and has enjoyed the benefits of being able to go home every night, that's a privilege that.... I know very few members — I look around the room — have that opportunity. I get to be with my family every evening when the House is sitting, and I know other members don’t. I am grateful to have an assistant in my constituency. The volume of work, as the former minister and former Deputy Premier will know, has gone up exponentially.
To have someone assisting my constituency staff — who are not partisan, as you know, and are there to ensure that services are provided to constituents and are overwhelmed with protests, advocacy groups, and so on…. To have someone in the constituency office to represent the government on my behalf is an asset and a relief for my CA.
R. Coleman: This is a twist. These people are politically appointed staff going into non-partisan offices. They will presumably be using the resources of the $119,500 that constituency offices use, whether it be space by amount of rent by square footage, whether it be telephone or fax or scan equipment, whether it be that all of a sudden the office has turned into a political place to drop by, versus what it is supposed to be — a non-partisan community office only for the purpose of serving all constituents in the riding.
These are political appointees. These are political positions. I’d like to hear his justification as to why, other than what he just said, they’re putting political people in constituency offices. Are you, when you do this, paying for the square footage that person uses if they use an 8-by-12 or 10-by-10 office? Are they going to be paying for their own telephone, etc., and all the rest of the other things relative to it? How do you justify taking what has traditionally become the non-partisan office of people elected to the Legislature…?
I think we’ve all run by this very well for a couple of decades now or more — that the offices are not partisan. We actually made the move on the financing and funding for constituency offices so they wouldn’t be. This is a move to make a portion of them partisan.
Hon. J. Horgan: I absolutely agree with the member. We are alive to the concern he raises. We’re making every effort to ensure that executive assistants, when they are located in constituency offices of ministers, are not using resources that are paid for through Vote 1. Anything — whether it be their phone, the paper they use, the computer that they carry — is provided by the ministry, so there’s no impact on the non-partisan element of the office. Nor is it our intention to politicize the office.
The member will know — and others, as I look across at those that will be potentially asking questions today — that when you are a member of the executive council, you get an increase in volumes in your office, whether it be correspondence, phone calls or visitations from those that are friendly and those that are not.
I have, on my watch as a member of the Legislature for a dozen years, made every effort to ensure that when people come and want to be dealing with political issues, that we do not do that in a way that would make our office appear to be a centre for political activity. It is a centre to provide services and inform people about programs that are delivered by the government of British Columbia. And they’ll remain that way.
R. Coleman: Maybe I should just give the Premier a little history on when there were executive assistants in the offices back in the days of the Social Credit government. They were sent over to be in those offices to actually assist with the operation of the offices. In those days, riding associations helped to subsidize the rent to those operations and sometimes the staff, because there wasn’t enough money from the Legislature to fund them.
We definitively, as a group, back in the ’90s, decided we were going to de-politicize any operations in our offices — not to say there were any in the 1990s. It’s just that we said we should formulize the amount of money that’s paid for the operation of a constituency office, decide whether rent is paid for from Vote 1, hire the applicable people to work and run in those offices, and to not put political staff inside a constituency office.
The reason we did that was because we didn’t want the politicization. I get the Premier’s context with regards to the workload, but I did manage for 16 years, on some significant ministries, not to have to have political staff in my office in Langley. My biggest concern on this, Premier, is it will cause some politicization, whether you want to believe it or not.
The first thing is, if you were in my office which I have in Langley…. If you’re occupying one office and someone is speaking loud enough on the phone, you can hear the whole conversation. The sadness about that is now I’m going to have a political staff member in there where it might get to the point that I should go give this constituency assistant my opinion on how he or she should handle this file.
That will lead to other things, to where the context of who is actually in charge in that office will change. When it does change, it will actually make the operation more political and less community.
I pride myself, in the 21 years I have been here, that we’ve always kept that office non-partisan. We’ll take any file. I’ll give you an example. Last week with Soliris, did I politicize Soliris with the Health Minister? No. I took the information, met my constituent and, on a non-partisan basis, took it to the Health Minister to be included in his stuff relative to his deliberations.
In the context of having somebody in there, the EA would be running off to the minister saying, “There’s an issue coming out of this office. You should be ahead of it,” etc. So my big concern is there’s a confidentiality piece from my constituents when they come into my office to know they have that. They also need to know that when I come in here, into my office, it’s non-partisan.
The switch has been…. We did it deliberately in this Legislature a number of years ago to not have this happen. I can’t see how the Premier can justify it just on a workload when I know full well that for the last 16 years — and frankly, I think for the ten years previous — ministers managed to do their jobs without having EAs in the constituency offices.
Hon. J. Horgan: The member is quite right in his chronology of the evolution of funding of constituency offices. Using this as an opportunity to educate those who are tuning in at home and for members who are new to this place, as I look around the room, you’re absolutely right.
Our constituency offices used to be extensions of constituency associations. We moved away from that in the late ’80s, early ’90s, but there were still executive assistants working for ministers in constituency offices, I believe, right up to 2001. It was a change made at a time when the numbers, you’ll remember very well, were 77 to two. The flexibility of government was different than it is today.
It is not our intention…. I absolutely support the thrust of the member’s question. I do not want…. In fact, I’ve had my CA express extreme relief to me because of the volume. I’m now the Premier of British Columbia. We all knew what we were getting into when I agreed to take on the role of Leader of the Opposition and run to be Premier.
My support staff in the constituency, who are friends now…. The member knows you get very close to your CAs. They are your face in the community. My face now is not just the member for Langford–Juan de Fuca. It is now Premier of British Columbia. They are relieved, my two assistants that do the non-partisan work that the member so ably discusses. They are inundated with politics.
To have an executive assistant that is available when I’m not there to push things off to means it’s not being transferred down to the Premier’s office and getting into a queue that’s already overwhelmed with additional work, as well, and new people coming in to fill positions.
If, over time, we discover that the concerns that the member has raised do emerge, I can assure him that I’ll take steps to resolve that. But these are not permanent positions in constituency offices. The intent is to make sure that there’s someone there representing the government so that it takes pressure off the non-partisan staff that are there providing services to citizens, making sure that they get timely access to public information and certainly maintaining their privacy as well.
R. Coleman: My experience over the years I was…. I had some pretty significant files and lots of controversy at different times. We managed that, as the Premier just described, without putting people in constituency offices and politicizing them. The ability for a constituency assistant to directly be in contact with an EA within an office was set up across government for any MLA, not just for government MLAs, to know that was a contact point who could take care of any issue relative to government and answer those questions.
The Premier will know that the walk-in traffic in constituency offices is substantially down from where it was 20 years ago because of the Internet, email and other opportunities to communicate. I’m still kind of struggling with how you justify politicizing constituency offices at the expense of what’s actually working non-partisan for communities — to put EAs in offices when in today’s environment that really isn’t necessary. It’s not like the day of the fax and the pager and what have you. It’s the day of electronics and seamless communication.
My constituency assistants over the years quite managed it without having to have an EA in the office. When we, frankly, looked at it at one time, our biggest concern was: how do you breach the confidentiality side and what’s going on in an office and the interference that comes just by opinion of an EA that represents a minister?
As an example, you have an EA in the office of one of the ministers, and they have a file come through. The constituency office is going to do the file work, the calls, what have you, and somebody else is listening to the conversation. Oftentimes it’s very confidential — confidentiality things signed by our constituents to represent them, whether it be to a doctor or whatever. He then enjoins himself in the opinion of the conversation, which changes the dynamic of who is actually working for the constituents and who is responsible.
My concern is that the responsibility will shift. It will become more and more political. As a result, even comments on such a thing…. I just recently sent out a newsletter. The newsletter gets put through a process that’s well established so it’s non-partisan. But to have somebody in the office say, “Well, let me have a look at that. I’m going to give you some ideas….” The Premier knows that that could easily happen.
The problem is that this is the extension of changing what I’ve always thought was a very important principle of the operation and the independence of an MLA, no matter whether they’re opposition or government — that their offices were non-partisan. They were there for their constituents. They would take the toughest files and concerns, meet with them, deal with them, be on the phone with them. I can tell you that I probably can’t find you a constituency office in British Columbia where the reception desk isn’t probably heard from either an adjoining office or a boardroom or somewhere else.
That really is not just confidentiality. It’s going to relate to opinions and appearances. Those parts, I think, change the dynamic and take away the independence of the offices of MLAs.
Hon. J. Horgan: I appreciate the member’s experience, who has been in opposition and in governments and has seen the evolution of funding for political activity, funding for community activity, over 20 years of service to the people of B.C. I value his input on this.
We’re going to monitor this carefully. It is not our intention to politicize offices. It’s our intention…. We have new ministers in place, learning the ropes and figuring out how to proceed and where those fine lines are. We’re going to perhaps run up to them.
We have given direction to those EAs that are in constituency offices — I’m advised that not all of them are; there are those that are housed here at the Legislature as well — that this is not about second-guessing the able work of our constituency assistants. It’s about trying to relieve the pressure that is now increased on those offices for the first time now.
I appreciate that the member’s experience allows him to say, over a broad horizon, he and his staff were able to work out protocols and procedures. We are new to this. I’m not using that as an excuse. I want to assure the member that I absolutely understand what he’s saying. We’re going to take deliberate steps to make sure we don’t politicize the process.
I know that my constituency staff have worked very, very hard to maintain relationships with government officials, as well, so that they can have seamless discussions. It isn’t the day of the fax and the brick-sized cell phones. I understand that location is no longer as important as some might think.
For those who are now taking on new responsibilities with a requirement to be always in the Legislature, this is an initiative that we’re undertaking. If we do find or the member finds that we have gone not just to the line but gone past it, I’m hopeful and I’m confident that he’ll raise that with me again.
R. Coleman: I think you’ve gone across the line, just in my own opinion. The minute you actually politicize a constituency office…. I know this job is one of the most remarkable and difficult jobs that everybody does in government, and they don’t actually realize it, for the most part, because our front-line people do so much work. They do that work in my office on the basis of non-partisanship, because I want everybody to be served.
To enjoin and load down into that office any political person who has a political, direct connection to a minister is going to cause difficulties within those offices and definitely will cause difficulties as far as confidentiality, as far as I’m concerned. The Premier and I will disagree on this, but I can honestly say to the Premier that this one thing — if I could give him some advice, which he’s not apt to take — is a mistake.
It’s a mistake because I think we, collectively in this House, in the last 21 years I’ve been here, worked very hard to make sure that our offices are not partisan. As a matter of fact, I know that we actually put in place, over the years, back in the former NDP government, standards of communication that would be non-partisan — a way for our offices to be able to have an opinion made about that communication so they wouldn’t be partisan. We’ve always been pretty disciplined about it, I think. We need to continue to be that.
When you add a political staffer in there, it’s a bit of a difficulty. I think the reality is that those calls, for a minister, can be handled with the right setup of communication without politicizing constituency offices.
Hon. J. Horgan: Again, I appreciate the counsel from the member. I shortchanged him a year on his time of service. I said 20, but it is 21. You’re right. You don’t look a day over 20, Member.
R. Coleman: And a half, if you’re counting.
Hon. J. Horgan: It’s 21½. I bet you are counting.
We’ve been working with the Clerk’s office to make sure that we do not cross that line. There have been recent examples where that has been the case, not just in minister’s constituency offices but right here at the Legislature. I won’t get into that, but it’s well known by the member and other members, and we want to avoid that.
We did not set out to create problems. We’re setting out to try to resolve problems. Maybe we have over-anticipated in this instance, and we’ll be monitoring it in the days and weeks ahead. Based on the line of questioning, I know the Leader of the Opposition will be as well. I think the public can take great confidence in knowing it is not our intention to politicize the very good work that our 87…. In fact, the member in the chair has multiple constituency offices because of the size of the area they have to cover and the difficulty of ferry routes and so on.
It is not the intention to politicize those offices. If that becomes an issue, we’ll address it immediately.
R. Coleman: It’s an interesting parallel you derive with Powell River–Sunshine Coast. They don’t get an increase in budget, and he’s not a minister. Yet if somebody was to say that somebody’s got a higher workload for travel and difficulty getting to their ridings and for communication, it wouldn’t be a riding in Vancouver that gets an EA. I can tell you that in most urban, particularly metro, ridings, there’s not that much activity coming through the door.
To try to justify that, versus where somebody may actually need it when they’re covering a place bigger than the entire province of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia combined…. Maybe the resources shouldn’t go to the EAs but should actually go to help those particular ridings take care of the people that they need to the most.
Of course, that’s not within the Premier’s purview. That’s within LAMC’s purview. Things that are coming before LAMC today…. You have to remember that every time we’ve made a change of any type, compensation or change, it has always gone out to an independent panel, not something we just decided in committee. We decided to not have that done when we did the last work with regards to MLAs and costs and other funds, whether it be to a caucus or whatever the case may be. It’s always been done independently.
Premier, I will stop now for a minute. My member for Cariboo North would like to ask you a couple of questions. It’s clarification of something that’s just happened. Then it will come back to me, if necessary, after you have dealt with those couple of questions.
C. Oakes: To the Premier, thank you for this very important opportunity to ask specific questions around supporting the communities that have been affected by wildfires. We have certainly canvassed all of the past ministries about support. I know that at a press conference yesterday, the Premier talked about the $100 million announcement with the federal government that would specifically go to small businesses and individuals.
Can the Premier kindly provide details of how businesses and individuals will access that money, and is it specifically for individuals?
R. Coleman: I actually said the wrong riding. It was Cariboo-Chilcotin that was going to get up, but she capably asked the first question from Cariboo-Chilcotin. The member will ask that question, and then the member for Cariboo-Chilcotin will ask the balance.
Hon. J. Horgan: I thank the Leader of the Opposition again.
I have to say that both members, for Cariboo-Chilcotin and for Cariboo North, have been working tirelessly for their communities. I’ve talked to both of them, particularly the member for Cariboo-Chilcotin, from the early days — prior to the transition, in fact, from the previous government to the current government. We have done our level best to meet the needs of the people and to meet the issues that have been raised by the MLAs, who are working so hard for their constituents.
What I said yesterday…. I had an opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister a week ago today, and we’ve developed a positive working relationship on a range of files. We were together in Williams Lake this past summer, again, for a flyover and to talk to wildfire crews at the command centre at the Williams Lake Airport. I know firsthand that the Prime Minister not only visited the area. Not only did he talk to Indigenous leaders and to local representatives but also to first responders. At that first meeting, in the helicopter, I said: “You know, it would be nice if you helped out here.”
The previous government and the current government jointly provided $100 million to the Red Cross to start on the relief exercise. Of course, at the time that that announcement was made, we had no expectation of how horrific the summer’s fire season would be.
In my conversations with the Prime Minister over the past number of months, I’ve reminded him of his commitment to the people of Williams Lake, particularly, and to the region and the province generally — that the federal government would be there. And they were there. The Minister of Defence, Minister Sajjan, had military personnel on the ground. Helicopters were in Williams Lake. Helicopters were in Kamloops, ready to move people at a moment’s notice. That was greatly appreciated at the time.
Now that we’re in the recovery period, both members will know full well — well, actually, all three members…. I see the member for Fraser-Nicola as well. You’re hearing every day about the personal and human tragedies, as well as the impact on business, the impact on wildlife, the impact on forestry.
At my meeting last week with the Prime Minister, I said: “This is great. Good to see you again. Where’s the money?” That afternoon there was a written commitment sent to me and to my deputy of an additional $100 million to come from the federal government. We’re in the process of negotiating what that will be and what that will do. Now that we are aware that that money is coming, it allows us to go back to the initial contribution to the Red Cross — the provincial contribution, coupled with those generous donations from citizens, not just in B.C. and in Canada but around the world — and start to reallocate resources back to individuals and businesses.
That announcement is forthcoming. I can’t give you details on that today. Suffice it to say there will be additional resources, now that we are assured that we have another envelope that we can access for recovery, for making sure we can get burnt wood out of the forest and to mills and to process it while it still has value. We have, now, more flexibility on the initial contribution than we did before. So we’ll be working with the Red Cross to make sure that citizens and businesses that were affected by the fire have access to additional resources.
D. Barnett: Thank you, Premier, but I’m a little bit frustrated, as my colleagues are. We have been through, as you have said, one of the worst disasters. We have no help for our citizens. You can say there’s a recovery plan; there’s Red Cross. In our offices every day, I could give you 50 people that have been devastated, that have no homes, people that have no money to fix their backyards because a fire came through. They come to us. They say: “What are you doing?” We say we have to go to our government. People are devastated.
When you and I had a conversation, Mr. Premier, before you became Premier….
The Chair: Through the Chair, please.
D. Barnett: I’m sorry. Through the Chair.
We were not going to politicize this, and we have done our best not to, but at this point, all of us need to be participating in this process.
To the Premier, we need individual help for our constituencies, not promises. When can we rely on this, Mr. Premier?
Hon. J. Horgan: Again, I know how hard the member for Cariboo-Chilcotin is working to represent her constituents. There is no doubt of that. There is no doubt that there is urgent need in her community.
But there are limits to our ability to access resources. That’s why it was so critically important that the federal government get in the game. They’ve done so. It’s not just rhetoric. It’s going to be reality, and that provides us with more flexibility to get into communities throughout the region, from Fraser-Nicola right through to Quesnel and every community that was affected and the individuals there.
Just shy of $500 million has already been paid out this fire season. Of 33,000 invoices, 98 percent of them have been paid. So there’s a very small number…. I appreciate that this is cold comfort for those who are desperately in need of assistance, but we’re doing our level best.
I know this was fully canvassed with the two ministers — of Public Safety and Forests — and I don’t want to diminish the urgency of the issue or the passion and dedication of the members here raising these issues, but we are doing our level best to use the system that was in place when we arrived. It was a paper-based system, and there have been allegations, I have seen on the local media, of potential fraud. All of us want to make sure that does not happen.
This is an opportunity now for us to update our systems to make sure that we’re better prepared in the future to address catastrophic change like this. I know the member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head will remind us that this may be the beginning of a regular fire season because of the challenges of climate change.
We need, as a government…. This isn’t a partisan issue, and the member has been clear about that. Oftentimes, I have to say, people have suggested you’re being partisan. I say you’re being passionate and committed to your constituency. So you’ll get no complaint from me about your frustration at this issue.
However, I’m hopeful you’ll give me a little bit of slack to try and ensure that we get to the next stage of the recovery now that we have certainty from the federal government that they’re going to be participating fully. We’ll do our level best to meet the needs in your constituency.
I, again, invite you to be in regular contact with the Minister of Forests and regular contact with the Minister of Public Safety. If you continue to have difficulties — and I know you will follow through on this — be assured that you have my number.
I rise and move that the committee report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 11:48 a.m.
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