Third Session, 41st Parliament (2018)
Monday, November 26, 2018
Issue No. 191
The HTML transcript is provided for informational purposes only.
The PDF transcript remains the official digital version.
|Orders of the Day|
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2018
The House met at 10:03 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Standing Order 35
REQUEST TO DEBATE A MATTER OF
URGENT PUBLIC IMPORTANCE —
ADMINISTRATIVE LEAVE FOR CLERK
M. de Jong: Mr. Speaker, I seek leave, pursuant to Standing Order 35, that this House do adjourn its usual business, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance. I’m hopeful and believe that notice of our intention in this regard was conveyed to the Government House Leader and to the representatives of the Third Party.
Last week on….
Mr. Speaker: Member, if I may ask…. If this matter pertains to my office, I ought to recuse myself, and I will ask the Deputy Speaker to preside over the proceedings.
M. de Jong: Very good.
[R. Chouhan in the chair.]
Deputy Speaker: Member, continue.
M. de Jong: Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, last week on Tuesday, British Columbians observed events at their Legislative Assembly that were unprecedented in the life of this institution. It was certainly unlike anything I have seen in the 25 years I have sat in these chairs.
In fact, in the annals of Commonwealth parliamentary history, I doubt anything has approached the spectacle that we saw unfold on Tuesday: the two most senior non-partisan officials associated with the assembly relieved of their duties — one, an individual who has served at this table with distinction for over three decades; the other, an individual into whose hands the assembly has placed responsibility for the security of these precincts and the safety of all who work here.
More than that, the spectacle of watching them marched out of this building by law enforcement officers and a heretofore unknown official from the Office of the Speaker in a manner that seems, quite frankly, to have been deliberately designed to inflict the maximum degree of public humiliation and embarrassment…. To describe what has taken place as a crisis is, I don’t think, to exaggerate.
To say that British Columbians are troubled and questioning the confidence they can have in this institution is, I think, an understatement, but it runs deeper than that. I believe that members of this assembly on both sides are troubled, that members on both sides are concerned, frustrated, maybe even angered by what took place on Tuesday last — and the role that the members ourselves played in facilitating that spectacle.
Here’s what I believe. I believe that when members were presented with the motion to relieve officials of their duties, the vast majority were not aware that the investigation giving rise to the motion was initiated by the Speaker and conducted without any involvement or knowledge of the legislative accounts management committee.
I believe that when members were presented with the motion, the vast majority were not aware that the Speaker and his special adviser were contemplating replacing one of the suspended officials with the very person who had initiated and been conducting an investigation of that individual for seven months — again, unbeknownst to the legislative accounts management committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am certain that when members were presented with the motion to suspend, they were not anticipating, nor would they have sanctioned, the deplorable, shoddy, disrespectful, humiliating treatment that long-serving servants of this assembly, who are entitled to every presumption of innocence, were subjected to.
I believe this House needs to openly, honestly and in the full glare of public scrutiny re-examine what occurred last Tuesday, secure answers to a host of unanswered questions and determine whether standards of procedural fairness, which an employee and the public at large are entitled to expect of their Legislative Assembly, have been met.
Fortunately, we have a mechanism to facilitate that discussion. It is Standing Order 35, which provides for a managed, structured consideration of these issues. Has there ever been a more appropriate or necessary time to invoke the parliamentary tool that Standing Order 35 represents?
Is it an urgent matter? The public’s confidence in this institution and the work that takes place here has been dramatically compromised. The urgency of the debate is surely apparent to all. In 32 hours, this Legislature is scheduled to adjourn and not sit again for 2½ months. The lawyers will start to get hired. It’s already begun — the affected officials, apparently the Speaker’s office itself — again, with no guidance or approval from LAMC. And who will pay? As always, it will be the public.
I will not presume to anticipate or even direct what additional steps, if any, should flow from the discussion that I believe the chamber must have. I have my own thoughts, but quite frankly, they are influenced by the huge gaps in information that most members, I think, are struggling with.
Deputy Speaker: Member, as the member knows, under section 35, the statement has to be brief, so I encourage the member to wrap it up as soon as possible.
M. de Jong: I thank you for your guidance, Mr. Speaker.
What is important, I believe, is that this assembly turn its collective attention to ensuring that we are satisfied that the steps that have been taken are the correct ones and were taken for the correct reasons and that the principles of procedural fairness and natural justice guided the decision.
In a moment you will hear from able representatives for the government and the Third Party, and you’ll have the benefit of their views. I would suggest — if you are so inclined, Mr. Speaker — that because of the importance of the decision, the House may wish to recess to await your decisions.
I cannot help, in making these remarks, but be mindful of a tragedy that occurred six years ago that this House dealt with over that time and the injustice that was perpetrated when procedural flaws, we now know, took place. There is a difference this time. This is not a decision of some nameless or faceless bureaucrats. This is about us. This is about each member of this assembly.
Finally, surely we have the willingness and the courage to re-examine in a meaningful way the steps that were taken in the name of this parliament to ensure that fairness and justice have not been compromised. Let us do it now before it’s too late.
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Member.
I invite other House Leaders to offer brief representation, if they wish.
Hon. M. Farnworth: I thank the member for his comments. We take them very seriously.
I would like to point out that the key issue here is the fact that there is an active police, RCMP, investigation underway. In terms of public confidence, the public needs to know that a police investigation can continue unimpeded in a way that ensures that justice is carried out, that investigation is carried out by the laws and the standards of the land. As a result, discussion or debate under 35 would not be appropriate.
There is an active police investigation underway. It is that simple. That investigation needs to be allowed to do its work and to come to completion. That’s why, at this point, a debate under Standing Order 35 would not be in order.
A. Weaver: I join my colleague in government in speaking against the public interest of debating such a matter in this House.
Frankly, it reminds me of a parody site, The Hard Times, where we would have a debate that goes along the lines of “Man with Half the Facts in Heated Debate with Man with Zero Facts.” The danger of having such a debate in the absence of information while a police investigation, a criminal investigation, is ongoing, with not one but two special prosecutors, is very worrying.
I would argue that it is in the public interest that the police investigation be allowed to proceed unheated from political interference. With that in mind, I think it would be inappropriate for us to be debating this in the Legislature in light of the fact that there is a criminal investigation ongoing as we speak. With that, I do recommend that this not be accepted.
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Members.
M. de Jong: Mr. Speaker, I think the standing order contemplates the person seeking leave to present to the House the motion he or she would be seeking the House to consider. I do so now: that this House review its own conduct with respect to the events and facts that led to the presentation of a motion on Tuesday, November 20, 2018, placing the Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms on administrative leave, with a view to ensuring that all of the steps that were taken were consistent with the principles of procedural fairness and natural justice and, if that is found not to be the case, to consider remedial steps.
That, if you deem this in order, would be the motion that I would present to the House for its consideration.
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Member. I shall take this under advisement.
Orders of the Day
Private Members’ Statements
M. Elmore: I’m very pleased to speak to the statement of adult education and recognizing the importance of adult education. Certainly, it falls within the context of the value of education. I think that that is an intrinsic value that all Canadians and, really, people around the world recognize — the importance of education. Just in terms of the context of adult education, we have our kindergarten to grade 12.
Deputy Speaker: Member, can you hold for a second? Some members are leaving the House, so let’s just wait for a second.
M. Elmore: Thank you very much, hon. Speaker.
Our education system really characterizes lifelong learning in our environment now. After graduating high school, we have vocational school, post-secondary institutions. Certainly with the challenges of our evolving economy, there’s a need to not only complete education but to pursue post-secondary education. It has been quoted that the number of jobs for our new, changing economy, which will require folks to have some type of education after high school, is 80 percent.
When we talk about adult education, what is adult education, and who are the students who access adult education? They are a very diverse group. These are folks who, after the age of 18, require either additional courses to complete their high school equivalency or require courses to qualify as prerequisites to continue their education, either in a vocational institute, a college or a university.
Who are these folks? Now 20 percent of those students who access adult education are actually school-aged youth who for one reason or another were not served by our kindergarten-to-grade-12 system. They are students who are English language learners. They are new immigrants, newly arrived to our country, and require additional language skills.
Often they have graduated with degrees in their countries, they are immigrating here, and they need to upgrade their language skills to be able to pursue meaningful employment here. They are certainly Indigenous students. They are also students who have dreams and aspirations for the future. Many of them, as well, are women. We see single mothers and, also, women caring for the elderly. So a very diverse group of students — and some folks who need a second chance. It’s a very diverse community.
It’s important to ensure that all British Columbians have opportunities to be able to access education, to upgrade their skills and to be successful. We know that our education system is a foundation for our democratic society. It’s one of the strongest contributors to ensure that all British Columbians and Canadians have access and opportunities to pursue their potential and also to ensure that we are addressing social justice and that we close the gap on inequality.
We know that the benefits of adequately and equitably funded adult education extends far beyond the classroom. We know that unemployment rates for young adults aged 20 to 24 without a high school certificate are double what they are for graduates in the same group. Non-graduates also work more but earn less per week than their graduated peers.
We know that the child poverty rate for children of parents with less than a secondary education is twice as high as those with parents who have at least completed secondary education or some post-secondary education. And it’s five times as high as those with parents who have a post-secondary degree. Certainly, just a huge gap in terms of earning potential and opportunities for adults who, for one reason or another, are not able to complete their high school and pursue additional training and additional courses.
Giving young adults an opportunity to complete high school and also to complete requirements for post-secondary training is an essential component of a poverty reduction plan. When I travelled across the province, that’s what we heard time and time again — that we need to address our record-high levels of poverty in our province. Access to education, removing those barriers, is key and central to that.
In terms of the student body, we also have very dedicated adult educators, teachers, who are teaching these courses. They are committed to ensuring that they meet the needs of students but have been placed under a lot of stress because of the history of underfunding in our public education system.
We know that there’s a lot of stress on them. They have identified areas of stress: needing adequate prep time, needing adequate learning resources and also their challenges to meet the needs of students. We know that there’s a need for students in British Columbia to have access to adult education.
I’m very proud of our government, which removed the onerous tuition fees that were imposed — $550 per course — on students who wanted to upgrade their skills. That was one of the first decisions of our government — to ensure that we provided opportunity, that we removed those barriers. Those barriers were for folks who often were marginalized or struggling, working low-wage jobs, two or three part-time jobs, and wanted to improve their situation and their circumstances.
Ensuring that those folks have opportunities to pursue their education. That’s a key commitment of our government — recognizing the value of adult education and providing opportunities for students in British Columbia.
S. Gibson: It’s a pleasure for me to respond, and I want to thank the member for Vancouver-Kensington for bringing forward this important topic: adult education.
It’s, frankly, something that I have a passion for. I think my career life has kind of demonstrated that just a little, and I appreciate being the critic for Advanced Education along with my colleague from Surrey South.
Adult education is really at the heart, in many ways, of the opportunities, as was noted here a moment ago, for adults who want to make some dramatic changes to their life. They’re perhaps in a certain kind of groove. With the opportunities found in adult education today, I think the word that I would characterize…. It gives people hope and passion.
For many people who have struggled — sometimes with not doing well in high school, struggling, feeling perhaps weak about themselves, family life that has caused them some torment — the opportunity to go back to college or take some programming to improve their lives is quite exciting.
As a personal note, I had some challenges in high school. I barely got out of high school, but once I was able to get on to university as an adult learner, certainly, it improved things significantly.
I think the opportunities which were alluded to a moment ago are those which can be grasped by adult learners today — and to make those opportunities. I want to say for the record that our B.C. Liberal government valued adult education in many ways. One of the ways that was exhibited was the excellent synergism between universities and colleges.
Uniquely in all of Canada, the courses that you take at colleges and transfer to universities, for the most part, virtually all of them, are articulated. This means that you can take a two-year diploma at a college and then easily transfer to university and get a higher credential, such as a degree. This opportunity allows people to stay in their own communities at a certain time as an adult learner and go back and then overcome what I consider to be the five Ds for many adult learners today: doubt, discouragement, diversion, defeat and delay.
People today want to get on with their lives. I have known many folks — even students that I’ve had at university, teaching at university — who have come to me and said: “You know, I struggled until I got here. Now as a mature learner, I can turn my life around.” That’s the beauty of colleges.
One of the things about adult learners today…. They’re looking for easy accessibility. Not necessarily taking the easy route and doing a minimal amount of work. I’m not talking about that. But easy accessibility. Being able to get in easily. I think that this was alluded to a little bit a moment ago — what I call heuristic learning.
Heuristic learning is learning by doing, as opposed to picking up a book and learning it. The beauty of so many things today that we are working on with our adult learners, such as trades and others, is that kind of heuristic learning makes it very practical. They can hit the ground running — and those opportunities.
We know from the research and the stats that we’re going to need a lot of people to work at all kinds of jobs in our province. Trades, academics — you name it. We’re going to be needing them in the province. The projections are showing that, which is why adult learners need to be nurtured. Most young people today will have seven to eight complete career changes. They have to be prepared for that. They have to have that flexibility. That opportunity should be given to them.
The other important point, which I believe was at the heart, a little bit ago, of what I heard, is being able to do it flexibly. So if you’ve got particular work that you’re doing, you can do it off-hours.
It was my privilege to earn a degree while working full-time and serving on a city council. I could do it in the evenings. I think this is ideal for adult learners, because adult learners, of course, can’t necessarily take time off work, right? They can go back, and that’s the beauty of education today for adult learners.
I saw an interesting program on PBS. Now, it’s an American example, but this individual went to law school at night and became a judge.
Thank you very much, hon. Speaker, for allowing me to speak to this.
M. Elmore: Thank you to the member for Abbotsford-Mission for your remarks. I do have to say I followed that with interest, but I was stunned by the remark that you mentioned: that the B.C. Liberal government had a good record with adult education. It’s surprising to hear that, with the last 16 years — with a record of underfunding in our education system, with the record of a generation of students not having access to adequate education and with the decision having to come from the Supreme Court of Canada to reinstate class size and composition.
When we look at the reality of adult educators in our government, as the member mentioned and raised, the barriers that were put in place in 2015…. I heard it firsthand from students who came to my office with different experiences — that $550 a course was just putting education out of reach.
What was the impact? Our system right across British Columbia saw enrolment decline. Enrolment declined. Imposing tuition fees that were higher for students trying to complete grade 12 or upgrade their courses, more expensive than college and university courses, put them out of reach for students. The imposition of these high tuition fees made adult education prohibitively expensive for the very people who needed them and also undermined and degraded the system.
I’m very proud that our government made the commitment to remove those onerous fees as a first step to stabile the system and ensure that students have access to education and opportunities. I’m proud that our government has recognized that to invest in education ensures that people have opportunities to pursue and upgrade their skills. We’re bringing in a poverty reduction plan. It goes hand in hand with opportunities.
We need to see more. We need to do more to ensure that students are supported, that people have opportunities, that they can improve their skills and that they can fulfil their potential. We have stabilized that situation, but we need to change course.
I’m proud our government is doing that, putting significant resources into our education system, ensuring that students have the opportunity to upgrade and take those courses and contribute to the economy. That’s fundamentally, I think, the value of education, a publicly funded education system. I know that the members across the way also agree that opportunities for British Columbians — upgrading skills and taking the jobs that we have — are a priority for all British Columbians.
COMMUNITIES IN TRANSITION
C. Oakes: It truly is a privilege to rise in this House today to bring forward a private member’s statement supporting forest-dependent communities in transition. I come from one of the most forest-dependent communities in British Columbia. In fact, Quesnel is home to one of the largest concentrated areas of forest manufacturing anywhere in North America.
The forest sector has been vital to building a skilled manufacturing workforce and a vibrant small business sector. The forest sector is also one that has evolved and met numerous challenges over the years, including, most recently, the pine beetle epidemic, the spruce beetle epidemic and the Douglas fir epidemic. Then, of course, we know that in 2017, the catastrophic wildfires created a significant burden on industry and our communities.
In fact, the Plateau complex fire in my riding has now gone on to become the largest fire ever recorded in British Columbia’s history. In 2018, we know that the same region was hit again by wildfires, and now we are left with compromised watersheds, soil erosion, floods and limited fibre. Fires in 2017 took 22 percent out of the annual allowable cut for Quesnel and 18 percent for Williams Lake. Again, over the past few months, Quesnel has been hit particularly hard.
Industry in my riding, as well as many others in the Interior and the north, has seen and witnessed announcements of curtailments, with hundreds of workers affected directly — and many more, from logging contractors to truck drivers to small businesses like welders and tire companies. This tidal wave of curtailments has been contributed to, of course, by the fact that American lumber prices have fallen by approximately 50 percent since May. While higher lumber prices had muted the impacts of U.S. softwood lumber duties, now that prices have fallen, companies are feeling the pinch.
Today we have the opportunity in this House — members have the opportunity — to meet with the Council of Forest Industries. What Susan Yurkovich, president and CEO of the Council of Forest Industries, is saying is when you have scarce fibre, which pushes prices for it up, and then you are paying duties on top of that, and your market price has declined significantly, that puts companies into the bite. That’s why you’re seeing announcements about curtailments, either temporary or permanent.
I believe that government does have a role to play in supporting communities dealing with this transition. Back in 2013, I experienced firsthand the closure of the Canfor sawmill in Quesnel. The B.C. Liberal government did great work to ease the community through what would otherwise be a difficult transition. Our B.C. Liberals’ Jobs and Trade Minister immediately travelled to Ottawa to secure bridging funding and worked collaboratively with both the federal government and the Ministry of Social Development in British Columbia to provide for a variety of labour market project agreements.
The B.C. Liberal government set up a SWAT team approach of all ministries — from Social Development, the Ministry for Children and Families, Rural Economic Development, FLNRO and Rural Development, to name a few. A comprehensive approach with significant wraparounds was taken to support workers and the entire community. During this time, I was proud to chair the small business resource team, where we worked collaboratively to find opportunities for small businesses, for workers, for families, for contractors and employees that were impacted by the mill closure and curtailment.
The B.C. Liberal government allocated funds that contributed to providing workers with skills training and retraining through the northern skills training pilot program, for which we invested heavily in our college and our university to make sure we had upgrading opportunities. We helped sponsor with economic development projects. We hosted jobs fairs, small business walks and a number of other opportunities.
The other critical opportunity that the provincial government worked with the community on was creating a community resource guide with vital information on employment, community and social service opportunities, job skills retraining, and financial services available in Quesnel.
We understood that we needed to work with financial institutions. We needed to work with banks. That often took significant time, with head offices being back east, to make sure that we had the necessary supports financially on the ground, in communities, to support workers and to support the community. We hosted information sessions through Work B.C. We had a Shop Quesnel campaign that we funded. All of these opportunities came out of the provincial government stepping up and understanding that there is a significant role that the province plays in supporting communities that are going through transitions.
Other opportunities that evolved — and I look forward to working with the government on trying to help support, move forward — were looking at a modular industry utilizing skills in our communities and workers in our communities. I think that there are also considerable opportunities that we can look at — developing, for example, the airport business plan in our community.
Additionally, the agricultural working community has some fantastic ideas about how they can work with the provincial government to ensure that we have the necessary infrastructure in place, the necessary training in place.
D. Routley: It gives me pleasure to respond to the member’s presentation, and I thank her for it.
Mr. Speaker, this seems like the partisan presentation of the new party of unmitigated gall. This is a new party. It only needs two members to have official party status, but it is represented in so many presentations that are coming from the official opposition, where they absolutely dismiss the devastating role that they’ve had in communities across this province. In fact, rural communities were the hardest hit by B.C. Liberal policies.
Deputy Speaker: Member.
D. Routley: Yes.
Deputy Speaker: Let’s try to keep it non-partisan.
D. Routley: Thank you. I’ll keep it to the party of unmitigated gall.
That party, while it was in office, during the largest post-war housing boom in the United States, saw the loss of 30,000 forestry jobs because of their dismantling of the integrity of the forest industry, the top-down integration of the industry.
We saw the loss of hundreds of mills, and this had a devastating impact in B.C.’s rural communities. In fact, there were fewer people working in rural communities in B.C. when they left office in 2017 than there were in 2008. That is the reality that forest-dependent rural communities faced.
How did the government support their communities? Well, they did so by closing their schools, closing their courthouses, closing their women’s centres. That’s exactly how the response was delivered.
We’re working with independent contractors in the industry and major industry to implement the recommendations of the contractor sustainability review, something that the other side only engaged in within the lead-up to the 2017 election. We’re working with industry, labour, First Nations and communities on the coast in the revitalization process, which is intended to undo the damage done by 16 years of failed policies.
What we’ve seen over those 16 years is a reduction of the number of jobs we get per cubic metre. We’ve seen a loss in the number of jobs. We’ve seen a loss in the number of mills. And many steps that needed to be taken weren’t, and this has resulted in more devastation than was necessary, even in response to their own mistakes that were made.
They also changed the K-to-12 funding formula to a per-pupil funding model, which….
Deputy Speaker: Member, non-partisan, please.
D. Routley: Yes. Thank you.
The former government changed the funding formula in public education to a formula that allowed the closure of schools, and this disproportionally hurt rural schools. The cuts meant that people in rural communities had to travel farther to access health care. Rural hospitals were closed in Kimberley…
Deputy Speaker: Member.
D. Routley: …Lytton, Enderby and Fernie, while downgrading services in a dozen other centres occurred. Maternity services were reduced through staffing shortages. Planned hospital closures impacted…
Deputy Speaker: Member. Member.
D. Routley: …rural communities across the province.
I think the one thing we could say that rural communities did receive was a respite from the drastic inflation of real estate values because, of course, real estate values in rural communities where we saw mill closures and the loss of jobs did not only not increase.
Deputy Speaker: Member. Member, I think we have to stop this.
D. Routley: They, in fact, decreased.
Mr. Speaker, we want to ensure that funding is allocated in an equitable way to support rural communities, support their schools, support the unique situations that they face. We are working collaboratively with all partners…
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Member.
D. Routley: …so that students in rural communities….
Deputy Speaker: Thank you.
D. Routley: Thank you.
C. Oakes: Well, contrary to the member for Nanaimo–North Cowichan, I’m incredibly proud to talk about the investments that we made, and I challenge the member opposite to match that.
Deputy Speaker: Member, it applies to both….
Deputy Speaker: Members. Members. Calm down.
Deputy Speaker: Member, take your seat, please.
Members, this applies to both sides.
Member will continue.
C. Oakes: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Again, speaking on behalf of workers who are in my community who want me to come here and raise their concerns in this House, I think it’s critically important that the government acknowledges that workers are challenged in forest-dependent communities.
There is a role for government to certainly play in supporting them. That is this wraparound support, cross-ministry teams, that can come in and help the workers in transition, that can help to support small businesses and look at how you can make investments.
I’m proud to see investments that were made in our local college and our local university. I was proud that $100 million was put into our community over the last few years, whether it was hospital upgrade announcements, whether it was the rural school enhancement program that I think supports all communities in British Columbia who have rural schools that are critically important. I think it’s also important to note that $1 billion was put in response to the mountain pine beetle epidemic; $884 million came from the province.
I think these kinds of investments in workers and in communities that are looking at having to transition as forest-based communities are critically important.
I will just make one final note. The other challenge that we have in our forest-dependent communities is our infrastructure challenges. I’ve raised in this House, on numerous occasions, the challenges that fires have left with compromised watersheds and soil erosion. We need to be ensuring that we are putting the capital dollars aside. Looking at, through treasury applications, to make sure roads that have been damaged due to wildfires, floods, soil erosion and watershed compromises — that we are making sure that those investments are made so communities aren’t isolated, so communities are not cut off….
These are critically important for communities. It’s critically important for workers. Workers are having a difficult time now in my community of Buckridge, travelling several hours to get to work. I’m hearing from health care professionals, from educators, that they’re deciding to take leaves of absence from their work because their road has been desperately compromised — the West Fraser Road. It’s altering people’s lives, and waiting until 2020 for investments to be made in these road structures is going to have a significant impact.
My final comment is this. In resource-based communities, we know that, whether it’s education, health care, a lot has come out to support, and we would like some of that money back.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING IS IMPORTANT
TO BRITISH COLUMBIA AND
R. Leonard: I am proud to put forward the motion to say that affordable housing is important to British Columbia and to British Columbians.
Deputy Speaker: It’s a statement, Member.
R. Leonard: It’s a statement. Oh, I beg your pardon. I didn’t have that in my speech, but I added it, because I thought I’d missed it.
Some problems are so vast that they are insurmountable. Our severe lack of affordable housing has meant that people have not been able to get the services they need, as workers can’t find homes where the jobs are. Businesses can’t attract workers because there’s no place to affordably house them. People become more vulnerable as their housing grows more precarious, and when life takes a bad turn, the lack of housing puts people on the street.
The human and economic toll has been profound as the result of 16 years of government that did not make affordable housing a top priority. The market, on its own, has not been able to deliver safe, affordable, functional homes for British Columbians.
Our new government has stepped up to deliver a 30-point housing plan that leaves no stone unturned. We’re taking swift and comprehensive action to help build homes, create local jobs and open up economic development in communities throughout British Columbia. A housing investment of $7 billion over ten years means over 54,000 jobs for B.C. companies and skilled workers in communities throughout our province.
What does such a plan look like? Where to start? It is said that a society is judged by how it cares for its most vulnerable. As the number of people living without a home has been counted year after year and seen to be growing, we start to see the face of homelessness. It’s families with children. It’s seniors. It’s youth. It’s the disabled. It’s workers, as well as those with substance use and mental health challenges.
I recall someone staffing a booth for the first time at a resource fair in my community a number of years ago. The hundreds of people in need that came through the door was staggering to him. I recall him saying, in a strained voice: “I didn’t know.”
The $1.2 billion rapid response supportive housing program to build supportive modular units has already begun to house 600 people in Vancouver, Surrey, Maple Ridge and Kelowna. And 1,400 more units are in progress in 22 communities throughout British Columbia, including 46 units in Courtenay-Comox. So 2,500 units in all will be built and supported. It will provide much-needed relief for demoralized front-line workers who have had no housing solutions to offer for so long.
The most gratifying thing is that communities are stepping up to partner in delivering this much-needed housing, which comes with wraparound support staff. With local B.C. companies that have the contracts to build the modular units, more than 2,000 British Columbians will be employed.
Women and children fleeing violence have been given short shrift for too long. The transition housing fund will provide $734 million over ten years for 1,500 spaces of transitional and second-stage housing. More than 280 spaces in 12 communities have already been approved.
Twenty-six Indigenous communities will see $231 million for nearly 780 off-reserve and nearly 370 on-reserve rent-geared-to-income homes built over the next two to four years. It’s part of the $550 million ten-year commitment to build a total of 1,750 new housing units for Indigenous residents. A second proposal call may come as early as the spring of 2020, as the housing needs are so great, with a disproportionate number of Indigenous people who are living without a home in urban settings.
Indigenous leaders and housing providers and First Nations are encouraged also to seek funding from other provincial housing programs. Of course, our government will continue to work with the federal government to address the urgent challenges of First Nations communities.
Post-secondary students have long needed relief with affordable on-campus housing. Our government recently announced 1,165 provincially funded student housing units at three institutions — an 800 percent increase from 130 units over the previous 16 years. And a new loan program has been introduced, for $450 million, allowing post-secondary institutions to borrow directly from the province to build 5,000 on-campus housing units.
But that’s not all. There are vast numbers of low- and moderate-income people who are struggling to find affordable housing. In September 2017, our government announced the affordable rental housing program, with $208 million to build 1,700 units. And we just announced the community housing fund, with $492 million to build 4,900 units in 42 communities across B.C., including 18 buildings providing seniors-only housing and others that include seniors.
Here’s an interesting synergy addressing affordability. A project at Oak Park in Langford will see seniors, families and individuals, and people with disabilities living in 80 units, along with a child care centre with 36 spaces.
These builds are the start of the $1.9 billion investment over ten years to build 14,000 new affordable rental homes for low- to moderate-income British Columbians. And let’s not forget the Ministry of Health’s contribution with long-term-care beds, another form of supportive housing.
Partnerships are key to success in building the affordable housing we need in B.C. The new housing hub has already facilitated 400 units in four communities, with mixed-income housing projects.
We have a long way to go to make up for 16 lost years, but we’ve had a strong start. Success breeds success, and with this government’s leadership, B.C. is developing a can-do attitude when it comes to addressing the monumental challenge of making sure everyone has a safe, affordable and functional home so people, businesses and communities can thrive.
S. Sullivan: There is no doubt that British Columbia is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. I’d like to tell the tale of two documents — two documents that sit in solitude from each other. One document is by the federal government, called Examining Escalating House Prices in Large Metropolitan Centres, the most comprehensive study ever done on this issue. The other document is the 30-point housing plan by this government.
They are completely unrelated to each other. It seems that the plan did not have a single reference to actually what’s in this document that was created by 30 PhD and master’s economists who worked for a year crunching numbers from Stats Canada — huge data sets. At the end of it, they issued a 200-page report detailing exactly what the nature was of the affordability housing crisis, which is completely ignored by the 30-point housing plan. It’s unbelievable how these two documents could even be talking about the same planet.
Now, the examining of escalating housing prices that took up $1.5 million — the most comprehensive study ever done — identified three main issues: income, population and mortgage rates. They plugged in all of those data over the years and found that they could predict 75 percent of all of our house price rises. They found that just by looking at those three issues.
Then what they did was find the exacerbating element to this, which was the 25 percent that was caused by the inelastic supply curve that you can find in British Columbia. Most healthy metropolitan areas have an elastic supply curve, where a house price rise would create more housing. The market would respond by making housing. A normal, healthy market would create a healthy elasticity.
Metro Vancouver has an elasticity of 0.25. It’s unbelievably inelastic. That means that for every rise in house prices, Metro Vancouver is creating only a quarter of the housing that a healthy market would expect.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
It also, interestingly enough, warns government about certain actions, especially in the area of speculation. It says that, in fact, speculators do create housing. In fact, most British Columbians live in what is called spec housing. What is spec housing? All of us live in spec housing. Almost all of the people in this chamber live in what is called spec housing. What is that? It’s housing created by speculators.
What we have seen in the last few months is reports warning that the supply of housing, the housing starts, are declining. Government policy is actually causing there to be even less supply than they are recommending. We are losing possibly 12,000 brand-new units of rental housing that are now going to be shelved. The companies are saying they are no longer going to build them.
We have seen taxes levied on high-value properties. That has been really good for wealthy people because it has made it much easier and much more affordable for extremely wealthy people to buy housing. But what it’s done is push the demand onto what was formerly affordable housing. So now all that demand is being shifted into rental housing and affordable condominiums, and we’re seeing that the government policy, as was warned by the CMHC economists, is actually doing the opposite. It is making housing less affordable.
We’ve seen the government take the opinion — we’ve seen this in quotes by the Premier — that the escalating house prices are, in fact, caused by wealthy people from one ethnic minority. We’ve seen that they are blaming those people for our affordability issue.
This is really troubling for me as a person who cares about the divisions in society. It is absolutely important for us to stop listening to this kind of myth and to start listening to the experts.
R. Leonard: I want to thank the member for Vancouver–False Creek for his comments on the importance of affordable housing to British Columbians and to British Columbia.
I spoke earlier about increasing supply of affordable housing, and another key to achieving affordable housing is in stabilizing the real estate market to try and make a difference in terms of the spiralling costs and also to address the fact that the market has not been able to create the affordable housing that we need in British Columbia. We can’t stay the way that we have been.
Speculation and vacancy tax cracks open the issue of equity in housing to make sure everyone pays their fair share to contribute to building a better B.C. for workers and for those who want to grow their businesses in B.C., for our vulnerable.
There’s been a lot of fear-mongering and misconstruction of the speculation and vacancy tax, but when you look at the previous government that took care of the top 2 percent, it’s not surprising they’d pull out the straw man, not unlike the ridiculous anti-proportional representation ads we’ve been seeing on TV lately.
What is to be afraid of when laws are introduced to support the vast majority of British Columbians in their communities? The foreign buyer tax has increased 20 percent and expanded to communities where there’s a spillover effect of spiraling housing costs from money from foreign economies, unrelated to our own economy, again, making sure there is an equitable contribution in return for the high quality of life enjoyed when moving to British Columbia.
People care that we crack down on tax fraud and close real estate loopholes. We all want everyone to pay their fair share of taxes.
What other ways are we addressing housing affordability? How about energy costs? We’ve introduced a retrofit program for existing stock. That’s $1.1 billion over ten years for 55,000 non-profit and provincially owned affordable housing units. It will provide approximately 7,700 direct and indirect jobs. And $400 million is earmarked for lowering carbon emissions and cutting energy costs. One example is Ashlar Manor, a seniors housing building in Victoria, which will see a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in their 49 units.
The director of buildings and urban solutions at the Pembina Institute zeroed in on the long-term benefits. Retrofits will stimulate innovation in the retrofit marketplace so everyone will benefit. And a clean energy future will be B.C.’s next megaproject, creating jobs in all communities.
We’re also empowering local governments to be active partners in providing solutions to local affordable housing challenges — to be able to create rental zoning, to expand options to fund housing affordability, like housing for tourism workers and so much more.
From every angle, our government’s leadership is providing measured actions in a reasoned way. It’s important for all of us.
P. Milobar: It gives me pleasure to rise and make a statement today around voter suppression. I thank the Third Party for not addressing this last Monday. It gives me the opportunity to address it maybe in a little more detail than we would have had the opportunity if it had actually come forward last Monday.
Issues around voter turnout, I think, are critical to any level of government that we have in this country. It’s very important, I think, that members of this assembly and all elected bodies take steps to try to drive voter turnout on any issue, on any topic, at any time that the public has an opportunity to try to get out and exercise their franchise.
When we look at just a few short weeks ago with Remembrance Day services around the province, what that means to people and the sacrifices that were made by so many people and so many families in this country and around the world, in several different conflicts, to make sure that we have that ability to get out and exercise our right to vote, I think it’s very important that we do make sure, moving forward, that all efforts are taken.
One of the most critical things is that I think people (a) need awareness that there is actually some sort of an event being undertaken that requires their vote, and (b) that they have confidence in the process that’s being brought out and that the rules are very clear to people and that the steps that they should take to be able to get the information that they need to base themselves and have an informed vote is very important.
On making sure that people understand there’s even an election…. It doesn’t take much to look at our most recent municipal campaign, where there was a very low voter turnout again, in fact lower in several parts of the province than previously — this in spite of the fact that there were several open mayor’s chairs around the province and in the Metro Vancouver area.
One, I think, can draw a direct line to the change that started to heavily restrict what people could fundraise in terms of an overall campaign, when it comes to municipal elections. Now, we had already seen that there was a cap on what they could spend on a municipal campaign. The problem was that there was a cap also put on what you could personally put into your campaign. That resulted in many people, instead of being able to spend a reasonable sum of money….
I’m not talking about making sure that there were no more corporate dollars in there. That was a totally understandable and an appropriate step to take. It’s unfortunate that there were still loopholes left in the legislation that allowed unions to fully step up — and gear up for good times, as always, in an election — but made sure that we hammered down on anything to do with the corporate world.
However, when you look at what it resulted in…. Certainly, in Kamloops’s case, there were fewer signs out than ever before. Some may say that was a great service to eyesight pollution, but in actual fact, signage does help people understand that there is something going on that they should probably start to turn their heads to, for a campaign. Certainly, the more signs you have out, that does start to really build for people.
My experience has been, in municipal campaigns in Kamloops — and I’m sure it’s the same way around the province — that although it seems to be a bit of an eyesore for that three or four weeks that the signs are out in earnest, the signs are removed. If the election is on a Saturday, they’re usually gone by Sunday or Monday at the latest. There’s a very quick up-and-down process of the signage.
But with the new rules that were brought in by the government, unfortunately, we didn’t see that to any great degree. We didn’t see very much advertising happening around the province — very sporadic, especially in communities the size of Kamloops and the like. As a result, we see a lower voter turnout, which really does lend itself to that whole concept around voter suppression.
When you look at what’s happening with the referendum on proportional representation, I would suggest that it’s very clear that there’s a very big lack of confidence in this process. There’s a very big body of confusion out there around this process, and that really does start to chip away at the public’s ability and wanting to engage in a process when they start to have serious fundamental questions about process and information available to them.
When you look at just the contradictory statements that have been made by the both the Premier and even the Leader of the Third Party when it comes to the confidence and supply agreement, and the ability to walk away from promises made in those documents or promises made at an election time around a single vote or single yes-or-no question, it’s very easy to see why the public would get very cynical over this process and start to detach themselves from it and start to, unfortunately, fall back on their preconceived stereotypes that they may have around politicians.
I know the politicians, the members, of this Legislature to be of very high character, regardless of political stripe. But unfortunately, there is that overarching belief by the public. So when you hear statements like, “Take a leap of faith,” or statements like, “Don’t worry about it,” from the Premier, and when you hear statements from the Premier saying that an all-party committee — which, in actual fact, is dominated by the Third Party and the government, and they will have the majority rule to set any rules moving forward after you vote — it’s not hard to see why people would start to detach and get very concerned and really stop engaging.
That’s what we’re seeing with the low voter turnout that we’ve seen. When you see the Premier make statements that the Electoral Boundaries Commission, an independent body, will suddenly be making these types of decisions, that’s really not what will happen. The Electoral Boundaries Commission will be tasked with setting up boundaries of ridings, of course, and they will work within however many MLAs have been capped and deemed by the government and the Third Party, but they won’t actually be figuring out any of the other two dozen types of issues that the public would like to have answers about.
When the Premier insinuates to people that the independent body will actually be the one making all these decisions, it adds further confusion to the whole process, because in actual fact, they won’t be. That’s really at the core of this. I think that in order to make sure we drive a high voter turnout and have people engaged in a process, they need to have confidence in the institution providing the information, moving forward. They have to have confidence in the leaders that have been elected, who are standing up and saying: “This is the process we’re laying out, and this is actually what will happen.”
Instead, what we have seen time and again, with this referendum, is that it’s anything but. I think we’re seeing that when you see practically unanimous commentary across the media spectrum on these types of issues, that even takes the politics side out of it and, really, just conveys what the average person is seeing, hearing and feeling.
It’s being conveyed by the media out there, as well, that in fact there is so much confusion that, of course, we’re seeing lower voter turnout. Of course we’re seeing that when it comes to mail-in ballot….
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Member.
P. Milobar: Thank you for this time, and I’ll follow up shortly.
B. D’Eith: Of course I agree with the member that getting voter turnout to increase is very important. That’s actually part of the reason that we’re supporting proportional representation. Across the world, voter turnout does increase with that.
I’m also very proud of the fact that we’ve gotten big money out of politics. It’s not about suppressing voter turnout; it’s about big money suppressing good policy, and that’s what we’ve seen over the years.
Proportional representation — largest public consultation in the provincial history. I don’t even need to get into that.
Let’s look at actual voter suppression. In the U.S., there are examples of voter suppression — intimidation, insufficient polling stations and, most commonly, requiring voter IDs. It’s even worse when these voter IDs are not given out. That impacts racial minorities, elderly, youth and the poor.
These tools of suppression are done in the name of voter fraud. However, the threat of voter fraud has always been manufactured. In fact, in the U.S., there are only 31 cases of impersonation in 14 years, between 2000 and 2014, when over one billion Americans voted.
This voter fraud is a myth in Canada as well. Let’s talk about the referendum. The no side has been talking about the mail-in ballots, and there’s no basis, at all, that the mail-in ballot has any voter suppression at all. This is just fearmongering by the no side. In fact, three million ballots were sent out by Elections B.C., and for those who did not receive their ballot, there was plenty of time to request one.
In fact, the impact of the postal strike has actually led Elections B.C. to extend the deadline to receive the ballot by a week. Further, B.C. government services offices will accept ballots. If there are any eligible voters in B.C. who want to vote in the referendum, they can vote. That’s absolutely clear.
Elections B.C. set up a number of safeguards to protect the integrity of the ballot system, including matching the voters’ declared date of birth and other safeguards in the ballot itself. Historically, Elections B.C. confirmed that post the HST referendum, they polled 6,000 voters, and 99.7 percent responded that they participated. Plus there are significant penalties for those who commit fraud, so who’s going to take the chance on that?
There is no case that a referendum by a mail-in ballot suppresses votes or leads to fraud. Mail-in ballots were good enough for the B.C. Liberals with the HST referendum and transit referendum, and suddenly they seem upset with this.
What about the no side on the voting threshold? We hear this all the time. It’s interesting. I was reading a Fraser Institute — believe it or not — article, and there’s a quote from there:
“One argument against voter turnout thresholds is the fear that they suppress voter turnout, which, in turn, affects the outcome of the referendum. Researchers…studying Canadian referenda on electoral reform argue that when a threshold, specifically a voter turnout threshold, is not imposed or the threshold is low, the electorate is more likely to vote.
“However, when the threshold is high, voters who favour the status quo are more likely to abstain from voting. This actually leads to a decrease in voter turnout…. There is little evidence from the Canadian referenda on electoral reform that thresholds had any impact on the vote.”
Even the right-wing think tank that the B.C. Liberals rely on agrees with this, so perhaps the member should read some of his own paid experts. The fact that the no side is spreading misinformation and fear to suppress proportional representation is the real issue on voter suppression here.
If there’s any voter suppression, it’s coming from the no side. For example, the Leader of the Opposition loves to say the process is rigged. That’s simply not true. The B.C. Supreme Court ruled that there was no evidence whatsoever to suggest the referendum process is rigged, yet the Leader of the Opposition continues to say that.
Of course, the no side tried to suppress the vote by attacking the question on the referendum. The Leader of the Opposition first claimed the referendum on how we vote is undemocratic and tried to confuse voters. But in a letter from the independent Chief Electoral Officer, Anton Boegman rejects this claim, saying: “I believe that this question is simple and clear enough for voters to understand. They’re being offered a distinct choice between the existing voting system and a proportional representation system.” Simple as it can be.
Then the B.C. Liberals’ big-money friends, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C., tried to block it with a constitutional challenge. This failed as well. Voter suppression at its finest. The judge found that the petitioners’ allegations were engaged in rhetoric, conjecture and exaggeration. If these aren’t attempts at voter suppression, I don’t know what is.
This is all for one basic reason. The B.C. Liberals know that they do not want voters to vote on pro rep, because they enjoyed many years of majority governments with less than 50 percent of the vote and they’re worried that their big tent is about to collapse. They certainly do not want to work with other parties. If there’s any voter suppression, it’s not from this side of the House.
P. Milobar: The speaker previous said if this is not voter suppression, he doesn’t know what is. Apparently, he does not understand what voter suppression is and doesn’t know what it is, because there were very contradictory examples given there.
One could only imagine…. Could you imagine if the government had put in a threshold account now? That, according to the other speaker, would drive an even lower voter turnout. It’s pretty scary when you look at how low the voter turnout is right now to suggest that this is a system that’s been working well to drive the voter turnout out.
This isn’t us saying this. This is the voters of British Columbia demonstrating very clearly that they do not want to engage in this style of referendum, that they have serious concerns.
The number one thing we hear about is around process. So let’s look at this process, the process of a confidence and supply agreement that actually promised — as part of the confidence and supply agreement between the two parties that are governing right now — to the Lieutenant-Governor that the referendum would be held during the municipal election and that in fact it would have one form of proportional representation.
It also is interesting that the ballots…. If you want to talk about not suppression, that’s the whole point of this. The whole point of my statement today is it’s not about the mail-in ballot itself suppressing the vote. The fact that we have a very low voter turnout, the fact that we’ve had to extend it, thankfully, because of the mail strike…. But at any rate, think how low this would be with or without the mail strike — the numbers that we’re seeing, the fact that people have disengaged from this process.
Again, that is not the B.C. Liberals fearmongering. It’s not the no side fearmongering. It’s not people opposed to proportional representation, like almost every former NDP Premier out there opposes proportional representation and the process, more importantly. The fact that we have such low voter turnout is the public itself saying that they do not feel that they can adequately engage in this process with the right information to make an informed vote.
It’s one thing to vote. It’s another thing to have an informed vote. We’re always telling people: “Make sure you get informed and vote.” Well, the fact that they’re not voting right now would suggest to me very clearly that they do not have the information that they need to make an informed vote. Sadly, that means a lot of people are disengaging from the process and not voting. I think that does a disservice.
The fact that the government cannot even acknowledge, remotely, that they have come up with such a fundamentally flawed process, a process that will see the lowest voter engagement at this point of any type of provincial campaign of any sorts of referendum moving forward, is shocking to me in terms of that.
I guess when they’re prepared to continually take leaps of faith, when they’re continually prepared to turn a blind eye and vote for things without even knowing what the final rules are, anything is possible. Unfortunately, in this case, it’s a low voter turnout.
Hon. J. Darcy: I call, for the consideration of the House, Motion 33 by the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast.
Deputy Speaker: Hon. Members, unanimous consent of the House is required to proceed with Motion 33 without disturbing the priorities of the motions preceding on the order paper.
Private Members’ Motions
MOTION 33 — SEXUAL ORIENTATION
AND GENDER IDENTITY POLICIES FOR
INCLUSIVE EDUCATION SYSTEM
N. Simons: I move:
[Be it resolved that this House supports SOGI 123 within our schools, to help create safe and inclusive learning environments that are free of discrimination for all students.]
I move this motion because I think it’s important that we have this discussion, and I believe that we can ascertain whether or not, in fact, people in this chamber, who represent British Columbians, feel the same way. I don’t think we’re necessarily wanting to jam anyone.
We want to make sure that those 60 school districts in this province are supported in their efforts to ensure that the students in their schools are free of discrimination, that the language used in the development and the delivery of the curriculum is inclusive language that keeps and ensures that every individual student feels a part of that particular school environment.
Briefly, I would just say that I wish this was around when I was a child. I wish this was around when I was in elementary school or in high school. This would have created a place for people like myself and others who — I wouldn’t have known at the time — were also thinking about these kinds of things. We just need for our students to be spending a lot of time in our classrooms, learning in the school environment where they will be reflected in the curriculum, where their voice will be represented.
I know as a youngster growing up, my view of LGBTQ issues was pretty much nonexistent. It was either stereotypes, or it was bathhouse raids — things that I really didn’t understand. I never actually had an opportunity to hear about these issues spoken in a way that wasn’t shrouded with judgment and shrouded with…. Not to say that my family isn’t supportive. My family is extremely supportive. They are loving and kind and accepting of all people, but I think, as a young person, you need to hear it from other people. You need to hear that it’s part of your society, that this is all part of our beautiful human existence.
I’m saddened that there are those who think that SOGI is about political agendas. It’s not about political agendas. It’s about 15-year-old kids in school. It’s about the kids who are in the closet. It’s about the kids who haven’t yet found their voice. It’s the ones who aren’t interacting with others like others, because they’re feeling the pressure and the isolation and the invisibility that comes with being a member of a small group.
I think it’s essential that our schools reflect the diversity of our population and that it’s presented in such a way that there is no long-lasting impact on people’s lives. I really am pleased to be able to support this motion.
I know that there are some members in this House who disagree with the idea, and they express their disagreement in a respectful way. I appreciate that, but I also think that it’s time for…. It’s 2018, and we have an understanding that acceptance and diversity is part of the Canadian ethic. I think, for that reason, we need to be very supportive of programs that ensure that all students in our school system feel a part of the school and student body and that also feel part of our general society as well, in a loving and accepting way.
D. Davies: As a former teacher and Education critic, I am pleased to contribute to this morning’s debate.
Hon. Speaker, as you’re aware, it was the previous B.C. Liberal government that introduced and required every public school and independent school to have anti-bullying policies in place by the end of 2016. My colleague, the hon. member for Peace River South, was the Education Minister at the time, and he will no doubt be providing some more insight into this debate.
In the meantime, it is vital to ensure that every member of the school community feels valued, safe and represented. It’s also vitally important that teachers send a message of acceptance and welcome students from different family structures, cultures and the LGBTQ community. Ultimately, we want every child to be able to reach their full potential in our education system so that they can succeed in life.
It is important that anti-bullying programs protect all children. Nineteen percent of B.C. high school students identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or not exclusively heterosexual. One percent of B.C. high schools students identify as transgender, and 5 percent of Aboriginal students identify as two-spirited.
A recent study also indicated that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are seven times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual youth. That’s 28 percent compared to 4 percent, a rather startling and upsetting revelation. It is the reason why the previous government took the issue so seriously.
As we become adults, it’s easy to forget about the challenges that many of us faced, of any age, while we went through our education system. It’s all about finding yourself, discovering your hidden talents and learning more about others.
I can also tell you that as a teacher and an adult, I had a responsibility to help students find their own path in life, something that I was very proud of as a teacher. It is likely what drives most teachers to become teachers: to help guide and influence our youth.
But not all paths lead in the same direction, nor should they. As an educator, this can sometimes be hard to navigate and provide an educational setting that emphasizes respect for all of the differences we have. But teachers do have a responsibility to provide a safe learning environment for everyone.
Canadians from across the country were shocked recently by several well-publicized assaults that took place at the St. Michael’s College School in Toronto. Regardless of whatever motivated these assaults, it is a rather stark reminder that we, as a society, must place emphasis on protecting our children above all.
Unfortunately, not all abuse is physical. In fact, some of most hurtful abuse is emotional, which can cause permanent scars that are quite often hidden and sometimes go unnoticed by parents and families.
In closing, I am proud of the fact that the former government took action back in 2016 to make sure that children are protected across this province. As a teacher, I saw that every day.
Today students will be the leaders of tomorrow, and they deserve every single protection that we can give them throughout their entire educational experience.
J. Routledge: When I knew that I was going to be speaking to this motion today, I asked my 13-year-old grandson: “Do you know what SOGI is, and what do you think about it?” Well, he definitely knew what SOGI is, but he had a hard time coming up with an opinion.
What he did say is: “You know, one of my friends is gay. He doesn’t get bullied, and he has lots of friends. There are other gay kids in my school. They have lots of friends too.” Then he went on to say: “Sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t my generation’s problem. It’s the Gen X that has the problem.” Dare I say that it’s been a problem for baby boomers as well?
The conversation with my grandson brought back memories from my youth when if someone really wanted to humiliate you, really put you in your place, the worst imaginable insult was to call you a name that questioned your gender identity. Yet today my grandson is absolutely nonchalant about a school policy that has met with so much confusion, misunderstanding and drama among adults. So what’s going on here?
This intergenerational disconnect motivated me to dig a little deeper into the way SOGI is experienced in Burnaby, where I live and where my grandchildren live and go to school. Burnaby was an early adopter of SOGI, and it got some things right. Burnaby took proactive steps from the beginning, steps that might have calmed down some of the panic experienced in other jurisdictions had they taken similar steps.
From the beginning, Burnaby school district reached out to parents and gave every parent an opportunity to provide input, and thousands responded. In fact, Burnaby is a leader in parent involvement. The district has been holding follow-up meetings with parents in the four quadrants of the city, and this round is just now wrapping up.
Every high school in Burnaby has a gay-straight alliance, and there is a district gay-straight alliance as well. But not only that. There is a committee that oversees the implementation of SOGI, a committee that is composed of teachers, senior staff, school administrators, support staff, students and, yes, parents.
The committee reviews the implementation of SOGI 123, identifies needs and makes recommendations. Hence, for the past seven or eight years, there have been two SOGI leads in Burnaby — one at the elementary school level and one at the secondary level.
Teachers lead the implementation of SOGI not in their spare time, not as an extracurricular activity but as part of their jobs. It is my understanding that this is unique to Burnaby.
Burnaby school district has a code of conduct, and it applies to everyone whenever they step onto school grounds. What’s the significance of that in this debate? You will recall some of the hateful, homophobic statements that have been made by some school trustees in other jurisdictions. These kinds of shaming statements would not have been allowed to be made in a Burnaby school.
Last month the Burnaby school district was proud to host the most significant event in British Columbia for LGBTQ and allied high school students. More than 300 students and educators from all over B.C. met for a day at Moscrop Secondary to learn about building inclusive communities. The keynote address was given by Burnaby student Cole Sheehan-Klassen. “We all deserve to live as our true self, and we are all more than just our identity,” said Cole. “We can’t control others’ minds, only our own. We are who we are, and that’s more than okay. It’s amazing.”
In order to participate in this debate, I had to learn about SOGI 123. The most important thing I learned is that SOGI 123 is, at its core, about kids standing up for each other, and we adults could learn a thing or two from them. SOGI isn’t about protecting kids from each other. It’s about giving them the space to immune themselves from the toxic socialization that so many of their elders have been subjected to.
J. Thornthwaite: I rise to support the motion “that this House supports SOGI 123 within our schools, to help create safe and inclusive learning environments that are free of discrimination for all students.” I’d like to remind this House that it was our government that not only introduced a comprehensive school curriculum update that includes 21st-century education for students, including coding, but First Nations issues, including residential school issues and the effect of intergenerational trauma, a better understanding of mental health literacy, social-emotional learning, and more help for vulnerable students, including LGBTQ.
The process undertaken to develop the sexual orientation and gender identity policies — i.e., SOGI — was comprehensive, undertaken over several years and involved partnerships with parent groups, teachers, principals, superintendents, the ARC Foundation and the Ministry of Education. I personally attended several of these sessions.
The SOGI teaching resources were created by educators across the province to support other educators in creating inclusive classrooms for all students. The goal is to welcome all students from different family structures, cultures and the LGBTQ community. All students deserve to feel safe at school, free from bullying, hate or intolerance. All children want to belong and feel that they fit in with others, but we know that doesn’t always happen. Everyone is different in some way, and sometimes those who are different are bullied in school.
I’m a huge supporter of the anti-bullying programs in school, including ERASE, an initiative started by our government, but there is much more — those programs and initiatives that encourage a sense of belonging, those that promote social-emotional learning and positive mental health. If kids don’t feel safe or feel comfortable, they will not be open to learning.
I was the Parliamentary Secretary for Child Mental Health and Anti-Bullying, where I brought forward a video program to help students and parents be safe on line. As the Chair of the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth, our committee brought forward many recommendations that were adopted by our government to help students’ mental health, like Foundry, and those programs which support LGBTQ youth and other vulnerable students, including GSAs and SOGI policies.
One of the programs that I’m a big fan of and that I’ve seen in action is Out in Schools. Out in Schools is a program that uses film and video to engage students across B.C. on issues of homophobia, transphobia and bullying. I’ve seen them present to kids in the classroom but also to parents, educators, principals, teachers and superintendents, and I’m always impressed with how much I learn during each of their presentations.
In one of their brochures, they say…. This is from a vice-principal: “Thank you for coming to Nakusp. You have helped some of our LGBTQ students gain confidence and help in asking for support as well as helped other marginalized students in general. The entire student body and staff also benefited greatly in understanding and, hopefully, building empathy towards LGBTQ members of our community.”
Why is this important? Seventy percent of all students hear homophobic language in their schools every day. LGBTQ students are seven times more likely to attempt suicide than straight students. However, 80 percent of LGBTQ students from schools with anti-homophobia policies report never having been physically harassed.
After the Out in Schools presentation, 16 percent of students reported an increased willingness to step in or intervene if they saw a LGBTQ student being bullied in school. This is key. We know one of the major problems with bullying is that bystanders are afraid to intervene, because they think they will be targeted next. These programs give kids the skills to help themselves and others. Once a certain group is understood, learned about and listened to, then acceptance and tolerance follow.
The Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre at UBC looked at which schools had Out in Schools events and how they fared in students’ mental health and physical well-being. Out in Schools visited 113 schools between 2004 and 2014, and they found that the students — not only LGBTQ students but also straight kids — benefited from these programs.
You can see that I will be supporting this policy. If anybody is concerned about SOGI policies or wants to learn more, please contact Out in Schools and attend one of their presentations. I can tell you that all the children I saw who attended the presentations that I attended had lots of questions after, were engaged and not afraid. I think it was a good experience for them. It likely enlightened them and most certainly opened their eyes to their classmates on how just because someone is different, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t belong.
D. Routley: I’m pleased to rise to speak to the motion today: “Be it resolved that this House supports SOGI 123 within our schools, to help create safe and inclusive learning environments that are free of discrimination for all students.”
Well, who could possibly argue with that stated intention? I certainly won’t. I’ll certainly argue in favour of this program, for a number of reasons, but I’ll quote from the official website of SOGI: “Everyone has a sexual orientation and gender identity. SOGI 123 helps educators make schools inclusive and safe for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities. At a SOGI-inclusive school, students’ biological sex does not limit their interests and opportunities, and their sexual orientation and how they understand and express their gender are welcomed without discrimination.”
This is a noble and lofty goal to elevate everyone to the same place. SOGI attempts to do this in three ways: first, to establish policies and procedures that explicitly represent SOGI — they have proven to reduce discrimination, suicide ideation and suicide attempts for all students; second, to create inclusive learning environments, including SOGI and LGBTQ signage, word choices and extracurricular opportunities, to create positive and welcoming spaces for all children; finally, to create lesson plans that teach diversity and respect and include examples of SOGI topics and LGBTQ community members, to allow learning to reflect SOGI diversity in students’ lives and in society.
Essentially, this is about creating an environment where discrimination and bullying on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is unacceptable, where we learn, together, to accept a variety of orientations and gender identities and understand that it’s okay that we exist the way we are, the way we feel we are and the way we are born. Everyone deserves nothing less than that equal level of respect and regard, no matter what their orientation or their identity.
The benefits of SOGI are real: as many as four fewer suicide attempts in schools that embrace SOGI; 37 fewer students binge-drinking on six or more days in the past month — that’s what was found in schools that embraced SOGI; and 21 fewer students with problematic substance use. This is not the stuff of demons. This is the stuff of liberation. This is the stuff of rescue.
Despite the passionate defence from many MLAs, we have seen the influence of anti-SOGI sentiment on government decisions. Former Premier Christy Clark explained: “I didn’t get to do as much on social issues as I would have liked. I’m in favour of gay marriage. I’m in favour of a woman’s right to choose. I’m in favour of supporting transgender bathrooms and things like that. But we don’t talk about those things, and we don’t execute on those things, because the only way to keep another party out of power in this province is if we band together and work together.”
That’s been the unfortunate political reality in this province. Hopefully, what we’ve heard today means that that has shifted. Today I think young people don’t need to fear their identity and what it will do. Hopefully, this kind of program will help people embrace who they are.
Myself, I have struggled for five decades as a bisexual man to identify and to be open with people, and it’s only in the past five or six years that I’ve been open with all of the people I know, including my family. I’ve been fortunate in my life, not having experienced the kind discrimination that so many of my colleagues and friends have faced.
I will always speak in favour of any effort to liberate the identity of British Columbians, be it with regard to their orientation, their sexuality or any other aspect of their lives and their equal right to thrive and prosper in British Columbia.
L. Throness: It’s a pleasure it speak to this motion today. Let me start by saying that every child should be included and accepted as they are. That means accommodating every child, no matter their self-perception. Everyone agrees, even those who oppose SOGI 123, that no child should be bullied for any reason. But I don’t think SOGI 123 is the anti-bullying resource we need, and I’ll tell you why.
First, its anti-bullying focus is narrow, saying nothing about bullying due to other things, like race, disability or religion. We need a broader policy.
Second, SOGI 123’s teaching that gender is broadly fluid runs contrary to the evidence. A very small percentage of children are gender-nonconforming, and of that small number, a dozen studies since 1972 consistently show that up to 90 percent of them will desist in their teen years. Since the vast weight of evidence suggests that gender is not generally fluid, we shouldn’t be teaching all students that it is, but SOGI 123 does just that. This does not mean that trans children should not be fully accepted. Indeed, they should be accepted and treated with sensitivity and compassion.
I think of gender as a resilient plant rooted in the soil of our biological characteristics. Above ground, the winds of change can blow that plant in a variety of directions without harm, as each person expresses their gender in their own unique way that varies across time and cultures. However, attempting to separate the plant, especially in its early years, from its biological soil generates inner conflicts that can result in mental health issues.
We each have only one body with one set of unchangeable biological characteristics. To separate gender from the body leaves one in a permanent state of transition. Even with hormonal treatment and affirmation surgery, this can be a very painful psychological space to occupy. While we should accept children who want to move this way, we should not be encouraging them to begin that journey.
Third, young children are impressionable, with personalities and preferences not fully formed. SOGI 123’s gender affirmation approach, rather than the standard, more cautious watchful-waiting model, could lead some children to make deeply hurtful life choices. In this way, SOGI 123, driven by the desire to do what is right, is yet experimental and will apply to millions of children over the next decade with little attention paid to long-term unintended consequences. We need to be cautious.
Fourth, children are naturally egocentric. This means that children think about themselves first. When they hear that gender is fluid and that some people can change and when they’re encouraged not to distinguish between the sexes, they will think automatically think: “How does this apply to me?”
A child’s gender is one of their most basic self-identifiers. To imply, even indirectly, to children that their gender identity may be in question and to suggest to them that that they may be something different inside than what their biology tells them could destabilize some children in serious ways. Not every child would be so affected, but many will be shaken.
Take my own experience. My name, Laurie, was hard to grow up with in the tough oil town of Fort St. John. Schoolmates laughed at me. But happily, it never occurred to me to question my gender. Under SOGI 123, I would have thought: “Why do I have a girl’s name? I have a boy’s body, but maybe I’m really a girl inside.” I would have been devastated. Honestly, I think I would have tended towards self-harm.
Our schools could be unsafe for some children if SOGI 123 is fully applied. In a year or two, if any child self-harms because of it, I hope the Minister of Education will be ready to face the parents. He will certainly have to face this member in opposition.
Fifth, to say that SOGI 123 is comprehensive is an understatement. The gender-fluid perspective is immersive, taught in every discipline and every grade. It is secretive, as parents are excluded from what goes on at school. It is aggressive, with paid staff, a network of leaders, training, teaching resources and 16 full pages of definitions — the first word being “allies,” which implies opponents. There are new phobic names to call people.
Finally, instead of welcoming criticism and rational scrutiny, intense vitriol accompanies any questioning of SOGI 123. This implies that the policy is weak on its own and must be carried using weapons of public denunciation and accusations of hatred and bigotry. I’m happy to endure all of that if that’s what it takes to ensure the healthiest environment for all of our children.
I would bestow on them the gift that was given to me as a child and what we ought to be imparting to our children: the knowledge that their body is beautiful just as it is, that nature did not make a mistake with them and that their gender is secure. Undergirded by these facts, our children will be confident and strong, free to express their unique personality in any way most comfortable to them.
S. Chandra Herbert: Obviously, I speak in support of SOGI 123. Really, for those who don’t know it, it’s about making sure that our schools are safe for everybody, that if you’re lesbian, gay, bi, trans, questioning, whatever, we accept you and you are noticed. You are acknowledged. You are made visible.
For too long, there have been those, as I unfortunately seemed to hear in the last argument, making the argument that if we keep people invisible, they’ll be safer, that somehow if we don’t talk about gender identity, they’ll be safer. If we don’t talk about gay people, they’ll just realize they’re not gay, and they’ll think it’s a phase and move on.
That really seemed to be the crux of my colleague from Chilliwack’s argument — that if we don’t talk about gender identity, no trans kids will ever know that they’re trans and thus will never be trans and thus never face discrimination. Well, it’s just not credible in any scientific way, not credible in any moral way. Trans kids exist. We know that. To pretend that they would just cease to exist if we didn’t talk about them is just baloney. It’s bogus. It deserves no place in this debate.
To suggest that they themselves and those who acknowledge their existence are somehow responsible for the depression that they face because of people who are full of hate towards them is, again, completely a misdirection. If you want somebody to feel hated, if you want someone to feel that they don’t deserve to exist, you deny their existence.
That’s what I hear the argument against SOGI 123 to be is deny trans kids’ existence because somehow it might lead them into depression if they are acknowledged to exist. Well, that is in no way sensible.
I’m so glad that the government finally, after years of kicking and screaming, in 2016, agreed to acknowledge their existence. One of the reasons I ran for government was to make sure our education system was inclusive of everybody.
I think we should go back to who led the way on this. It wasn’t the B.C. Liberals, as much as they want to pat themselves on the back. It was students. It was students going back to….
Well, prior to even meeting my current husband, who I hope will always be my husband, I found that he was actually a student leader. He took to the streets with a bunch of other students. He went to the government of the day. He formed the first gay-straight alliance in a high school in British Columbia, in Maple Ridge back in 1996. He faced an incredible hatred for it, but he acknowledged gay people existed. He acknowledged transgender people existed, and I think that that was the right thing. His school, his principal and teachers — not all of them — started to became part of that.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
The school board started to adopt these policies back in 2001 in Vancouver. Back in 2001, I remember arguing with the now Opposition House Leader when she was a school trustee voting to try and ban gay-straight alliances in schools. So this history goes back a long way.
We come to 2008, when I joined this place. In 2009, 2010, 2011, ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15, the government refused to do anything specific for those who were specifically targeted for violence because they were gay, lesbian, bi and trans. Students spoke out. Schools spoke out. Teachers spoke out. School trustees spoke out, superintendents, treasurers. On and on the list grew until finally the dam broke because of school board and teacher and student action, and the government started to follow the way that our youth had led so many, many, many years before.
You can’t fight a problem unless you acknowledge it exists, and for too long, too many people faced suicide, discrimination and dropping out, because the government of the day refused to acknowledge that they and their problems existed and to do anything specific to help them.
I’m glad most members are going to be speaking in support of this motion, because they did get it right. SOGI is necessary. We need to educate about a problem in order to solve it, not hide it and pretend it doesn’t exist in order to hope that the problem somehow just goes away, while also speaking in support of people who claim that being gay or lesbian is because there’s been some propaganda campaign, as the member opposite has suggested, in supporting school trustees who’ve been, really, quite bigoted in their arguments against LBGT kids.
It’s a shame that he’s also their Children and Family critic, because kids and families need to know that their support — on ministers, critics, etc. — supports LGBT kids, in all of their ways and in all of their wonderful diversities, and acknowledge they actually exist. Yes, we know there are still forces that oppose their existence, forces that still oppose acting to support making a better life for them. We know that they are in the distant minority now because we live in a province that believes we should support all of us.
You know, I support the member. He can have his right to his point of view. But he shouldn’t be trying to force that point of view on kids as they struggle with their own…. Allow them to be who they are. They don’t have to be trans if they don’t want to be. Most kids aren’t. But we should at least acknowledge, for those that are, their ability to be who they are and not try and claim that it’s some sort of conversion experiment by the government.
Now, hon. Speaker, I move that this motion be strongly supported. And at this point, I guess I move adjournment of this debate.
Mr. Speaker: Member, we have another speaker.
S. Chandra Herbert: Thank you, hon. Speaker. I’m glad the member could speak. I withdraw that motion. I thought we were at time.
Mr. Speaker: No problem.
M. Bernier: I’m pleased to rise today to speak to this motion as well.
As we were talking about, when a child heads out the door — whether it’s their first day of school, whether it’s just any normal day in grade 5, whether it’s their last day of school right before they graduate — their parents, their friends, their family, everybody expects that child to not only get the best education possible but to make sure that it’s the safest education and safest experience for them in that school system.
Of course, we expect them to go to school to learn, but we also expect, as parents and as a society, that the schools are a safe haven, that they’re a place for children to be able to go for that education and to be safe. More importantly, they should be able to go there knowing that it’s an area that’s free of any aspect of bullying, and I think we’re all acknowledging that in the House today.
Again, I look back myself, and the member opposite I think raised an important point. In September of 2016, I was really honoured, as the Minister of Education at the time. I think it was probably one of the most important experiences for me, when I was the minister, to be able to put forward the anti-bullying policy. But as the member before said, I don’t think anybody here, any individual, should be taking credit for that, because there was a lot of discussion by students, by parents, my colleague next to me from North Vancouver–Seymour and so many people who are passionate about making sure that schools are safe for students.
That motion that we brought forward was making sure that it was clear that all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer students in the province of British Columbia in the school systems were able to see themselves reflected in the anti-bullying policies, to make sure that that was not only in public schools but our independent schools, as well, about making sure that our schools were a safe place for our students.
I think it sent a really clear message. I hope it sent a clear message, not only to the schools but to the students themselves, that they are respected, that their values are appreciated and, more importantly, that the schools are a safe place — full stop — for them to be safe and for them to get the best education possible.
When we put that policy forward…. You know, you look at it the opposite way. Would we put a policy forward that excluded people? Of course we wouldn’t. So this was a really important policy, to recognize the fact that we have 5 percent of our students who identify as LGBTQ students in the province right now in British Columbia. We have 65 percent of them, though, who have said that at some time during their education, they felt bullied and they felt unsafe. And that’s what this is all about — making sure that we have a safe environment for all our students in our school system.
It was the right thing to do for our students, and it’s great to have this motion forward today because I think it’s a conversation that needs to continue. It’s not about one change and thinking that we’re washing our hands and we’re done and everything is fine and dandy. This a discussion, I know, that needs to continue.
There are diverse opinions on this issue, but it’s also, I think, important to have healthy dialogue and also have a healthy conversation to make sure that students understand where they stand in the school system. It’s making sure that the resources are there for the schools, for the teachers, for the school districts themselves to ensure that if a child identifies, if a child feels bullied, if a child is unsure of their safety in school, they have a place to go, that they know that they can be listened to and respected and, more importantly, that the teachers and the school system are there with policies to protect and to help those students through their education in a safe way.
Yes, our government was proud to finally bring this step forward. As the member opposite said, it was many years coming, but it was something that we did. It was something where we were listening to people. I think all sides of this House respect the fact and acknowledge that we will not tolerate bullying of any sort in or out of our school system and that we are doing collective work to make sure we bring recognition of safety for our students.
We need to build an inclusive culture. We need to be accepting and recognize the differences that we have. So, hon. Speaker, that’s why I am pleased to stand up, after listening to all the debate today, and to acknowledge that this is an important motion. Thank you to the member, for bringing it forward.
M. Bernier moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. J. Darcy moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 this afternoon.
The House adjourned at 11:57 a.m.
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