2016 Legislative Session: Fifth Session, 40th Parliament

The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.

The printed version remains the official version.

official report of

Debates of the Legislative Assembly


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Afternoon Sitting

Volume 32, Number 9

ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)


Routine Business

Introductions by Members




Provincial curling championships

E. Foster

Introductions by Members




Yvonne Cocke

J. Darcy

Introductions by Members


Speaker’s Statement


Talking Stick

By-Election Results


Introduction and First Reading of Bills


Bill 7 — Industry Training Authority Amendment Act, 2016

Hon. S. Bond

Statements (Standing Order 25B)


Performing arts centre for Merritt

J. Tegart

Support for Syrian refugees

B. Ralston

Nechako-Kitamaat Development Fund Society

G. Kyllo

55-Plus B.C. Games

S. Robinson

Federation of Independent School Associations

S. Gibson

Jens Erik Knudsgaard

K. Conroy

Oral Questions


MSP changes

J. Horgan

Hon. M. de Jong

Senior cancer care case

J. Darcy

Hon. M. de Jong

Real estate transactions and collection of property transfer tax

D. Eby

Hon. M. de Jong

Investigation into real estate transactions

C. James

Hon. M. de Jong

Drinking water quality in Prince Rupert schools

J. Rice

Hon. T. Lake

J. Wickens

R. Fleming

Reports from Committees


Special Committee to Appoint a Merit Commissioner, report, February 2016

M. Hunt

H. Bains

Motions Without Notice


Appointment of Merit Commissioner

M. Hunt

Appointment of Special Committee to Review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act

Hon. M. de Jong

Orders of the Day

Budget Debate (continued)


C. James

Hon. S. Bond

N. Macdonald

J. Martin

D. Eby

Hon. Michelle Stilwell

K. Conroy

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The House met at 1:34 p.m.

[Madame Speaker in the chair.]

Routine Business


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Introductions by Members

J. Horgan: I have a number of guests in the gallery today. I want to introduce Keith Dearing, and joining Keith is Bev Christensen. Many will know Bev Christensen as a tenacious fighter for the people of Prince George. She is a published author on energy policy in British Columbia. She was a school board trustee, and most importantly to me, she’s the mother of my chief of staff, Suzanne. Would the House make Bev and Keith very, very welcome.

I have two other guests in the gallery today who’ve joined us from Nanaimo. They’ve made a pilgrimage, a trip over the Malahat. That’s Brent Frain and his partner, Sonjia Grandahl. They’re both here today to observe the goings and comings of the Legislative Assembly and to ask some hard questions about funding for people with disabilities. Would the House make them both very, very welcome.

L. Larson: On behalf of my caucus colleagues who participated in the MLA mentor program of UBC Equal Voice, I’d like to welcome to the House Jade Scrymgeour, Hailey Graham, Zahara Baush and Jalini Parmasothi. Would the House please make them welcome.

K. Corrigan: Well, what a great day it was for the UBC Equal Voice mentees, young women coming to talk to women MLAs about the importance of women getting involved in politics. It was a great day for the official opposition to also host some of those students, along with the government-side MLAs. That was me and the member for Saanich South, the member for Nelson-Creston and the member for Kootenay West. On behalf of all of us here, I’d like to welcome Natasha Mihell, Harleen Brar, Nicole Covey, Audrey Tong and Cheneil Antony-Hale. Would the House make them feel welcome, please.

I have another group that is here today and that I’m very thrilled to welcome. We have the wonderful Anne Kang, a city councillor in the city of Burnaby and a constituent of mine. Along with Anne, we have her husband, Diego Lin, and their children, Elizabeth Anne and Teddy — well, Theodore, but I call him Teddy Lin — and a young woman, Letitia Chu, who’s spent many hours working in my office as a volunteer. With them, as well, is Henry Yao and Andre Chen. I hope that you will make all of them very welcome.

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: I’d like to welcome Sheila and Jack Hay, who are coming down from Parksville today for their first question period. I hope we don’t disappoint them. Would the House please make them feel welcome.

M. Farnworth: Shortly, two new members will be taking their place in the House, and watching in the gallery for the new member for Coquitlam–Burke Mountain will be her husband, Brian, a self-employed milkman, and their two children — Troy, age ten, and Adriana, age six. Will the House make them most welcome for this really important occasion in their family’s life.



E. Foster: I rise today to recognize a group of young men from my riding in Vernon. I speak of the Jim Cotter rink from the Vernon and also Kelowna curling clubs, made up of Jim Cotter, skip; third, Ryan Kuhn; second, Tyrel Griffith; and lead, Rick Sawatsky. On the weekend, they won their third consecutive B.C. provincial curling championships in Nelson.

This is the sixth trip to the Brier for skip Cotter and lead Sawatsky, and they will be heading to Ottawa to represent British Columbia in the national championships, the Brier, and we would like to wish them good luck and good curling.

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Introductions by Members

M. Elmore: I’m very pleased to welcome my good friends for their first visit here in the Legislature. I call her Tita Effie Chiong. Also, I consider as my extended family her husband, Nick Chiong; their children Joy Nary, Jed Chiong, Leo Mananghas and Ariel Embrero. They all hail from Coquitlam–Burke Mountain.

They were all here to witness the swearing-in ceremony. They worked very hard to elect the MLA for Coquitlam–Burke Mountain, and I’d ask everyone to please make them very welcome.



J. Darcy: Well, we have welcomed some awesome women today, and I rise to pay tribute to a formidable woman, a resident of New Westminster, who passed away recently. She never had a seat in this House, was never a member of this House, but she certainly exercised tremendous influence over it. I’m referring to Yvonne Cocke, part of the infamous Cocke machine, who was a city councillor in New Westminster, a super effective
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campaign organizer, a very strong and committed feminist and the life partner of Dennis Cocke, who served as Health Minister in this House.

Robin Geary and former MLA and cabinet minister Colin Gabelmann were recently quoted as saying: “Yvonne was a committed feminist and an outstanding organizer. She and Dennis were so strong and effective within party circles that some wanted to ‘unplug the Cocke machine.’” Fortunately, party members were smarter than that.

There will be a memorial service for Yvonne later on in this session. I will certainly inform members of this House, but I know that this House would also want to extend its deepest sympathies to her family and to honour a woman who’s truly made an impact on politics in the province of British Columbia.

Introductions by Members

Hon. M. Bernier: It’s not very often I have the pleasure of introducing my wife in this House. As I think most people would appreciate, it’s quite a lengthy pilgrimage from Dawson Creek to Victoria. I want to take this moment to acknowledge that my wife is visiting, but more importantly…. I guess I shouldn’t say more importantly than my wife, but in this case…. What I’d like to say is that just as important is the fact that we….


Hon. M. Bernier: I’ll keep digging, yeah.

I am very honoured to say in the House that we are very proud grandparents for the first time and want to welcome our first grandchild to the province of British Columbia.

S. Hammell: In the gallery are two amazing young members of the Iranian community. They’ve been here to enjoy the ceremonies this morning and now have stayed back to watch question period: Amir Bajehkian and Roya Amirafard. Would the House please make both of them welcome.

D. McRae: Today in the galleries, we have students from G.P. Vanier joining us. As people in this chamber know, while I was Minister of Education…. All the schools of British Columbia are very good, but G.P. Vanier holds a near and dear spot in my heart. It was where my father taught. I went to daycare there. I graduated there. I taught there. My niece graduated from that school.

It’s been a great school in the Comox Valley. We have 43 students from the Vanier Explore program, grade 11 students. They are joined by their teachers Crystal Gaudry, Grayson Pettigrew and Dave Neill.

Would the House please make them welcome.

J. Rice: With the exception of the seniors discount one can get at Shoppers Drug Mart at the age of 55, my father today is actually officially a senior citizen. He’s turned 65, and I would like the House to join me in welcoming Michael Wesley Rice. A happy 65th birthday.

L. Reimer: It’s my great pleasure today to welcome to the House two ladies that I worked with for many years in the Tri-Cities. Cathie Camley was the executive director of the Learning Disabilities Association Fraser North chapter, and Clair Schuman was involved with autism and also the Learning Disabilities Association.

Both have been passionate advocates for children and for special needs children. Would the House please make them very welcome.

J. Shin: I am thrilled to share with the House our newest British Columbians from Syria, who arrived just six weeks ago and are so excited to be here. It was a long, heartbreaking journey that our Syrian families in the gallery endured to be with us today. They first fled to Jordan in 2012 to survive the terror that brutalized millions of innocent lives in their country.

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I can’t begin to imagine their immense suffering and pain as they saw their homes destroyed and their loved ones murdered, but I do know that here in British Columbia they have friends who will stand alongside them as they begin their new chapter.

Now I’d like to recognize the life-changing work by the Canadian Arab Forum of B.C., a non-profit organization prompting and celebrating Arabic and Muslim culture in Canada’s vibrant multicultural society. CAFBC is a member of the Council of Muslim Organizations of B.C. and regularly hosts events and sponsors initiatives like today’s delegation.

Also on that note, I would like to thank Mr. Liaquat Khan, a respected businessman in Surrey and a prominent member of the Pakistan Canada Association, who generously sponsored the cost of our guests’ trip to the Legislature today.

To our newest fellow British Columbians: we hope you find peace in your days of healing ahead in Canada — the best country in the world, dare I say — which all of us, and now you, too, have the privilege of calling home.

Would all the members in the House please make them feel very welcome. [Applause]

H. Bains: I stand with pride and honour to introduce and join with the member for Burnaby-Lougheed to extend our warm welcome to our newer British Columbians.

These are the families…. As you have heard and many British Columbians have read in the media, their lives were uprooted because of no fault of their own. British Columbians opened up their arms, their wallets and their doors, and here they are today.
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It makes me so proud to stand here and to welcome them. I will name a few of them, because they are in Surrey now — Khaled Mohammed Oday, Abu Bahker Khan and Ibrahim Abu Karousse.

At the same time I welcome them, I want to say thank you to Liaquat Ali, Yousef Barakat. Like all British Columbians, these are the people that actually stepped forward and said “welcome” to all of our Syrian individuals who left their homes, not by choice, but we are here to welcome them.

I say please join with me, like all British Columbians have done, to say welcome and make their stay here as comfortable as we can.

S. Robinson: I have a number of guests here today.

I’d like the House to join me in welcoming Brooke Campbell from the B.C. Seniors Games Society. She’s their communications chair. The one thing I will say about Brooke is that she suffers from chronic volunteerism. It’s just one of the things that she’s really very good at.

I’d also like to join my colleagues in welcoming those Syrian refugees who have made Coquitlam their home. Coquitlam residents are thrilled and have gathered and organized over the preceding months, preparing for the arrival of Syrian refugees, and we are thrilled. I am certainly thrilled to see them here in the House today.

Would the members please join me in welcoming Mahmoud Halak, Smah Nyalh, Rahaf Halak, Merna Halak, Husam Jahmani, Ikhlas Alhussein, Laith Jahmani, Kenan Jahmani, Rebal Jahmani and Ali Elhayou.

S. Hammell: I’d like to, in particular, welcome councillor Yousef Barakat. He is a proud Canadian who was born in Palestine and immigrated to Canada in 2010. Since the immigration of the family to Canada, he has continued to demonstrate a passion for promoting intercultural relations, diversity and inclusion.

Yousef is the person who has been behind organizing this trip of the Syrian new Canadians to our House, their House.

I’d like to also introduce to the House Ryan Alda Benut.

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Speaker’s Statement


Madame Speaker: Hon. Members, one further introduction. With the blessing of the Hon. Steven Point, this Talking Stick was presented to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly by the Hon. Judith Guichon at an event at Government House.

This Talking Stick was carved by the artist James Delorme and was presented to the Hon. Steven Point, as Lieutenant-Governor, in 2010 by Chief Robert Sam, as a gift from the Songhees First Nation, to commemorate the Salish Sea naming ceremony. The Talking Stick is a replica of the totem pole located on the front lawn of the Government House. The totem pole was carved by Chief Tony Hunt and originally designed by Mungo Martin.

By-Election Results

Clerk of the House:

February 16, 2016
Hon. Linda Reid
Speaker of the Legislative Assembly
Room 207, Parliament Buildings
Victoria, B.C. V8V 1X4

Dear Madame Speaker:

On July 13, 2015, this office received your warrant advising of a vacancy in the Legislative Assembly resulting from the resignation of Jenny Wai Ching Kwan, member for the electoral district of Vancouver–Mount Pleasant. On August 17, 2015, this office received your warrant advising of a vacancy in the Legislative Assembly resulting from the resignation of Douglas Horne, member for the electoral district of Coquitlam–Burke Mountain.

On direction from the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, I issued writs of election for the electoral districts of Vancouver–Mount Pleasant and Coquitlam–Burke Mountain on January 5, 2016, ordering that by-elections be held to fill these vacancies. The writs specified general voting day to be February 2, 2016, in both electoral districts.

The by-elections were held in accordance with the provisions of the Election Act, and the completed writs of election have been returned to me.

In accordance with section 147(2) of the Election Act, I hereby certify the following individuals to be elected to serve as members of the Legislative Assembly: Melanie Mark for the electoral district of Vancouver–Mount Pleasant; Jodie Wickens for the electoral district of Coquitlam–Burke Mountain.

Keith Archer, PhD
Chief Electoral Officer
British Columbia

Hon. S. Anton: I move that the certificate of the Chief Electoral Officer of the results of the election of members be entered upon the Journals of the House.

Motion approved.

J. Horgan: It has been two weeks of constant smiling from me from me, and I know that gives great joy to the members on the opposite side.

It was a truly moving day. I want to thank the member Delta South for joining us and members of the government’s caucus for being here for the swearing in, the ceremony that involved Tsimshian drum corp — just an exciting passionate and powerful moment for all of us who participated.

Adding to that — what I thought could not be a better day — is to have our friends from Syria come here to observe the transition from one to another, from the old to the new — people leaving this place and people coming
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into this place without fear, without reprisal, without violence. It is something that is a reminder to all of us of how profoundly fortunate we are to live in this great country and in this spectacular province, and of the privilege and honour to represent the citizens in our communities. A spectacular day.

I have the honour to present two women, two mothers: the first First Nations woman to take a seat in this building and the youngest member — with great respect to the member for Vancouver–West End, who now has to pass the mantle to the member for Coquitlam–Burke Mountain. Two women who will fight for their community, passionate supporters of children, passionate supporters of families and passionate supporters of education.

Madame Speaker, I have the honour to present Jodie Wickens, the member for the electoral district of Coquitlam–Burke Mountain and Melanie Mark, the member for the electoral district of Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, who have taken the oath, signed the parliamentary roll and now claim their right to take their seats. [Applause.]

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The hon. members for Coquitlam–Burke Mountain and Vancouver–Mount Pleasant took their seats.

Hon. M. de Jong: May I say, on behalf of the government benches, to the new member for Coquitlam–Burke Mountain and the new member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant: first of all, congratulations. To acquire the right to sit in this place is, in and of itself, a tremendous achievement and an honour.

They have earned that right, and we look forward to working with them. I can’t, in fairness, pledge that each moment in this chamber will be characterized by the mood that exists at the moment. But I can say this. In ways that have already been described, and, I expect, in other ways, both are pioneers.

I can also, I think with a measure of certainty, say this. Away from the glow of the bright lights in this chamber, they will, I know, come to appreciate that there is a measure of collegiality that exists in the halls of this place.

The House Leader for the two new members and I have, in the past, commented on the exclusive — not elitist, but exclusive — club of individuals over the past 130 or 140 years that have acquired the right from the citizens to sit here. All of us enjoy that.

We bear at least one thing in common — me with you. I arrived here in a by-election and earned the right 22 years ago today to sit here. I do remember the sense of excitement. I remember the sense of excitement on the night, and I remember the sense of awe and excitement of walking down the red-carpeted floor as the members just did. So bravo. Good luck.

I can’t pledge a desire to extend your careers indefinitely here, but I do know that you will enjoy your time and look forward to working with you, on behalf of all government members, now that you’ve taken your seats.

Introduction and
First Reading of Bills


Hon. S. Bond presented a message from Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Industry Training Authority Amendment Act, 2016.

Hon. S. Bond: I move that Bill 7 be introduced and read a first time now.

Motion approved.

Hon. S. Bond: Skills training continues to be a major priority for the province, given the shifts in the labour market and the projected demand for skilled workers over the next decade. The importance of skills training is why, in 2013, Jessica McDonald was appointed to conduct an independent review of the Industry Training Authority and trades training in B.C. We have committed to implementing all 29 recommendations outlined in the McDonald report, aimed at strengthening B.C.’s trades training system.

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The Industry Training Authority, or the ITA, is the regulatory body responsible for managing our province’s trades-training system. It is ensuring B.C. trains the right number of skilled workers to meet demand. The ITA is governed by the Industry Training Authority Act, which outlines the ITA’s power to deliver a high-quality and effective apprenticeship system. It’s time to update the act and make the changes necessary to ensure that the Industry Training Authority is best positioned to effectively lead the system in B.C.

Today we are introducing amendments to the act that will directly address the recommendations provided in the Macdonald report. These amendments will clarify and strengthen the authority’s role within the system and ensure industry stakeholders are engaged in strategic planning and decision-making. At the same time, the amendments will ensure the ITA continues to have flexibility to respond to priorities quickly and efficiently.

I move that Bill 7 be placed on the orders of the day for the next sitting of the House after today.
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Bill 7, Industry Training Authority Amendment Act, 2016, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.

(Standing Order 25B)


J. Tegart: The city of Merritt, in the heart of Fraser-Nicola, has a rich cultural diversity that spans all sectors of the community. Young and old are enthusiastic participants in Merritt’s arts scene. Unfortunately, as in most small communities, Merritt lacks an adequate facility where live performances, music events and plays can be held, a centre to showcase and promote arts and culture in the community.

The Nicola Valley Community Theatre Society is working on a solution. The society has completed a detailed business plan that makes a performing arts centre a successful proposition from a cost standpoint. Stand-alone performing arts centres historically are money-losers for communities. Income rarely covers operating expenses, but the Nicola Valley Community Theatre Society envisions a performing arts centre that generates steady revenue by including a movie theatre that screens first-run Hollywood films.

The society has determined that a community-owned cinema complex incorporated into a performing arts centre could subsidize the cost of the entire venue. This proposal has wide community support. A 250-seat performing arts centre would be combined with the attached three-screen cinema complex of 100 seats each.

With an estimated cost of $5 million, this is an ambitious project. Fundraising has begun, and a membership drive has resulted in almost 450 members. The theatre society views this as a pilot project to demonstrate how small communities with limited resources can build and operate facilities that foster local arts and culture. One idea, a couple of people that are passionate, and you can change a community.


B. Ralston: The civil war in Syria has created one of the worst humanitarian disasters of our time. More than half of all Syrians are either refugees or internally displaced. Thousands of refugees continue to flee, taking perilous journeys that make it clear that resettlement to third countries like Canada continues to be needed.

In addition to government-assisted refugees, there are other civil society–based legal avenues to assist Syrian refugees — by sponsorship agreement holders, by groups of five or more citizens or by community sponsors. Canadians have reached out, and here in the communities of British Columbia, many civil society groups, faith-based organizations, businesses and networks of individuals have all answered the call for help.

For many Syrians, these sponsorships mean a new beginning, and they start with our support. Groups like the Canadian Arab Forum of British Columbia, the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia, SUCCESS, the B.C. Muslim Association and many others are helping. Be it by volunteering, offering housing or employment opportunities and with in-kind or direct donations, citizens across British Columbia are responding.

The challenges of resettlement in British Columbia, including learning English, seeking employment, enrolling children in school and seeking, in some cases, medical help for the post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from the horrors of war, are all part of the new lives refugees will need to overcome to successfully integrate into British Columbia.

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On behalf of all members, I extend my thanks to everyone involved, and to our new Canadians joining us in the gallery today: welcome home.


G. Kyllo: Today I’d like to recognize the achievements of the Nechako-Kitamaat Development Fund Society on its 15th anniversary. For the past 15 years, volunteer board members have dedicated their time and energy to support the society’s economic development mandate. The society was established back in 1999 to support economic development in the region roughly between Kitimat and Vanderhoof, the area that was most affected by the Kemano project and the creation of the Nechako reservoir.

The society funds projects in partnership with communities and other partners, serving the needs of some of B.C.’s smallest communities, including a number of First Nations communities. As of March 31, 2015, the society has approved a total of 282 individual projects valued over $8.8 million. In 2014-15 alone, the society leveraged $1.6 million from outside sources, attracting critical investments into some of B.C.’s smallest and most vulnerable communities.

The projects funded by the society are developed specifically in response to the needs of First Nations and non–First Nations communities in the region. Communities such as Fraser Lake, Burns Lake and the Saik’uz Nation have all benefited from projects funded by the society. Such projects include marketing and promotional campaigns, community hall upgrades, downtown revitalization initiatives and the creation of world-class walking and biking trails. All of these projects spur economic development by making the region more attractive to businesses and residents.

I encourage all members to congratulate the hard-working volunteers and staff of the Nechako-Kitamaat Development Fund Society for their extraordinary service to their communities over the past 15 years. Their dedication to serving their communities has undoubtedly
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helped to make the northwest central region an even better place to live and play.


S. Robinson: The 55-Plus Games are coming to Coquitlam this year, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be a representative of the host community. Coquitlam is celebrating its 125th birthday this year, and hosting the annual 55-Plus Games is a great way to bring our community together. I love the fact that we’re celebrating our birthday with sport, competition and friendship. And what’s more, the city’s parks and recreation department has been hosting try-it sessions so residents can try their hand at a new sport that will be showcased at the games.

The B.C. Seniors Games Society works with communities around the province to hold these games. The volunteer-run society operates the multisport 55-Plus Games every year by bringing people together to celebrate the year’s culmination of hard work, dedication and friendship in sport and other recreational activities. This September Coquitlam will welcome up to 4,000 participants and coaches in 22 different sports and activities. Participants will engage in everything from archery to whist. An additional 1,500 volunteers will be on hand to help put on the games, making this one of the largest community gatherings Coquitlam ever hosted.

While the community will benefit by bringing out the best in us as hosts, there will be significant economic benefits to the region as well. Survey data collected for the B.C. Seniors Games in Langley in 2014 indicated direct economic impact of more than $3.1 million in the area, of which over 85 percent was created by the spending of games participants, while the remainder was contributed by games society organizers and related agencies.

Join us in Coquitlam this September and be amazed at how older adults take to their sport and push their limits. Be sure to celebrate with us because #youwishyoucouldplaylikeanolderadult.


S. Gibson: Congratulations to the Federation of Independent Schools on their 50th anniversary. For over five decades, FISA BC has been a strong voice for independent schools in our province, providing a diversity of choice for parents for the education of their children and youth.

Today the federation is the umbrella organization for over 76,000 students attending 297 member schools. This represents 93 percent of the total independent school enrolment in our province. FISA’s growth demonstrates the respect it enjoys among B.C.’s independent schools. I’ve had the pleasure, over this past year, of visiting 35 independent schools and plan to visit more in the coming months ahead.

Independent schools provide a valuable complementary alternative to the public education system. It’s all about choice.

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Thanks to the energy and passion of FISA, our government recently passed Bill 29, which ensures that property reasonably necessary for the education of children continues to be exempt from property tax. This will ensure that unnecessary financial burdens are not placed on independent schools so they may use their resources to educate and enlighten our children.

Way to go, FISA. We’re all proud of you and your contribution to the quality education for our entire province.


K. Conroy: Last Saturday, February 13, I attended the service for Jens Erik Knudsgaard, who passed away in Kananaskis on February 5. Erik was born on February 12, 1938, in Rossland — the first set of triplets to be born in Rossland and, some say, even in B.C.

Erik’s hobbies included skiing, hiking, Masons, Sons of Norway and Ski for Light Canada. He enjoyed travelling to England and Denmark, celebrating his Danish heritage and, especially, spending time with his family and grandchildren.

Erik is survived by his wife, Margaret; his sons — Paul and his wife, Colleen, and Mark and his wife, Julie-Anne; his daughters, Karen and Anna; his grandchildren, Mya, Kristian, Logan, Winter and Moss; his brother, Einer and his wife, Mariette; and his sister, Linda and her husband, Allan; as well as nieces and nephews. Erik was predeceased by his parents, Hans and Linna, and his brothers, Frankie and David.

Erik had been in Kananaskis as a guide for blind skiers, participating in the annual Ski for Light event. On Saturday, he guided his blind skier to a gold-medal finish. Later that night, Erik died peacefully in his sleep.

He was a member of the Sons of Norway, Castlegar Nordic Lodge #76, made up of members of Scandinavian heritage from throughout the West Kootenays. Ski for Light is an outreach program of Sons of Norway that annually pairs visually impaired cross-country skiers with sighted guides for a week of skiing, training sessions and social events. The program started in Norway but expanded to the U.S. and then Canada. In fact, the very first Ski for Light event in Canada was hosted by the Castlegar Nordic Lodge in 1978. They hosted again in ’89, ’96 and 2003.

Erik was an enthusiastic and successful guide. As well, he was always there to help out friends and family. He never failed to give me political advice, always with a smile and a hug. Our community has lost one of those members who contributed much and never asked for
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anything. As his sons said in their eulogy of their dad, he died doing what he loved, helping someone else achieve their goal and a gold medal too.

Oral Questions


J. Horgan: Over the past two weeks, the Premier has made a number of statements about what she thinks is wrong with the medical services tax. Most recently, she said — and I’m quoting this, because I certainly wouldn’t have said this: “It’s antiquated, it’s old, and the way people pay for it generally doesn’t make a…ton of sense, so therefore, it is really hard to try and make the sensible changes that we need to do.”

Five years the Premier has presided over the tabling of budgets. For five years, she’s known that it is unfair, it is antiquated and it needs to be fixed. But just last week, apparently, we discovered that that would be really, really hard.

My question to the Minister of Finance is this. Why is it that after claiming that they were going to do something to relieve the burden of the medical services tax on British Columbians, they are in fact increasing the take this year, next year and the year after that? Why is it so really, really hard to do the right thing and make an unfair tax disappear and let British Columbians deal with health services like every other province in the Confederation?

Hon. M. de Jong: As I mentioned, I think, a day or two ago, predictably the Leader of the Opposition and, I suspect, a few of his colleagues are choosing to dismiss outright the significance of the changes that are outlined in the budget that was tabled yesterday. In so doing, they are saying no to changes that would ensure that a single adult making less than $42,000 can save up to $324 a year by virtue of the changes we’ve made to MSP.

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They are saying no to changes that would see an adult couple earning up to $45,000 save up to $480 a year. They are saying no to changes that would ensure a senior couple earning less than $51,000 could save up to $480 per year. Perhaps more importantly, they are saying no to changes that will ensure that 70,000 single-parent families can save up to $1,224 a year on medical services premiums.

Madame Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition on a supplemental.

J. Horgan: It’s old, it’s antiquated, and the way it’s paid generally doesn’t make a ton of sense. That was from the leader of the government of British Columbia.

I think what British Columbians would like is for the Minister of Finance to say yes to helping families that are in distress. I think British Columbians would like a government that says yes to doing away with unfair taxes that have been crippling people for generations.

The minister is often prone to say — and he may have it prepared in his next response — that he believes that, somehow, British Columbians need a symbol that health care costs some money. Now, if they were only increasing the medical services premium by the increase in the Medical Services Plan expenditures over a year, that would be fine. But my reading is that this year medical services are going up 2.9 percent, yet the MSP premium is going up 4 percent. That’s not even revenue-neutral, as the minister likes to say. That’s a grab, plain and simple.

For the first time in my memory, there will be more revenue from the medical services tax than from forestry, than from mining and natural gas. We have now $100 million in a photo-op slush fund for the Premier that’s not being funded by LNG revenues, because there aren’t any. It’s being funded by — you’ve got it — the differential between the 2.9 percent increase in his budget and the 4 percent increase in the tax.

My question to the Minister of Finance: why the tax grab? Why don’t you do something about the antiquated, old and unfair way you’ve been collecting taxes from families for the past 15 years?

Hon. M. de Jong: The opposition leader and his colleagues’ unfamiliarity and lack of enthusiasm for the concept of saving is well known to people across British Columbia. But I expect I’ll have some opportunity to discuss that further in follow-up questions from him and his colleagues.

The question, though, that the member has put and that deserves a direct answer relates to where there are increases. I noticed, in his preamble and in some of the commentary that he has advanced outside of this chamber, he and his colleagues have chosen — purposefully, I expect — not to refer to the significant ongoing increase in the Health budget that is measured in the billions of dollars. That’s billions of dollars to ensure that British Columbians can access the health care that they need. And an unwillingness on the part of the member to acknowledge that of the soon-to-be $19 billion that taxpayers will provide to fund Health Ministry operations…. That doesn’t even include all of the other health aspects of the budget. Of the Health Ministry operations, but 14 percent of that comes from MSP premiums.

We have made changes that acknowledge the challenge that families face. We have made changes that result not in nominal or insignificant savings but significant savings to families in every circumstance, and it’s all laid out in the budget. It’s good news for those families — that they are securing the relief they need under a balanced budget in 2016.
[ Page 10438 ]


J. Darcy: Yesterday the Finance Minister said: “The measure of any society is reflected in the degree to which it is willing to help the most vulnerable.”

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Well, Fran Flann is the most vulnerable. She’s 82 years old and recovering from cancer surgery. While she was having surgery, her landlord decided to clean up her apartment, which was infested with bedbugs. A social worker found her in a motel room, but funding for that ran out after a week. Now Fran is in a homeless shelter. That is a shameful way to treat a senior and a cancer patient — absolutely shameful.

If a society is measured by how much it is willing to help the most vulnerable, to the Finance Minister: how does his government measure itself when it comes to treating Fran Flann?

Hon. M. de Jong: There are people in British Columbia who experience challenges. They are seniors; they are other individuals. I expect that one of the common features that draws people to this chamber — and two more just joined us — is a desire to take steps that would alleviate some of the challenges that people in British Columbia face — those most vulnerable people. That is why we have devoted and, within the budget, provided hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding to support our most vulnerable citizens.

That’s why we have ensured…. That’s why we have capitalized and taken advantage of our fiscal strength as a province, which surpasses any other jurisdiction in Canada. It’s why we have applied ourselves with such diligence to fiscal discipline and why we have taken steps to reduce the cost of borrowing money so that, in this case, up to half a billion dollars more is available to do what I presume the member wants government to do, and what we are doing, which is to take steps to make life just a little bit easier for those that are confronted by those challenges.


D. Eby: We know that residents of Metro Vancouver, who are watching an out-of-control real estate market drive prices well beyond what they can afford, are not celebrating the Premier’s budget. But shadow flippers have a reason to celebrate. The Premier and the Finance Minister failed to close a loophole that they’re exploiting to evade the property transfer tax that everybody else has to pay.

This loophole could be costing the province hundreds of millions of dollars a year. That’s money the Premier is taking instead from hard-working families through increased MSP, hydro and other fees. For some reason, this government is pretending that shadow flipping isn’t happening, that this property transfer tax evasion isn’t happening — and it isn’t collecting this money.

To the Finance Minister: why is he not acting to close this loophole?

Hon. M. de Jong: Well, quite frankly, I would have expected a more informed question or submission from the member, because he knows what he said is just not true. In fact, in very specific and pointed ways, we have begun the process of gathering information that heretofore has not existed about the very phenomenon that he describes.

But I would have expected at some point in my search of the commentary from this member, in particular, to see some recognition for a step the government has taken that has the immediate impact of putting not one, not two, not three, but up to $13,000 directly into the pocket of a family that wants to purchase a home in British Columbia. That is true in the neighbourhood that the member represents, and whether he cares or not, it is true for British Columbians right across this province.

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Is there any better indication of the negativity or the spirit of no that pervades across the benches of the opposition than that member’s refusal to acknowledge a $13,000 benefit for British Columbians who want to get into the housing market?

Madame Speaker: Vancouver–Point Grey on a supplemental.

D. Eby: What British Columbians would like to see is some recognition from this Finance Minister and this Premier of the hundreds of millions of dollars left on the table through property transfer tax not paid by shadow flippers and not paid by international investors.

Wealthy international investors are celebrating the Finance Minister’s budget as well. They’re using our low dollar to scoop up commercial properties, especially in Vancouver. Vancouver’s Royal Centre building sold to a German billionaire for more than $400 million. Vancouver’s U.K. Building sold to Chinese investors for $122 million. They, and others like them, get to avoid the property transfer tax by using a loophole, which the Finance Minister knows about, called a bare trust. On these two deals alone, the province may have given up, up to $11 million in revenue. There are hundreds like them over the last ten years.

Why did the Finance Minister not close this loophole, as well, around the property transfer tax?

Hon. M. de Jong: First of all, again, the member will know that the budget yesterday announced specific steps to do something that has not taken place in the 30 years since the advent of the property transfer tax, around the question of bare trust. It’s something previous govern-
[ Page 10439 ]
ments chose not to do, including governments led by the party opposite.


Madame Speaker: Members. We’ll wait.

Please continue.

Hon. M. de Jong: Look, believe me, I don’t like to think about the ’90s either. I share that with the opposition, actually.

We are beginning the process of gathering accurate information upon which sound decisions can be made. But it was a very interesting submission. The member seemed to be quite critical of the fact that people came to British Columbia and are purporting to make a commercial investment. I’m going to repeat something I said yesterday, just so that people understand.

The government, members of the government caucus, actually value and encourage people coming to British Columbia to invest in our economy. We actually think it makes sense for people to be encouraged to come here, invest, set up businesses, employ British Columbians, diversify our economy even further, diversify our markets. I expect, and will say again, that that is one of the important things that distinguishes the government from the opposition. I will also say it’s one of the reasons British Columbia continues to lead Canada in terms of economic growth.


C. James: This year and next year, the government projects that they will collect an unexpected extra $750 million in property transfer tax, largely due to the out-of-control real estate market in the Lower Mainland. Residents of Metro Vancouver are concerned that speculators, shadow flippers and others are hyperinflating the market, and they’re ensuring that property prices continue to remain disconnected from the stagnant wages of B.C.’s families.

Now, an independent investigation into the real estate market in Metro Vancouver that could include spot audits, title research and comprehensive interviews under oath would likely cost about $1 million. Will the Finance Minister do the right thing and spend 0.001 percent of his property transfer tax windfall to fund, for example, a retired judge to investigate what’s really happening in Metro Vancouver in the housing market?

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Hon. M. de Jong: Well, it’s not the first time, but once again, we’re getting somewhat mixed signals from the opposition. One member thinks we’re not collecting enough property transfer tax, and another member thinks we’re collecting too much.

Let me say this about an important portion of the real estate market, housing market, in British Columbia. In Vancouver last year, the statistics reveal that a third of the homes that were sold, sold for under $400,000. So when I hear members opposite dismiss as inconsequential a decision that immediately provides an exemption for British Columbians — for people who live here, who want to buy and make their permanent home here — an exemption that could save them $13,000, it suggests to me that there is something else at play.

There is a process underway to examine some of the practices that have given rise to concern involving the Real Estate Council and the superintendent of real estate. The member has heard me in the past — and my expectations and the government’s expectations around proper behaviour by those involved in the real estate sector.

But for heaven’s sake, the single biggest change to the property transfer tax — an opportunity for British Columbians, not just in Point Grey or Shaughnessy but around this province, to purchase a new home and save up to $13,000…. If the members opposite can’t join with the government and celebrate that fact, I guess that speaks volumes to where they are.

Madame Speaker: The member for Victoria–Beacon Hill on a supplemental.

C. James: I’m amazed that you would hear the Finance Minister standing up and talking about being against closing loopholes, dealing with speculators and ensuring British Columbians are treated fairly. That’s what we’re talking about in this House.

The minister chose to completely ignore a thoughtful proposal from UBC’s Sauder School of Business which gave a way to track absentee speculator investors through the tax system. The minister knows that there have been very serious allegations about real estate manipulation in Vancouver.

So again my question is to the minister. Why on earth does he believe that a voluntary declaration will be completed accurately by international investors who want to shield their true residency?

Hon. M. de Jong: The member may not remember this, but I do — not, by the way, because of political involvement but as a result of professional involvement in duties I had 100-plus years ago. We used to collect information. We used to require people to provide information about citizenship. I haven’t dwelt on this, but the member persists, and so I shall.

I have no idea why the NDP government in 1998 decided to end that practice. I have no idea. I am certain that as a keen student of history of her party and governments past, the member will stand up in a moment and explain that to us.
[ Page 10440 ]

We are taking steps to collect specific information, reliable information and — as odd as this might seem to members of the opposition — to base subsequent decisions on that reliable information.


J. Rice: Yesterday, the parents of school children in school district 52 received a shocking letter. They were informed that their children had been drinking water with lead levels in excess of Health Canada guidelines.

Four schools were tested. Three elementary schools and one middle school in Prince Rupert have lead levels beyond the maximum acceptable level. They were informed that in order to address this problem, the district would begin flushing school water pipes and installing filtered water fountains. Parents want to know what the health impact on their children might be.

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Can the Minister of Education tell the House how long he has known that school children in my riding have been exposed to contaminated drinking water?

Hon. T. Lake: The health authority, obviously, is very concerned about drinking water quality and has been working with Prince Rupert schools, as they do around the province when there’s a question of water quality.

We know that lead is a naturally occurring substance but also is released from older plumbing, older pipes. I understand that in the ’80s and ’90s here in Victoria, for instance, there was a need to address this situation in older schools.

The health officer in Prince Rupert has determined, through routine testing, that there are slightly elevated lead levels. They are taking proactive action with the school district to ensure that the drinking water for those students in those schools is safe. A letter has gone out to parents to advise them of this. We will ensure that the water is safe to drink in those Prince Rupert schools.

Madame Speaker: The member for North Coast on a supplemental.

J. Rice: My question was not answered. The question was: how long have they known?

Almost half of the 23 sample sites inspected by Northern Health tested positive for elevated lead levels. Children at Conrad Elementary were drinking water with lead levels three times higher than health guidelines, and, to quote Northern Health, “There is no ‘good’ amount of lead” — period.

Parents in my community want answers. Can the minister tell the House how long these children have been drinking contaminated drinking water?

Hon. T. Lake: Medical health officers around the province are certainly aware of the interaction between older plumbing, the alkalinity or acidity of the water and the relationship that results in possible contaminants in the water.

The health officer for Prince Rupert, as soon as they were aware of the elevated lead levels, worked with the school. There is a program in place to ensure that the faucets are flushed first thing in the morning, to make sure that any residual lead from the plumbing system has been flushed from the system, and there will be filters put on those water fountains to ensure that water is fit to drink for the students of those schools.

J. Wickens: Hon. Speaker, it actually gets worse. According to Northern Health, children attending Pineridge Elementary have been drinking water with lead levels 14 times higher than the maximum concentrations allowed by Health Canada — 14 times. Why has the Minister of Education allowed our school children to drink water that Health Canada says is unsafe?

Hon. T. Lake: I want to thank the new member for Coquitlam–Burke Mountain for the question and for the style in which she presented it. I’ve never had to ask a question in question period. I don’t look forward to the opportunity, but I think she did a great job.

The reality is: as soon as Northern Health was knowledgable about the elevated lead levels, they worked with the school to ensure that there was a system in place to protect the children at these schools. This is a problem that has occurred in older buildings throughout the province. As soon as people are aware of the problem, measures are put in place — flushing systems, filtration systems. Northern Health is working closely with the school district to ensure that water is safe for these children to drink.

R. Fleming: Parents in British Columbia expect the government to look out for their children when they are at school, and of course, they expect their kids to be safe when they go to school each day.

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Imagine the shock of a parent receiving a memo yesterday saying that their kids have been exposed to toxins linked to developmental disabilities and permanent physical damage from lead poisoning. Imagine that.

My question is to the minister, whichever one cares to answer here today. It’s about other schools in the northwest, because the testing results in Prince Rupert have shown that all of those schools came back with positive results that will impact children. How many other schools have been tested for elevated lead levels, and will the minister release the findings of those tests so parents can be properly informed?

Hon. T. Lake: As I mentioned, in older buildings with plumbing that is aging, particularly depending on the
[ Page 10441 ]
pH of the water system, there can be an interaction that causes lead to be residual in the water, particularly if the water has been sitting overnight. That’s why it’s important to flush those systems first thing in the morning.

This government is committed to replacing older schools throughout the province — over $1.7 billion over the fiscal plan to renew schools throughout the province of British Columbia. Meanwhile, health authorities will always work with school districts to ensure that water in the school system is high quality and fit to drink for the students.

R. Fleming: The fact is that British Columbia has no mandated test of drinking water in public schools. In fact, Ontario is the jurisdiction that has seen fit to conduct regular testing to determine whether their school children are exposed to high levels of lead.

In the case of Prince Rupert, they are flushing the pipes, and they’re telling parents that they can buy their own home lead-testing kit at a discount for $29. Is this all that the ministry is prepared to do — tell parents to buy a test kit and you’re on your own?

In light of all we know, in light of what this minister knows, in light of the discussion going on in North America about the risk to children from lead poisoning, I ask this of the minister: will he do the right thing? Will he start to coordinate provincial testing, mandatory for every school in British Columbia, to determine what risk there is to kids in our province?

Hon. T. Lake: It is evident that as soon as Northern Health was aware of elevated lead levels, action was taken. In older plumbing, we know that there is a possibility of lead getting into the system if water has been sitting in it for a period of time, particularly if the pH of the water system makes lead come out into the water.

The water supply in Prince Rupert is absolutely fine. It’s the older buildings that have an issue, whether that’s residential buildings or whether it’s school buildings or whether it’s hospitals. Northern Health is working closely with parents and the school to make sure that the water in the school system is fit to drink for the students of Prince Rupert.

[End of question period.]

Reports from Committees

M. Hunt: I have the honour to present the report of the Special Committee to Appoint a Merit Commissioner.

I would move that the report be taken as read and received.

Motion approved.

M. Hunt: I ask leave of the House to move a motion to adopt the report.

Leave granted.

M. Hunt: In moving the adoption of this report, I would like to make some brief comments. This report represents the committee’s unanimous recommendation for the reappointment of Ms. Fiona Spencer as the Merit Commissioner of British Columbia.

As you are aware, the role of the Merit Commissioner is an important one, but when I mentioned to folks that I was Chair of this committee, the standard question was: “What is a Merit Commissioner?” Well, the Merit Commissioner is a statutory officer of the Legislature who is responsible for ensuring the effective application of the merit principle in public service appointments, thereby confirming that the appointed individuals are qualified for their positions.

The Merit Commissioner accomplishes this through random audits and through detailed reviews of specific appointment decisions. Since her original appointment in 2010, Ms. Fiona Spencer has carried out these responsibilities in a most capable, effective and professional manner.

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Ms. Spencer’s knowledge of public service and management and human resource issues, both at the provincial and federal levels, as well as her integrity and commitment to accountability, make her an ideal candidate to continue to fill this role.

I want to thank my fellow committee members, including the Deputy Chair, the member for Surrey-Newton, for their contributions and support of the selection process. It was a delight to work with each and every one of you.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the presence of Ms. Spencer in the gallery today, right behind me, and, on behalf of the committee, offer her our sincere congratulations.

With that, I would move adoption of the report.

H. Bains: I rise to add my comments in concurrence with the Chair of the committee, the member for Surrey-Panorama. I would also like to thank all committee members for their focused and principled approach in reaching and concluding the process to recommend unanimously to this House to reappoint Fiona Spencer as Merit Commissioner for British Columbia.

On behalf of the committee members, I want to thank, in particular, the Chair of the committee for his respectful, constructive approach in collecting views from all those who wished to offer. On behalf of all members of the committee, I would like to thank the legislative Clerk’s office, especially Kate Ryan-Lloyd, for their support to help organize meetings and their technical advice.

The legislative committee agreed to recommend Ms. Fiona Spencer’s appointment in 2010 and her reappointment in 2013, and we believe she will continue to serve British Columbians with integrity, excellence and dedi-
[ Page 10442 ]
cation to her role. We look forward to Ms. Spencer continuing her leadership as an independent officer of the Legislature, responsible for monitoring the application of the merit principle to public service appointments.

Madame Speaker: The question is adoption of the report.

Motion approved.

M. Hunt: I would ask leave of the House to permit the moving of a motion requesting the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council to reappoint Ms. Fiona Spencer as Merit Commissioner of the province of British Columbia.

Leave granted.

Motions Without Notice


M. Hunt: I move:

[That this House recommend to the Lieutenant Governor in Council the reappointment of Ms. Fiona Spencer as an Officer of the Legislature, to exercise the powers and duties assigned to the Merit Commissioner for the province of British Columbia pursuant to section 5.01 of the Public Service Act.]

Motion approved.

J. Wickens: I seek leave to make introductions.

Madame Speaker: Please proceed.

Introductions by Members

J. Wickens: I’d like to say a special welcome to some people who are very important to me in the House today. We have Louise Witt and Dione Costanzo, who are past colleagues of mine from the Autism Support Network; their children, Catherine Taylor and Eric Paquette; my sister-in-law, Brenda Newton, and Sam Newton; my good friend Joanna Drake and her mom, Karen Styles; and two mentors of mine, Clair Schuman and Cathie Camley.

Please help me in welcoming them today.

Motions Without Notice


Hon. M. de Jong: By leave, I’d like to move a motion. For the information of members, it is the activation of the Special Committee to Review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, pursuant to section 80 of that act.

[That a Special Committee be appointed to review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 165 pursuant to section 80 of that Act, and that the Special Committee so appointed shall have the powers of a Select Standing Committee and is also empowered:

a) to appoint to their number one or more subcommittees and to refer to such subcommittees any of the matters referred to the committee and to delegate to the subcommittee all or any of its powers except the power to report directly to the House;

b) to sit during a period in which the House is adjourned, during the recess after prorogation until the next following Session and during any sitting of the House;

c) to adjourn from place to place as may be convenient;

d) to conduct public consultations by any means the committee considers appropriate, including but not limited to public meetings and electronic means; and

e) to retain personnel as required to assist the committee;

and shall submit a report, including any recommendations respecting the results of the review, to the Legislative Assembly by May 26, 2016; and shall deposit the original of its reports with the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly during a period of adjournment and upon resumption of the sittings of the House, the Chair shall present all reports to the Legislative Assembly.

That the said Special Committee is to be composed of Don McRae (Convenor), Eric Foster, Sam Sullivan, Jackie Tegart, John Yap, Kathy Corrigan, David Eby, and Doug Routley.]

I think all members are in possession of the motion. I will say that it asks the committee to submit its report by May 26, 2016. For the record, the special committee is composed of Don McRae, convener; Eric Foster; Sam Sullivan; Jackie Tegart; John Yap; Kathy Corrigan; David Eby; and Doug Routley.

By leave, I will move that motion.

Motion approved.

Orders of the Day

Hon. M. de Jong: Continued debate on the budget.

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Budget Debate


C. James: It is my pleasure to continue my beginning discussion that I started yesterday, to rise to speak to B.C. Budget 2016. Yesterday was simply a quick overview of the budget, and today I want to take my opportunity to be able to talk a little bit more in-depth about specifics in the budget, about the kinds of things that are important to British Columbians and the role of the budget in all of those.

So just for those folks who are paying attention and listening, I’m going to go through the strengths of British Columbia. I’m going to go through the role of the budget in supporting those strengths and dealing with the challenges.

[R. Chouhan in the chair.]
[ Page 10443

I want to talk a little bit about this government’s promises. I believe it’s important to talk a little bit about the new promises in the budget and what the track record of this government is when it comes to promises, because I think it’s important for the people of B.C. to remember history when we take a look at new promises.

I want to take some time, as well, to talk a little bit about the reality for families, the challenges that families are facing, some stories that I certainly don’t believe are unique to my constituency but in fact are, I’m certain, heard from members across this province.

I also want to take some time to take a look at what the public has asked for. There’s quite an extensive process that occurs in British Columbia through the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, where we actually take the opportunity to travel the province. I want to take some time to talk a little bit and respect those voices, those people who take the time to be able to tell us what they believe the priorities should be. I’d like to take some time, as well, to talk a little bit about that public voice.

Then I want to close off with a little discussion about possibilities — what possibilities there are in this province and what kinds of challenges we have.

I will be the designated speaker as well.

Just to begin, I want to talk a little bit about our strengths. I’ve had the good fortune to live in British Columbia for most of my life. I immigrated with my parents when I was a baby and moved to British Columbia when I was five years old. I, in fact, moved into this community — into James Bay and the Victoria community — when I was five years old and have spent almost my entire life in this community.

I moved north for a bit and continue to call that my second home — Burns Lake, where my husband’s territory is and where he continues to work as well. I consider that my second home. But Victoria and this beautiful place, as well as this province, has been my home for my entire life. I am a proud British Columbian.

It was interesting yesterday. I was asked a couple of times, in doing follow-up on the budget, why I felt that there were comments made by the other side bashing other governments and other provinces, talking about the strengths of B.C. compared to other places. I’m a big believer — a lesson that I think is important — that we can be proud without putting other people down. I think that’s critical for all of us. I will continue to be a proud British Columbian. I will continue to talk proudly about our province and the great strengths we have.

I’m also a believer that people are the greatest asset that we have. They are our greatest strength as a province. Certainly, when it comes to the economy…. Our economy is a global economy, and we have a massive advantage here in British Columbia when it comes to our diversity. We have people from all parts of the globe who have chosen British Columbia as their home.

We had the wonderful example earlier today where we had refugee families from Syria who were here in the gallery witnessing what was occurring here. I’m just so proud to live in that kind of province, in a multicultural province where people reach out and support newcomers to British Columbia. It really is one of our greatest strengths.

If you’re looking at a global economy, we have people who have connections to all parts of the globe who’ve chosen British Columbia as their place to contribute, who’ve chosen British Columbia as their place to be able to share their strengths and their talents.

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When I go to citizenship ceremonies, which I think for all of us are very moving — to see new Canadians and to attend those ceremonies — I often say that I believe refugees and immigrants are some of the bravest people in the world. I think that for many of us, to imagine coming to a country without the language, often without connections, without family connections, leaving behind family, leaving behind everything you’ve known and taking that plunge, taking that big step…. To be able to come to a new country and say, “I’m going to share my talents and my experiences,” is incredible, absolutely incredible. I think it really does speak to the courage and the strength of our immigrants.

In British Columbia, when we talk about the strengths of our province, one of the huge strengths that we have is that diversity, those connections. It certainly makes our province a much richer place, to know that we have those connections.

The other piece that I think is important to acknowledge in our province is that we have a very fast-growing entrepreneurial spirit in many, many folks in British Columbia. Whether it’s large businesses or small businesses, whether it’s a home-based business or an international business, whether it’s the area of high-tech, the area of agriculture or forestry, whether it’s health care — you name it — we really have an incredible amount of entrepreneurs in our province.

Again, we all benefit. I think that’s the key that I’d like to mention when I talk about our strengths in British Columbia. We all benefit from that strength. We all benefit from the creativity and the flexibility.

The determination to be an entrepreneur takes huge determination. It takes patience, but it also takes risk-taking. It takes being able to take that big step out when others are saying to you, “This idea isn’t going to go anywhere,” or you’re turned down by folks when you’re looking for capital or you’re out looking for that opportunity — the many people, I’m sure, who’ve told those entrepreneurs that it’s not going to work.

I love the entrepreneurs who say: “If you haven’t made any mistakes….” In fact, at the most recent high-tech conference, there was an ask for a show of hands for the number of people in the audience who had gone bank-
[ Page 10444 ]
rupt and then come back again. Really, when you’re talking about entrepreneurship, you are talking about taking risks. You are talking about reaching out. You are talking about making mistakes, learning from them and then moving on. So I think it’s important to acknowledge the entrepreneurial spirit in British Columbia as one of our huge strengths.

We also have world-class institutions of higher learning. I am so proud of our community college and university network that we have in British Columbia. I use the term “community college” purposefully, because I worry — and I’ll talk a little bit more when we get into that section of the budget — about the eroding of our community colleges. I think they are a huge asset in our province.

In fact, I think most people, certainly in my generation — I won’t speak for others — remember people starting off in college and moving to universities. That’s usually the path that is often taken, and we have some excellent agreements between colleges and universities for people to be able to take courses and to be able to move back and forth.

Well, it has been interesting to watch over the last five years or so. We now actually are seeing the opposite. We are seeing people who have gone to university, who have received their degree at university, who are going to community colleges as their second opportunity in the province, because they’ve seen that they have a degree and now they want to look at something a little more practical, sometimes, or something that has opened up another opportunity for a job field.

There isn’t one better than the other. They are both critical — and both critical to a strong economy. From my perspective, if we don’t have that community college and university system with the linkages and with the support, then I don’t believe we’re going to have a strong economy. I’m very proud of our community colleges and our universities in British Columbia.

One of the other advantages when it comes to the strengths of British Columbia — and I think we don’t talk often enough about it — is our public health care system and our public education system. Again, if you look at the foundation of a strong economy and the foundation of a strong society, public education and public health care are critical. They are important not only to a healthy community; they’re important to businesses.

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I can tell you that in the travels I’ve done in the years that I’ve been an MLA, I have lost track of the number of individuals at a chamber of commerce or at a business mixer that have talked about businesses saying that one of the things they look for, when they’re looking at investment and when they’re looking at communities, is: what are the schools like, and is health care accessible? Because that’s what their employees are asking about. Their employees are saying: “If we’re going to come and work for you….” Particularly in the kind of competitive market that we see in our province and in our global economy, when you’re competing for people across the world, it’s important to take a look and see where those services are for people who are coming to work for your business.

I certainly believe that our public health care system and our public education system are the foundation of a strong economy and the foundation of a strong society. Again, as I go along, I’ll talk a little about what Budget 2016 offered, or didn’t offer, when it comes to both of those areas.

One of the other great strengths of our province is our place as a gateway to the Pacific. We have access to markets that really are the envy of many, that really give us a huge opportunity and a huge advantage in a province. Again, I think it’s important for us to continue to recognize those strengths.

We have an unparalleled natural environment. Anyone who’s travelled our province knows that. We have a range across this province that is unparalleled to other places, and that attracts people from around the world, provides opportunity for people to be able to explore the great outdoors.

Again, it is an opportunity for businesses to really attract investment here in our province — to talk about our parks and our green space, to be able to talk about our natural environment, our mountains and our lakes and our coastlines and to talk about that as a real strength in bringing business investment into British Columbia. I think when we take a look at building a strong economy, we cannot underestimate the strength of our natural environment and the ability to attract people here because of that.

We have, as well, a highly qualified labour force — well qualified, well educated, productive, well trained. We certainly see that when it comes to all sorts of industries. I’ll just mention one, which is the film industry.

We hear people talking about the wide choice that they have when it comes to being able to choose where they want to go to do a production. Often British Columbia is talked about, because the investment was put in place for those well-trained employees, because we have a strong network. A production company knows that when they come to British Columbia, they’re going to have success. They are going to have well-trained people who can start on the job immediately, who can be there, who can provide that support. Again, that makes a huge difference when you’re looking for investment.

We have a range of natural resources that, if managed sustainably, can be a huge long-term advantage for British Columbia. I believe that there are few places on earth that have the kinds of advantages that we have in British Columbia — few places — but advantages that from my perspective, have been missed opportunities or have been completely neglected by the government.

You see that again in Budget 2016. To me, I think that is a government’s job, and a budget should be a definition
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of that. It should define a government’s agenda. It should really show what a government believes is important, how they build on those strengths, how they capitalize on those strengths. Government doesn’t do everything, but a government does use the advantages and the tools that they have to capitalize on our strengths and to be able to address the challenges and the weaknesses that we may have.

A budget, as I said yesterday, truly defines a government’s character. It speaks to a government’s choices, and it speaks to their priorities. It speaks, I believe, to how a government sees the world and what they see as critical. It also tells us what they don’t see as critical, the things that are further down the list.

As I started off yesterday, I talked a little bit about what this budget says to British Columbians, what this budget tells the people of this province. I have to tell you that I truly believe this is a budget that does reflect the character of this government. It reflects how clearly out of touch this government is with the people of British Columbia, how far out of touch they are. We saw that reflected over and over again. In my time, I’ll talk a little bit about those particular issues.

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I want to start with just one. It was one that we saw reflected in last year’s budget that is once again reflected in this year’s budget. I raise it first, and as the key issue to define a government’s character, because I believe it speaks so strongly to the kinds of priorities that this government has, the people that they believe are important and the people that they believe aren’t. That was when the government last year, and again in this year’s budget, in 2016, found money to be able to give the top 2 percent income earners a tax break in British Columbia. Nothing in my mind speaks more to the character of this Premier and of this government than that decision.

This was a time where we saw the Finance Minister stand up and say to the rest of British Columbians that it was time to tighten your belt. This was going to be a tough economic year. Once again, there were clouds on the horizon. People needed to be cautious. The government needed to be cautious. They needed to be fiscally responsible. They needed to be prudent with taxpayer dollars.

Well, for the public to have to hear the government giving them a lecture about being cautious with the public dollars while they found $230 million to be able to give the top income earners, millionaires, in British Columbia a tax break I think says everything. It says everything about the lack of regard this government has for the public, for hard-working British Columbians, for individuals who are trying to get by.

The public that I talk to are not looking for government to fix everything for them — in fact, just the opposite. They understand that the government can’t fix all the challenges. In fact, they are doing their part. They’re working hard, many of them at two jobs, to try and get by. They’re working very hard on modest incomes to try and put a little bit aside every single month, perhaps for their children’s sports programs or arts programs. Perhaps they’re worried that their car might break down, and they just won’t have the ability to be able to get it fixed because they’re getting by paycheque to paycheque.

I talked to a family that talked about their children’s dental work. How on earth were they going to be able to manage to save up that little tiny bit on each paycheque, to put a little bit aside for dental work that they knew had to be done?

Those individuals, those families, those seniors come into our community offices to talk about how tough it is to get by. A senior that I talked to said they take their medication every second day because they want to spread it out. They’re worried that they don’t have enough resources to be able to take it every day.

Well, that’s not why they were given a prescription. That’s certainly not what their medical professional would recommend. That’s certainly not something that they would be looking at. Yet that’s exactly what they’re facing.

For those individuals to be told, “I’m sorry,” that their own government just can’t afford to help them, and it’s just not possible to help them, I think is one of the biggest insults that we see in Budget 2016.

Oh yes, we can find money, don’t worry, for the top 2 percent of income earners, even when the economy is struggling, even when we tell you that there’s no money there. When you’re struggling and your family is struggling? Sorry, nothing there for you. You just have to wait. You don’t count.

That’s what we see reflected, once again, in Budget 2016 — a slap in the face to hard-working British Columbians trying to do everything right.

I’ll come back in a bit to more specifics on the pressures that families are facing because of this government. I’ll talk a little bit more about the reality for families that I feel the government is choosing to ignore.

I also want to take a just few minutes, as I said at the start, to talk a little bit about this government’s promises. Yes, there were some promises, some commitments, made in the 2016 budget, and I’ll talk a little bit about that. But I think for the public, they’re wearing thin. They’re getting weary when it comes to the B.C. Liberal track record on promises.

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Now, to be fair to the government, there were a couple of promises that they have kept. They certainly did give a tax break to the top 2 percent income earners. They managed to do that. That was a promise that they didn’t break. They managed to keep that one.

Oh, red-tape-reduction day. I think that’s another one that they said they were going to come forward with and that the government actually brought in. Whether they really cut red tape or not is a whole other matter. But they said they’d bring in a red-tape-reduction day, and yes, I do believe they did do that.
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But what have most of the B.C. Liberal promises meant for families? What has happened to many of those promises? I think the one I want to start off with is families first. How many of us remember when the Premier stood up and made her biggest commitment, her big promise? It was going to be families first. That’s what she was going to focus on.

Well, you would imagine that that would have meant that there were going to be resources to families, that we would look after the most vulnerable families, that hard-working families were going to see a break from this government. In fact, just the opposite. Budget 2016 makes life tougher for families. There is no families first.

All I can imagine is that the Premier meant certain families first, a few families first — those very rich, wealthy families first but not the rest of British Columbians. They certainly didn’t count in the families first. So I guess it means being more specific and asking questions about which families the Premier means.

That’s the kind of lack of commitment that this government has had with their promises that makes the public cynical. The public expects the government to act on their behalf. The public expects the government to be there for them. When they hear a promise and a commitment from a Premier that says families first, they expect that means something. They expect that that would be some benefit to them. Instead, as I said, they simply get life made more difficult and less and less services and supports.

What about another promise and another commitment? Debt-free B.C. Now, that one was hard to miss for anybody, because “Debt-free B.C.” was on the side of the campaign bus by the Premier in this last election, in 2013. The idea was that a prosperity fund would be rolling out the money by this time, eliminating the debt. I think at one point, it even said getting rid of the sales tax. That was all going to happen between 2013 and 2015. In fact, the Premier talked about that, talked about dates.

Just to read a couple of quotes from the Premier. The Premier said that at least one LNG plant will be on line by 2015. We’ll have “three in operation by 2020.” Well, we’re here discussing Budget 2016. That’s a broken promise.

What about that prosperity fund? The Premier was quoted as saying, “The prosperity fund could exceed $100 billion” — not million dollars, $100 billion — “over the next 30 years,” and could eliminate the provincial debt, eliminate the provincial sales tax. Well, I have to say, another broken promise from this government.

How much has the debt gone up since that promise was made by the Premier in 2013? Well, $9 billion. That’s a “b” — $9 billion the debt has gone up since the Premier said we’d be “Debt-free B.C.” Again, another broken promise. And we wonder why people are cynical about politics.

It’s the worst of the worst when the big promises are made, when the pictures happen, the photo ops occur, and then nothing happens for families, for people who are slogging away, looking for life not to be made more difficult. They are let down over and over again by this government.

What did we see in this throne speech when it came to those jobs and the billions of dollars that should be rolling in? In fact, this throne speech simply talked about a goal of hanging on to the existing 13,000 jobs.

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How far we’ve come from the Premier saying that we’re going to create tens of thousands of jobs in British Columbia. Instead, we’re trying to hang on to the existing jobs we have.

And what happened to the prosperity fund? I took some time last year to talk to the Finance Minister about the prosperity fund, about when they would begin the process of putting in place the criteria for the fund, how it was going to be fiscally managed, when that was going to occur. The Finance Minister, just last year, said that that fund was going to happen when LNG occurred in British Columbia. When we saw final investment decisions made, when we had the prospect of having an LNG plant here and when we had the anticipation of the resources coming in to British Columbia, then the prosperity fund would be put in place.

We actually have spoken about the fact that, particularly for resource markets, particularly for commodity prices that go up and down, there is some sense to a prosperity fund — to be able to put aside resources to be able to weather the storms of up and down. But there’s something very critical here, and that is you need the industry and the funds from that industry to make up a prosperity fund.

What did we see in this budget? What have we seen the Premier do? We’ve seen the Premier put in place her own fantasy fund, where she took $100 million of taxpayer money and put it into this imaginary prosperity fund for an industry that doesn’t exist and for money that hasn’t come into the province. That $100 million, again, is hard-earned money that has come from British Columbians, from their pockets — to go into the Premier’s fund just to try and save her some embarrassment because she can’t deal with the fact that the LNG hasn’t arrived.

She also doesn’t want to say that she doesn’t have a prosperity fund, so she’s taking your money, the public’s money, and putting it into this imaginary fund so that she can then say she’s done something. Well, that is the worst of the worst. There is no industry. No new industry has come in. There is no money coming in from that industry. And yet the Premier puts together her own fantasy fund and says: “Now it’s there.”

I want to take just a minute to talk a little bit about that $100 million. If you take a look in the budget, 2015-2016, that $100 million is about the amount of money that the government brings in from the increase to the public’s medical services premiums. Almost $100 million. You
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face a 4 percent increase on your medical service premiums. Once again, you’re facing a tough time. Once again, a fee has been put onto families, and that money now is going into the Premier’s fund.

They made a choice, this government. They made a choice to say to you, “Yes, we’re going to gouge you one more time. Yes, we’re going to make your life more difficult. Yes, we’re going to increase your MSP premiums by another 4 percent,” simply so the Premier can have her own fund so that in 2017, when we come up to the election, she can look like she’s doing something.

Well, that’s not good economic planning. Saving the Premier from embarrassment should not cost the taxpayers, and that’s what we’re talking about here. That’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the Premier trying to save herself from embarrassment with taxpayer dollars, making life tougher for families once again.

Now, in going through this list of promises, there was also a promise from this Premier and from this government that they were going to support the most vulnerable — that that was important to the Premier, that that was critical. Well, I don’t have time to go through the litany of reports and investigations and deaths and challenges that the most vulnerable have faced in this province under the B.C. Liberals.

Whether we’re talking about the Ministry of Children and Families and children in care and those tragic stories, whether we’re talking about mental health and people living with mental health issues, whether we’re talking about homelessness and people on income assistance and people on disabilities…. You name it. This government made their lives more difficult and certainly didn’t provide resources for the hard-working staff who try and provide services and supports every single day.

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I’ve had workers in tears. No one goes into the job of front-line social work, for example, particularly child protection…. They don’t go into that job unless they care deeply about the children that they are caring for. They don’t work in an income assistance office, talking to people about poverty, unless they care deeply about the people that they’re working with.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than not being able to help someone who has come to you as their last resort — said to an individual: “I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do for you. There are no programs and services and supports I can provide for you, because the government cut the budget once again.” It was 28 percent out of the Ministry of Children and Families in the first couple of years of this government’s reign. Imagine the difficulty that that causes.

I think it’s also important to remember that the government, for children in care, is the parent. It’s a legal responsibility that the government has to these children. I would say this government has failed miserably when it comes to providing support for the most vulnerable in this province. Even after they have been called out, even after report after report has come forward, does Budget 2016 address that issue? I’ll come back to that and talk a little bit about the amount of money that’s gone in.

I’m glad we’re finally seeing some resources go into the budget for Children and Families, for the ministry, but it does not begin to make up what this government has taken out. Think of the lost years for those children and those families. Those don’t come back. Children and families don’t get those years back when this government didn’t invest the kind of resources that were needed.

What about the promise for a GP for everyone by 2015? Well, again, I think we’re debating the 2016 budget. We’ve passed 2015 now. I can tell you, just in my own circle of friends and my own struggle, that finding a GP…. Everyone does not have a GP. We have not lived up to that promise and commitment. In fact, most people are still having a very difficult time trying to find a family doctor.

It really shows a pattern of this government. It’s a pattern where the government makes big, lofty promises, where they say they’re going to do something — they even, in some cases, put a timeline on it — and the promise is hollow. It has no plan to it. It has no focus. It has no result. I don’t know whether the Premier thinks, by simply putting it out there, that nobody will pay attention. Well, we are going to continue to pay attention, and I can tell you that the public is paying attention. They know what this government’s promises are worth. They know the lack of support that this government has provided.

I said I’d come back to a couple of pieces that are in the budget and just unpack them a little bit. I think that’s important to do, because on the surface, the government once again will try and put out that they’ve been doing big things for families, and big issues. But when you unpack them, you find out that in fact there’s a little bit of tinkering. There are some promises that actually don’t live up to what the government says.

I’ll just start off again to go back to the issue of MSP. I think it’s interesting, in this budget, that the government basically has admitted that MSP is an unfair tax. They’ve admitted that. They admitted that the MSP is a tax that is unfair, that doesn’t work and that needs to be adjusted. Well, if you have a bad tax, and you’ve admitted it’s bad, and you’ve admitted it’s unfair and it doesn’t work, you would think that the promise and the commitment would be to get rid of it. But is that what the government did in Budget 2016? No.

In fact, what they’ve decided to do is that yes, a few people will end up paying less, as children will be exempt. But a whole bunch of people — singles and couples and seniors — will end up paying more on their MSP premiums. What kind of a break is that for British Columbians?

Even those few people who are going to get a little bit of a break don’t get it till 2017. You’ll remember I said that a budget is the sign of the character of a government.
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Well, it says everything when the Premier doesn’t have to wait for her slush fund. The Premier doesn’t wait for her fantasy fund. She doesn’t wait to give millionaires a tax break, but oh, families who are going to get a break on their MSP: “By the way, you’ve got to wait until January 17.” That is unfair.

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If the government is going to do something, they should acknowledge that the MSP is an unfair tax, and they should just make the commitment to get rid of it and ensure that the public knows that. But that’s not what we saw in Budget 2016.

I think, again, one of the areas — I would say disappointment, but I have to say anger — that makes me angry in this budget is the government saying that they’re going to support people with disabilities. They’re going to give them some additional money every month. People with disabilities who saw that announcement in the budget expected that they are going to start seeing an increase each month from this government, because that’s what they said: $77 a month would start coming in to people with disabilities. A small amount, but when you’re living on disabilities and you haven’t had an increase for a number of years, every little bit counts.

What the government didn’t go into detail about, and certainly didn’t put out as the big announcement, is that they’re also taking away a transportation allowance and a bus pass program that they provide for people right now with disabilities. “We’ll provide you with $77 a month, but by the way, we’re not giving you a bus pass anymore, which means $55 has come back. You go and use that now to buy your own bus pass if you decide you want transportation.”

Well, I can tell you that for most of the people on disabilities that I talk to, the bus pass is one of the most important things that they have. It gives them a chance to not be isolated. It provides them with an opportunity to be able to do some volunteer work if they’re able or to get out and be part of their community, as they should be.

What an insult to people with disabilities to say: “We’re going give you some money, but by the way, we’re taking things back.” That speaks to the character of this government who doesn’t care for the most vulnerable in this province. They can’t even provide some additional support for people with disabilities without clawing it back out of their pocket at the same time. Unbelievable, hon. Speaker. Unbelievable.

Budget 2016 certainly hasn’t corrected the damage that this government has done. Hydro rates are still going up. I’ll talk a little bit about the specifics. Any relief on tuition for people who are trying to sends their kids to university or college that I talked about earlier? No. Ferry fares are rising. ICBC is still going up.

I mentioned the Ministry of Children and Families earlier, and again, I think it’s important to recognize that while I am glad to see much-needed resources go into that ministry, it shows a pattern that we see with this government, which is that the only time they ever do something is when they get caught out or it becomes a problem for the Premier.

Shouldn’t a government do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do? Isn’t that what a government is there for? A government is not there simply to act when it becomes a problem for them or simply to act because they’ve had report after report or simply to act because advocates in the field or people who work in the area or the opposition are asking question after question on this issue.

That shouldn’t be the indicator for a government to decide that something is a priority. Yet that is exactly what we see with this government. It’s exactly what we see in Budget 2016. I am glad money is going into the Ministry of Children and Families. I am glad that the most vulnerable are going to see those resources. I’m glad the people in the field are going to get a little bit of support that they need in a very, very difficult situation and a very, very difficult job. But it shouldn’t take that. The government should do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, not simply because they’ve been caught out.

I think it’s interesting, as well, to take a look…. The Finance Minister spent a great deal of time in his response to Budget 2016 talking about fiscal responsibility, talking about this government’s record, talking about the fact that they’ve done well when it comes to that.

I just want to take a few minutes to talk a little bit about the government’s track record when it comes to their own projects.

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I think it’s important for the public to recognize that this isn’t all about additional resources going in. This is also about the existing choices the government makes and how they manage or not manage those resources themselves.

I want to start off with I think, probably, the most glaring area, and that’s government information technology programs. If ever there was an area where government has wasted dollars that could have gone to all of those other programs and services I just talked about, that could have gone to support hard-working families, it’s government IT projects. I don’t think there’s an IT project this government has touched that hasn’t become a mess, that hasn’t run way over budget, that hasn’t been way over time or that certainly has met the needs of the individuals that it’s meant for and was put together to provide for.

We’ll start off with the Ministry of Children and Families. The integrated case management system, ICM as it’s known, was a complete nightmare. There were cost overruns. There were information breaches where individuals were getting information and access to information that they shouldn’t have been able to see.

This was supposed to be an integrated case management system across the Ministry of Social Development
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and the Ministry of Children and Families to provide efficiencies and the ability for information not to get lost. But it was very clear from the start that in fact the government, in this design, didn’t spend time with the people in the field that the system was designed for.

That seems pretty basic to me. It seems like pretty basic management. If you’re putting together a big project, you talk to the people in the field about what they’re looking for and what’s important to them so that you can design the project to meet their needs. Well, it is very clear that this was not a system that had any kind of support from people in the field or any opportunity for them to be able to give feedback until after it had been put in place, until after money had been wasted, until after the budget had overrun.

Just this one example I think says it all. Employment counsellors often will provide bus passes to income assistance clients to be able to go to a job interview if they don’t have the ability to be able to pay for a bus. They’ll give them a bus pass to be able get to that interview. Well, this system, the ICM system, required 22 steps on the computer to be able to access a bus pass for individuals — 22 clicks on a computer system to get a simple bus pass — and if you made one mistake along the 22 steps, you had to go back to the very beginning again and start the entire process. I can tell you the frustration that I heard from workers and clients who were going through this process of having to sit and wait.

But that wasn’t the only system that has been an absolute mess — again, coming back to the Finance Minister saying that this is a government that’s fiscally responsible, that has looked after your money well. Anything but.

The education system. The government put together a system called BCeSIS which was to track students through technology — $97 million. That system didn’t even work. That system actually had to be completely thrown out and a new system brought in. So $97 million — that’s fiscal responsibility? I can tell you that $97 million would have gone far for people living with disabilities, for all those not-for-profit agencies out there that provide incredible support in our communities every single day. The education system. Think of what we could have done in the education system with that $97 million.

The government brought in a new system, the Aspen system. Well, that’s having problems too. Once again, we don’t see the attention to detail. We don’t see the focus. We don’t see the support. That’s the Ministry of Children and Families, the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Education.

And guess what? B.C. Hydro had the same problem — once again, when it comes to technology. B.C. Hydro embarked on a five-year plan, $400 million. They were going to upgrade their information technology. That was actually going to reduce operating costs. They set a goal for that one and said they were going to reduce operating costs.

Now here we are six years later. They’ve spent over $500 million, and operating costs have gone up, not down. They didn’t meet their goal, which was to reduce operating costs, so we’re now putting more money in around operating costs, exactly the opposite of what this government said. They’re a year late, and they’ve already spent more than their budget. Again, money that could have been used in other places.

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It’s not all about putting new money in but also about managing the existing dollars that you have. These are not dollars that belong to the B.C. Liberals. They are not dollars that belong to government. They are dollars that belong to the people of this province. The people of this province expect that their dollars are going to be looked after more wisely than these kinds of examples.

The northwest transmission line is another example. It’s $342 million, 85 percent more than the original cost — 85 percent. Not a lot of business folks I know would say that was a good goal or a good marker, for a government to be 85 percent over budget on a project.

B.C. Place roof. How many people remember that one? It was 41 percent over budget. Another technology problem: the B.C. emergency health services. They in fact dumped their $2.8 million patient care record system before it even went into use. That’s another example — not simply about making choices in the wrong place but actually not watching the existing dollars that they have and paying attention to them on behalf of taxpayers.

Of course, there’s the Basi-Virk settlement — $6 million for legal fees for two individuals who pled guilty. And I haven’t talked yet about…. I probably won’t have time, sadly, to go into B.C. Rail, to go into advertising dollars, to go into Bollywood — the Premier’s fiasco; again overspent — or private power contracts. The list goes on, and these are all dollars that could have contributed to helping hard-working families — wasted by this government.

Of course, ahead of us, we see the potential for another project to go over budget and to be done without oversight, and that’s Site C. The budget for building Site C has already grown before it has even been built. The estimates started off at $6.6 billion. What are we at today? At $88.8 billion and growing. But there are certainly no guarantees on that number, because this government refuses to send the Site C project to the B.C. Utilities Commission.

The B.C. Utilities Commission, for those who don’t know, is the independent oversight to take a look at exactly these kind of projects, to say whether they make sense, whether the business plan is in place, whether it’s needed. I think it’s interesting to note, and it was mentioned in this House by our leader, that the B.C. Utilities Commission was put in place by Bill Bennett — again, to provide that kind of fiscal oversight.

The Premier boasts about this being the biggest project. I think this is another one of those big projects in the his-
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tory of British Columbia she is so fond of talking about. Well, if the government is so proud of this project, if the government believes this is the project that we need to move on in British Columbia, why won’t they send it to the B.C. Utilities Commission? Why wouldn’t they give it independent oversight? Why don’t they want an independent body to take a look at this at this project and make a decision?

It raises all kinds of questions about what the government is hiding, what they don’t want the public to know. Why wouldn’t they, if they’re so proud of it, allow it to go to the independent B.C. Utilities Commission?

The other piece that I think is interesting in that case is the opportunity for Hydro to be able to examine alternatives. If you’re putting together a project like this, you usually take a look at what other options there are. If we didn’t build Site C, what other options could we look at? Is there alternative power, alternative energy — wind, solar? We know the price of solar is coming down. We know the opportunities that will be there.

Was Hydro allowed to look at alternatives? Were they allowed to examine those options? No. In fact, Hydro was told that they couldn’t look at options. How is that, as the minister said when he announced Budget 2016, good fiscal management? How does that provide an opportunity for the public to say that, okay, the government looked at these options and decided this was the best project?

The government, in fact, didn’t look at other options to see if this was the best project. The government didn’t send it for independent oversight to make sure that the plan was needed and made sense for British Columbia.

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Harry Swain, who is the chair of the federal-provincial environmental assessment review panel on Site C, said that the failure to investigate alternatives to Site C was “a dereliction of duty.” Dereliction of duty. Those are pretty strong words from an individual who is known for his independence, who is known for his own opinion — stating that from his perspective, taking a look at alternatives to Site C was just good basic business. But no, not from this government. They decided they didn’t want to take a look at that. They decided they didn’t want to look at independence. They wanted to say yes and move ahead despite that.

Again, for the Finance Minister to stand up and say he believes that this government manages money well and looks after the taxpayer dollars…. All of these projects have given you just a few of the examples where government has wasted money, has not done the planning, has not put the focus in. It’s taxpayers and people who need services and supports that lose out in all of this.

I want to take a moment now to look at the reality in our province for families, because it’s pretty clear to me that this government has chosen to ignore the reality for most families in this province. They certainly aren’t spending time listening to the same people, I’m certain, who come to them that come to me and talk about how difficult it is for them to get by.

If you take a look at all of the fees and services and the costs that this government has layered on families just since the Premier came to office — not even looking back to 2001 but just since the Premier came to office — the additional taxes, fees and services on a two-income family have gone up by about $1,000. That’s a huge cost to a family. Most people don’t have a lot of extra money to be able to throw around.

Now, I hear from the Finance Minister — I heard it again in his speech yesterday — that this government is proud that they’ve kept taxes low, so proud that they’ve kept taxes low. Well, no one believes that. No one believes that this government has kept taxes low.

In fact, the Premier herself, when she was running for office, when she was running for the position to lead her party, actually said that she felt it was important to look at all of the fees and services that were there because those were all taxes on British Columbians. She said it before she was elected, but once she was elected, all of a sudden those things are no longer taxes. We’ll just pretend that they don’t exist. Well, families can’t pretend that they don’t exist. Those are bills that come every single month that this government has added onto the burden of families.

Let’s just take a look at a few of those. Hydro rates have had a 74 percent increase during this government’s reign — $524 more each year in hydro rates. And that’s just the start under this government: 2016 sees a 4 percent increase; 2017 sees a 3.5 percent increase; 2018 sees another 3 percent increase, which, on average, will add another $300 for every family, every year. It’s not as though people have a choice to give up hydro. That’s an additional cost that people have to bear.

You know, hydro and competitive electricity rates used to be known in our province as a competitive advantage. It used to be the way that people would come to British Columbia and invest in our province, because of our competitive advantage when it came to hydro rates. Now the government is having to give a deferral to the mining industry because the rates are so high that they can’t manage them.

The government itself has admitted that it’s no longer a competitive rate. They’ve admitted themselves that it’s no longer an advantage. They’re having to defer it and waive it for businesses to try and help them survive. That’s a lost opportunity. When I talked earlier…. That’s a lost opportunity in British Columbia by this government.

What about that medical services tax? Well, that has gone up 108 percent under this government’s reign. And what’s coming? Even though, in Budget 2016, the government said, “Don’t worry; relief is coming for MSP” — well, certainly not this year, and certainly not next year. Four percent this January, and 4 percent next year. That doubles the income tax that most families are facing.

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Government said way back when that they were going to tie medical service premium increases to health care increases. Well, in fact, that’s not true. It certainly isn’t happening. That’s just not what is occurring in the budget — 4 percent, much higher than the amount of money that has gone into the health care budget. So again, another broken promise. If you take a look at broken promises, this is another broken promise from this government.

What about ICBC, car insurance — people looking at paying their car insurance? The basic rates for drivers have gone up 48 percent since 2001 — again, under this government’s watch. In 2016, they’re going up between 4 and 7 percent.

What about ferry fares? Ferry fares have increased 77 percent under this government’s watch. For a family of four going between Vancouver and Victoria, 77 percent. The smaller routes — Nanaimo to Gabriola, for example — have gone up 100 percent under this government’s watch. And again, what’s happening in the future? A 1.9 percent increase for the next four years.

Think of the costs that that adds to families — 74 percent on hydro, 108 percent on medical service premiums, 48 percent on ICBC and 77 percent on ferry fares.

It’s not simply families who are struggling with these increases. It’s businesses. There was a wonderful report done for the Association of Vancouver Island Municipalities at the UBCM two years ago that really identified the economic challenges to Vancouver Island when it came to ferry fares increasing. It was a huge cost, because business, of course, uses the ferries to transport goods back and forth. It had an impact on employees. It had an impact on bringing economic growth to Vancouver Island.

While the government says, “Oh, these are just extra increases, not taxes, just extra increases we’re putting in,” in fact, they’re taxes. There’s no other way to describe it. These are taxes on families, and it’s making life more difficult for British Columbians.

What about post-secondary education? No relief there. Again, tuition has more than doubled under this government.

Even long-term seniors care. Families, at one of the most difficult times in their lives, when they’re having to make decisions about moving into long-term care, having to make decisions about doing that…. Those rates have increased as well, in 2003, in 2010….


Deputy Speaker: Members. Members, can we have some quietness, please, in the House? Thank you.

C. James: Those rates have increased as well — 2003, 2010, 2011. Even long-term care, even seniors care, has gone up by 93 percent in this province.

I think it said everything when it was announced last Friday that the government increased park fees again. Even when you want to go on an affordable holiday with your family, because you’ve been gouged in all of these other areas, that’s the kind of holiday that you look at, a camping holiday. Even there the government has gouged you. Fees have increased for camping in 2003, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2015. Now again, in 2016, in this budget, camping fees go up.

If you take all of that together, if you look at the impact on families, it makes it tougher for people to get by. It makes it very difficult for people to make ends meet. I think these next statistics — I just want to run through a couple of them — would not be a surprise. If you were aware and you knew what was going on for families — if you paid attention to it, unlike this government — you would know that these statistics would not be surprising.

B.C.’s consumer debt is the highest in the country. According to a report, and this is not a left-leaning organization, the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia said that the per-capita debt in British Columbia — that means every adult and every child, so they’ve divided it per capita — was $10,000 higher than the national average in our province. It’s $58,621.

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There was a BMO survey, the Bank of Montreal — again, no left-leaning organization’s statistic. They reported that B.C.’s household debt — the entire household — was $99,834. People in British Columbia are swimming in debt, which, as we all know, adds to the stress of family life, makes it tougher and more difficult.

People aren’t struggling and in debt because of frivolous costs. They’re just trying to get by. They’re just trying to manage the fees and services and costs that this government has downloaded on to them.

Vancity last month did a report on the use of payday loans in our province. Payday loans, as many of you know, are not the best option to be able to borrow money. But for many families, they’re the only option that’s available to them, which is to borrow paycheque to paycheque, with exorbitant rates. It makes it very difficult for people to get to a place to be able to pay back those kinds of loans.

What did they see in British Columbia? Between 2012 and 2014 — remember all those years that the government was layering on all those additional pressures and additional costs to families? — they found a 58 percent growth in the use of payday loans in our province.

They interviewed people who were using those loans, and what did they find out? They found out that people were using those payday loans for the basics — not for a vacation, not for something extra, but to pay a bill each month, to be able to get by and buy groceries when it was getting tight at the end of the month.

What about wage growth? That’s an important indicator for the strength of the economy of our province. B.C. is ninth when it comes to wage growth — ninth.

What about private sector job growth? I heard the Finance Minister talk about the private sector and the
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thriving private sector. Well, in fact, in private sector job growth, we are sixth in Canada. Sixth. And since the 2008 recession, our job growth continues to lag. We’re still 2.4 percentage points lower in 2008, which is the second-worst record in the country.

We also struggle regionally. I want to use one city as an example. I want to point out…. Oh, let’s just pick Kelowna, which happens to be the Premier’s area. Since the Premier came to office, Kelowna has lost 700 jobs. There was a news story just last week about hundreds lining up for a couple of jobs that were available, in hopes of getting the positions. Just in the past year and a half, Kelowna’s unemployment rate went from 2.9 percent to 7.6 percent today. That’s Kelowna.

I want to speak about another huge cost driver — the Finance Minister mentioned it in his budget remarks yesterday — which is the issue of housing and the cost of housing in British Columbia. The minister likes to throw back, as we heard today, that this is not an issue in other parts of British Columbia. In fact, it is an issue in British Columbia. Housing is a huge issue in British Columbia. There are some unique circumstances in Vancouver, in the Lower Mainland — no question. But housing is a critical issue in Victoria, in the capital regional district, in other parts of British Columbia. We continue to see high housing costs.

I talked earlier about that stagnant wage growth, which makes it very difficult for people. The other piece that wasn’t even mentioned in the budget yesterday that is also hugely important is the whole issue of rental housing. I’ve seen examples just in my own community in these last few months. We have seen some proposed renovictions occur, where buildings were bought — apartment buildings with mainly seniors who are renting the apartments — where the owners started looking at doing renovations and were giving tenants two months’ notice and telling them that they had to leave the building.

Well, the tenants joined together. I have to give huge credit and huge pride to my community and to the individuals in my community who pulled together and said: “We’re not going to put up with this. We’re going to come together and we’re going to fight this, because we don’t believe that these renovations are necessary for us to be evicted.

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“We believe that there are enough vacancies within these apartments” — it was five apartments he bought — “that you could still allow the landlord, the owner, to do his renovations.” They could be moved into the vacant apartments and then move back into the other apartments after the renovations were done.

If you look at our area — a 0.06 percent vacancy rate in Victoria. You can’t find an apartment, never mind an affordable apartment. What does that lead to? That leads to homelessness. That leads to poverty. That leads to struggles for families and for seniors.

Did the budget speak about those rental accommodations? Did it speak about trying to find that range of housing and a comprehensive housing approach to all of that? No, the budget did not.

I think it’s important to recognize…. I mentioned earlier the Vancouver challenges. It’s not simply families who are impacted. It’s also businesses, just as I talked about earlier. There was a quote in the paper from Ryan Holmes, who is the Hootsuite CEO. He said: “Unaffordability is emptying Vancouver of one of its most valuable assets — young people who grew up in the city and who are invested in it…. Qualified job candidates are deterred from moving to the city, and great employees are leaving because they can’t afford to build a life here.”

That’s something government should have been paying attention to. This didn’t just pop up in last two months. This isn’t something that just occurred. If you read Budget 2016, you might think the government just discovered that there was an affordability issue in Vancouver, that they just discovered that there were unscrupulous activities taking place and that there were things that should be investigated.

If we are going to keep our economy going, if we’re going to keep our economy thriving, we have to be able to attract and keep the best and the brightest. When you can’t afford accommodation, a house or rental accommodation — whether you can even dream about buying a house — then other parts of the country start to look more attractive. Other places start to look more attractive. The government’s housing strategy in Budget 2016 did not address that.

There was a wonderful study that came forward from UBC. Some professors at UBC, at the Sauder School of Business, proposed a vacancy tax for empty, left-open houses — an opportunity to actually utilize those resources to be able to build affordable housing. A great, creative idea. We said to government: “At least look at it. At least sit down and see whether that’s an option that you could implement.” A creative approach to come forward. Did government say in their Budget 2016 that they were going to look at that? No. No, they didn’t.

I think another statistic that this government doesn’t talk about is the worry that B.C. residents have about the health of our economy.

There was an Insights West poll that was done just a month ago that said that the public plans to curtail their spending on things like travel, entertainment and eating out because they are more worried than the rest of the country about the health of our economy than they were a year ago.

That’s worrisome. That’s concerning. As Jock Finlayson says: “One of the biggest risks out there is the possibility of a downward spiral of confidence both on the consumer side and the business side.”

It’s concerning. So while I saw the Finance Minister stand up and paint a rosy picture, talk about everything
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in our province being great, terrific…. In fact, it may be a rosy picture for those at the top. It may be a rosy picture for the people that the Premier seems to have found money for, but for the rest of hard-working British Columbians? They’re struggling to get by. They are not managing; they’re just getting by. They’re the people who are keeping our economy going, who’ve built British Columbia, and they deserve better than they’re getting from this government.

What about other sectors of our economy? You know, we’ve had a lot of years since 2013 from this Premier, who has her laser focus on LNG. All of a sudden, just this year, they seem to have discovered diversification. Now, when the Premier’s promise isn’t happening, they seem to all of a sudden believe that diversification is important.

Well, I’d like to say: where were they? Where have they been all these years?

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This is a Premier who…. Industries would joke that they better figure out a way to put LNG in the name of their business or they couldn’t even get a meeting with the minister over this last year. So I want to say a huge thank-you to all those sectors who have hung on despite this government’s lack of attention, despite the focus of government — not only hanging on but thriving in many cases.

I want to start off with the B.C. tech sector. It’s extraordinary if you take a look at the employment numbers that have increased in the tech sector itself. We see it employing more than 86,000 people. We see that it contributes more than $13 billion to the provincial GDP. It’s growing faster than the economy overall. Certainly I’ve seen the strength right here in Victoria, because we’ve seen our economy continuing to grow, and the tech sector has a lot to do with that.

[R. Lee in the chair.]

It’s not simply…. I think a lot of people believe that the tech sector has to do with app development or the gaming industry. Those are important, critical areas, exciting components, in many cases, in the industry. But the tech sector is much broader than simply apps and the gaming industry.

The tech sector includes a whole range of areas, including on-line services for health care. Some extraordinary things are going on in the area of health care when it comes to the tech sector, a huge innovation in medical devices. And 3-D printing is taking off in a way that I think none of us could imagine.

I had the good fortune to attend the tech conference in Vancouver with my colleagues and to listen to some of the future ideas. To listen to some of the possibilities that are not far away I think gave all of us an eye-opener and were exciting to hear about — data management for worksites tech being used to provide improvements for workers and for employers.

So I was glad to see — as I said earlier, late to the game — finally that the government stepped up to the plate, recognized that diversification was important. It’s too bad that it took the Premier’s failed LNG promise to get them to actually pay attention to other industries in British Columbia. But they finally did give some support to the tech sector.

Again, what you see from this government, always, are those big announcements, and then: where’s the plan, and where are the resources? It’s something that either may come later or may not, if the public isn’t paying attention to it.

I think the example I’ll give on the tech side is the Premier’s announcement at the tech conference that there’s going to be coding for every child in school, that every child is going to learn coding and that that’s going to be critical. Well, I took a look in the budget. This is Budget 2016. I took a look in the budget for money for coding. I took a look to see where those resources were that were going to provide extra support to the education system for curriculum changes, including the coding. Nothing in there. There is nothing in there to be able to address this huge announcement made by the Premier that was going to happen in British Columbia for every child.

It’s the kind of approach where — again, when I talk about building cynicism from the public — the Premier makes these big announcements, big photo ops. There’s no plan. There are no resources and no supports to follow up. It is the worst of the worst when it comes to government.

In fact, the Minister of Education actually at one point said that coding could be done without computers in schools — that computers weren’t actually necessary. Well, I beg to differ. I’m no coding expert, but I would think that having computers to learn coding would certainly be a help when it came to this particular area.

A. Dix: Abacus.

C. James: Abacus, my colleague says. Abacus may be the approach that the government’s decided to take in this area.

What about mining? The government again made big promises. Remember, these are the government’s commitments. This is a government who said that there were going to be eight new mines opening, nine expansions. That’s what they promised. That’s what they told the public was going to occur. In fact, we’ve seen just the opposite.

I recognize, as all of my colleagues do, that commodity markets have a major impact on this industry, but again, I come back to the tools that government does have. What is the tool that government does have? Electricity rates, hydro rates, when it comes to businesses that add huge burden and huge cost onto businesses. What has this government done? They’ve increased hydro rates — and
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you see it again in Budget 2016 — by 74 percent since they’ve been in place.

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How is that an economic advantage? How does that help an industry that is being impacted by commodity markets? It doesn’t. Once again, this government isn’t using the tools, because they were so focused on simply one industry that they weren’t paying attention to what was going on in the others.

What about manufacturing? I guess I give the government credit that manufacturing finally made the jobs plan last year. It wasn’t in there before at all. Now it’s in there, but we still have 30,000 fewer manufacturing jobs now than we did in 2001. We’re seventh — seventh in terms of per-capita export of goods and services. We’re the weakest, with only PEI, Nova Scotia and Quebec behind us. I think that manufacturing could use a little attention.

What about forestry? Again, an industry that really helped build this province and should continue to be an economic driver. I’m a big believer that forestry helped build this province and will continue to help build this province and can be sustainable if managed well. But since 2001, B.C. has lost 25,000 jobs in forestry. That’s a 35 percent loss. Wood exports, yes, have increased — mainly raw logs — and again, that’s not sustainable. If you’re looking for sustainable economic growth, which I believe we should be — I believe that should be a goal of any government in place — then that’s not going to be sustainable.

To be truly sustainable, we should be looking at research and development in the forest area. We should be looking at silviculture as a critical component. Instead, we haven’t seen those kind of investments, and Budget 2016 lets us down again. It does not address the sustainability issue. It does not address the work that could be done in this particular area.

We see families struggling. We see their personal debt growing. We see sluggish wage growth, and we see a government that really is relying on an out-of-control real estate market in the Lower Mainland to try and keep our economy going. Well, that does not sound like a long-term economic strategy to me, and it’s not simply the opposition saying that.

The public actually has an opportunity to have a say. The Finance Minister takes some time every single year and actually goes to the public and asks them what they see as their priorities. A budget is coming up. It’s called the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. I happen to sit on that committee. We travel around the province. It has members from both sides of the House on that committee, and we give the public a chance to be able to have a say.

They put in, in-person presentations, or they can send in written submissions. It’s a very interesting process. It’s a wonderful experience to be able to take part, because you see people from all corners of British Columbia. You see people who are very engaged and passionate about the issues that they’re coming to present to you on. It’s a great honour for me to be able to sit on that committee and to be able to listen to British Columbians and to hear what their priorities are.

I want to take a minute, because I think it’s important, when you take a look at Budget 2016, to take a look at what the public said they were looking for and to see whether any of those areas match up when it comes to British Columbia. It was interesting. This year the numbers in the top five priorities were very close, just a couple of percentage points different, so the public was very keen on these issues as their top priorities.

The first one, the highest priority for the public when it came to spending for the 2016 budget, was the K-to-12 education system. That’s what the public said was their top priority for government to take a look at. Advanced education followed, another percentage point down; fiscal policy, a percentage point under that; health care; and the environment. Then close, in the next set of lists, were social services; natural resources; sports, arts and culture; transit and transportation; and public safety.

I’m not going to go through all of the recommendations — the members will be pleased to know. There were 63 recommendations, and I’m not going to walk through them all, but it is interesting to take a look at them. I believe they really do speak to a balanced approach, and most British Columbians are looking for a balanced approach. They’re looking at how you support families. They’re looking at how you support a strong economy and do it in a balanced way. They’re looking at how you provide for support for diversification in our economy so that we don’t rely simply on one industry.

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The other piece that they really asked for loud and clear was some long-term planning. “If the government is going to make a decision, do some long-term planning to put in place some supports for us for areas that government is looking at.” They said that government should look at some high priorities.

I want to talk just for a minute about some of those priorities. Those included the restoration of adult basic education funding. This is an important one. It’s an important one, because it’s certainly one that I looked for in the budget. If we talk about providing opportunity for families, what could be more important in providing opportunity for families than ensuring that education is available for them?

A family who wants to better themselves, who knows that they need more training to be able to get another job, takes a look at, often, our community college system and says: “I will need to take my grade 12 math. I didn’t need it to graduate. I’ve already graduated, but I now need my grade 12 math to go into a trades program, an apprenticeship program, something I really want to do. There
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are jobs there in the future. It’s an area where I want to go. I’m going to take a look and perhaps, in the evenings while I’m working, because I have to continue to support my family, I’m going to go and get some adult basic education upgrading.”

Well, again, talk about mean-spirited. When I said earlier that a budget defines this government’s character, talk about mean-spirited. The government says: “Now I’m going to charge you for that. So when you want to better yourself, when you want to do more for your family, when you’re doing everything right, we’re going to make it tougher for you. We’re going to take away opportunity, close the door to opportunity. We’re not giving you a hand up when it comes to supporting you in education. In fact, we’re going to start charging for it.”

Well, that is certainly not what the public was looking for. That’s certainly not what they asked for in the public consultations. They said: “People should have the opportunity. You should get rid of those fees for charging for adult basic education and for ESL.”

Business ESL now is being charged for. Individuals who…. I talked earlier about immigration and what extraordinary courage it takes to immigrate to a province, to a place, where you may not have language. But you come, often, with your own credentials and with your own ability and skills that you have honed in your country, and you’re coming to contribute and give them to British Columbia.

You’re coming to say: “I was an engineer in my country or a doctor or a psychiatrist or a nurse. I’m going to bring those skills. I’m going to come to the province, and I’m going to offer them. But I need a couple of basic business courses and business English to be able to contribute in my field.”

The government now says: “Let’s make it tougher for you. We’re going to make it more difficult for you to be able to do that. We’ll make it tougher for you to contribute and be able to survive and get by.” That makes no sense. It makes no sense that the government would do that and close the door to opportunity to people who are doing everything right. Yet that, in fact, is exactly what this government has done by charging now for adult basic education and business ESL.

There was lots of discussion through the budget consultation around strategic investments in the natural resource sector while maintaining the environmental biodiversity and ecosystem health. And I think that’s important. When I talked about balance earlier….

Once again the public is saying: “We understand that we have natural resources in British Columbia. We believe those are valuable resources, but let’s make sure we take care of them for the long term. Let’s make sure they’re sustainable. Let’s address the protection of our air, land and water. Let’s make sure that if we’re looking at investment, we’re going to be looking at jobs for British Columbia and not others, that there’s a real partnership with First Nations.” A true partnership, not simply coming in and saying: “We’re going to do this, and, by the way, now we’re going to consult you.” It was a very thoughtful approach that the public took.

They also talked about the planning needed to be able to build resources. For example, Prince Rupert city council made a great presentation to us a year before last that talked about how important it was to do the planning. If you were going to build an LNG plant, for example, in Prince Rupert — a community that has their airport on an island — it’s going to be pretty tough to be able to make transportation be addressed. One bridge is falling apart and no money to be able to deal with that infrastructure.

The community is saying: “We’re not against development. We’re open to development. But make sure you do the planning ahead of time. Make sure you’re thoughtful about what you’re doing.”

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Well, that’s, again, I think, the kind of approach that the public was ready for that we didn’t see with this government.

What about education? I mentioned that education was the top priority for the public. What have we seen from this government when it comes to education? Well, we have seen a constant downloading of costs on to school boards. I mentioned earlier that all of the fees and services also have an impact on school boards. They’re paying those increased Hydro rates. They’re paying those increases in MSP premiums. They’re expected to pick up the additional costs, and the budget that we see in 2016 does not begin to address those issues.

What did the public ask for? The public, in fact, said that they want the government to “Provide stable, sustainable and adequate funding to enable school districts to fulfil their responsibility to continue to provide access to quality public education with recognition of all of the extra, increased costs that the school districts have incurred.” That’s the quote from the report, supported unanimously by members from both sides of this House on the Select Standing Committee on Finance because it makes sense, because education is a foundation for a strong economy and because the public understands how important it is.

What do we see in the 2016 budget? We see another example of this government’s lack of support for education. We saw a report come out this week that talked about the fact that we are going backwards when it comes to class size and composition. The number of classes with four or more children with special needs has gone up. It’s the highest ever this year. The number of classes with 30 or more students has gone up by 25 percent compared to last year. Just imagine. You now have a class of more than 30 with a number of children with special needs that need the extra support. You’re a teacher trying to manage that, and the government says: “No additional resources. No additional support for you.” We have the highest ever
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number of classes with seven or more children with special needs in them.

Again, the value of public education is to provide the best start in life for every child, to provide opportunity for every child. And so the public calls for key investments to be made in education. I had hoped we’d see them in this budget, but instead we see a stand-pat budget that barely meets the enrolment increases and certainly doesn’t address the cost pressures that are downloaded on to boards or the curriculum changes that are upcoming. I mentioned coding earlier, but there’s a whole range of changes that are being made to the curriculum, and that’s not there.

Not only that, but the government is also expecting school boards to cut funding. So not only are they not providing them with enough funding; they’re also providing them with a requirement to actually cut from their budget each and every year, and that continues in Budget 2016. So the government is closing the door to opportunity for those individuals, closing the door for people who want upgrading, closing the door for people who want business ESL to contribute, and closing the door to children getting the best start in life.

Well, I have to say that that is short-sighted, and that is mean-spirited. For people who are doing everything right for a government that prevents them from getting ahead, that goes beyond anything I certainly would have expected.

The committee talked a lot about MSP. I won’t go back over that, because I think I’ve touched on it. It’s an area where the government was looking, but the public was looking, again, for major changes.

Then what about support for people who are struggling with addictions and mental health challenges? I also sit on the Select Standing Committee for Children and Youth. We’ve tabled, I believe, a very important report — again, supported by both sides of this House — that calls on support for people struggling with mental health issues, particularly youth. We spent two years travelling this province and listening to people, including youth. Heartbreaking stories of the need for those community services, community-based services, to be there for people when they need them. What did we see in Budget 2016? We saw a 0.2 percent increase — below the rate of inflation — in the area of youth mental health. Below the rate of inflation.

When a select standing committee has just done all this work, when people have been clear about the support that’s needed…. We don’t even see the rate-of-inflation increase in this budget. And once again, called for every year….

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Every other province has put in place a poverty reduction strategy. And what did we see in Budget 2016? Nothing, once again.

B.C. stands alone. We’re certainly number one, I guess, in that regard. We’re number one in not having a poverty reduction strategy — number one. How on earth could this government take a look and say that it’s important to pay attention to other things but not important to pay attention to the most vulnerable in this province?

It is critical that this government ensure that it’s getting the attention it needs, and that is not happening. One in five children in our province is growing up in poverty. For children in single-parent families, 50 percent are living in poverty. This is not in one corner of our province; this is in every corner of our province. The rate for First Nations children is 48 percent. The rate for children under six is slightly higher, 20.7 percent.

Now, we know how important those early years are. So it is not only disappointing. It is shocking to once again see this government ignore what every other province has recognized as important, which is that we need a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with clear targets, with clear measures, with clear reporting out to the public so that we are all accountable, every one of us is accountable, for making sure we do what we can to support the most vulnerable in this province.

I often hear ministers on the other side saying, “We don’t agree with the statistics,” that they use different measurements and that it’s the wrong measurement to use. Well, I’m happy to have that debate with any member on the other side. Bring us any measurement they want to use. We can look at three or four or five different kinds of measurements. The key is to pay attention to it, to report out on it and to act on it in this province. It’s shameful that we have not done that.

There were a number of presentations, as well, through the select standing committee that talked about the importance, as I said earlier, of sustaining our industries with a longer-term approach with investments in things like research and development, with investments in partnerships and in inventory. This is an interesting piece to take a look at, because it really speaks to the need, from my perspective, for a shift in approach, and it certainly speaks to how we differ with this government.

The members on the other side, I’m sure, will be pleased to know that I’m getting close to the end, and I’ll get to a place to close off. I want to finish up where I started, which is with the possibilities in British Columbia and the huge opportunities we have in our province.

I like to sometimes imagine what it would be like if British Columbia had a government that actually respected and worked with the people in this province — a government that actually took on the challenges that are facing us; a government that actually worked to unite, not divide our province; a Premier that actually didn’t call people out when they disagreed with her; a government and a Premier that didn’t call people names when they had a difference of opinion but actually looked and explored and listened to those differences of opinion and tried to find common ground to benefit all British Columbians.
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Imagine what we would be able to do in British Columbia if we had that kind of leadership, if we had a government that, instead of throwing money into some kind of fantasy fund, decided to actually support hard-working British Columbians, that actually gave families a break as the top priority instead of their own political interests; a government that actually invested in what I see as opportunity — education and training and child care, support for the most vulnerable; a government that looked at long-term planning instead of one-time funding that was great for a photo op but did nothing to actually support communities long term.

It’s very clear from this Budget 2016 that those actions are not part of this Liberal government agenda. They certainly are not this government’s direction. I look forward to the day when we’re able to say that we have a government that is going to put people first once again in this province.

With that, hon. Speaker, I close my debate and my place on Budget 2016. I will be voting against this budget.

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Hon. S. Bond: I appreciate the fact that we’ve had the opportunity to sit here in the Legislature for several hours and listen with, I think, a respectful attitude to the Finance critic opposite as she shared her views on behalf of her colleagues. I have to admit that it is very hard not to get up and find a way to respond…. I want to be respectful and thoughtful about my comments.

It’s very hard to do that when we’ve sat and listened for two hours and had the member opposite just speak to us about the importance of having a government that doesn’t call people names and call people out. We’ve just sat and listened to over two hours of basically being told that we are thoughtless and irresponsible, that we don’t have a plan for British Columbians and that we don’t care for the vulnerable.

I want to say to the member opposite that nothing could be further from the truth. No one in this House comes here not wanting — with shared values — to make British Columbia a better place not just for us but for the seniors who built this country, this province; for the immigrants who are an important part of British Columbia’s past, present and future; for the children in our schools, for those people who need help. Most of us here are incredibly blessed. But to suggest that this government doesn’t actually care for the vulnerable could be nothing further from the truth.

Let’s be clear. We choose different pathways to caring for British Columbians. You see, on this side of the House…. What I waited for with anticipation was to hear the member opposite actually provide one single suggestion about what they would do differently — one single solution. Instead, what we heard….

We sat and listened respectfully. What the member opposite did was choose to highlight certain parts, and that’s okay. There are things in the throne speech that are important to the message of the opposition. But what we completely left out were some of the important facts — not being shared by members on this side of the House but by other people who actually, in an independent way, look at British Columbia and assess where we are today, not just in the province but how we look across the country and where we stand.

When you hear comments like this: “B.C. is on track to cruise into year-end as the envy of the Canadian provinces. The budget is balanced, net debt is low and stabilizing at around 16.5 percent of GDP, economic growth is at the top the leaderboard, and the province’s relative tax competitiveness is steadily improving….” That’s not the communications staff, that is not the Minister of Finance, and it’s not even the Premier. Who it is, is a senior economist at the Bank of Montreal, BMO.

What about the Conference Board of Canada? What did they have to say? Not people standing on this side of the House suggesting that things are going well in British Columbia. The Conference Board of Canada, in their January report card, said: “British Columbia’s economy is forecast to maintain the momentum gained over the last year and continue to make impressive gains. B.C.’s fiscal balance sheet is the envy of other provinces. And after leading the provinces in growth this year, British Columbia will be the top performer again in 2016.”

Now, in contrast to how the critic opposite portrayed our work in British Columbia — that basically we don’t pay attention, we don’t listen, we don’t have a plan, and we don’t have any fiscal discipline — we’ve just heard from economic experts — and there are more — who said that we actually have worked incredibly hard in British Columbia to ensure we have an economic plan in place that allows us the opportunity to spend money to take care of the most vulnerable, to improve health care services, to do all those things British Columbians want us to do.

It takes a great deal of work and a lot of energy and tough choices to get to where we are today, and British Columbians have been amazing about supporting that work.

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These are difficult economic times. The economy is still fragile. Yet amongst our colleagues across this country, we are being singled out as a province that has fiscal discipline, that we are determined and, most importantly, that we have a diverse and growing economy.

The member opposite made the comment that the opposition stands up day after day and asks questions after questions — which is true, and that’s exactly their role. But not one single answer as to what it is they would do to ensure that families in British Columbia have the support they need, that children are cared for and that the vulnerable have the kinds of opportunities that they absolutely deserve in this province.
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It was interesting to hear the member opposite talk about sectors as if this side of the House had never actually heard about them before or paid any attention to them. Well, I’d remind the member opposite that we actually have a jobs plan, and one of the reasons we created a jobs plan was to look at a diverse economy.

The member opposite was reflecting on the fact that tourism matters. Well, great news. Actually, that’s why it was included in the jobs plan in the first place. In fact, when we look at tourism growth, the latest study that came out said that over the last decade we’ve actually seen a 38 percent increase in tourism revenue in British Columbia.

Now, there are a lot of factors for that. The low Canadian dollar, obviously, helps us at the moment. This is a ten-year pattern of growth in British Columbia. We have a great product. We have great people. But to suggest that we’ve simply sat idly by and waited for the economy to pass us by is simply not accurate. If we’re going to have a debate, let’s at least have a debate about those things that are accurate.

As we look at the jobs plan, we have included, very consciously, sectors that would help us diversify the economy for exactly times like this. When commodity prices…. We all know they’re cyclical. They will come back. It’s just a really tough period of time for British Columbians, for families, for communities.

When we go through those difficult circumstances, all we have to do is ask our nearest neighbour to the east how it feels with commodity prices the way they are today. All the greatest policy in the world can’t change the fact that the price of a barrel of oil has dropped dramatically.

What have we done? We’ve spent the last more than a decade positioning British Columbia to be an economic leader in this country. I have a very personal feeling about that, because when I was asked whether I would consider running provincially — I hadn’t really thought a lot about it until that point — one of the things that drove me to say yes was the fact that my province of British Columbia…. I did appreciate the member opposite’s comments about her love and her passion and the importance of our province. I appreciated those remarks. One of the reasons I decided to run for public office as a provincial representative was because I couldn’t stand to see British Columbia designated a have-not province.

That is exactly where we ended up the last time, under the previous government. Our goal was to take where British Columbia was in that day and age and make sure that we could hold our heads up and look across to the other provinces and say: “We have worked as hard as we possibly can to ensure that British Columbia is restored to the place it deserves in this country.”

That’s where we are today, not according to the members on this side of the House or the Finance Minister or the Premier but according to leading economists across the country. British Columbia today stands alone in times of uncertainty and during very difficult circumstances, and that is not easy.

It is a choice. The member opposite spoke frequently about choice. She’s absolutely correct. We did make choices. We made tough choices. We made decisions about how to stay focused and how to drive and how to make sure that we’re looking at reducing taxes, making sure that we have a triple-A credit rating in a stable rating. While we might hear that mocked in this House, it is far from insignificant.

Maybe three As in a row on a piece of paper don’t mean that much to people. I admit I had to learn about that too and why it mattered. Well, here’s why it mattered. First of all, we are the only provincial jurisdiction that carries that rating today. While it may not matter when we have it, it would certainly matter if we didn’t.

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Here’s why. It allows us to take an extra $500 million that we’re not sending off in payments to someone else. We actually can take that money and invest it into the things that the member opposite talked about: schools and highways and all those things that matter to British Columbians. Does a stable triple-A credit rating matter? Yes, it does.

We look at the other things that British Columbians have worked so hard to accomplish — four balanced budgets. Again, does that matter? Of course it does, particularly with surpluses — not just in this year but modest ones going forward. It allows us to make the kinds of decisions that this budget reflects.

We’re going to talk a little bit about jobs. You wouldn’t be surprised about that, because that is actually part of my responsibility as the Jobs Minister. One of the challenges we face today is that people are coming home to British Columbia, and the numbers are significant.

The member opposite referenced the Kelowna job market. She’s absolutely right. Guess what’s happening. People are no longer going to Fort McMurray to work. There was a direct air flight from Kelowna to Fort McMurray, where people were finding work outside of our province. They are coming home now, and the numbers are large, as I watch every month the employment numbers and the statistics, where the unemployment rate is.

When we create jobs…. In the last couple of months, we’ve actually led the country in job creation in a particular month. I ask myself: “Why in the world is the employment rate ticking up slightly?” It’s because more people have come back to British Columbia from other places. In fact, we are the destination of choice at the moment, largely because the rest of the country is looking at the economic circumstances in this province and saying, “You know what? If we’re going to have a chance, maybe we should go back home,” or “We should try British Columbia.”

We’ve seen significant net in-migration, and that’s been over a number of quarters. We’ve certainly seen that number increase. What happens is that when you
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have more people in the work pool, the number ticks up slightly. But we remain among the top provinces when it comes to job creation in the province. In fact, when we look at the number we created, in December of last year, we had the fastest growth among all provinces — up 2.3 percent and adding a significant number of jobs.

We can stand in here, and we can have, you know, duelling statistics, but what we need to look at is what Stats Canada tells us every month. I can assure the members opposite that on labour force survey day, I wake up bright and early, I look at all of the numbers and I continue to be optimistic about the trend heading in the right direction. Today that continues to be the case.

We don’t get to deliver a budget like the one the Finance Minister delivered yesterday without a great deal of hard work. Is there a plan? Of course there is, and discipline means making hard decisions. You can’t say yes to everything. It would be nice.

We do, however, believe that you’ve got to get to yes. We believe in saying yes to making sure that we’re responsibly developing the natural resources in this province that we have been so blessed with. It needs to be done responsibly and sustainably. But from our perspective, it is not just about the environment or the economy. It is about both of those.

We’ve managed to lead the world, in fact, when it comes to dealing with, for example, a carbon tax, looking at carbon policy. And we are very much engaged in looking at where we go from here — not just in British Columbia but with our colleagues across the country and around the world — as we grapple with that issue of climate change and how that fits into our agenda.

I can tell you this. We are one jurisdiction that has successfully managed to deal with an aggressive and recognized climate change environmental strategy while, at the same time, growing the economy in British Columbia. That takes a great deal of hard work, and it takes expertise on the ground. We have the best….

Our greatest asset in British Columbia is the people who live here. Whether it’s tourism or technology or film or mining or forestry, we have people who do their jobs better than anyone else in the world. It’s one of the advantages we’ve had, in terms of how we’ve gotten to a place where we can have four consecutive balanced budgets. Certainly, as you can see over the three-year fiscal plan laid in front of us, it looks like we will continue that practice of having balanced budgets in the year ahead.

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Because we’ve spent a long time with a plan and focused over the last more than a decade, we are in a position today and through this budget, which…. We wouldn’t have thought there was any spending when we listened to the response that we’ve heard so far. We are going to spend $1.6 billion in new spending, when we look at some of the positions. We know we wanted to make sure we have a plan.

We’ve got a balanced budget, a triple-A credit rating, some of the lowest rates of personal income tax in the country. Why does it matter? That’s actually what companies and investors look at when they’re going to come to British Columbia — to make sure that this is a place where they can grow their businesses and where it’s a positive economic climate.

We have, as I said, focused on diversifying the economy. The jobs plan laid down a number of years ago — eight sectors. The member is correct. We did add manufacturing. I’ve been really pleased to have a parliamentary secretary whose job it is to concentrate on the jobs plan and the manufacturing sector. I can tell you that he has a great deal of personal experience and has made an enormous difference in encouraging the manufacturing sector in our province. That work will continue.

Let’s talk just ever so briefly about tourism. Great year. Our number of visitors to B.C. from January to August is up 7.1 percent over last year. If you look at $14.6 billion in the last year, revenue is up 37.7 percent from 2004, so almost 38 percent, as I reflected on that. Why does that matter? The tourism sector actually employs 132,000 British Columbians. It’s about job creation. As we encourage and attract more tourists to the province, it’s about job creation. We have more than 19,000 tourism-related businesses.

The member opposite brought up technology. We didn’t wake up yesterday and think about technology. It’s been in the jobs plan. We have worked to encourage a culture that welcomes Sony and Microsoft and others here. We worked hard to attract those companies to British Columbia, and we are delighted that they have chosen British Columbia as their home. As we develop that cluster, we have every reason to believe that we will continue to be a leader, not just in Canada but in the world, with the incredible entrepreneurs and tech companies that we have here in the province.

We’ve talked a lot about the MSP changes that are contained in the budget. Eliminating the cost of MSP for children means savings for parents. We sat and listened for many hours about how there’s no support for families, there’s no protection for the vulnerable, there are no changes. You know, that’s just simply not true.

When you look at $673 million over three years to the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation and the Ministry of Children and Families…. Those ministries are core and critical to making sure that the most vulnerable families and children are cared for appropriately in this province. That includes, as we have heard, $217 million to support children, on the advice of the Plecas report — we have used that — $286 million to address caseload pressure in the income and disability assistance side; additional funding to increase assistance rates.

We’re also looking at: what are the other areas? The member opposite is correct in this. It is a budget that is
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targeted. It is recognizing…. The criticism is we don’t listen. Well, in fact, this is about doing exactly that. We were told we needed to do a better job of funding children and families. That’s what we did. We were told we needed to improve circumstances for parents with adoption, for example — those kinds of things. This is a targeted, reasonable response to those kinds of concerns in the context of one, or potentially two, of the balanced budgets in Canada.

We also looked at things that cause so much concern. I know that my riding and many other MLAs in this House had similar concerns. We saw the devastation, for example, that forest fires created in our province last year. I do want to say that I know every member of the House is grateful for the men and women that serve in our fire service. We know there was a tragic loss of life last year, and we’re so very sorry about that.

We’ve decided that it is important to look at how we prevent wildfires, not mitigate them once they’re underway or after the fact. We want to mitigate and prevent in advance, so there’s significant funding that will be going to work with municipalities and across the province to make sure that we’re paying attention to that.

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We’re also investing $10 million for additional programs to limit the impact of forest fires and save lives. We can never eliminate the threat of a forest fire completely, but these kinds of programs are going to make a real difference in British Columbia.

Something that I spend a lot of time thinking about is putting together a team of people across government to support communities. Part of my job is community transition and supporting economies that are in transition, particularly in rural British Columbia. It matters a lot to me. That’s one of the reasons it’s hard to sit on this side all the time and listen to how we don’t care about anything.

I represent a riding where there has been a lot of difficulty in terms of transition in an economy. When the forest sector downturn came, communities like McBride and Valemount paid a big price. Families lost their jobs. Mills closed. We have a bit of a sense of what that looks like.

One of the things that this budget does is actually fully fund the $75 million over three years for the rural dividend. It will allow small rural communities to help look at ways to diversify their economy. That is so essential. While forestry and mining and all of those natural resource industries will always have a critical role to play in British Columbia’s economy, we also need to make sure that, just like we’ve done at the provincial level, looking at a diversified economy, we need to help small communities who need to be thinking that way too.

I know they want to do that. We’ve all visited those communities, where they want to develop that economic strategy. They want to look at a way to diversify their economies. We want to be sure that we can come alongside them. This fund will help us do that.

It will also help support those communities who go through very, very difficult circumstances, sometimes quickly, and sometimes it’s a long-drawn-out process. I have a team of people across the government. The minute we know there is a significant job loss, that there are communities that are going to be in distress, we try to have a team on the ground as quickly as we possibly can.

We can’t always fix those issues, and often we can’t. What we can do is support those communities that are looking for ways to reinvent their economy, to think about how they can do things differently, and most of all, to provide the kind of support that those families who have been personally impacted require — training, support, counselling in terms of what other job opportunities are available, matching people in communities with jobs that may be available elsewhere.

I’m very optimistic about the funding that’s been set aside for communities in transition, from a rural perspective. I’m also very proud of the work being done by our parliamentary secretary for rural B.C. and the rural advisory group. What a great job they are doing, providing us with input and reminding us, contrary to what the member opposite suggested, how important it is to listen, to pay attention and to respond. That is exactly what this particular fund has been designed to do.

I did hear the member’s criticism about the manufacturing sector and that we haven’t paid enough attention to that either. The fact of the matter is that British Columbia’s economy is built on consumer spending. While that’s causing us to do very well at the moment, one of the things that’s a critical task for us is to make sure we’re looking at how we move to a more export-based economy.

We know that. In fact, one of the things we’ve learned in listening to manufacturing companies is that often they don’t know how to make that next step, from that small, local company with an incredible technology or product or skill. They often don’t have the time or the education in terms of how to do that.

We need to work with them to make sure that they see their potential from a global perspective. I want to thank my parliamentary secretary, who has spent countless hours travelling the province, talking to manufacturers across the province, trying to figure out how we help them grow their businesses by looking beyond their local markets.

One of the things that we are going to do in this budget, and something, also, that may seem insignificant, but it simply isn’t…. When you look at the foresight that our government had, dealing with the market in China regarding the forest sector…. I remember those days, many years ago. People looked at us somewhat skeptically and thought: what in the world are they going to do in China, and how is that ever going to be of benefit to British Columbia?

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Well, we know this. We have seen our lumber exports to China increase by 2,000 percent. It’s often what helped us in those days where things were difficult here and when the U.S. market was far more closed to us. We said that we need to go and diversify our marketplace and make sure that our top-quality producers have a market even in those tough times. That’s exactly what we did. We were aggressive. We were strategic, and it’s paid off for British Columbia.

I hear criticisms about the fact we don’t have a long-term plan. What would you suggest that was? We looked at China. We saw its potential, and we went after it. The budget today signals another strategy that will focus on India. All of us know that there is enormous potential for us to grow our market share in India. So with this initial investment, we are going to begin our work, our focused work, with forest products in India.

We know this. Our forest companies can compete with the best in the world because they are the best in the world. Their practices are exemplary. Their products are amazing.

As we look to enhance our market share, we’re going to target our relationship with India. We’re certainly not going to walk away from the relationships we’ve built in China and the rest of Asia. Those are all important to us, and we’ll build on those foundations.

This is about a new concentrated effort to look at India and make sure that British Columbia is first in line when they’re looking at a place for forest products in particular. But the Minister of International Trade will be looking at what are the next sectors that will be part of that strategy.

To go back to the manufacturing piece there, it also gives us a chance to be an incredible matchmaker. We need to figure out what it is that India wants and what it is that British Columbia has. And we need to be the matchmaker for the companies, for those great manufacturers.

One of the areas where we have an absolutely amazing opportunity is in the area of clean tech. We’ve worked extremely hard to develop and support that sector. We know this. Countries like India and China and others are looking at air quality and looking at climate change issues, just like we are. One thing we know is that we have some of the best technologies in the world, some of the most amazing companies and entrepreneurs right here in British Columbia.

Our job is to figure out what they want, figure out what we’ve got and how we make that match. I’m very excited about the work that our ministry is doing with the Minister of International Trade, with my parliamentary secretary, to put together that comprehensive strategy that looks beyond today.

We do need to take care of today. We need to take care of those who are vulnerable. That’s why we are dealing with issues in this budget. What was surprisingly missing from the conversation of the Finance critic opposite, who I respect, was the comment about funding to health care.

We talked about everything that we should be doing in addition to what we are doing. But there was no recognition at all — that half a billion dollars this year in additional funding to health care…. When you look at the total health care budget, by the end of this fiscal plan, it will almost be at the $20 billion mark.

This budget is about choices. This government made a choice that we were going to be fiscally prudent, incredibly disciplined, very determined. We were going to diversify our economy to protect British Columbia during the stormy economic times that we are facing today and that the world is still facing. That’s what this budget delivers on.

We have a triple-A credit rating. According to economic experts — not the speakers on this side of the house and certainly not the communications shop — we are the envy of the rest of the country at the moment. We need to be responsible, plan strategically and care for the most vulnerable.

This is an opportunity. This is British Columbia’s chance to stand where it belongs at the head of the line, instead of being called a have-not province. It’s what drove me here in the first place — when our incredible province had to receive transfer payments from other provinces. To call us a have-not province is absolutely unacceptable.

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I will vote vigorously in support of the budget presented by the Finance Minister. Thank you for allowing me to speak.

N. Macdonald: Obviously, I have a slightly different perspective from the minister. It’s not only by inclination that I will express a different view; it’s my job as well, and a job I take seriously.

With B.C. Liberal budgets, they are tricky things, and they’re deliberately tricky. The trickiness starts, really, in two ways. First, it’s what is asserted by the government often. When you look at the budget, you see a reality that’s different. And it’s often tricky in the sense of what’s left out — things that the government wants to gloss over or hopes that the broader public doesn’t actually pick up on.

You know, the resources of government are huge. There are 250 people that the B.C. Liberals have that work for them in communications — 250 people that develop the slogans and the spin that we hear repeatedly from members, that pay for the advertising, that pay for the social media. That is a significant number of people. Now, when the minister talked about fiscal discipline, of course it didn’t apply that fiscal discipline to that part of government.

You know, when this Premier took over, the government’s propaganda service had a budget of $12 million. Under this Premier, it’s up to $38 million. So when you talk about discipline, where is the taxpayer-funded com-
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munications staff? Where’s the discipline there? It’s gone from $12 million up to $38 million; 250 communications people.

Let’s see what they’re doing here. Let’s look at some of the trickery. First, an example of trickery by omission. For instance, last year….


Deputy Speaker: Order.

N. Macdonald: Are we having one conversation here? Let’s pay attention here. This is an interesting fact. It is an example of trickiness by omission.

For instance, last year, and this year as well, the most significant part of the budget wasn’t talked about — a $235-million-per-year tax break to the richest 2 percent of British Columbians. That was very consciously ignored by government, but it was, I believe, as I said, the most significant part of last year’s budget, and it again is a significant part of this year’s budget. It now represents, in those two years, almost half a billion dollars of government spending to support the richest people in the province.

Now, in terms of those that need help, I have to think that most British Columbians would agree that’s not the place that you would spend money. Those aren’t the people that you would rush out to help. First, in terms of how that money is going to be spent, they are not likely to spend it in the same way as if it had been dispersed amongst those who are on the lower margins of the economic population of the province.

It is a cut, as I say, that spends half a billion dollars, and it is something that of course wasn’t highlighted.

Now, of course, the payback for the B.C. Liberals is in a lot of donations. It helps to have the wealthiest 2 percent on your side. There’s no question. That pays the bills. That pays for the political careers.


N. Macdonald: Well, I see the minister from Vancouver has a lot to say. I appreciate that it’s an improvement from past interjections, which were barnyard sounds, so he’s moved up in his heckling. But still, I wouldn’t say that the content is all that much better.

In terms of trickery and misrepresentation, let’s talk about something that the previous minister just used again, as was used in the budget speech. It’s around interprovincial net immigration.

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The government rolled that out as if it was something significant. The government latched onto a final-quarter 2015 figure of about 5,000 people more moving to B.C. than left. So about 5,000 people in the last quarter moved in.

Now, I think those that live in rural British Columbia will know that there are many British Columbians who were in Alberta in the oil sands. The oil sands, as everyone knows, are now significantly slowing down. The workers who left B.C…. When the forest industry — by the way, under the B.C. Liberals — lost 25,000 jobs, a lot of those people left to go to Alberta. That is the reality. For me, I had four relatives from Golden, still had homes in Golden, but they worked up in the oil sands. Those people are coming home. That’s a fact.


N. Macdonald: Okay, now the minister’s saying they all left in the….

If in-migration is the measurement that this government wants to use, here’s an interesting fact that government members can go look up for themselves. In the period of the NDP government, the annual interprovincial net migration was 12,891 per year. Under the B.C. Liberals, the average is 6,129, and if one looks at the Premier’s progress, the performance is a mere 5,439, on average, per year. How about that?

If this is a significant measurement, as the budget speech tried to make it out to be, then the B.C. Liberals have failed significantly compared to the record they’re so quick to condemn. Twice as many people had a net immigration in those years as they do now.

The fact probably is that regardless of the fact that the Minister of Finance used it and the Minister of Labour repeated it, it probably isn’t that relevant a fact. There are other factors going on that are simply more significant than that simple measurement. But it’s a trickery this government uses to latch onto something when it’s to their advantage and to roll it out as if it’s something meaningful.

You know, the B.C. Liberal campaign bus had “Debt-free” on the side of it. The B.C. Liberals have increased the provincial debt from just over $30 billion…. It took about 140 years to get up to a debt of over $30 billion. I think it was close to about $36 billion. That’s what the B.C. Liberals took over when they came to office.

Well, if you take contractual obligations and debt now, it’s up to $168 billion. So it’s gone from $30 billion, which took 140 years to put together, and now it’s up to $168 billion. That is a significant amount of money.


N. Macdonald: So now members are yelling about different things that have been built. If the government members want a debate about whether they should borrow money to build things, that’s an interesting debate to have. What is not interesting and what is an example of trickery is where the government asserts that they are debt-free at the time they are borrowing at record levels.
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No Premier has borrowed more money than this Premier. Now, if that is what the Premier and the Minister of Finance are standing up and saying — “We’re going to borrow this money to build these things” — fine. What is a problem is when you put “Debt-free” on the bus and you assert that you are moving into a position of being debt-free. That is clearly not what is happening.

How does the Minister of Finance get past that reality? Well, they introduced something interesting in this budget speech.


N. Macdonald: The member from Kamloops will find this interesting. The Minister of Finance introduced a new term, one that I hadn’t heard in previous years. He talked about the operating debt. Oh, the operating debt. Well, I didn’t see “operating debt” on the bus. I didn’t see “operating debt” in the first budget speech that I was here for. I didn’t see it in the second. I didn’t see it last year. In fact, in all previous 11 years, it wasn’t rolled out.

But now, as the government increases debt to record levels and intends to do so over the next three years…. What is it — $7 billion you’re going to add? This Premier has added $20 billion. So the “Debt-free” on the bus looks kind of silly.

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Instead of just coming and being square with the people of British Columbia about the fact you’re going to borrow tons and spend it on things, what this government does is try to confuse them with something completely different — with operating debt. All right?

Now, operating debt is a real thing. But that is not what we were talking about. That was not what the Premier was saying that she was going to eliminate. She said she was going to eliminate debt, and she’s doing the opposite. Now, to purposely confuse people, this Minister of Finance stands up and tries to take something and introduce it in a way that is completely inappropriate for an honest discussion on what is taking place.

The real debt has gone from $36 billion up to $168 billion. It will in the next three years go up a further $7 billion. That is one thing, but that happening and the Premier asserting that we are getting to debt-free is ridiculous, and it’s not honest. It is the opposite direction that we are going.

The B.C. Liberals said that the real debt-free…. That would be paid for with a trillion-dollar LNG industry. It was going to be a trillion-dollar LNG industry.


N. Macdonald: Oh, it’s coming. Well, a lot of things are coming.

The first plant was going to be up by 2015. That has come and gone. They were going to have a trillion-dollar LNG industry, and it was going to pay for all sorts of things. It was going to not only get us debt-free, which isn’t happening; it was also going to get rid of the sales tax. Remember the sales tax? It’s about $7 billion a year. That was going to go, and then we were going to get a hundred-billion-dollar prosperity fund. Let’s move to that, then.

Just look at the trickery involved around that promise. We were supposed to have a hundred-billion-dollar prosperity fund paid for by LNG revenues. By the way, LNG revenues are nowhere in this budget. The Minister of Finance admits that they’re nowhere on the horizon, and natural gas revenues are one-third what they were under the NDP.

It is a reality that if we are talking honestly about revenue, it is not coming in. It simply is not there, and it is worse than it has been. There are all sorts of factors. What I object to is the dishonesty of a government to say that this is something that is possible when it clearly is not happening anytime soon and certainly will not have a major impact on revenues in this province for the next ten years. It simply will not.


N. Macdonald: The government says: “$8 billion.” They’ve purchased something for $8 billion. It’s not the same as investing in something new. That’s the reality. The fact is that there are zero revenues. That’s a fact.

Let’s take a look at the prosperity fund. The B.C. Liberal trickery on the prosperity fund, which is now…. I guess we could call it the Premier’s fantasy fund. It’s this. The Minister of Finance, of course, was supposedly supposed to introduce a hundred-billion-dollar fund from LNG revenues — right? — as well as, as I said, getting rid of the sales tax and the $168-billion debt.

Instead, in this fund, there are…. How much from LNG? What’s the figure? What is it in these documents? Oh, it’s zero. It is zero, nothing. The first plant up by 2015, the trillions rolling in — and so far, nothing, zero.


N. Macdonald: Okay. All right. The member from Vancouver says: “If we just say yes, all of a sudden the funds will roll in.” If we just say, “Hallelujah, yes, make it happen,” it’ll all happen, right?

Okay. Well, then let’s go with this. What does the Minister of Finance do, given the fact that that $100 billion fund is never going to happen? What does he do? He chooses instead to try to confuse the public by introducing this fantasy fund.

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It is $100 million — but listen, there’s more — that is going to come in not from LNG revenue but out of general revenue. It’s just going to be taken from, perhaps, increases in MSP, which is $100 million, and it is going to be put into this fund.
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N. Macdonald: Even with this fund, Minister, the $100 million isn’t really $100 million. Because of the $100 million that goes into the fund, $75 million is taken out. You’re left with a $25 million endowment.

So a $48 billion budget. What is supposed to be a $100 billion fund in fact ends up as this $25 million that sits there. For what purpose? The only purpose is to hope to fool a few people that would confuse $100 million with $100 billion, right? It’s 1/1000….


N. Macdonald: The minister says: “Oh, maybe you guys would be confused.” Well, why don’t we ask Pamela Martin? She called it a trillion-dollar prosperity fund. Doesn’t she work for the B.C. Liberals? Wasn’t she on a government wage for a long time? It’s not us that are confusing the figures here.

So $25 million. What is the sole purpose of that fund? The sole purpose is to hope to confuse British Columbians. Instead of an honest discussion about the fiscal state of the books, we see example after example of where the government is trying to distort the reality. That’s the fact of it.

On the theme of the B.C. Liberal economy….


Deputy Speaker: Member. Member, order.

N. Macdonald: On the theme of the B.C. Liberal trickery is their characterization of the economy. Rural B.C. is hurting. That’s the fact of it. There are two economies in this province, and I know there are rural members there that know, that understand this. Rural B.C. is hurting.

We have laid-off oil sands workers that are coming back not only to the Kootenays, not only to my areas, but to the Okanagan, Campbell River. These are people that worked in the forest industry and were lucky to find employment after that in the oil sands. Through no fault of, really, this government — or any other government — the fact is those jobs are gone, and the people are coming home. That’s a factor.

We have other things that are closing. We have a significant closure of a fishery up in Prince Rupert, a fisheries plant. We have mills closing in my own area. We have Canal Flats that’s closed, which is a significant number of jobs lost.

By the way, these things are happening at a time when it should be boom times for forestry. The dollar is low. The American economy is operating in a way that should be bringing in a lot of our product. Instead, we don’t see the jobs, and we see mills that continue to close.

By the way, there have been over 23,000 jobs lost in forestry during the B.C. Liberal tenure, and we have lost well over 100 mills. At this moment, we continue to lose mills.

It’s also true with mining. There was a speech given by the minister for LNG last year where he chided the opposition and said there are going to be eight mines opening and nine expansions. That’s the commitment that the government gave. In fact, the Minister of Mines has, in his letter, instructions to get those eight mines open and the nine expansions.

Well, what’s the reality? The reality is very different. We have three openings, but we have 16 mines that have closed. It was supposed to be eight open, eight new ones, and nine expansions, but the reality is: three open, 16 closed, 2,200 people out of work — direct mining jobs.

Now, the minister of community services…. He talked about the 30,000 or so people. There are actually about 18,000 that work with direct jobs in mining. That’s almost 10 percent that have lost their jobs in the last year and a half or two years, at a time when the government is talking about the expansion of eight mines. Again, when the government talks about things being so rosy, that’s not a reality for most British Columbians in rural B.C.

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Revenue from mining is going to be down 25 percent. That’s there in budget documents. That’s what this government is predicting in the documents — pretty different than the rhetoric from government members about the reality out there.

Revenue from mining, forestry and natural gas. Remember that natural gas was supposed to give us $100 billion, get rid of the sales tax, and the $168 billion debt was going to go. Revenues from those three things combined take in less than MSP payments — a tax that the Premier herself acknowledges is an archaic, unfair tax. That, again, is the reality that we face.

This government tries to make it sound like they’re fixing that unfair tax, but they’re not at all. There’s no significant change. The change they will get up and crow about doesn’t start until next year. What does start immediately, and has gone on year after year, is MSP going up for everyone — and collects a record amount of money, a huge amount of money, with an archaic, unfair tax.

Now, the government is going to say: “Oh, well, mines are closed because commodity prices are down in copper and coal.” Well, that’s true. But these same B.C. Liberals will say it was the NDP’s fault in the ’90s when commodity prices were a tenth of what they are now. All of those things, like I say, are not part of an honest discussion of the fiscal state of the books, but it is what we see regularly with B.C. budget presentations and speeches.

What is, I think, important is that the government is responsible for oversight of mining operations to ensure worker safety and to prevent massive failures like the collapse of the Mount Polley tailings storage facility. That Mount Polley failure didn’t happen in Ghana. It didn’t happen in the Congo. It didn’t happen in Bolivia. It happened here in British Columbia. Twenty-four mil-
[ Page 10465 ]
lion cubic metres of water and mine tailings rushed into pristine Quesnel Lake. We know that the tailings storage facility at Mount Polley was failing from internal decay. It nearly overtopped and, ultimately, had a base failure. All three of those were factors in the collapse.

I would invite members to read the report. I don’t think you’ve read the report, if you don’t understand that that is what was going on with Mount Polley. It was there in the expert panel report. We were told by the expert panel that if mining practices, as they related to the tailings storage facilities, did not change, we could expect two such failures every ten years. That is what they told us.

Now, what we know is that this government, for a period of time, around 2013, had no mine inspectors who had the capacity to go to these tailing storage facilities and actually look at them and judge whether they were being expanded properly, being managed properly. The government, whose responsibility it is to oversee the safety of these facilities, had nobody who would do that. And then it’s a shock that there was a massive failure — that the worst mining disaster of that year happened here in B.C.? It’s predictable. It was a decision made by this government when they set the budget.

When I look here, and I see: “Well, have they learnt their lesson? Is there something that has changed for this government?” There’s not. The same government that had a budget that meant there were no inspectors for tailing storage facilities…. It’s the same budget. It’s flatlined. Well, just wait till the next one. Then, just like when two mills blow up, we’ll be surprised when the second one blows up, when it was exactly the same as the first one that blew up.

In this case, nothing significant has changed with the conditions that were in place that led to the Mount Polley disaster. Nothing has changed. It’s business as usual.

There’s trickery in the budget from my own area as well. There was no mention in the budget speech or significant money in the three-year capital plan for the four-laning of the Trans-Canada Highway. Now, I drive the Trans-Canada constantly. It is too dangerous. It is too unreliable. There are deaths and horrific injuries. Four-laning and dividing would spare us the head-ons which are so difficult to survive.

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It is two lane. It is narrow. It is winding. At the same time, weather conditions can be extreme and traffic incredibly busy with transport trucking and tourist travel. The fact is that this is a highway that is undercapacity.


N. Macdonald: The member from Kamloops is chirping away and deliberately not understanding the point, but you would agree with me that that is a substandard highway. It’s a highway you travel. The people that you represent travel on that highway. It is a poor highway.


Deputy Speaker: Minister.

N. Macdonald: In 2009, just prior to the B.C. election, Premier Campbell had government workers put up signs promising a divided four-lane Trans-Canada from Kamloops to the Alberta border. People will remember Gordon Campbell. He thought those signs would help in the 2009 election.

What do we have after that? We had, then, prior to the 2013 election, new signs. Having done nothing in that period from 2009 to 2013, they take off the signs, and they put up new signs.


N. Macdonald: Now, the minister has spent an awful lot of time…. I think the Minister of Advanced Education has spent more time talking here than I have. He’s got an awful lot to say. I look forward to his comments. He talks about the Kicking Horse. The Kicking Horse was done prior to 2009. A significant investment that still sits incomplete. It sits with a section that has a windy, often rock-strewn section that goes down to 40 kilometres an hour and that has had significant accidents.

The point I would make is the government continues to promise. In a 2012 speech, the Premier stood up at UBCM and talked about getting it done. She implied in 2012 that it would get done in ten years. She talked about the additional money. When I look in the documents, despite the signs on the road, despite the promises, there is nothing. We’re talking about figures like $40 million or $50 million. That is one bridge. One bridge is $60 million. How do you take a 280 kilometre section…?

One part, the part in the Kicking Horse that the minister was yelling about, is $1 billion. To not complete that road is in so many ways irresponsible but compounded by the fact that this government repeatedly promises to do it in specific terms, in speeches. And like with so many other things, there is no follow-through. In this case, another three years, and the money is not there. It’s just not there. Again, it’s just this trickery and this inability to be forthright in terms of what the government is actually going to do, hoping to fool people on things that, quite frankly, are serious life-and-death issues. Three years laid out. No significant money for the work on the Trans-Canada.

The reality for the middle class is that they’re going to be paying more, and they are going to be getting less. The government chooses to spend its money on the richest 2 percent.

In my area…. Actually, the member for Penticton would share this concern, I’m sure. It is something that should be apolitical but should be a concern. That’s zebra and quagga mussels. There is no sensible government
[ Page 10466 ]
that would not be doing more right now. I know the government’s doing things and has started to do a bit more. B.C. does not want these in. Alberta has a law, which we should duplicate, about checking to make sure they don’t come in. We should spend $1 million or $1½ million to have checkpoints that will be effective. B.C. can actually keep these zebra and quagga mussels out of B.C. We should do it.

Finally, in the time that I have, get rid of the municipality of Jumbo. That is the most ridiculous thing. Take it apart. The government has spent hundreds of thousands on it. There is no environmental certificate. There is no investor. There is no reason for that to continue. Get the people that put in that slab of concrete that they called a foundation and an avalanche path to remove it. Give it back to the people of the area to make decisions about. It must be an embarrassment for the government. I don’t see why public money would continue to be spent on a municipality that has no people, no buildings and no future.

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That would be the other piece that I want to leave with you. Certainly, the main point that I would make is that there are choices that are made. There are important things that need to be done in forestry, in mining, with wildlife. All of these things should be the priority of government, and instead we have this commitment to try to trick people about what’s really going on.

With that, I thank you for the opportunity, as always, to speak.

J. Martin: Well, this is an honour. This is a pleasure, to have the opportunity to rise in the House and speak in favour of our fourth consecutive balanced budget. I’m so proud to represent the good people in Chilliwack, to be able to talk about my community and to tell them that B.C. is number one in the country. Yes, we are leading the country in economic growth, and I know the NDP is against that. We have a diverse, strong, growing economy. We’re creating jobs for British Columbians.

B.C. remains the only province with a triple-A credit rating and stable outlook from both Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s. We have our fourth consecutive balanced budget — not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times. Four times, four times, four times we have balanced the budget, and I know the NDP doesn’t like that, either.

I was alerted to an article that the CBC put out 14 months ago. It was an interview that the newly installed leader of the NDP opposition had granted. In the interview, the new leader of the NDP was mentioning that one of his main priorities in the next year is “for people to get to know me.” Well, he’s got three-quarters of that. He’s got the get-to-no part. I don’t know about the “get to know me,” but in terms of getting to no, he has certainly done that, and so have the rest of his caucus. We have no dispute that the Leader of the Opposition and the NDP know how to get to no. Clearly, this budget is filled with investments that the NDP will say no to.

On this side of the House, we are focused on growing the economy. We’ve been diversifying our economy. We are not dependent on one single sector. We’ve been providing progress.


J. Martin: You know, if you’ve ever wondered what an angry, loud, socialist horde looks like, wonder no more. It’s right there for us.

We’ve been providing programs to ensure that British Columbians have the skills they need for the jobs that are opening up in B.C.

The NDP like to talk about their record. They say it wasn’t so bad. Well, let’s talk about the ’90s. We had a real taste of the doom and gloom of the NDP in the ’90s. They drove the economy into the ground. We went from first to worst. That should be their slogan. It shouldn’t be “Change for the Better.” It should be: “From first to worst. We can take you there.” B.C. became a have-not province. We became beggars in Confederation. We went cap in hand with our little cardboard sign asking for handouts from the Maritimes. That’s how bad things got. We depended on equalization payments. We saw eight deficit budgets in a row. We saw six consecutive credit downgrades.

Let’s just go into a little detail. Does anyone in this House remember that commercial of Mike Harcourt, sleeves rolled up? He’s got the little piggy bank on his desk, and he’s, you know: “If we can’t afford…. If the money’s not there, we won’t spend it. Well, let’s see if they did in fact spend some money that wasn’t there. The NDP left a $3.8 billion structural deficit behind for the next government, this one, to clean up, and they did clean it up.


Deputy Speaker: Order, Member.

J. Martin: Between 1991 and 2001, the NDP balanced just one budget, while the rest of the country was balancing budget after budget, recording surplus after surplus. At the end of the NDP’s decade in power, B.C. had the highest personal income tax rates in Canada. Under the NDP in the ’90s, there were more than $2 billion in annual tax increases, fees and licences.

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In their first budget in 1992, the NDP hiked personal income tax, raised the income surtax, applied the sales tax more widely, upped business taxes, upped small business taxes, increased the jet fuel tax, hiked education taxes, increased fines, increased user fees, and on and on and on. In 1993….
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Deputy Speaker: Member, come to order.


J. Martin: In 1993, surtaxes were again raised. The renters tax deduction was eliminated. Business taxes were hiked. The sales tax was increased and expanded. The NDP government raised the sales tax on automobiles. They introduced a property surtax.

During the 1991 election, the NDP promised to raise taxes by just $250 million. Well, in fact, in the next two budgets, they raised taxes by $1.5 billion — six times more than their pre-election promise.

In the 1992 and 1994 budgets, they imposed $2 billion worth of new taxes on everything from personal to corporate income tax. They drove investment, drove jobs, drove capital out of B.C., and most sadly, they drove people out of B.C.

[R. Chouhan in the chair.]

Let’s just add a few more little things here. Between 1992 and 2000, per-capita income growth fell to dead last in Canada, from first to worst. Increase in real GDP per person during those ten years, those ten gloomy years, Newfoundland had the best record — 33.4 percent. Nova Scotia had the second-worst record — 16.6 percent. B.C. had the worst — 5.7 percent.

During those years, B.C. had less private sector investment growth than any other Canadian province. On average, net business investment shrank by 0.4 percent and decreased another 4.2 percent between ’95 and ’99. Bankruptcies boomed. Bankruptcies grew by 12 percent. When they fell…. They fell across Canada by 13 percent, but they were booming in B.C. And a $1 billion gap in private sector capital investment compared to our neighbours next door.

How about changes in real private sector fixed investment? Alberta was top of the heap, as we might suspect — 108 percent. Quebec was second-worst — 30 percent. And bringing up the rear — B.C., at 19 percent.

Let’s talk about take-home pay during those years. B.C.’s performance in expanding real per-capita personal disposal income during those years was disastrous. After-tax income dropped 1.1 percent every year, while the Canadian average declined by less than half of that.

This was B.C.’s worst economic performance since the Great Depression. It was a dismal, gloomy time. Well, those days are gone. Those days are long…. I think one of the problems that’s going on right now is that the opposition is suffering from something like balanced-budget derangement syndrome. It’s basically an affliction that brings on paranoia and hysteria and delusions because there is just such an affinity against balanced budgets. Well, we’ve got four of them, and we’re going to have a whole bunch more in the years and years to come.

Many times in this chamber — happy to bring it up again…. Because of the hard work of British Columbians, because of the support that this government gives to British Columbians, we’re back on top. We are No. 1 in Canada. Yes, No.1. The B.C. Liberal government rescued an economy that was dead last in Canada and brought it back up, in first place, where British Columbia deserves to be, and we’re going to stay there.

Not only is this budget balanced and responsible and optimistic — it projects modest surpluses in each and every year of the fiscal plan — but it also invests $1.6 billion in new incremental spending over the next three years. I’m going to go out on a limb here, and I’m going to suggest that the NDP is probably against that too.

We also have the annual increases of 3 percent for health care.

What many people don’t realize is that by working on eliminating our direct operating debt, we are able to invest money that we are saving, thanks to lower interest costs, into programs.

This is something that I’m sure is lost on the NDP — the fact that if you actually save some money and put it over here, you might be able to do some things that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. I mean, what a novel, novel thought: taking some money from your chequing account and putting it in your savings account.

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Well, that’s no good. Spend it. Spend it all. If you don’t have it, spend it anyway. If you can’t find it there, then spend someone else’s money.

Nearly $500 million from lower interest costs, and we move towards eliminating the operating debt. We’re able to inject more funding into programs and services for British Columbians. If we had the same type of GDP and the same type of credit rating that the NDP had in the ’90s, we would be wasting another $2½ billion servicing our debt. That’s $2½ billion we wouldn’t have for schools, hospitals, infrastructure or anything else. It would just be going to service the debt that was run up.


J. Martin: That is exactly the case.

Contained in this budget, we have a new tax credit for farmers. The NDP is going to be against that too. I’m sure the Ag Minister is very proud that many farmers across British Columbia, including my community, producing some of the best….


Deputy Speaker: Member. Member. Commentary from your own seat, please. Thank you. Carry on.

J. Martin: Thank you so much.
[ Page 10468 ]

We’re all very proud of the produce, the vegetables, the agricultural industry across B.C. I’m very proud because it’s happening right in my backyard. Our farmers work incredibly hard. They are generous members of the community, very giving, and so we are introducing the farmers food donation tax credit, worth 25 percent of the fair market value.

This is going to be donated to a registered charity providing food to people in need or to help a school meal program. Well, guess what. It’s not going to be that long and the NDP will vote against that.

Living close to the Fraser Valley, as many of us do — I know very few NDP members have ever crossed it — among the beautiful mountains, I’m pleased to see that we are investing $55 million in emergency preparedness and prevention initiatives. This includes upgrades to dikes and flood protection. I’m sure the NDP is against that too.

We’ve had some long, long, hot summers in which forest fires have ravaged many communities. Prevention is key here, and so to help protect B.C.’s communities against future wildfires and other natural disasters, we are providing $10 million for the strategic wildfire prevention initiative, and you can bet the NDP will be voting against that.

As well, $85 million to establish a new organization: the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. This organization will work toward wildfire prevention and mitigation through forest fuel management, reforestations and habitat reforestation.

Public transportation is critical for helping people moving in our communities. As such, we are investing $7 million to expand service in B.C. Transit’s operating area. That is serving my constituency very well. We have the Fraser Valley Express now servicing people from Chilliwack throughout Abbotsford and Langley, and connecting passengers to TransLink transit systems in Metro Vancouver.

At some point, each and every one of us, probably, want to own our own home. This budget introduces measures to help to make that dream a reality. We have a number of measures to improve housing affordability. Newly built homes priced up to $750,000 will be fully exempt from property transfer tax when purchased by Canadian residents or permanent residents. This could save a purchasers up to $13,000, and the NDP is against that.

This new housing exemption will be largely be funded by increasing the property transfer tax rate to 3 percent on the portion of fair market value over $2 million. This new measure is on top of the increase to the homeowner’s grant threshold to $1.2 million, from $1.1 million the previous year.

We also have invested $355 million over five years by B.C. Housing to support more than 2,000 new units of affordable housing for people with low-to-moderate incomes, and yes, yes, yes, the NDP is against that too.

To provide information on the volume of foreign investment in B.C., individuals who purchase property will need to disclose if they are Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada, and if neither, they will have to disclose their home country. Gee, unlike the NDP, we welcome foreign investment in B.C. We’re not going to help you build your wall. Sorry.

Another initiative to improve housing affordability. We’re expanding the home-renovation tax credit. It’ll be expanded to include persons with disabilities. This provides up to $1,000 annually to help with the cost of certain home renovations to improve accessibility. This helps seniors and persons with disabilities to be more functional and mobile at home.

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We’ve introduced the B.C. training and education savings program, a program the NDP opposed. Here’s what they said about it. The member for Skeena said: “It’s really useless and a bit of an insult.” The member for North Island said: “I’ve got to say it’s quite right that this has been derided as a gimmick.” And the member for Vancouver-Kingsway said: “Well, first of all, as the government shows, their plan is ill-conceived.” Then they turn around and they’re out in the community supporting it. Who would have thought it? Who would have thunk it?

The Medical Services Plan premiums help fund health care for British Columbians, albeit a small part of the Health budget. Health care takes up a large portion of our budget, and to help to remind British Columbians that health care is not free — as the NDP thinks absolutely everything under the sun should be — their hard-earned tax dollars go toward health care.

We do not hide the fact that, yes, some British Columbians pay MSP. And we’re making changes to that to help families. We no longer charge MSP for children. The measure will provide a significant benefit to single-parent families. The change will benefit about 70,000 single-parent families. An additional $70 million will be invested annually to enhance premium assistance offered for MSP. The NDP is against that too.

This is going to help low-income families, seniors and individuals qualifying for reduced rates. With this change, an additional 335,000 people will see their premiums reduced, and once these changes have been implemented, nearly two million British Columbians will pay no premiums at all. To help British Columbians determine whether they qualify for premium assistance, a new calculator is now available on the government website. The NDP doesn’t like that either, I guess.

The government is establishing a commission on tax competitiveness. It will consider ways to modernize our existing tax structure. If we can have a more modern structure that helps British Columbians, I personally — and I’m sure all of my colleagues on the government side — am looking forward to see what options we can
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put forward. The commission will consult with British Columbians, and the terms of reference will explicitly exclude consideration of a return to the harmonized sales tax.

This budget contains increased support for British Columbians that rely on our social programs and services. As part of the $1.6 billion over three years on core services, $673 million in additional support will be provided for children and families, including $217 million to support our most vulnerable children and their families, including implementing recommendations from the Plecas report. The new investment will fund more than 130 new staff, including 100 additional front-line social workers, resources for further training, quality assurance and technology.

Our hard-working social workers have worked in some of the most difficult situations. They provide an incredible service, making the lives of children and families better. An additional $36 million over three years is being provided to Community Living B.C. to support services for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.

We’re also providing an extra $250 million over the next three years for the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation, funding to address caseload pressures for temporary income assistance, disability assistance, related supplementary benefits and more.

We’re also providing another $170 million to increase income assistance rates for persons with disabilities. Effective September 1, all persons on disability assistance will receive an increase of up to $77 per month. Accessibility 2024 is our plan to make B.C. the most progressive place in Canada for people with disabilities, and this budget provides measures to accomplish that goal.

Investing in the future workplace continues to be an important goal and mandate of this government. By 2024, almost 80 percent of jobs will require some form of post-secondary education and training.

The fund…. To ensure that British Columbians will be first in line for future job openings, we’ve been investing in skills-training programs throughout the province. To ensure we continue to develop a knowledgable skilled workforce, we’ll be providing an additional $8 million over three years for youth trades training. This will help even more of our young people access opportunities across our growing industries.

We are preserving a share of today’s prosperity for future generations. As the fund grows over the years, as our economy continues to grow, we have the opportunity to preserve a share of our prosperity now and for future generations and beyond.

As the Pacific gateway, B.C. has an important role to play in trades with countries in Asia, so we are strengthening our ties with India by targeting $5 million to promote a stronger B.C. Wood brand in India. This will help B.C. companies establish themselves as the world’s leading supplier of sustainably harvested wood products to one of the world’s fastest-growing emerging markets.

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Another $1 million to attract more international shipping companies to B.C. — when they come to B.C., they bring businesses, they bring investment, and they bring jobs with them. As well, we’re providing up to another $1 million to support B.C.’s aerospace industry to attract more global businesses and investments to our province.

Thanks to our fiscal management, B.C. is on track, and we have another balanced budget. We have the highest credit rating available of triple-A. We have a stable outlook. This means that our record of fiscal restraint and solid economic growth is being consistently recognized by credit agencies and others.

We continue to say yes to investment in this province. That is the exact polar opposite to the NDP who say no. And I understand that. When they were in government, they never built anything other than two boats that sunk during their maiden voyage. Without a hint of hyperbole or exaggeration, you can count the contributions that the NDP has made to this province on one hand of an accident-prone millwright.

B.C. leads Canada in economic growth. I’m proud to stand in this House and say that we have our fourth consecutive balanced budget. I know the NDP is against that. British Columbians think differently.

D. Eby: I’ve worked in the private sector and the public sector. I’ve been accountable for budgets and for making sure I had enough money at the end of the day to keep my employees working and to make sure that they were paid for their work.

I’m a proud father and a proud husband. I’m an enthusiastic but not especially talented musician. Time with my wife and my son, our cozy home and the knowledge that I worked hard and did my best — along with a cold beer — is my recipe for happiness.

I love my family. I stand up for my community, and I love this province. That’s why I have to say that in light of this budget, enough is enough.

I came from a big family, raised by my mom, a teacher, and my dad, a lawyer and partner in a small community law firm of three lawyers. He wrote wills for seniors. He helped people who’d been in car accidents. He donated his services to my elementary school’s silent auctions. I remember a client of his paying him with a five-kilogram jug of honey because he couldn’t afford to pay for legal services but wanted to give something as thanks. It’s the kind of community spirit I grew up with.

While Dad was always responsible for making breakfast — he did his fair share of housework — it was Mom who ran the show at home. There were four Eby kids to keep in line.

Now, there were a few cardinal rules at our house, taught by Mom’s example and by her firm and consist-
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ent discipline. Hard work is the key to success. Play fair. Don’t cheat. If you can help someone in need, do it. Be true to yourself and your family. Be an honorable member of your community, and be responsible for your actions. Everyone deserves a fair chance. Tell the truth. Every family member in this house shows up for dinner, and you go to church on Sunday so long as you’re under our roof.

Those values, taught to me by my parents, inform who I am today and inform the values that my wife and I are trying to plant and grow in our young son. These values are exactly why I got into politics. Boy, are the lessons that British Columbians are learning today in B.C. in this budget a long way from the values I was taught with my brothers and sister around the Eby dinner table, in this budget.

This government doesn’t just ignore basic family values. It flaunts them with this budget. Work hard? You’re foolish. Success comes to those who game the real estate market. They don’t even have to pay taxes. This government won’t do anything about it.

Be an honorable member of your community and be responsible for your actions? We’ve got a government subject to two separate ongoing police investigations and an Ombudsperson investigation into an RCMP investigation they just made up, hounding a man to suicide, and their political organizers charged repeatedly with Election Act offences.

This budget reflects that, with more bottomless resources for the friends and insiders charged and being investigated with various offences that are currently under investigation. Of course, the government won’t release their names. But the public will pay for this the exact same way.

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It’s funny how little has changed since the Premier was stripped of her presidency at SFU, oh so many years ago, for not following the rules. I guess there wasn’t an indemnity fund then.

Be honest? This government believes British Columbians aren’t paying attention to what they’re doing, just what they’re saying. Just tell them there’ll be a trillion dollars from LNG and we’ll get rid of the PST. It doesn’t matter whether it’s possible. Who cares if it happens or if it was even possible in the first place? Raise taxes, and say you’re not. Tell people that the folks in B.C. ain’t never had it so good.

Spend more on liquor store renovations than affordable housing renovations and still insist you have the best affordable housing program in North America — historic. Let the public try to figure out why tent cities keep showing up in their communities across the province. It must be somebody else’s fault. Tell them you’ll eliminate the debt, and then rack up more debt faster than any government in B.C. history. Have the ninth-lowest wage growth and the sixth-lowest private sector job creation in Canada, and tell the people the economy is the best in the nation.

These are the people who run our province, who designed this budget. The family values of hard work, integrity, responsibility, community spirit — lost on them. They say one thing while they’re doing the complete opposite.

Election Act offences. Multiple police investigations. Perjury among political staff. RCMP investigations made up for political advantage. Destroying hard-working researchers’ careers. It’s endless. And this budget with money for the lawyers to defend that kind of conduct.

The government turns the other way and holds out a hand for political donations, while we watch our resources walk out the door, without a fair return to our communities. Handing us $2 for a million litres of our water. Fishing our salmon, cutting our trees, and then closing our mills and canneries to save a few bucks on wages by processing them overseas. Shipping raw logs overseas while pulp mills right next door are desperate for fibre. Fairness is for suckers, and don’t forget to make your donation.

Worse than their cut corners and their selling-out of our communities, while people watch family members tossed out of work, is their remarkable incompetence.

People don’t ask much from government — public safety, a clean environment and a fair wage for a day’s work. A chance to raise a family. A chance to have fun, to celebrate. Reliable information about how things are going and what the government has planned. Basic.

What do we get instead? Government slashing half a billion dollars off their own projections for public revenue from our natural resources, in these budget documents — projections made just 12 months ago. Adding $700 million to projected public debt — a projection made just 12 months ago.

How can this government be so dramatically wrong about things that matter to British Columbians so much? A government that can mismanage things so badly that they raise ICBC rates, yet turn a monopoly Crown corporation insurance company into a net cost for the province. If you can turn a monopoly business that sells a product that people literally have to buy into a money-loser and pat yourself on the back and call yourself a good manager, you’ve got a bright future as a B.C. Liberal, under this budget.

[Madame Speaker in the chair.]

Boasts that the government has improved public safety, in the budget speech from the Finance Minister, came at the exact same time that there was an active hostage-taking at a bank in Surrey — a community that saw almost 60 shots-fired incidents last year.

Two Surrey schools hit by bullets in the last five months. Two men shot last weekend. A community still waiting for the promised increases in police presence.
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It’s the departure from basic family values of hard work, fairness, integrity, standing up for family, community spirit and personal responsibility that is moving us in the wrong direction. If our government believed in defending our families and communities, you wouldn’t hear them celebrating the direction our economy is headed.

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Instead, they’d be in the small communities of B.C., with major, major economic initiatives to make up for the massive mine, mill and resource job losses mounting across the province. They’d be supporting people looking at losing their homes after losing their jobs — however they could, until resource prices come back up.

Let me make a list of just some of the mines and mills closed over the last 18 months — closures decimating the economic base of rural B.C. The salmon cannery in Prince Rupert; all five Teck steel-making coal mines, including both steel-making coal mines in Tumbler Ridge; the Canal Flats sawmill; the Houston Forest Products sawmill; the Elk Falls paper mill; the Howe Sound newsprint mill; the Chetwynd mechanical pulp mill; and the partial closure of the Howe Sound Pulp and Paper corp.


D. Eby: Huckleberry. I thank the member.

It’s a joke to some of these members, but these are real jobs and real families. Thousands of family members depended on the jobs represented by these facilities that have closed. Thousands of family members are now desperate, and businesses that served the workers of these facilities in small towns are now desperate.

If they watched the budget speech, they would have heard the Finance Minister say that people ask him how he has managed such success. My goodness, if this is what success looks like, we’re in real trouble. This government’s budgets are so far from family values.

If our government believed in hard work and fairness, they’d make everybody pay the property transfer tax the same way — another missed opportunity in this budget. Now, it’s been about a month since we learned about shadow flipping in Metro Vancouver, a practice where a family sells a home with a long closing period and realtors or speculators flip that home once, twice or three more times before the final closing date, making commissions or price increases each time.

Often this is done with the complicity of a rogue realtor who lied to the homeowner about the value of their home exactly so that he or she could flip, flip, flip and enjoy greater commissions and profits each time. This is an empty economic activity that contributes literally nothing to our economy but higher house prices driven by endless speculation. It hurts families that want to buy a home but can’t compete.

You would think that this government, that the Premier or the Finance Minister, learning that this was taking place, would at a minimum immediately ensure there was an independent investigation into this practice to stop the deceit, strip the licences of those engaged in this disgraceful practice and make an effort to enforce the property transfer tax at each and every flip.

You would think they would shut down the greedy, grasping speculators engaging in shadow flipping, that those shadow flippers, if nothing else, would have to pay the same tax that everybody else has to pay. Instead, the Finance Minister announced in his budget that he’s going to study the problem.

While he studies, the tax-free flipping continues, driving prices higher and higher — flip, flip, flip. How much money from the property transfer tax are we giving away to these speculators? Tens of millions? Hundreds of millions? My guess is that we’re leaving an amount in the nine figures — hundreds of millions of dollars. But it’s just a guess, because this government introduced not a single measure in this budget to even track the number of flips between sale and closing that take place — not even a single measure to track it. How do you study a problem if you don’t know how widespread it is?

This government’s wilful blindness on the antics in the property market is hurting businesses in Metro Vancouver as well. These businesses, paying their taxes, hiring people at good wages, have told this government explicitly that they are having trouble competing for employees with companies in Seattle, Portland, Toronto and Montreal, where the cost of housing is lower and people can enjoy a higher standard of life in the same job. The trouble is making it difficult for them to recruit and retain employees.

So on one hand, you have greedy, grasping speculators deceiving homeowners about the value of their homes, profiting from their insider market knowledge and engaging in a practice that drives up prices for everyone else, and government refuses to even track what they’re doing, let alone tax it or ban it. The Premier and the Finance Minister, with their hands-off approach, are sending a message to these shadow flippers: go for it.

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On the other hand, you have a business — for one example, Hootsuite — employing hundreds of people in Metro Vancouver at high wages, employees who support local businesses, who pay income taxes, who contribute in so many ways to our community — people who, if they leave the company and can afford to, will start up their own business in a high-tech start-up cluster in Metro Vancouver.

You have the CEO of Hootsuite writing the government an open letter asking for help. “I can’t grow my business the way that I’d like to because of high housing prices. They’re stifling my ability to recruit and retain employees.”

Between these two groups, it says a great deal about the values of this government, who they have prioritized in
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this budget and how they have reacted to these two separate events. The message to speculators and their empty economic profiteering: go for it. The message to the CEO of Hootsuite…. Literally — and you cannot make this up — the solution presented by the member for Chilliwack-Hope was that the market will solve this problem. Hootsuite and companies like them should leave Metro Vancouver and go to a lower-cost jurisdiction.

That solution was roundly applauded by the same government MLAs that voted, and will vote, and applauded for this budget that refused to tax the shadow flippers.

“No help for you, Hootsuite. Your hard work, paying taxes, building a business, employing people, creating a tech cluster in Metro Vancouver is meaningless to us. Go move somewhere else. You should be” — and I’m using the member’s words — “punished for daring to locate your business in Metro Vancouver.”

Shadow flippers, your empty economic activity, driving up prices for families, not paying the same tax that everyone else does, deceiving homeowners…. “We’re hands off. Go for it. Have a great time. This is the kind of economy we want to build — an economic ghost town of absentee speculators and investors.”

This budget is not the response of a government that values hard work, values integrity, values standing up for family and community. This budget is the response of a government that values something else entirely.

Our low Canadian dollar has been a windfall for international property billionaires snapping up commercial properties in our province. A German billionaire bought the Royal Centre in downtown Vancouver for a cool $400 million. A Chinese consortium just bought a majority share of not one — not two, not three — but all four Bentall towers in downtown Vancouver. Estimates for how much they paid range as high as $1 billion.

The property transfer tax for just these two deals, which both closed in the last two months, would be over $20 million in revenue for the province to spend on critical programs like housing affordability, health care, education and other essential services. I say that the tax would be over $20 million, but likely, it will never be paid. Strange, isn’t it?

If the government valued fairness, you would expect that it wouldn’t matter whether you’re a German billionaire or a family of four in Maple Ridge. Everyone pays their property transfer tax the same way. But the government knows this isn’t happening, and the Finance Minister again says that he’s studying the problem that has been around for more than a decade.

Billionaires buying property hire lawyers to exploit a loophole called a bare trust that helps them avoid paying the tax. Our family in Maple Ridge will pay the tax when they buy what they can afford in the resale housing market. They won’t hire a lawyer to design a bare trust for them.

Here again, we see the values of this government that don’t reflect any of the values that I was raised with. If you’re rich and you can afford to hire a lawyer to exploit a tax loophole, you don’t have to pay the tax. If you go to your job through traffic every day, if you pay your income taxes, if you volunteer on your PTA, if you coach your kid’s soccer team, if you’re a contributing member of our community that actually somehow has the means to buy a home in this real estate market, well, you pay the tax.

I have no idea why the Finance Minister and the Premier did not close these loopholes. If this government cared about the values held dear by B.C. families, they’d tax international investors using Metro Vancouver homes as a stock or bond in their portfolio while giving nothing back to our community except higher prices. That’s fair. That’s basic.

This government’s values in this budget have nothing to do with the values of B.C. families. If our government believed in being responsible for your actions, they would admit that the Premier wildly and irresponsibly overpromised what was possible with LNG in our province.

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Her LNG fantasy was just that and always that — fantasy. Not only have they not delivered the one LNG plant they promised they’d deliver by 2015, but they, among other failures, failed to win the support of First Nations who voted against a major proposal that that they reasonably believe will hurt the salmon run in their community. So of course, there’s no LNG. There is no money to put into the Premier’s promised prosperity fund.

I think every family understands that people make mistakes. But being a responsible member of the community means accepting responsibility for those mistakes. Instead of accepting responsibility for the broken trillion-dollar prosperity fund promise, the end of the PST, the Premier denies she ever said such a thing. “There is a prosperity fund in the budget,” she says. It just happens to come not from resource royalties but from a tax hike in the Medical Services Plan premium for thousands and thousands of families and people across B.C.

Here again, we see the government’s values on full display. People who work hard, pay their taxes and keep their promises have to pay more now to cover for someone who made promises she couldn’t keep, to help our Premier in a desperate bid to save face with her fantasy fund that has absolutely nothing to do with LNG royalties and everything to do with the increase in the MSP.

Making someone else pay for your mistake isn’t the same as accepting responsibility for your actions and empty promises. It’s the exact opposite. Families know that, and you wouldn’t have gotten away with that in the Eby house. Shirking responsibility, rewarding those who don’t work hard and exploiting loopholes at the expense of those who do work hard and pay their taxes. Not standing up for family members in distress when they need you, because the Rupert cannery or the Chetwynd Mechanical Pulp mill has closed, and they’ve lost their job. Not standing up for communities in distress, like
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Osoyoos, when they need you, because the community school that you’re closing isn’t just a school but also a meeting centre, a community centre, an employer.

This government’s values, as reflected in this budget, are not the values of British Columbia families. Although they insist the opposite. And British Columbians were absolutely right to read this budget and immediately realize that it reflects that this government and this Premier lost the path awhile ago and are now completely out of touch with what’s important to everyone in this province.

Madame Speaker: I will caution all members, on a go-forward basis, that it is possible to disagree without resorting to a personal attack.

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: I have to say that it’s not the easiest thing to start my speech off after following all of the pessimism and the negativity and the actually shocking statements that you hear from the members opposite. But at the same time, I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to speak in support of Budget 2016-2017 — our government’s fourth consecutive balanced budget, I might add.

It has been much hard work, determination and the ability to make those tough decisions that have helped make B.C. the envy of many in Canada. British Columbia today is a province where people can develop new skills, find a job and know that there is a strong social safety net in place to support them should they ever need it. It’s the province where we’re seeing an influx of new people who want to call British Columbia their home, who want to participate in our opportunities.

We can certainly be proud that in a time of market turmoil and economic instability, our province is saying yes to economic opportunity. We know without a doubt that a strong economy gives us the means to invest in the vital programs and services that support our families, protect our children and enhance our communities around this beautiful province — communities like the one that I represent, Parksville-Qualicum.

You know, every time that I have the opportunity to speak in this House, it gives me goosebumps on my arms. It reminds me of what a real privilege it is to have this opportunity. I didn’t have the opportunity to respond to the throne speech, so please allow me a few minutes to talk about some important people who have provided me this privilege to be here today.

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Of course, I would be unable to be here if it weren’t for those who elected me back in Parksville-Qualicum. Without them, I certainly wouldn’t be here trying to make a difference in the lives of British Columbians. I want to say a heartfelt thanks to my constituency assistants, my office staff, who are truly my presence in the community when I’m down here in Victoria doing the work here in Victoria.

I want to thank Krista Bryce and Tamie Nohr, who use their very, very exclusive talents and their teamwork to help the constituents back at home navigate the issues that are so important to them and help support them navigate government services.

I also look forward to welcoming in a few weeks a new constituency assistant, Shayne Blandin, who will spend a few hours in my office each week, helping to support Krista and Tamie, while gaining some very valuable experience in an area that she truly loves — politics. I don’t know if we can all say we love it as much, but she is right now in Ottawa. She’s been there for three days, going to question period in Ottawa. She confirms with me that she has PVR’d every question period here in Victoria so she doesn’t miss a thing. But we will be welcoming her with open arms.

I also want to thank, of course, the staff here in Victoria, who support me each and every day in the Legislative Assembly — my chief of staff, Valerie Richmond, who keeps me on task; my executive assistant, Kristen Blake; my admin coordinator, Valerie McKnight; and my admin assistant, Jeff Keene; as well as my parliamentary secretary, who I see down at the end, from Boundary-Similkameen — who are all wonderful people to work with and help make my day so much easier.

I, of course, would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge all these wonderful caucus colleagues that I get to work with every day. We have an amazing team here, one that I’m honoured to be a part of and one that works so hard together for a common goal and a common vision — to leave British Columbia better than we found it.

Most importantly, I, of course, can never say enough about the support that my family gives me. I want to say a special word of thanks to my husband, Mark, and my son, Kai, for their encouragement and their love that allows me the opportunity to be down here in Victoria to do this job, to represent the people, and sacrifice so much family time for me to be away doing the job that I have truly come to love. Their patience and their understanding, especially when I come home and I’ve been away, is outstanding. Their love gives me strength to fulfil the promise that I made when I was elected to represent my community to the best of my ability.

This past summer I had the privilege to compete for Canada at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto. This marks the first time that I have competed on home soil in a major international competition. I was certainly overwhelmed with the support and the well wishes from my constituents and people across British Columbia and Canada. The thrill to win gold on home soil, alongside my fellow Canadians, was truly a highlight of my athletic career. I have been privileged and honoured to represent Canada on the world stage.

And I’m privileged and honoured to represent the people of Parksville-Qualicum. The constituency includes five distinct communities, including two cities, two
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towns and a regional district — the city of Nanaimo, the city of Parksville, the town of Qualicum Beach, the town of Lantzville and the rural region of Nanoose Bay. It also includes three First Nations, including the Snaw-Naw-As, the Snuneymuxw and the Qualicum First Nations.

I would actually like to take this opportunity to congratulate the newly elected Chief at the Snaw-Naw-As, Brent Edwards, and thank the outgoing Chief, Chief David Bob, for his years of dedication and service to the band and the community.

Each individual community has its own unique character, needs and goals, and I’m very pleased and lucky to have such a great working relationship with the mayors, the councils and the administration of each one.

We are so lucky to live in the most wonderful part and the most beautiful part of British Columbia in Canada. In Parksville-Qualicum, we enjoy the best of everything — easy access to bigger city amenities, like Nanaimo, Victoria and Vancouver, and right outside the door the most breathtaking scenery in the world. My constituents take very seriously their stewardship of the natural resources, as does our government.

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In that regard, our government has been able to secure $6 million in funding through the joint build Canada, small communities fund, for residents of Parksville and Nanoose, who will benefit from a new drinking water infrastructure. We can do that because we have the ability.

Health care is important to everyone. The investments we continue to see in our province will continue to help care for our citizens around this province — $3.4 billion over the next three years from this budget alone. I’m certainly encouraged to see the commitment from stakeholders in my communities for health and health delivery sectors, who are coming together to find the best solution to address the need for family physicians in Oceanside.

It’s an issue we are seeing across the province and in Canada, but with the collaboration of expertise of the Oceanside Division of Family Practice, Island Health, the Federation of Oceanside Residents Associations, the mayors and councils, the chambers of commerce, we are all working together to find innovative ways to find a solution for our community.

With this budget, we’re seeing health care investments. We will continue to see the support for organizations like the Oceanside Hospice Society, which has already received a $40,000 grant to help support end-of-life care services for our residents in Parksville and Qualicum. The operational funding is a team effort through Island Health, with additional support from the Oceanside Hospice Society and the Nanaimo and District Hospital Foundation.

This funding is available because of the strong fiscal discipline that we have on this side of the House and that has been demonstrated by this government, enabling us to make investments like that. Collaboratively, these contributions allowed for the renovation of space in Trillium Lodge to accommodate five beds, a family room, a staffing area and operation of the hospice. It’s a priority that our government has — to help support and strengthen the services that seniors receive.

This is critical for my community especially, where 47 percent of my constituents are over the age of 65. Every year when I host my annual tea in Qualicum Beach, I have the opportunity to meet with those constituents and talk about the issues that they are faced with. When I get to go back and talk to them about this budget, I know that they will be happy.

Knowing that an additional $70 million per year has been allocated to enhance MSP premium assistance for seniors, lower-income families and individuals will make a real difference. It means that senior couples earning up to $51,000 may qualify for reduced premiums and can save up to $480 a year. Some will not have to pay MSP premiums at all.

This is in addition to the news about the recent, historic government investment in affordable housing — committing a total of $355 million to create upwards of 2,000 new affordable housing units across this province for those most in need, including low-income seniors. It will build on the projects that have already taken place in my community.

It was very exciting for me to be able to be present for the official grand opening of the Qualicum Park Village. The province arranged approximately $3.6 million in construction financing for the project, and now many people are comfortable in their new homes.

We know how important it is for seniors and their families that they remain active, independent, and continue to live in their community. I look forward to supporting the affordable housing proposals that are coming into my community to increase the opportunity for those who are at risk of homelessness — low-income singles and families, seniors and persons with disabilities — so they can all have a safe, affordable place to call home.

Some of the other things that I’m critically supportive of and I continue to urge British Columbians and my constituents to do, is to buy local and grow local, which strengthens our farmers, ranchers and communities as a whole. The success of this year’s program, the year-round Qualicum Beach Farmers Market, speaks to the support of our communities provided by this initiative. In fact, I’m a regular shopper at the market. I also recently attended the infamous Qualicum Beach Seedy Saturday, and it was really inspiring to see the wall-to-wall people, learning about gardening and buying local fresh produce.

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Let me change channels a little bit and talk about how B.C. expects to have up to one million job openings by 2022. More than 78 percent of those jobs will require some form of post-secondary education, and 44 percent of them will be in skilled trades and technical occupa-
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tions. Our government has invested $730,059 in new trades equipment to support Vancouver Island University in students’ training for occupations critical to the economy as part of B.C.’s skills-for-jobs blueprint. That is in addition to more than $1.6 million in funding since 2014, which has created 276 additional seats at VIU, helping to reduce wait-lists in the high-demand trades programs.

Vancouver Island University is a wonderful example of how post-secondary education institutions become a vital part of their surrounding communities. VIU’s involvement in local partnerships and inclusive relationships with First Nations, and with their exceptional trades-training programs, is such an important part of our healthy growth of the area and its population. I’m proud that they are helping to solve B.C.’s labour shortage and proud that they are part of my constituency.

In this budget, we’re seeing $2.5 billion in infrastructure for post-secondary education facilities and labs, which is continued growth and investment in post-secondary to ensure that the youth of today are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow. I know that Vancouver Island will be eager to ensure that they have their continued voice at the table and ensure that they are providing the best of education to the community.

In 2015, B.C. led the country by creating more than 50,000 new jobs. That job growth, that economic growth, is reflected right in Parksville, where Jennifer and Graham Williamson, owners of LIFESUPPORT Patient Transport, will be creating more than 100 new local jobs in 2016. They have already started their hiring, and they have been interviewing like mad to ensure that the services they deliver to people all over Vancouver Island, B.C. and even abroad will be fantastic.

There is more. From the tech sector, Qualicum Beach has seen growth as well. The council made a huge decision to invest in the old train station in town and create an innovative tech sector networking hub.

Denny Unger, the CEO and creative director of Cloudhead Games and a longtime gaming entrepreneur, started Cloudhead in 2012 with three employees. A successful campaign in the spring of 2013 gave that company a mandate to create the first-built virtual reality game, The Gallery: Six Elements.

Cloudhead has now grown from the mere three employees to 15 employees, with plans to double in size in 2016 in the town of Qualicum Beach. It’s an amazing tech story from my constituency, and it’s because of the investments this government continues to make in the tech sector.

Yesterday the Finance Minister tabled that fourth consecutive balanced budget, and really, like I mentioned, it’s a remarkable accomplishment, especially when you look at almost any other jurisdiction in the world, let alone across Canada. This achievement doesn’t happen just by accident. It happened because of the dedication and the hard work of everyone in government and our policies to ensure that our economy continues to grow, that we are creative and innovative to ensure that we are building a bright future for British Columbians.

This government delivered a budget that is good for British Columbians. In the words of author John Holmes: “There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” I use this quote because, as the Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation…. Budget 2016 provides funding to strengthen the social safety net and help individuals and families in need with an additional $456 million over three years to continue to support the approximately 180,000 people who rely on us. As a result, we will see people with disabilities provided with more choice — more equity across the system for persons with disabilities — along with an increase to their rates.

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These changes build on the significant measures we have announced in the last year or two that will have lasting impacts on the thousands of individuals and families in need in our province — changes like the single-parent employment initiative, which helps single parents on income and disability assistance overcome employment barriers. Almost 2,000 single parents have already registered for the assistance and are taking part in the initiative. It provides up to one year of training, along with child care and assistance with transit costs during training and for the first year of employment.

Child support payments are now fully exempt for 3,200 families on income and disability assistance, along with monthly income exemptions being doubled from $200 to $400 per month and increased from $200 to $400 for families with a child with a disability.

British Columbia is the first province to introduce annualized earning exemptions. People with disabilities can now earn up to almost $10,000 a year, providing greater flexibility for those who have the ability to work at fluctuating times throughout the year, creating more independence and creating a stronger network for them while they’re out in the community doing the jobs that they dream of.

We were also able to further help people on disability assistance achieve financial security. We’ve raised the asset limits for people with disability assistance from $5,000 to $100,000 for individuals and from $10,000 to $200,000 for couples.

These are initiatives that were welcomed by advocates. Some of them have called them historical, substantive and significant. They are initiatives that support Accessibility 2024, which is our government’s commitment to make B.C. the most progressive place in Canada for persons with disabilities.

My ministry’s mandate is to give families the tools that they need to participate more fully in their communities and to help people become more independent. We do this through the many, many integrated programs and
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services that help those people who need a little extra support to find their path and to achieve their goals in life.

The employment program of B.C. is an integral part of the B.C. jobs plan and the B.C.’s skills-for-jobs blueprint, helping people participate in the economy through employment assistance, job search assistance and skills training. It’s one of the areas that I have particular interest in, and I’m doing everything I can to increase employment for persons with disabilities.

With close to one million job openings expected by 2022, people with disabilities — 334,000 of them in British Columbia of working age — are in an important employee talent pool. Progressive employers know that being an accessible employer is good for business, and almost 90 percent of consumers prefer companies that employ people with disabilities, according to a study cited in the Conference Board report.

I have heard from businesses across British Columbia that there is a strong business case for hiring people with disabilities. Diverse employees bring new skills and perspective to a business and make it more welcoming to a broader range of customers. Hiring people with disabilities is, no doubt, good for business.

COCO Cafe in Cedar and Parksville Thrifty Foods are great examples of employers who are leading the way. Thrifty Foods has youth and young adults with disabilities, offering them a “mentoring through community involvement” program, helping them make connections between the skills they learn at school and those that are needed in the real world. COCO Cafe — well, they’ve grown their business significantly and have expanded from a tiny little coffee shop to creating a catering business. That builds on everything that we are seeing on a daily basis to help support those individuals.

The ministry is also responsible for social innovation. We’re working in partnership with businesses and community agencies to find new, innovative ways to deliver vital social programs to help change the lives of British Columbians.

Budget 2016 provides $1.82 billion to help those 180,000 people meet their needs through income assistance, disability assistance and supplemental supports, an increase of $101 million over the last year — something significant and something that couldn’t have been done without strong fiscal management and the focus on growing the economy and creating jobs.

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We will be able to take care of our caseload as well as CLBC, Community Living British Columbia, which serves adults with disabilities. They will also see an increase in their budget of $36 million to not only address their caseload but potentially help another 3,200 individuals who are transitioning into CLBC services.

There’s no doubt that this budget builds on increases that were announced in Budget 2015. We will continue to see more positive things happen, new investments to further support families and seniors and single parents around this province.

I know that with the changes to the MSP premiums announced in Budget 2016, single parents will continue to benefit once they move off income assistance into stable employment. By making children free and expanding premium assistance, an additional 335,000 people will see their premiums reduced, including 70,000 single-parent families. An additional 45,000 people will no longer even have to pay MSP premiums at all. Huge investments for families.

The largest single investment, like I mentioned, in housing — $355 million. Not to mention, the people with disabilities can also now benefit from the $1,000 home renovation tax credit. So all expanded in Budget 2016 to help with costs.

By keeping our financial house in order, our government is able to make investments in British Columbia’s vital social programs and give individuals and families in need a step up. This budget continues to build on the solid foundation that we have created here in British Columbia. I am in favour of this budget, and I look forward to seeing all the positive outcomes that will come and will provide for British Columbians across this great province.

K. Conroy: I listened to the budget yesterday and was dismayed to hear a minister talking about a budget that in fact rewards the wealthiest British Columbians at the expense of all other citizens. It’s astounding to me and to the people who live in the Interior that the Premier managed to maintain a half-a-billion-dollar tax cut for millionaires — 2 percent of British Columbians — and created a slush fund with an unfair MSP tax hike.

Now, I’m going to come back to that, but I want to look at some examples of how this budget is going to hurt people in our area. And what for? Why? So the Minister of Finance and the Premier can crow about a surplus. But the question is: whose backs is that surplus generated on?

Well, there are a number of backs that I’m going to refer to today, because no matter how this government and the members try to spin this budget, it’s not a budget for B.C.’s families. As I said, it’s a budget for the wealthiest people in this province, and it doesn’t provide the necessary investment in important government services, like education and health care, that citizens in Kootenay West need.

Let’s look at the fee increases, just to start with. The government likes to say, “You’re paying lower taxes,” but neglects to tell you that all the fees are going up. Where should we start? Well, it’s such a big list. I mean, where do you start with all those fees?

How about B.C. Hydro? Hydro rates have increased by 28 percent already under this current Premier, and they’re going to go up again on April 1 by 4 percent. That will collect about $150 million more in revenue, but I’d
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say that’s on the backs of hydro users in this province. Those are the facts. Those are just the facts.

And ICBC — ICBC premiums increased by 5.5 percent last November, and they’re going to increase again next year. Last year’s increase collected about $130 million more from customers, but for all of us who drive, it hurts, especially in rural B.C. where the transit in some communities just isn’t that good or the transit could, in fact, be nonexistent. People need vehicles to get around, to get the shopping done, get to appointments, kids to hockey, dance, soccer.

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Just to live in the Interior, for the most part we need vehicles. We can’t ride bikes in the winter in the Interior. We need our vehicles. And because of where we live, we pay higher ICBC rates, thanks to this Premier, this Finance Minister and this government.

What other fees are going up? Well, park fees. Goodness gracious, camping fees in parks were increased again this year for the second year in a row. Now, camping is a really popular activity in our area. We have some amazing parks, wonderful parks that are utilized year round, actually. It’s an affordable family activity that combines a holiday with fun in the great outdoors.

I heard the Minister of Environment justifying this increase on the radio. She said it. She must have had a straight face; she was on the radio. She said that people wanted this increase because they wanted it to all go to the upkeep of the parks. Well, for goodness’ sakes, what a bunch of rubbish that people, perhaps, would actually say that. Why would they say that if it’s not actually happening? Because it’s not.

People still go camping. They still love our parks. But there are more and more complaints about the lack of services in our parks, cuts to staff. They are doing their darned best to try to keep the parks up to the speed they need to be kept up to, but it is incredibly difficult. You talk to those staff people, and they’re struggling to make ends meet in those parks.

When we took our kids camping, there were rangers who did programs at night. They did nightly programs about the conservation of the parks. I remember one time they were talking about the stars, and the kids were learning all about that. The kids would learn about the beautiful biodiversity of the area. Not so much now. I mean, my daughters and sons take our grandkids camping, and there’s none of that now in the parks. You even have to buy your own firewood, and you’ve got to pay for parking, for goodness’ sakes — another cash grab from this government.

Bridge tolls have gone up, and they’re going to go up again. B.C. Ferries — the fare increase and service cuts have ravaged coastal communities. What do people that live in our area say? They say they can’t afford to go on holidays in our own province.

They want to come to the Island. They want to go around this beautiful province, and they want to come to the Island and tour around, but they can’t afford it. They can’t afford it, and gas is actually more expensive in the Interior than it is down here, which is crazy, but it is. It was actually cheaper in Prince George than in the Kootenays when I was there last week, if you can believe that. People from the Interior are saying that they can’t afford to go on a holiday and come to the Island, which is just wrong.

Then there’s the MSP. Well, the government is continuing with their annual 4 percent. This has become like an annual event with this government — 4 percent increase rates. You know, 4 percent just this last January.


K. Conroy: And the Minister of Agriculture claps. A 4 percent increase for MSP. Yay, he says. So 4 percent in January, and then again 4 percent in January of 2017. Each increase costs taxpayers another $100 million per year.

In 2001, MSP was about $864 per family, and that’s per year. In 2011, it went up to $1,452 per family. In 2016, MSP is $1,800 per family. That’s a 108 percent increase since 2001, a 24 percent increase since 2011. Now, they said in the budget they’ll be exempting children from MSP, which we all say is a good thing, but increasing the rate for two-adult families. That exemption doesn’t start till January 2017, so families this year are still paying that increase, still paying the big bucks to this government.

Actually, the net effect is…. It’s good to give a break to single-parent families. We’re the first to say that’s good. But charging couples with no children is not so good. This change will bring in an additional $46 million more in revenue per year, which means over half a million couples in this province will be paying more for their MSP. The MSP revenue will actually rise by $355 million over the next three years.

The Premier called MSP a tired old way of covering medical services in this province. So why didn’t she change it? Why didn’t she make it better? Why didn’t she make a change that would benefit every British Columbian? She hasn’t done that. I think it’s because it’s another way to gouge folks, another way to pay for what I would call the Premier’s vanity project: her prosperity fund.

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Isn’t it ironic that the very amount that this budget is allocating to the prosperity fund, the fantasy fund supposed to be funded by nonexistent LNG, is the exact same figure that the government will make this year off of the MSP increases: $100 million gouged out of the taxpayers’ pockets, right into the prosperity fund.

What’s even more ironic with the prosperity fund is that only $25 million of it will actually stay in that fund and be “saved to accumulate earnings” over the years. That was what was in the budget. But at least 50 percent
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of that fund will go to debt retirement, including to retiring the debt of “other entities in accordance with government’s strategic priorities.” My interpretation of that, of course, is the Premier’s pet projects.

And then the best — well, the one that I thought was the most ironic. At least 25 percent will be…. “The remainder will be available for core government priorities in the future.” What is that? Well, folks, here it is. It’s effectively the Premier’s slush fund for photo ops and money to buy your vote in next year’s election.


K. Conroy: Am I being cynical? Heck, yes. I’m being cynical. But jeez. Look at the history. You can hardly blame me. I am a wee bit cynical.

People will pay higher Hydro, higher ICBC, park fees, higher bridge tolls, ferry fees. They’ll be paying more for your kids’ education, more for post-secondary education, which I will get into. The Premier and the Finance Minister and all of this government — all who are complicit in this — will stash away money to buy peoples’ votes instead of investing in B.C. today, instead of investing in our kids and grandkids and investing in their future.

What about “Debt-free B.C”? Let’s talk about that. How’s that working for people out there? We have the largest debt ever in the history of this province under this Premier’s watch. What did we get in this budget? Well, now they’re saying they have — and we have the quote — “the opportunity to eliminate the operating debt in just four years.”

This is a serious retreat from 2013, the “Debt-free B.C.” commitment, which was to eliminate the total debt, not just the operating debt, within 15 years. Have they gone from talking about the debt, as they did in 2013? No, no. Now they’re trying to differentiate, trying to say: “It’s the direct operating debt, not the total debt.”

Why would they do that — to confuse people, to say that they can actually eliminate the debt, as they promised in 2013? And will they? No, they won’t. It’s like the shell game when the magician is moving the cups around, and you have to guess where the shell is. Well, you’ve got to guess where the debt is and where it’s going to end up.

Even though the budget is forecast to be in surplus in the next three years, by about $300 million each year, over the next three years, taxpayer-supported debt will go up by $2.4 billion. That’s billion with a B — a $300 million surplus but a $2.4 billion dollar debt, plus another $4.1 billion of new Crown corporation debt. I think the majority of that will probably be with B.C. Hydro.

In total, B.C. debt will go up by another $6.6 billion over the coming three years. That’s on top of the $20 billion of debt that was added by this Premier since 2011 — or $9.5 billion since she first talked about making B.C. debt free in the 2013 throne speech.

The government can try to spin the numbers all they want, but it boils down to another broken promise. We will not be debt free but will, in fact, have incurred a greater debt — all under this Premier’s watch while she was telling an entirely different story.

Let’s look at some of the issues that are affected by this budget in our area. One of the issues that affects families across my entire constituency is the education of their kids. I have three school districts in my constituency, and they’re struggling to provide the education they know the students in this area need and deserve. And the new trade facility, for the minister’s education, is actually in the constituency of Nelson-Creston.

Selkirk College provides services throughout the entire region, and they desperately needed it because they were working on equipment that they…. Once they got their training, they would go out to work, and they were working on equipment from the ’90s, actually. Finally, these guys have decided to update it.

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School districts have been struggling in our area. The government has chosen not to address these important concerns and is allowing, actually, what we see as the education system to suffer. When the Premier promised…. She promised to deal with class size and composition. She said it was her number one priority, and people believed her. They thought she was actually going to keep her promise. But absolutely not.

Data released by the very own Ministry of Education shows the government has failed to invest in public education. When the Premier forced 550,000 students, parents and teachers into the longest school shutdown in B.C. history, she said that she cared about the issue of class size and….


Madame Speaker: Members.


K. Conroy: She said she cared about the issue of class size and composition. One year later, after her commitment, after her promise, we see fewer supports for students in our classrooms, while class sizes are growing at an alarming rate. The Premier made sure she was quoted at numerous press conferences and photo ops that she was improving class sizes and composition in B.C. schools. Again, it was her number one priority. The numbers show just the opposite.

According to the Ministry of Education, the latest data on class size and composition show that the learning conditions in schools are deteriorating. The number of classes in B.C. with four or more children with special needs has gone up to 16,516, which is the highest it has ever been. We didn’t hear anybody talking about that on the other side.
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Despite this huge increase in students with special needs, the number of classes in B.C. with an assigned educational assistant went down by 432. Class sizes have also increased significantly, with the number of classes with 30 or more students increasing by 25 percent this year. Ultimately, this means that there is less personalized support for students in the classroom.

School district 20 is facing its largest budget deficit in its history of $1.35 million in 2016-2017. People in the area feel that it can be attributed directly to the Premier and the government.

B.C.’s compliance branch auditors are clawing back every penny of special education student funding possible from at-risk students. They said that some of our children shouldn’t have been getting special ed funds, that those kids whose principals, teachers, parents all recognized as needing extra help…. Well, they didn’t meet the criteria, and the district needs to pay the government back.

Do those kids still need extra support to succeed? Of course they do, and the school board has said yes also. They’re not going to be responsible for not ensuring that kids don’t get the help they need to succeed.

It’s an awful dilemma that this government has put school boards in. It’s, in fact, shameful. The government told school districts they needed to cut more — again, from so-called low-hanging fruit. Well, there isn’t any more. It’s gone. The districts have cut to the bone. There isn’t anywhere else to cut. Now they’re looking at cutting back on cleaning classrooms and buses. Now, isn’t that just great? We all know what happens when kids get flus or colds. They get bugs that spread like wildfire, and the cleaning needs to keep those bugs under control.

I can’t imagine what’s next. First we have kids…. They have to bring in packages of copy paper as school supplies. What will be next — cleaning supplies, disinfectant towels? Maybe the next thing we know the kids will be getting mops. You have to bring a mop with your school supplies to clean up after yourself. One teacher said to me that if a child has an accident, it’s the teacher or the principal who has to put teaching on hold to clean up vomit, urine or diarrhea.

Are the school boards okay with this? No. They’re not okay with this. I don’t know anyone who gets elected to be a school trustee just for the heck of it. “Let’s go do something fun.” They do it because they care about education. They care about the kids in our districts and want to make sure they get the best education possible for the kids. Then they have to worry about cuts being downloaded from this government. And why? We know why.

It’s, as I said earlier, so the Minister of Education and the Minister of Finance and the Premier can crow about a surplus. The answer to the question of whose back is that surplus being generated on…. It’s the students in this province, the hard-working teachers and principals, the support staff and the dedicated school trustees who are doing their darned best in spite of this government and their lack of support in this budget.

Another issue is post-secondary education and the rising cost of getting an education in this province, a province with some of the highest interest rates and students graduating with the highest debt load. The minister claims that’s not so, but he should talk to the students who are struggling to make ends meet, finishing up with thousands and thousands of dollars of debt and then trying to pay that debt off at what the Times Colonist editorial says is higher than loan shark rates. Higher than loan shark rates is what our students in this province are being charged.

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We know there are concerns about adult basic education courses and whether they will be affordable in the coming year. Institutions are scrambling to ensure that students can afford the fees that will now be charged, and the minister’s saying it’s free. Who is he kidding?

We know that some of those students qualified for the adult upgrading grants, but did I hear in the budget that they’re going to continue the adult upgrading grants? I don’t think I heard that. If the minister would please tell me I did hear that — that they are in fact going to carry on and help so that colleges aren’t attempting to put bursaries in place to support students that need adult basic education.

I believe the government was willing to…. Why wouldn’t they be willing to commit to helping students get their adult basic education? We all know when you get your adult basic education, then you go on to get a degree or you get your trades. You can get on to get a career. But if you don’t get that initial course at first, that basic education, you’re out of luck. You can’t do it.

I talked, on the throne speech, about a young man who came and said to us that he’s been told it’s going to be probably $500 a course. He said: “Where am I going to get that?” And then he said: “I don’t know if I could qualify for a bursary. I’m not sure.” Why do we have to do this to students?

I need to tell him that this government isn’t there for him, that I’m sorry that this budget does not answer this one question. I wish I could say it was. I wish the Minister of Advanced Education would actually speak out and say, “Don’t worry. We’re continuing these grants. We’re going to ensure these people get the adult basic education,” but I don’t hear that from him. You hear a lot from that minister, but you don’t hear that from him.

And then there is the Social Development budget. I hope there are going to be enough funds allocated to deal with the issues in that ministry.

I got an email today that a constituent had received from the ministry. It didn’t say it was from the ministry, though. It was actually from central.prospecting@gov.bc.ca. I mean, really. Who came up with that name? “Central prospecting” is the name of the department that
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you have to go through to determine your eligibility for social assistance? For goodness’ sake. It’s like you’re getting a part in a movie or something, which makes one think: “Okay, these people are prospecting for funds?”

I mean, really. What the heck? This is social assistance that people are applying for. Then I read through the email. It said:

“Please submit the requested documentation and/or information prior to or at the eligibility interview scheduled for,” and it gave the date. “You will be contacted by an assessor who will be conducting a stage 2 interview with you once you have submitted the requested documentation and filed the attached checklist. Please note the above date is the due date for your materials” — not necessarily the date of your phone interview; she hadn’t got that yet. “Please kindly note our volume of applications is extremely heightened at this time, and we will be calling you in a priority sequence.”

Isn’t that great, that social assistance…?


K. Conroy: These are all British Columbians who are applying for social assistance in a province that’s supposed to be so wealthy, that’s supposed to be providing all these services to people. Why the heck, then, are so many people applying for social assistance?


K. Conroy: There’s nobody coming back from Alberta. In fact, people in our area are leaving for jobs, going back to Alberta, not staying home.


K. Conroy: Okay. They are. They’re going to the oil sands, to a project north of Fort McMurray. They are going to a project north of Fort McMurray….


Madame Speaker: Members. You will come to order.

K. Conroy: Thank you, Madame Speaker.

The truth hurts sometimes. I’ll make sure I bring all the names of those young dads that have to leave their community once again, that won’t be home for their kids when they want to go take them to hockey, when they want to read them bedtime stories, when they want to help them do their homework, because they have to leave this province once again. That’s reality.

Anyway, back to social assistance. A decision on your eligibility cannot be made until…. Anyway, this person cannot answer this email. This email is a generic email and will not be answered. This person, if she needs any answers, has to go to the 1-866 number, and we all know how the 1-866 number works. It’s very much hit-and-miss. If you’re lucky, if you get to talk to a person…. Sometimes you get put on hold….


K. Conroy: Pardon me? I couldn’t hear you over the noise, Madame Speaker.

Madame Speaker: Noting the hour.

K. Conroy: Noting the hour? Darn. You did that to me yesterday too. Or was it the day before?

Reserving my point, noting the hour, I will adjourn debate and look forward to continuing this tomorrow.

K. Conroy moved adjournment of debate.

Motion approved.

Hon. T. Lake moved adjournment of the House.

Motion approved.

Madame Speaker: This House, at its rising, stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.

The House adjourned at 6:55 p.m.

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