This afternoon in the legislature I delivered my response to the Speech from the Throne. I hope you’ll find it of interest to read the text (or watch the video) of my speech where I look at unfulfilled promise after unfulfilled promise that this government has made over the last three years.
A. Weaver: I rise to take my place in a debate that I suspect, honestly, will be going on for next year and a half — a debate that is about the direction the province is going; a debate about what the future could look like for British Columbia; a debate that I’m eager to participate in.
But this throne speech did not give us the ability to debate because there were virtually no ideas. Gone is the over-the-top rhetoric about LNG that has so defined this government’s approach. Replacing it, however, is a familiar drum beat that I remember hearing in 2012 before the last election. The world is a scary place. Only this government has prevented complete collapse.
And yet, to make such a claim would defy logic, given this government’s record over the last four years. I remember sitting here bright eyed in 2013, having just been elected, and listening to a throne speech that stated the government would “bring the liquefied natural gas opportunity home, creating tens of thousands of new jobs and leading to the establishment of the B.C. prosperity fund, which will be protected by law to eliminate our debt.”
Three years later, this is clearly an empty promise, an unfulfilled vision that was never based in reality, a history that this government is quick to forget. British Columbians are hardly going to feel assured that this government has a concrete plan, given the direction indicated by the Speech from the Throne.
The undercurrent of their retreat away from their highly rhetorical promises of 2013 is the idea that there was no way the government could possibly have known that LNG would be delayed. “Unforeseen global conditions are posing new challenges,” Tuesday’s speech read.
But these challenges, I would argue, were largely foreseeable, of course. For the past few years, experts from a variety of fields have been outlining just how unlikely it would be for this industry to come to British Columbia as promised.
Since 2012, I’ve been saying that this was nothing but a pipe dream. Since 2012, nothing has happened in this industry, because the world is oversupplied in natural gas. China now has excess gas. It is a seller on the international marketplace. And the price of future contracts would mean that, in British Columbia, we would literally have to pay people to take our natural gas.
Finally, Iran, the world’s largest reserve of natural gas — almost 20 times that of all Canada combined — has recently had sanctions lifted.
Is there anyone out there who still believes anything this government has to say when it talks about LNG? I think it’s important for us to look at just how much was promised in order to understand why the government’s refrain that “success is not for quitters” is not simply, yet again, empty rhetoric. But not only that. It’s a dangerous approach to the management of public resources.
In 2011, the Premier said that she planned to take an “aggressive approach to the development of the natural gas sector,” and she was confident that British Columbia could “create a prosperous LNG industry that would bring local jobs to our communities and deliver important dollars into our economy.”
Her office predicted that the Kitimat liquefied natural gas plant would be “operational by 2015.” Nothing much happening in Kitimat in the area of LNG.
A. Weaver: And, yes, I have been to Kitimat, and I have toured the Rio Tinto Alcan plan, and there is a lot going on there, certainly.
But, in fact, there is no LNG development going on in Kitimat. In fact, the pipeline that was being processed there has simply had construction stop, and yet again and again, final investment decisions are kicked down…. The can is kicked down the road for years to come.
The NDP, citing jobs for under-employment, communities and a “better market in Asia,” were quick to support the development of an LNG industry, initially. I will say, of course, that they have seen the light, and they too recognize the empty promises, that this government let British Columbians down.
I suspect, frankly, that “if we have a facility in Kitimat and markets in Asia, then the activity in the northeast is going to continue to be hot rather than flat,” said the Leader of the Opposition in 2011. “The risk to our coastline from LNG is insignificant. The benefit to British Columbians is quite significant,” he added a few days later
The B.C. Liberals continue pushing their LNG — and until recently, supported by the NDP. In 2012, for example, the NDP said they were comfortable with fracking and supported increasing B.C.’s greenhouse gases in the name of reducing those in Asia. “We have been fracking in British Columbia for a long, long time, decades in fact.”
In fact, that’s true. Vertical fracking has been going on in British Columbia for many decades but not horizontal fracking. Horizontal drilling is a relatively new construct both in British Columbia and the rest of the world, which is one of the reasons that there is no market for B.C. gas, because everyone in the world is using horizontal fracking now — not just British Columbia.
In 2013, the Premier’s “aggressive approach” morphed into her entire re-election strategy, one based solely on the LNG industry. Massive promises were made to British Columbians: a debt-free B.C. by the end of 2020s, a $100 billion prosperity fund, 100,000 jobs, elimination of the provincial sales tax, $4.3 billion in extra government revenue by 2020, $1 trillion in the new economic activity. The list went on and on. To quote again…. “This opportunity is very real for all the people of our province,” she said.
In 2014, this chamber once again heard that “LNG was a once in a lifetime opportunity to create 100,000 new jobs and a prosperity fund to eliminate the provincial debt.” Despite all scientific evidence to the contrary, we heard that this LNG fiction was the “greatest single step to fight climate change.” That’s almost a laughable quote.
As a climate scientist, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and I spoke against the idea. Climate leadership aside, which this government is so sorely lacking, it was clear that the economics simply weren’t there to support an LNG industry on the scale of what was promised, and a number of energy analysts were voicing similar concerns. Nonetheless, onwards we go.
The Premier told us that her “plan to foster a competitive LNG industry was showing results.” She was so confident in her vision that by April 30 of 2014, she stated that her government was meeting with key investors to “take the last crucial steps towards final decisions.”
By the end of the year, her plan was, by any account, looking a little iffy. The deal with Petronas wasn’t going so well, despite the Premier’s assurance that they were “absolutely on schedule” and that they were “going to get there on the timeline that they had set.”
The 7 percent tax that was originally proposed had been cut in half. The imminent deals that were just around the corner were dwindling in number. I stated in this House that this was an industry of “high stakes promises and low stakes delivery.” I asked the government repeatedly about their backup plan, if the predicted LNG windfall did not materialize.
The response from the hon. Minister of Natural Gas was that they “know they will be successful on this file.” No backup plan. Not necessary. None.
Hon. T. Lake: Four balanced budgets. That’s a pretty good backup plan.
A. Weaver: And the balanced budgets are being done, as the Minister of Health is pointing out, on the backs of individual British Columbians through things like speculation in the real estate industry and medical service premium increases, which…. As we saw today, 65,712 British Columbians from around the province signed a petition saying: “Stop this.”
The government will listen or not listen, at their peril, because these 65, 712 voters will be there in 2017 to send this government a message, bringing ten or 12 folk along with each and every one of them.
Come 2015, the government was still touting the LNG promises, albeit those promises had diminished significantly. The price of oil had fallen to the floor, while the government looked the other way and continued to insist that LNG was a “generational opportunity.”
By this point, however, the government had gone quiet on the big-ticket promises, and our Premier’s timeline had changed. Having an LNG plant operational by 2015 clearly wasn’t happening. But she insisted now that they were on target to have “three projects by 2020 up and running.” That’s a bit like kicking the can down past the next election — desperate, absolutely desperate, to try to get one — not two, but one —final investment decision.
This government had a rare, unusual summer session for the sole purpose of legislating an agreement that ultimately amounted to a sellout of our resource — a desperate attempt to land an industry one final investment deal. That deal was and remains environmentally reckless, fiscally foolhardy and socially irresponsible.
It is undoing all of our climate leadership, as recently emphasized by a Canadian report on the environmental assessment in the area. Admitting what we already knew by the end of 2015, the Premier said: “Timelines were probably going to be different” than what she promised.
Running parallel to the government’s over-the-top statements on LNG was a continued advancement of the Site C dam. The massive undertaking is perhaps the clearest example of how irresponsible this government is with public resources. The whole reason for building Site C, as the Premier stated in 2013, was because it was needed “for powering up these huge LNG facilities.” Whoops. What LNG facilities?
This project was originally priced at $6.6 billion in 2010, $7.9 billion in 2011, and as of 2014, the estimate was set at $8.8 billion. I’m willing to stake a large bet today that it’ll come in around $13 billion when all is said and done, and this will be an example of public subsidy for an industry that is not going to come to B.C. anytime soon — all to power these LNG facilities that we’re not going to have, with none appearing to be close.
Now, we have with this apparent excess energy, whose production has crippled the clean energy sector in British Columbia, we hear that Site C may help to power Alberta. Well, there’s a new idea, and we’ll put more public money subsidizing a transmission line to allow us to do so. To me, this sounds like a desperate attempt to salvage a bad idea that anybody outside of government’s inner circles would have realized was not timely and not cost-effective and irresponsible. A bad idea that happened to support another bad idea.
Here is the critical point. We have not seen one single investment decision in five years of political rhetoric about how promising the LNG sector is for our province — not a single investment decision to help fund all those big election promises, not a single investment decision, period.
I want to return to this line we heard on Tuesday — “that success is not for quitters.” That success demands “steadfast attention.” I would suggest that success is knowing when to stop throwing good money after bad ideas and having the courage to admit that you were wrong — that is, after all, what a fiscally responsible government would do. That is what a fiscally responsible Green government would do.
Anybody who has ever been in the stock market knows, you don’t double down chasing a stock. Just ask anybody who invested in Nortel back in the day when it went from over $100 to pennies and change.
Despite the clear lack of progress in developing an LNG record, the Minister of Natural Gas stated last month that those who question this abysmal track record are “pessimists, short-sighted, reluctant to admit that LNG is making progress and securing long-term prosperity for all of us.”
Indeed, rather than switching tracks, they are switching to being derogatory and defensive of their failed strategy, while superficially referencing a diversified economy they have done little, if anything, to support. The Premier herself said the world is being divided in two: the people that will “say no to everything” and the people who would “want to find a way to get to yes.” I’m not sure what science the forces of no bring together up there, except that it’s not really about the science, it’s not really about the fish, it’s just about trying to say no. It’s about fear of change. It’s about fear of the future. It’s about derogatory statements like this Premier is making — a complete and utter lack of understanding of the fundamental issues facing British Columbians that she would have the gall to say that.
Is there any reason why voter turnout in recent by-elections was only 20 percent? The people of British Columbia are fed up with this political rhetoric. They will vote for change in the future, but they will vote for change like the federal government voted for change, like the American Republicans and Democrats are voting for change in their leadership, they will vote for change to get this government out of power. It has been in far too long. It’s sending the signals to British Columbians that they do not want to hear.
The arrogance of that statement is outstanding. There are very good scientific reasons to not support the LNG pipe dream of the government, not the least of which is the fact that pursuing the LNG strategy will throw our climate leadership out of the window. Plain and simple. You can’t argue it the other way.
Indeed, the continued rhetoric on LNG isn’t really about the reality of LNG in this province. It’s about trying to convince us that LNG promises are going to materialize, if we just trust government. Heard that before? It’s about fear of British Columbians actually remembering what they were promised and realizing it’s not what was delivered. It’s about a fear of losing the next election.
The Minister of Natural Gas Development once told me that my opposition to his LNG pipedream would leave me eating my words, just as the Minister of Advanced Education said today. Well, it hasn’t happened yet. I have to admit I’m getting hungry for real government leadership in this province. Furthermore, I must confess my confusion about how this government feels it can insinuate that Alberta is not an example of how to run a province, while at the same time being entirely focused on developing a carbon-based commodity market economy in the same low-price environment. It’s precisely that that’s hurting Alberta.
For three years, we’ve had a one-issue Premier, caught up in the political promises she had to make to win the last election. We’ve had a supportive opposition up until recently. We have heard plenty of promises, and they have rarely been based in reality. This is an approach to government that is, sadly, being repeated on a number of fronts.
For example, let’s take a look at the B.C. jobs plan, which promised thousands of new jobs and is now in its fifth year. It has done nothing to fuel job growth. In fact, the employment rate in B.C. has dropped, hon. Minister of Health. The employment rate in B.C. has dropped since this incarnation of the B.C. Liberals took office. The employment rate has dropped since the B.C. Liberals took office, despite their B.C. jobs plan. As Stats Canada reported this past December, B.C.’s unemployment rate has risen to its highest level since December ’13. The pattern of job losses in our province is troubling, especially when considered next to skyrocketing housing prices.
Again, mirroring the government’s outlandish LNG promises, the B.C. Liberals have repeatedly vowed that every British Columbian would have a family doctor by 2015. There’s another promise. Unfortunately, 2015 has come and gone, and there are an incredible number of people still in need of a family doctor. In fact, here’s another statistic. Fewer British Columbians have a regular doctor now than before the government made these lofty promises. Right now in British Columbia, it’s estimated that over 200,000 people are still actively looking for a family doctor.
The minister has gone quiet on that one. I wish he’d actually look at the statistics there and fulfil the promises his government made and sent in the wrong direction. Given this government’s complicated history with doctor shortages, however, what I find most concerning about the B.C. Liberals’ promise to provide every British Columbian with a family physician is not that they have failed. One only has to look back at the struggles Canada has, as a country, in maintaining the appropriate numbers of GPs to know that B.C.’s doctor shortage was never something that could have been fixed in two years.
What is most concerning is that British Columbians were repeatedly misled about what could be realistically achieved. British Columbians deserve better. They deserve real politics. They deserve real statements. They deserve statements in government that are grounded in reality, not political rhetoric that has no hope to ever transpire, simply because the government is concerned about winning, winning at all costs.
Now, I would ask all members of the government opposite to take a look and read the comments of the previous member, the member from the White Rock area, and what he was actually talking about there — talking about coaches, talking about winning. It’s pretty clear to me that that speech said a lot about this government and its approach to winning at all costs — saying whatever it takes to get through lunch, saying whatever it takes them to get through dinner, going into rope-a-dope to pretend issues don’t exist.
We’re beginning to see a pattern emerge with this government, whether it be promises of 100,000 jobs, a debt-free B.C., unrealistic job growth, a GP for every British Columbian, unicorns in the backyards for all kids by the age of 20. The government is long on rhetoric and short on the leadership required to truly make things better for British Columbians. Real leadership is desperately needed in this province.
Only when this government is honest with British Columbians about our strengths and weaknesses can it bring forward a real vision that positions British Columbia as a leader in the 21st-century economy. Such a vision starts by being clear about what our real strengths are as a province — our people, our place and our resources.
British Columbians are among the best educated in the world. Our high school students are consistently ranked near the top of global comparisons. The OECD program for international student assessment identifies B.C. as continually ranking at the very top in science, mathematics and reading.
The strengths go beyond academic comparisons. Travelling around this province for the past three years, I’ve found the same thing everywhere I’ve gone: British Columbians who succeed by bringing innovation into their work. Small and family-owned businesses are the heart of innovation. They know that the market is competitive, yet they are finding ways to succeed. In many cases, in most cases, this is despite the lack of government support, not because of it.
We have such an opportunity in B.C., the opportunity to grow our economy and sunrise industries like the tech sector and the renewable energy sector. These are rapidly growing economic sectors that we need to nurture in our province.
I recently attended the B.C. Tech Summit in Vancouver, kind of an afterthought by the B.C. government in August of last year.
A. Weaver: I do know about the B.C. Tech Summit. I know that it was only thought of as a last-minute thing in August of last year, and staff were tasked to get it done. This is not a government that has put any long-term effort into some particular issue.
When I attended that, I had a chance to sit down with numerous entrepreneurs who are working in the creative community. I was able to hear firsthand their views on the challenges and opportunities faced by their industry. This is exactly the type of sector that has been largely neglected for the past three years by a government fixated on a windfall.
We have another: the agricultural sector. Government’s response? “Let’s have another conference on this.” Rather than nurturing this industry….
A. Weaver: First conference on this. Thank you to the member for Saanich South.
Everyone I have met with talked about the physical draw of our province.
A. Weaver: I’m so glad that I’m working up some of the ministers opposite. It’s clear that I’m actually hitting a nerve there with some truth, which is getting them to be a little upset.
Everyone I met with talked about the physical draw of our province…
Deputy Speaker: Members.
A. Weaver: …as one of the main reasons they remain here. Over the generations, the beauty of this province has attracted talent and investment from across Canada and, indeed, the world. The reason is simple. People want to live here. They want to take advantage of the lifestyle opportunities that exist. People move here and they stay here to be active and surrounded by unparalleled natural beauty.
Our province attracts and retains people who believe in creating a better society. We also have the natural resources that position us to be a leader in the clean tech and resource technology sectors. Our opportunity is more than just exporting physical goods. We should be exporting our best practices and cutting-edge technologies. Unfortunately, our government is no longer spearheading those values. We are not the climate leaders we once were. Instead, we are promoting fossil fuel development.
The government is subsidizing the destruction of ancient forests that should be saved. Other ecosystems are so poorly managed that we have to cull one species in the name of saving another, bringing B.C. into global disrepute. Wild salmon stocks are falling in many regions, while the B.C. government ignores the province’s role in their protection and dismisses the vital importance of these fish in sustaining the environment and First Nations culture. Instead of addressing these issues honestly and head on, we see a government kicking the can of responsibility down a never-ending road.
The government consistently says that they are world leading. They say it because they know British Columbians want to be world leading. We want to be ahead and modern. Simply proclaiming that something is world leading does not make it so. You cannot bestow such a title on yourself. Only with the hard work of actual leadership and vision does such recognition come from abroad. That leadership is lacking.
This is what I had heard from the tech entrepreneurs who dream of a new creative industry in this province and who believe in the potential for British Columbia. They want to live here. While they were encouraged that government is finally paying attention, as of August of last year, to what could be a powerhouse industry in the province, the challenges they face are the same that all British Columbians are facing.
Affordability. It’s hard to tell if this government merely took its eye off the ball with the crisis of affordability in the Lower Mainland. They do seem to have turned hyping an industry that they politically chained themselves to into a full-time job. I get that. Either way, this is one of the fundamental challenges our province must come to terms with if we are to create an environment that fosters the growth of resilient local businesses in the creative economy.
The government has ignored the low-hanging fruit available to solve some of the housing affordability issues, such as closing the bare trust loophole or ensuring that it has the data to make evidence-based decisions. Similarly to LNG, this government has ignored all the warning signs and expert advice along the way. That is not looking out for young families. That is not showing leadership. Frankly, that’s like standing as a deer in the road looking at the headlights of the car as the economy comes and crashes down on you.
Grounded in the housing affordability crisis is a strong sense that fairness is fundamentally lacking in our province’s approach. Vancouver is a city of people from all walks of life, but this government’s policies risk hollowing out that region by supporting the speculative industry rather than small business owners who give this city its heartbeat.
Making life affordable and fair for British Columbians means MSP premiums need to be eliminated. Why is B.C. the only province that perpetuates a fundamentally unfair system to help pay our health care services?
In our current system, someone making $30,000 a year pays the same premium as someone making $3 million a year. This unjust measure has been carried out year after year in an attempt for the government to show that they have lower taxes. But to lower taxes and then create specific fees that disproportionately affect the lower-income bracket to pay for health care services is hardly fair, and British Columbians are noticing.
In fact, it was my constituents who brought this concern to me. I visited a local seniors centre home to learn from my constituents what challenges they were facing. With fixed incomes, the almost annual increase in MSP rates has acted like a shadow tax taking a greater and greater share of their income — this from the riding of Oak Bay–Gordon Head. And let me tell you, it is not one of the least-well-off ridings in the province of British Columbia.
The more I looked into this, the clearer it was that MSP premiums needed reform in the province. We’re the only jurisdiction that hasn’t found a progressive way to levy health care costs. We need to follow the step Ontario has taken and roll MSP premiums into our income taxes. There’s no cost increase here. It takes a shadow tax this government charges in fees, a head tax, and instead replaces it with a graduated payment on your income tax return, just like CPP and EI.
Reforming MSP premiums — not tweaking it slightly, to pretend that you care — is what real government leadership looks like. It’s a commitment to making the lives of British Columbians better.
Listening to the problems affecting those who live in this province is part of good governance. But when the people of Shawinigan Lake have voiced strong and valid opposition to a project, the government has ignored them. When First Nations oppose a project in their own territory, they are dismissed as the forces of no. This is not collaborative governance. This is not listening. It’s certainly not about reconciliation. This is not what British Columbians expect from their government.
The throne speech specifically states: “Getting to yes on economic development does not mean cutting corners or bowing to external pressure.” I’m wondering right now what the residents of Shawnigan Lake think about this. I’m wondering what First Nations think about this. And I’m wondering if First Nations believe this government is sincere when not once but twice the throne speech uses the possessive “our” to describe First Nations. Our First Nations — unbelievable coming from a government that suggests that it cares about the importance of listening to First Nations in British Columbia.
Our province is blessed with a mixture of human and natural resources that, with real leadership and deliberate action, are poised to take off. With the right policies and measures in place, combined with the right approach, we can have a cutting-edge modern economy while ensuring a just society. This is what building on our strengths rather than chasing political promises can bring us.
By leveraging our renewable energy sector — which, sadly, is hurting right now because of the irresponsible government decision on Site C, burdening future generations with public debt to provide power at below market cost to an industry that will never transpire here — our critical natural resource sectors of forestry, mining, aquaculture and agriculture have the potential to join forces with the tech sector and create new, innovative ways to sustainably harvest our resources at greater value than before.
Unfortunately, this vision cannot flourish if government remains tied to the political promises it made four years ago. As their previous dream of an LNG windfall hits the hard brick wall of reality, the government now seems directionless. Yes, they are taking a few commonsense steps to address a small number of real crises facing British Columbia, but they are ignoring the vast potential of what this province and its people can do. With this approach, they are saying no to leadership. They are saying no to a prosperous future for British Columbia and no to what B.C. could be.
With heads in the sand, it would appear that the forces of no are not just on this side of the House. They are, frankly, on the other side of the House. With that, I thank you, hon. Speaker, for your time and will say to you that I will not be supporting this throne speech in the House.
August 15, 2017
August 14, 2017