Today in the legislature debate continued on the Speech from the Throne. Late this afternoon it was my turn to respond. As you will see from the text and video of my speech, reproduced below, and as I noted in my initial statement, the BC Liberals are out of ideas and out of touch with the issues facing ordinary British Columbians.
The government started the throne speech with the words ‘Your government has a plan’. They spent the next forty minutes congratulating themselves for their past actions. Clearly, there was no plan and they have no plan. Perhaps the most telling statement within the throne speech comes from the section entitled “A Plan for the Future”. It says this:
“Government is in a position to do this because it has a plan to continue growing our economy into the future. From small business to tourism and technology, to natural resources, trade, and manufacturing.”
That quote is literally all it says under that heading. The BC Liberals did not present any plan for the future. Their message is ‘trust us’, we’ll keep doing more of the same. Yet to quote Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
A. Weaver: I must confess that that truly was one of the more enjoyable speeches — fantasy, frankly — that we’ve heard in this Legislature.
I think I live in a different British Columbia. I think I live in a world of facts, as opposed to alternate facts, which is something that I’ll get to during the course of this response. I’m going to frame it in six different subsections. First, I’ll do a brief introduction about why I got into politics. Then I’ll go and talk a little bit about the February 2013 throne speech and the promises on LNG. Then I’ll come to this throne speech, and I’ll go over the alternate facts put forward by the B.C. Liberals and compare them with the true facts as to what is the state of our economy. Then I’m going to point out that the B.C. Liberals spend most of their time in reaction mode in terms of dealing with issues, rather than a proactive role. Finally, I’ll point out that they have no plan, and I’ll offer a brief plan that the B.C. Green Party will bring to this upcoming campaign.
You know, the Speech from the Throne, instead of presenting British Columbians with a vision or a plan, really was nothing more than a laundry list of old, unfulfilled promises and old projects repackaged as new. The speech represented an abandonment of any attempt by this government to actually address the realities affecting British Columbians today.
That’s one of the reasons I got into politics. I had a nice job at the University of Victoria as a faculty member in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, serving on international committees, working in the field of climate science. I was there early on when Mr. Gordon Campbell struck his climate leadership team. I was there when I witnessed a government, for the first time anywhere, recognize that this was an important issue to deal with and that it was important to bring together a suite of policies to think about the long-term consequences of the decisions we make today.
I was there and watched this play out, and then, come 2012, I started to see these policies unravel. I started to see a government tweak the Clean Energy Act to exclude the liquification of natural gas in LNG facilities. I started to witness the hype of promise of prosperity to one and all here in British Columbia through LNG.
I watched our provincial leadership unravel the promises and the policies of the former administration, and it’s continued through this period now, chasing this pot of gold from the proverbial LNG rainbow that’s always just moving a little bit further down the road. Now it’s because of market forces. I’ll come to that again shortly.
I told my students time and time again in public lectures, in high school lectures, in university lectures across British Columbia — frankly, across North America, and frankly, across the world — that when I talk about climate policy, I talk about the fact that it’s a matter of intergenerational equity. The decision-makers of today think more about re-election, in many cases, than they do about doing what’s right for the next generation.
One of the examples I use…. I say this to my students. I say: “How many need a hip replacement or a knee replacement? How many of you are in urgent need of surgical treatment?” None of them put their hands up. If I do the same thing with seniors, half of them have already had hip and knee replacements. What I say to them is this. If I’m a politician who only cares about re-election, maybe what I’m going to do in the election campaign is throw a bunch of money to reduce surgical wait times just shortly before the election.
Then I can point to that after the election and say: “Look. I listened to you, the people. I’ve responded to your needs. I’ve reduced those hip and knee replacement lineups, and now you can get those replacements and you’re no longer living in chronic pain with arthritic pain.”
But when a leader stands up and takes the policies forward to actually benefit the next generation, not just re-election, it requires support. What’s miraculous…. Well, not miraculous. Somewhat ironic is that we just heard an announcement from said-people opposite that they’re going to dump a pack of money to reduce surgical wait times. It’s exactly what I’ve been saying to my students for four, five, six, seven…. More than a decade. I’ll come to that in a second.
One of the other things I would say to them is that it doesn’t matter who you vote for, what matters is you actually get out and vote, because things won’t change unless you participate. They would say: “Well, they’re all the same. I don’t like any of them.” I would say to them: “You know what? Run yourself. Or find someone else to run.” There’s only so many times you can do that until you take a look in the mirror and say: “Well, I should do it myself.”
Low and behold here I am, and what an opportunity this has become as I’ve witnessed an opportunity for change that needs to occur in this province. I look across at the B.C. Liberals and I say they’re tired. They’ve been in power for 17 years. They don’t know what to do anymore, and that is exemplified in the throne speech today. I’ll come to that again a little later.
Let’s take a journey back to the February 2013 throne speech. Why I want to take a journey back to that date is because it’s important to put the context of the throne speech we’re debating today in with the last one, so that British Columbians can understand the kind of rhetoric this government puts out as promises that will never transpire. Let’s take a look at a few quotes.
From the Speech from the Throne, the B.C. Liberals say this. Seizing the LNG opportunity “can trigger a possible one trillion in cumulative GDP benefit to our province over the next 30 years. An estimated 39,000 new full-time jobs on average will be created during a nine year construction period. Once all facilities reach full production that could be over 75,000 new annual full-time jobs.”
They also say this:
“The second stream of revenues comes from new royalty revenues directly for the province. British Columbians’ share of resource profits could exceed $100 billion over the next 30 years.
“This resource belongs to the people of British Columbia — both here, today, and those that follow. It must be spent wisely, not just for the benefit of today’s citizens but also for our children and grandchildren.
“To protect this second stream of revenue for generations to come, your government is establishing the British Columbia prosperity fund” — which has had not a single penny of natural gas revenue put into it and has actually had revenue come into it from the hard-working British Columbians who have had to face increasing MSP premiums, hydro rates and ICBC rates.
That is where the money comes from that’s injected to this so-called prosperity fund. Another failed promise.
This is what else they say: “This will be a transformational change for our province, and we cannot afford to be shortsighted.” It goes further: “The B.C. prosperity fund can also target measures to improve social services and make life more affordable for families.” I would argue that in the four years since this throne speech, life has become far less affordable for British Columbians’ families, particularly in light of the out-of-control Vancouver and rest of province real estate market.
Whether it’s eliminating the provincial sales tax or making long-term investments in areas like education or vital infrastructure that strengthen communities, these are the kinds of opportunities that the B.C. prosperity fund was supposed to provide.
Here’s another quote: “Fellow British Columbians, this is the opportunity before us, but only if we seize it. It is not years away; it is now.” Unbelievable, because they truly were. And continue to be. Even after four years in this House, I find it hard to believe that the B.C. Liberals have the gall to tell people about their LNG Plan. Like, what planet are they living on?
Back in 2012 — back in 2012 — I pointed out that the reason that they were touting this was that there was a $12 gap between land and LNG in Asia and the price at Henry’s Hub here. That was in 2012. But I also pointed out that Russia had entered into 30-year contracts with China, that Australian supply was coming on stream, that the Isthmus of Panama would soon to be widened and America had infrastructure on the coast that was ready to ship natural gas, that B.C. had zero infrastructure on the coast, the world had a glut in LNG, and there was simply no market for it.
For the minister of gas to think that we’re going to build an LNG industry when the landed price of LNG in 2021 is less than it costs to take it out of the ground in B.C., I don’t know what planet he’s living on. It’s shameful that this message is being put to British Columbians, because it’s reckless irresponsible economically, and we have had lost opportunities as a direct consequence.
You know, let me flashback to March 3, 2015, when the minister of gas said this to me: “You didn’t do your research. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” And he further said this: “I know the status of discussions. I know when FIDs are coming. I know when the companies are planning on making those. I will enjoy the meal, to watch the member opposite eat his words in the next year or two. I will enjoy watching him eat his words, as final investment decisions come that are coming down the pike and he sees the construction of LNG.”
That’s two years ago. Well, you know, I haven’t had meals on my words yet, but I sure hope the minister has the courage to stand up and look British Columbians in the face and say, “I was wrong,” instead of trying to sell us more snake oil about how we’re all going to be wealthy and prosperous from an industry that we’re years behind and we’re uncompetitive with.
It’s reckless. It’s reckless economics, and I’m glad that the B.C. NDP have realized that this is reckless as well. So while he says, we on this side are all about the forces of no, the reality is that we are the forces of reality. You don’t chase Nortel stock and double down at $70 and invest taxpayers’ moneys at $50 just to say “Oh, what a great deal I have,” and then realize that you can’t sell it for a buck and change.
It’s this case with this government. Let’s go to Woodfibre LNG, an example that this government has touted. Well, what is Woodfibre LNG? It’s a plant that I argue will never be built. It’s a plant that every community around the Howe Sound is opposed to. It’s a plant where the government so desperate to land one LNG facility subsidizes that facility to the tune of more than $440,000 per job, per year, in perpetuity — 100 jobs created, subsidized at $440,000 a year.
You could take 880 people in Downtown Eastside Vancouver, give them $50,000 a year and say: “Go, find a home.” And we’d be better off, because we know that that money would be injected into the B.C. economy because low-income people spend the money that they’re given. They don’t scurry it away for some trickle-down economics 25 years from now.
But this is the economics of this government: build Site C, which will cost 13½ cents a kilo an hour, and subsidize LNG so that the ratepayer not only builds Site C at a crazy prize but subsidizes LNG. It’s not free market. There’s nothing free market about this government. It’s all about picking winners and losers and fulfilling irresponsible election promises that they’ve made to their corporate, crony donors.
Let’s come to this throne speech as another example of the alternate facts put forward by this government. It’s fascinating that the member for Surrey–White Rock talked just earlier in the members’ statements today, the two-minute statements, about the post-truth era that we live in. There is an example opposite of an entire caucus bound up in a post-truth reality, trying to squeeze water from a rock, just saying whatever it takes.
You know, let’s make B.C. great again. I guess that’s kind of the way the minister is going. Just remarkable — remarkable. Come May 9, people in British Columbia will recognize that we must move on. It is not responsible for us to continue down under the leadership of this government.
In the 2013 pre-election Speech from the Throne, the B.C. Liberals were a trillion dollars off the mark. In light of that, what are we going to make from this year’s Speech from the Throne? Once again, we’ve got a whole bunch of numbers tossed at us, and as most of us already know too well, things aren’t quite as rosy as their cherry-picked alternate facts.
Let’s have a look at this. Let’s talk about climate change in the throne speech. It says this: “B.C. is a recognized global leader on climate action, receiving the United Nations Lighthouse award for our revenue-neutral carbon tax”. Well, I might remind this House that that revenue-neutral carbon tax was introduced by Mr. Gordon Campbell in the year 2008. Actually, under this government, under Premier Clark, it’s simply been weakened and not increased, and there’s simply no climate plan.
For the B.C. Liberals, the present crop, to claim any leadership on the file is just an alternate fact. The leadership, well-deserved, goes back to Mr. Campbell; Mr. Barry Penner, who was the environment minister at the time; and the climate action secretariat that was put together and brought together leaders in policy from across the world.
Let’s take a look at poverty. This is what the throne speech says: “And between 2006 and 2014, the number of children living in low-income families in B.C. has fallen by half. Even as we continue to grow in population, British Columbia has 79,000 fewer children living in low-income situations.”
More alternate facts provided by the B.C. Liberals. The claims are widely out of sync with the numbers from the B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, a respected group comprising 95 organizations across B.C. Their statistics are based on a poverty measure used internationally by researchers and organizers in the field. The coalition’s 2016 annual report shows that we have barely moved the dial on child poverty in B.C.
B.C.’s child poverty rate is 19.8 percent, or roughly 1 in 5, down only 5 percent from 2006. And that slight decline that occurred in B.C. occurred across the country and had nothing to do with policies that were brought in by the B.C. government.
Moreover and more shockingly, we are the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction plan. And we continue to have higher rates of poverty than the national average, no matter which measure you use, despite our wealth as a province and despite the beauty of the province — a place that we should be proud of, a place where there is no excuse for poverty to exist. It’s an unconscionable situation. Ending child poverty is within our reach, and both the evidence and strategies are there. All that’s missing is political will.
But this government would prefer to use cherry-picked numbers, rather than recognizing the severity of the problem for children across B.C. and committing to helping these children. It’s unacceptable.
Think about this: the throne speech, in light of the couple of days of questions we’ve had, on the tragic suicide of Alex, the young teenager who took his life. A child living in poverty fell through the cracks, and we tout numbers and are proud of numbers. Alternate facts. Shame on the B.C. Liberals.
Now let’s move to addiction treatment beds. The throne speech says this: “British Columbia was the first province to declare a public health emergency for fentanyl and the first to deregulate life-saving naloxone kits and get them into the hands of first responders and at-risk British Columbians. By March 31, 500 new addiction treatment beds and more than 20 overdose prevention sites will have opened.”
Now, it’s true that B.C. was the first province to declare a state of emergency for the overdose epidemic. But the tragedy of the crisis has continued to escalate post-declaration of that state of emergency such that we had 914 of our fellow British Columbians die of an overdose in 2016 alone. So the province declares a state of emergency, and fentanyl deaths go up. What does “state of emergency” mean to the B.C. Liberals?
In reference to emergency, they say they’ll have 500 new addiction treatment beds by next month, as if the 500 treatment beds weren’t an unmet election promise from four years ago, as if the number of treatment beds for youth haven’t actually decreased since they promised more and as if the province hasn’t been devastated by the rampant illicit drug crisis since then.
So 500 treatment beds promised in 2013 may have been appropriate when illicit drug overdoses were killing under 300 people in B.C. per year. But the rate of fatal overdoses has skyrocketed by more than 300 percent since then. And not only has the government failed to appropriately increase treatment access in response to this emergency, they are years behind in terms of beds guaranteed for us. There are currently 300 beds in the province, not 500 — 300 beds. The promise for 500 beds was made in the last election, to be met by 2017 — another failed promise.
In this year’s throne speech, the B.C. Liberals repackage old and unmet promises as somehow new and impressive plans. They are political calculations made with literally hundreds of lost lives.
To come back to the throne speech, a little more on LNG. Remarkably, I was ready to count the number of times LNG was referenced, and I couldn’t believe they were going to mention it. Well, they talked about unforeseen headwinds having created challenging opportunities for LNG. There is nothing unforeseeable about the current situation.
Last election, the official opposition was 20 points up in the polls. Everyone thought they were going to win. The B.C. Liberals had to come up with some Hail Mary pass of hope that they could con British Columbians with. So they threw that Hail Mary pass, much like the New England Patriots did in the recent Super Bowl. You know what? The pass was caught. And they went: “Whoops. We won the election. Now we have to deliver.” At what cost? They can’t deliver, and they’re still talking about unforeseen headwinds.
Again, going back to 2012, I’ve got my PowerPoint presentations from 2012, where I would talk publicly about the reckless folly of this promise, how the economics did not work, how there is a glut of oversupply and that it won’t work. There was nothing unforeseeable.
The global glut is getting worse too, and for this minister to have the gall to go to First Nations and tell them, “I’m going to offer you hope through LNG,” when Iran has just had sanctions lifted…. Now the world’s largest reserves of natural gas — natural gas where you just have to put a hole in the ground…. You don’t need to do horizontal fracking. You just put a hole in the ground. The world’s largest reserve is now available, and they have infrastructure on the coast.
The Philippines have recently discovered large reserves. It is folly. China has multiple times the shale gas of all of Canada combined. We are but bit players in the global market, and to think that somehow this is the path to prosperity — folly.
The singular focus on LNG has been detrimental to other sectors, like the tech sector that I’ve been speaking about for four years. Let’s go to the throne speech. It says this:
“In five years your government has supported tech through the BCTECH strategy, including a $100 million tech fund, and worked with B.C.’s teachers to introduce the basics of coding to all students in the sixth grade.
“Your government recently established a new provincial innovation network with UBC president Santa Ono as chief advisor. And this spring, Vancouver will once again welcome people from all over the world for the second annual B.C. Tech Summit.”
Well, you know why the first tech summit happened. The beauty of living in Oak Bay–Gordon Head is that there are an awful lot of civil servants who live in my riding, and I bump into them all the time. They were simply instructed: “Oops. LNG is a failure. Better come up with plan B. We need to have a tech summit.” This happened in August — plan B strategy, no foresight. So they held a tech summit.
Nobody takes them seriously on tech, particularly the tech sector. The reason why is this. This government is so afraid of bringing forward legislation to enable ride-sharing, so afraid that their taxi driver lobbyists will not donate money to them, that they’ll kick the can down the road. You know, you can’t be considered tech innovators if you’re not willing to embrace tech innovation yourself. This government is not. B.C. should, and it’s a missed opportunity.
I’m proud to say that we will have four CEOs of tech companies running on the B.C. Green ticket in this upcoming election, tech companies who are coming to us, because they look at the B.C. Liberals and say: “You have forgotten us.”
What about the teachers? B.C. Liberals say that they worked with B.C. teachers to introduce basic coding to all students. The amount of work that is done is essentially standing up…. I’m sure it happened this way. The civil servants were sitting around having their morning coffee. They opened the papers and went: “Oh my goodness. The Premier has announced that we’ve got to put coding in schools.” That’s the way policy is made in this government, and they just instruct that that coding is going to happen. You don’t just suddenly teach coding if you’ve never taught coding before. It’s remarkable the way this government thinks.
The tech sector has advanced in B.C. in spite of Liberal policies. On top of that, though, they are struggling to attract and retain employees because of the affordability crisis.
I’ll outline, when we put forward our platform, a path towards prosperity that actually builds on our strategic advantages, including the tech sector in this province, and recognizes that the resource sector has played, historically, a critical role and will continue to play that. But the way we will compete is by bringing the tech and resource sectors together, not by somehow imagining that in the race for the bottom we will be able to dig dirt out of the ground cheaper here than in, say, Indonesia — where we have to internalize externalities associated with the environmental and social costs here that they do not have to internalize.
Let’s come to agriculture. This is what the throne speech says: “In five years, your government has focused on identifying more markets and opportunities and succeeded in increasing the sector by 18 percent.” You know, it’s beyond belief that the B.C. Liberals would celebrate the success of B.C. agriculture, citing a marketing program that producers can only access by putting up money first, when in fact “local” in B.C. is now also code for Alberta and Washington.
Then there’s the tax credit to farmers for food donations to charities, so that producers, hard-put to keep their operations viable, can solve the Liberals’ inability to deal with poverty issues and get a tax credit instead of actual income. They’re hosting a conference to focus on food supply security in B.C.
For hard-working ranchers in this province growing quality animal protein — now barely able to stay afloat in the value chain of market factors orchestrated by this government — these comments are, frankly, insulting. That they are made by the same policy-makers that are happy to flood the fertile Peace Valley — calculated to have a capacity to feed one million people — for an irresponsible and badly conceived dam, is unconscionable. The disconnect, between what this Premier represents as a happening for farmers and what life is really like, is staggering.
Let’s come to “A plan for the future.” This is my favourite part of the throne speech. To those people watching this, riveted at home on channel 119, if you’re going to clip one section, clip this: a plan from the throne speech. Here’s what the throne speech says, under the heading “A plan for the future”:
“Government is in a position to do this because it has a plan to continue growing our economy into the future — from small businesses to tourism and technology, to natural resources, trade and manufacturing.” That’s it. That quote is literally the plan for the future. I’m not making this stuff up. You can’t make this stuff up. “Government is in a position to do this because it has a plan to continue growing our economy into the future — from small businesses to tourism and technology, to natural resources, trade and manufacturing.” That’s the plan.
So what is it? Honestly, I can’t believe that these people put this forward. You know, if one of my students had written this in a first-year exam, I would have given them a failing grade. If my children in elementary school came home and said, “Dad, I have a plan, and the plan is to have a plan. Trust me; we know what we’re doing,” I’d look at them and say: “You know, Son? You know, Daughter? It’s not quite good.” A plan requires some details, some evidence, some facts, some information — not: “Trust us; we know what we’re doing.”
My friend and colleague from Cowichan Valley has pointed out precisely what this is. I must quote it, because I am truly sad that he will not be here next session. What he said is this: “It’s all jiggery-pokery.” Hon. Speaker, it is jiggery-pokery.
I’ve got so many pages of notes. I could go one for another half-hour. I know that the members opposite would love that, but I won’t. I won’t talk about the opioid crisis, the false promises with health care, education, housing affordability. I could go on and on, but I see the green light there.
I will say this. The throne speech was 40 minutes of self-congratulatory patting on the back to alternate facts — put out as, somehow, truth. You know, we will offer an alternative to British Columbians in the coming election. I know my colleagues down this side of the House will also come up with a plan.
Let me just say this to the people of British Columbia. If people in British Columbia actually come out to vote, no matter whom you vote for, just come out to vote. We will be done with this government, and we will move on to a government that will actually put your interests first — not your corporate donors first; your interests first. It doesn’t matter if you vote B.C. Green or B.C. NDP. A 75-percent voter turnout means we all win.
In my riding in the last election, we had a 70 percent voter turnout. The member for Saanich North and the Islands, who’s sitting before me here — second-highest in the province, 69 percent. The member for Delta South, 68 percent. The top three ridings in the province where B.C. Greens — or independents — ran.
If people get out to vote and get beyond the cynical voter suppression tactics that will be put forward by the B.C. Liberals — the say-anything-John campaign, the Greens have no chance of forming government. Get past that. Come out to vote. Let’s be done with this lot. It’s time for British Columbia to get on a path forward, a responsible path forward that puts people first.